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A Few Favourite Books

Posted on 15th February, 2018

Some tweet chains have been running on Twitter this past week or so, linking up people's favourite books. The idea is that you post a picture of the cover of a book you love - and that's it. No explanation as to why you love it, just a picture.

 

I thought I'd add a few more of my favourites here, but this time with a few words alongside.

 

This is the book cover I tweeted. Shattered Silk by Barbara Michaels (who also writes as Elizabeth Peters).

 

It is a suspense novel with a touch of humour, but don't let that fool you - it is genuinely tense and scary. The reason I love it in particular is that its background is to do with setting up a vintage clothing business - the history of costume being one of my interests.

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But I could just as easily have tweeted any of these books....

 

The Religious Body by Catherine Aird, written in the 1960s, is a brilliant whodunnit - or rather, it is a howdunnit. This is quite simply the cleverest way ever of killing someone. Trust me: you will never guess what the murder weapon was.

For me, EF Benson's Miss Mapp is the best comic novel ever. With Mapp and Lucia, I know you are supposed to prefer Lucia, but I always much preferred Miss Mapp and this book (Lucia-free) is superb. The scene where Diva opens the cupboard made me laugh out loud the first time I read it back in the 1980s and it still makes me chuckle today.

 

(On the subject of laughing out loud at a book, I laughed so much at one bit of A Year of New Adventures by Maddie Please, my current bedtime reading, that the cat declined to remain on the bed. Sorry, Cassie.)

As a lover of sagas both as a reader and as a writer, I have to ask: is this the best saga ever? I rather think it is.
A Wartime Christmas by Carol Rivers kept me up reading long into the night several nights in a row. It is more than a family saga - it contains a clever mystery that is sustained right to the end and when the truth is revealed, it is as surprising as it is satisfying. Well worth those sleepless nights!

 

Minty by Christina Banach is a remarkable book. Written for the YA market, it tackles a difficult subject, possibly the most difficult subject of all - death and bereavement - head-on with confidence, honesty, compassion and even with humour.

 

I used to be a librarian specialising in work with children and schools. Reading Minty made me wish I still was, so I could take it into secondary schools and give it the promotion it deserves. I'd even provide the boxes of tissues needed for reading the ending.

Okay, it's time to stop, but before I do - I had to include this one. The first book I ever loved - Tippy Runs Away. How much did I love it? So much that I insisted upon being called Tippy for some time afterwards.

 

A very self-indulgent blog this week. Do you have a favourite book to share? How easy or hard is it to choose just one?

 

 

Despatches from the Querying Trenches

or

A Tale of Two Tweets

January 2018

 

 

A very happy New Year. I hope 2018 has started off splendidly for you all.

We’ve had an unusual January in the Hesketh household. Husband and son are off in Patagonia doing some father-son bonding. As you do. A serendipitous combination of son being on a gap year, hubbie getting extra holiday. Here’s a taste of what they’re up to. It looks wonderful. (I have made it clear that I’m very much looking forward to the Maldives when my daughter is on her gap year!)

 

 

You’ll be pleased to hear I’ve been writing diligently throughout January and am pleased with my progress. Two tweets sum up where I’m at (as most of you know, I love Twitter far too much!):

 

Editing is like making an omelette, isn’t it? You’ve just got to make a mess ….

 

I posted this a couple of weeks ago because, yes, I’m editing Book One again. I had a wonderful critique from Alison May in which she challenged me to describe, in one line, what my story is fundamentally about. Is it fundamentally a novel about a marriage under pressure, parenting a child with autism, a school gate drama or a woman coming to terms with a traumatic event in her past? It was a very good question! I know which it is – at least, which it’s supposed to be - but Alison is right. I need to draw out the key storyline and, while I’m at it, put a couple of darlings out of their misery. (That’s hard!)

 

So, that’s where I am at the moment. The messy stage. The eggs are broken into the bowl, the shells are scattered over the kitchen surfaces and the washing up is piling up in the sink. It’s chaos. And the end doesn’t seem to be in sight. But I expect that it will come together more quickly that I expect and that the end result will be a fluffy, silky delight with hidden depths of gruyere and porcini. (A girl can dream, can’t she?)

 

The other tweet was from Alison May herself. I’d posted a tweet about my book in one of those Twitter contest things and Alison very kindly posted the following on the back of it:

 

I did a crit read on this novel. It's rather good. Any agents or editors looking for emotionally deep commercial women's fiction - definitely worth a request...

 

Isn’t that lovely? Totally unsolicited and the most wonderful validation of my writing. It really felt like someone had given me a huge, unexpected present. And the icing on the cake - or the big glossy bow on the present - is that a couple of agents have got in touch and requested the first three chapters of my book.

 

Hurrah!

 

Which brings me full circle round back to the need to carry on editing, editing, editing. Hopefully that omelette will be worth it!

 

Have a wonderful February everyone. See you on Twitter!

 

 

Looking Ahead to 2018

Posted on 19th January, 2018

You may remember from previous years that each January, I select a guiding word to see me through the year. It’s an idea I pinched from my Canadian friend, Jen Gilroy, whose word this year is COURAGE.

 

This is my fourth year of choosing a guiding word. My first was APPRECIATION, which was tied in with having moved to North Wales, the place I had dreamed of living in ever since I was a child, and also in memory of a friend who died young, but whom I was able to write to while she was ill to share memories of our long friendship and tell her how much I valued her. The following year, I chose ANTICIPATION, as that was when I worked hard to get the fourth draft of The Deserter’s Daughter completed so that I could start approaching literary agents. Then, last year, my word was APPLICATION, which was very much on my mind at the start of the year as I faced a six-month deadline to get my next novel, A Respectable Woman, finished.

 

I’ll be honest. This year, I’ve dithered over whether to share my word publicly. My word is ACCOMPLISHMENT and I’m concerned you’re going to think it sounds big-headed, but here is how it came about. I know I’ve got to work hard this year and to begin with, I was going to use ACHIEVEMENT, but I feel that ACCOMPLISHMENT not only covers achievement, but also suggests a sense of quality. I had the importance of quality drummed into me by a former boss, the late Mrs Wendy Drewett, who used to run the Children’s and Schools Library Services in the county where I worked.

 

So what work aims do I have for 2018?

 

Well, writing – obviously. I have been asked several times recently about what I am currently working on. I can’t say much at the moment – only that I hope to have news to share with you before too long.

 

But I can share my new dedication to word count targets(!). After watching my word count graph rise throughout November when I, along with a number of writer chums did NaNoWriMo, I am determined to set a word count target every week this year. So far, I have hit my target in weeks 1 and 2; and at the time of writing this, I look set to meet week 3’s target. 3 weeks down, 49 to go!

 

On the subject of work, my day job is going to vanish from under my feet at some point in the next few weeks. Gulp. More about that when the time comes.

 

Not all my ambitions are fixed on writing. This year, I want to get the garden up to scratch. We have a gorgeous house, but the people who lived here before us didn’t like gardening and were heavily into reducing the work-load, which they did by putting down weed-suppressing membrane over the flowerbeds and covering it with several tons of grey pebbles.

 

For me, one of the joys of life is turning over the soil, so I have been gradually getting rid of  the stones. Some of it I’ve done myself, some I’ve paid others to do; but it feels like a never-ending job.

 

This is part of what used to be a back yard and is now a back garden. Where the lawn is used to be nothing but several inches deep of grey pebbles. Rolls of turf is one of the more unusual birthday presents I have received. (Thank you, Auntie Barbara.)

 

The roses are no longer in the tubs. After this picture was taken, they were planted in what I turned into a flowerbed and I’m pleased to tell you they are thriving.

 

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Meanwhile in the front garden, having removed some enormous shrubs and bushes whose main purpose in life seemed to be to drape lovingly around the postman every morning, this is what is left.

Those grey stones are up to six inches deep.

 

Later this year, I will take another picture of this corner – minus stones and with new shrubs (hydrangeas, possibly) growing in lots of lovely soil.

 

So there we are - a look at the year that lies ahead for me. What plans do you have? Or do you avoid making resolutions?

 

 

A Wonderful Start to 2018: My First Shelfie!

Posted on 5th January, 2018

Happy New Year. Thank you for your support last year. I look forward to another year of your company on my blog.

 

I'm starting the new year with a very short post. I've had my first shelfie! If you aren't sure what that is, it's a photo of your book on the shelf at the library or in a shop. Simple as that. It may not sound like much, but I have to tell you it is a hugely exciting moment.

 

The Deserter's Daughter has been in stock in Conwy Libraries ever since it was published last summer, but this is the first time I have seen it on the shelf in Llyfrgell Llandudno Library. Is that because it's been out on loan all the time?! What a lovely thought.

 

Shall I tell you the truth? There was a fatter book next to The Deserter's Daughter on the shelf, so I moved it in order to have a better photo...

 

 

Thank You And See You In 2018

Posted on 15th December, 2017

Thank you for reading my posts throughout the year and extra special thanks to everyone who kindly left comments. Thanks also to the guests who have visited my blog throughout the year, especially my friend Kirsten for her monthly round-ups about her writing experiences. I know from all the comments and feedback she receives how much her guest blogs have been enjoyed.

 

You may know that two or three years ago I pinched Jen Gilroy's idea of having a guiding word for each year. 2016's was ANTICIPATION, which, for the year in which I signed up with my literary agent and then got together with Allison & Busby, turned out to be highly appropriate. Then this year's word - knowing I was on a 6-month deadline to write my next novel for Allison & Busby - was APPLICATION, which turned out to be a polite word for HARD-GRAFT(!). You'll be able to read the results of my Application/Hard-Graft next June, when A Respectable Woman is published.

 

I can't resist sharing with you (again!) my two beautiful covers for The Deserter's Daughter.

 

 

It has been an exciting year. Thank you to everyone who has read The Deserter's Daughter, and special thanks to those lovely people who have left reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. On a personal level, they are deeply appreciated and on a professional level, they make really do make a difference.

 

I'm signing off for Christmas now. I'll be back in January, so I hope you'll come and visit me then.

 

In the meantime....

 

....allow me to show off my unexpected festive footwear (ouch!) as I wish you a safe and accident-free Christmas.

 

Gyda Chyfarchion Tymhorol

a Dymuniadau Gorau am y Flwyddyn Newydd

 

With Season's Greetings

and Best Wishes for the New Year

 

 

It says Dispatches From the Querying Trenches, but maybe it should be re-titled Dispatches From the NaNoWriMo Trenches. Let Kirsten tell you more....

 

* * * *

 

So that was November.

 

The month I took on and ‘won’ NaNoWriMo.

 

For the uninitiated, National Novel Writing Month is an annual creative writing project that takes place during November with the strapline ‘the world needs your novel’. Participants attempt to write 50,000 words between November 1 and November 30 and my writing friends were signing up left, right and centre.

 

At first I was cynical. I wasn’t entirely sure the world did need my novel – after all, there are plenty of fantastic novels out there already, aren’t there? And 50,000 seemed an awful lot of words. It took almost a year to get to that point with my first novel - how could I possibly cram all that writing, all that thinking, all that angst-ing into one measly month? And a 30 day month at that. What if the muse didn’t strike? What if I rushed out of the gates with 5,000 words a day and ran out of steam by Bonfire Night. What if I left it until the last minute and attempted an unseemly and ultimately unsuccessful gallop to the finishing line. Either way, I was dooming myself to failure.

 

Nonetheless I signed up. I was 23k words through my second novel - a love story set on an archaeological dig - and progress was slow. Even if I only completed 10,000 words, it would still be a result. Plus everyone else was doing it and I didn’t want to miss out on the fun and camaraderie. (I know, I know - I’m such a ‘follower’…)

 

Well, what a great, big whirlwind of a month it’s been.

 

720 hours later, I have added 50, 016 words to ‘Muddy Milly’ (working title!) and have pretty much completed the first draft. And it’s been brilliant.

 

 

There is something very freeing about the manta ‘ don’t get it right, get it written.’ With my first book, I spent hours polishing the same old passages - passages that didn’t even make it into be final cut of the book. With NaNo there is little time to vet what you’re writing - you just push on. You write whether or not the muse has bothered to turn up but with the characters and story always front of mind. I found it much easier to crack on than on previous occasions when I hadn’t turned the computer on for the best part of the week. I accept this isn’t for everyone but I believe it made me braver and ultimately a better writer. The characters took on a life of their own and decided to go off-piste on a couple of occasions. A couple of new characters made an appearance. I even wrote my first sex scene!

 

I’m so chuffed to have completed the challenge. Like many of us, I don’t have a whole load of control over some aspects of my life at the moment, and it’s been great to prove to myself that I can still take on and finish projects. Plus, in the eternal quest for agents and publication, writing is so often all about rejection or ‘failing’. It’s lovely to ‘win’ for once.

 

The certificate has pride of place on the fridge. I’m showing my stats to anyone who will look – and even people who would rather not. Even the teens have said well done!

 

The support and camaraderie part was everything I hoped it would be and many thanks to Sue, Moira, Jane, Karen, Tara, Cath, Kate, Alexis, Jan, Julie, Cass, Catherine and the bunch from Reading Writers for making it so much fun. I couldn’t have done it without you guys. We are all winners and may all our writing dreams come true.

 

Here’s to doing it all over again next November.

 

In the meantime, a very happy December to you all and I’m off to start my Christmas shopping!

 

 

This week, I am delighted to welcome John Jackson to my blog. If you are an RNA member, you are bound to know John, firstly because there aren't many men in our ranks and secondly because he's the one with the camera! As well as being a photgrapher, he describes himself as a hedgehog wrangler and a dance fan.

 

John's debut novel, Heart of Stone, was published recently and he's joined me here today to chat about it and about his writing in general.

 

How did you start writing? Were you a childhood writer?

 

I started writing many years ago when our kids were little. I was away at sea, and it was a good way of passing the time. This is LONG before the days of e-mail; back then we may only be able to get a letter away once every 3 weeks, and possibly up to 6 weeks between chances to phone home. Writing filled that gap.

 

They were simple animal stories; sub-Beatrix Potter/Alison Uttley. Unfortunately, I no longer have them. I tried vaguely later in life, but without any real conviction or drive to finish a story.

 

 

How long did the first draft take to write? How many drafts were there?

 

It took me six months to complete the first draft. That went in to the RNA New Writers Scheme. It was then rewritten and edited about 4 more times.

 

 

How did you get together with your publisher, Crooked Cat?

 

A friend, Angela Wren, was with them. I looked them up, saw they were open for submissions, and sent my MS in. I then did a lot of "due diligence" talking to other authors on their list, in different genres. Everyone published by them reckoned they were excellent! I can only agree.

 

One of your Amazon reviews comments that the "dark tendencies of the main villain were both frightening and gripping." Did your villain's character grow over time or was it matter of arriving in your imagination fully formed?

 

He did grow with time. He was a baddy to start with, and got worse. He is based on a real person, Robert Rochfort, who was my 5 x Gt-grandfather, and who really WAS an evil person.

 

 

Plotter or pantser? Or were you following family history so closely that this question is redundant?

 

I'm a Plotter by nature. All my family will tell you I do a mean List! The REAL events were too tragic all round to make a novel as it stood. I like the idea that I have written the story of what SHOULD have happened.

 

 

For you, what is the hardest part of the writing process? And what do you enjoy the most?

 

The hardest is having the confidence to believe in the story I want to tell. The best part is writing "The End" when it is properly finished.

 

 

John's links: 

 

Chat with him on Twitter         

 

Catch up with his news on his blog           

 

Heart of Stone on Amazon

                    

 

And The Oscar Goes To... Yes, It Felt THAT Good.

Posted on 17th November, 2017

Sorry, but this week's blog is going to be devoted to me showing off.

 

If you have a passing acquaintance with my website, or if you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed that the audio version of The Deserter's Daughter, read by Julia Franklin, was released on November 1st.

 

Well, when I received my copy of Isis Sounding's quarterly magazine, Audio Update, guess what was on the front cover...

 

In the general overview of the season's new releases, it not only introduced The Deserter's Daughter, but went on to say: "We're looking forward to her second novel, A Respectable Woman, next year as well." Wow!

 

Not only that, but when I looked inside at the sagas page, my book - my book! - had been given top billing.

 

It was such an honour. I felt like I had won an Oscar.

 

Sorry about the showing off, but I'm sure you can understand. I hope you've had a great week too.

 

This week, my What I Learnt From... series continues and I am happy to welcome Jessica Redland back to my blog to share the lessons she learnt from writing her Whitsborough Bay series, Searching Fir Steven, Getting Over Gary and Dreaming About Daran, plus, of course the related novella, Raving About Rhys.

 

* * * *

 

A year ago, I released the final book in a trilogy. The books follow three friends – Sarah, Elise and Clare – with each book being told in a 1st person perspective of one of the characters. It’s been fascinating writing a series and I’ve learned a lot so here are a few tips from my experiences:

 

When it comes to writing, I’m a bit of a pantser. I like to put fingers to keyboard and see where the characters take me. I’ve tried planning my books in a lot of detail but I’ve always ended up massively deviating from the plan because the characters develop differently or twists suddenly come to me while I’m driving or in the shower.

 

But, I still have an overall plan. I know the overall premise of each book, how they’re going to end, who the characters are, and the dilemmas I’m going to throw at them.

 

My personal view would be that you need this for any book you write, but I think it’s even more important for a series because it helps you work out whether each book in the series is strong enough to stand on its own, and whether you have the order of the series right.

 

 

Create a strong setting and capture the details

 

In my mind, what makes books a series is consistency of both characters and setting. It doesn’t mean that your cast of characters can’t grow or diminish, and it doesn’t mean that your characters can’t go to new settings but some consistency is key.

 

I created a North Yorkshire seaside town called Whitsborough Bay. It’s predominantly modeled on Scarborough where I live, but I wanted somewhere fictional so that I could change things. Searching for Steven starts in London but moves to Whitsborough Bay. Getting Over Gary (book 2) is purely set in Whitsborough Bay, but book 3, Dreaming About Daran, is mainly set in Leeds and Ireland. There are lots of links with, and visits to, Whitsborough Bay, though.

 

 

Quite early on, I started a spreadsheet so that I could capture the names of streets, pubs, cafés, shops etc. My memory isn’t good enough for me to remember all these little details, but I certainly didn’t want to confuse the reader by changing the names of places mid-series.

 

 

Write each book as though it’s a standalone novel

There will always be readers who pick up a book and don’t realise it’s part of a series, therefore reading it out of order. There will be readers who read the series in order but have significant gaps between reading each part and need a little memory refresh.

 

I’d therefore suggest that each book is written so that it can be read as a standalone novel. This is a careful balance as you need to have some summaries/back stories without having so much that those familiar with this information will be put off. From the reviews I’ve had which mention this point, I’ve thankfully managed to achieve this.

 

 

Write the whole series before releasing it … if you can

 

This is a tricky one. If a writer is looking to have a really long series or if they secure a publishing deal early on and are facing submission deadlines, this might not be possible but, if you can, I’d suggest writing it all before releasing it. Why? Because, as you progress in the series, you will come across scenarios that would work better if you’d been able to create a character/plant an idea earlier on.

 

I didn’t do this. I secured a publishing deal when I’d only written Searching for Steven and had half-written Getting Over Gary. Steven was actually released before I’d written any of Dreaming About Daran. I was lucky because there weren’t any major changes I’d have made if I’d finished the series first, but there were a few minor points here and there. None of them are significant enough to have stuck in my mind. If I hadn’t had an overall plan for the trilogy though, I’d have massively messed things up. I knew that Clare, the protagonist of book 3, had a secret about her past. At the time I wrote book 1, I wasn’t sure what Clare’s secret was, but I was able to set this up nicely in book 1, build it in book 2, then reveal it in book 3. If I’d gone beyond a third book, I suspect that there’d have been other details that I needed to set up right at the start which is why I’d suggest writing the whole series if you possibly can.

 

Of course, you may not know that you have a series on your hands which brings me onto my final point…

 

 

Sometimes a series doesn’t start out as a series

 

When I had the idea for Searching for Steven, it was meant to be a standalone book. I was so shocked that I had a fully-formed idea for a novel, and very aware of the huge task ahead of me in writing it, that I didn’t think beyond writing that one book.

 

In the book, Sarah finds an old cassette recording of a clairvoyant reading from when she was 18. Now aged 30, everything on the recording has come true except for one thing … she’s about to meet the man of her dreams and his name is Steven. Every protagonist needs a good friend to turn to but, in this case, I wanted Sarah to have two best friends: one who’d wholeheartedly believe the prophecy and push her into her search for Steven, and another who’d dismiss it as a pile of gibberish. As I developed the two friends, Elise and Clare, it became apparent that they had stories of their own to tell: big stories that couldn’t be confined to a sub-plot. So my trilogy was born.

 

 

And to finish…

 

Well, that’s the problem. I didn’t want to finish. I’d lived with my Whitsborough Bay setting and characters for about 13 years (it took me a decade on and off to write my first book) and, when the trilogy concluded, I didn’t want to let it go. I realised I didn’t have to, though. I’ve written 3 more books since then and they’re all set in Whitsborough Bay. Each features a new cast of characters but there are cameos from those who appear in the original trilogy. Fans of the trilogy will love spotting some old friends and those who are new to the books won’t think their presence is peculiar as there’s a reason why they are in the story.

 

In Searching for Steven, Sarah owns a florist’s shop on Castle Street. It’s a cobbled street full of independent shops and cafés, inspired by a combination of a street in Scarborough called Bar Street, and the wonderful cobbled streets in Whitby up the coast. My first full-length novel post-series, Bear With Me, is partly set in a teddy bear specialist retailer opposite Sarah’s shop and my two Christmas short novels both feature businesses on that street. As a result, I’ve had to draw myself a plan of the businesses in the street so that I can remember which business is next to/opposite which business before I trip myself up!

 

 

Jessica xx

Jessica's Links:

 

 

All her books are on her Amazon page    

 

 

Chat with her on Twitter  

 

 

Visit her website and blog     

 

The last weekend of the month has rolled round again and it is time for Kirsten to give us her monthly round-up of what has happened in her writing life these past few weeks. Over to you, Kirsten!

 

* * * *

 

 

Despatches from the Querying Trenches

October

The motto for this month’s missive is ‘be careful what you wish for’!

 

Two days after bemoaning the lack of response from agents in last month’s column, I received a rejection. It was from an American agent I had met though one of those twitter pitch contests. It was a very nice rejection and she had gone to the trouble of giving me feedback on what could be strengthened - she thinks there is too much dialogue - for which I am very grateful.

 

But a rejection nonetheless.

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I’m still waiting to hear back from the five UK agents who have the full but, of course, they currently have their hands full with the Frankfurt Book Fair so I think I will need to bite my nails a while longer. While I wait, I have sent the manuscript to the wonderful Alison May for a critique. (Alison offered a very generous full manuscript critique in the wonderful Authors for Grenfell initiative and I was one of the successful bidders.)

 

Meanwhile, it’s back to basics for me. I started writing my novel because I had a story I was burning to tell and then I fell in love with the whole process of crafting a novel. Recently I’ve been chasing publication - which is quite a different kettle of fish altogether. I’d still love to be published - and I actually enjoy the submissions process - but it can be quite relentless and all-consuming as many of you know. So, this month I’ve decided to go back to having fun with my writing.

 

 

I’m a member of Reading Writers, a fabulous bunch of funny, supportive and wise novelists, poets, playwrights, journalists and short story writers – some published, some not (yet). I really love their meetings but I’d always decided I was too busy to enter their competitions. I was too busy chasing publication to stop, take a breath and try something different. This month I entered a short story called Sunday Lunch into their Autumn Competition and it came second. I know!! Believe me, it’s been such a boost. My first writing award and it feels fantastic.

 

 

The other thing I’ve decided to do is to have a bash at NaNoWriMo starting next week. This will be a first for me and I am really excited. I am going to go hell for leather and try to finish the first draft of my second novel which currently stands at 23k words. To be honest, if I even get to 50k, I will be thrilled. I’m really up for this. Who’s going to join me? I’m writing as Curly Wurly and I would love to buddy up.

 

So that’s a very quick round up of my October writing life. In ‘real life’, I’ve been working and accompanying my son on uni visits. I LOVE uni visits … I really want to enrol at them all (but maybe not to do computer science …)

 

What have you guys been up to this month?