New Year Resolutions

Has anyone learnt the skill of knitting time?

2017 has rushed past at an alarming rate. I toyed with the idea of trying to take life at a slower pace in the year to come. Having retired more years ago than I like to remember, life should really be getting less hectic, but the chances of that are pretty slim. Fundamentally it means giving up at least one of my activities. My mornings are devoted to exercise – yoga, tai chi, Zumba, line dancing and pilates. Giving up any one of these, would be counter-productive – I need to keep healthy – and there is no way I want to write less – in fact, the opposite!

Many of my writing goals for the coming year don’t change much from the ones I always make:Update website. Priority has to be to sort out my new website. The template I bought in the summer – if not earlier is still sitting there and its technology continues to defeat me.

  • Write more. I felt so proud of myself for achieving 50,000 words of the next Fiona Mason novel for NaNoWriMo, but I have not looked at it since. I MUST get down to some serious writing. I’m not the world’s fastest writer, but it would be good to get not only ‘Blood Flows South’ plus a second Aunt Jessica published this year.
  • Read more. There are shelves of reference books still sitting there in my study that I never make time to read and I dare not look at the number of books I’ve downloaded onto my Kindle – it was something like 400 last time I looked!
  • Learn Twitter. That’s been on the list for a good 5 years and I can’t remember where I put the book I bought to learn up on it.
  • Plus – I also have two Ancient history lecture cruises to prepare for and I need to do a vast amount of research before I can begin to even sort those out. As I need to make trips to the British Museum and to Oxford’s Ashmolean museum, I can’t afford to leave the research until the last minute.

Back in 2015, I created an elaborate spreadsheet detailing my goals for the year broken down into twelve month-long blocks using the smart. It was divided into two major sections – writing and marketing. Looking back on the year, the writing goals I fulfilled without too many problems, but I doubt I met even half of my marketing project goals. I seriously underestimated how long each of those marketing tasks would talk. I realised early on that one month was not enough for me to master Twitter (I’m still so terrified of it, I still haven’t opened the book I bought on the subject) or look at the book I have on getting the most out of Goodreads. I’m not going to bother spending time creating another spread sheet, but I am determined to stop procrastinating and at least make a start on both books this coming year and at the very least, crack Twitter.

I find mapping goals for the year ahead quite a depressing activity. I know it should enthuse and encourage, but even using the old SMART principal hasn’t helped at all. I’ve done very little the last few days – I have a cold – nothing disastrous, but I’m feel very sorry for myself.

On the plus side, I’ve just been given another 5* review for Blood in the Wine and the nights are getting lighter so life is not that bad.

What are your New Year resolutions? Do the excite or depress you?

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

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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Top Tips for Speakers

DS7_2258-2_cr_cl!_300We read a great deal about using social media to market ourselves as writers but giving talks to local groups is still an excellent way to engage with your potential readers. After all, no other marketing tool gives you a captive audience for a whole hour. Wow them, make them like you and they may even buy your books.

1.   Preparation


Treat it like a piece of writing – what is it about? Is there a logical beginning, middle and end? Don’t let it wander all over the place.

*Gear it to your audience

If you are speaking to a book group who may well have read your book in advance, what you say will be very different from the way you present much the material to a more general audience. There may even be a subtle difference between a talk to an all-male audience at a Rotary or Probus meeting to the WI or Town’s Women’s Guild; or one to your local U3A and a Young Mums group.


Bullet points are better that writing out every word. You need to look at your audience – they don’t want to see the top of your head – plus it’s all too easy to lose your place when you take your eye off the page.

It’s a good idea to highlight or underline key words.


Most groups such as WIs, U3As, Rotary and Probus group like you to speak for ¾hr with ¼hr for questions. Here timing is not so crucial, but as a cruise lecturer, my PowerPoint presentations need to be as close to 45minutes as possible. Activities on board ship follow close on one another and even if there is nothing programmed for the lounge you are in immediately after, it can be disconcerting if swathes of your audience start disappearing in the last five minutes so as not to miss the start of something else because you’ve overrun your time.


Respect your audience and dress smartly. Jackets and ties, gentlemen and ladies – avoid the navy blue suit. You will fade into the background. Wear something bright but simple – not garish and easy on the frills and jangly jewellery. On one of my cruises, I remember bemoaning the fact that I had to take 7 outfits, one for each of my talks, whereas my fellow male lecturers only needed to pack 7 different ties!


Even experienced speakers need to practice aloud beforehand. Don’t be afraid to take a pause if you need to. Take a sip of water, readjust. Try recording yourself. Videoing your talk is even better because it might reveal any personal quirks such as talking with your hands. We all do that to some extent, but it can become distracting.

2.  Before You Start Speaking

First impressions are everything so smile – stand tall – shoulders back – take a deep breath.

3.  Engage Your Audience

Let your enthusiasm for your subject shine through. Remember you are talking with friends – not instructing students for an exam. If you’re nervous looking at a sea of faces, run your gaze slowly back and forth along the back wall just above their heads. To your audience, it will seem as if you are directly looking at them.

4.  Be Yourself

Few of us are stand-up comedians and forcing jokes into your talk doesn’t do you any favours unless you can do it really well. Amusing anecdotes are fine, but keep them relevant to what you are talking about. Just keep smiling.

5.  Train Your Voice

If you are nervous, there is a great temptation to gabble. Make a conscious effort to speak a little more slowly than usual, clearly enunciating your words. Another tendency when we are nervous is for our voices to get higher and higher. These days, speakers are almost always expected to use a microphone, but still pitch your voice to the people on the back row. That doesn’t mean shouting, it means letting your voice come from your diaphragm and not getting strangled in your throat. The tone of your voice will be deeper. This does take practice. Try reading a book out loud in the privacy of your home.

6.  Book Readings

The vast majority of writers I’ve listened to, read from their books. It can be an excellent way of showing your talent. However, keep extracts short – never more than a page. Find a relatively short scene preferably one that ends with some sort of hook.

Nowadays, I tend to include far fewer readings and then only as an illustration of a point I’m making in the talk. On board ship, with a more general audience, I tend to give even less even though I may be giving as many as 7 or 8 talks.

7.  Learn from Fellow Speakers

When listening to a good speaker, it’s easy to get carried away with what they are saying (the same thing happens to me when I read a novel in an attempt to analyse it rather than simply enjoy it) but try learning their techniques. What works, what doesn’t? Is it something you can do?

8.  Market Yourself – Not Your Books

When I first started giving talks, I would put one of my bookmarks (which naturally has my website on the back) on every seat before my audience arrived. Nowadays, at the end of my talk, I invite my audience up to the table for a free bookmark where I just happen to have a few copies of my books (not a pile – you can have more in the car) which I sell at discounted prices. Never do a hard sell.

9.  A Final Point

Enjoy. Love what you are talking about. Keep smiling.  Next month I will be giving you my top tips for making your PowerPoint presentation the best it can be.

Do you have any top tips to pass on? What works for you?

Support your Authors

Though we writers may write principally for our own pleasure we would all dearly love to be read more widely and for our work to be enjoyed by strangers – thus establishing our work has some merit. That first time someone you have never met is prepared to actually pay good money to read your work is like reaching the dizzy heights of Everest. The climb was hard going, the temptation to give up powerful, but the reward exhilarating. You have reached a converted goal.

Writers are  an insecure breed

Publishing your novel is a leap-of-faith

As I was reading Margaret James’ article about courage in April’s ‘Writing Magazine’ this morning, I had to stop and highlight the phrase, “As a standard-issue insecure, and borderline paranoid, author, I’ve always felt writing fiction and putting it out there was akin to taking your clothes off in public.”

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Set Your Goals.

My aim is always to write a novel in a year though things never quite work out like that. During the actual writing stage, I’ve always keep a record of my daily word count, but this year I started writing the latest book on January 1st. An excellent opportunity to get myself organised and set goals for the whole year.


SmartAdopting the SMART principle, a realistic daily word count for me is around 500 words. Allowing for life (holidays, social events etc) getting in the way as it so frequently does, I’ve set myself a target of 2,500 words a week – 10, 000 a month, which meant I should be able to write a first draft in 9 months which should be easily doable. True, that only gives me 3 months to redraft, get feedback and publish – a tall order, but I’ll deal with that when I get there!

Many of my friends write 2-3,000 words a day. That may well be possible if you have already spent weeks, even months drafting a detailed plan and much of the time-consuming research, but that’s not the way I work. I know my main characters – tour manager, Fiona Mason and MI6 chief, Peter Montgomery-Jones – the country where I set the story and have some idea of its theme and where I want to end up. For me, the fun is writing to find out what happens. Yes – it means I write slowly, frequenly discarding whole passages when a better idea comes along and I need to research as I go along, but after 9 completed novels, 6 of which are published, it’s the way I work best. Continue reading

Look to your Image!

So you’ve planned your writing goals for the year but what about you marketing goals? They are equally – if not more – important and they certainly demand much more soul searching and constructive thinking. But before you get down to the minutiae remember – Your most important marketing tool is YOU!

First impressions

We all know how our novel’s cover must reflect the kind of story our reader can expect – a dark mysterious cover for a psychological thriller; a colourful cartoon for a cosy or fun chick lit and, if it’s one of a series, it needs to follow the style of the earlier books. So too with your image. If your potential readers look at your Facebook author page or the home page of your website you have only seconds to grab them and let them know what kind of writer you are. They don’t want to click to your About Me or books pages.

Your image matters!

What do you want it to achieve? Who is it aimed at? Your existing readers or to attract new ones? Is it simply to inform or to create an atmosphere?

There are two elements to your image – your cover image and your profile photo.

Cover Image

Graham's cover picture

Straight away, you can tell crime writer Graham Hurley doesn’t write SF, chick lit or historical fiction. Unlike SF novelist Barry Woodham –

barry'scover picture

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