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Sylvie has a secret watcher. His mission is to eliminate any newcomer who might sully her innocence.
Sylvie’s carefree world turns into a nightmare when terrible accidents start to befall her male friends. Is she jinxed or is someone out to harm them? She must find the killer before he does anything to the new man in her life.

Winner of the NAWG Award
‘This is the rarest of creatures a thriller that actually thrills. From the opening page, this suspense story grabs the reader and won’t let go. It’s a genuinely creepy, tingly read, packed with menace and malice – the sort that is uncomfortable to read but impossible to put down.’
Iain Pattison – Award judge

My NaNoWriMo Experience

Those of you who read last month’s post will know that I intended to attempt the NaNoWriMo challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel in a month. I knew that many of my friends had done it, but for the last few years, I have been away on holiday so 2017 was my chance to give it a go.

I didn’t expect to achieve 50,000 words in just 30 days. I’m a slow writer at the best of times averaging 500 a day – if I manage 1000 words, I feel very proud of myself – but I thought the discipline would do me good.

A challenge it certainly was – a month of highs and lows – relentless pressure. Here is how it played out:-

The Lead-up

I made contact with my local NaNoWriMo regional group which meets once a week during November in Swindon library. I went along to the preparation meeting at the end of October to meet fellow writers who signed up, all of whom it turned out were regular NaNoWriMo challengers. I was given a welcome pack – a collection of writing prompts plus my very own crocheted inspiration monster who is still perched on top of my monitor.

Several of my friends use Scrivener novel writing software and, like some of the highly successful writers such as Joanna Penn and Nick Stephenson, claim it’s the best thing since sliced bread. Scrivener do a trial offer which meant I could downloaded a copy from the end of October to use throughout November. As another incentive, winners – ie those who make it to 50,000 words – can buy the licence at a 50% discount. Trying to learn a new piece of software and write 1,660 words a day seemed ambitious in the extreme, but in for a penny etc!

I had a few days to get to grips with Scrivener and start thinking about the plot. I am definitely not a plotter. I perhaps had more of an idea where the story was going than when I wrote my first novels some ten years ago but I write to find out what happens so detailed plotting  before I make a start has never been my style. Everything considered, the odds were definitely against me.

The Great Start 

It began well – 2000 words each day – but I’d written those beginning scenes in my head in the preceding days so it was only to be expected. The weekend slipped back a little, only 1300, but still not too shabby. After the first ten days I was still roughly on target. Then things got difficult. 

The Endless Middle 

Having written all the ‘easy’ scenes, I struggled. I had no real idea where the plot was going – my original ideas had so many holes, I had to have a complete rethink. I also had to take time off actually getting words down for almost a whole day in order to work out time lines in my plot. I also found that I had no choice but to spend time doing vital research. Although many things that need research can be left until the first draft is written so as not to break the flow of writing even if you are not doing the NaNoWriMo challenge, there were several times in November when research became essential. The story was at a cross roads and to have taken the wrong path would have meant totally rewriting half of the novel.

It was no real consolation to remind myself that I have hit that low point half way through writing a novel nine times already with my previous books (12 if you add in the three novels that were never published). Many writers experience the feeling that the plot isn’t working, that the writing is terrible, the characters have no vitality and that the best thing to do might be to put it out of its misery and scrap the whole thing and start a new novel altogether.

It is so easy to let the relentless process of having to churn out 1700 words every single day get to you. How I longed to be able to take a day off!

The Glorious Final Days

Things began to pick up in the final week. Inspiration struck and at last I had some idea of how I could uncover my murderer. The word count began to pick up. Perhaps I would reach the finishing line after all. There was a hiccup on day 28, but with two more days to go, I might just make it. Day 29 was unbelievable. I skipped going to my usual Wednesday morning line dancing class and sat down at the PC. The words just flowed out – over 3,ooo of them. The most I have ever written in a single day and I had reached the 50,000 word mark. I even went back on the last day and wrote another couple of scenes.

My NaNo Buddy

I would never have made it with my NaNo buddy – Gerry Cameron. Without her, I might well have given up. Many times!

Gerry writes historical romance  novels as Alicia Cameron and some of my favourite crime novels set in her native Glasgow as GM Cameron.

We emailed each other at the end of most days. Interestingly, most of the time the pattern of our progress echoed each other’s. We seemed to be going through the same traumas at roughly the same times. I even had to take a day off to work out time lines the day after she had done just that. I’d never have made it without your help, support, and encouragement, Gerry. You’re a star!

You could say, I had a vested interested in encouraging Gerry. I can’t wait to read the next in her fantastic Andromeda series.

Will I Do It Again?

I would recommend writers try it at least once. You learn a lot. Will I do it again? Not next year certainly – I’m away on a two back-to-lecture cruises in the Mediterranean in November 2018. Once thing is certain – next time, I’ll try not to put myself under the same pressure as this time.

If you did NaNo, how did you find it? Perhaps you are an old hand at NaNo, was it easier this time around?

The dreaded to-do list

There was a time when retirement was meant to be when you slowed down and took life easily. Like so many of my contemporaries, that idea seems to have passed me by.

Even my writing to-do list gets longer by the day. I haven’t done any work on the next novel in months. I’m currently busy trying to get to grips with Scrivener – a tool to help writers keep track of projects and which many authors swear by. A couple of months ago, I bought a new website template which is proving considerably more complex than I ever imaged and I’m not getting very far with it. Currently, my eBooks are on Amazon and I’ve decided to make them available in other outlets. Another learning curve to climb. I also need to spend time learning more about how to utilise things like twitter and a whole host of other marketing strategies. I have books on making the most of Goodreads and Facebook, how to understand Search Engine Optimisation (still not sure I even understand what that means) plus several other books and tasks that have been at the bottom of my to-do list for years! Continue reading

Books, books and more books.

Bedtime reading

My hobbies are listed as reading, writing and travel. It’s one of life’s great pleasures to curl up in bed at the end of the day with a good book and travel to a different world. In a life that is ridiculously busy, where my to-do list always seems longer come bedtime than when my day began, it’s a great way to unwind, to forget about the problems of the day and let go of the guilt about those things you should have done but never got round to. There is something very special about holding a brand new physical book in your hands as you cuddle down propped up on the pillows.

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Jemima, Jessica, Louisa? – What’s in a name?

Little did I realise the flurry of response posting the proposed book cover for my new series on Facebook would provoke. Murder in Morocco is the first in a new series I’d planned to call the Aunt Jemima Mysteries. But it seems “Aunt Jemima” conjures up a very different picture for my American friends from the eccentric, go-getting if now elderly adventurer that I envisaged. I hadn’t appreciated that the name is offensive to some people in the US where it can be derogatory label and conjures up images of an obsequiously servile black woman.

I’ve lived with Aunt Jemima for over eight months and it’s not going to be easy to find her a name that doesn’t change her personality entirely. I suggested Jessica but that didn’t go down too well either.

Names are crucial – they reflect personality and changing a lead character at this stage in the game is no easy task. I’ve had lots of suggestions on my Facebook Author page – keep them coming – but it might help to know more about my eponymous heroine. Continue reading

RIP my PC

Truth to tell, my PC and I always had a difficult relationship. He (it must have been male because it never listened to reason, was stubborn and could be extremely childish at times) had this frustrating habit of refusing to do what he was asked – I would press all the right keys etc but he just would not co-operate and I would have to call for techie husband to sort out the problem. You might know, the minute hubbie walked in the door, the PC would spring into action and sit up like a naughty puppy to all intents and purposes saying, ‘It wasn’t me – it was her!’ behaving itself perfectly without his old master having to touch the keys. It’s true, it was my husband’s old machine passed down when he got a better model and my PC knew it’s true master’s touch! It never messed him about.  

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Technology and Me

I’ve just spent three frustrating days updating my recently published paperback of Blood and Chocolate in Create Space. I decided the original print size was too small. Surely it wouldn’t be that difficult a task? Update the file and reload it and adjust the spine size for the cover – a half-hour job at most. Don’t you believe it!

Originally, I had used as a template all the measurements for an earlier novel printed by another printer. There were a few problems but the Create Space reviewer had accepted it. Hoping to avoid any problems, I learnt a few new tricks in Microsoft Word and re-did page size and margins etc to Create Space specifications. Heaven knows what I did, but I upset my PC (it’s never really liked me) to the point that it took my ever-patient techie husband (my PC’s first owner and for whom it usually behaves the moment he steps in the door) had to spend the best part of yesterday afternoon putting it right. After at least five long trawls through the interior reviewer checking every page, I finally managed to get rid of the glitches in my Blood and Chocolate file and up loaded the interior.

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Do writers suffer for their art?

Writing can have its downside. At some stage, many of us have probably suffered from lower back pain, aching shoulders, sore eyes or headaches. And then there’s something called writers bottom! Spending much of the day tapping away on the keyboard can even lead to serious conditions such as repetitive strain injury and carpal tunnel syndrome.  We all know how important it is to have a decent chair at the correct height, but how many of us end up huddled over to stare at the screen? My husband is constantly moaning at me for doing so. I can only hope that five hours of yoga, tai chi and Pilates, plus a similar amount of time line dancing and Zumba each week make up for my slovenly posture at my desk. Knowing the theory is one thing, it’s the putting into practice that can easily fall by the wayside. Continue reading

Wannabe Writer Beware!

Writing is like a drug. You may start with the odd story or poem, but you can soon find yourself wanting to do more. Before you know where you are, you’re on the hard stuff – the novel and there’s no hope after that. One thing leads to another. The pushers (agents and pundits) tempt you to write more books on the premise that the more novels to your name, the easier it is to market them or (your readers)that they can’t wait to read the next one. By then, you’re hooked. Unless, you’re writing, there’s a massive hole that needs constant feeding with ideas. Be warned! There’s no Writers’ Anonymous to help wean you off it.

There’s even a word for it. Hypergraphia. It is defined on Wikipedia as a behavioural condition characterised by the intense desire to write. Continue reading

The Pros and Cons of Writing a Series

I’d written short stories for some time with moderate success before deciding to tackle a novel. At the time, some fifteen years ago, I happened to be reading a great many novels by writers such as Nicci French, Minette Walters and Barbara Vine. I loved the edginess of their writing, the idea of the main character finding her life spinning out of control – taken over by events she can’t explain, and if she doesn’t sort it all out, she will end up dead. What interested me was trying to capture the fear, that unease, the tension of wondering what is going to go wrong next? Thus, All in the Mind and Watcher in the Shadows became my first published novels. I was having problems writing the latest psychological suspense and it was my then agent who suggested that I should think of having a series character. Her argument was that it would be easier to sell them to the publishers, but that wasn’t the reason I decided to give it a try.

I’d had the idea of a tour manager for a coach company as a main character for some time. In the spirit of the Golden Age whodunit tradition, it would give me a limited number of people as suspects – my coach passengers, a driver who would be my protagonist’s confidant and partner plus the added advantage that each book would be set in a different country and have a limited time scale – the length of the holiday. Not that things turned out quite like that. Novels and characters take on a life of their own! The agent’s prompting came just at the right time and so the Fiona Mason Mysteries were born. Continue reading