31 December 2014

That Time of Year

Once again, and far faster than I'd imagined it, here we are at the end of the year. As I write, we have another sixteen hours until we'll all be wishing each other a happy New Year.

I find it interesting and funny that because of the calendar we use, we have this arbitrary date that ends one year and starts another, and because of this we feel impelled to look at improving ourselves and making resolutions, many of which we'll have broken within a few days.

In 2015 I intend to do more of the things that make me feel happy, positive, creative and content and less of the things that don't.

By my standards (and they're the ones that count for me), I've had a productive 2014 in writing, which makes me feel good, and I want to keep on feeling that way. I think it's been productive because I set some reasonable goals that also stretched me. I didn't set them at the beginning of the year, but chose a time that worked for me - part-way through November last year, if you're interested!

It felt good to achieve those goals, and feeling good about yourself is a great thing. We need to do it more often. Because I achieved those targets I've made the stretch a bit more this time. I'll let you know how it goes, but in the meantime have a great end of 2014 and happy New Year.

Note: If you're interested in previous posts about goals you can read them here and here.

22 December 2014

Things I Love About Summer

With just a few days to go until Christmas this may seem like a funny post, but here in the Southern Hemisphere we're enjoying long summer days, and so I thought I'd write down a few of the things I love about summer (in no particular order):


Strawberries (and other summer fruit, but strawberries are my favourite)
Sunshine
Outdoor gatherings with family and friends
Long lingering daylight evenings
Pohutukawa trees in bloom
Ice cream
The luxurious feeling of cruisy days because it's too hot to rush around
Wandering around the house and garden (or beach) barefoot
Out door films/events
Walks on the beach (they're great all through the year but especially in summer) 
Sandals
Daisy chains
Driving around with all the car windows open
Reading at the beach or park (reading anywhere to be honest!)
Smell of freshly cut grass, honeysuckle and jasmine
Cool breeze on a hot day
Easy BBQ and salad meals

And lots more.


Last night we went to a carol service being held in a local reserve (park). It was wonderful to sit out on picnic rugs enjoying the sunset and singing together.




Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere takes some getting used to if all you've known is Northern Hemisphere snowy celebrations. At the moment all the windows and doors are open, and it's still hot. I feel a little sorry for the shopping mall Santas dressed in their warm red robes while the rest of us are in t-shirts and shorts.

The schools have just shut down for the long summer break, which means Christmas and New Year holidays tend to stretch well into January as families head off to the beach. We have to wait longer in the evenings to enjoy the Christmas lights and many of the words to traditional Christmas songs don't really make too much sense for Christmas here, but I can handle that as I enjoy summer.

20 December 2014

The times they are a changin'

At the moment I'm back working in the city in one of the high-rise office blocks. High-rise in Auckland isn't as tall as many other cities, and usually equates to around thirty floors. I'm on a floor halfway up with a great view of the harbour. The building is close to St. Matthews church, and from my window I look out at the top of the tower.


You get a different perspective of the city from that height, and I guess when the church was built in the first few years of the 1900s it would have been one of the tallest buildings in the city. Now, the church is dwarfed by many of the bland office blocks.

The only constant is change, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, but change nevertheless.

Language is another of those things that is constantly evolving. Flicking through an Enid Blyton book recently, I was reminded of frocks and sixpences, and a world that no longer existed even when I first marvelled at the Faraway Tree and wanted to go on adventures with the Famous Five.

Text talk and abbreviations seem to be a totally different language, but I remember comments my parents made about my teenage-self and friends and our conversation, and then I think of some of my favourite Shakespeare quotations. It's the same language, but very different.

16 December 2014

Book Launches and Writing Events

At this time of year most social events seem related to Christmas, but I've been fortunate to have attended two great events over the past few days that had absolutely nothing to do with bearded man in the red suit.

On Thursday evening I had the pleasure of attending a book launch for Vivienne's Blog, written by a good friend and critique buddy. It was a brilliant evening and actress Penny Ashton was in amazing form as she read three extract's from the book. Graham Beattie wrote about the launch and also reviewed Vivienne's Blog.

Several weeks ago, through the NZ Society of Authors, I heard that Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn would be visiting Auckland and would like to meet up with some local writers. Was I interested? Oh yes!  I've followed Joanna's blog and podcasts for some time and also have some of her books, and am in awe of her energy and output. 

Joanna modestly said she expected to meet up with about five or six people in a coffee shop. Today's event was held in Auckland's Central library and was attended by about 75 people (total guess but it seemed about that number!) Joanna is a lively presenter with a great sense of humour and lots of information and advice on this amazing publishing adventure that soaks up most of my waking hours.

In addition, there was a talk and demonstration by Craig from Booktrack on using their software to add soundtracks and effects to books and short stories. This was fascinating and definitely something I'll be investigating over the Christmas holidays.

Huge thanks to Joanna, Booktrack and Auckland Central Library for a great event. Afterwards there was time for questions and networking - it's amazing the amount of noise that a group of introverted writers can make! 

02 December 2014

Recipe for a Dinner Party

A short note to point you in the direction of the lovely Amy Spahn who has written an essay on the style and narration of my short story Recipe for a Dinner Party.

Amy has done an amazing job of making me sound a lot more intelligent than I feel, and for that she earns my heartfelt thanks.

Pop over and take at look at this and many other thought-provoking posts.

25 November 2014

Writing Weekend Report

Often the best part of a long-awaited event is the anticipation and excitement before the actual occasion. I’m so thrilled this wasn’t the case for our writing group weekend. We had an amazing time. 

Our group has been together for almost five years. In that time one has moved to Australia because of work, and another down to Christchurch. They skype into our critique meetings, and if either are in town for any reason we rearrange or add meeting dates. 

Like some others of the group, I hadn’t been to Christchurch since the big earthquakes, and I was interested to see what has happened since then. There were two things that struck me. One was the feeling of space. In the city centre a huge number of buildings were completely destroyed, or so badly damaged they were dangerous. Over time the rubble and buildings have been removed and while there is now building going on there are still many empty lots, hence the feeling of space.

Christchurch is flat, so it’s always been a little difficult to get your bearings, and when we first arrived in the city I wasn’t sure where I was until we came to Cathedral Square. Suddenly everything slotted into place, and I was utterly shocked at the change. Yes, I was expecting it as I’ve read a lot about the work and changes going on and friends had told me their reactions, but nothing quite prepares you for seeing something yourself.


The other aspect you notice is the ingenuity shown by people. We often glibly say that life has to go on, and it does. You need somewhere to live and if your business premises are destroyed you still need to earn money. Much of the city centre and shops were destroyed and in their place is the Container Mall. Amazing!





 

Really glad to see a bookshop.






After the city centre we visited Sumner and Lyttleton, both badly damaged in the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 on our way to Diamond Harbour. 

The sightseeing was both sobering as well as fascinating, and we also had an opportunity to talk with each other and catch up on news. In addition the weather was wonderful, a beautifully clear and hot Canterbury day.

This was the amazingly creative view from the house at Diamond Harbour.


Over the weekend we spent time on writing exercises and critiquing our current works in progress. As this was a weekend jaunt, we decided that everyone would have a critique rather than taking it in turn with two or three per meeting.

Our format is to email our extract (usually around 20 pages) to the group one or two weeks prior to the meeting. This means we are able to have a longer piece of work critiqued, and everyone has time to read and note comments before the meeting. However, as we were all having a critique this time, we agreed to a maximum of 5,000 words, which is still about a chapter of a WIP.

The weekend was such a success; we've decided to make it an annual event!

If you are part of a good writing group, I'd certainly recommend this kind of weekend. Here are some of the reasons why:
  • We were fresher for giving and receiving feedback as we hadn't just finished work and struggled through commuter traffic. 
  • We did some writing exercises rather than working on current stuff which gave us a different creative outlet.
  • It was great to be able to talk about books, writing, publishing, marketing etc. without the other person's eyes glazing over within 30 seconds!
Next time we may decide to have it as more of a retreat with time for working on our own manuscripts, but whatever format it takes, I'm already looking forward to it.

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.

29 September 2014

The New Book - Still Death

Regular readers of the blog may have noticed that while I've posted about writing, I haven't actually mentioned anything about a current project for some time. That's about to end, as I'm thrilled to say my latest book is due out on 8th November. 

While I'm in the early stages of writing a book, the ideas often feel so tenuous I don’t like talking about them. Winnie the Pooh best sums up this feeling, 'When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.' 

Once I have the feel of the characters and the ideas are firmer, my problem then is finding a title. It's quite difficult talking about your current project when you don't know what to call it. Once I've written the first draft, I spend ages coming up with words and phrases that link to the ideas and themes of the book. This time I took so long to find anything I liked that I'd actually got to the beta reader stage and was still without a title. I gave my beta readers the list of ideas I'd been playing with, and fortunately they all liked the same title - Still Death. As you might guess from this it's a murder/mystery!

Over the past few weeks I’ve been working with Andrew of Design for Writers, and once again he’s come up with an amazing cover. Unlike some of my previous novels, I knew exactly what I wanted, and Andrew has captured the opening scene brilliantly.

So without further ado – drum roll – the cover for Still Death.

Still Death

I find writing the novel easier than writing the blurb that goes with it, but if you're interested in knowing more about Still Death, here goes... 

The first was a hit and run.
The second a murder/suicide.
Who will be next?

Lexie believes Patrick has been set-up for the murder of his girlfriend, but she is the only person who does.

After living in London, she thought life in a small town would be boring, but there are too many accidents to be a coincidence, and they all appear linked to the death of Patrick's girlfriend.

Lexie is determined to find out who is behind it until her family becomes one of the statistics.

Death still lurks in the quietest places. 

In the next post I'll talk a bit more about writing the book and give you a sneak preview of the opening scene.

15 September 2014

Success: Mindset and Attitude

Last week I went to an evening presentation by Nigel Latta. He's well-known here, but probably not outside of New Zealand. Nigel is a forsenic psychologist and has hosted several television shows: Beyond the Darklands, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Teenagers and The Politically Incorrect Parenting Show, as well as writing books on these subjects.

I had no idea of the format for the evening, and considering the theme of a couple of my recent posts (here and here), I was quite amused when he said he was going to talk about the Psychology of Success, or 'How you get where you want to go'.

He's an articulate and amusing presenter, and kept his message clear and straightforward. 
  • Plan: Know where you want to go or what you want to do. This world of ours is full of information and distractions that can quickly lead us away from what we really want to do.
  • Work: He subscribes to the view that we can over-rate talent, and sometimes use it as a cop-out for not trying, i.e. I'm no good at maths, and I'm never going to be any good. If we want to gain new skills or improve at something, then we need to practice, and have the mindset that we can improve. He mentioned some of the research that I've read, that talent isn't fixed and our mindset and attitude is vital in determining our success or otherwise.
  • Think: Because we're so busy just trying to keep up with life, we probably don't spend enough time thinking about what is really important to us. This probably links back to planning. If we need to spend time really practising those skills we want to improve, we don't have the time to be excellent at everything, therefore we need to select those things that are most important to us.
Here are some links if you're interested in reading more on mindset and attitude:
Talent isn't fixed
The Right Mindset for Success - Harvard Business Review blog 
The Effort Effect - Stanford Magazine

Success means different things to each of us. Nigel summed up the meaning of success for him - in the widest sense - as living a meaningful life, and in everyday interactions trying to make life a little better/nicer/happier for anyone he comes in contact with.

This idea isn't new, but it's good to be reminded that success shouldn't always be thought of in fame or financial terms.

As a side note to this, the event was held in one of the local schools. Parking was in various parts of the school grounds and the surrounding roads. I'd been directed to the tennis courts for parking. Several hundred people attended the event, and exiting the school grounds afterwards was obviously very slow. I sat patiently in my parking space for about ten minutes waiting to join the exit queue. The school hall had been cold, and to be honest, I was just happy to thaw out with the heater going full blast! From my parking space, I was looking at a driver in the queue. He was behind a driver who was very kindly letting everyone else out. The driver I could see looked as though he wanted to lean on his horn, but he must have remembered Nigel's comments, and refrained!

02 September 2014

Busy is the New Rich

With the start of a new month, I've heard a few people making the comment, 'Where has the year gone?' With our third house move this year looming, I know where our eight months has gone!

It's been a busy year as we've sold, rented, bought and renovated. Added to which there is family, work, writing and that little thing called 'having a life'. The list is in no particular order, although 'having a life' got tagged on the end almost as an after-thought, as it's been for a while!

I hear you either tutting, or taking a big breath to tell me how much busier you've been. But wait a minute....

That second paragraph, while entirely true, was written a little tongue-in-cheek. I listen to people at work, friends, acquaintances and passers-by talking, and everyone is BUSY. Not just busy, but BUSY!!

We seem proud of the amount of hours we have to work and our lack of spare time. It's almost a badge of honour. A way of showing how important we are. No longer are we talking about the new car/sound system/television we have, but rather our lack of time to use these items. Even children aren't immune. They seem to spend their lives being ferried around to after-school classes/clubs/social events with weekends full of teams and sports.

I'm not sure if it's worse than it used to be, or if being on-call 24/7 with email, smartphones and gadgets makes it feel that way. If I could bottle something that solved our time deprived lives, and sell it, I know I'd make a fortune. 

There isn't really a one-size fits all solution. We have to find the answer ourselves. I think it begins with realising the effects this state of busyness has on us, keeping us in a state of near panic. If we're constantly running on adrenalin, we're not doing our physical and mental-selves any favours, and our decision-making capabilities are degraded.

Unfortunately, most of us aren't in a position to change everything in our lives. At the very least, I think we should stop for a few minutes at least once a day, and clear our minds of all those chattering thoughts that want to grab our attention. We should use the time to notice where we are and the things around us, and how we actually feel physically. In other words, to be exactly in that moment, rather than still continuing an argument we had earlier with someone, or still being angry with the driver who cut into the queue, or the other thousands of mostly inconsequential things that drag us away from enjoying NOW.

W.H. Davies wrote this poem in the early 1900s.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad day light,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.


Someone once said they doubted anyone would ask for the words, 'Wish I'd spent more time at the office,' on their tombstone.
 
It's a beautiful world out there. Appreciate it.

28 August 2014

Handwriting Matters

Most people I know, and I include myself in this, mutter about the state of their handwriting when giving someone a handwritten note, or a manuscript with scribbles all down the side of the page.

I've been known to rewrite short notes or a set of directions, especially if they're for someone else.

I'm sure at some time in the distant past I had reasonable handwriting. It was never wonderful, but at least it was legible. I recall 3-hour exam essays that looked better than my handwriting now. Of course, also like everyone else, I blame the computer for this!

Having said that, I wouldn't swap the wonderful convenience of Cut and Paste, or performing a quick Find and Replace and changing a character's name (and back again sometimes!) without even blinking.

However, I do often use pen (or pencil) and paper to write a scene, plan future chapters, or get the sense of how a character speaks by writing out scenes full of dialogue. There's something about physically writing that frees up the imagination.

On that note, here is an article from the New York Times I found interesting. It also reminded me the first thing I used to do when starting to study for exams was to write out my main revision headings and the important points within each, and use that as my revision. But then I was a bit of a girly swot!

21 August 2014

Getting Better All The Time


Becoming good at something interests me – you probably got that impression from the previous post.

Why does one person achieve success and another doesn’t? Why is one person excellent at a sport or occupation, while others are mediocre? What makes the difference?

I guess it begins with our individual motivation and desire to succeed at something. Like most people, I’ve watched athletes or musicians etc. and have been amazed at their skills, and wished I could do the same. The big difference is that my idle wish has never morphed into anything more than a frivolous fancy, at least not until I decided I wanted to be able to call myself a writer, and be proud of what I'd written.

It’s easy to look at a sportsperson, singer, musician or artist and think how lucky they are to have that talent; to be born good at what they do. But they weren’t.

‘If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all.’ Michelangelo 

A number of years ago, I joined a badminton club. I’d always enjoyed playing and I wanted to improve. I played regularly (two or three times a week), with the purpose of improving. I played with, and against, better players and took part in the club competitions. I never became the best, but my game improved. That was my goal. We moved to a different part of the country and I wasn’t able to continue in the same way, but after a while we found some friends to play with once a week. We played mainly for fun. It was exercise and we enjoyed the evening out. I had a good time, but my game didn’t improve.

Thinking of that reminded me of years ago when I learned to type. The course involved some speed tests at the end, and so once I’d mastered the basics, I practiced hard to improve my speed. I can’t remember now what it was, maybe 90 words per minute, or even a hundred. These days  I use the computer every day, My typing speed is fast, but no faster than it was then, and possibly slightly slower.

My mother always used to tell me that ‘practice makes perfect.’ There is some truth in that, however, I don’t believe that all practice is created equal. Yes, I type every day, but my goal is writing a book, or an article or blog post, not improving my speed. When I only played badminton recreationally and not to improve, my game remained the same.

If we want to become excellent at something, or at least improve, we need to practice, but we need to practice with a purpose. That’s why goals are so useful necessary. They give us something to work towards, and results we can measure.

If we want to play a game professionally, an occasional fun practice with friends isn’t going to help us. We need more practice, lots more, and we need to practice with a purpose.

How much practice do we need to become excellent at something?

I’ve read a number of books on this subject and the consensus appears to be around 10,000 hours. That’s 10,000 hours of writing practice, or some other skill, with a purpose.

10,000 hours sounds like a lot (and it is), but let's convert it into more meaningful figures. If we use 40 hours a week as working at something fulltime, that is 250 weeks of writing, which is a little under 5 yrs.

That’s a lot of writing. And if you have a job and writing is part-time (say 20 hours a week) then it’s ten years of purposeful practice. Speechless yet?

On the plus side, improvement is an incremental process, so it’s not as if we’re beginners until we get to the 10,000 word mark, and then suddenly become amazing. We’re improving all the time.

Being excellent at something takes time, and effort.

It’s not just practice, but practice with a purpose. It should challenge us.  We should make ourselves work on the things we can’t do well, rather than paddling in the shallows of things we think we can do well.

Let's assume we're putting in our practice with a purpose! Is that all, when we've completed our 10,000 hours, will we be excellent? Is practice all we need?

All top athletes, musicians, artists need the right training. For writers, courses and books are a good start. However, once we’ve learned the basics we need more – we know about pace, point of view, tense etc. Now we need to know where we’re not applying these things in our own writing.

Athletes have coaches. I’ve never been a top athlete, but I’d guess the coach’s purpose (or one of them at least), is to give feedback. If the move or shot didn’t work, why not?  

What is the equivalent for writers? There is a point when we know the craft skills of writing, but we’re still a long way from excellence. Just as an athlete needs a coach to help them make changes or tweaks to technique or stance or training, so we need specific help. We need someone who also knows all the craft skills, and can tell us where we’re not putting them into practice in our writing. A writing group is excellent for this, they provide support, motivation and specific feedback. In addition to a writing group, once we’ve finished our novel then beta readers are invaluable. Writing groups and beta readers need to be chosen carefully. They provide different feedback and have different skill sets. Don’t forget professionals such as editors.  Mentors are popular in business groups and some organisations provide writing mentors, or subsidise programmes to link writers with mentors for a period of time. In this environment we can get feedback and support that is specific to us.

Building this knowledge can transform us and help us meet our own personal goals for success.