Summer in Winter, Christmas in August

I’m thrilled that, finally, the announcement has been made that I’ve signed a new three-book deal with Avon Books UK (HarperCollins). Because announcements are never made until all parties have signed the contract, and the contract takes a while to prepare, the agreement was actually reached back in March – and it has nearly killed me not jumping the gun and announcing it myself! But I’m thrilled to continue working with the fantastic Avon team.

The first of the three new books is The Little Village Christmas. The next will be a summer book and the last another set at Christmas. This makes my position as an author ‘seasonal’. Every book will have a seasonal title and cover. You can see that I began exactly this way in my original contract with Avon.

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So, what does it involve to write books with such an overt seasonal slant? Frequently, I’m working on a book set in the ‘opposite’ season to the one I’m experiencing. I’m proofing The Little Village Christmas now, reading about snow and ice while sunlight is streaming through my window (if I’m lucky!). I’m thinking about Christmas decorations, raffles and big coats. Avon has been hard at work writing a Christmassy blurb and creating a Christmas cover. Amazon has even sent out the first promotional email (thank you all those who have preordered 🙂 ).

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My paper proofs

On the plus side, the book I’m actually writing is my Summer 2018 book, working title The Summer of Finding Out. I had the huge pleasure of writing a good chunk of it while on my Arte Umbria writing retreat. (NB If you’re interested in joining me on the writing retreat next year you can find information here.) To write a book set in Italy while I was in Italy was a special experience. My hero, Levi, paints the scene I could see from the terrace and I took hundreds of research pix in Orvieto, to which ‘my’ Umbrian town of Monteliberatà will bear some resemblance. After running out my camera battery I sat down for lunch with a couple of lovely people from the course and remained after they’d gone, sipping Orvieto Classico and making notes about what I’d seen, heard and smelled as I’d walked the cobbled streets earlier.

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I have to be honest, I planned my writing schedule around writing about Italy while staying in Italy. I defended it against the necessity to edit The Little Village Christmas and even asked for a couple of days extension to my deadline in case I needed it when I returned to the UK.

When I’ve finished the first draft of The Summer of Finding Out I’ll be returning to The Little Village Christmas in order to perform a few more edits for the German publisher. Then I’ll write a two-part Christmas story for My Weekly, due in by the end of August, and return to The Summer of Finding Out to write the second draft.

All this time, of course, I’m promoting Just for the Holidays, which is my Summer 2017 book! And in the interests of such promotion you might like to know that Just for the Holidays is only 99p on Kindle and Kobo right now …

Whatever books you love and whenever you like them – Happy Reading!

 

Changing Direction

The map of Coorah Creek

For more than four years, I’ve had a sheet of cardboard stuck to the door of my office.

On this cardboard, I’ve slowly been building the town of Coorah Creek – the setting for five of my outback Australian novels.

With each book, something else has been added to the map. Houses and the names of the people who live there. A property and a national park. A church and one statue. I started the map when I started the series, because I knew I would be coming back to Coorah Creek again and again. I wanted to make sure I was consistent, and didn’t forget where something was, or accidentally move something.

I didn’t want Max driving across the creek in a place where there wasn’t a bridge. Or I didn’t want Jess landing her plane on the wrong side of town.

Saying goodbye to Coorah Creek – at least for now.

After the first couple of books, I used the map less and less, because the town was so fixed in my mind. It was so very real to me, I could simply close my eyes and see it.

With the publication of Wedding Bells by the Creek this year, I’ve taken the map down. It was a surprisingly important and emotional moment.

I am writing something different now. I am working on two books, one set in England and one in Australia, but that Australia book is set somewhere else.

So now I have a new map. It’s the map of a horse stud called Willowbrook on the Hunter Velley of New South Wales.

I’ve marked a house and the creek. There are stables and an old stone fountain. An old wooden church has been converted to a home on the other side of the creek. These are the places where my new characters live. I’m started to get to know those places now. They fill my head, and will soon be attached to my door.

My new map – it’s just staring to develop.

The map of Coorah Creek is now safely rolled up and stored with my research notes on top of one of my bookcases. There are times when I miss Trish at the pub, and Jack and Ellen. Max and Tia are still on my mind, but for now, I am enjoying exploring a new place and meeting new people.

It feels just a little bit like when I left home to study at university. I left my own small country town and family and friends to move to the big city. It was a bit scary… but it was exciting too. Finding new stories to tell is just like that – both scary and exciting.

Inside the old barn – a photo from my research trip through the Hunter Valley in New South Wales.

I will never forget Coorah Creek and the people who live in the town. And I am not saying that I won’t return. There are still more stories to tell there…. maybe one day I will put that map back up on my office door.

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.

‘My next book’ – all three of them

Question: which of these statements is true?

Answer: they all are.

How can that be? Because what constitutes ‘my next book’ depends upon the context of the conversation.

  • Just for the Holidays – ‘is my next book to be published’. (18 May 2017 in ebook, paperback and audio, if you’re interested. And you can order it here.) This is also the next book to be promoted, which will involve me in writing blog posts, social media, radio interviews etc.
  • Give Me Till Christmas – ‘I’ve just sent my next book to my editor’. (9 October 2017 in ebook, 2 November paperback, audio tba. I was a little shocked to be told last week that you can order this, too.) This will be the next book to be edited. Structural edits first (ironing out all the plot lines that aren’t quite working etc.); next come line edits (minutiae and punctuation etc.); finally the proofreading.
  • The Summer of Finding Out – ‘I’m just about to begin researching and planning my next book.’ (Scheduled for Summer 2018) This will be the next book to be written, in between the promo of Just for the Holidays and the editing of Give Me Till Christmas.

In case you’re wondering, I am no special case. Many novelists work in this way. Personally, I love it. I choose to see it not as a pressure but as an affirmation that I’m a commercially published author. I don’t groan when I’m asked to do promo because whoever has asked me is helping me to sell my books. I don’t go into a huff when I receive my editorial notes, line edits or proofreading because we’re all working to produce the best book I can. (That sentence is grammatically incorrect on purpose – a team works to produce my book. How cool is that?)

Lest you think I’m polishing my halo, there are things I don’t react well to – spurious interruptions, people wasting my time unnecessarily, unreasonable people etc. etc. Here’s a recent example:

Phone rings. I answer. It’s the bank, asking to speak to another member of my household, one who is out of the house during the working day. This is the fifth time in two days that they’ve called with the same request. The first four times, I pointed out politely that the person is not here because he doesn’t work here but I do. Please, could the bank stop these calls? They’re interrupting me. On the fifth occasion, I’m half way through a difficult scene and my temper snaps along with the thread of what I’m trying to write. I find myself rising vertically from my chair. ‘Look! I keep telling you that he doesn’t work here! I DO! Look in your records for his daytime number and RING HIM THERE! It’s DAYTIME! I’ve told you and told you and told you this and you persist in interrupting me! I’m self-employed and I’m TRYING TO DO MY JOB! Why don’t you GO AWAY AND DO YOURS? And if you’re stupid enough to ring here again with the same request I’m going to take all my money out of your bank and put it somewhere else. Plus, I’m going to speak to your supervisor and tell him or her that you’re stupid! Right?’

And, you know what, she didn’t ring back and I was able to get on with my next book.

Learning from the master

One of my favourite writers - and a master at character and dialogue. And plot. And humour... and ...

One of my favourite writers – and a master at character and dialogue. And plot. And humour… and …

I’m having a bit of a fan girl thing at the moment – and in between blinking in awe at the light bulb moments, I’m learning a fair bit about how to write. I’ve written ten books (eight published and two more on their way), and won a few awards, but that’s not enough to make me think I know it all – or even that I know a lot. A bit… I think I know a bit about writing, but I’m always looking to learn more.

When signing up for a writing course, or looking for a mentor, I think it’s important that person be someone whose work you admire. If that person’s work is so good it takes your breath away – literally – then that’s even better. So when I found out that Aaron Sorkin was doing an online Masterclass in screenwriting, I couldn’t get my credit card out fast enough.

I am not a screenwriter, although as a movie buff, the idea does appeal. But good story telling is good story telling, whatever medium. Books and films and television all need captivating characters, sparkling dialogue and engrossing plot twists.

And nobody does these things better than Aaron Sorkin. For those who don’t know him – he wrote, among other things – A Few Good Men, The American President, The Social Network, Steve Jobs (the one starring Michael Fassbender), The West Wing, The Newsroom… and a few other bits and pieces. His shelves must be groaning under the weight of all the awards he’s won.

I first discovered Sorkin in The West Wing - which legend says he pitched off the cuff with some leftover ideas from the film The American President. That's what I call a pitch!

I first discovered Sorkin in The West Wing – which legend says he pitched off the cuff with some leftover ideas from the film The American President. That’s what I call a pitch!

The course is a series of lectures and workshops… I’m not finished yet, but I already know that when I have finished, I’ll go back and watch it again. A lot of what he’s saying I have heard before. Or knew already. Or thought I knew. But sometimes, just presenting something in a different way can make all the difference. And it doesn’t hurt that I’m a fan.

Sorkin has written two great film about men who are icons of our time.

Sorkin has written two great film about men who are icons of our time.

Here are a few of the things Sorkin has said that resonated with me, not that I haven’t heard other people say similar things, but because the way he said these things just flicked the switch on some light bulbs.

  • When writing anti-heroes or villains, it is important to identify with them rather than judge them. If you can put yourself in their thoughts, in their point of view, you are less likely to end up with a cliché bad guy.
  • Avoid meaningless research, and look for nuggets that can lead to an engaging plot point. Look for the things you didn’t expect … and don’t worry if you don’t know what questions to ask. Find an expert on that topic and start with “Tell me something I don’t know about…”
  • You will lose your audience if you confuse them. Even the tiniest bit of confusion can ruin the experience. However, be careful of going too far in the other direction – telling them something they already know. And never talk down to your audience.
  • Rewriting is a lot easier than writing, because you have a problem to solve. There’s something wrong with the scene or paragraph or sentence and you have to fix it. Rewriting is NOT the sign of a bad script. It’s the sign of a good writer.

That one in particular has worked for me because I’m been in edits on the latest book as I’ve been watching this.

Brilliant writing - with an amazing performance by Jack Nicholson to make it unforgettable.

Brilliant writing – with an amazing performance by Jack Nicholson to make it unforgettable.

And finally – we’ve all heard of the three act play. That we should structure our books in three acts parts.  I’ve heard many different people try to explain this structure… and some of those explanations have made sense. But this is surely the best and clearest explanation ever….

  • Act 1: You chase your hero up a tree.
  • Act 2: You throw rocks at them.
  • Act 3: You get them down (or not).

Thank you Aaron Sorkin.

I do recommend this course. The next part for me is to watch A Few Good Men. I have the DVD of course. As part of the Masterclass, I’ve been given a copy of Sorkin’s script. So now I’m going to watch and read and try to figure out what makes it so great.

Then I’ll go back to throwing rocks at a character up a tree.