Write Your First Novel – In A Month!

 

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A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of attending an author event to hear crime writer, Elizabeth Haynes, talk about her writing career. I also had the honour of meeting and chatting with Elizabeth afterwards, who proved to be both lovely and very gracious with her time. After then going home and devouring her current novel, Never Alone (a great read and one I’d highly recommend if you like crime thrillers) which I read and reviewed last month (and you can read again here), I decided to write a post about the event, and pass on some of Elizabeth’s writerly wisdom

Elizabeth, a former police intelligence analyst, hasn’t always been an author but, like me, she did always aspire to be such, one-day. Her first novel, Into The Darkest Corner was published in 2011 and won Amazon’s Book of the Year and Amazon’s Rising Star Award. During the course of the evening the author discussed her previous career and where she gets her ideas and inspiration from to write her novels. The idea of Never Alone came to Elizabeth when she was thinking of moving house and found herself spending far too much time browsing through the houses of various property websites. She came across a grey stone house nestling in a remote country hillside providing the inspiration for the house in the novel, Four Winds Farm, which plays a pivotal role in the setting of Never Alone.

The author also discussed, despite juggling a family and a full time job, how she eventually came to write her first novel. She became, and continues to be, a participant in the National Novel Writing Month, otherwise referred to as NaNoWriMo – an annual challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November (approximately 1667 words a day, or roughly four sides of typed A4 paper). So, this is my challenge to all you would be writers out there, you have a couple months to prepare yourself before the start of November and possibly the start of your first novel. It may mean getting up a couple of hours earlier every day, or going to bed a couple of hours later each night. It may also mean you let the housework slide for a couple of weeks, get someone else to do the cooking, walk the dog, whatever – but it is only for one month.

However, Elizabeth did also point out that 50,000 words is not a novel (most novels are anything from 60,000 to 100,000 words, much more in some cases), but what you will have is the bare bones of a novel, a good start and something you can build on. Why not take a look at the official NaNoWriMo website nanowrimo.org and sign up now. You’ll find lots of help and inspiration, including pep talks and the chance to meet other authors online and in person. Good luck if you take part and please let me know how you get on!

Elizabeth Haynes

Me and Elizabeth Haynes!

Never Alone – My Book Review

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Book Review – Never Alone by Elizabeth Haynes

Publisher – Myriad Editions

My Review

This is the first novel I have read by crime writer Elizabeth Haynes and I can safely say it won’t be the last. Gripping, thrilling and wonderfully written, for me, it was a real page-turner.

Never Alone is a story about Sarah Carpenter, a middle aged widow who lives with her two dogs in a remote farmhouse set in the North Yorkshire moors. Sarah has two adult children, Kitty, her daughter, who is away at university most of the time and her son, Louis, who, although lives locally to Sarah is, for all intents and purpose, estranged from his mother. Still struggling to come to terms with the death of his father, Jim, it’s obvious Louis blames his mother for his father’s death despite the fact it was clearly an accident.

Sarah too, is struggling, but her battle is more about isolation, what it means to live alone. ‘She has a house, and debts, and, while she doesn’t need to worry about the children any longer, it’s a hard habit to break, worrying.’ Neither particularly happy nor unhappy she is presented as someone who, although on the surface appears to be reasonably calm and collected, is nonetheless floundering. When she first met her husband, Jim, as a young woman at university, although she didn’t love him, at first, ‘he promised to be there for her forever, and it was that permanence that attracted her. The idea that whatever lay ahead, she would have Jim.’ However, when Aiden, an old friend from university, also the ex-best friend of her deceased husband, turns up, and agrees to rent the small cottage Sarah has at the back of her farmhouse, Sarah quickly realises she is not alone. And, as the story unfolds, she also realises there are worst things than being alone.

Narrated through two voices, namely Sarah and Aiden, as well as one unknown malevolent voice, it soon becomes apparent Aiden is hiding something from Sarah. The story starts off quite slow then gradually picks up pace culminating in a number of shocking twists and turns.

Easy to read, Never Alone, is a well-written psychological thriller that is as much about human relationships as it is about the human psyche. The characters are well rounded and believable and Haynes cleverly uses the weather (being snowed in), location (the isolation of the moors and the old farmhouse, Four Winds Farm) and animal instinct (the whines, low growls and body language of Sarah’s two dogs, Basil and Tess) to build atmosphere and tension that greatly add to the mounting suspense of this brilliant read. Definitely one I’d recommend.

Writing – The School of Hard Knocks.

 

“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”

                                                                                   – C S Lewis

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“Writing – ain’t for the faint hearted.” Who said that? Oh yes, of course, me! And if you think it is, I suggest you give up now. It often involves long, solitary hours tapping away at a keyboard, in front of a computer screen, where emotions are apt to swing violently from belief your work is the next big thing to the worse piece of writing on the planet – ever. Then there are the edits and the rewrites and that’s long before you start submitting your work. And once you do, there’s every possibility it will be rejected. But if you are lucky enough to get a publisher, or indeed as many brilliant writers now do, successfully self-publish, you’re still putting your work ‘out there’ for public scrutiny. Reviews are vital to a writer and sometimes they’ll be great, at others, brutal. So without doubt, the one thing you open yourself up to, as a writer, is rejection and criticism. In fact, that’s probably a given for most things in life, especially those that catapult you, one way or another, into the public arena, which of course writing most definitely does.

However, how can you become known as a writer unless you take a chance? Luckily, reading is subjective. There will always be those (hopefully!) who love your work and sadly those who don’t. Never let rejection or bad reviews sway you from pursuing your writing dream though. Rejection is a strong test of character. Nonetheless, I do accept there will be days when it’s not always possible to remain so philosophical. So, for all the writers and would be writers reading this and suffering a crisis of confidence, here is a list of famous writers whose novels were initially rejected.

  • A publisher rejects H.G. Wells The War Of The Worlds, describing it as “an endless nightmare.” Eventually published in 1898, it has been in print ever since.

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  • Louisa May Alcott is told to “stick to teaching.” She doesn’t give up on her dream to become a published writer and later Little Women goes on to sell millions. Some 140 years later it is still in print.

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  • Agatha Christie experiences 5 years of continual rejection before landing a publishing deal. Her book sales are now in excess of £2 billion.

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  • In 1968 Ursula K. Le Guin receives a letter from an editor suggesting her book, The Left Hand of Darkness is “Hopelessly bogged down and unreadable.” It goes on to become one of her many best-sellers, regularly voted as the second best fantasy novel of all time, next to The Lord of the Rings.
  • Stephen King was told, “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.” Carrie sold over one million copies in the first year alone.
  • Initially rejected by 16 literary agencies and 12 publishers, the modest print run of 5000 copies for John Grisham’s, A Time To Kill,  quickly sells out and goes on to become a best seller. He now has combined sales of 250 million.

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  • The Christopher Little Literary Agency takes on a new client. Her novel is rejected by 12 publishers. Eventually picked up by an editor at Bloomsbury, the company agree to publish but tell the writer to get a day job as she has little chance of making money from children’s books. Yet Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling generates a series of such books, setting records as the fastest-selling books in history, with combined sales of £450 million.
  • Small publishers in San Francisco, Macadam/Cage, fall in love with and agree to publish a debut novel sent to them. Prior to this, 25 literary agents rejected it. Translated into 33 languages and adapted as a movie, Audrey Niffenegger’s, The Time Traveller’s Wife sells 7 million copies.
  • Only selling 800 copies on its limited first release, the author finds a new publisher and Paulo Coelho’s, The Alchemist, sells 75 million.

 

Editor? Proofreader? What’s in Your Indie Budget?

Brilliant post, great advice!

Take Five Authors

So you’re hot on language, your grammar is impeccable, your style puts Strunk and White to shame and like Akeelah you could win any old spelling bee. Why would you, as an indie author, need to pay for outside help? Well, you only have to read a few Amazon reviews to know that readers can be an unforgiving bunch, quick to spot a typo or a missing space between paragraphs. As an indie author you have to make some difficult choices about how much assistance you can afford to enlist. We wrote a whole post on the importance of a good book cover and we still feel that unless you’re amazingly hot stuff at art, you’re probably wiser to leave that to a professional. But here’s Ellie Campbell’s take on things.

 

Having a good editor is brilliant. Our first editor, Emma at Arrow Books, was instrumental in whipping How…

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Love and a Dozen Roast Potatoes – My Book Review

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Love and a Dozen Roast Potatoes by Simon Wan

Publisher – Urbane Publications

You know the hero always gets the girl right? Well, what if the hero gets the girl but she’s not the right girl? Worse, what if the girl doesn’t actually want the hero?

Such is the life of our romantic hero as he negotiates the triple threat of trying to becoming a cheese ball superstar, finding his cartoon princess, and bringing her home for a perfect Christmas roast potato. It’s a life tale of comic disasters, sex (lots of weird sex), relationship nightmares and discovering your nakedness in a world full of people wearing the same old clothes.

Honest, warm, funny and very hip, this is David Nicholls with the tears, the pain and the naughty bits put brazenly on display for the world to see.

My Review

If you like the idea of reading something a little different then this is just the book. Honest and warm with lots of laugh out loud moments plus a couple of weird ones to boot (check out the acknowledgements to give you a bit of an idea), this is the story of one man’s quest to find true love.

As Shakespeare himself famously wrote, “the course of true love never did run smooth” and never has there been a more appropriate turn of phrase when it comes to the complicated love life of Mr Simon Wan. Beginning at the tender age of eight, the author takes us right back to the 1980’s and the first girl he fell in love with, Claire. Having only been at his new school for a couple of days, Claire and her friend feel sorry for the half-Chinese boy being teased by the other boys. In a bid to make him feel better, the girls kiss him on the cheek. “The next playtime, the boys who called me ‘chinkychong pong face’ were a little more interested in being my friend…and that probably set the precedent [for my life] for the next thirty two years.”

With an obvious zest for life and an honest love and appreciation of women (all kinds of women), as well as music and fashion, not forgetting the roast potatoes of course, the writer then proceeds to walk us through three colourful decades of his life and the never ending story (and yes, that sentence is alluding to a friend of said author who gets a mention in this book – think eighties pop icon with spiky blonde hair) of his search for true love. And it’s all there, the long hot summers, public transport, the video player, mix tapes, skateboards, drink fuelled fights and drug fuelled raves – “we drove around the country lanes in the middle of the night searching for phone boxes that would lead us to hidden rave arenas and when we got there we danced until it was a different day. Life was fast. Life was about lasers and ecstasy, nothing could stop us. We had the keys to a brave new world. We were invincible.”

Snappy, fast paced but easy to read, Wan is masterful at painting pictures with words. He is also brutally honest about himself and although, on the whole, the book remains upbeat and wonderfully witty throughout, Wan doesn’t sugar coat his faults or his mistakes, which in a way only makes him more endearing. He is human and doesn’t try and hide it. Written with great humour and sincerity, if you’re looking for something a little different then I’d definitely recommend Love and a Dozen Roast Potatoes. But be warned – be prepared to feel very worn out after reading it.

 

JAWBONE LAKE – MY BOOK REVIEW

 

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Jawbone Lake by Ray Robinson

Publisher – Windmill Books

Ravenstor, the Peak District. New Year’s Day.

A young woman stands on the shore of a frozen lake and watches a Land Rover crash off the bridge wall and into the ice. Two hundred miles away, a young man is woken by a devastating telephone call. The accident, and what it brings to the surface, will change both of their lives for ever.

My Review

Set in a small town in Derbyshire’s Peak District, Jawbone Lake is a compelling and cleverly woven thriller about a young man’s search for the truth behind the disappearance of his father. However, it is also a heartfelt look at life after death and the impact of such on those left behind seen through the eyes of the story’s two main protagonists, Joe Arms and Rabbit.

Living in London, Joe is the successful owner of a thriving software company he set up from scratch after leaving university. However, Joe has had enough of London life and his manic work schedule. He decides to sell the business and leave London for a while. Early one morning Joe receives a phone call from his mother, Eileen, telling him there’s been an accident. His father’s Land Rover, which crashed into a frozen lake off a bridge, has been found but his father, CJ, is missing. With no idea if any other vehicles were involved and no apparent witnesses, the police are somewhat baffled by the circumstances surrounding the accident. Joe’s father is missing, presumed dead. Distraught, Joe sets out to find the reason behind his father’s disappearance only to uncover some unsettling truths along the way. This was the man Joe thought he knew but his quest leads him to a past that began in Hastings and another life in Andalusia in Spain, which throws up the age-old question – does anyone ever truly know someone?

The story’s second protagonist is Rabbit, a young woman who works in the local ice-cream factory who, unbeknown to anyone else, was standing by the lake when CJ’s car went into it. She also witnessed the presence of another car and a man with ‘a dark shape silhouetted in his hand.’ Hers is a mundane existence and one where she is still coming to terms with the loss of her baby son. ‘Sensing the vastness of the water out there, it’s pull, she was reminded how, towards the end of her labour last year, it felt as though her stomach had created it’s own field of gravity…And even though he was now gone from her world, she still felt him inside her, floating like a tiny underwater astronaut.’

Although Jaw Bone Lake delves into the murky dealings of the criminal underworld this is not a fast paced action thriller but rather a look the aftermath that crime and the loss of a loved one leaves on those left behind. The characters are well rounded and the narrative moves along at a steady pace. Robinson’s use of language is beautifully evocative and his description of places and changing scenery simply breath-taking. Robinson is clearly a writer who understands the art of writing and this is definitely a book I’d recommend.

In The Shadows – My Book Review

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In The Shadows by Tara Lyons 

Publisher – Tara Lyons

Detective Inspector Denis Hamilton is tasked with apprehending a brutal murderer stalking the streets of London – and leaving not a shred of DNA evidence. As the suspect list mounts, his frustration and pressure from his superiors intensify.

Grace Murphy, who is dealing with the recent loss of her beloved grandfather, falls deeper into despair when her friends’ bodies are discovered. Fearing she may be the killer’s next target, she begins to question if her horrifying nightmares are the key to unravelling the murderer’s identity.

How far would you go to uncover the truth? Would you venture into the shadows to unmask a killer?

My Review 

In The Shadows is the debut novel by crime writer Tara Lyons and what a gripping read and great start to her writing career it is. Set in present day London, a serial killer is on the loose and young women are being murdered. The opening sentences of the prologue introduce the murderer and leave little room to doubt the state of their troubled, deeply disturbed mind:

They never found the first dead body. I didn’t want them to. I was in control, powerful, and important. My fingers tightly gripped the smooth black knife handle, and I felt the rush of excitement as the sharp tip pierced her chest. All my energy, power and hate spurred me on, telling me to push harder – so hard that I saw the last breath escape her dark lips and mingle with the frosty midnight air…It was the first time I took someone’s life and the rush was euphoric.

The story unfolds through the voices of three main protagonists, namely the assistant director of a local theatre, Grace Murphy, Detective Inspector Denis Hamilton and, faceless and nameless, the murderer themselves. However, Grace was the character I felt most drawn to throughout the book.

Deeply sensitive, Grace is clearly struggling after the recent death of her beloved grandfather. It also becomes apparent she was either a friend or colleague of some of the murder victims, which of course gives Grace grave concern for her own safety. Does she know the killer and if so is she the next victim? Her sleep becomes plagued by nightmares and more often than not Grace reaches for alcohol, seeking solace at the bottom of a wine bottle, or two. Of course, as should be the case with any good whodunit story, Lyons does a great job of offering the reader a selection of possible suspects including her slightly creepy, slightly inappropriate boss Michael, and Grace’s love interest Eric, who thinks nothing of using women, Grace included, for his own gratification.

At the insistence of her stricken mother, Grace seeks psychological help to try and make sense of her troubled dreams. She agrees to undergo hypnotherapy in the hope of providing some understanding, some link to the murders still taking place around her. With no real evidence or DNA will be Grace be the one to help DI Hamilton and his team?

I became quite invested in the characters of the story, particularly Grace, and my only small criticism is that there was not enough background information on them. Grace was clearly close to her grandfather and there was no doubt she was affected by his death so it would have been both helpful and interesting to have a bit more information as to why, the recollection of important or special memories. However, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Grace Murphy so perhaps the writer will tell us a bit more about her in her future novels. Nonetheless, fast paced with plenty of intrigue and suspense, In The Shadows is a great psychological thriller and a great read.