Writing, webinars and my 43 minute rule

I don’t know about you but sometimes it feels like there are simply not enough hours in the day to get everything done that I need to do. I fit my fiction writing around my day job as a journalist. Actually, to be honest calling it a day job is rather misleading. As a colleague once said to me, journalism is more of a lifestyle choice than just a job. When news is breaking, things like lunch breaks tend to go out of the window! I love the excitement and variety of my job, but it can be difficult to fit stuff around it sometimes.

I was therefore curious to find out how other people manage to juggle writing and other work. This week I attended an online seminar run by my publisher Crooked Cat where a group of authors discussed our writing methods. It was interesting to hear what works for different people. Some people swear by the daily word target, but I’ve found that works for me is a little technique I’ve called the ’43 minute rule’ which I thought I’d share with you too.img_2552
I’m a big fan of Netflix (bear with me here, you’ll understand the relevance in a second!) Specifically I enjoy watching TV shows of the American cop variety. You know the sort – White Collar, How to Get Away With Murder etc etc. I find it’s all too easy to sit down on an evening and indulge in an episode or two. I realised that if I could sit and watch an episode of something on Netflix which normally lasts around 43 minutes, then I clearly did have a little bit of spare time.
I decided to ditch the 43 minutes of Netflix watching, and spend that time writing instead. I find if I turn my wifi off, put my phone on silent and really concentrate for 43 minutes, I can get a fair bit of writing done. And more often than not, I’ll get really into my story and carry on scribbling away even when the 43 minutes are up. So there you go, that’s my little ’43 minute rule’.
And before you ask, I haven’t ditched the Netflix altogether…img_1570

Good intentions and good news

After being rather lax of late with this blog, I have given myself a good talking to and am making a new year’s resolution to do more with it. And yes, I know it isn’t actually new year, but it’s September and lots of people are starting new academic years, so that counts, right? Anyway, my intention is to post something every week, so do keep checking in, it’s lovely to have you along.

It seems appropriate to start this resolution with Very Exciting News. Drum roll please…my first novel ‘Who Does He Think He Is?’ is being published by Crooked Cat and will be available to buy this very December. As you can imagine, I am absolutely thrilled. In fact, when I got the email offering me a publishing contract I did a little dance at work, much to the amusement of my colleagues!

‘Who Does He Think He Is?’ is a romantic comedy and tells the story of twenty-something Lady Aurelia Osbourne-Lloyd, who has long wished her bank balance was as big as her name. She’s struggling to stop her ancestral home Leydale Park falling down around her. The arrival of a film crew to use the estate as a location brings a whole new level of chaos into her life, especially as it seems leading actor Xander Lord has an ulterior motive for wanting to film there…

Intrigued? Well, keep an eye out and I’ll let you know as soon as it’s available to pre-order.

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A week of crime writing

Just over a week ago, I went on an Arvon Crime Fiction writing course. Although I’ve been focusing on my rom coms in the last couple of years, I have always enjoyed scribbling and reading mystery and crime stories, so I was very excited to spend a week writing on the dark side. The course took place at The Hurst in Shropshire, the former home of the playwright John Osborne.

The Hurst

The Hurst – a perfect location for crime writing

The house was beautiful, groaning with books and surrounded by acres of beautiful gardens, definitely an environment to get the creative juices flowing. And even better, there was no phone signal, and no internet. It was rather a treat to spend a week off grid, although thinking about it, the combination of an isolated country house, a group of strangers (at first at least) and no contact with the outside world sounds exactly like the setting of a crime story in itself!
A warm welcome at the HurstWhen I arrived, I was told there would be a meeting with my fellow writers and the tutors in the drawing room at 6pm…definitely something which had me expecting Poirot to turn up twirling his moustache. My nerves at meeting the rest of the group were soon proven to be unfounded as they were a lovely bunch of people, all with lots of stories to tell. We soon bonded over the cooking and washing up rota (at Arvon courses, everyone takes it in turn to cook one evening meal and to wash up after two other meals during the week.) Although I was rather apprehensive about the responsibility of cooking for a group of 11, my fellow chef and I managed not to poison anyone with our meal (phew) and I would go so far to say that it tasted rather yummy, even though I do say so myself.IMG_2091
The main point of the week was to learn about techniques for writing crime novels and I did indeed learn a lot, not just about mystery fiction but about novel writing in general. The marvellous tutors were Dreda Say Mitchell and Tobias Jones, and they were joined one evening by guest tutor Sophie Hannah. It was inspiring to hear about how they started their literary careers and I felt very privileged to learn from them. We had writing workshops every morning looking at areas such as plotting, characterisation and how to write an engaging first line. We also discussed what actually makes a crime novel. Every session we were given lots of writing exercises which we then read out to the rest of the group for feedback and advice. It was rather daunting at first but everyone was really supportive and I found it very helpful. We also had a couple of one to one tutorials with Dreda and Toby to discuss our work in progress in greater detail. The afternoons were free for writing and exploring the Shropshire countryside. I certainly came up with lots of ideas while meandering around the woodland, as well as filling up my phone with dozens of pictures of stunning views.

Just the place to ponder and plot!

Just the place to ponder and plot!

It was quite a shock to return to the real world after my time in the creative bubble of The Hurst, but I left feeling re-invigorated and eager to continue with my writing.  I also gained a new group of writing buddies and I can’t wait to read the work we all produce.

Love Stories Awards 2015

 

Rewind the clock a few weeks, and on a busy day in the newsroom,  I was delighted to receive an email informing me that I had been shortlisted for the Love Stories New Talent Award 2015 for my current work in progress, ‘Bouzouki Nights.’ Cue mad dash around to book leave, find a place to stay in London for the night and of course to purchase a new dress to wear for the ceremony (any excuse!)

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Despite the best efforts of the British weather depositing the wrong kind of leaves on the train lines, I managed to make it to the Jewel Piccadilly in London, the location for the awards ceremony. My fellow nominees and I were welcomed with a wonderful combination of prosecco and cupcakes (what more could a bunch of authors need?!)

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It was great to meet the other writers and to celebrate everyone’s successes. There can’t be many better ways of spending an afternoon than talking books with a bunch of fellow enthusiasts.

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A selfie with Lisa Dickenson and my book camp buddy Holly Martin.

 

Although I didn’t win this time round, I was delighted to discover that I’d come runner up in the previous year’s New Talent Award at the Festival of Romance. I knew I’d been shortlisted, but as I was away on holiday at the time, I was unable to attend the ceremony and so never heard about my success!

After the glamour of the Love Stories Awards, it was on to the Romantic Novelists’ Association Winter Party in the glamorous setting of the Royal Overseas League. It was lovely to catch up with the friends I had made at the RNA conference in the summer. Once again there was fizz (are you spotting a trend here?) and lots of fun.

I returned to my hotel with aching feet and a hoarse voice, a price I was well prepared to pay for what was a great day out!

 

 

Your call is important to us

As a journalist, I spend a significant proportion of my working life on the telephone. I’d like to say that this time is productively spent confirming facts, drawing out interviewees and generally uncovering stories worthy of a Pulitzer Prize. Unfortunately, reality is somewhat different.

Picture the scene. It’s one minute to five on a Friday afternoon and I have to ring the council to speak to someone about an item of breaking news. I flick through my contacts to find the relevant number and press dial. I’m already slightly anxious. This is not a good time to be ringing a press office. With the weekend just around the corner, they probably switched the phone to answer machine at least half an hour ago.

Sadly I don’t even get the joy of being invited to leave a message. I’m greeted instead with the dull disconnected tone. This council press officer is so desperate not to be contacted by the media, he’s changed his number.

Now I have to move onto the more dangerous territory of the switchboard.

Like most self respecting public bodies, the council really doesn’t want to have to deal with actual members of the public, so even tracking down a phone number is a mission in itself. By the time I’ve found a likely looking one, the minute hand on the clock has gone to the wrong side of 5pm.

I take a deep breath and dial.Telephone

A robot answers.

“Welcome to your local council. Your call may be recorded for training purposes. For pest control, press one. For queries about council tax, press two. To speak to an operator, please hold.”

I hold, for an unfeasibly long period of time.

The robot occasionally thanks me and assures me my call is extremely important to it.

In between this, I am serenaded with some synthetic Vivaldi. As a bit of a connoisseur of hold music, I have to admit I’m a little disappointed.

I’ve just started singing along with a particularly vigorous section of the Four Seasons when the music cuts out.

I try a tentative hello, happy to be caught warbling away if it means I get to speak to an actual human being.

No such luck. I get a different robot, impressively grumpy sounding for a computer programme.

This one doesn’t bother reassuring me about the importance of my call. Instead it demands I say the name of the department I wish to speak to.

“Press Office” I try to enunciate as clearly as possible.

“Was that pest control?” It asks.

Arguably not the most inaccurate interpretation of my request, at least from the council’s point of view.

“No,” I reply, looking anxiously at the clock. It’s now approaching the even more dangerous time of half past five. I suspect these two phone robots have been left in charge for the weekend.

“Name the department you wish to speak to.”

“Media Enquiries.”

This time the robot tries to point me to Mortuary Services.

I try the more sophisticated sounding “Corporate Communications” in case the council has been re-branding their departments.

“Sorry I don’t understand. Connecting you to the switchboard,” threatens the robot.

“Just put me through to the bastard press office,” I shout, all patience gone as my deadline looms ever closer.

“Connecting you to Press Office,” the robot parrots as I inadvertently hit on the correct combination of words for the request to be fulfilled.

I’m treated to cover versions of  Michael Bublé tracks this time.

By song number three, I’m ready to do a van Gough and chop my own ear off.

Eventually the call clicks through.

“Hello, it’s Keith.”

“Hi Keith my name is Emily and I’m calling from…” I start to say, but I’m interrupted and realise I’ve been caught out by yet another answer phone.

“…it’s Keith O’Connor. The office is closed until 9am on Monday. Please leave a message. If your call is urgent, please contact the switchboard.”

I hang up in defeat.

Two minutes later, I get a text.

“Thank you for contacting your local council. Please rate your experience on a scale of 1 to 10.”

I type in zero.

A weekend of writing in Devon

A couple of weeks ago, an email arrived in my inbox informing me that I was a lucky winner of the Wine, Women and Song competition run by Choc Lit. My prize was a weekend of writing workshops in beautiful Devon with authors Jane Lovering and Mel Hudson.

A perfect place for writing.

A perfect place for writing.

I was of course super excited at the amazing opportunity to meet two authors whose work I very much enjoy and to be able to spend the whole weekend with them talking about writing. And my enthusiasm remained undimmed despite my 6 hour train journey ending up being closer to 8 hours…

We were hosted for the weekend in Mel’s picture-perfect thatched cottage near Bideford.

Even though my fellow winner Lynn Forth and I were both tired after our epic journeys, we still managed to find the energy for a first night party celebrating the publication of Jane Lovering’s new book, I Don’t Want To Talk About It.

Toasting Jane's new book

Toasting Jane’s new book

And once we’d partaken in the wine element of the competition prize, we moved onto the song part. Thankfully Mel’s house is in the middle of the countryside so the wider world was spared our perhaps less-than-tuneful renditions of popular classics.

On Saturday, we got down to work. Jane led a really useful session on characters, looking at how names influence our expectations. We picked names out of an envelope and worked out the personalities behind the names, giving them likes, dislikes, secrets etc. I decided my ‘Jasper’ had a fondness for red trousers, a rabid dislike of cheap alcohol, and that he’d lied on his CV to get his job. A bit of a rogue! Mel also talked about her route to publication and we chatted about the editing process.

Heading down to the garden room for the writing workshop.

Heading down to the garden room for the writing workshop.

I think the most useful (and most terrifying) part of the weekend was when we had one to one sessions with Mel and Jane. They read our first chapters and gave us their honest opinion on our work. Their advice was invaluable and I was so chuffed with their enthusiasm for my writing.

We polished off the weekend with a picnic in the sunshine at Hartland Quay and of course a traditional Devon cream tea.

All in all, it was a great experience with some lovely people. Thank you so much to Choc Lit, and to Jane and Mel for their generosity with both their hospitality and advice.

 

Romantic Novelists’ Association Conference 2015

Last weekend I attended my first ever Romantic Novelists’ Association Conference. I’d been looking forward to it for ages, but I have to admit that as it drew closer I also started to feel a little nervous about the whole thing. After all, the great and good of the romance writing world would be there… and then there would be me!

New girl's conference badge

New girl’s conference badge

However, I needn’t have worried. My conference badge had a sparkly little flower to indicate that I was a newbie and people went out of their way to make me feel welcome.

The weekend consisted of lots of talks and workshops, and of course, the gala dinner on Saturday night which gave everyone an excuse to put on their glad rags.

Gala dinner shoes

Gala dinner shoes

And between scheduled events, there were plenty of kitchen parties and drinking by the canal, which was more sophisticated than it sounds, honest!

So among the many things I learnt at over the weekend, these are a few highlights:

  • The villain is never a villain in her own story
  • Post its are the way forward when it comes to doing edits
  • You should always take a big suitcase to conference (I managed to acquire 14 new books, oops!)

Julie Cohen's fabulous talk on the art of rewriting had us all rushing out to buy Post It notes

Julie Cohen’s fabulous talk on the art of rewriting had us all rushing out to buy Post it notes

It was a truly fabulous weekend. I made lots of new friends and had an amazing time talking books with fellow bibliophiles.

I’d like to say a big thank you to the wonderful organisers. I’m already looking forward to my next RNA event!

Conference book shop - most of which I bought!

Books for sale at the conference – most of which I bought!