Out of Control by Alys West

I’ve got a confession to make.  I’ve been trying to deny this for a while but I can’t anymore.  I have to admit that I’ve lost control of the characters in my second novel, Lughnasa. Orkney Aug 2010 009

Now some might say that’s a great thing.  Those would be the pantsers who like to go with the flow in their writing.  But I’m a plotter.  I write suspense. I need to know what’s going to happen so I can put the clues in the right places.  And not knowing what’s coming is starting to freak me out a bit.

It started with Winston.  After having a minor role in my first book, Beltane, he’s taken centre stage as the hero in Lughnasa and he’s grown and grown.  He’s a rather gorgeous archaeologist who just happens to be also a druid.  But now he’s got flaws that I never saw coming. He’s late for everything, he’s got a really arrogant streak and an unexpected fondness for Glenfiddich. And he never does what I expect.  I sit down to write a scene thinking ‘Okay, this and this have to happen’ and then Winston turns up and something else entirely actually unfolds.

Orkney Aug 2010 029

Now I’ll be the first to admit that I have a few control freak tendencies.  I like to be organised, I like to plan ahead.  So Winston’s unpredictability is quite hard for me to handle.  And now it’s spreading to the other characters and no one’s doing what I expect.

I realise to non-writers this probably sounds like a borderline personality disorder but I’m pretty sure that other writers will have experienced something like it.  So what did you do?  Did you give them their heads? Or did you force them back in line with your plan?

I realised how far we’d gone astray when I re-read the synopsis that I’d first mapped out about eight or nine months ago.  There’s a small possibility that we may hit the same ending but the middle looks nothing like what I’d planned.  And I don’t know what to do.  Should I tear up the synopsis and see what happens?  Or should I try to persuade them back on track? All advice will be gratefully received before I start tearing my hair out.Orkney Aug 2010 057

If you’d like to leave a comment (and I’m really hoping you will as I need all the help I can get!) you can do that by clicking where it says ‘leave comments’ in teeny, tiny type below.

Alys xx

P.S. Lughnasa is set in Orkney which is why I’ve included a few photos of the islands.

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Wednesday Wondering – You’re My Inspiration

On this day, 11th February, twenty-five years ago, Nelson Mandela was released after twenty-seven years of imprisonment. The Nobel Peace Prize winner was a source of inspiration to millions around the world. So the theme for today’s Wednesday Wondering is around inspiration. I asked The Write Romantics:

Who or what inspires you?

I told them that it was up to them how they interpreted this question. Inspiration could come from a person, a place, an event or something else. It could be something/someone who inspires them to write through to how they live your life or want to live their life.

I love it when I ask a question that can be open for interpretation because the responses are so varied. Today’s question didn’t let me down.

Jessica xx

Deirdre says …

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was walking around a National Trust estate the summer before last and a friend I was with asked me if I could imagine writing a story set there.  I could see what he meant – the ancient trees, the secret valleys filled with exotic plants – but I had to tell him, no, I wasn’t inspired.  I could see he was surprised, disappointed even, but on that particular day at that particular time I’d have found more inspiration in a grimy back street suggesting dubious goings-on after dark.  And I don’t write thrillers.

So, what I think is that inspiration, whether for something creative like writing or simply how to live your life, depends on mood and circumstance; a fluid thing, not easy to pin down or explain.  Which is probably why I took so long to come up with an answer to this question…

There are things, and people, who are more likely to inspire me than others.  For instance, I don’t look at super-achievers and think ‘I could do that’.  I mean the kind of person who home-schools three children, runs a successful business, jogs three times round the park before breakfast and writes best-sellers under cover of darkness, and all without breaking a nail.  That kind of thing leaves me cold.  But when I hear somebody talking, a woman around my age, say, and discover she has same problems, insecurities and crazy thoughts as I do, that will throw a switch inside me and I know I’m doing fine just as I am.  I suppose that’s validation rather inspiration but the two go hand in hand.  If you accept who you are now I think you’re more likely to be receptive to new ideas and have the vision to carry them forward.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThat’s the complicated answer, so now I’ll try to give the simple one.  I have a lovely friend who is very successful at writing stories for women’s magazines.  In fact she’s just sold her hundredth story!  I’m not saying I could reach that dizzy height but she’s definitely inspired me to have a go.  Brilliant writing of any kind will always inspire me, particularly with the novels.  My art teacher inspires me to keep on trying with the drawing and painting.  It’s her job, I know, but not all teachers have the knack.  Friends who have faced great challenges with strength and bravery are always inspiring.

On a lower level, watching property and gardening programmes makes me want to improve my own little patch, and magazines have great ideas that I can’t wait to follow – if only I had the time and the energy.  On the other hand I might just persuade somebody else to do it for me.

Helen R says …

My love of reading is what initially inspired me to become a writer. It took many years of loving books to be brave enough to tackle writing my own, and there were failed attempts as I continued to learn and wrote something that was together enough to submit to agents and publishers.

My other inspiration has always been my family and friends, including The Write Romantics. From the encouragement to get started and put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, to the much needed persuasion not to give up, I think that the people in my life have inspired me to follow this career path, which, let’s face it, can be pretty lonely sometimes.

Rachael says …

Anthology coverInspiration is everywhere for everything, if you just look for it. It doesn’t matter if it’s for a story idea or the motivation to do something. People, places, or events – past or present, are inspirational.

On a small scale, I find inspiration for my writing all over the place, watching TV, listening to the lyrics of a song, an overheard snippet of conversation. It’s all there for the taking if you open your mind to it.

But there is much bigger inspiration around us. It’s there in people who have risen to the challenge of life and achieved their ambitions, sometimes never letting go of their hopes and dreams for many years. These are the people I look to for inspiration, which in turn gives me motivation. People like the local unsung heroes of our communities, people who have faced illness and bravely shared their story, often raising huge sums of money for charity.

A perfect example of this is Stephen Sutton who inspired The Write Romantics to produce our first anthology, raising funds for charity. Winter Tales – Stories to Warm Your Heart is available in paperback and eBook formats via Amazon.

Jo says …

PaulaThe most inspirational person I know in real life is a friend of mine, called Paula. She has a wicked sense of humour, has the sharpest put-downs of anyone I’ve ever met and could probably drink the England rugby union squad under the table.  Our birthdays are one day – and, as she wouldn’t fail to let you know, four years – apart, so maybe that’s why we’re on the same wave length in so many ways.

When we worked together, they called us Trinny and Susannah and we weren’t afraid to tell the world how we saw things.  We were younger then, of course, with that feeling of indestructibility that comes with youth… and, of course, Paula’s muscular dystrophy was less evident than it is now.  She’s always been as tenacious as hell, refusing to have any special allowance made for her condition and working her proverbial off to climb the career ladder, attain a degree whilst working full time and achieve awards for her outstanding commitment to teaching.

Paula and Jo NYE2014Paula has never allowed her condition to define her and whilst many, with far less to contend with, proclaim themselves too ill to work, she’s been out there grabbing life by both hands. After a horrific fall and a six month stint in hospital, she’s finally decided it’s time to ease off the full-time workload, but she’s still willing to volunteer to support her fellow teachers and is thinking about setting up an advice service for others who find themselves in a similar position to hers. Paula also indirectly introduced me to my husband – although that’s another story altogether – hence my son having Paul as his middle name – she beta reads for me, being the first person to ever set eyes upon ‘Among A Thousand Stars’ and was the main inspiration for my Winter Tales’ story.

She never whinges about the hand that life has dealt her – and she’s had more than just being born with MD to contend with – she gets on with things, living independently and wringing as much out of life as it’s possible to do.  I wish I had an ounce of her courage and that I could truly appreciate what I’ve got when I look at what she has to deal with on a day-to-day basis.  I know I don’t, but, still, she’s the definition of inspirational.  We usually like to insult each other – it’s a sign of affection, don’t you know – but, let me say, here and now, Paula, you’re a star and an inspiration and I’m lucky to call you a friend. I know all this will make her uncomfortable, so, as Andrew Lincoln put it in Love Actually, and before Paula has to reach for the sick bucket or a bitingly sarcastic response, “Enough now, enough”.

Alys says …

DSC01339My key inspiration seems to come from places. Beltane was inspired by Glastonbury and my current work in progress, Lughnasa, is inspired by Orkney. I seem to need a strong sense of place in my writing and I find that visiting the location sparks ideas for the plot.  I had so many ideas from visiting Orkney that I couldn’t fit them all into the one book.  So maybe that will keep me going back there and writing about it again.

Sharon says …

When I was in my forties, I decided to do an Open University degree. This took me six years, and it was a long and difficult process. There were many times, when life was particularly tricky, that I felt like quitting, convinced I would fail.

In my spare time (ha!) I was researching my family tree. I’d sent for the marriage certificate of my great-great-grandparents. As I perused the details on the document, one thing leapt out at me immediately. The two witnesses to the marriage, and my great-great-grandfather, George, had all made their mark with a cross. Emma had written her own name.

When I was a little girl, my grandad had given me the memorial plaque awarded in memory of his father, who had been killed in the First World War. I’ve kept it with me ever since. I call it “The Big Penny”, because that’s what it resembles. Emma was that fallen soldier’s mother, which I hadn’t realised before starting my research.

Over thirty years ago, a clairvoyant told me that I had a guardian angel, an ancestor of mine, who watched over me and protected me, and that her name began with the letter E. After discovering my great-grandad’s mum was Emma, and finding that amazing signature on the marriage certificate, I’m absolutely convinced that she meant Emma. The thought of that young woman signing the register fills me with pride to this day. It was the hope that she’d be proud of me that inspired me to finish my degree, and spurred me on to finish my novel, in spite of my self-doubt. Emma is my angel and my inspiration, and I have a lot to thank her for.

And finally …

_MG_0003As for me, my response is similar to Rachael’s. My inspiration comes from all around me. I’m lucky enough to live on the beautiful North Yorkshire Coast. Three mornings a week, I rise at 5.20am and venture down to the seafront to take part in a bootcamp. I completed my very first bootcamp in February 2013, continued for about a year, then took eight months off before getting back into it but with a different company. Sadly, eight months was enough time to put all the weight back on that I’d lost and completely lose my fitness levels again so I had to start from scratch. It’s hard work, particularly when you’re in your forties and very overweight, but the setting is so inspiring. The mornings are starting to get a little lighter and we’ll soon hit the point where the sun rises while we’re working out. Who can fail to be inspired as the sun rises over the sea, casting its first rays on Scarborough Castle. Absolutely stunning.

bootcamps-headerI started to blog about my bootcamp experiences from Day 1 and the really strange thing for me is that friends, family and even strangers have cited me as their inspiration. I personally don’t think I’m very inspiring at all, especially as I’ve been doing this for two years and still have nearly all the weight to lose that I wanted to lose back at the start. But I still do it and I’ve massively increased my fitness. I guess it’s my determination to crack this thing – even if it takes a heck of a long time – that people find inspiring. And it’s those people who do crack it that I find inspiring. My second cousin, Lisa, decided enough was enough the same year I started Bootcamp and joined Slimming World. She lost about seven stone in that year. I lost three and put it back on again. I’m so inspired by her determination so I keep chipping away at it.

For my writing, settings inspire me, like Alys. So do songs. I will often hear a line in a song and think that it’s a great title for a book and, suddenly, I have an idea for a premise for a book.

What do you think? What inspires you? We’d love to hear from you. Please click on the comments tag at the end of all the words below.

Thank you

Jessica xx

Our round-up of 2014 and there’s so much to say that we have to do it in 2 parts … Part II

Welcome back! We hope you enjoyed reading about what 2014 has meant for Helen R, Deirdre, Rachael, Jo and Jackie. It’s time to hear from the remaining five …

cropped-sharon-booth-writerSharon Booth:

I can’t pinpoint my greatest writing achievement this year – I have four. I finally – after three years – finished There Must Be An Angel and sent it out into the world. Secondly, I found a publisher! Fabrian Books will publish Angel in March 2015.

angel coverI achieved a long-held ambition and became a published author when my short story, The Other Side of Christmas, appeared in the Winter Tales anthology. That was a very proud moment, especially when my copy of the paperback arrived in the post and I saw my name on those pages. What a thrill! And finally, I wrote my second novel. Which leads me onto…

My greatest writing challenge was probably writing that second novel. After spending three years working on Angel, I was very daunted about starting all over again. Could I do it? What if I only had one book in me? I was nervous, and even though I thought I had a great leading character and a germ of an idea for a story I wasn’t sure I could pull it off. To start with, it was pretty difficult and I was in a bit of a state for a while thinking that I simply couldn’t manage to write another novel. I was a bit gloomy about it for far too long. Then I just started writing and suddenly the words were flowing. I finished A Kiss from a Rose surprisingly quickly (it will be published in September 2015), and I’m very proud of it. I really love my hero and heroine and I hope readers will, too. Now I just have to tackle my doubts about book three!

photo 3 (2)Becoming a Write Romantic this year has meant everything to me. I’ve been writing on my own for so long and having a support network of nine other writers who understand what you’re going through – all your doubts and insecurities – is amazing. They’re a fun group too, and we have lots of laughs together. If someone needs advice or information there’s always at least one of us who knows how to help. I’ve loved working with them on Winter Tales and I think being part of the group has helped to raise my profile, and introduce me to a wider circle of friends.

2015 is going to be a busy year, because I’m having two books published so there will be a lot of work to do. I’m really looking forward to it, although I’m a bit nervous. Actually, I’m a LOT nervous, but I expect most writers are when their work is finally about to be read by other people. I’m also going to be slogging away at book three, and I think that will be my major challenge for the coming year. What if I can’t do it again? What if I only have two books in me? Hmm, talk about déjà vu! Happy New Year! 🙂

LynneLynne Pardoe:

My greatest writing achievement this year has undoubtedly been the acceptance of my pocket novel by D.C.Thomson. It started as a story that I began and developed by chatting to my mum when she was poorly. At first I thought it would simply entertain us through the many dark days at mum’s bedside, but over time I thought maybe it would make a good story. So I wrote it up. Then a blog post landed in my inbox, ‘D.C.Thomson are looking for pocket novels,’ it said, ‘post them to this address.’

So I did. And within ten days I got an acceptance! I’m yet to see the published thing; that’s out next month. It will bear both my mother’s name and mine and I already have plans to get the cover printed and framed to give mum for her 86th birthday in February. She says she never expected to have her name on a book at her age, which is so sweet, she is thrilled.

Seeing my own story with my own and mother’s name on the cover is the perfect start to my writing year. I only hope for more of the same whilst continuing to work on my social work novels. None of that would have been possible, or at least a lot more difficult, if it hadn’t been for the wonderful help of my fellow Write Romantics. Writing is a lonely business and the path to publication fraught with highs and lows and many times i’d have given up but for the support of my fellow Romantics.

Thanks girls and bring on 2015!

Alys WestAlys West:

1. My greatest writing achievement this year has to be signing with A for Authors. Getting an agent was like a dream come true and made me believe I might actually be half-way competent at this writing business. This is me signing the contract. Although what I failed to appreciate in the excitement of signing was that after that there’d be an awful lot more waiting to hear about submissions and more rejections but from bigger publishers this time. I’m not moaning here (in case that sounds like a whinge) it just took me a while to get my head around what it actually means to be represented.

A close second has to be publication of Winter Tales. There’s been some amazing moments like when my order of paperbacks arrived, when we got the first reviews on Amazon and were high in the Amazon rankings. But the best bit has been how proud my parents have been. My Mum gets quite emotional about it which, as we’re a fairly undemonstrative family, means an awful lot.

photo2. Lughnasa, my second novel, has definitely been my biggest writing challenge this year. I wanted it to be different from Beltane but within the same world of magic that I’d created. A sensible person would have learned from the challenges of writing about Glastonbury (where Beltane is set) and chosen somewhere closer to home for my second book. But not me! Lughnasa is set in Orkney which is twice as far from Yorkshire than Glastonbury and far more difficult to get to. The plot is quite complex and I always knew that’d be a challenge. What I’d not anticipated is that my characters would take control and leave me wondering what’s going to happen next. Have I overcome the challenges of this book? I’m not sure yet. I’m about two thirds of the way through so I’ll let you know when I get to the end and my beta-readers have had a look at it.

3. The Write Romantics have meant more to me this year than I can possibly say! From fashion advice when I was worried about what to wear for my first meeting with my agent to finding the positives in rejections to moral support when life in general is hard they’re the best group of people you could ever hope to meet. It’s fabulous to be part of such an amazing team and I know I couldn’t do this writing lark without them.

4. For 2015 I need to learn greater amounts of patience. Writers need a Zen type ability to accept endless amounts of waiting and as I’ve never been a patient person this is hard for me. Obviously I hope that my agents will find a publisher for Beltane, I want to finish Lughnasa in the first half of next year and go back to Orkney on a research trip. After that, I guess I’ll be thinking about book 3 which is a trifle terrifying at this point as I still don’t really know how the trilogy will end!

1185224_10200753042177469_1584659865_nHelen Phifer:

My greatest writing achievement this year is a tough one for me because I have managed to fill so many of my writing dreams in such a short space of time that it’s hard to choose. I don’t actually know how it happened but I’m so grateful that it did. I managed to knock my all time hero Stephen King off the Contemporary Horror Charts not just once but several times and for weeks at a time with my debut novel The Ghost House. That was a surreal moment for me, to see my book cover nestled in-between Dr. Sleep and The Shining, it was what my publishers aptly named a Stephen King sandwich and what I had been dreaming about the past eight years.

My greatest writing challenge was actually writing another two books and a short story in the space of twelve months. The books were on tight deadlines for my publishers and I was terrified that I wouldn’t make them. I’m pleased to say that I did somehow, I think the most important thing was to make myself sit down and write the first draft of the story without thinking about it too much. The biggest challenge out of them all was the short story; I’m not very good at writing them and it was a real test to see if I could come up with something that was good enough to be published.

ghosthouseBeing a Write Romantic was the key thing for me. The support I get off my amazing friends is one in a million. They have stopped me from losing the plot on more than one occasion, it’s been wonderful to be able to have such a wealth of talented writers to help me should I need some advice at the end of my fingertips. I am truly blessed to know such amazing ladies and I’m forever in their debt. Being a part of this group has kept me sane, I’ve laughed, cried and being overjoyed at their ups and downs and I wouldn’t change them for the world.

My writing hope for 2015 is to see The Ghost House released in paperback at the end of January and to actually hold a copy in my hands. I think that until I actually get to sniff the pages of my own book I still won’t believe that I wrote it. That is the biggest dream of all for me. I plan to have book 4 finished by the middle of January, then I want to concentrate on a stand alone scary novel I’ve been rewriting and self publish it. Then by August I have to hand book 5 over to my amazing editor Lucy at Carina. That will be the end of my current contract with them so it will be interesting to see if they want any more Annie Graham novels.

10527383_331005803724929_5378621437399779308_nJessica Redland:

My greatest writing achievement has definitely been securing a three-book deal with So Vain Books for my Whitsborough Bay Trilogy. I’d been planning to go indie because I found the waiting for news far too difficult. I could cope with rejections as it was news; I couldn’t cope with waiting for 9-10 months, constantly wondering. Searching for Steven was in with a final few publishers and I wasn’t expecting positive news so a publishing deal quickly followed by another were unexpected and extremely gratifying.

This two-deal situation was actually one of my greatest writing challenges. It’s a happy dilemma to have but a dilemma nonetheless because the offers were very different – established US-based company, eBook only, better royalties v new UK-based company, eBook and paperback, lower royalties – so I wasn’t comparing like for like. In the end, I went with my heart which was telling me that So Vain Books were right for me. It helped that Jo had already accepted a contract with them a few months earlier and I’d seen how well they’d been treating her.

P1050693Like so many of my other WRs, I’ve suffered the grips of self-doubt too. I submitted novel 2, Getting Over Gary, to the NWS and had a very luke-warm review. My reader kept saying there were loads of positives about it … yet somehow failed to include them in the report. The doubts crept in that maybe I was a one-book wonder. The euphoria of a publishing deal pushed these aside but then they returned a month or so ago. I’ve signed a deal on the basis of them only reading one book but what if they hated the other two and agreed that I only had it in me to write one book?

This is where the value of being part of a writing group like The Write Romantics pays absolute dividends. I’m fortunate enough to live reasonably close to Sharon and Alys and we meet up every few months for tea and cake. They were able to reassure me that I did have what it takes and that part of a publishing deal is a good editor who will direct me towards any flaws and help me polish it to the standard of Steven. Good point; well made. The other WRs have been a great support on this too.

As for next year, I need to slap myself about a bit with a piece of wet haddock and stop being so doubtful of my ability to spin a good yarn. I need to stop procrastinating and just write. I have about a third of book 3, Discovering David, to finish in first draft and I’d like to have that done by end of February. Then I need to edit Gary again and David. I’d like to do that before Steven comes out in June. Not sure if that’s realistic but you have to aim high!

The Write Romantics would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year. Thank you for reading our blog this year, whether you’re a regular reader, dip in and out occasionally, or have just discovered this site for the first time today.

Anthology coverThank you to everyone who has contributed to, bought, and/or promoted Winter Tales: Stories to Warm Your Heart. It’s still available in eBook and paperback format via Amazon (just click on the title for a direct link) and all proceeds are split between Cystic Fibrosis Trust and Teenage Cancer Trust. Don’t be too concerned that it’s full of Christmas stories and Christmas has passed. It’s a mix of Christmas, New Year and winter so there’s still plenty of winter months left to cosy up and enjoy it. Or buy it ready for next Christmas!

“See” you next year!

Jessica and The Write Romantics xx

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