Ramping up the suspense

There’s always something new to learn about writing, isn’t there? I’m delighted when my readers tell me they ‘couldn’t put my book down’, or that ‘I’m shattered today – I was reading your book till two this morning’. I thought I’d got it right in my latest novel too, but a report I commissioned told me I need ‘more danger’. First of all I was puzzled, then concerned – then I took a deep breath and thought about exactly what I need to do.

Painted_sign_on_concrete_wall_at_the_Hoover_Dam_(28849021943)Danger isn’t necessarily about violence, or lots of action – it’s about establishing your heroine’s goals quickly, then ensuring that your readers know that there are bad things to come. I believe I’ve felt a little constrained by the need to conform to historical facts, which has made me focus on what I think needs to happen next, rather than asking myself, ‘How can I promise my readers that my heroine is going to be driven to the limit by the challenges that will confront her? Conformity_Hazard.svgI need to make radical changes, and I’ve been going back to storytelling basics. Here are a few great ideas about how I can increase the danger my heroine faces:

  • Make sure her main goal is made clear early on
  • Promise one challenge after another to obstruct her way
  • When one disaster is surmounted – bring in another, bigger and more threatening one
  • Make sure every challenge is properly surmounted
  • If the story sags, don’t throw in action – make your readers worry more. Action resolves suspense, it doesn’t create it, so ramp up the tension by promising another disaster for the heroine to face.
  • What is her greatest fear? Make her face it.
  • What makes her vulnerable? Force her to deal with it.
  • Make sure the goals are big enough – and show why she wants it so much.
  • Danger – this can be an external physical threat or something that hampers your heroine’s ability to rise to the challenges she faces.
  • Raise the stakes. You’ve made her goal clear at the beginning – now increase the price she has to pay to achieve it.
  • Make the problem more difficult to solve.
  • Halve the time she needs to achieve her goal.

My characters need to be set up in a way that will heighten the tension too. My heroine has to face big challenges, so she needs strong opponents. I must:

  • Make my antihero as strong or stronger than the heroine
  • Make him not evil, but human and believable
  • I will consider giving the antihero a point of view, so that the reader can be made aware trouble is on its way even though the heroine doesn’t know yet
  • What does he have that the heroine lacks? A strong place in society, loyal supporters, charm that might lure the heroine’s friends away?

My heroine does have many personal limitations. I’m going to delve deeper into these too!

  • Is she timid? Plagued by self doubt? Overoptimistic?
  • Does she falter under pressure?
  • Make her challenges more difficult by hampering her ability to deal with them

Perhaps it all sounds obvious, but sometimes we become so immersed in the story inside our own head that we forget to stand back and judge how others will react.

So – for me, it’s back to the drawing board, and I’m going to take a big swallow of my own advice!

‘Just for the Holidays’ hits the shelves!

JFTH Ebook cover smallPublication day!

Yes, today Just for the Holidays will be hitting shelves, shopping trolleys and e-readers. It’s the culmination of a lot of work, not just for me but for my agent, editor, publicists, assistants, sales team, cover artist and everybody else who’s involved in the publication of a book. Huge thank yous to every single one of them.

Thanks also to all the lovely readers who buy my novels and make my life as an author possible. Every book’s special to me and it fills me with joy when you contact me on social media to tell me what you thought.

So what’s Just for the Holidays about? It’s about Leah, who’s mad on cars and chocolate but not mad on the idea of a husband and children. She gets roped into looking after her sister’s husband and children with only a Porsche and a pilot to cheer her up.

What else can you expect to find within the pages? France, teenagers, more chocolate food technology, lovely sunshine, a Goth, furry creatures, an unexpected guest and a helicopter.JFTH Blog tour small

If you’d like to follow the blog tour, here’s the schedule.

 

The Wee Book Hoose

pb4

The telephone box transformed into a 24-hour library. Photo credit: Allan Wright http://www.allanwrightphoto.com

If you’ve ever wondered what can be done with an unloved and unused phone box just look at what the community in a small village near me have done with theirs.

Crossmichael Community Council bought the village’s BT telephone box for the princely sum of £1 and turned it into a 24-hour library, now known as the Wee Book Hoose. For non-Scots speakers that translates into The Small Book House.

It’s been a very successful community project in which adults in the village and school pupils have all been involved. I was delighted to be invited to attend the opening ceremony and watch Crossmichael resident, Jean Galloway cut the ribbon and declare what may be the smallest public library in the country open for business.

pb1

Crossmichael resident Jean Galloway cuts the ribbon to open The Wee Book Hoose. Photo credit Allan Wright.  http://www.allanwrightphoto.com

She was then supposed to enter the library but the heavy door proved problematic – I’d forgotten how heavy old phone box doors are – until John Nelson, chair of the Crossmichael Community Council came to the rescue. Jean then entered the library to choose a book and I was particularly impressed by how she homed in on not only one but two of my books!

Both I and another author and publisher, Jayne Baldwin, had been invited to say a few words about reading and we were highly amused when John Nelson in his opening speech mentioned several times how delighted everyone was to welcome two famous authors to the event.

He stopped us from becoming too swollen-headed by telling the assembled company about how his granddaughter quizzed him beforehand on the identity of famous author. She asked: “Is it J K Rowling?”

“Nope.”

“Roald Dahl? Oh, no, he’s dead, can’t be him. Julia Donaldson?”

“Nope.”

At least Jayne writes for children and has more chance of being recognised as a real writer amongst primary pupils than I have. It is as well to keep one’s feet planted in the earth.

The project received lots of support both locally and from further afield from authors who have donated books and sent letters of support. Local bookshops gifted books as well as shops in Wigtown, Scotland’s Book Town. Tesco provided prizes for the winners of a children’s competition.

pb2

Great choice of books, Jean! Photo courtesy of Allan Wright http://www.allanwrightphoto.com

Four competitions were run in the village prior to the opening of the Wee Book Hoose. Young primary children drew pictures of the Wee Book Hoose while older children were asked to think about 101 uses for a phone box and submit a poem, story or art work. Members of the youth club were invited to enter the competition by imagining they have only one phone call to make:  who would they call and what would they say?

Adults were given the opportunity to reminisce about the first phone call they made or received. Community councillor Alexandra Monlaur, one of the main project organisers, judged the adult competition and said some of the entries brought a tear to her eye. She is planning to collect them into a wee booklet.

pb6I’d asked several local authors to donate a book to the library and was delighted by the response. In my brief talk, I told of how reading had taken me from adventures with Enid Blyton’s Famous Five to visiting countries I’ll never see, from solving crimes along with fictional detectives (or never quite solving them before the end) to enjoying the tears and smiles of countless ‘happy ever afters’. I ended by saying (particularly directed at the pupils – who were probably still wondering who I was) that any writer will say they were avid readers before they ever wrote a word.pb3

Home baking is elevated to an art form – and I intend to pile my plate as soon as the photographer disappears. Photo courtesy of Allan Wright http://www.allanwrightphoto.com

The church bakers had been busy and an array of wonderful home baking awaited the guests in the village hall. All the competition entries were displayed around the walls and Jayne and I handed over the prizes to the winners.

It’s a fantastic project, which has really captured everyone’s imagination. Next time you walk by a little-used telephone box think about what a wonderful library it would make.

And a wee plug for the photographer Allan Wright http://www.allanwrightphoto.com who has recently published a superb book of landscape photos in homage to Dumfries & Galloway.

What makes authors smile?

As Julia Andrews once sang…. Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens and so forth.

Brown paper packages too – if they have books in them.

I’ve been smiling a lot this week. Authors are like everyone else when it comes to things that make us smile. Lunch with good friends, finding exactly the right birthday card for a family member, progress on my knitting project. In my case, watching Say Yes to the Dress on TV. (If you haven’t watched this – you really must. It’s my secret guilty pleasure.) All these things, and more, make me smile.

But this week has been full of ‘authorial’ smiles. Those are very special. As a rule, we authors can be a tad insecure. Especially about our work. There is often more tearing out of hair than smiling involved in writing a book. But… we do have our moments.

So – what are these mysterious things that make an author smile? Here are my top five.

Seeing a very small number next to your new book on Amazon is a smile worthy event.

1. Publication days.

Letting go of a book you have spent months working on can be hard. I always wonder if it’s any good. Will my readers like it? Are there any things I could have improved? Are there any (heaven forbid) typos or spelling errors or grammatical errors? The answer to the last question is… possibly. Sometimes one slips through the reading and re-reading that goes into a book before it’s published. But…. despite all those fears. Publication days are wonderful. This week my 9th book was officially published. I smiled. A Lot.

 

 

2. Reviews.

Hard on the heels of publication day is the breathless wait for the first reviews, and more obsessive checking on Amazon. When that first review comes – and it’s good. The sigh of relief is quickly followed by a broad smile. Someone likes my book! My characters have found new friends. Definitely smile worthy. Think about that and if the urge strikes you – please do reviews for your favourite authors. They are important to us.

These had me reaching for my handkerchief.

3. Messages from readers.

Up there with a five star review are messages from readers. Authors are pretty easy to find. Websites, blogs, Facebook and Twitter make it easy to send a favourite author a message. I send messages to some of my favourite authors when I’ve enjoyed their book. When I get messages from my readers, it is quite possible that I get a bit misty.

This came from one of my Aussie readers. He sent me a screen shot of him ordering my book How cool is that!

4. Planning a new book.

Thinking about a new book is always fun. There are so many possibilities. I sit at a desk with computer, notebook, sketchpad, coloured pencils and a cup of tea. I doodle while my brain goes into overdrive. Then I Google the things I am thinking about – just to make sure they really are feasible. Research is important and can be so much fun. I love it when I stumble across something when researching and realise there’s a whole plot strand there.

My desk in book planning mode…. and yes that IS a Dr Who pen with a TARDIS on the end of it. How could anyone write a book without one?

5. And something very exciting and super secret that I am not allowed to even hint at yet.

I promise I will tell all as soon as I can.  There is one other thing that always always always puts a smile on an author’s face. It usually involves an email. I had one of those emails this week – but I can’t tell you anything at all about it. Not yet. I can almost hear you gnashing your teeth and wanting to know more. Guess what – that’s another thing that makes an author happy – putting a reader on the edge of their seat, desperate to know or read more.

Stay tuned – there will be more news coming soon.