Gifts for the writer in your life.

Books, generally, are wonderful. But to me, an old book is something special.

Books, generally, are wonderful. But to me, an old book is something special.

It’s officially December and you know what that means… Christmas shopping.

Most of us spend at least some of this month scratching our heads as we try to come up with just the right gift.

So I thought I might put forward a few suggestions for the writer in your life—gifts for writers are just so easy.

Let’s start with the obvious. Books. Writers are readers too. Books are always a great gift idea… and you can make them a little special.

Try for a rare or first edition book by a favourite author. Or go for a signed book. Something a little out of the ordinary.

There are also books about writing – my personal favourite is On Writing by Stephen King – but there are a quite few very good ones out there, depending on the writer you are buying for.

Another favourite – stationary. What was that you said? Boring? No way. Stationary can be fun. I’m not talking about printer paper, I’m talking about brightly coloured and funny shaped post it notes.

And… did you know you can get whiteboard paper that your can you stick on the wall and turn it into a giant white board? They are great for plotting.

You can also get giant post its to put on your wall for plotting purposes.

You can also get giant post its to put on your wall for plotting purposes.

Notebooks can be fun too – there are such lovely ones out there – but a word of caution. Some people get a bit fussy about their notebooks, so make sure you buy the right type. Have a look at the notebooks the writer in your life uses.

And of course let’s not forget pens. Really, really nice ones. A pen that makes signing a book for a reader an extra special experience.

Signing a book for a reader is always a joy... but with such a beautiful pen....

Signing a book for a reader is always a joy… but with such a beautiful pen….

I once got given a desk as a present – that was a pretty good idea. I got to choose the desk – and I am still writing on it.

All these are good presents – but the best present of all is … time.

If you want to help and support a writer, giving the gift of time is just the ticket. It can take many different forms. Just say – today I’ll do the chores or walk the dog or cook the dinner while you take the time to write. Try taking the kids out for the day, leaving the writer free to just write. And the good thing about time given in this way – it’s not expensive.

The one thing we all need more of....

The one thing we all need more of….

If you have the resources, there any other way to give writing time. Send your writer on a course, or a retreat. There they can focus on their writing with other like-minded souls.

OK – so here’s the shameless promotion part… Twice a year, I am one of two tutors leading a weekend retreat near Stratford Upon Avon. Yep –  Shakespeare country. This is the sort of thing I’m talking about when I suggest giving the writer in your life time to write. And a fun weekend away with other writers too.

The next one is in May 2017, but we are already taking bookings. You can find out more about the retreat here….

If a full weekend is not right for you, think about a one day course, or a manuscript appraisal… something to help a writer achieve their dreams.

I like very personal gifts. I spend a lot of time shopping to get just the right thing for the people in my life… At first glance the gifts I’ve suggested might not seem personal – but they are things that will help a writer achieve a dream. What could be more personal than that?

Good luck with the Christmas shopping.

Paperback publication day! #TheChristmasPromise

I’m jumping into the Wednesday News Spot today as it is Paperback Publication Eve for The Christmas Promise14650182_10154069974562843_4596464296072225474_n

Tomorrow, you should be able to find my new book baby in supermarkets and bookshops throughout the UK and beyond.

I’m totally thrilled that WH Smith Travel (ie WHS in airports, railway stations and service stations) will soon be making it their Read of the Week; Asda will feature it in their Paperback New section; Sainsbury’s in the Great Value Read; WH Smith High Street will be displaying it prominently and iBooks have the ebook in their Christmas Romance offers.

AND – just in case you haven’t already seen it on my social media feeds – the ebook has been in the Kindle UK top ten for the past couple of weeks, climbing as high as #3 overall and taking the #1 spot in all its categories. screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-07-49-23

screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-10-08-20I am officially a bestselling novelist.

You have no idea how much joy it gives me to be able to say that. (Or maybe if you’re a writer, you do!) My first short story sold to The People’s Friend over twenty years ago and I’ve published A LOT of short stories and columns, five serials, a novella, a ‘how to’ book and nine novels to earn this accolade.

So I hope you’ll forgive my outrageous boasting.🙂screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-15-01-20

The Not Too Perfect Heroine

When I was fresh out of high school, my mother made an interesting observation about a friend of minee_o_vento_levou_-_rhett_e_scarlett. ‘Trouble with Kathy,’ she said, ‘she’s just too perfect.’ Now Kathy was a truly lovely person, sort of girl who taught Sunday school, made friends with homeless people, considered a glass of wine a walk on the wild side and discovered all kinds of intimate details about people I’d known for years and never bothered to ask. And she was popular – I’ve no idea, in fact, why she was hanging out with me. But would I want her as a heroine?  Maybe, if I was writing a certain kind of romance. Then again, possibly not. After all, wouldn’t most of us want to be or spend time with Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind rather than the saintly Melanie Wilkes?  Yes, Scarlett’s selfish, wilful, and likely to steal your boyfriend but you can’t help but admire her beauty, her spirit and her resilient courage. the_girl_on_the_trainBut how to create characters with enough interesting failings to add depth and complexity without alienating the reader completely? Marian Keyes, Jane Green, Helen Fielding, Sophie Kinsella are masters of the art. Their books cover some serious issues – alcoholism, abuse, overeating, romantic obsession, rampant consumerism – but their heroines’ multiple insecurities and very real problems are balanced by an ability to keep you gonegirl4laughing through the misery which is what makes them ‘chicklit’ rather than Oprah Winfrey’s Pick Of The Week. And then there are those recent bestselling thrillers: Girl On A Train and Gone Girl. While most of us would shun the company of an alcoholic stalker or a psychopathic murderer, look how cleverly Paula Hawkins and Gillian Flynn use their unreliable narrators to suck us in, getting us totally absorbed in the story before we realize exactly who we’re dealing with and by then, it’s too late, we absolutely have to turn the next page.

Anyway when Pam and I were crafting out our chicklit romance, Million Dollar Question – the tale of two women, one who loses a fortune, one who unexpectedly acquires huge wealth – we struggled with the whole flawed vs likeable character issue. 3D Million Dollar QuestionWe wanted Olivia, the hedge fund trader, to be a ruthless, ambitious, money-focused counterpart to Rosie, the downtrodden self-sacrificing single mother, still pining over her philandering ex-husband. But therein was the challenge. Olivia had to be imperfect enough that the reader would somewhat enjoy her come-uppance but still find her sympathetic and Rosie couldn’t be so pathetic that said reader would end up despising her and flinging the book against the wall. In each draft we piled on redeeming qualities, showing Olivia’s intelligence, quick wit, the insecurities that made her so uptight and stressed about her career. And then we turned Rosie into an incorrigible optimist, the sunny sort of character who thinks there’s always a silver lining in every thundercloud, even as rainwater is cascading down her neck.  Did we succeed in balancing out their obvious shortcomings? Well, if you’re interested, you can find out for yourself as Million Dollar Question goes on a 99cent/pence promotion this week in UK and US.

Meanwhile it would be interesting to find out how other writers deal with similar dilemmas. We all know that characters take on a life of their own. Have you ever had a protagonist that just refused to become who you wanted them to be?  Or that you couldn’t get yourself to love no matter how much you tried to shower them with delightful qualities like the Good Fairies in Sleeping Beauty?  And who are your favorite ‘bad girls’ in fiction?

Competition: We’re giving away free copies of Million Dollar Question to the first five readers at Take Five Authors who follow us on our  Bookbub page and email us at with the word done!

Is social media for you?

screen-shot-2016-11-19-at-09-45-29Social media is for me.

I like it as a writer, a reader and as a way of keeping up friendships or even re-establishing old ones. I find it easy enough to control as, unless something exciting’s happening, I restrict my use of it – generally to when I’m eating my porridge in the morning, after lunch, just before I turn off my machine for the day and, if I feel in the mood or see an interesting notification, from the comfort of my armchair for a few minutes in the evening.

Depending on your social media usage you might feel that seems a lot/too much, and I can see why. If you don’t actually like chatting or feel embarrassed to tell everyone you have a new book out then social media probably feels like a chore. For me, though, it’s a fun exchange of information and a great promotional tool.

There are negatives. People take offence, especially over political exchanges; what’s one person’s ‘spreading the word’ is another’s ‘relentless self-promo’; some love to see jokes and videos of cute baby animals but others get tired of them. You can influence what appears on your feed via your settings or making lists but once you admit someone to your social media life as a friend or follower you’ve a certain level of access to one another.

And then there are the hackers who, either for gain or just to be annoying, infiltrate social media and waste our time.

There are blogs or YouTube videos providing really good advice about how to tame your social media feeds but, you know … those blogs and videos count as social media, too. You’re probably getting the idea of why I find social media useful.

It’s no secret (just view my social media feeds) that I have a book out. The Christmas Promise was released as an ebook in October and paperback release is scheduled for 1 December. My publisher organised a twenty-stop blog tour and they, and I, and my street team, and many of my friends, publicised every post – most especially the great reviews. As the ebook has climbed the charts social media has come into its own again.

I occasionally feel I’m being Boasty McBoastface but people are unlikely to buy a book they never hear of. My publisher and myself are trying to sell my books as that’s how we each make a living but I also chat about other subjects. Any other subject, really.

And yesterday morning The Christmas Promise entered the UK Kindle Top Ten!


The stream of congratulations was a huge thrill and that many social media friends chose to share the news around their networks was terrifically helpful.

So I’m going to finish with a few ways that I use social media. I think they’re positive. What do you think?

  • Getting information out to potential readers
  • Sharing success (such as chart position or good reviews)
  • Asking for advice (recently it was about my new induction hob)
  • Doing research (from finding out what ten year olds want for Christmas to being put in touch with a close protection officer)
  • Re-establishing contact with my old school friends or work colleagues
  • Keeping myself current with what’s happening in publishing (often via the posts of writers or industry professionals)
  • Chatting
  • Interesting conversations with people in far-flung parts of the globe
  • News of special offers or new books out by authors I read
  • News of conferences  or festivals I might be interested in
  • Readers getting in touch with me to chat or tell me they enjoyed a book (this ought to be top of the list. Writers are so privileged to receive such messages)
  • Readers commenting on my books or asking me questions
  • Being a member of various groups, whether a group is a many-thousands strong forum for those who enjoy commercial fiction, a place to chat to my street team or ten old work colleagues who sometimes get together for a meal
  • Promo
  • Viewing old photos of places I’ve lived
  • Sharing articles about publishing (or about anything I’m interested in, really)

Just close your eyes for a whole new world of books

800px-ernesthareradiosipConfession: I read very little these days. That is, I read a great deal for research purposes, and I read far too many newspapers articles (especially this year, when the politics everywhere has been so intense and dramatic!) – but as for sitting down with a novel … sorry, but I can’t remember the last time I did that!

Shocking? Well yes. Writers should read, shouldn’t they?

I agree, absolutely. My problem is, since I started writing novels myself, I’ve found my concentration span has shortened immensely when it comes to reading other people’s books. If a novel is fantastic, it makes me want to run off instantly and get back to my own writing – in other words, I find good writing inspiring. If something is poor, or just doesn’t catch my interest … well, frankly, life’s too short to waste.

headphones-1088732_1280However, I do get through twenty to thirty novels a year. How? I LOVE listening to audio books! I was hooked years ago, when I was a stressed-out company director and couldn’t sleep. I discovered that the sound of the human voice was very soothing, and if I was listening to a story, I wasn’t worrying about work. Now I ‘read’ at least a book a month, often many more, and I’ve learned not to panic when I can’t sleep. Lying listening can be quite relaxing too.

Listening to audio books is a whole different experience from reading a book.

  1. The voice of the narrator is of prime importance. It has to be good or frankly, I won’t even buy the book (you can listen to a sample).
  2. I can get a long way through before realising I’ve missed a key point because I’ve fallen asleep. (I once read a whole Poirot before realising I’d missed the murder.)
  3. It’s tricky getting back to exactly where you were when you nodded off, so sometimes you listen to the same passage time and again. (I set a Sleep timer for 30 minutes, so I’m never too far away from where I was.)
  4. You really can’t fast forward, because you have no idea what you’re missing or how far to go before the next interesting thing happens.
  5. Poor pronunciation of certain words e.g. place names is intensely irritating. Narrators, please do your homework properly!
  6. Good narration is amazing and can make characters leap to life.
  7. Slow build-ups get slower.
  8. Classics can stand the test of time very well (I reread Middlemarch recently and was knocked out by it.)
  9. Some novels are almost impossible to listen to – I gave up on Wolf Hall completely. Sorry. But having talked to friends who told me they had to flick back and forwards a lot in order to be sure what was happening and who was speaking, I now understand why I found it so difficult.
  10. It’s quite a slow experience (typically 10-17 hours), but this enables you to really get into the book.

Audio books are my friends and comforters. I adore Irish voices, so Maeve Binchy and Marian Keyes have become favourites. I like Aussie accents too, and have discovered Liane Moriarty and Graeme Simsion this way. I like value for money, so Ken Follet’s blockbusters are terrific. I adore Michael Tudor Barnes’s interpretation of detective Peter Diamond, so Peter Lovesey has done very well from me.

This is a hugely growing market, it seems. Many people now listen on their way to work, on trains, buses or cars. I also listen when travelling – a good audio book can make a dull journey fly by, and if you’re tired on that plane, just plug in your headphones and close your eyes – you can go wherever your book takes you!

Does anyone else share my passion? And if so, what are your experiences?