Chasing My Tail by Jessica Redland

10527383_331005803724929_5378621437399779308_nAs regular visitors to our blog will know, we post every Wednesday and Saturday with the occasional Monday post like Christina Hollis’s this week. And sometimes we completely rebel and throw in another random day. Because we like to mix it up like that.

As a group of ten, we all take turns to contribute to this blog. We all bring guests to the Saturday Spotlight and there’s a rolling ‘rota’ for the book group and for Wednesday posts. This week, Saturday’s guest has been organised by me and I’ve just received her article and pictures. I thought I might as well get ahead of myself and schedule them ready for Saturday.

While I waited for wordpress to load up, I glanced at the calendar on the wall by my Mac just to double check that I wasn’t a week ahead of myself. I have one of these family-planner things with six columns. There are only three of us in our family (other than the cat but he really doesn’t need his own column) but I need the other three columns to organise the other key aspects of my life – Brownies, Writing (mine) and Write Romantics. I am the ‘Keeper of the Calendar’ and keep on top of what’s happening when and by whom. I love this role and the other WRs jokingly refer to me as Brown Owl for keeping them on track with what’s coming up on the blog and when we have free slots. Organisation has always been one of my strengths.

Until recently.

P1040080You see, when I glanced at the calendar and assured myself that my guest was indeed this coming Saturday’s guest, I spotted my name in the Write Romantics column. Why was my name there? It honestly took me a good minute or so before I registered that my name was there because today is a Wednesday and today’s slot is mine! Oops. Between organising everyone else, posting the Wednesday Wondering (which I always pull together) last Wednesday, and keeping on top of my guest slot this Saturday, I clean forgot that I had a post to write. A post that I should really have posted this morning. Is it still morning somewhere in the world? Maybe. But that’s really not an excuse.

My excuse is, quite simply, that I’m chasing my tail at the moment and I have absolutely no idea whether I’m coming or going. Like several of the other Write Romantics, I have a day job. I work full-time hours as a Learning & Development Advisor at a factory, although I’m very privileged to have had a flexible working application accepted so I work my hours across four long days and have one day a week off to write. My job is pretty busy and sees me travelling to our Grantham site quite often, attending careers events at local schools, or running all-day training workshops. The days I’m back at my desk can be a frantic email-catching-up frenzy and prep for the next outing. This week has been one of those weeks with two days in Grantham then a day in the office today.

bootcamps-headerOutside of work and writing, I’m a Brown Owl running a pack of 25 Brownies and have done so for nearly five years. If I’m honest, I don’t have the time to do this (as it’s so much more than just the weekly meeting) but I love it and wouldn’t want to let it go. I’m also a bootcamper. On a Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning, I get up at 5.20am and head down to the seafront for a 6am hour-long bootcamp. I’m overweight so this is a big thing for me. To try and motivate myself to control my diet, I maintain a blog about this which I update after every single session. I really enjoy doing this and it helps me. But it’s time-consuming. I have an 8-year-old daughter, a cat, and a husband. And somewhere in amongst all of this, I write. But there’s so much on my writing plate at the moment. I submitted the final line edits on my debut novel ‘Searching for Steven’ last night (published by So Vain Books on 3rd June), I’m a quarter of the way through a final edit of my second book, I’m working my way through a second draft of book 3, I’m writing a short story to give away free as a teaser to book 1 and I’m blogging on this site and my own. I attended a scriptwriting workshop on Saturday just to throw something else in the mix and I’m meant to be doing a distance learning professional proofreading course but I’ve had to completely let that slip as I simply haven’t found the time to do it. I will emphasise that most of this work is self-imposed. My publishers haven’t put any pressure on me at all to get books 2 and 3 completed but I want them done as, after twelve years of living with this trilogy, I’m so ready for new material.

My sacrifice up until now has always been that I don’t watch (much) TV. I have programmes I love like Strictly, Downton Abbey and Mr Selfridge but I watch very little else (although I’m currently following Broadchurch). I gave up on the soaps years ago when I realised I couldn’t watch them and find time to write. It was quite liberating. If you don’t watch much TV, you don’t see adverts for programmes coming up, so you’re not enticed into watching something you’ve seen trailered. But now it feels like even giving up TV isn’t enough and I’m not sure where to go from here. My desk is a permanent mess although, surprisingly, I can find things. In fact, the whole house is a permanent mess with piles of stuff ‘to be organised’ or ‘to be relocated’ everywhere. This was all fine until I started dropping the ball. I double-booked a couple of guest slots and I missed my own slot today. This isn’t like me and I hate messing up in this way.

So what’s the answer? Well, my starting point is that I’ve booked a day’s holiday for tomorrow. My flex day is usually a Monday so I’m off next Monday but I worked on Monday this week so I have this week’s flex day on Friday. Which means I have five days until I’m back to work to get control of my life again. My daughter is staying with my mum for a few days which means complete peace and quiet tomorrow. On Friday, I’ll be collecting her but will certainly get at least a morning to organise myself and write. And she’s back at school on Monday so I have a full day then, although Brownies is back after the half-term break and I’ve just realised I have the newsletter to compile. Argh. Had forgotten about that too!

Hubby is out tonight so I’m taking advantage of an empty house and hoping to just get myself organised. If I can do the bitty stuff tonight (the internet banking, writing the Brownie newsletter, tidying my desk), then hopefully I can take a full day tomorrow to finish my edit of book 2 and put a big tick in that box. I can brew my short story a bit more over the weekend and then write that on Monday. Then all I have left is book 3. Piece of cake! What on earth was I worrying about. Chasing my tail? No. Not me. I’m in control. Always.

Now where’s that to do list I wrote about three weeks ago and what have I forgotten to do off it?

Jessica xx

PS Would love to hear from you on ways of balancing a huge workload, particularly if you work and write. How do you do it? Please click on the comments tag at the end of the words below this post.

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Take a seat in Karen’s Reading Corner

karencocking faceOur guest on the blog today is Karen, from ‘My Reading Corner’. Karen loved reading from a very young age and over the years this passion has grown, now her idea of bliss is to curl up in a comfy chair with a good book.  Karen runs her book review blog alongside working full-time as a legal secretary and uses some of the commute from Essex to London to read up-to two books a week. In the picture below you can see Karen’s heaving ‘bookwall’, which she keeps in her spare room, but she admits she has overflowing bookcases elsewhere in the house too! So we’re really glad that Karen has been able to find some time to be our guest today and here she tells us all why books and blogging about them are so important to her.

Why is that you love reading so much
?

I’ve always loved reading, and can remember from a very early age reading the Ladybird books and then progressing to Enid Blyton and then as a teenager turning to Agatha Christie. Other favourite authors of the time were Jeffrey Archer, Rosamund Pilcher and Maeve Binchy. I love to escape into a book and to use my imagination which is why the film adaptations of books rarely work for me as it spoils the image I have in my head. Apart from the occasional biography, I rarely read non-fiction.

What made you decide to turn that passion into a regular book-review blog?

I’ve been adding short reviews to various online book sites for a number of years and although sites like Goodreads are very useful for keeping track of books that I own, the cover pictures change (I like to have a record of the correct book cover too) and there’s no control over the site content. I decided to start my own book blog so that I could keep my reviews in one place and keep my own note of which edition I had read. I also wanted to share books that I had enjoyed and if my review helps someone to choose their next read, then that’s wonderful.

What are the best and worst things about blogging?

It’s always a pleasure to be asked to review a book by a new author and finding a little gem that otherwise might have passed me by – and to be ableKaren cocking2 to tell others about it. Some of my most enjoyable reads this year have been found this way and there are some indie authors that are now on my favourites list. Another is being given the opportunity to read books before they are published. I feel privileged that publishers allow me to access ARCs of their ebooks from sites such as Netgalley and of course it’s always exciting to receive paper books in the post – whenever I receive a book shaped package, I feel like a kid at Christmas!

One of the worst things is feeling under pressure to read and review quickly. I have a huge library of my own of both paper and Kindle books which I am longing to read but struggle to get to because much of my free time is spent trying to keep up with review books. I need to find that balance of being able to read both my own and review books.

What is your favourite genre?

I don’t have a favourite genre. My first love was crime fiction but over the years my tastes have widened. I enjoy reading women’s contemporary fiction just as much as crime and suspense.   I also enjoy reading YA books and some historical fiction, especially dual time novels. The one genre that I am really picky about is ‘chick-lit’ and I tend to stick to the same trusted authors or authors that have been recommended by book friends.

Has there been a book that you’ve been put off reading, perhaps by the cover or blurb, and then have finally read and really loved?

No, although there have been many books which I haven’t enjoyed despite the hype surrounding them. One that immediately comes to mind is The Time Travellers Wife. So many people loved this but I disliked it so much I couldn’t finish it.

Where’s your favourite place to read?

I have to be comfortable. I have a reclining armchair in the corner of my lounge (this is why my blog was named ‘My Reading Corner’) which is my favourite place to read, although sitting on the bed propped up with pillows comes a close second!

Have you ever considered being a writer?

Only in my dreams! The reality is that I know my limitations and I would not be good enough. I greatly admire people who can turn their hand to writing but it’s not something that I would consider doing.

How do you promote your blog?

Mainly on Twitter and Facebook. A few months ago I set up a Facebook page for my blog where I post reviews, share competitions and all things bookish. https://www.facebook.com/myreadingcornerblog.

Karen cocking1How many requests for reviews do you get in typical week/month and what’s your criteria for deciding which to review?

It varies, some weeks I can get several – both from authors and publishers. I suppose on average I get about 2 – 3 requests a week.   I always look at the book description to see whether it’s something I would enjoy reading and if it appeals then I say yes. Otherwise I politely decline. It also depends on how I’m asked. If a request is polite and unassuming then I am more inclined to say yes. If I receive an obviously ‘copied & paste’ email request with the book attached on the presumption that I will want to read it then that is an immediate turn-off. My blog has a review policy listing the genres that I read and it is often quite clear that many authors/promoters haven’t even bothered to read it before requesting a review.

Do you give bad reviews or only review books you’ve liked?

I will only review on my blog books that achieve a minimum rating of 3 out of 5 stars – if I really don’t like a book then I won’t include it on the blog. I want my reviews to be an honest opinion but I don’t want to be unkind. It’s extremely rare for me to rate a book as 1* (- it has to be REALLY poor) however very occasionally a book achieves a review rating of 2* and this would only appear on sites such as Amazon and Goodreads.   I don’t review every single book I read – if I’m reading one of my own books then sometimes it’s nice to just read for pleasure and not feel obliged to always post a review.

Have you got a top three of your all-time favourite books?

My favourite books change all the time. There are however two that have remained firm favourites over the years – To Kill a Mockingbird and Rebecca.

What sort of interaction do you have with fellow reviewers, authors and readers?

I think Twitter is wonderful for interaction with fellow book lovers and authors – what did we do without it! I love to see authors interacting with readers and it’s still a thrill when an author retweets one of my reviews or replies to a tweet. The downside of sites like Twitter and reading other book blogs is seeing all the new book recommendations which add to my ever increasing wishlist and ‘To be Read’ pile.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

Just to say thank you for inviting me onto your blog. Having sent out my own questions for authors to answer, I can now see that it’s quite different being on the other side!

Thanks again for visiting us on the blog, Karen, we’ve loved having you stop by and it’s been great to hear what life is like as a book reviewer. If you want to find out more about Karen and her reviews at ‘My Reading Corner’ please following the links below:

https://www.facebook.com/myreadingcornerblog

http://myreading-corner.blogspot.co.uk/

Twitter @karendennise

In The Name Of Research.

Research- for some the thought of it is a joy. Maybe you are an author who loves to spend time in the library going through the reference section, and loves every minute of what you are doing. Or are you someone who would prefer to be practical in their research, to be on the scene and experience what it would feel like to be in the place you are writing about, to walk the path that your hero or heroine will be journeying on. To imagine being in their shoes.

I wanted to know how far an author would go to research their novel. So I asked Sue Moorcroft and Henriette Gyland about how far they would go. They have both been good enough to give me an insight into what research they are doing for the novels they are currently writing.

Sue. I do keep thinking that I ought to write about things I want to do (fly a helicopter, drive a car around Silverstone circuit, drink very expensive wine) but it never seems to work out that way. Soon I’m going on a 42′ seagoing boat when, usually, I avoid boats on the sea like the plague. But I want to know more about the boat than I can get from the brochure-how it feels/smells/moves, how easy it is to get up on the flight bridge and stuff like that. This book, ‘In the same boat’ (working title), is also making me scuba dive this September, when I haven’t been down for six years. But I’m looking forward to that a lot more than going on the boat.

For my next book, I think the heroine is going to have a face lift and find a toy boy….Maybe she’ll get be the one who drinks expensive wine, too.

Sue, I take my hat off to you. Now I wouldn’t mind going on the boat, even though I can’t swim, but the thought of scuba diving just sends a chill down my back. Being under water must be an incredible experience, I’m not sure I could do it. I can honestly say if you need help to do any research regarding the possible novel about the heroine who drinks expensive wine, gets a face lift and finds a toy boy, I would only be to happy to help, I know sometimes this can be a burden, so just want to be there to lend a helping hand.

Henri. Good question. As far as it takes, bar actually murdering someone! (people do tend to get killed in my books)  When I was researching my historical novel (out May 2014) which is set on Hounslow heath, I went to stand on the heath itself to get a sense of the sounds and smells of the place. Although there is not much left of it now, and what you hear is mainly traffic and the aeroplanes from Heathrow, I still learned what the ground felt like to stand on and what sort of vegetation grows there. Also, one day when I can afford it, I may get a costume designer to make a Georgian dress for me 🙂

Henri. I know what you mean. There is nothing better than to stand in a place where your novel is set, to feel the atmosphere, to picture the place it used to be, and just be a part of it. To visualise your hero or heroine walking or riding across the heath. Sometimes you may hear voices that seem to whisper to you from the past. It brings the past to life. And to have a dress from the Georgian period would be something special. I hope one day to see you in it Henri. What better way to do research, than to live it.

My novel is set in the world of lingerie, so it has been an interesting time for me, as I have had to go into some rather interesting shops, to have a look at what my heroine would be looking at to wear and sell. So when I went into one well known shop (my friend advised me not to go to the back, just stay at the front) I nearly fainted when a very helpful male assistant smiled and asked how I was today! All I wanted was to sneak quietly in and have a look around, and also feel the material of the lingerie. This due to a scene in my book, and leave. Yes. Thinking about that particular day, I think scuba diving is becoming rather appealing. Also I have been fortunate due to living abroad I have experienced the tail end of a typhoon. to sit on a balcony with a cup of coffee, as the wind begins to blow ferociously, almost bending the tree branches to the ground, watching as the rain lashes the ground, sending its spray against my skin. All this is going to be a part of what is going to be in my novel.

It seems that Sue and Henri love to research in a practical way, to experience and feel what their hero/heroine would experience. To put themselves in a different pair of shoes. To go as far as it takes. And I confess I am more a practical researcher, and it is fun, and sometimes a bit scary.

Thanks Henri and Sue for sharing your answer to my question, and telling us about how far you would go for your novel.

So, having read everyone’s answer to my question, I just want to ask you, How far would you go to research your novel?