17 November 2014

A Writing Weekend

Today I'm flying down to Christchurch, which in itself makes it an exciting occasion, but the reason for the trip is that I'm spending the next four days with the other members of my writing group. We've been planning our own writing retreat/getaway for some time and it's finally arrived.

As a group we met about five years ago when we joined a writing class run by John Cranna of The Creative Hub. John founded the AUT University Centre for Modern Writing and designed the Masters Level writing course. I'd been considering applying for this course when in 2010 I discovered John had founded The Creative Hub and one of his initial courses was an advanced writing course. I applied to join and after submitting some of my writing, and then an interview with John I was on the course.

We met at the Michael King Writers Centre in Devonport each week for a year. It's a great place to meet with fabulous views over the Hauraki Gulf. John ran the meetings, but we also had some great workshops on specialist subjects by New Zealand writers and publishers. 

Some of the notable ones for me was one on dialogue by Roger Hall and an absolute standout by Judith White.

Judith's topic was writing with emotion without it turning into sentimentality or melodrama, and as usual there was a writing exercise to do with the topic. There are a huge range of emotions we could have chosen, but we all wrote about sadness on some level. At the end of each workshop we would share our writing and this one was no exception. It says much about the belief and trust we had in each other that we all shared what we had written even though it was very emotional. I don't think I've ever seen John so worried as he was when he returned towards the end of the workshop and saw that most of us had been crying.

The thing that made the course so special for me were the other eight participants. We write in different styles and genres, but as individuals and a critique group they are incredibly supportive and always give insightful and constructive feedback. Almost five years after that course, we're still together as a writing group and looking forward to spending time together.

07 November 2014

Awesome Allshorts: Last Days, Lost Ways

In my last post I mentioned some of the great things about reading and writing short stories, with special mention of the new Awesome Indies anthology.

One of the authors appearing in the anthology is Amy Spahn with a beautiful story called The Cost of Hope. On her blog, Amy has a great post titled 5 Things Short Stories Can Do that Novels Can't

It's an interesting and insightful post in which Amy uses some of the stories from the anthology to illustrate her points. I'm thrilled she used Recipe for a Dinner Party as one of the examples. Head over to Amy's blog for some great reading.

And just a reminder that my new novel Still Death launches tomorrow (8th November) at the super-low price of $0.99 for the launch (it will be $2.99 post-launch). You can pre-order/buy it from the following retailers.

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Apple Store
Smashwords
Kobo Books 

04 November 2014

The Long and the Short

It's an exciting time right now. In addition to the launch of my latest novel Still Death, I have a short story that's been accepted for inclusion in the Awesome Indies Anthology - Awesome Allshorts: Last Days, Lost Ways.

 Awesome-Allshorts_72

I am thrilled to be included in such stellar company.

I like reading short stories, and I'm pleased that since the advent of eReaders there seems to be more collections of short stories available.

Reasons to read short stories
I love the intense nature of a short story and the way it gives you a glimpse into a different life. It's like a short conversation with a stranger that leaves you changed in some way. I find some short stories leave me thinking more about a character, their choices and their life, than a novel simply because there is less said and more implied.

In our busy world we can sometimes think we don't have time to read and that's a huge shame, but a short story can be read and absorbed during a train or bus trip to work, or during our lunch break. It takes us away from the humdrum and gives us a different perspective on our world.

Reasons to write short stories
Because of their brevity, you have to make every word count, especially in flash fiction where you may have as little as 100 words to tell a story. This means choosing exactly the right word, and/or exploring the possibilities and using a word that can offer different meanings and images but which still fit with the character.

Short stories offer a writer the opportunity to experiment: perhaps with different narrative structures or a tense that may be difficult to carry through an entire novel, both for the writer and the reader.

A short story is much more than an anecdote or joke, like a novel, it shows a character at a moment of emotion and change, and the stories in Last Days, Lost Ways do exactly that.

02 November 2014

New Awesome Indies Website

This weekend Awesome Indies launches their new website with a great sale - over 70 books by brilliant indie authors in a variety of genres, and a competition to win a Kindle Paperwhite.

This is the link to the new website and this will take you to the sales page.
  

As part of the launch I have two books in the sale - Lies of the Dead and Lives Interrupted. They are both reduced from $2.99 to $0.99 for this weekend. 

Lies of the Dead is a crime/mystery story set in Cornwall.

Liam Trethowan disappears in circumstances which the police accept as a suicide. However, Liam's older brother Tom can't accept that the charismatic Liam would ever kill himself. His sister Andi had a stormier relationship with Liam, but finds herself drawn into the hunt for what really happened. This search leads them into a criminal world they're not prepared for, and when Andi and her twin daughters are caught in a dangerous showdown, Tom realises his search for the truth may have too high a price. 

Lies of the Dead can be purchased from Amazon for $0.99 this weekend.

Here are some reviews for Lies of the Dead. 

This book grabbed my attention from the get go and didn't ease up until the very end. The characters are well developed, and very real. I thoroughly enjoyed this read, and based on this novel, would highly recommend Shauna Bickley's books. I award a strong 5 out of 5 stars to Lies of The Dead. - Awesome Indies  

Bickley paints ordinary people in extraordinary situations and does it well. Lies of the Dead is a very human mystery/thriller. Loved every moment of this novel. - Rabid Readers Reviews 

This was a fast paced novel that kept me engaged through out. It would even be a good movie. - Clue Reviews   

Lives Interrupted is a contemporary drama set in London. It tells the story of a group of people living and working in the city, and how their lives interweave before and after a bomb explosion on the underground. They all experience the bombing and aftermath in different ways but none of them are left unscathed.

Lives Interrupted can be purchased from Amazon for $0.99 this weekend.

This is a powerfully written story of seven lives intertwined, and the effect that the London Underground bombings had on them. It's a challenging feat to handle an ensemble cast like this, but the author presents each character's viewpoint in a clear and compelling way so that the threads are easy to follow from scene to scene - Bev Robitai, novelist
Don't forget to check out the new Awesome Indies site and find some great reading bargains.

30 October 2014

More of the Good and Less of the Bad and Ugly of Writing

In the last couple of posts I talked about wanting to write my current novel in a year. Before I started writing, I set down some ground rules to give myself the best possible chance of achieving the goal. I thought I'd share them here - some are obvious, some may not work for you, they're just things that helped me. 

I committed to writing five days a week for an hour. Initially I started with a word count, but I found if I didn’t make the word count it was discouraging. When I swapped to writing for a specific period of time, I still kept my word count spreadsheet, but tried not to fixate too much on the numbers.

I decided an hour was a long enough period of time to get something done, but not so long I felt I was giving up everything else, especially after a full working day. If the words were flowing, then I kept writing and sometimes didn’t even realise I had done more than the hour. That was especially true at weekends.

Setting a time limit rather than a word limit was helpful when I got to the editing phase, as I find it gets depressing when my word count diminishes.

I decided not to go for a target of writing seven days a week for a couple of reasons. The first one is fairly obvious – it’s easy to miss a day and then you can feel like giving up and not writing for a couple of weeks, or even months. Another reason is that I enjoy writing, and I want it to remain a pleasure rather than a chore. For me that means at least one day off. As I said these are things that worked for me.

There were weeks when I knew I wasn’t going to be able to make my target, for example the week we packed and moved house. I gave myself permission not to write for those specific times, but to begin the following week and get straight back into my routine, rather than let days or weeks meander on without writing. I felt better as I wasn’t beating myself up over not writing, and I was eager to get back into the story, because I was enjoying the flow I’d built up.

An hour a day, five days a week was a stretch, but it was also realistic. 

Writing time was writing time. There was no internet, email or social media, and I set other times to do research. When I got to a place where I needed to research something, I’d mark it with a comment and keep going. This was actually quite a difficult discipline to begin with, but it was incredibly useful and I’m sure it saved me heaps of lost time on detours through websites, blogs and other interesting but timewasting diversions. It was pure writing time, and because I’d told myself it was only an hour, I had to make the most of it.

In this post I shared a great way of working when I was able to devote longer periods of time to writing, for example a whole day or days.  

I didn’t edit during the first draft. This was incredibly difficult for me, but another useful learning tool as I didn’t spend a lot of time going over and over the same parts, editing them to death and then later deciding that section wouldn’t even make it into the final version. On days I found it hard to get started, I’d read through the scene(s) I’d written the previous day and do a little light editing to get me started. This was another way I managed to keep going and get the first draft finished without wasting a lot of time. It also stopped a lot of the self-doubt that comes when you read what you’ve just written. Rather than spending time worrying about whether it was any good, I just kept on writing. 

Time (when). When I have the option, I prefer writing in the morning as I feel a lot more creative at that time. During most of the time I was writing Still Death, I was working on a project with a company and working from their office. I had to start early, so I wasn’t able to write at my preferred time. However, I was leaving work at a reasonable time and generally getting home before my husband, so that became my writing time. I found once I got used to the routine of arriving home and settling into at least an hour of writing, the creativity was there. That was a really good learning experience as I’d always thought I did my best work in the morning. What this proved to me is – create a routine and stick to it, even if it isn’t what you consider to be perfect. 

Think positively. Without a doubt this is the hardest. It gets really difficult trying to quell the critical voice that keeps popping up. What makes you think you can write? Why would you succeed when others don’t? That scene is rubbish.

Negative thoughts are the easiest way to get off track and stop writing. I don’t think they ever truly disappear, but the trick is to be mindful of them, or the times when they’re likely to start up, and then change those thoughts to positive ones. It’s not easy, but like anything, the more you practice it the better you get.

Still Death will be available from 8th November, but you can pre-order it from the retailers below.  After the launch it will be $2.99 but at the moment you can pre-order it for 99 cents.  

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Apple Store
Smashwords
Kobo Books 

14 October 2014

Writing a Book in a Year

When I wrote my first novel, my goal was simply to see if I could get to the end. Did I have what it took to write a whole novel? I had no plans for daily word counts or a particular time frame. It was a simple goal. Write a novel.

Like many other authors, I worked full time, so I wrote in the evenings and at weekends. I had days or weeks when my motivation lagged and I didn't write. I see from my spreadsheets that book took me between eighteen months and two years to write and edit.

I'm horrified to realise the next two novels actually took me longer, although the word count is significantly more. They both took closer to three years including the elapsed time between writing and editing, and looking for agents or publishers and making the changes they suggested.

At this point I felt good about my experiences and the things I'd learned from writing the previous novels. For a long time I'd wanted to see if I could write and edit a novel within a year, and this seemed like the right opportunity. It was the first time since I started my initial novel that all my other projects were finished and I wasn't in between writing and editing something else. It was time to set that goal.

I definitely didn't choose the best year. We've moved three times since February and while I've still been contracting, all my work this year has been in company offices, so I haven't had the luxury of working from home and choosing my own hours. However, I have accomplished my goal *loud cheer and happy face * AND Still Death is a great book. 

I think there's much to recommend writing a book in a shorter length of time, or at least to be continuously in the world of your book and characters. This is why authors talk of the discipline of writing every day and living closely with your characters. You are more open to recognising the inspiration and ideas that come, and you don't have to waste time getting back into the groove of your story. My goal now is to write the next book in nine months (and it would be good if I could come up with a title much sooner!). Watch this space!

Still Death will be available from 8th November, but you can pre-order it from the retailers below.  After the launch it will be $2.99 but at the moment you can pre-order it for 99 cents.  

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Apple Store
Smashwords
Kobo Books 
 

08 October 2014

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Writing a Novel

Where do you get your ideas? Which comes first, the characters or the plot?
These are two of the questions that people often ask writers.


I remember the moment Lexie, the main character in Still Death, came to my mind – reading a newspaper article outside a cafĂ© on a road trip in New South Wales, Australia. That was four or five years and several other projects ago, but she’s hung since then, and I guess that answers the opening questions.


Originally Lexie was going to be the main character in a different genre, but as I got to know her it was obvious her flaws and character arc needed a different type story. That was where I hit my first problem.


I’d written my earlier novels in a similar way – knowing the end point and outlining the first third to half of the novel. I decided this time I'd plan the entire novel so I wouldn’t get side tracked and waste time.


Oh boy, what a headache that gave me. At heart I believe I’m an outliner/planner, BUT this book just wouldn’t move out of the starting blocks. I spent several weeks trying to force a plot and got nowhere. Eventually I decided to start writing and see where it took me. 


It was scary. There were several times I emailed or met up with a writer friend, our conversations going something like this.

‘I’ve got a scene where this artist woman turns up and has a mysterious meeting with one of the other characters.’
‘Ooh, that sounds good.’
‘But I don’t know who the hell she is, or what part she’s playing.’


Or
‘Lexie’s husband is investigating this mysterious compound, but goodness knows what happens.’
 

Or simply:
‘Another guy’s turned up dead.’
 

About halfway through the first draft, I got to a point where it felt as though I was banging my head against the wall with the plot. I knew Lexie inside out and upside down, I knew what decision she’d make in any situation and why, but I couldn’t get traction with the plot.

Then came the light bulb moment. Looking back at it, it was obvious, but often the obvious is difficult to see. One evening when I should have been writing, I read an article that covered the different processes and ways people write novels. As most writers know, there’s the planner, outliner and pantser, but the article went deeper than that – do you start with characters, with a plot or with snapshots of scenes.


My ideas always start with characters. Suddenly I knew where I’d been going wrong. From the beginning I was trying to force a plot. I’d told myself as this was a murder/mystery I HAD to have the plot sorted out, but I don’t write like that and therefore couldn’t plan that way. If my ideas start with characters and they’re character-driven novels, then I have to let the characters drive the plot. It sounds so obvious now, but this was a real breakthrough.


I knew how Lexie thought and how she’d react to situations. I knew her flaws and the things that worried her and the ways she had to grow to become the person she needed to be at the end of the novel. Now I needed to figure out what would get her to that place.


The words didn’t exactly flash out of my fingers at lightning speed, but I could see where I needed to go and what needed to happen – I had a plot! But one that made sense to the characters and their growth.


If you’re interested in reading a little of Still Death, here’s the prologue.

Late May

The woman said goodbye to her friend and left the restaurant, paying no attention to the cars parked along the road. There were always cars, and usually people, although it was quiet at the moment. The restaurants and pubs were busy, but it was too early for anyone to make the move to the clubs a few streets away.

She smiled, remembering the phone calls of the past days. He missed her, couldn’t wait to finish the research on his current story and fly back. Couldn’t wait to see her again.

She’d missed him. He would be back at his apartment by now, working on the story and waiting for her. The previously arranged dinner had been unavoidable, but at least it was over.

Her smile crinkled light lines around her eyes. She glanced at her watch, increased her pace. It only took a few minutes to walk to his flat from here. He’d be waiting for her call, but she’d surprise him.

She didn’t see the man, silent in the shadows. Didn’t hear the few words he muttered into his phone.

Further along, she slowed as she turned to cross the street. A car came around the corner. She stepped out between the parked vehicles and glanced towards the dazzling headlights. The car stopped in the road, engine idling. The same model as his. Perhaps he’d come to pick her up, not wanting to wait any longer. The headlights blinded her. She squinted, trying to make out the driver or the registration number.

The car engine revved, tyres squealed, as it hurtled towards her. No time to move or call out. The car rammed into her. Knocked the breath out of her body. Tossed her onto the road like a limp rag doll. The frown of uncertainty still creased her forehead.

A trickle of blood seeped from the corner of her mouth, dribbled down her cheek and onto the road. The car roared away. The man checked there was no one around. He approached the woman and crouched down. Watched the light fade from her eyes then made another phone call.


Still Death will be available from 8th November, but you can pre-order it from Amazon.  After the launch it will be $2.99 but at the moment you can pre-order it for 99 cents.