Cry Me A River by Julie Heslington

‘Are you okay?’ asked hubby.

            ‘Yes, why?

            ‘Because you look like you’ve been crying.’

 

He was right. I had. Not because anyone had upset me. Well, not anyone real anyway. My protagonist, Clare, had just had some really bad news and, the more I wrote about her reaction to it, the more I mirrored her reactions until I was reaching for the tissues, the paracetemol and the nearest teddy bear to hug!

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Does anyone else do that? Sob at what they’ve written?

As a reader, if I’m reduced to tears, I feel like I’ve read a great book by a talented writer. Why? Because that writer has managed to make me care about the characters, become involved in their journey, and feel what they feel. Does that therefore make me a brilliant writer or is it more that I know my characters so well that I really do feel what they feel? I wish it was the former … but I suspect it’s the latter! Surely it’s a good start, though.

The same works for humour. I’ve had hubby appear in the office before when I’ve been giggling at a joke or a turn of phrase I’ve used. I feel even more guilty if I laugh at my own writing as that feels really egotistical. I have to tell myself that it’s not really me that’s funny but my characters. Then again, I am my characters. Aren’t I? Confusing isn’t it?

I once read an interview with J K Rowling and she said she sobbed for ages when she killed off Sirius Black in The Order of the Phoenix. I wasn’t very far into my writing journey at that time – certainly not at the laughing or crying stage – so I thought it a little strange. Now I completely understand. These characters become us and we them. The protagonist in the first book of my trilogy, Sarah, is modelled on me. My little brother read it and said it was very funny to read as he could spot phrases I use and things I do. The main protagonists in books two and three are completely fictional and, although I’ll always feel most closely aligned to Sarah as she was the start of this journey and is basically me, I’ve found myself “becoming” the other two as I’ve written from their point of view and have laughed and cried as them too. But I equally feel aligned to sub-characters and feel their hurt and pain too. Pretty emotional stuff this writing malarkey!

I’ve just come to the end of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and have “won” it a day early (i.e. written 50,000 words or more in a month). It’s been an incredibly achievement for me as I’ve been working 7 days a week across 3 part-time jobs and job hunting for a permanent job. Some days I’ve felt too exhausted to write and other days, it’s the writing that’s exhausted me! I cheated a little with NaNo. You’re meant to start a new novel but I was partway through book 2 so I finished the first draft of that and started book 3. To me, it was about writing 50k words, not starting from scratch so I got what I wanted out of it. However, Clare’s story (novel 3) has been far more emotional then the others. Sarah’s is a really light-hearted story, Elise’s is a little darker, and Clare’s goes quite deep. I actually feel really ready for a break now as I feel like I’ve spent most of the last week in tears! If only shedding tears shed calories too; I’d have achieved my goal weight by now and solved another problem 😉

I’d love to hear about your views on laughing and/or crying at your own work or, if you’re not a writer, what makes you laugh and cry and do you see that as a mark of a good book?

Bye for now

Julie xx

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The Wednesday Wondering – What We’re Reading Right Now

When a writer is asked what advice they’d give to other writers, one of the most commonly cited gems is to read. A lot! As you’d probably expect, The Write Romantics are all avid readers although how we all find time to fit it in between family life, writing, running a farm, working, volunteering and the million and one other responsibilities we have between us is an absolute mystery!

Today’s Wednesday Wondering was posed by nosey me and is quite simply:
What are you reading at the moment? What drew you do that book?

Let’s find out what The Write Romantics have to say…

HELEN P:

I’m currently reading about ten different books but the one I’m trying to concentrate on and read is ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens. I’ve never read it and my writing group’s homework is to bring in a piece of seasonal writing and introduce it, so I thought it would be very apt. Plus I thought I’d best take a look at how one of the great master’s writes a ghost story 😉

DEIRDRE:

I’m reading The Hidden Cottage by Erica James. I didn’t set out to buy it but, armed with a load of lovely book tokens I won in a writing competition, I decided to break into them with a little mooch around Smith’s. First I picked up a book I’d had on my list for a while and as it was part of a buy-one-get-one-half price deal I began the search for another. The Hidden Cottage spoke to me straight away. I’m a sucker for a book title with the word ‘cottage’ in it, the cover is delightfully colourful and I’ve read many of Erica James’ books before so I kind of knew what I was getting. I’ve read about two thirds of it, and it does live up to its promise in that it’s a cosy read about family relationships, which is what the author excels in. I wouldn’t say I’m loving it as much as her previous one, The Real Katie Lavender, but the characters feel genuine and all have traits you can easily identify with. There is a tragedy in it, which I won’t give away here, but mainly it’s an easy, warm-hearted read and it’s perfect for reading by the fire when the rain’s hammering down outside.

RACHAEL:
At the moment I’m back in the reign of Henry VIII with a new release by Judith Arnopp. The Kiss of the Concubine is all about Anne Boleyn and is a time in history that has always fascinated me.

The reason I’m reading this book, is not just because it is written by a friend and neighbour but because, despite knowing Judith, I would have to read each and every book she writes. They are just so different. It’s not history through rose tinted glasses. It’s real and makes me wonder just what it would have really been like to live then.
The opening chapter is brilliant and drags you in straight away and is so different from anything else. It’s a must read!

http://www.juditharnopp.com/kissoftheconcubine.htm

ALEX:
I’m currently reading ‘Rumours’ by Freya North. I picked it up because I’ve read and enjoyed many of her previous books and while I’m recuperating I wanted something that’s not too taxing. I am enjoying it although it has some ‘interesting’ switches of POV which I find a bit annoying. Just as an aside, years ago when I worked in a bookshop in York I met Freya North. She came into the shop with the publisher’s rep. Her first book had not long been out and I had no idea who she was. I do remember that she was very polite and unassuming so I was a bit surprised when I later read her book and found out how many sex scenes were in it. Just shows that you really shouldn’t judge an author by what she looks like!”

LYNNE:
I’m one of those people who can’t just read one book at a time. I have to have a book with me all the time so there’s generally one wherever I happen to be. In the car I’ve got ‘The Children of Green Knowe.’ I know my childhood’s long gone, but I do enjoy children’s books now and again and this one is especially good. I visited the manor house in which it’s set, Hemingford Grey, the author Lucy Boston’s home. It was magical and one of the loveliest homes I’ve visited. I’m also reading ‘The Last Runaway,’ by Tracy Chevalier. This is excellent. I saw it as a recommended read from Richard and Judy and I liked the fact that it is set in America in a Quaker community. It has a lovely sense of atmosphere and a gripping storyline!

On my To Be Read pile isSusan Lewis’s ‘One Day At A Time.’ I love her work, she chooses some very emotional issues and I like that. On a completely different note I have Diana Holman-Hunt’s memoir, ‘My Grandmother’s and I.’ She was granddaughter to the great Pre-Raphaelite painter William Holman-Hunt. He painted my favourite painting of all time, ‘The Light of the World,’ which is beautiful and exactly what I think Jesus looks like!

That’s my favourite thing about books, there are so many and they’re all so different!

HELEN R:
I’m reading “Too Charming” by Kathryn Freeman. It’s utterly brilliant with one very sexy hero. I downloaded this onto my Kindle in response to an advert by her publisher, Choc Lit. I highly recommend it.

JAXX:
I’m reading Henriette Gyland’s book The Elephant Girl, which is a roller coaster of a book with mystery, interest and a lovely hero and heroine that you feel you know by the end of the book- a very satisfying read.

JO:
I am reading David Walliams’ Gangsta Granny. The reason is because I have had an idea for a Middle Grade book I’d like to write after I finish the current NaNo project and get it off to the NWS. I’ve read and loved a lot of Roald Dahl and I think Walliams is seen as a modern-day equivalent. I’m reading it to look at techniques, the language and vocab levels and the pitch of humour versus plot. I want to get an idea of whether my story idea has enough legs before I take it further and I’m loving reading something so different and being a kid again for a bit!

JULIE:
I’m reading “Beneath an Irish Sky” by Isabella Connor on my Kindle. I was drawn to his book because it’s a collaboration between two writers, Liv and Val, who we interviewed over the summer on our blog. The idea of a “joint” book sounded interesting, as well as the story itself. I’m really enjoying and find it refreshing to read from predominantly male POVs. Sadly, progress is very slow – not because the book isn’t a page-turner but simply because I have absolutely no time to read at the moment. I like to get really engrossed in a book and read large chunks in one sitting as I enjoy it more that way. I think therefore that I may just put the Kindle away until November is through and I’ve therefore finished NaNoWriMo which will hopefully give me a little more reading time. I have a Christmas book I want to delve into in December so I would like to finish Beneath an Irish Sky within the first week.

So, quite a mix of books and genres, old and new. Have you read any of the books we’re currently reading? Do you have any recommendations for us? What are you reading at the moment? Please join in and let us know.

Julie

A chance of discovery: My day at Foyles by Lynne Davidson

I’ve always thought that often in life, when you need something, that sometimes, somehow, just the right thing pops up right out of the blue to help. I was proved right when about two months ago, into my inbox popped an invitation to a Discovery Day in Foyles, London. ‘Authors are matched with an agent’, the email said, ‘they’ll read your first page and discuss it with you. Then you can ask any questions you have about the world of publishing.’

‘This is meant to be!’ I told myself. Since I write about my own troubled childhood and match that with writing about some of the people I had worked with as a social worker, my work could fit into either fiction or memoirs in category. This big question had been bugging me for some time and I was delighted to have an opportunity to talk about it with an expert.

The wait till the big day seemed to take forever. But I was enthralled when I got there. The room was thronging with people all chatting loudly and waving files of white paper around. Around the edge of the room in an L-shape were about eight desk -shaped tables each covered with a red tablecloth and a timer, just like you see on Great British Bake Off.

I was led over to a lady who was introduced to me as Anna. She reset button on her timer then gave me her full attention. I’d rehearsed my pitch over and over again. I started with my big question. I explained about my work. ‘Some of my stuff is very true to real events, and could be called a memoir. Others events are totally fiction.’ I said I read a lot of Cathy Glass’ work and reminded Anna that she’s a foster carer who writes easy to read books about the children she works with and the traumas they’ve been through. Would that be a market for my work? I asked her.

Anna hadn’t heard of Cathy Glass but offered to read the first page of my novel. I had two thin files of paper and took them both out. Anna went pale. I think she thought I was going to ask her to read the lot. Well I wasn’t, but I thought I’d be best taking more with me just in case I needed extra.

I got the first page of my novel out sharpish, knowing time was moving on. Anna read earnestly for a few moments, then said she liked the way I’d got straight into the story but felt I explained a bit too much. She asked how nearly finished it was and I explained that I had just two chapters left to write. I often leave writing the last two chapters because it’s the end of my story then, and I have to leave the cosy little world I’ve created. Anna suggested that I get the last two chapters written, then it send in. “Yippeeee!” I said. But time was up and I was bustled along to the next stage.

I was moved to a table in the cafe with four other writers and an agent. It was even noisier than the first room and I was put at the end of a long table. The agent introduced herself as Sophie and we were told we could ask her anything. I couldn’t hear what the others had asked so I asked Sophie about memoirs and fiction and my particular question. Would memoirs like Cathy Glass be a market I should look at? She didn’t know either and again had never heard of Cathy Glass. Then time was up much too soon. I was just getting into my stride, and that was it, we were all moved out to make way for the next people.

It had been a very brief but useful episode in the sometimes lonely world of writing. Both agents said fiction sells easier than memoirs, so I think I’ll pitch my stuff as fiction. At least that gives me freedom to write more fully. Anna had said that a lot of fiction is inspired by the author’s life anyway. Both agents also said before you send work to any agent, make sure the rest is finished. You look a bit of a twerp if the agent likes the partial and asks for the rest and it’s not finished!

The staff couldn’t have been nicer when they saw I walked with a walking stick, and were really thoughtful and considering that about how I was coping and made sure I had a place to sit all the time.

Ten out of ten for Curtis Brown and Foyles Bookshop I reckon!

The Wednesday Wondering – Book or eBook?

Hello and welcome to another Wednesday Wondering. With Christmas just five weeks today, many people will be opening up gifts and discovering a Kindle or a Kobo or one of the many other eBooks out there. In fact, my main Christmas present from my husband last year was a Kindle so my question to The Write Romantics this week is:

Book or eBook?

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OR

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Ooh, potentially controversial, especially since one of us is published by a Digital First imprint and several of us have submitted to Digital First publishers in the hope of getting our novels out to the world.

Here’s our take on this subject. By the way, how to actually spell eBook seems massively open to debate. Is it ebook, Ebook, EBook, e-book or something else? It seems that different publishers and sales sites adopt different spellings so I’ve gone with my favourite (eBook) and not adjusted the text from any of The Write Romantics so you can see how we all differ!

 

JAXX:

Ebooks, I was quite startled by ebooks at first thinking ‘No, not more technology to handle,’ but as soon as I got an iPad I set up an account with Amazon and have read far, far more books than I ever did before. I did read but it was such a faff remembering the title of the book you wanted, going into the bookshop (which was miles away) ordering the thing, going back to pick it up weeks later etc. Now as they say, a click of a button and it’s yours. I would never buy a book over an ebook now as I’ve never been very precious about books, although I still have my ‘Elsa and the Seven Swans’ book which was the first book I remember being given, and a small collection of the original Fairy books by Cicely Mary Barker which I love. I have got a Kindle but because I go everywhere with my iPad I tend to use that more. In fact I blame my ‘Tennis Elbow’ on holding my iPad in bed reading for too long. Ooh that sounds like a good excuse to get an iPad Air, doesn’t it- so much lighter – or an iPad mini- or both, just in case!

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HELEN P:

E-books, dare I confess this? I think I should because they say confession is good for your soul.

I was very late to the e-book thing. My kids have wanted to buy me a Kindle for Christmas for the last couple of years and I’ve always said ‘No thank you, I don’t want one. I prefer a paperback.’ However shame on me I finally succumbed this year and got one for my birthday and I absoloutley love it. It’s so portable, convenient and brilliant. I still love paperbacks but I’m glad I finally discovered how amazing e-readers are.

 

JO:

I am a die hard paper-back girl and have been resisting the lure of the e-book with a degree of passion that it probably doesn’t deserve!  I love the look, the feel, even the smell of ‘real’ books.  I’m old school like that, though, I still like to hold a CD in my hand, rather than downloading music – even if it costs me twice as much.  However, I’ve recently had the start of a conversion, or at least began to accept that there might be room for both mediums in my life.  This epiphany came about as a result of wanting desperately to read Helen Phifer’s brilliant book, The Ghost House, which for now is available exclusively on e-platforms.  I enjoyed the e-book experience much more than I expected, which was at least in part down to how great my first experience was because Helen’s book is superb.  It’s made me see the benefit of e-books, though, and I can see me doing at least some of my reading that way; particularly as I hope to secure an e-book publishing deal of my own some time before I totter off to the great bookshop in the sky!  I’ll always love ‘real’ books the most and dream of having one of those with my name on it, too.  After all, there’s nothing like a bubble bath, a glass of wine and a good book – without the risk of electrocution thrown in 🙂

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LYNNE:

I’m a great fan of the ebook! It’s like an iPod for books and I love the thought that I’ve got loads to read all neat in my pocket. That way if I break down and the AA person takes ages to arrive it won’t matter. Also, my husband is under the impression that I have too many books (there’s no such thing!) and keeps tidying up my little creative piles of books that I keep about so when I want to read about cooking, or history, or Thomas Hardy or whatever, my choices are all in one place. They do make a handsome pile with their gorgeous covers and well-worn pages and ebooks can’t compete with that.

Nor can an ebook ever duplicate the beauty of a brand new, unopened hardback. I bought myself ‘Burial Rites’ on special offer from Foyles recently in hard back. It looks glorious in its handsome dust jacket embellished with a line drawing, the outer pages of the book tinted navy. It’s an artistic treasure ebooks can’t duplicate.

Ebooks can’t substitute real books at the other end of the market either, the 10p bargain from a jumble sale or boot fair. I’ve a fair few of those on my shelves and have found some treasures that way. Even my frugal budget will allow me to try a new author, or a genre that I’m not familiar with.

So I guess what I’m saying is I love ebooks, but not just ebooks. I think ebooks are here for good, but they add to, rather than displace my paper books and I don’t see any change in that, I wouldn’t want any change in that.

 

RACHAEL:

To be honest I resisted for a long time. I love to hold the book, turn the pages and do things like, see how many pages are left in the chapter. I never peek at the ending though!

Then I relented and my lovely new kindle touch arrived. I was amazed at how easy it was to download books and so very instant. ‘Try this book’ a friend might say and within seconds it’s there, waiting to be read. This can be expensive if you have very little self-control, so be warned!

Now as I read I can see at the bottom of the page how long I have left in the chapter or book and it’s so easy to take anywhere, just slip it in my handbag and I can read to my heart’s content.

I also send documents to my kindle, most especially my latest piece of writing. It gives me a new perspective on it, by reading it on the kindle. Notes can be made on anything I’d like to change which is a real bonus.

I most certainly have embraced this new technology, but I did put up a fight!

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DEIRDRE:

I asked for a Kindle for Christmas a couple of years ago because it seemed a neat little gadget to own. It was also the time when I was thinking about self-publishing so I needed one for that anyway so that I could see the end result. The e-book for me is a convenience. It’s often cheaper than its paper counterpart, although I have to stop myself downloading free or cheap books just because they are free or cheap when I’ve got no great desire to read them. Many of the classics are free to download and that I must say is useful if I only want to dip in or use one for reference. I like the way you can increase the font size of an ebook and it doesn’t snap shut if you’re reading while you eat.  I’ve usually got a little backlog of books waiting to be read on the Kindle and tend to read one of those to two or three real books because overall I find the reading experience with a real book more enjoyable.  I love book covers, the feel of books, and seeing them lined up on my bookshelves, and of course you can pass them on to other people.  So for me it’s the book over the ebook every time, but the amazing publishing opportunities via ebooks can’t be ignored and I have much to be grateful for in that respect!

 

HELEN R:

I was a late starter with ebooks. Once I got my iPad I downloaded a few when I found that I’d run out of things to read. I then won a Kindle at the Romance Writers of Australia online conference and now I’m happy to download onto that, although my preference still lies with physical books as there’s nothing like breaking that spine with the promise of a new world to leap into.

This weekend I’m off to Coffs Harbour and have already lined up three physical books to take with me. (This could be a little hopeful seeing as I’ll have a hubby and 2 kids in tow!) I think I’ll always keep buying physical books. When Borders shut down I really missed the store so now I’ll buy from a bargain bookshop or from Dymocks in Chatswood near where we live, or I’ll order from the book depository. Believe it or not, sometimes if the titles are old, then it’s the same price or even cheaper to get the paperback version, and there’s nothing quite like looking at a shelf full of books that I love.

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JULIE:

 

When eBooks first came out, I was an instant hater of the concept. Why? A combination of reasons. I have no patience when it comes to learning new technology (I hate reading instructions and like someone to show me instead), I love looking at shelves packed with books and, as I writer, my dream is to become published and hold a physical book in my hand. In fact, if I’m really honest, it’s to go into my local branch of Waterstones or WH Smith and have photos taken of me pointing to a pile of my books as they climb the bestseller list. Well, we have to have these little fantasies to keep us sane as the rejection letters roll in, don’t we?!

Anyway, I was a most ardent protestor. I actually felt quite offended when my sister in law bought one for her husband for Christmas but, at a family gathering, he cornered me and spoke of some of the great benefits of his Kindle. He’s a bus driver and would often have short stints between rounds. They weren’t long enough to get a paper out and even a book was a faff. Plus, if he knew he was close to the end of a book, he had to be prepared with a 2nd one which took up a lot of room. His Kindle solved all that. Plus, think about that weight and space saving if going on holiday! I’d been commuting to work by a combination of bus/train/bus at the time and I could certainly relate to the two-book scenario as well as avoiding reading certain books (think the last Harry Potter or Penny Vincenzi) because they were way too thick to fit in my handbag.

To my husband’s surprise, I succumbed last Christmas. Unable to think of anything I wanted, I reluctantly relented and said he could get me a Kindle … as long as I could have a nice purple case for it! My Kindle Paperwhite arrived. As did my purple case. And I love it! I absolutely love it. Why? Because I nearly always have it with me. That moment when I’m too early for the hairdresser or the school pick-up, out it comes. For some reason, I read faster on my Kindle and I definitely read more books than before. I’ve also discovered new writers. I’d become pretty fixed in my authors of choice, straying only occasionally when paying full price for books but free or cheap debuts, for example, have led to me discovering some gems.

The only downside for me is the price of new books by my favourite writers like Jill Mansell, Lisa Jewell and Sophie Kinsella. Typically they’re the same price or just £1 or so less than a book. I object to paying it. I’d rather own the book. I also much prefer the idea of having “How To” books in paperback format because I like to highlight really interesting learnings. (I know I can do this on my Kindle but it’s not the same as flicking through a paperback for the bright yellow section!) I have a huge physical TBR pile and I don’t think I’ll ever stop buying books but I do love my Kindle and, because of this, I’m really excited about the idea of being published through a Digital First imprint (please pick me!) whereas a few years back, I’d have baulked at the idea!

 

There seems to be a common theme of rejection then reluctant acceptance … then love of eBooks amongst us.

What do you think? Have you become a complete convert, a half and half or are you still shunning the eBook? As you can see from the photos, my cat Felix favours the eBook but Beckett the Bear is drawn to paperbacks still. Probably because he lives on the shelves with them!

We’d love to hear your views.

Julie xxx

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Time: Mascots, Merlot and Making the Most of It by Jackie Ladbury

TIME

He’s waiting in the wings
He speaks of senseless things
His script is you and me boys.’
David Bowie–­Aladdin Sane 1973.  The next verse is really rude and I couldn’t possibly repeat it!

Anyway, doesn’t it go so fast, time? One minute here you are scribbling down your ‘really interesting’ thoughts, toying with writing a novel, the next you’re buying an A4 notepad and lining it up against your lucky Gonk and your posh John Lewis fountain pen because ­yes, you’ve decided to be a best selling author!

You write: ­­­­­­­

MY NOVEL

PAGE ONE.

Then–well, then maybe you do something really stupid like accidently knocking your glass of wine all over your pristine white pages. You think, “Sod it, I didn’t know what to write, anyway,” and that’s it for the next five years.

Oh right, that’s just me then, is it?

Okay, so we’ll fast-forward some more years to the time when this writer has mellowed and now has insightful, erudite thoughts (or should that be erudital thoughts?)

Whatever. All I know is my next foray into writing was years later when I wrote about a single boot, propping the door open. I tell you, I was bowled over by it– read it over and over, and I was so cross because all this time I could have been earning a fortune pondering on such worthy thoughts as the boot that props open the door.’

After that nugget of brilliance I decided I was made for writing that I ought to take it seriously. I owed it to my newly formed fan base of one (me!) to show the world what I could achieve. So off I went again, buying a pretty notebook and double-ended pencil stirred up with optimism in the place of talent and this time I fared better. I wrote quite a lot really, but none of it came out on paper the way it ran in my head. How could this be?

After lots of deep sighing and huffing I decided it’s really, really hard to write a book and anyone who can whip up a plot, write it all down with gut-wrenching emotion and perfect prose at the first attempt deserves to have a best-seller whizzing through the impenetrable obstacles of Amazon (charts that is, not the river.)

So really, what I’m trying to say is, if you have a hankering to write a novel, I’ll tell you for nothing, you’d better get a move on, ‘cos you’re already knocking on a bit and if only you’d done it all those years ago, you’d be there by now. What a bummer –all that time you’ve had to hone your craft and learn some fancy new words– which won’t get past your editor by the way, but what the hell, if you wanted to fit “colposinquanoia” into your story, then go for it. (Judging a woman by her breasts, if you’re interested.)

And look at the time now– half your day has gone already. Get started before those million and one other unforeseen chores stop you from writing and hijack your time– like paid work, cooking, shopping and drinking wine (oops, how did that sneak in?)

If you’re not careful the next twenty years will disappear the same way and you will just be another ‘also ran’ plodding slower than Dobbin with fat farmer Giles on his back.

So blow the dust off your lucky Gonk, see if you can still buy refills for that posh pen you bought and get writing.

Start at the beginning and don’t stop until you’ve written.

THE END.  

 

 

The Wednesday Wondering – Christmas is Coming!

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It’s a Wednesday which can only mean one thing … time for the Wednesday Wondering. Last week we took a slight break while we launched NaNoWriMo for the Write Romantics and caught up on the writing aspirations of those not participating but, this week, we’re back to the usual format.

It’s Christmas Day six weeks today. That may either scare you or excite you depending on how you feel about Christmas and where you are with your preparations. With this in mind, this week’s question was posed by Rachael:

How are your Christmas preparations going?

Which of The Write Romantics are early birds when it comes to Christmas shopping and which ones are rushing around in a panic on Christmas Eve? Let’s find out …

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JULIE:

I’d like to think I’m an organised person but I could never be one of those people who start shopping in the January sales for the following Christmas. Where would you put everything for a start?

I tend to see post-Bonfire Night as an acceptable time to start shopping and have actually done about half of mine already this year. This is very early for me but the reason behind it is simple: I’ve started working 7 days a week. Sadly I lost my job in July and haven’t been able to find work since so a friend suggested trying to get a seasonal job. I managed to secure 2 and work in a local garden centre (with the most amazing Christmas decorations grotto ever) on a Thursday-Sunday and Thorntons Café on a Mon-Wed so I had to start early. From this point forward, though, if it can’t be bought in the garden centre, Thorntons or online, it’s not going to happen!

 

JAXX:

Christmas preparation and shopping has so far consisted of one shopping jaunt to London with youngest daughter to see what’s around. Eldest daughter wants a Macbook Air (in your dreams) and Youngest daughter wants a puppy (yeah right!)

Sadly my brothers and sisters live too far away to even see them at Christmas (Wales, Dubai, Sydney, Chester) unless there is a reason for a mass family get together. This does make Christmas present buying easier, though, as we gave up buying presents a long time ago unless we do meet up.

I normally end up having a frantic ‘Big Spend’ a few days before Christmas, realising I’ve left it far too late and throwing caution to the wind.

Hopefully Christmas will be at ‘Nanny Jacks’s’ house this year (mother in law) as she has just had a super duper, ‘John Ladbury and Company’ kitchen fitted (I’ve not even seen it yet) But we’ll all bring food along as there are now fourteen of us on that side of the family.

Last Spring I found a big bag of Christmas chocolates and stocking fillers that I’d forgotten about, so note to self is to remember where I’ve hidden things this year.

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ALEX:

I’m always a bit last minute about Christmas.  Every year it has a tendency to creep up on me and then I go into a last minute buying frenzy. I do genuinely like shopping on Christmas Eve as it can be quite festive, the shops are fairly empty and the panic focuses my brain!  This year I know I’ll be as last minute as ever.  So far all I’ve done is buy an advent calendar for my nephew.

 

HELEN R:

We have a few family birthdays in November so Christmas always takes a back seat until they have passed. However, I did just order the Santa letters for my daughters and my aim is always to finish all Christmas shopping before the end of November before the shops become unbearable.

As for the food plans, it’s always a full roast for us even though we live in Australia where many people have buffet lunches. I can’t get my head around that! I must have my turkey, my gravy, my pigs in blankets, my tacky crackers to pull!

Last year we made a gingerbread house but this year we’re thinking of a yule log. And there’s nothing quite like eating the huge feast and listening to Christmas music whilst drinking champagne! Then it’s time for a dip in the pool…fingers crossed it’s nice weather this year as last year it rained all day 😦

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JO:

Christmas? Don’t get me wrong, I love it, but right now the mention of it sends shivers down my spine.  Life is crazy busy at the moment, but I have promised myself that I will start thinking about Christmas properly, and getting stuff organised, once my daughter’s 12th birthday is over and done with this weekend.  She has nine friends sleeping over on Friday night and the amount of One Direction merchandise I’ve been forced to buy must mean that I am responsible for at least ten percent of their collective wealth!  Wish me luck and roll on Monday, when I’ll start the Christmas shopping, honest…

 

LYNNE:

I read today that it is just 42 days to Christmas!! I never mind cos I usually do my shopping both early and late. In order to manage our frugal budget I’ve already done my present shopping. I raid the summer sales for goodies to put away till Christmas. This year at the very end of her sale Emma Bridgewater reduced some lovely mugs to £5 each post free! I bought a dozen. They are seconds, but I barely notice the difference. I also got some lovely girlie things from Joules. It ends up there is often a theme for my pressies and everyone get similar, but as long as its good one, I don’t mind.

Food wise we wait till Christmas Eve to go to Waitrose, when they reduce all their fresh stuff to rock bottom prices. We are well aware that this could go either way, we could either find that its all gone and we’re left raiding the freezer for whatever is at the bottom. Since it’s just Andy and I (our daughter goes to her dad’s) it’s ok. We wouldn’t dare risk it if we had children at home. It’s quite fun. So far we’ve struck lucky and had some nice things that we would never have bought at their full price but so far, we’ve done well.

That done we’ll raid the woods when we’re walking the dogs for holly & ivy, polish the brass and copper so it shimmers and gleams in the candles we’ll also light, and job done, so they say!

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DEIRDRE:

When it comes to Christmas shopping I’m a starter/stopper. I had a mini-blitz in early October and clocked up several complete pressies, even got the wrapping paper out of the loft intending to wrap as I go along (I hate wrapping!) and now, typically, I’ve come to a standstill.  Nothing is wrapped, of course.  Mind you for my ‘boys’ I do rely on them sending me lists and those won’t come until the eleventh hour if I know them!

 

RACHAEL:

All year I save towards Christmas, so that it isn’t that painful hit! Then around October I set to and make Christmas puddings and cakes. This is as far as my planning for Christmas stretches.

Without warning, it creeps up and I find if I don’t pull my finger out, I will miss those overseas last posting dates. Once that panic is over I go into denial again, until the first Christmas card drops through the door and I really do have to write mine. It’s also when I drag the decorations from the loft and put them up in their usual places. Each year I tell myself to get new and exciting ones – but it doesn’t happen.

After that, well it’s major panic as I hit the town, trying to get all those gifts. I guess, deep down, I just love the panic of Christmas!

 

HELEN P:

Hmn Christmas shopping. Every year I’m full of good intentions and say I will start early so I don’t have a last minute nervous breakdown and do I? Nope, I have however bought a few gifts but not nearly as many as I would like. I have five children and a granddaughter to buy for plus nephews, nieces, mum, dads and on and on it goes.

I really envy those people who are organised and those who don’t have to buy for lots of people.

 

Hope you like the festive photos taken at my house last year. I absolutely adore Christmas decorations and we actually have 3 trees! This may sound greedy but our lounge is at the back of the house so we have a main tree in there but I love to see trees in windows so we have a smaller one in the bay window in the dining room at the front of the house. Then Ashleigh has a pink one that she decorates. I make wreaths and flower arrangements each year and generally go completely overboard with festive teddies, fairy lights and niknaks. Takes me hours and hours!

Do join in and let us know your plans … 

Julie xx

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Lunching with the literati by Deirdre Palmer

Having come joint fourth in the Mail on Sunday novel competition in 2010, I was amazed when I got a phone call to say I’d been awarded the same prize again this year. And they say lightning never strikes twice! The competition requires you to write the first 150 words of what could potentially become a novel. (My entry for this year is at the bottom of this post if you’d like to read it.)
On the day of the prizegiving, I took the train to London and arrived at Northcliffe House in style, well, by black cab anyway. Coolly I stepped out of the cab and sailed up the steps as if I did this every day, entered the revolving doors and pushed. Immediately a buzzer sounded, a red light flashed, and I was trapped between the doors like a wasp in a jam-jar. By the time I’d worked out how to shove my way out again and in through the correct doors – the ones marked ‘Visitors’ – my cool had vanished and the doorman was busting a gut as he tried to hide a grin.
Being inside the soaring glass atrium of Northcliffe House was a treat in itself. The Mail on Sunday, Daily Mail and the Independent are all based there and the glass walls of the offices afforded a fascinating glimpse into the human machinery behind the newspapers. The six winners (all women) met up with the competition’s organiser, Paula Johnson of the Society of Authors, then off we went to a chic little restaurant to join the judges Fay Weldon and Simon Brett (the third judge, James Buchan was abroad). Also present were literary agents Caroline Sheldon and Lavinia Trevor, a representative from Harper Collins and another from a small publishing house.
Lunch was delicious, the wine flowed freely, and so did the tongues! We winners were treated like stars, and like proper writers, not the novices most of us clearly were. There was, however, plenty of advice on hand should we want it – and oh yes, we wanted it!
Fay talked to me about my competition entry, saying that she liked my ‘modern writing style’ and even giving me ideas as to how I could develop a plot around it. I found out later that she had also spoken to the organiser about it while I was at the other end of the table, and that, I can tell you, gave me a very good feeling. We didn’t have the chance to talk to everyone at length but I was lucky enough to spend most of the time with Fay, Simon and Lavinia and I came away bursting with as much information and as many ideas as I could hold.
At the risk of making this post far longer than it ought to be, here’s a random selection of some of the things I learned:

• Ignore all ‘rules’ for writing fiction because THERE ARE NO RULES. Do it your way. (Fay)
• Readers these days want short books. (Fay)
• Readers (and therefore publishers) want young lead characters. Older women prefer to read about younger ones, not people their own age. It’s a fantasy thing. But good idea to introduce an older character or two so they can also relate to them. (Fay)
• If you’re not sure how to begin a novel, begin with dialogue as it always suggests something happening. (Fay)
• If you have two separate plot lines going on, say where two lead characters have separate stories, don’t worry if the stories aren’t interweaving. Carry on and they will start to merge. (Simon)
• Don’t be surprised, or worried, if agents/publishers have opinions on your book that differ vastly from one another. Don’t change anything unless you really want to as what they say could be rubbish. Editors in particular are very young and inexperienced and most of them know far less than you do. (Fay)
• If you know how your book ends, write the ending before you write the middle section as it makes the middle easier if you know where it’s heading. (Fay) (Simon disagreed, because he writes crime and it wouldn’t work for him)
• Getting an agent doesn’t necessarily lead to publication. One of the prizewinners was signed up by a leading London agency three years ago and they still have not sold her book.
• The main premise for my work-in-progress novel sounds like a winner. (Simon, Lavinia and others). Well, that’s a relief!
• It’s easier to get a story published by People’s Friend than it is by Woman’s Weekly as they are far more picky. (Another of the winners, from personal experience).
• Never give up! (Fay, Simon, everyone) Simon had 5 novels rejected before he got an acceptance. He has been writing for 30 years and has a total of 91 books under his belt!

The Mail on Sunday novel competition has regularly attracted around 1,000 entries so I can be rightly proud of my two joint-fourth prizes, and I am! I had the most exciting, fun day and met some lovely people. Unfortunately, this year’s competition is the last in its present format. There is a proposal to set up a new competition and Paula Johnson is working hard to make it happen. Let’s hope she succeeds.
This was my entry for the competition. It had to contain the word ‘train’, with any meaning.

A ripple of air passes across my face as the train pulls in with a clunk and a squeal. My mother, pretty in her flowered cotton dress, white handbag neat over her arm, stands almost on tiptoe, her eyes switching back and forth as they search the thin straggle of alighting passengers.
Carriage doors slam. A whistle toots and the train rolls away, taking my breath with it and leaving behind absolute silence, so solid I could write my name in it.
The station-master’s boots echo along the platform. As he walks by he tips his cap but looks straight ahead. I slip my hand inside my mother’s and look up at her to share the scald of disappointment. She squeezes my hand as her mouth fumbles for a smile. This is the third day and still he hasn’t come.