The Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Perfect Creative Outlet

Creativity is a strange concept. Many of us think it means being able to paint, sing, write, or dance. Others see it as the way in which the brain processes–and uses–input. Look at inventors or engineers. They’re constantly creating solutions!

But many people put creative pursuits aside. Perhaps you gave up art at school because it clashed with a more ‘important’ subject in the timetable. Maybe you stopped dance classes because you didn’t think you’d ever be a professional dancer. Creativity is abandoned when the pressures of adulthood exert themselves.

Don’t let stress overcome your creativity

Lifestyle practices like mindfulness recognise the joy in creativity. Bringing creative pursuits back into your life can return a semblance of balance. If you’ve ever despaired about your own creativity or lack thereof, then worry no more. We will look at ways to locate your own brand of creativity–and how to express it.

Get to know yourself.

How well do you know yourself? I only ask because it’s possible for your sense of self to get buried beneath the many tasks on your ever-expanding to-do list.

Take time out of your day to reconnect with yourself. Put your phone on silent. Turn off your laptop. Just focus on you, and what you’d like to do. Think about the person you were three, five, or even ten years ago. Were you more creative then? If not, why not? Think about why you want to be more creative now.

Maybe you want to run your own business from home. Perhaps you’ve learned that the creative industries are worth £84 billion to the UK economy per year. Do you want to express yourself in a more unusual way? Pinpointing the reason can help guide you towards the creative pursuits right for you.

Even if you’re already creative, taking time out to test your creativity can be a beneficial exercise. Spending time with like-minded people, like other artists or writers, is a real shot of adrenaline to your creativity.

Take long walks around your hometown.

You can always try letting your intuition guide you towards creative activities. Head out for a long walk in your area. It might be in a city centre, around a village, or just along a high street. Don’t hurry around with your head down – you’re not in any rush to get anywhere. Instead, pay attention to what’s around you. Check out window displays. Notice signs. Eavesdrop on snippets of conversation.

An interesting window display can give you a clue to your secret creativity.

Make a note of the things that draw your attention. These are the things with the potential to direct your creativity. If the window display of an art shop catches your eye, maybe you’re intended to make art. Likewise, if you keep noticing the window displays of fashion shops, maybe your creativity lies in clothes and colours. Maybe you’ll overhear eight different conversations. But the only one you remember involved a dance class.

Take these cues from your unconscious mind. It doesn’t mean that the things you try will be the creativity you stick to. But it’s a good place to start.

These walks are useful if you’re already a creative person (like a writer). They can help refill the creative well and get your imagination going.

Go to a museum.

In a similar vein to the previous activity, museums can be a good place to find ideas. Most cities have more than one type of museum. Do you get the urge to try anything yourself? An art museum might leave you cold. But you might be excited to try the hands-on exhibits at a science museum.

Browse the gift shop. What items speak to you? Some museums also hold workshops or talks about certain areas. Find out if there are any related to your favourite parts of the museum.

Use your responses to these spaces as a guide to the creativity that appeals to you. You might wonder what all of this has to do with creativity. But remember that creativity is the act of creating something new. That can be problem-solving as much as it is making art or music.

Revisit childhood pursuits.

Have you ever watched children playing? They show an almost limitless amount of creativity with ordinary items. Two chairs and a blanket can become a secret hideout. A washing up bottle is a rocket.

Children are instinctively creative.

You may not want to build your own Tracy Island out of pipe cleaners and sticky backed plastic. But think back to what you did as a child. Did you enjoy colouring in? Drawing? Playing a musical instrument? 

Many childhood pursuits are transferable to adulthood. Look at adult LEGO sets or the trend for adult colouring books. Those that don't often have an equivalent. If your favourite pastime on a rainy afternoon was playing dress up, join a theatre group. If you enjoyed playing with paint, try expressionistic art. 

Ask friends and family about their own creativity.

You're bound to know people who express their creativity in a range of ways. Consider the woman at work whose outfits are always immaculately styled. Or think about the guy next door who plays in a band. Maybe you went to school with someone who is now a freelance illustrator.

Ask them about their own creative paths. How did they get started? What do they enjoy about their chosen area? What advice would they have for beginners?

You can even ask friends and family who aren't creative in an obvious way. You don't have to be a writer or a designer to be 'creative'. Their lunchtime pursuit or Sunday morning routine can be just as inspirational for you.

Browse local classes in your area.

Don't worry if you still aren't sure what you'd like to try. Get hold of the prospectus of your local college. Check notice boards in your library. Or log onto Meetup.com. Find out what local classes exist in your community. Perhaps you can try a watercolour painting course. Or there may be sketch crawls or photo walks on a weekend.

Maybe you can try a new pursuit at a class.

Trying a course or a class is a good way to experience a range of creative pursuits. You'll get instruction - which is helpful since not being able to do something can be off-putting as an adult. But you'll also be in a safe space for beginners, surrounded by other beginners. Not only do you have the chance to make friends - you can also make mistakes in private.

Colleges often offer things you wouldn't have the chance to try otherwise. Their facilities mean you could do anything from screen printing to ceramics, or darkroom photography to woodwork. Many of the courses are only for a few weeks so if you don't like it, you can move on to something else.

Dance like no one is watching.

This is an old adage, and it's become beloved by the 'inspirational poster' brigade. Yet there's a surprising amount of truth in it. No matter what branch of creativity you explore, you should pursue it without fear of judgment. You don't have to share the results of your creativity if you don't want to.

Dance like no one is watching.

In fact, you'll get more pleasure out of your creative pursuit if you keep it for yourself. At least in the beginning. Your creative self may be an introvert - unless you're heading for the stage - so take the time to get to know him/her before you try to introduce them to everyone you know. 

Taking the time to understand what it is you want to do, and how you want to do it, means you can switch between creative pursuits until you find the one you want. You need not announce your intentions until you're sure it's where your passion lies.

Above all, enjoy it.

Try out the range of exercises in this post. Pick what suits the time (and budget) you have available. If something doesn’t fit, just pick something else. Creativity should never be a chore, and if you don’t enjoy it, you won’t see the benefits.

You might find that keeping a journal about your experiments helps you to see patterns. Maybe you enjoy your creative endeavours more during the morning. Or perhaps you enjoy them more when you’re part of a group. Use these patterns to inform when–and where–you do your creative work.

Over to you! Which methods have you used to find your perfect creative outlet?


Check out 52 Dates for Writers for creative ways to tackle your novel draft  


Top 10 plugins your Wordpress author blog needs

One of the things that can put off authors from setting up their own website is the apparent technical know-how that's required by the process. Many authors stay on free platforms like Wordpress.com or Blogger for years simply because they're easier to use.

But the lack of additional functionality means you're left with a site that essentially looks like everyone else's. You're limited in what you can add to your site and you're also building your digital empire on someone else's land. If Blogger or Wordpress.com ever change their terms of service, your blog could be deleted without warning.

Wordpress can be a really powerful web design tool

Authors might opt to use Squarespace for its ability to host a website and blog combined, much like this one. Or they set up their own web hosting and install Wordpress to run their blog themselves. Self-hosted Wordpress gives you a lot of freedom in terms of which themes you can use, which plugins you can use, and even what kind of design you might end up with if you use one of the Page Builder options.

Wordpress also allows for further functionality through the presence of plugins, small programs that allow your website to do something it didn't do before. There are thousands of plugins to choose from, some of which are dubious quality, and keeping plugins up-to-date can seem a gargantuan task. Still, it's worth it for the new things you'll be able to do.

Here are the top 10 free plugins that your Wordpress blog needs.

1. Wordfence / iThemes Security

You wouldn't work on a laptop or PC that didn't have some kind of anti-virus software or firewall. Wordpress blogs are the same. While hackers are unlikely to crack their way in because they want to delete all your posts, they do have other reasons for hacking you. Often, it's simply to insert advertising or spam. They're also fond of adding malware that can infect those who visit your site.

A good security plugin should be your first port of call

Thankfully, you have not one but two excellent plugins in to choose from. Both of them also offer premium versions with extra functionality - iThemes Security Pro even lets you 'hide' the backend of your site, so a hacker can't get in simply by visiting www.yoursite.com/wp-login.php and guessing your login details.

iThemes Security offers a lot of functionality even in the free version, while Wordfence is a powerful firewall that also helps block unwanted access.

2. Yoast SEO

If you write fiction, you may wonder if SEO - or search engine optimisation - can really help drive traffic to your website. After all, many people searching for new books will do so on Amazon or Kobo. But if you run a blog (and I recommend that you do), optimising your posts is a great way to drive organic traffic from Google.

The Yoast SEO plugin makes this incredibly easy. Choose your keyword, craft a compelling headline, set your URL, and even create the meta description, the snippet of descriptive text that appears in search engine results. It'll scan your posts to ensure they're SEO compliant. It does much more besides, but that's a simple introduction if you've never used SEO before. Yoast SEO will walk you through the basics.

3. Updraft Plus

No matter how good your hosting, or how up-to-date your firewall, accidents can still happen and your site can disappear. Even updating the wrong plugin or changing your theme can have disastrous consequences. But you'll be okay because you'll have installed a backup plugin like UpdraftPlus.

As with other plugins, the premium version does more, but the free one allows you to back up the contents of your site to cloud storage like Dropbox or Google Drive.

You can set your backup to happen regularly (say weekly), or less often if you don't update your blog on a weekly basis. It'll quietly continue backing up your website in the background. If the worst does happen, you can restore your site via their plugin's dashboard, or manually.

4. Akismet

While the number of people leaving comments on posts has drastically fallen since the early days of blogging in 2009 or so, spam comments are still a problem. They can sometimes simply contain links to completely irrelevant websites in the hope that it'll boost the SEO of the poster's site. Or they can be downright annoying.

Akismet is a great way to capture the spam and divert it away from your blog. You can review the comments in your spam queue in case something is legitimate, but largely it'll stop your blog being infested with hundreds of spam comments generated by bots.

You don’t want your comments section full of this!

5. EWWW Image Optimizer

The more images your blog has, the longer it takes your website to load. That can potentially cause visitors to click away before they even reach your content. And Google doesn't like websites that provide a poor experience for the visitor.

Compressing the images is the best way forward. It won't reduce the quality (as simply downsizing the image itself will) but it will make the file size smaller. There are other plugins available but EWWW Image Optimizer is very simple to use. Once you've optimised your existing images, it automatically optimises images as you upload them in future.

6. Social Warfare

Sharing your content on social media is a great way to get it in front of more eyeballs. But you want to make it easy for visitors to share your posts to their own networks of choice. Social Warfare is an incredibly simple to use sharing platform that lets you add buttons at the top and bottom of your posts, as well as floating buttons at the side of the page.

You can add your own Twitter handle if you want it to be automatically added to tweets too. And by adding the share counts, you can encourage people to share if they see others have too.

7. W3 Total Cache

Just like not optimising your images can slow down your site, so can not using a cache plugin. Put simply, a cache plugin generates static HTML files which your server loads much faster than dynamic pages. WP Super Cache comes automatically installed with Wordpress. After you activate it, there's a simple 'enable caching' button and then you're done. So it's great for beginners.

But if you're a more advanced user and you like a little more control, then W3 Total Cache is the better option. With more settings, it allows for a more flexible set of customisations. But either plugin will help serve up your website that bit faster, getting visitors to your content more quickly.

8. Google Analytics for WordPress by MonsterInsights

If you're focusing your efforts on growing a blog to support your book sales, then it's a good idea to get on board with Google Analytics. It will let you pinpoint which posts have been successful and which have had less traffic. You can see exactly how many visits each post has had in a given period and you can even see where your traffic comes from - so you know which platform to focus your marketing efforts on.

Understanding your Google Analytics takes time to master but it’s well worth the effort

This plugin lets you easily connect your Wordpress site with your Google Analytics account so you can keep an eye on how your traffic is doing.

9. WPForms

It's absolutely essential that you have your contact details somewhere on your site. After all, you want readers to be able to get in touch with you. Your social media handles and an email address are usually sufficient.

But contact forms can be a super-quick way for people to contact you. They don't need to fire up their email client, and it's a simple question of filling a few boxes on a website. Their message comes to you in an email, and you can send a direct reply.

WPForms Lite offers drag-and-drop functionality so you can make your contact forms as simple - or as complex - as you like. Then you can append them to whichever pages or posts need them. But just remember, the fewer fields to fill out, the better responses you'll get.

10. The plugin for your email provider

One of the watchwords of marketing since 2015 has been 'email list' and the trend towards email marketing shows no signs of abating. Different email marketing providers have their own pros and cons, but many of them have their own plugins now. Convertkit allows you to add popups or scroll boxes to your posts, advertising your opt-in offer to visitors. You can also add sign up boxes to the ends of your posts. 

Whichever provider you use, if they have a plugin then make sure you use it. It'll make your list building efforts a lot easier, and you'll get more out of your subscription to the provider's service.

Over to you! Which Wordpress plugins do you swear by?


Looking for feedback on your author website? My Complete Marketing Toolkit includes a full assessment.  


Tech Tips for Authors: Want to Write Faster and Easier?

A lot of writing advice revolves around boosting productivity, or just finding the time to write. While those are important skills to master, and writers absolutely need to nail the basics of plot, character and structure, there are tools and other tech you can invest in to help your author career.

Whether it’s a platform for your website or the way you backup your files, you need to get on board with technology. They can speed up your process or stop you from losing your work-in-progress.

Let’s have a look at the tools and software you can use to speed up your writing - and make it flexible enough to fit your schedule.

Choose the right software for writing

There are plenty of actual writing tools available, whether you want to use a pen and paper or something a little quicker. Microsoft Word has been a staple word processor since 1983, or you could try Google Docs as an alternative. That's got the advantage of regular auto-saves, and you can access your files from anywhere without emailing multiple files to yourself.

But if you're a serious scrivener then there's one particular programme that can definitely help you get on top of your writing.

And that’s Scrivener.

Scrivener is available for both iOS and Windows. Think of it like a giant folder that can contain all of your research, character sheets, notes, and novel itself. You can divide your novel up however you want, but a common method is to divide chapters into scenes, each of which has its own note card.

You can view these virtual cards in a ‘top down’ fashion, allowing you to drag-and-drop the scenes into a different order. Much easier than copying and pasting from one document to another!

The old-fashioned note card method

You can also filter scenes according to theme, character, location, or any other system you might use. Importing Word files is fairly straightforward and you can backup your Scrivener files to a form of cloud storage (more on that later).

Scrivener also has formatting options so you can create Kindle files or PDFs right inside the software. True, you can now format beautiful ebooks using Vellum but that’s only available for Mac, and it’s also only a formatting tool. Scrivener helps with writing too.

Be aware that the learning curve is very steep but there are a range of useful tutorials online. You can also try Joseph Michael’s very helpful Learn Scrivener Fast course to help you get the most out of it.

Store your notes and research in a simple way

Scrivener does let you store your research right there in the software. But sometimes you want access to it from other computers - maybe you found a brilliant weblink on your lunchbreak, or while browsing the internet on your commute, and you want to save it to check later.

You can use Google Docs for storing your notes and research. Or you can make your life much easier and use Evernote. This virtual notebook allows you to install the app on 2 devices, and you can clip whole web pages, search across your notes, and set up notebooks for each of your projects.

As an example, you might set up a notebook for your newest book. Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction (or even academic), this principle still applies. Within that notebook, you create separate notes according to your needs. So you might have notes for each character, individual strands of research, weblinks to check later, or even images that inspire elements of the story.

An example Evernote notebook

Whatever you add will sync across your devices. So that weblink you save on your phone at lunchtime is right there on your PC when you get home.

And that’s just the free version. The paid versions offer far more features, such as forwarding emails directly into Evernote, accessing notes offline, and searching for text within PDFs or Office files.

Keeping your writing error-free

Writers don’t like to admit that they need a little help with their writing. But everyone needs a second pair of eyes to check for commas, or identify those pet words that we just can’t stop using.

Software like ProWritingAid or Grammarly will help you to work on your grammar and spelling. ProWritingAid offers a free web-based version that will let you check everything from grammar to repeated words and ‘sticky’ phrases.

Both programs offer free Chrome extensions that pick up the basics, so it’s a good way to decide which you prefer.

Just be sure you review their suggestions before you accept them. Both programs will sometimes suggest changes for words spelled a specific way, like brand names, and you need to ignore them. They’re not foolproof compared to a human proofreader and editor, but they’re a good check before you send your work away.

Make sure you never lose a file again

We’ve all had that moment where a laptop or PC has frozen. We’ve stared in horror, or turned the air blue, to think of that lost work. Especially if the computer has to go to the great tech graveyard and we can’t get at the files any more.

Talking about storage is probably teaching you to suck eggs but it’s well worth a mention. You can’t beat a good old-fashioned external hard drive - as long as you remember to copy your files to it on a regular basis. So even if you’re unlucky enough to contract a virus that gets into your cloud storage, you’ve still got a version of your files on your disconnected drive.

But you still need a backup schedule to make sure you copy the files. And it can be awkward if you lose your file the day before you were due to back it up again.

Cloud storage can help alleviate these sorts of problems. Dropbox and Google Drive are two of the most popular solutions, although there are others available. Google Drive syncs with Google Docs and gives you 15GB as standard. Dropbox gives you 10GB, although both services expand the amount of storage through subscription services.

Both platforms also offer a desktop version that allows you to access your files right inside Windows Explorer. They also eliminate the need to email files to yourself; simply log in on a different machine, download the file, and re-upload once you’ve made the changes. Then it’s right there next time you log in.

No more having to fumble around for a USB stick

Google Drive even lets you access every version in the previous 30 days, which is helpful if you’ve written over the wrong file.

Just make sure you backup whichever solution you choose to an external drive you can disconnect when not in use.

Establish your writer platform online

If you want a career as a writer, at some point you’re going to need a website. It’s much easier to build a platform before you have books to sell, so you can set up a site no matter what point you’re at in your writing career.

While free services might seem attractive, Wordpress or Squarespace are better places to start for a serious website.

Squarespace offers drag-and-drop functionality, while self-hosted Wordpress is a content powerhouse that lets you run a professional website that’s customised to your needs. They’re also excellent platforms if you want to start a blog - find out why blogging is so important to fiction writers.

Whichever you choose, you can make a site that’s as simple or as feature-filled as you need it to be. That’s the beauty of these platforms - you can customise them to suit you and your writing.

And that’s ultimately what you want from your technology - solutions that suit your own writing career.

Over to you! Which tools and technology do you use to make your own writing life easier?

Novel House Rules

 

I had a fantastic day at the Scottish Association of Writers Conference on the 18th of March 2017. A workshop with fellow Dunfermline author Keith Gray took us all back to the secrecy of teendom and we delved deep into a little group editing with Edinburgh author Regi Claire.

 

I led a workshop based on date 32 from ‘52 Dates for Writers’, the house-hunting date. I loved the snapshot of all the different narratives that was produced by dwelling on dwellings. At the end of the workshop, everyone wrote a set of 5 house rules for one of the homes in their story. With permission, I share a selection of these here with you.

 

  1. Don’t encourage Ethan to talk to people who are clearly not there.
  2. Never leave the front door unlocked and never answer the door to strangers.
  3. Tidy up your duvet and pillow from the living room couch every morning before breakfast.
  4. Don’t try to manipulate your father into extending your stay.
  5. Angelo is welcome to visit but must leave by 10pm.

Elizabeth Frattaroli

 

Do as I say.
Do it when I say.
Don't think you can fool me.
Don't think I don't know.
Whatever happens in this house stays in this house.

Keith Gray

 

  1. Spillages must be cleaned unless you have enough in your bank account for a new carpet.
  2. Dirty fingerprints will be compared with the samples held on file.
  3. Laundry must be collected from the utility room. Items not collected after 3 months will be bagged for charity.
  4. Bottles from the wine cellar are tagged.
  5. Parties are restricted to afternoon tea. Social media will tell the truth if you don’t.

Catherine Ogston

 

  1. Please remember – don’t forget, never leave the bathroom wet.
  2. No dancing on the ceiling.
  3. Please give way to individuals measuring 6 foot by 4 foot, or more.
  4. Leave all indoor doors that are locked, locked.
  5. No screaming at any time.

Martha Wells

 

  1. Anyone wearing hobnailed boots on my newly-fitted tropical hard-wood flooring will be trampled to death.
  2. Please leave the dishwasher stacking to my husband. He is the only man in the world with a spiritual understanding of the dishwashing psyche.
  3. Put the tin bath back on its nail on the outside wall of the cludgie when you’ve finished your ablutions.
  4. Don’t get between the cat and its feeding bowl.
  5. Play nicely with the dog.

Don Wells

 

No downstairs food upstairs

No locking bedroom doors

No mobile phones in bed

No leaving / arriving in uniform

No English at the table

Gillian Duff  

 

I loved the questions these little lists provoked and the way just a few lines encapsulated the atmosphere of a household, a home. Who does Ethan try to talk to? Which food is considered fit for eating upstairs, and which downstairs? Is the forbidden screaming the sound of innocent enjoyment or something more sinister? I wanted to know more about both the characters who made the rules and the often unfortunates who have to live by them. 

Why not try writing the house rules for one of the dwellings in your story? These could be spelled out on the walls of the home, or in a letter to a house-sitter or guest, or they might remain unspoken - invisible rules that bind none-the-less.

 

Author Biographies

Elizabeth Frattaroli’s first middle grade fantasy novel, 'Pathfinder 13', won the T.C.Farries prize at the Scottish Association of Writers conference last year, and she is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and the Scottish Association of Writers, as well as Press Secretary for the Angus Writers’ Circle. Find out more here or follow Elizabeth on Twitter @elizfrat. Elizabeth’s house rules are inspired by her current work-in-progress, a Young Adult novel called 'Sixteen Again', a modern-day Sleeping Beauty story with a Faustian twist.

 

Keith Gray is a writer for children and young adults. He has published over 20 books and been translated into over a dozen languages. His novel 'Ostrich Boys' was shortlisted for the Costa Children's Book Awards and the CILIP Carnegie Medal and has been adapted for the stage. His house rules are based on his latest YA novel in progress.

 

Catherine Ogston writes with Perthshire Writers, has various YA projects on the go and has a short story in New Writing Scotland 35. You can follow her on Twitter on @CatherineOgston

 

Martha Wells is a member of Aberdeen Writers' Circle and is currently at chapter 37 of a work of historical fiction, 'Incoming Tide', inspired by the true story of her great-grandparents.

 

Don Wells was born in London, had his young life disrupted in 1940 by a dreadful man called Herman Goering, moved to Buckinghamshire, served Her Majesty in the Army in Aberdeen, Cyprus and Germany and finally settled in Aberdeen, where he now indulges his passions for writing, tai chi, singing and laughing. He is committed to finishing his first novel. You can follow his efforts here.

 

Gillian Duff is a writer, educator and businesswoman who lives in the beautiful Scottish countryside with her children and friendly Jackadoodle.

Gillian writes non-fiction which focusses on wellbeing which helps others to lead a more natural life. Her recent book on Meditation and Mindfulness is available on Amazon. She is currently working on a crime-fiction novel based in the north east of Scotland but which has its roots all over the world. Find out more about Gillian’s writing on her website.


 

This is one of more than 100 writing exercises and prompts from the creative writing guide ‘52 Dates for Writers’.  To purchase your signed copy direct from the author


 

 

 

 

 

You Won’t Remember This

 

 

Sandy Bennett-Haber lets us in on the collaborative process behind You Won’t Remember This, 20 tales from around the world about journeying with a baby.

 

Can you tell us something about the inspiration for this collection?

I was writing a travel story and afterwards realized I had ‘erased’ my son from the story. At around the same time, I saw a photo of one of my best friends in Thailand on an elephant with her baby son. I began thinking about where travel stories with babies might find a home, and who else might have tales to tell.

I started with a call out on my blog and directly contacting anyone and everyone who I thought might have a story to share. I set a date and waited.

Can you tell us a little about the selection process? Any fascinating facts or fabulous stories that didn’t make it into the final draft?

As the project shuffled along lots of people told me amazing travel stories. The friend whose grandmother carried twins in shoeboxes under each arm across occupied France; the man who lives in Scotland and only just made it to the birth of his daughter in America, the family who spent months camping in outback Australia with a baby – these are all currently unwritten, and yet even from those fragments you are drawn in.

I received some interesting but entirely fictional stories as I went along – great to read – but not fitting into my brief. There was a submission I said no to, which eventually found its way into the book. As the collection grew I saw how the travel with a baby tales I received were stories not just of a vacation and an adventure, or of surviving a flight or a train journey (though the book has those stories as well). Many stories were of moments in people’s lives when true grit was called upon. The collection contains struggles to conceive a much wanted child, a single, teenage mother ‘alone, on a cold January morning, bringing her new-born baby son to see a woman whom she had only met once.’ (Bonny Dundee – A Modern Family Fairy Tale by Jo Smith) There is a story of a man's ‘unspeakable anxiety’ at becoming a father, and of falling in love with his infant son amidst fruit markets in Bali, even while a ‘shadow’ sits over his relationship with the child's mother. (Dear Gus, Rick Rujtens). There is a car journeys with perhaps no home to return to, and a son’s memory of his mother

‘Desperately seeking

Somewhere

Just anywhere,

Anyone...

That she could pass me to’

(In Passing Years, David Wilke)

One of the stories I did not have, however was a travel tale which reflected the lived experience of so many people now and throughout history – refugees. So I returned to Gary Yelen’s story – Eva’s Unexpected Journey – and saw that although it was not about a baby, it was about a family, and about a journey, and it felt like a good reminder that so many of us are in the privileged position of having a home to journey away from, and return to. When I went back to Gary more than a year after saying no to him, he was gracious enough to let me use the story, and to paint the picture which you see on the cover of the book as well.

Can you tell us a little about the cover design process for your book?

Initially when I started thinking about the cover design I thought I would base it around a photo, but as the collection grew I realised the book with its collection of travel essays, memoir, poetry and creative non-fiction was not going to be well represented by a photograph.

I commissioned the artwork for the cover, and I took that artwork to Edinburgh based artist and designer Jenny Proudfoot who designed the cover. I think Gary’s art and Jenny’s painterly style compliment one another perfectly.

Which were your favourite parts of the project?

As a full-time carer for a young child most of your interactions with other adults consists of interrupted conversations. By taking on this project, and editing the book I feel I've been able to have long, in-depth, intimate conversations with all the contributors. And I know that readers will feel the same each time they read one of the stories.

The collection has been an idea for such a long time – and now that the book is finished it is a buzz sharing it. Each piece in the book stands on its own. You can pick up the book, read a story and put the book down – and there are some great surprises in store for the reader! Each time you begin a new story you will meet someone new, from a new place in the world.

I was talking to a journalist about the book recently, and she had read the book and commented on a line she really liked in the book, which was:

‘what impact this lifestyle

of minimal home comforts but closeness

to nature’s nourishing terrain...’

(Helen Sheil, Blue Sarong)

I was thrilled that she picked that piece out to talk about, and had to tell her that it was written about me, by my mother.

I love that scattered across the book there are ‘characters’ from my family. My youngest Finn only has a brief appearance in the introduction, but Rafa pops up not just in the intro, and in the story I contributed, but also in the story written by my husband, Jon Haber. His story also has me and my mother, and she is in my story as well.

Can you tell us something about what’s next for you as a writer?

I have so many pots on the boil at the moment, book promotion, writing articles about everything from sleeping patterns to travel after you have children – but without the children! I have started my first piece of fiction in a long time – something that is a little darker than my baby travel topics – but I hope will be funny.

Top tips for writing with babies and children?

'a quick tap out of your brain'

With Lydia Teychenne's A Prickly Upside I had the pleasure of helping edit the story. She sent me ‘a quick tap out of my brain’ and over email we worked back and forth shaping her story. Lydia works in creative industries, but is the one behind the scenes making things happen – so the process of turning her ideas into something she was ready to present, was different from someone with a background in creative writing. All the ideas were there from the start – and it was great to work with her as she developed it into the piece you see in the book.

Writing with babies and children – as Lydia did, as I do, and as many of us do – I would say start with that ‘quick tap out of your brain’ – don’t be critical of what you are writing, get it out there, and later you can edit.

The more you write the more you write

My youngest is 20 months old and although I have written bits and pieces since my babies were born I am only now realising how rusty I am. I worked on the production side of the book for more than a year. Now I am free of the technical tasks I am writing more – and what I have realised is that the more you write the more you write.

At the moment I am having too many ideas. And some of them get written down. So I would say strive to exercise your writing muscles every day, but don’t beat yourself up when two weeks go by and you’ve done nothing. Whilst I genuinely believe that if you write every day it gets easier and you get better, I am not in any position to live by it. There are too many interruptions, distractions and too many bad nights’ sleep.

Go easy on yourself

I always remember novelist Vendala Vida (wife to Dave Eggers) saying that she just gets up earlier now that she has a baby – (this was years back – before I had a baby) and her voice visits me often, but then I think well that’s all well and good but if I get up earlier all that's going to happen is that the children are going to get up earlier as well. I say stay in bed and rest! Write when you can, write what you can. Keep going back to it. And never forget while you are living/ parenting you are nourishing the writer inside you.

 

 

 

Visit www.travelswithbaby.co.uk for more on Sandy’s work. Leave a comment or question for Sandy below for the chance to win a copy of 'You Won't Remember This.' Winner will be chosen at random on May 1st 2017. 

The Surprising History of Indie Publishing

Gone are the days when authors could only see their books in the hands of readers if they won the favour of a major publishing house.

In the 21st century, authors can go directly to their readers and sell their work at the price they set. That means higher royalties and more control over the product – but a greater reliance on reviews. Writers need to prove the books are just as good as their traditionally published cousins.

For the last few years, indie publishing has been seen as the last resort of desperate writers. Critics bemoan the lower cost of entry to what was previously a highly regulated industry.

But has indie publishing finally overcome the stigma and come of age as a viable alternative? Let’s take a look at the history of indie publishing.

Getting into bookstores is often still the dream [Public domain, via Pixabay]

What’s the difference between indie publishing and vanity publishing?

Vanity publishing dates back far beyond indie publishing. In fact, Jane Austen paid Thomas Edgerton to publish Sense & Sensibility in 1811. That essentially demonstrates the difference between indie and vanity publishing.

Vanity publishing is the process of paying someone to turn your manuscript into a product. They won’t do any editing or marketing for you, and there’s a danger you’ll end up with a garage full of boxes of your books.

It’s also one of the reasons why so many people still don’t see indie publishing as a valid model. In a pay-to-play model, anyone with enough money could theoretically turn their manuscripts into books. 

By comparison, indie publishing involves organising all of the tasks associated with publishing yourself. That doesn’t mean you have to do them – in fact, you really should hire a cover designer and an editor, if nothing else – but you’re in charge of seeing they happen.

You’re a one-person publishing house for your own books.

It still means that anyone can put out a book because the process bypasses the gatekeepers of traditional publishing – the agents and the submissions pile.

But indie publishing is not a new thing. William Morris, one of the main driving forces of the Arts and Crafts Movement, founded his own Kelmscott Press in 1890. While he didn’t publish books that he wrote himself, having his own press gave him full artistic control over the books his press did produce.

By William Morris († 1896) [Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

And Virginia Woolf founded her own press, Hogarth Press, in 1917 to give her full control over her artistic vision. If it’s good enough for them...it’s good enough for you.

The game has changed

Despite the occasional foray into indie publishing, for the bulk of the 20th-century publishing relied on the big houses. Authors fought to get published by the likes of Penguin and Random House.

It wasn’t easy. Stephen King’s Carrie, now considered a masterpiece, was rejected 30 times until Doubleday Publishing picked it up.

J. K. Rowling’s transition from nobody to megastar through a chance encounter between an assistant and the slush pile has become publishing legend.

But for most writers, you needed an agent or a publishing contract. Preferably both. The technology didn’t really exist to publish anything yourself unless you were wealthy. And vanity publishing was seen as the last resort of the desperate.

Print on demand technology (or POD) was one of the main game-changers in indie publishing. Lightning Source was founded as long ago as 1997, and it allowed authors to upload manuscripts that would literally only be printed when they were needed.

Suddenly, you didn’t need several thousands of dollars to print a few hundred copies of a book that you might never sell. All you needed to do was generate the demand, and the books would come later.

Technology finally caught up

But it wasn’t until 10 years later that the potential of indie publishing really had the technology to back it up.

Enter the Kindle. Released to a fanfare in 2007, the first models sold out in less than 6 hours.

Amazon wasn’t the first company to investigate e-readers. Sony invented the first e-reader that used E Ink in 2004 with the Sony Librie.

The Sony Librie, by Dale DePriest [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons]

The advantage of the Sony Reader was its ability to display PDFs, ePub books, RSS newsfeeds and even jpg files. Some of them could even play mp3 files.

With celebrities like Demi Moore discussing the wonders of the Kindle, the device soon outstripped the technically more advanced Sony offering. In 2014, Sony announced it would no longer makeconsumer e-readers.

But the existence of the Sony e-reader meant readers – and authors – weren’t restricted to a single file format. Smashwords was founded in 2008 to provide books in multiple formats. It gave greater flexibility to readers, particularly those who didn’t want to support Amazon.

Barnes & Noble released the Nook in 2009. In 2010, the first iPad hit stores. The Kobo arrived in 2011. Readers had a whole new way to buy books for their new favourite device.

Authors were initially slow to throw books onto these electronic bookstores. Amanda Hocking is often cited as the first real success story, held up as a poster girl for self-publishing. Hocking’s novels had been rejected by agents, but she self-published her first four titles in April 2010. She’d earned enough to quit her day job by August that same year.

Authors suddenly realised that they didn’t need to play the publisher’s game. Most estimates put the so-called Kindle Revolution at 2011. The rules had changed.

The Kindle is the most popular e-reader [Public domain, via Pixabay]

The new professionalism

The public soon tired of badly edited, badly formatted self-published titles. Self-publishing earned a reputation that put it on par with vanity publishing. Some believed that only people who couldn’t get traditional deals would resort to self-publishing.

And in some quarters, the bad reputation hasn’t entirely dissipated. Many still sniff at indie published titles, assuming they will be poor quality. Sadly, there are still authors publishing books that don’t meet the standard.

Thankfully, most authors have realised that they need to produce a professional product if they want to compete with the big publishing houses. For many readers, it’s difficult to distinguish between traditional and indie products – aside from the price. Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust is available for pre-order at £9.99 for an e-book on Amazon. Many indie published titles are available for £3.99 or much less.

And traditional publishing is no longer the only way to achieve greater success.

Hugh Howey chose to indie publish his Wool series because of the freedom of the process. But he still managed to sell the film rights to 20th Century Fox. He signed a print-only deal with Simon & Schuster to access distribution to US book retailers. But he still distributes Wool online himself. He’s one of the ‘hybrid’ authors who works across both forms of publishing.

The Wool Omnibus. By Hugh C. Howey (Hugh C. Howey's blog) [CC0, via Wikimedia Commons]

And science fiction writer Andy Weir landed a film deal for The Martian after serialising the novel on his blog. He only signed the traditional deal for the novel some three years after putting the story online.

Many have renamed the movement ‘indie publishing’ due to the change in professionalism. Writers are no longer self-publishing, per se. They’re simply publishing independently from the big publishers.

And successful indie authors can command higher royalties than their traditionally published counterparts.

In 2016, indie author Joanna Penn earned approximately £66,000 in book sales alone. Penn points out herself that her "books are rarely in the top sales ranking on Amazon" but her income isn’t to be sneezed at.

In mid-2016, crime author Adam Croft reportedly pulled in around £2,000 a day in royalties.

While many indie published writers can only dream of such high payouts, it’s still easier to make more money simply due to the royalty structure. For a book priced above £2.99 on the Amazon Kindle store, authors net a cool 70%. Compare that to many traditional deals, which only pay out 10% in royalties (though perhaps due to the pressure of independent publishing, some publishers are now offering 50% e-book royalties).

Indie publishing is an industry in itself

Authors are no longer simply wordsmiths hammering away at the keyboard until something resembling a book appears. Authors do their own marketing, design their own websites, and hire their own collaborators. In the world of indie publishing, you’ll get to know editors, proof-readers, cover designers, book formatting specialists, and other authors to help you spread the word.

All of these hats require a level of professionalism that have earned indie publishing a reprieve from, if not yet a total reversal of, its previous poor reputation.

And it’s about time.


Need help preparing your book for publication? I offer a full range of editorial services – from developmental editing to proofreading the cover or product description. I can offer guidance through the publication and distribution process and help you create a professional book marketing strategy.


How to market your blog using social media and SEO

Last time we looked at just how valuable a blog can be to your author platform. It's a great way to build relationships with readers, deepen existing connections, and get visitors onto your email list.

If you don't already have one, you might be wondering how you go about setting up a blog. And if you do already have one, you want to know when to post and where to promote your posts.

After all, blogging can feel like howling into the void at the best of times. You want to make sure that your potential readers can actually find you.

So let's go through these in a logical order. 

How to set up a blog

There are lots of different blogging platforms for you to try. Blogger and Wordpress.com will give you a good taste of blogging for free.

Medium is free and has the advantage of a built-in sharing network. With Medium, you can also submit your articles to publications, which will share to them their followers. It’s great for extra exposure and Medium is a great platform for writers anyway.

But a blog and a website don’t need to be indistinguishable. Your website can be your blog. Or you can have a link to your blog in your website’s menu. Keeping your blog updated is a good way to provide fresh content and keep Google happy.

Some bloggers use Squarespace for its simplicity, clean design, and drag-and-drop design. It’s what I chose when setting up this website.  

You can use Wordpress.org which requires you to buy your own URL and web space. You install Wordpress at your own domain, which is why it’s called self-hosted Wordpress.

The beauty of Squarespace and self-hosted Wordpress is that you can use them as your author website, as well as a blog.

All platforms have their advantages and disadvantages. The most professional options are definitely Squarespace or Wordpress.

But if you just want to try blogging before you commit to it, then post a few articles on Medium and see how you feel about it.

Or take the plunge and buy a URL. Point it to a blog on Blogger or Wordpress.com. That way, all you're paying for is the URL which you will need for your author website anyway.

Speaking of URLs, don’t go for anything fancy. Obvious is good. So if your author name is Tallulah Fandango, then see if tallulahfandango.com is available.

If you'd like more information about a self-hosted Wordpress website and blog, then author Icy Sedgwick will be offering an online course to get you up and running. Sign up to be notified when it will be available here.

When to post

Some authors avoid blogging because they don't have time to post something every day. That's a good thing because daily posting is only really useful if you want a one way ticket to Burnout City.

Google does like regular content. But that's regular within your own schedule. So you might only post once or twice a week. Just make sure you post on the same day every week. That way, regular readers will know to come to your blog for content.

You're also far more likely to keep it up if you know that you need content every Wednesday.

There's no hard and fast rule about the time of day you should post. Time zones tend to get in the way of that. But just make sure you keep to a regular schedule.

It can be a good idea to develop a basic editorial calendar ahead of time. Sit down and brainstorm some topics using the previous post as a guide. Buy a planner, or just open Google Calendar.

Map your post ideas against the dates in the calendar. If any of them are time sensitive, plot those first. For example, if you've got spooky content about Halloween, write it down against the dates in October.

Editorial calendars can be a lot more comprehensive than this. Copywriter Lacy Boggs has a comprehensive series of posts about editorial calendars on her blog. But it's best to keep it simple when you're just starting off.

It's also a good idea to write two or three posts at a time. You can schedule your posts in advance, so if you can't write a post that week, you've still got something going live.

Where to promote your blog posts

There are two prongs to the fork that is promotion. You can concentrate on putting the content in front of people, which we’ll cover in a moment.

But you can also optimise your content so that people find it organically. It's called Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO for short. It's a huge topic so we'll just touch on it here, but there are still some things you can do to make sure your blog gets found.

Think what visitors might be searching for. So if you’re writing about fantasy fiction, then they might be searching for ‘fantasy films in 2017’. Make sure you use that phrase in the title of your post, as well as a heading and sprinkled throughout the article.

If you're using Wordpress, you can also install the Yoast SEO plugin. It'll walk you through SEO at a basic level. But it's great for adding a meta description to your posts, which shows up when you share posts on social media.

Google keeps changing its algorithms so don’t worry too much about specific keywords. It can even come up with synonyms now. So if you write a post on ‘strange places to visit in London’, your post will still show up if a visitor searches for ‘weird places in London’.

And speaking of promoting on social media...

I'll let you in on a little secret. You don't need to be on all of the social media platforms. There's really no need.

But you DO need to be on the platforms that your readers actually use.

So if you write fluffy chick-lit, there's not a huge need to post your articles to LinkedIn. But Pinterest will be ideal for you. (Plus Pinterest is a lot of fun)

And authors are trying to use Instagram, which is fine, but remember it's primarily a photo sharing platform. It’s far better to use Instagram to build your personal author brand.

Twitter and Facebook will probably be your biggest friends here.

Twitter chats are an ideal way to promote your posts. Find hashtags that are suitable for your genre and post your links using the tag. Just make sure you retweet posts by other people using the hashtag.

 A good rule of thumb is to retweet 4-5 articles by other people for every one of your own links.

You can try the #amwriting, #storycrafter and #writetip hashtags to connect with other writers. It’s a great way to make new writer friends and get moral support.

But #MondayBlogs and #SundayBlogShare are a good way to get involved with the Twitter blogging community. Share tweets that your target reader might find interesting.

Always remember that you’re blogging and using social media to find readers, not just other writers.

Follow people who you think might be interested in what you write. Use the search bar to look for their interests - it doesn’t just have to be about what they read. If you write science fiction, search for those with ‘science’ or ‘tech’ in their bio. Or a related term, like ‘geek’. If you write horror, then I guarantee horror fans will mention it in their bio!

Facebook Pages are great for building a community around a topic. But they can be difficult to build from scratch.

So try Facebook Groups instead. Find some groups related to your topic and join them. Remember to comment on other users' posts and share their links as well as your own. Always follow the rules of any Groups.

The more you share the content of others, the more others will share yours. And remember that you need to add value to your reader’s life. So share posts that will entertain or inspire them. If you share posts they like, they’re more likely to read your posts too.

You also need to check who is visiting your blog

You'll be able to see how useful your social media promotion is by checking your blog's analytics.

It sounds scary but it really isn't. It's just a means of checking how many people have viewed your posts in a given timeframe. Analytics also let you see where people are coming from, and how long they spend on your site. It will also let you see which social media platform provides the most visitors.

 

That way, you know where to focus your efforts at first.

You can view your top 10 posts per time frame too. That in itself is a goldmine of information. Say your top 10 is made up of 2 book reviews, your website’s ‘about’ page, and 7 articles you wrote on fantasy films/novels/TV series.

That tells you that your genre-specific content is more attractive to readers, so you can maybe post fewer book reviews.

If you know what people enjoy reading, you can create more of it.

Using analytics is another post entirely. But for now, make sure you set up an account with Google Analytics. There's a plugin for Wordpress that lets you connect your account with your blog.

You can also use Google Analytics if you're still using Blogger, and both Medium and Wordpress.com have their own analytics.

But whatever you do, don’t let your fear of blogging hold you back.

Even in an era of so-called “content shock”, blogging remains a brilliant way of connecting with new readers. And as a writer, you’re ideally placed to produce excellent content that will entertain them - and persuade them to read your books!

Please feel free to post any questions below if you’d like to know more about any of these topics.


Authors, need help with your blog, website or social media strategy? My Book Marketing Toolkit includes direct feedback and ongoing support.


 

 

 

 

Meet Moira McPartlin

I met Moira when she gave a very well-received reading at a Fife Writes social evening. I enjoyed her reading so much I bought her book – and am really pleased she agreed to be part of this author interview series.

Moira, thanks for taking part!

Could you give a brief introduction to your work?

I began writing poetry and short stories many years ago as an antidote to the hectic finance job I had at the time. I was travelling extensively and alone, staying in lonely hotels and spending too much time in airport departure lounges. I took some creative writing courses at Strathclyde University and encouraged by my tutor I became serious about writing. In 2005 I resigned my finance role to write full time. I now have two novels and many short stories in print and am currently preparing my third novel for publication in 2017. As well as writing I deliver creative writing workshops and am actively involved in Scottish Pen. In the past I have been sub editor for a mountaineering magazine and New Voices Press, the publication arm of the Federation of Writers Scotland and a long-standing committee member of Weegie Wednesday, a Glasgow-based literary networking group.

If you cast your mind back to your first author events, do you have any tips for building confidence?

I am confident now but it wasn’t so long ago when I was very nervous reading out my own work, even to small groups. I would be so nervous my throat would close, I couldn’t breathe and I sounded quite emotional. The turning point came when I did a joint event. The other reader had organised everything and I thought I would just have to turn up and read, but when she arrived she was very drunk and I had to take over the running of the event. The fact that I had a responsibility to the audience made a big difference to my performance.

My first big event was the launch of The Incomers, at the Aye Write Book Festival. I had two actresses on stage with me to perform part of the book. We were all nervous but we had practiced our parts well and the whole event was a huge success and great fun.

My advice would be to make every event special and be as prepared as you can be. I always dress up for events and wear nice shoes. Once I begin to get ready it is as if I’m an actress putting on a costume, I become Moira the Author.

Could you tell us a little about the personal experience that inspired your novel? Was it satisfying / empowering distilling that experience into your book?

My debut novel The Incomers is set in a Fife mining village in 1966 and tells the story of Ellie a young black African women who, with young son Nat, joins her white husband in Scotland.  There she befriends a young English girl, Mary.  Originally I wrote the story from Mary’s point of view because it was a story familiar to me. Although I was born in the Scottish Borders my family moved to England when I was small. We moved to Fife when I was five and as a family with English accents myself and my siblings were treated like aliens. We quickly adapted but I still remember that feeling of being different and have always thought it would be a good subject for a novel. The novel has many incomers, a Polish miner, an Italian chip shop owner, all things present in the village I grew up in, but it wasn’t until I introduced Ellie, who is completely fictional, that the story became interesting. As soon as she walked onto the page she demanded that I write her story.

I loved the tender portrayal of the mother’s relationship with her baby son Nat. Did that come about very naturally for you, or was it something you had to work at?

I did have to work hard at it. Babies don’t normally have much characterisation in fiction and I was determined to make it work. The fact that he was strapped to Ellie’s back most of the time helped. But I was also lucky. At the time of writing my grandson and granddaughter were about the same age as Nat so I was able to observe them and pick up on all their little behaviours. They are both given credit for this in the novel’s acknowledgements.

Can you say anything about the editing process? Did you work through a lot of drafts? It’s often difficult to know when a book is ‘finished’ and ready to send out into the world. What was that point for you?

I am a furious editor. I write about ten to fifteen drafts before I consider the book finished.  My first draft is always rough and then I begin to craft it. I always compare the writing process to sculpting. The first draft is my lump of clay and then each edit refines the shape until the finished article is ready. I have some early readers and I take their feedback very seriously. No writer I know writes in isolation. But with The Incomers, even when I thought I was done I knew I’d have to visit Africa before I was satisfied it was right. I went to Africa expecting to see large differences between African women and Fife mining wives and what I found there was their lives were really not that different. It was a great learning experience and when I returned I revisited the final version and changed it.

What’s your favourite way to keep in contact with your readership?

I love to meet readers in person. I visit as many book groups as I can and I do lots of library events. Since my second novel Ways of the Doomed was published I have also visited a number of schools. In September I embarked on my Highland, One Island Book Tour. I travelled all round the Highlands and Bute in my campervan, visiting libraries, schools, writing groups and book stores. I met loads of lovely readers.

You can read about the tour on Moira's blog here

Why is blogging so important to fiction writers?

You've written your novel. Maybe you've even found an editor.

Now you're thinking about publishing. But no matter where you look online, all of the advice boils down to the same thing. You're going to need a platform. Agents pretty much require one now. And it's an essential part of your marketing strategy if you're going to publish yourself.

image1.jpg

But what is a platform? Is it your Twitter following? Your Facebook Page? Your email list?

It's all of these things and more. Your platform is how to interact with the world as an author. And it's never too late to start building one.

The problem is, it can be difficult to know where to start. Particularly when the advice contradicts itself. Some authors say blogging is pointless for writers. Others promote writing on platforms like Medium. And yet more focus exclusively on the email list, and don't even bother with social media.

While an email list is important, blogging can be a fun and useful way to build your platform. After all, it's about communicating through the written word. And you're a writer - so that's right up your street.

So in this two-part exploration, we're going to examine blogging for fiction authors. In this post, we'll focus on 3 of the 5Ws - What, Why, and Who. We'll look at where and when (as well as how) in the next post.

What is blogging?

Put simply, blogging is a way to build relationships with your readers. A few years ago, blogging was often seen as a way to keep an online diary. Bloggers might document their struggles with a job, or an illness. They found readers who were going through the same thing.

But now it’s become the bedrock of content marketing. You literally market yourself through the content you produce. And that content helps you to build relationships with new readers. Remember, readers aren’t likely to buy a book after seeing your “BUY MY BOOK!” tweet for the 600th time on Twitter.

And they certainly won’t buy your book after getting an automated direct message from you.

But if they get to know you through your blog content? Well, you’ve already broken down one of the barriers to buying. You’re no longer an unknown quantity. They already have awareness of you - and they know if they like your writing.

Think of it like ‘try before you buy’.

Most bloggers agree that there are three types of blogs; those that inspire, educate, or entertain. We’re not going to look at inspirational blogging here. We’re more interested in the other two.

Educational blogging

A lot of bloggers focus on the ‘educate’ strand. Think of all of those blogs hosting recipes, skin care regimes, fashion advice, or parenting tips. Blogs about creative writing, like this one, fall into this category.

 

These bloggers form connections with their readers by helping their readers with a problem. And readers keep coming back because they like the blogger’s help, or even just their voice. Psychology blogger Mark Manson is a good example of an educational blogger who also wins readers through how he says things, as well as what he says.

So yes, you could blog about how to write. But you’re a fiction writer. So you’re looking for readers for your novels - who might not want to know how to write. And teaching writers how to write won’t necessarily net you sales of your novels. If you’re only starting out, it might not be appropriate either.

If you want to choose the ‘educate’ strategy, then consider writing articles about any research you’ve done. This is particularly useful if you write a genre like science fiction or historical stories. Catherine Curzon is a great example.

Entertaining blogs

Alternatively, you might choose to go down the ‘entertain’ route. Flash fiction is a brilliant way to get your fiction out into the world. And as the stories are less than 1000 words, readers are more likely to actually read them.

You can also blog a story as a serial. Andy Weir followed this route for The Martian and built up a following before self-publishing.

Or you can even share artwork related to your book. People love visuals, and they’re a great - and quick - way to grab attention. You just need to make sure you promote whatever you post - but more on that next time.

Why should you start blogging?

Back in the day, authors often had static websites. They'd only update the pages when a new book came out. Or perhaps they were going to do a signing somewhere. You might see a 'News' tab on these sites.

 

Then authors realised that static websites weren't helping. If you don't update the content regularly, readers have no reason to come back. Plus, Google likes a website that isn't static. It likes regularly updated sites because that improves the user experience - and Google's algorithms are all about the user experience now.

So replacing your website with a blog is an easy way to keep the content fresh - and keep the readers coming back. The more time a reader spends on your blog, the more they get to know you.

But there's another advantage to blogging. As with anything, writing improves with practice. So the more you blog, the more you write...and the better you get.

Who do you blog for?

This is perhaps the contentious part of blogging for authors. Who exactly are you hoping will read your content?

Many authors fall into the trap of blogging about writing. It's a natural assumption to make. After all, you should write what you know, right?

Wrong. The only readers who are interested in reading about writing are other authors. So if you're blogging about ways to make your characters more relatable, or how to get readers to keep turning the pages, only other authors will read your blog.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. It'll help you to network with other authors. That in itself is helpful when it comes to promoting your work.

We talked about educational blogging earlier. But remember that other authors aren't always going to be your target audience. They won't necessarily buy your books.

The visitors you want to attract to your blog are potential readers.

 

So how do you attract those?

If you ask an experienced non-fiction blogger what they think fiction authors should blog about, they nearly always say 'take readers behind the scenes'. They advocate sharing 'deleted scenes', or updating readers on your progress on your newest book.

So fiction authors blog about their characters, or their writing process. They share photos of where they write.

But only two kinds of people are going to be interested in that. Other authors and people who are already your readers.

That kind of content goes into your emails to your existing fans. They already know your worlds and characters, and want to know more. So they’ll be interested. It’s a nice, exclusive reward for people who’ve engaged with your writing.

But a lot of people who land on your blog won’t know you from Adam. Especially if they’ve clicked on a link on Twitter. Until you build up a following, you need to produce content that people will want to read. Which leads us onto our final question.

What do you actually blog about?

This is probably the biggest question for a fiction blogger. After all, you’re not like all of those lifestyle, fashion or tech blogs. You can’t necessarily teach readers how to do something.

And if you just write about your books, it’s unlikely that people will want to read posts about them. If you don’t believe me, try visiting a blog about a film you’ve never seen.

Remember that the rabid, active reader that devours four books a week is in the minority. So your blog needs to woo occasional readers. What might they be interested in?

Start with your genre. What relates to it? If you write fantasy, you could blog about other fantasy novels. Or make lists of the best elves in fantasy. Pit famous characters against one another in a fictional duel. You can even talk about fantasy films.

If you write crime thrillers, you could post about true crime, or research into cold cases. Maybe discuss elements of crime thrillers, so you could have a series about what forensics involves. You could have a ‘case of the week’ column.

 

More interested in writing science fiction? Blog about science news, or famous science fiction novels. Compare adaptations for film and television. Anything that readers of science fiction will find interesting.

So do you see how it all fits together? Your blog is there to advertise your presence online. It’s a way to get attention, which you can funnel towards your books through a sidebar ad, links to your books, or an invitation to join your email list.

And the best way to do all of that is to speak to people who enjoy your genre.

Hopefully this article has given you more of an idea what you might do with your own blog. And this foundational content is really important if you want to set up a blog from scratch. It’s also essential if you already have a blog and you’re not sure what to do with it!

So look out for part 2 to find out how to set up a blog, when to post, and where to promote your posts!


Need some help finding your blogging voice or brainstorming topics? My Complete Book Marketing Toolkit offers this and more.


Elephant @ the Party

Welcome, Julie, and thanks for sharing the story of your debut YA novel with us.

Your inspiration for writing ‘Elephant @ the Party’ was quite unusual…can you explain?

Not really! I had just had a soul retrieval (an ancient healing practice where lost soul parts are returned). I was relaxing, enjoying integrating my returned creativity and bam the idea for a book clobbered me over the head. Girl, fifteen, doesn’t like herself, turns into an elephant, in a faerie world and has to learn to love herself in order to turn human again. Oh it’s to be called Elephant @ the Party. That was it!

I’d always had a vague idea that I might like to write a book one day, and this idea wouldn’t leave me alone. It poked and prodded me until I put pen to paper, a mere six months later. I had no plot and no characters other than Lucy. Even the romance between Lucy and Connor wasn’t added until the third draft.

I had never written before, except for user documentation (yawn) when I was in IT. I hadn’t taken any creative writing courses, concerned that it would destroy rather than build my creativity. Although I loved English at school, I don’t think I was ever graded above a C. The idea of writing a novel was terrifying. Actually writing it was totally exhilarating, in a free-falling from 20,000 ft kind of way.

You seem to have a great understanding of teenagers. Is it a time in your life you remember well?

I remember feeling horribly invisible most of the time and horribly visible some of the time. Lots of embarrassment, debilitating self-doubt and negative self-image (which I didn’t escape until my thirties). Add to that raging hormones and you have valuable experiences of the downside of being a teenage.

There’s lots of advice in your book, such as:

“Action is the key to all success. You cannot succeed if you don’t even try. Ask yourself is it your light or your dark that you are afraid of?”

Was that something you intended from the beginning?

Absolutely! I had undergone five years of intensive personal and spiritual development. I have lots of qualifications in these areas: nutritional therapist (almost), hypnotherapist, NLP Master Practitioner, Shamanic Practitioner, Angel Healer etc., etc. I knew I wanted to help people. I thought I would do this as a coach or as a therapist. It wasn’t until I’d completed E@TP that I realized all the training courses were stocking the well for healing with words.

Fiction has always spoken to me much more than non-fiction. I get more out of a good story than reading a personal development book. As unconscious mind deals in metaphor, I figured a story would help the advice be received at a much deeper level.

You are gently encouraging of creativity in the narrative. Is that something you were conscious of throughout?

Lucy was always a reluctant artist. It was only in the final edit that I thought it would have much more impact if Lucy had never picked up a paintbrush. I tried to portray (subtly) the process a lot of us go through when we open up to our creativity; procrastination, self-doubt, fear of not being perfect. I suppose I hope to inspire people to try something creative. I view creativity as the light that feeds soul, nourishing and strengthening us so that we can be happier and more fulfilled.

Anything you couldn’t fit into your story or had to wrestle to leave out?

I had to wrestle to leave a few scenes that I was attached to but had absolutely impact to the plotline – I’m thinking of the white water rafting scene with Connor, Lucy and Dylan, which was enjoyable to write but in the end was of insignificant to the plot.

The hardest deletion was with Fiona, the mermaid queen. In one of the early reviews you made a comment that she was fun and it would be nice to see a little more of her. Well we saw a whole lot more of her! I had so much fun with her that she forgot her place. I got to explore a woman who was completely at home in her sexuality and sensuality. She took it too far and had to be dialed back to being a bit player. Although a few of my early readers were dismayed that she and her vampish ways have been left out so perhaps I’ll find a place for her in the sequel.

In the final draft I felt like I had edited myself out of the book. It was upsetting at first but it meant I lost my attachment to the story. A good thing as it meant it has been easier to let go.

You don’t shy away from burgeoning sexuality in your young characters. Was that natural for you?

Yes, although there was no hanky-panky in the first draft. It wasn’t until the second draft that I thought to myself ‘hang on a minute, I like romance, I like sexy-bits, Lucy’s fifteen. Fifteen year olds are driven by sex and hormones. Let that part of me flow.’

I became sexually aware at fifteen (Jackie Collins’ fault!). There is so much confusion and judgement around sexuality. You are damned if you do and your damned if you don’t at that age (well, at any age). As their romance deepens, the book heats up, sexual tension intensifies. It’s too powerful for them to stop or consider the consequences. Lucky for Connor and Lucy, everyone else is doing that for them.

Some of it was embarrassing to write. Like when Lucy walks in to the forge and finds a sweaty Connor stripped to the waist, back muscles rippling and she has the urge to lick sweat from his back. But I like to think (I hope!) I got the self-judgement and confusion of bourgeoning sexuality spot on.

We worked through several drafts together. How did you find the process of editing your work and staying motivated?

Excruciating! I severely dislike the editorial process but love the results. I generally found myself overwhelmed by the editorial reviews. I would read them. Cry for a day or two. Panic for a week or two before I could sit down to tackle that changes. When I stopped procrastinating and started working, the review didn’t seem so bad.

The first draft was binned. At that point I undertook a mentorship with you and that was invaluable. I would recommend it to anyone. I changed from third to first person and the story flowed better. I’ve lost track of how many reviews we did. I thought it was four but it may have been five.

I decided to self-publish in May 2015, after the third draft but the book wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready. I knew it needed more work but wasn’t in a position financially or emotionally to go for another round. I didn’t think I had a choice but to publish. I had done all this work and wasn’t in a position to do any more so I had a little premature book launch which I now think of as a trial run.

Your encouragement and belief in ‘Elephant @ the Party’ spurred me to the finish line. I didn’t think I had anything left to give to the book. I’m glad I kept going. I think we created magic with the last two edits.

It took me five days to pluck up the courage to read your final edits and I couldn’t believe it. I was completely bewildered. There were no notes for me to freak out over. No how am I supposed to do that? I really saw the power of editing in the penultimate edit. Every word had earned its place. That truly made a difference to the finished product.

I would like to acknowledge your talent as an editor. I didn’t always see what you did. Sometimes I was even angry at your suggestions. You guided me with gentle sensitivity. Directing without telling or infringing on my creative process. That’s a truly beautiful skill in an editor. Thank you.

Thank you so much, Julie, for sharing your creative journey with us.

 

Readers can keep in touch with Julie, and find out more about the sequel and whether Lucy and Connors love can survive two different worlds here and the fabulous Elephant @ The Partyis available for purchase here

 

 

‘The Silent Land’: a Novel of Wartime England

David Dunham’s debut novel The Silent Land is a masterful tale of grief in wartime played out in Worcestershire and the Fens. Here, David shares the story of how the book came to be written.

Hi David, thanks so much for taking part in this series of author interviews.

Can you tell us a little about how your story came about?

The original book was called The Catesby Committee and was set in 1939 England around the relationship between two young men, James and Sebastian, and how one became compromised in his patriotism. I began to write the novel, but after a chapter or two I became more interested in their mother and what her story was so I took the story back many years to when she was a young woman. The chronology of her life couldn’t ignore the First World War, hence my involvement of a relatively unknown battle in the narrative; a battle I had once researched as a reporter.

The story ends in 1919, leaving James and Sebastian awaiting their turn for their tale to be told.

You did an extraordinary job in portraying your heroine Rebecca. Was her Point of View something you had to work at or did it come naturally to you? 

There were moments early on when it occurred to me that a male living in New Zealand writing his debut novel using third person limited point of view, from the perspective of a young, middle-class woman living in early 20th Century England, and one who speaks in an ever so slightly diluted form of Edwardian English, was being a little ambitious. But that doubt soon passed and I, and this may sound strange, talked to Rebecca as much as I could in my head. Whenever I felt I was losing her, I would go for a walk and ask her what she would do or say, or how she would act. And then I wrote the second sentence and so on.

Hopefully Rebecca won’t mind that I’ve moved on.

How familiar are you with the places you write about?

The Silent Land’s principal settings are Worcestershire and the Fens. Thankfully, my family live in these glorious places and I grew up in them so I was able to draw on both childhood and adult memories. If you are ever passing by either area, do stop and go for a stroll. The people are lovely.

Do you edit as you write or write a full draft then edit?

I handwrote The Silent Land using my favourite pen. The process was this: write two, possibly three sentences on a lined pad, then rewrite them and cross out the original, then write some more and rewrite them, until the page was full and I’d probably have about 200 words. I’d then find another piece of paper, or turn over, and keep going. Then, when I reached my word target, I would type whatever I could see amongst all the scribblings, print it, and then edit it. All in all, a very slow process that I recommend doing only once. The current project is being written straight into the laptop. My pen is glad of the rest as The Silent Land is 92,000 words in length.

How long did it take you from idea to completion of your draft?

I would love to be one of those people who say, ‘oh, it only took a few months’. It didn’t. It took quite a while, so long, in fact, I’m sure I could have learnt at least two other languages in the time.

Can you tell us a little about your next project?

I’m working on a manuscript called The Legend of Caradoc, which is about a Cornish teenager called Jack Caradoc who leaves his world to confront the evil that his ancestor had defeated many years before. It is for teenagers and adults who like to take an adventure now and again. I started writing in May and the first draft should be completed within six to eight months. It is as different to The Silent Land as I could possibly imagine.

You can keep in touch with David on Twitter at @DDunhamAuthor  and learn more on his author website, where you can also purchase recommended read The Silent Land.


Need some help with editing or marketing your manuscript?


 

 

How I Found My Publisher

I’m thrilled to be taking part in Barbara Henderson’s blog tour as she celebrates the launch of YA historical fiction Fir for Luck and spills the beans on her path to publication.

 

A teacher and mother of three, I was 38 when I realised that my dream of being a novelist was pretty unlikely to come true if I didn’t finish a novel at some point. Short story competition success aside, I had not proven (even to myself) that I could write something more substantial. Attending an event with children’s author Janis Mackay was an eye-opener: to the audience question of how she got published, she simply said: ‘I entered the Kelpies Prize and won, so I got published. That was it, really.’

I am a sucker for occasions, and New Year seemed as good a time as any to make my resolution. I was going to write a novel, win the Kelpies Prize and be published.

I threw myself into the first decent idea for a story. Months later, I had finished it, sent it to a handful of agents and received my first clutch of rejections.

One agent, however, got back to me and asked for the whole manuscript, and another told me this one wasn’t for her, but she’d like to see what I did next. I tweaked it and entered the Kelpies Prize. With no success. My three-step business plan had failed!

By that time, I had begun another book I was really excited about, so I put the first one aside and got cracking on a political thriller for Middle Grade readers. Done, I sent it off and collected a second round of rejections, but many of them were nice ones with a bit of feedback. Another agency enthusiastically asked for the whole manuscript and I sent it. A month afterwards I had heard nothing and followed up – the agent in question had left her job and no-one knew anything about it.

Undeterred, I sent it off for that year’s Kelpies Prize and got started on my third manuscript, an MG eco-thriller. One by one, the rejections trickled in, and I was full of self-doubt when two magical things happened all at once: I stumbled across the local history at Ceannabeinne on holiday in Sutherland – the story that would become Fir for Luck – AND I got an email, telling me I had made the Kelpies shortlist.

What followed were six weeks of promising possibility before the winner was announced: Not me, but the brilliant Alex McCall. That was 2013, and although I did not have the publishing deal I had longed for, I had gained something else: a bit of credibility, a bit of confidence – and a slightly thicker skin. I had made the Kelpies shortlist, a final list of three – and so I kept writing.

Floris, the Edinburgh-based publishers who run the Kelpies Prize, kept in touch, giving me feedback, and very nearly taking one of my picture book efforts.

It was the beginning of 2016, and ever hopeful, I set up a Twitter account so I could take part in a Twitter pitch initiative. A new company called Cranachan followed me and I clicked through to their website to have a look. Scottish, small, motivated, island-based. The perfect match?

A few days later I got a request for the whole manuscript. I was encouraged, but not beside myself with excitement: I had been here before and it had all come to nothing. Imagine my surprise when, soon after, they asked if they could come to Inverness to meet me in person. I agonised: how I could possibly persuade them to take a gamble on me? I ran through scenarios and my various pitches for Fir for Luck, brushed up on my knowledge of the current historical fiction market for children, smartened up my blog and increased my social media activity. In the end, we met and we clicked. I floated home from the meeting, still in a state of shock, to find that my husband had rushed out to get champagne and flowers while I was out, just in case it worked out.

Once the contract arrived, I got it checked by the Society of Authors which gave me the confidence that this was kosher, professional territory, and I signed on the dotted line...

 

 

Follow the rest of Barbara’s story on her author website, or keep in touch on Twitter and be sure to read more about Fir for Luck here.

Reflections on the Crime Factor Tour

Fresh from their fantastically successful Crime Factor Tour, I caught up with writers Gordon J Brown, Neil Broadfoot, Mark Leggatt, Douglas Skelton and chair of events Peter Burnett.
 

Mark Leggatt

Mark Leggatt

Neil Broadfoot

Neil Broadfoot

Gordon J Brown

Gordon J Brown

Douglas Skelton

Douglas Skelton

      Peter Burnett

      Peter Burnett

Thanks for taking part everyone, and spilling the beans about what crime readers are talking about and what makes a successful book tour.

M: I’m the author of Names Of The Dead, The London Cage, and The Silk Road (in progress), a series of international thrillers which weave fact and fiction across the globe.

G: I’m the writer of four crime thriller novels set in Scotland and the US and co-founder and director of crime writing festival Bloody Scotland.

D: A former journalist and true crime author now focusing on crime fiction.

N: Journalist by trade, husband, father, dog wrangler. Writer of the Edinburgh-set Doug and Susie series.

P: I've written six novels and some non-fiction, as well as a couple of plays, and poetry in English and Scots. Generally my books have had the themes of technology and art although my best seller is THE SUPPER BOOK – an annotated list of everything that I ate and drank in one year. In my day job I am a hacker and web developer.

P: My favourite question was from a woman in Kirkcaldy, and it was: "Who are you?!" I was hosting the event and I had introduced the four others, but forgotten to talk a little about myself. Half way through the evening, a hand rose and out popped this stunningly direct query. I loved it. 

M: “How do you write” – I could talk for hours on the subject! And the short answer is; fountain pens, notebooks, dry markers, Magic Whiteboard, pencils, paper, and dictation software.

G: At the opening of the Falkirk night we asked for the first question from the audience. Up to that point most had been around plotting, setting, inspiration etc. Falkirk's first question was Have any of you been to an autopsy? - cue a silence from the panel as we looked around to see if anyone had: 

a) Been to an autopsy

and 

b) If not how to answer without just saying no.

N: It’s hard to single one question and answer out, as every event on the tour has its different strengths. However, one recurring theme we keep drifting back to is the level of violence in books, and how we go about addressing that. To me – and, from the answers Mark. Gordon, Douglas and Peter have given on this I get the sense they agree – there’s a responsibility that goes along with portraying violence and evil deeds in books. And it’s not to be taken lightly. This has invariably led to conversations about morality and where we as writers draw the line - and where readers want us to draw it, which is always fascinating.  

G: Strongly wouldn’t be the right term. There is a difference in approach to way we write that raises its head. Neil, Douglas and I are not planners. We tend to start writing and see where it takes us. Mark, on the other hand likes to write out a full synopsis and plaster his wall in Post It notes before getting down to writing. As a joke we now refer to Neil, Douglas and my way of working as the ‘Dark Side’ and keep inviting Mark to join us.

D: I tend to disagree with Neil Broadfoot as much as I can but that's simply on principle more than anything else. But apart from that, no. We're all pretty much in accord, although Mark Leggatt does adhere too much to his planning books out ahead method. The rest of us fly by the seat of our pants.

N: I’m contractually obligated to disagree with Douglas Skelton on everything. But, that aside, not really. Every writer has their own point of view, what’s great is the chance to share that, see the differences and, in many cases, the commonality. The only disagreement we really have is on approach - Gordon, Douglas and I tend to write by the seat of our pants while Mark is more the planner. But he’ll come round to our way of thinking soon enough!

P: Nearly. I tried to stimulate a conversation about the stock characteristics of certain types of crime hero; often a middle-aged male; a renegade authority figure; often slightly alcoholic and generally a romantic failure. I recall bringing this up and my fellow panellists (all middle-aged renegades as it happens...) looked at me blankly, as if they had no idea what I was talking about. Before denying everything.

G: Not disappointed but surprised. The audiences have avoided a lot of the ‘cliche ‘questions - e.g. ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ Because of the structure we get some great questions that lead us into new territory each night.

M: Over the whole tour, I think I’ve answered every question, as I’m usually good at sticking my oar in. I can’t think of any question I’d liked to have been asked, other than “Would you like to sign this North American multi-million pound publishing contract?”

G: Regretted - no. Changed my mind - maybe. You tend to learn from the others when they answer questions that you have answered in the past. It’s interesting that I’m probably now more aware of  why I write the way I do, because of the debate. For instance I am very much a writer who starts typing and lets the flow take me where it will. It’s only really occurred to me in the last few weeks that the reason I like this is that the storytelling is better. I’m often surprised at where I go and, as a result, I would expect the reader to be surprised - which keeps it all fresh and vibrant.

M: Meeting readers and budding authors is a great buzz, and I love talking about writing; it’s my passion. So the whole thing is just great fun. 

G: It’s fun. I have a day job and this is not the day job. That in itself is reason enough to participate. There’s also a part of me that loves being talked to as a writer. As an avid reader I find the experience of being on the receiving end of questions over the art a real eye opener and deeply enjoyable.

D: I think the chance to interact with the most important people in the book process - the readers. Also the opportunity to show people that crime writers are not deadly serious, despite the content of their books. And also, the chance to air some cat jokes. They don't all get a laugh but they tickle me.

N: I love being a writer and I’m an avid reader, so it’s a real kick to talk to fellow writers and readers about a topic and genre I love.

P: I loved meeting the crime readership. I'm already familiar with the readerships of poetry, literary and science fiction, but the engagement levels of the crime audiences surpassed all of those. Plus, the audiences really know their stuff; I can see why a festival like Bloody Scotland is so successful, having met so many crime readers now.

M: Yes, it became less of a Presenter type ‘question and answer’ based format, to a much looser free-for-all, where the audience can ask questions at any time, which really suits our characters as authors. Now Peter is less of the instigator of the question, and more the ringmaster of mirth.  

G: Yes. We are getting to know what each other will say to key questions. It allows us to look more fluid on stage as we can build on what others say and anticipate where the conversation is going. It also allows Peter to keep the time each author speaks even - as he can throw in questions from previous events that brings authors back into the conversation. We’ve also been able to make it more fun for the audience. We can set up jokes (there is a ‘cat pun’ thing going on at the moment) and tee up the other authors for the best stories.

N: I’d say so. As we get to know each other, and how we’re each likely to respond to certain questions, we’ve developed a stronger rapport and a shorthand on where the conversation is going. Peter’s great at keeping us on track and making sure none of us dominate proceedings by rambling on.

P: I enjoyed reading the other writers' books as they came out - so first came The Dead Don't Boogie, by Doug, then The London Cage from Mark, and All The Devils from Neil, and I've just recently got my hands on Dynamite, the latest from Gordon. As I’ve read and digested these guys’ books, I’ve come to a more thorough appreciation of their work. I loved that the authors got so much feedback from readers, and I like to think that I could almost feel their work developing through the tour. 

M: I would say that unless you’re really confident on your own, take another author with you, so you can bounce off each other, or ask another author to act a compere, or to do the introduction. Also, I would say to get the audience involved as much as possible, so that they get as much out of it as possible.

G: Make it interactive and get the audience involved. Make it more of a conversation. Use humour even to the point of self depreciation. Be insightful - people have a real interest in the writing process and want to know the ‘secrets’ and, in the end, be honest.

D: Don't be boring. Avoid reading your work unless you're really good at it. I mean Christopher Brookmyre good. Don't get too bogged down in the minutiae of writing because it can be like explaining a joke. It takes the magic out of it. Don't be offended if someone doesn't like your work or hasn't read it. That's the nature of the beast.

N: Make it interactive and engage with the audience. And keep it funny. Ultimately, you’re all there to talk about a genre that you love, either as a writer or a reader, so enjoy it.

P: Smile.

And remember: nobody turns up to their first event as the finished article.

M: I have written many, many lies at markleggatt.com.  Also, the books are in Blackwell and Waterstones stores, Amazon, Kobo, etc.

G: Easy go to www.gordonjbrown.com or @GoJaBrown on Twitter.

D: I'm on Twitter and also have a website www.douglasskelton.com.

N: I’m normally rattling around on Twitter @NlBro. I’m in the process of setting up a website, neilbroadfoot.com, and my author bio at http://saraband.net/contributor/neil-broadfoot-2/ has all the gory details.

P: Very nice of you to ask. I have a website called http://peterburnett.info and you can also meet me in person at my bookshop, at The Scottish Design Exchange in Edinburgh.

Leave a comment below by 11th October and 1 lucky winner selected at random will win a book from each of these fantastic authors! 

The Secrets of Book Design from Couper Street Type Co.

IMG_3347 copy.jpg
 

Dan Prescott of Couper Street Type Co. shares his thoughts on typesetting and book design, including how to get the most out of working with a professional book designer and typesetter.                    <<CLICK TO TWEET>>

Hi Dan, thanks for taking part in this blog series. Let's begin with what drew you to becoming a book designer... 

In the sense that we work in a visual medium, be that typography, page layout or illustration, but also with ‘content’ and information, book design is both artistic and functional. This combination fascinates me.

I also like the fact that it has this fairly unique mixture of requirements in that you can be quite expressive and artistic – but there is also a long tradition of book production and typesetting that has established certain rules, formulas and structures to work within.

I studied English Literature and after graduating trained as a typesetter in Scotland, then moved on to produce publications for the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Moving south, I began to work in trade publishing on the production side of things, first at Scholastic, Ladybird, then Penguin. 

After college, some friends and I set up an independent publishing house called Lazy Gramophone Press. We produced a lot of tiny-run books that we letterpressed and bound ourselves. Through this, I was also illustrating written pieces and exhibiting artwork and illustrations around London.

So, there were these two strands of literature and art that converged in book design. I love working with books, so I went on to set up Couper Street Type Co., offering a really broad range of skills, services and expertise under one banner – printing and binding, typesetting, design software, illustration, distribution, ebooks etc.

Especially when working with independent authors, I often work in quite an advisory capacity, and it’s great to be able to offer lots of different advice in different areas.

Any projects you are particularly proud of? 

Each project is quite immersive, as there is always an ongoing dialogue, coming up with visual ideas, discussing designs, experimenting, tweaking, until you hopefully arrive at a pleasing and robust solution. There is always the added dimension as well that you are working with someone else’s creation in their writing. 

I think that is one of the joys of designing books, of working with books and surrounding yourself with books – they are somehow elevated beyond a simple product.

There are some interesting differences between different types of clients in this context. If I’m working with an author who is self-publishing, then I am bringing that book that the author has been working on for years into the world. Making it a reality. In that, I must honour their vision.

If I’m working with a publishing house on a book cover, considerations can be quite different. Perhaps there is more thought about marketing, sales, positioning with booksellers, competition etc.

If I’m typesetting a technical text, again the considerations are different. Aesthetics become less important, and navigation or presentation of data moves to the forefront.

These are, of course, generalisations, but they give some idea of the spectrum of involvement.

Seeing my work in bookshops is, of course, always a thrill.

How can an author get the most out of working with a professional typesetter and cover designer? 

One thing is to make sure that they make use of the professional’s expertise. There may well be things we can advise on that aren’t immediately obvious: printing options, cover finishes etc, so it makes sense to throw everything out there.

Also, it is always handy is for the author to have some kind of starting point or frame of reference to begin with. Knowing, to some degree, what you are looking for, even if it is just a ‘look and feel’, means that we get straight down to business. This is always something we can work out as we go, so it isn’t essential, but it helps a lot!

Any common mistakes you have seen authors make?

Perhaps it is obvious for me to say this, but the biggest mistake is not employing a professional to help produce and design your book. 

A natural extension to this is thinking that design isn’t important. I hate to think how many books are let down by bad design! 

I have seen a lot of places that churn out really poor quality book covers. So it is important to look around, see what kind of services are available, and make sure your artwork is up to scratch. Have an idea of what you want and don’t be afraid to push until you get that. There are more and more websites popping up that offer cheap design and, although tempting, this isn’t always the best option. 

Page layout is a slightly more sticky subject because of the inherent limitations to e-reader page design. If we are talking about print though, I think this is also of utmost importance. Again, you need to do justice to your content, and settling for a poorly designed text doesn’t.

What does good book design mean to you? Any examples? 

The hit of joy you get when looking at a beautiful image, plus some subtle sense or information about what’s inside. Even if in an abstract sense too – just hinting at the essence or mood of the content – we must remember that, again, the book is a means to convey information (in whatever form that takes), so it must communicate this in some way. But that’s why it is so interesting – it can and should be both artistic and informative. 

McSweeney’s, as an imprint, has always done some amazing things with book production and design. They really push the boundaries of book production as a source for interesting design, and use different facets of the book as an object to bring it to life. They play with bindings, materials, dustjackets from folded posters, combinations of printing techniques, unusual typography, illustrations, which all really opens up the possibilities of a book as an object and how to incorporate interesting new elements into that.

What is typesetting and why is it important? 

Typesetting is traditionally the hand-assembling of metal type into a page makeup for use in printing. As we now more often than not work in the digital, there is less of the assembly, but interestingly the principles have changed little, if at all. The idea is still to seamlessly lay out text to present the information in its most appropriate and sympathetic light, and make it as easy as possible for the reader to read and to navigate and interpret.

 

So, in either scenario, typesetting is about page layout. Taking a given piece of text and moulding it into the structure of a book: pagination, chapters, part titles, paragraphs, breaks, extent, margins, running heads, folios, titles, imprint pages, half titles, indexes, end matter, front matter, rectos, versos, etc. All these lovely terms!

Within traditional novel typesetting, for example, you are actually playing around within quite strict boundaries because type is, after all, functional. The importance of all those rules etc is that we are supposed to make the reading experience invisible, unnoticed. Type is purely there to serve the content.

A working scenario, to take an example, is, if the publisher has a summer airport bestseller on their hands, traditionally they want the book to be as fat as possible. A typesetter can work within certain boundaries to bulk up the book.

These are the nuts and bolts, then you have the more expressive side, which is typography. Here the use of type affects the decisions you make and the message you are trying to portray. Tweaks in text design, shifting of margins, addition of ornaments, slight typeface changes can all completely alter the atmosphere of a text. Is it meant to feel vintage or contemporary; authoritative/academic or playful?

Do you think readers appreciate this aspect of book production enough? 

This is an interesting question because the aim of good typesetting is for the reader not to notice it.<<CLICK TO TWEET>>

In much the same way as editing, it should only become apparent when it is done badly.

So, we can’t blame readers for not appreciating something we are trying all day to make invisible!

The ereader debate is interesting in this context. The software/hardware removes a lot of the decisions that a text designer would previously have made. And with all the platforms now available for self-publishing, the traditional stages of design and production provided by the publisher are no longer absolutely necessary. It therefore becomes even more important to employ the skills of a professional to try to put these elements back in. To bring some industrial quality to the product. 

How has the quick delivery of ebooks changed book design / typesetting?

I don’t think the quick delivery of ebooks per se has changed design much other than perhaps changing people’s expectations for turnaround times. But I think that has happened in all areas of production. It’s more the platforms and methods of delivery that have had such a massive impact on these areas. 

This is one thing that you really brought to my attention a couple of years ago, Claire, and which has become more and more important as the eplatform grows. That is the idea of the cover as a thumbnail. For a lot of authors and publishers, there is no longer the necessary need for an intricate, decorative, visceral design that asks you to reach out and grab the book. In many cases now, the most important thing is that your book cover is striking, attractive and highly clickable at the size of a thumbnail… For better or for worse, this definitely establishes a whole different set of considerations when designing covers.

From a typesetting perspective, in many ways ebooks have made the concept of typesetting obsolete. Or at least, it becomes a stage that can be relinquished. An author can now take text straight from Word into an epub. The trouble with this though is that there is no quality control and the user experience on most of these devices leaves a lot to be desired.

Print-on-Demand technology is a really interesting aspect in this because it is a meeting point between print and ebooks. It provides the benefits of print, but with the super-quick delivery the ebook has accustomed readers to. I think it is a really important development in publishing and gives me a lot of hope for the future of print and book design. The ability to revise titles on the hoof, so to speak, and to amend, update, and republish with no delay to the market has some real advantages, particularly for authors. So we can have the benefits of a super-speedy digital distribution model, but with the controls over design and layout that we get in print. 

In many ways this is really a debate about digital vs physical. Whether it’s ebooks vs print, or online booksellers vs physical bookshops. And this actually represents quite well the cavern that is growing between two types of book design in the industry.

What will the future of book design look like?

Things seem to be going in two different directions at the moment, so I think this whole area of design will continue to split down the middle and to diverge more and more: at one end of the spectrum ebooks and digital platforms, and the other high-end printed books and publications.

Perhaps in reaction to the limitations of ebooks, design for print and book production in general is tending towards the finer aspects of the book: special finishes, extras and inserts, embellishments, luxury bindings and papers etc. There are smaller presses opening up and also more and more interest in letterpress and traditional techniques. In many ways this mirrors what is happening in other sectors with the arrival of digital technology. In music you have driving down of sound quality with mp3s and ubiquitous streaming services, but at the same time this has led to a resurgence in vinyl, cassette and luxury sleeve printing etc.

Then at the digital end of the spectrum you have the tendency towards condensing, simplifying and generalising. Covers need to be designed to make an impact when viewed as a thumbnail. Internally, typesetting and typography are restricted by the limits of the software and eplatforms that dominate the market. 

A large part of the problem is the way that these devices function at the back end. They are temperamental and inconsistent; every device behaves differently. Preview functions don’t correspond to actual views on devices. Then you move the focus out onto the industry as a whole and it gets worse. There is no consistent standard between devices or across platforms. What works well on one device doesn’t work on another. 

My hope is that ebook technology will open up and allow for more creative development by the public. <<CLICK TO TWEET>> 

Ebooks are currently stifled, and will never be able to develop while formats remain proprietary. Type and design on the web has exploded in the last few years but ebooks are far behind.

If things change in this regard, and devices or ebook software is given some space to develop, it could open up a whole new revolution in electronic books and allow them to live up to the printed equivalent.

Thanks so much, Dan! 


Dan and I have collaborated on a special Promotional Graphics Package for Authors and you can see the full range of Couper Street's typesetting and book design services here. You can also keep up with Couper Street's beautiful book designs on Instagram and Facebook.


Writing London

An interview with ‘London Stone’ author Nick Bydwyn

 

Private Investigator Drake Sanders has been press-ganged by an old police colleague into investigating a murder that he is somehow the main suspect for, not only that he's been hired by two different people to search for an ancient artefact that doesn't appear to be missing.

Soon, he needs to unravel fact from millennia-old fiction in order to unearth the truth about an elaborate scheme that threatens to cost him not only his career, but quite possibly his life as well.

 

Hi Nick, thanks for taking part in this blog series featuring authors I have worked with. Tell us, what drew you to tell this story? Was it the character Drake or the story of the London Stone that first took hold?

The Stone.

I love the way London’s history is so dense and accessible and as an outsider from a small(ish) town I found that fascinating. Somewhere along the line I discovered the stories about the London Stone and went to look for it, only to find I’d been closer than I imagined. I’d been commuting into Cannon Street station for over a decade and yet not once did I realise that such an important historical item was placed out of sight on the other side of the street. I’d walked past it at least twice a day and never even noticed.

My mind went into freefall. Why was it there, who else knew about it, why wasn’t it more prominent? The skeleton of the story grew from a massive ‘What If’?

Now that I’ve discovered more about it, I think it should be moved into a museum instead of being left to rot. The London Stone might not be the crown jewels but I think it deserves more care than it’s currently getting.

How familiar are you with the places you describe in your novel?

It was essential that it felt like Drake knew the city he operated in well. In a similar vein, I had to be sure that the logic of the central puzzles was feasible, which led to physically walking around all the places described in the book, most notably a good stretch of the Regent’s Canal to the river. Although these meanderings were classed as ‘research’ I can’t deny that I loved finding hidden areas that were packed with important history but had, for one reason or another, been all but forgotten in the 21st Century.

Which were your favourite parts of the story to write?

Oddly enough one was the original first chapter, which I subsequently cut completely. It was a self-contained anomaly where I described a murder and the way the weary policemen went about their business at three in the morning on the river bank. I like it because it helped me to find and set the tone of the story, which up until then was just a lot of random noise in my head. Despite my affection for it, as the story evolved it stood out as being the only part that wasn’t described rom the protagonist’s point of view. It was a wrench but it had to be excised for the greater good.

As for what made it into the book, that would be the dialogue. Having to vicariously be all of these different and distinct characters and have them talk to (and insult) each other in a realistic way was very fun. Time seemed to fly by whenever I needed to write the ‘banter’ as it helped to round out who exactly each person was, much as happens in daily life.

Do you stick to a writing routine or work whenever you can?

I’m a morning person so if I don’t get anything done in that timescale my creativity starts to decay rapidly. On an ideal writing day I brew a gallon of coffee, secrete myself in the cupboard under the stairs and stay there between nine and midday. And yes, I do write in a (roomy) cupboard with a comfy chair as it keeps me away from any distractions. Unlike some, I can’t listen to music or be near a window when writing as I know my train of thought will veer off track.

I don’t have a set word count to complete; sometimes I only squeeze out a thousand in a session and sometimes, on astonishingly good days, it can be as high as six thousand. It’s more important to get something written, however small, than nothing at all. Whether it’s a drip or a deluge, in the end it all adds up.

Which authors have influenced your writing?

I’ve been a non-partisan voracious reader all of my life so there’s every chance there may be elements of William Burroughs, Helen Fielding, Anais Nin, Raymond Chandler, Peter Hoeg, Jack Kerouac, Nick Hornby and dozens of others coming through.

If I were pushed I’d say that I tried to imbue the dialogue with a naturalistic quality reminiscent of Terry Pratchett. The way his characters interact has always been joyous to read. Despite their fantasy roots they always seem to have a solid reality to them that comes through in the way they speak to each other.

Can you tell us a little about the cover design process for your book?

It began not by knowing what I wanted, but what I didn’t want.

When I think about the detective fiction novels on the shelves the covers that come to mind are images of ominous, crumbling staircases, shadowy figures at the end of dark, wet passages, lone trees standing on windswept hills, a hand holding a knife or gun. Everything in a gritty, muted green or brown and covered with fog or grime. There seems to be a visual shorthand that has enveloped the whole genre.

I wanted something cleaner and less cluttered that might stand out a little from the rest of the crime novels. I’ve always liked the pop-art animated intro sequences that are evocative of Saul Bass’ movie work (Anatomy of a Murder, Catch Me If You Can, The Incredibles etc.) so that seemed like a perfect place to start.

I basically knew I wanted a silhouetted skyline and it just grew from there. Although it may be a rain-soaked, moonlit view of London, it looks very simple and modern.

My designer Dan Prescott at Couper Street Type Co. demonstrated the patience of a saint, especially when I would ask for elements to be moved by only a single pixel just to test how everything fitted together.

What’s next for you as a writer?

Ideally I’d like to write one or two more books featuring Drake; I have a few ideas in mind and have already started typing some test chapters of a follow up. Watch this space!



Purchase ‘London Stone’ here and keep up with Nick here.

Find out more about typesetter and book design company Couper Street Co. here

'Names of the Dead'

Connor Montrose is running for his life. All that he held dear has been ripped away. Every Western intelligence agency and all the police forces of Europe are looking for him, with orders to shoot on sight. The only man who can prove his innocence, is the man that most wants him dead.

So begins the intro to ‘Names of the Dead’, Mark Legatt’s high concept thriller that will delight fans of Lee Child and James Patterson.

Having published his debut novel in July, Mark is currently hard at work editing the second book in his series, but has taken a short break to share something of his writing inspiration and the grit and good humour that saw him find publication with Edinburgh’s Fledgling Press.

 

Hi Mark, thanks for taking part in this blog series. Can you tell us something about your writing process? What drew you to tell this story?

The story of ‘Names Of The Dead’ emerged from history books, things that stuck in my head, and my travels and conversations I’ve had over the years.

Travel allowed me to read widely, and I’ve spent about ten years dotting from job to job in various airport lounges three times a week. I’ve lived in every sort of hotel from a five star palace in The Hague to a seedy dive in Montmartre, where the lights of the Moulin Rouge flickered outside my window, the carpets were as sticky as treacle, and you could hear the whorehouse banging away next door. I slept fully clothed.

I noted everything down as I moved from city to city.

Most of the action takes place in Paris, and as I lived there for three years, I got to know it very well. I read widely on the history and used it as a framework, and walked the streets many times to immerse myself in the city.  The other settings are Berlin, which I know, then Zurich and Rome, where I researched the settings from history books and conversations with people who had lived there. For North Africa, I did the same, and picked the brains of residents whom I knew, and travel guides, books, both fiction and non-fiction.

Any fascinating facts that didn’t make it into the final draft?

The research process was unconstructed, eclectic and very enjoyable. I had no idea what the story would turn out to be, but I knew that it would emerge as I kept writing my journals. I wasn’t worried about focussing on any one area or research, I was happy to just keep reading and writing, and knew that when I found something, I’d realise it.  When I found my story, I delved deeper into the specific areas, but I didn’t want this to be a story full of exposition. The only research that I wanted to include, would be that which the main character already knew, from his education and family, or that which was strictly relevant. I left out a lot of fascinating research because it wasn’t relevant to the story, the dialogue, or the character. One area I cut out was where Swiss banks literally burned their Holocaust banking records around twenty years ago, to stop anyone finding out what they had done to the victims and their families. Fascinating, but there was no good place for it. It had to go.

Can you tell us a little about your publisher and your journey to finding them? 

I submitted to every agent in the UK twice, and half the agents in the US, before I found an agent in New York. He tried all the big publishers in the States, but to no avail. Then Fledgling Press made an offer, as I knew them personally. Fledgling are now established as one of Scotland’s most dynamic publishers. I had actually submitted to them a few years back, but they were not publishing a lot of Crime/Thriller at that point.

What kept me going through the years to publication was sheer bloody-mindedness. Writing is my passion. As the old saying goes, what do you call a writer who never gives up? Published.

Can you tell us a little about the cover design process for your book?

Fledgling Press hold a cover design annual competition with the Edinburgh University College of Art, where second year undergraduates compete to design a cover for a Fledgling publication as part of their degree course.

Lucy Roscoe of the ECA introduced us to the class, and we had a fascinating chat about the possibilities of the cover.  

Once we had the designs in, we whittled it down to five and then down to one, a student called Thomas Shek, whose work was superb. You can view all the final cover designs here.

What’s been the best / funniest / most surprising response to your book?

A signing event in a Waterstones in the East of Scotland

Customer Number One

Me: “Good morning, madam. May I interest you in a thriller? I’m the author, and I’m signing copies today.”

Elderly Lady: “A thriller, son? I've never had an author sign mah books before. Is there ony shooting in it?”

Me: “There most certainly is.”

Elderly Lady: “Good, make it oot tae Agnes McGarry.”

 

Customer Number Two

Man: "Can you make it out to Emma, my daughter. She's a great reader."

Me: (notices his daughter about 14 years of age,) "There's quite a few swear words in it."

Man: "To be honest, son, she hears worse from me at hame. Then again, I'd better read it first."

 

Customer Number Three,  a gentleman the wrong side of eighty

Me: "Can I interest you in a thriller, sir?"

Old Man: "No son, I'm only in here because my wife's choosing clothes and I f****** hate clothes shops. And f****** shopping "

Me: "Fair enough, so what kind of books do you like?"

Old Man: "True-life alien abduction."

 


Ready to submit your own manuscript? I offer professional feedback on submissions packages, including cover letters and a synopsis.


Mark Leggatt - Author of "Names of the Dead"

Keep up with Mark's news at twitter @mark_leggatt, check out his author website here and purchase 'Names of the Dead' here.

 

Writing a book? 9 reasons to start marketing early

Working on your book but thinking of leaving the marketing till the final draft is ready? Here are 9 important reasons to start building an author presence right now. <<CLICK TO TWEET>>

 

1)     Letting the reader in at an early stage builds loyalty. Share your elation at completing a tricky scene or stubborn first draft; you’re building a narrative about the production of your book, and, done well, your readers will want to stick around to see how it all turns out.

2)     It’s more genuine. Writers can often feel uncomfortable ‘selling’ their work. Offering an insight into life as an author and making connections with fellow writers and your potential readers before you have a product to sell allows for a natural progression once your book is available. You don’t have to build an audience in a few months; you’ve been able to do it in a leisurely manner, building connections with people who are genuinely interested in your book once it’s available. 

3)     It builds a habit. These days it really is important to cultivate a direct relationship with your readers. Working out how you are going to do this early allows you to get into the habit of doing so, and you are more likely to keep it up.

4)     You can try things out. When publication is imminent, every decision can feel daunting. <<CLICK TO TWEET>>

If you start early, you can out different ways of connecting with your readership without excessive worrying. Perhaps Pinterest works well for you, or you find it easier to use Twitter but actually discover you can grow a bigger following on Facebook. Ideally, you can be posting to all of these, but it is often in one forum that you will find it easier to get inspired about your promotional efforts.

5)     Getting the basics down early means you will be more likely to try new marketing ideas later. If you already have a good system of keeping in touch with your audience in place, you’ll have the time and inclination to try out new methods. What about a Flipbook magazine of material your target reader would be interested in? Or a series of Podcasts? Or making some of your ‘cut’ material into downloadable extras? You’ll be able to do something special to mark publication if you’ve been confidently building your audience for a while.

6)     You can take things at your own pace. The learning curves associated with marketing your book will all feel far less daunting if you don’t have an immediate deadline. There won’t be a sudden panic in realising you need to work out how to produce glossy marketing images for your blog, or to learn how to administer an email list.

7)     Early marketing can keep you motivated. Need to stay on track with your writing? Keep yourself on track by sharing your progress with your audience. Simply knowing you are growing a list of potential readers, all interested in a theme in your book, can be a great motivation to reach the finishing line.

8)     Planning to invest in paid marketing? It’s crucial to know the essentials of your marketing toolkit are working effectively. You can test out potential adverts with your audiences, and learn which phrases or themes are most compelling in your work. Ask your readership which cover they prefer or which giveaway they’d most like to take part in. <<CLICK TO TWEET>>

If you’ve been actively engaging with your audience for some time, they’ll be happy to help. You’ll also have learnt how to make your marketing most effective by the time you decide to go for a paid promotion. You’ll make sure you have a link to your mailing list sign-up in the back of your e-book file, for example, or to other books in your series, as well as a request for reviews; so that you generate the best possible outcome from your promotion: selling a book, but also building relationships with your readers, so they’ll come back for more, and help spread the word.

 

9)     Before you know it, you’ll be creating the fans that will be your readers for life.  

 


Ready to get started? My Complete Marketing Toolkit will guide you through the essentials of creating and maintaining a professional author presence. It includes plenty of detailed feedback, as well examples of best practice.

 
 

Writing Prompts

If you are in-between writing projects, or just fancy trying out a new writing format, writing a short read is an intriguing prospect. Since March 2014, Amazon even categorizes these by the amount of time reading will take – from 15 to 90 minutes. Like Jodi Picoult, you could use the format to introduce a character from a work in progress, or like Veronica Roth, you could re-write a scene from your novel from a different character’s perspective.

 

Here are some prompts to get you going:

1)     Introduce a character, theme or location from a work-in-progress.

2)     Write a scene from your novel from a different character’s perspective.

3)     Tell the story of a minor character in your novel.

4)     Test out a new idea or something you’ve always wanted to write about.

5)     Take inspiration from your first workplace.

6)     Take inspiration from a time you have suffered.

7)     Take inspiration from a time you have triumphed.

        <<CLICK TO TWEET>>

8)     Think of your school days – and someone you met who stood out.                   Someone who treated at the extremes of kindness or unkindness.

9)     What would you like to read?

10)   Take inspiration from a time you were somewhere you weren’t                         supposed to be.

11)    Write about the one that got away, or the romance that never was.

12)    Take inspiration from an adolescent hobby or obsession.

13)    Take inspiration from a time you lost out.

14)    Take inspiration from an unexpected or unwanted journey.

15)    Write about an unexpected or unwanted gift.

16)    Take inspiration from a time you have been misunderstood.

17)    Take inspiration from a time you felt in synch with society.

18)    Take inspiration from a time you felt out of joint with society.

19)    Write about an inheritance.

20)   Take inspiration from a time you made an unpopular decision or a                    decision that changed things.

21)    Think of a time you met someone you’d like to write about. Do it.

22)   Take inspiration from a time you felt threatened.

23)   Write about an imagined ancestor. <<CLICK TO TWEET>>

 


 Need feedback on your ideas or draft?


Writing prompts devised by Claire Wingfield, literary consultant and author of innovative writing handbook ‘52 Dates for Writers’. 

Writing Sparta

© David.C.Azor - Fotolia.com

 

A Spartan warrior is a ferocious individual. But a phalanx of Spartan warriors is greater than the sum of its parts. ... what a terrible thing it was to fight the Spartans.

Author T.S. Chaudhry offers a new spin on Spartan history in his novel, ‘The Queen of Sparta’. As an editor, I’ve seen this novel develop through multiple drafts and have also seen Chaudhry move from indie publisher to partnering with a traditional publishing house, having signed with historical fiction imprint Top Hat Books. So, what kept him motivated to complete his 110,000 word manuscript, and how does he write such thrillingly authentic battle scenes?

Hi T.S., thanks for taking part in this blog series. Can you tell us when you first had the idea for your novel, ‘The Queen of Sparta’? 

As a teenager, I read Herodotus’ The Histories’ for my Ancient History ‘A’ Levels. After reading his account of the Persian Wars, I concluded that Herodotus did not give us the whole story. He did not tell us how the Greek resistance was organized or by whom. Leonidas dies earlier in the campaign so it was not him, and Themistocles was focused on the naval aspect of the struggle and could not have organized the whole defence. No other male candidate emerges from any historical records. The only person left was a young Spartan Queen, whose wisdom Herodotus himself acknowledges. And so for me the story of Gorgo, the Queen of Sparta, was one that had to be told.

‘The Queen of Sparta’ is 110,000 words long. How did you find the stamina to complete it? What kept you going?

Once I got started, the book was written over a period of four years with at least three major revisions. The main thing that kept me going was that I actually enjoyed writing it. I have a stressful job and writing this helped to relax me. I had a habit of spending one hour every day writing the book and this helped me stay the course. What was even more helpful was that I got a chance during my travels, both for work and pleasure, to squeeze some time to write parts of this book. The chapter on Rome was actually written in Rome; the same for the city of Byzantium, which is now called Istanbul. Parts of the novel written during long transits at airports such as Schiphol (Amsterdam), Heathrow, Dulles, and Arlanda (Stockholm) to name a very few. Some lines were written by banks of the river Cam in Cambridge, or in Harvard Yard, in the other Cambridge, at a Starbucks along the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, beside a Fjord in Norway, at the foot of the Himalayas in Pakistan, in shopping malls in places as far apart as New Jersey, Dubai and Cape Town. Except for the sad part that this novel about Greece was not actually written in Greece, the journey of writing the novel is as memorable to me as the novel itself. 

Can you tell us a little about your research process? Were there any fascinating details which didn’t make it into the final draft?

A reader commented that the first draft of this novel was as something akin to a PhD thesis, and indeed two well-known scholars of Ancient History were kind enough to help with the research. So the initial version was quite academic. As the novel developed I had to shed much of the academic information in favour of plot and character development. Later, I had to further focus the novel by dropping some of the back-stories, like the story of Gorgo’s mother, and the tale of her husbands first wife. Perhaps I will get a chance later in the series to revive some of these stories.

I remember editing an early draft and feeling full of admiration for your battle scenes. Can you let us in to your secret there?

There are three things I do when preparing to write a battle scene. The first is to study the battle thoroughly, using both primary and modern sources wherever available to get a sense of what happened. The primary sources are perhaps not good in describing the battle, for most of the authors (with some notable exceptions) were not present where the action took place, but they explain the main events and their significance. A good modern source will try to fill in the blanks and give a realistic picture of might have happened. 

Next, I talk to real soldiers, modern soldiers who have experienced battle. Though technology has changed, the landscape of warfare, and, I believe, the human emotions, are much the same. So a modern warrior will tell you things that I think even an ancient warrior would find hard to disagree with, because in essence the human experiences are not too different. 

Finally, I talk to re-enactors. It is useful to get their perspective. They are (in most part) neither real warriors nor have actually been in a real battle, but they can provide interesting insights, like how difficult it is for them to wield a heavy eight-foot-long spear or how sweaty it can become when you are wearing thirty pounds of armour on a hot summer afternoon. 

For my part, I do have some first-hand experience of warfare and I know what it is like to run under fire in heavy body armour. While I do not recommend other authors to go through the same experience, I can say with certainty that the above three things are enormously helpful in creating your impression of a battle scene and making it feel authentic in your writing.

 

In need of a good editor? I work with writers in a wide range of genres.

 

 

Great tips, T.S.! Thanks for sharing these fascinating insights into your writing process. For anyone interested in learning more about how to write a great battle scene or simply after a brilliant read, ‘The Queen of Sparta’ is available in print and as an e-book from Amazon, Blackwells and Waterstones. 'The Queen of Sparta' also has a popular Facebook presence, where you can hear about the next books in the series. 

 

Valentine Writing Date

 
free-valentines-day-pics.jpg
 

CLIMB A HILL

OR RIDE A 

FERRIS WHEEL

 

View things from a new perspective, and afterwards:

Choose a section from your novel to write or re-write from this expanded viewpoint. What can you zoom out to include? For example, a scene of two people dining in a restaurant might move first to the other diners, then to the restaurant kitchen, then the adjoining street, and out to the neighbourhood and surrounding area, ad infinitum. What’s happening in each of these places? What do they tell you about the world of your novel? That street, for example, might be almost empty, or full of luxury cars your protagonist can only dream of owning, or of old bangers and your protagonist has rolled up in a show-stopping sports car. There might be a burglary taking place, or a proposal – or a murder.