Research – My Excuse for Becoming a Port Lecturer

Boudicca-in-Scotland-banner_originalResearch becomes second nature to writers. That little voice inside that says never miss out on an opportunity because you never know when the experience will come in useful is a good excuse for taking time out from the actual writing. That’s my excuse for spending the last six months totally immersed in the world of port lecturing – telling cruise passengers about the ports we were about to visit. I’ve been a cruise lecturer for several years. I began running fun writing workshops on board ship and then developed a series of talks about writing and what attracts me about writing crime. Continue reading

Technology and the Writer

When I first became a published writer, all I needed to bother about was to produce a novel that was the best I could make it. Today it seems that we writers need to spend almost as much time promoting ourselves as getting words on the page. And that means being internet savvy.

I confess that I’m technically inept. I know my way around Microsoft Word and I’m quite a dab hand at PowerPoint but beyond that, I’m something of a technophobe. My excuse is that I see no point in having a dog and barking yourself. Not that I’m calling my lovely husband a dog but as an electrical engineer who has spent a lifetime in the semi-conductor industry, I leave anything technical to him and have never bothered to learn myself.

Yesterday proved that such a philosophy can have catastrophic consequences. My lack of basic skills let me down big time. I was all set to give a talk using PowerPoint to a local group but it was a catalogue of disasters.

Problem 1

Worried__lookingTwo weeks ago my husband upgraded my PC and my laptop to Windows 10 and yesterday was the first time I’d used my laptop outside the house. I switched on and entered my password as usual but instead of letting me straight in, a message came up beneath my email address saying I needed to put in my password. I had no idea what my Outlook password was. So I picked up my mobile and phoned home. Continue reading

Has the EBook Changed the Way We Write?

page eBookNovel writing has always evolved. I’m not talking about changes in fashion – the prevalence of Science Fiction in the 1960s, the rise of the Fantasy Novel, the misery memoirs, the Vampire novel and the Dystopian novel. Each decade popular fiction embraces a new genre. My belief is that today’s writers are adapting their writing style to ensure that their novels meet the changing requirements of the eBook. For many novelists, especially indie writers, eBook sales far outweigh physical book sales and an increasing number of novels are only ever published in eBook form. Writers cannot afford to ignore the demands of the eBook. Continue reading

Where has the year gone?

DSC_3358At a time when every sensible writer is reviewing their last year’s writing/marketing strategies and planning new ones for the coming year, I must confess writing and the latest novel are the last things on my mind. For the last month, everything has been put on hold.

I must confess, my plans to write and publish the next Fiona Mason Mystery within the year had slipped a little (there was a hectic period in the summer that I mentioned in my August blog) but when we went on holiday at the end of November, I fully expected that I’d be able to have it available as an eBook by January at the latest. However, things rarely go to plan!

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The Reviewer From Hell

book-reviewNot so long ago, writing magazines and blogs were full of articles about how to cope with rejection. Stories abounded about well-known writers who had to submit their now best-seller works tens of times to agents and publishers before they were finally accepted. I seem to remember a tale about one eminent novelist who actually papered at least one wall of his study with his rejection slips. Such stories were a great consolation to struggling writers trying to attract an agent or publisher. The so-called good rejection – one where the agent had sent not the customary slip or standard rejection letter but had actually bothered to write a personal note gave essential encouragement to carry on. Most of the advice to suffering writers centred around keeping in mind that the rejections were never personal – that it was the novel not the person that was being rejected. Continue reading

What Does Your Fiction Say About You?

Readers often identify the main protagonist in a novel with the author, especially if it is a series character.

Zoe SharpZoe Sharp 2I’m guilty of that myself. One of my favourite writers is Zoe Sharp. Her main character, ex-Special Forces Charlie Fox appears in the first novel Killer Instinct teaching self-defence but in the later novels she works as a bodyguard. Ever since I first met Zoe, as I read the novels I can’t help picturing Charlie as Zoe. The two have much in common. Charlie is a gun-toting maverick always jumping on her powerful motor bike. Amongst her hobbies Zoe cites “fast cars (and faster motorbikes) and target shooting.” I’m not sure about the maverick bit, but she and her husband did build their own house in the Lake District. At one of her talks, she mentioned that in the process she managed she cut off the top of her finger. When her husband rushed over she put out a hand to stop him with the command, ‘Let me see how the blood drips.’ The things people do for their art! If you’ve never read a Zoe Sharp novel try Roadkill and you’ll see what I mean about bikes! Continue reading

A Thirst For Research

slide 2Creating a novel involves a great deal more than sitting at the keyboard and typing away. There is always a vast amount of research. If you slipup putting a well-known building in the wrong place, a flower blooming in the wrong season or describe a journey that could not be done in so short a time, you will lose all credibility. Lose that, and you lose your reader.

Research is more than a quick Google. We all know that research can become time consuming but, like the majority of writers, it’s something I do enjoy. Continue reading

Writing Strategies

The end is in sightThe end is in sight!

I find it difficult to believe that only a month ago I was languishing just beyond that halfway point, some 45,000 words into the novel. It was like wading through treacle. The ideas wouldn’t come and every sentence was an effort. The writing simply refused to flow. My ‘soggy middle’ blues were the worst I’ve ever experienced – or so it seemed at the time. It had taken me six months to reach that point, but it was the two-month long break that followed that I blamed for my sorry state as those who read my last blog will know. From the responses I received after it was posted, I know that my experience is far from unique.

Looking back, I realise that break was no bad thing. Distance can make the heart grow fonder because, after a few tentative steps, I’m now racing to the finish.

To Plot or Not to Plot

One thing I’ve learnt over the years is that no two writers write their novels in the same way. The biggest differences are between the meticulous plotters who plan to nth degree taking months to write 40,000 word summaries with details of each chapter and scene and those who see writing as a journey – writers who start with a sentence or two and see where it leads them. Talking to many of my writer friends, it appears most of us fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

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When Life Gets in the Way…

Worried woman at laptopWe’ve all experienced it – the novel progresses reasonably well then life gets in the way and things grind to a halt. It may be a holiday, an illness, a family crisis or a major upheaval such as a house move. It’s not just our time but our whole preoccupation that’s focussed elsewhere. It’s bad enough trying to get back into the writing routine after a relatively short break but when things stretch out into weeks and months the greater the effort needed to find the enthusiasm to get back to work. That’s what it is – work – hard work and suddenly we find more and more excuses to hold us back.

The situation is compounded if the break happens around the time of the ‘soggy middle’ – the mid-point crisis when our enthusiasm for the novel has already begun to waver. That point when you have great doubts about the whole enterprise. The characters lack depth, the plot is going nowhere, the spark has gone and the language laboured and uninspired. The daily word count drops dramatically. Writing is no longer a joy. It reaches the point at which, to quote George Orwell – ‘writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness.’

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Top tips for PowerPoint Presentations

DSC_6780-2Many of the societies and local social groups who are looking for outside speakers now have the facilities to show PowerPoint presentations, which means that their members now expect something visual. There are definite advantages for you as a speaker using PowerPoint so it’s well worth mastering the simple techniques involved.

Before looking at how to make the most of your slides remember the golden rule:-

Script First – Slides Later

The slides illustrate your presentation – they are NOT the presentation itself.

Begin planning your presentation by listing the main points you want to get across – probably no more than half a dozen. As you flesh out your script remember that like any good story, it should have a beginning, middle, and an end. Only then, think how best to illustrate the points you are making and don’t be tempted to draw out sections simply because you can find more pictures to illustrate them.

When it comes to the selection and design of your slides, I’m going to add another rule:-

Think about the person on the back row

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