Wednesday, 29 October 2014

My Top Ten Blog Posts

This week, my blog got its 100,000th view!  I know there are hundreds of blogs that get a hundred times that, but I'm pleased with it, I thought it was a good time to do a rundown of my most popular posts since I started it, in March 2012.  

I never meant to start a blog, but I sometimes used to write articles to post on Facebook ~ people kept saying that writers need blogs, so I started off by just copy-and-pasting the Facebook ones, then thinking, what now?

Since then, I've realised what an excellent thing a blog is.  Often little ideas pop into my head about something that would be amusing to do; I used to just do them anyway, as word docs, and send them to friends; they'd have an audience of about ten...

Here they are, then, in reverse order!

Just click the title to get to the post...

10.  Inching its way in at number ten, a post I wrote in February 2013, about what really happens when you get old.  976 people wanted to know!


9.  A more recent one, from July this year - I do apologise to those out of its 1062 readers who took it seriously! I am delighted to say romcom writers Jill Mansell, Samantha Tonge and Lizzie Lamb all found it amusing....

See How to WRITE A ROMCOM in one easy lesson!

8.  This was a surprising (but pleasing) find - 1085 people wanted to read about my forthcoming book Kings and Queens, when I first wrote about it in April this year!


7.  Will you be joining the 1277 who wanted to know which is....
 The GRAMMATICAL ERROR that even the most intelligent people make ??

6.  On the nostalgia theme at number 6 - in July 2013 I wrote a post about the cosmetics of my youth.  So many people identified with this; 1504 read it.

See Black nail polish, Charlie perfume....

5.  Into the top 5!  This is actually three posts; links to the two others are provided at the beginning of this one.  I was doing the ironing one morning and thinking how amusing it would be to see people like JK Rowling, Jackie Collins and the woman who wrote 50 Shades trying to get their books known on Twitter.  Then I thought about Kerouac, Jerome K Jerome, Bill Shakespeare.... here's the result!  Total of 2292 views, written in summer 2013

See If the literary greats were self-published....

4.  At number 4, a guest post!  In April 2013 Julia explained why you need a proofreader.... it's a good one, written when she was just starting up on her own.  Since then she has gained a reputation for being one of the best, and speaking out against the 'cowboys' who waste writers' money by not doing their job properly. 3154 views.

See  Why do you need a proofreader?

3.  WHY has this one had so many views?  Don't get it.  3237 of them since March 2013.  I imagine it might be because these blog award things are a chain, and get views via other blogs.  Oh well, it shows they work, anyway! See my contribution to The Liebster Blog Award

2.  This one is still being passed around now ~ since May 2013, 3492 people have wanted to know...
How do you mend a broken heart?  

1.  ....and here it is.....the winner!  Since October 2012, no less than 5602 people have wanted to know some.....

Thus, I can safely conclude that my average blog reader is an intelligent woman of a certain age, who reads a lot, is maybe a writer too, still believes in true love but is a bit cynical about relationships...  oh yeah, that's me, isn't it??!!

Sunday, 26 October 2014

So, you're not just a little square head????

Yesterday I did something I haven't done very often in my life, and which I find exciting yet just a tiny bit daunting...

I could just leave it there and let you guess, but I won't!  Here is what I did - I met up with an online friend.  This time it was.... Carol Hedges!  For anyone who doesn't know her, Carol is a fellow writer I first met on Twitter a couple of years ago

The meet was Carol's suggestion; she lives in Hertfordshire and me in Tyne and Wear, so it would have been unlikely ever to happen had Carol's husband not wanted to see Watford (not Arsenal...!) playing Middlesborough (I always think Carol's BH - beloved husband - is called Bernard, though he's actually not at all - you know how you get these things in your head?  No?  Oh, okay, it's just me, then....).

Because of traffic problems, Carol was an hour late, which meant that I'd spent the time wandering around the Toon (Newcastle); the inclement weather turned my smooth and glamorous hair into an explosion in a mattress factory, about which I only complained ten times during the afternoon.  We met in a restaurant....

.... where I was delighted to discover that, like me, Carol isn't a 'foodie', will eat what is put in front of her and is more interested in vino and chatting than gastric delights.  We both had a starter consisting of smoked salmon, rocket and capers, loads of wine (I admit to having the lion's share, which is fair enough as I am a Leo) (good excuse, huh?), and that was all!  Anyway, we were talking at such a rate that a larger meal wouldn't have stood a chance.

The big question - were we as we'd imagined we would be?  Answer - yes and no! Carol thought I would be loud and quite caustic, but I'm actually fairly mild in company, unless I've known people for years, maybe quieter than my online presence suggests.  I thought Carol would be very nice and warm (which she IS!) and a sort of wise sage, but she was more like an excitable kitten!!!! More extrovert than I had imagined.  Dead good fun and interesting, which is what I had expected.  We had LOADS to talk about, and I think we'll definitely need a 'round two' to say all the stuff that we didn't get to say in the three and a half hours we spent together.

We had a token wander down to the quayside, because you can't visit the Toon without seeing the Tyne Bridge - and here is a picture of Carol with The Sage, Gateshead, behind her!

We also had coffee in a nice little cafe where a chap was playing guitar, which is just the sort of thing you want to chance upon.  

.... and when the man we shall call Bernard came to pick Carol up, they very kindly drove me all the way home - I live about 8 miles outside Newcastle. It seemed weird to have them drop me outside my house - no, Carol, you're supposed to be on my computer screen, not outside my house!! I pointed up to the window where I sit and write and tweet....  and here I am at my desk!  This photo was taken before I went to meet Carol - when my hair still looked nice! (Look, I know I'm a bit obsessive about my hair.  It's a Leo thing, all right??)

It was a fine afternoon, and Carol tells me that next time Watford are playing Middlesborough she will come up again - hopefully that time we can meet up with Jon Fletcher/Gardener too!  

I'm thinking of starting a Facebook page for pictures of writers meeting writers, but I don't suppose I will ever find the time... maybe when I've finished the current novel.

Cheersmy new real life friend!

ps ~ Twitter friend @WillowCWinsham just said to me that some of her best real life friends started as online ones.  Quick think - it's probably because you get to know each other first in the best possible way - by sharing thoughts, witticisms, experiences, preferences etc, without being distracted by others, getting pissed, prejudices over looks, etc.  So you already know that person is going to be on your wavelenghth ~ half the 'getting to know you' stuff is already done....

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Campaigning for the 36 hour day.....

Recently, I've read a few blog posts about etiquette on Twitter and in other aspects of our online lives.  

(nb: My Twitter community is based much around the world of writers, book bloggers, avid readers and moderately avid readers)

In an ideal world, all self published authors would have time to keep in touch with as many of our regular readers as possible. A priority should also be to support the wonderful book bloggers who give their time, free of charge, to help us promote our work, something I think is very important. 

As well as the book blogs, though, we see interesting posts by other authors, and want to comment on them, too, and share them around.  We want to look at their books, reading and reviewing the ones that interest us.  We want to make new contacts, be active on Goodreads, keep up our Facebook author pages, never ignore a Twitter message or an email.  We'd also like to help promote books we think are fab, reciprocate good turns done to us, and, of course, retweet back the people who retweet us (apart from those who do all their retweeting via @SomeCrapApp, of course!!).  We want to just chat to nice people who are nothing to do with the writing world, too, because writing is not all we are, right??? Yes, yes - we should do and want to do all these things!

I don't have a day job.  I don't have children.  I have a husband who doesn't make too many demands on my time, and who thinks my writing is more important than the housework.  I have very little social life - BUT!! I still find it hard to keep up with everything I 'should' be doing, although I do actually want to do most of it. I've just come back from a few days away, and have spent many hours catching up with emails, tweeting, retweeting, Goodreads fiddling about, blog reading, thanking people, following back Twitter follows - and I haven't even LOOKED at Facebook!  My plan has been to do all this today so that tomorrow I can go back to my current novel, which has been drumming its fingers and saying 'where the hell have you got to?' for the last six days.

Okay.  Look.  I try to support the blogs who feature me as much as possible. I do lots of retweets every day, but (I hope) not enough to annoy my followers, I keep up with emails, I - oh, you know.  I do as much as I can, while still leaving myself time to write, and occasionally push the hoover round and actually watch a bit of telly with my husband from about 9 pm onwards. I plan to read 2 indie books per month, but for the past two months it hasn't happened - Rose, it's not that I don't like your book, I just haven't had the time to get past 15%!  That's another thing; I've had to do quite a lot of research reading for the novel I'm currently writing, and much of my time has been taken up with that.

What I want to know is this: how on earth do people who try to do all this, AND have full or part time jobs, and children, ever find the time to write a novel to promote in the first place???? I sit back in awe of anyone who manages it!

I need 36 hours in the day, so what must it be like for them?

I suppose I just want to say, if someone doesn't RT you back, or hasn't answered your email yet, or hasn't reviewed your book when they said they would, cut them a bit of slack.  They may not be terminally rude (you soon suss out the people who are); they may just be very, very busy.

Okay, I know, I could have used the 20 minutes it took to write this post to do some retweets, instead.....

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

It's just like real life!!!!

I was just reading this excellent post by Paula Nancarrow about online networking - it's very interesting, and it's HERE - and as I did so it occurred to me that we form relationships online in the same way we do in real life, because our social selves remain as they are whether communicating in a virtual or physical way.  The patterns exist similarly.

Not that many years ago, before I moved 250 miles away from everyone I know, I had a very lively social life.  I knew loads of people in loads of different places, I went out a lot and 'interacted' all over the place - you know, just like we do on Twitter - and, just like with all the thousands of Twitter followers, those social relationships varied from a brief occasional nod, to great friendships. 

1999, I think.  Now, I just go on Twitter

There were the people whose names I knew but I never spoke to - they're like the Twitter followers with whom you never interact, though you might see their faces/names occasionally.  The people I met once in a pub or at a party, and never met again - like those 'Tweeps' who thank you for following them, then you make some comment about each other's bio, and that's the last of it. Those I'd wave to across the road (the Tweeps I might RT or congratulate on a great review), those I'd chat to now again if I bumped into them in a pub (those nice little 'passing the time of day' conversations you have on Twitter!), the friends of friends I'd get to know because of our mutual acquaintance but never particularly connected with myself (EXACTLY the same as Twitter!), the many, many people I knew and liked (my larger network), and the smaller amount of people I really clicked with - Phil, Joel, Carol, Val, Peter, Geoff, Jackie, Mary, John, Rosie, Ali, Mark, Emma, Jen, Jenny etc, I am sure we would get on just fine in the real world too!

Me and various chums, in 2003

There are those with whom you have a particular interest in common - on Twitter, with me, it might be Aerosmith, or Tudor history, or TV programmes like Nashville, Homeland, 24, Game of Thrones; there are the people with whom you have a little flirtatious banter, and those you know will always make you laugh.  There are those you go to for advice, those you consider rude (Block!), or whose opinions you disagree with so much you have to stop yourself tweeting back (or walk out of the pub!).

I wrote an article about the different Twitter types, ages ago; it's HERE if you haven't already read it, and would like to.

Twitter, Facebook, whatever - they're not advertising forums, they're communities, just like the real life ones, and the same rules apply, too. Politeness costs nothing, and what you give in you get back - usually.  There are many books about how best to use Twitter (an excellent one for writers is Twitter for Writers by Rayne Hall, HERE), but I think to sum it all up is that the way to function best within this online life is to think of it as you would any other community, and realise that friendships and associations are formed in the same way.

In real life conversations ramble on, too, so I'll stop this one now, before I get away from the original purpose of this post!

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Sample Sunday, from Last Child

From my work in progress, Last Child, the sequel to Kings and QueensHERE

Robert bemoans his wife Amy's celebrity chef obsession, and the fact that he loves another....

When I got home that night, we ate the usual amazing dinner.  My wife doesn’t work, so spends her days emulating the great works of her heroes: Nigella, Tony and Giorgio, Jamie, et al, which is great, some of the time, but I do get a bit fed up with everything we eat having to be ‘deconstructed’ or ‘pan fried’ and drizzled with a caramelised cranberry jus, or whatever.  When she describes something as ‘pan fried’ I want to kill her.  It’s so moronic; I mean, what else would you fry something in, except a pan?  Your shoe?  And I wish she wouldn’t produce this restaurant style fare every single bloody night.  Sometimes you just want ham, egg and chips, you know?
When I ask her what’s for dinner she reels the menu off like she’s on Masterchef.
“What’s for dinner, dear?”
“Filet of Madagascan monkfish with goji berry gnocchi, saffron fondant potatoes and pan fried reindeer bollocks tossed in camel’s jism.” 
I reckon I could give her that, too, and she’d rave over it, as long as I called the camel’s jism a ‘coulis’. 
The only meal Erin ever made me was cheese on toast and Heinz tomato soup. 
After I’d eaten the pan fried reindeer bollocks, I sprawled out on the sofa in front of the television pretending to watch something about spies in Warsaw (I think it might have actually been called Spies of Warsaw), and wondered how many people were married, whilst being secretly in love with someone else.

Out around the beginning of 2015, all being well!

Saturday, 13 September 2014

It's all about the people....

I'm deeply engrossed in the first draft of my latest novel, Last Child, which is the sequel to my modern day Tudor tale Kings and Queens.  When I am screen-tired with sandpaper eyes, and my RSI-suffering right arm is shouting "C'mon, gimme a break!", I curl up in bed with my husband and watch stuff like Homeland. Boardwalk Empire. 24. Sons Of Anarchy. The Wire. The Americans. Ray Donovan. The Killing....  I could go on! Suffice to say I'm a Netflix etc addict.

My books are very 'character driven', and I've always been (more than) delighted to read in reviews about how the characters really come alive to readers - phew!  Since I've been living in Last Child (you know, when I'm not writing it I'm thinking about it), and spending my evenings with Homeland, I've realised how much I'm learning from watching first rate TV drama.  The point I'm about to make might seem like stating the bleeding obvious, but might also be a help to other writers.

The plot doesn't make the characters.  The characters make the plot.  Without the characters, the plot is nothing.

You can stick in as many vampires and historical accuracies and thrilling spy chases as you like, but they won't work if the readers don't care about the woman who's being lured by the vampire/locked in the dungeon/chased on the speedboat. It's not the plots themselves that we care about, it's the motivations/emotions of the characters.

Think about it.  Think about why you love your favourite TV series.  

24 is so endlessly absorbing because we love Jack Bauer. We want things to work out for him because of all he's been through, starting with the murder of his wife in series 1 (fellow Jack lovers might be interested in my top 20 characters in 24 HERE and my top 11 most irritating HERE ).  Yes, the plots are brilliant, the acting and direction is marvellous, but without us caring about Jack (and Chloe), it would be just another forgettable action thriller.

Stick with me while I continue, especially if you haven't watched Homeland. Last night I watched the last of series 3, in which curiously sexy is-he-a-bad-guy-or-not Nick Brody was finally killed. Yes, I cried, and I don't want to watch series 4. I think the producers (um, Clare Danes?!) have made a big mistake. The main drive of the show has always been Carrie's love for Brody, and I don't just think that because I'm a GIRL, as my husband says! Watching it last night, I think I experienced every moment of her emptiness now that he's gone, because the two of them were so spectacularly well portrayed.  I can't see that she will have the impetus to do the things she does that make the plot lines so good, without him to fight for.  Homeland is not so much about the war on terrorism as it is about Carrie's relationship with Brody (okay, and the complicated one with Saul). All the shitty government cover-ups just provide a setting for the continuing story of Carrie, Brody and Saul. You could take the story of Carrie and Brody (and the actors, preferably!) and put them in 300AD Rome, and it would still work. But without the chemistry between those two, the show becomes something completely different, and whereas I am sure it will still be very good, it won't be so compelling.

To illustrate my point further, who used to watch Dallas?  Remember Bobby Ewing's return in the shower?  The producers had to bring Bobby back because the show wasn't working without him, and not just because he was the romantic fantasy of 5 million housewives.  The saga was about the sibling rivalry between him and JR, the love/hate thing between JR and Swellan, and the painful tearing and keeping apart (and very occasionally coming together) of Bobby and Pam.  All the other storylines, all the oil industry machinations and secondary family wrangles, were just vehicles to prolong these themes.  

If the characters don't work, even the most intricately thought out plot goes flat. 

If you were a Dallas fan, too, you will have seen the finale in which a devil showed JR what life would have been like if he had never existed.  A fascinating idea for the finale, but all those stories sure as hell wouldn't have made a TV serial.  Getting rid of Brody in Homeland is a bit like there being no JR in Dallas.  The plots come second, even though we don't realise it.

It's the same in books. Jackie Collins' 'Chances' is one of my favourite books because I fell in love with Gino Santangelo - and need I mention Heathcliffe? For me, Game Of Thrones was never quite so good after Ned Stark was killed off, though Tyrion Lannister does almost make up for it. Ned was such a strong character, with all that honour and attachment to Winterfell and The North.  It was the battle between his priniciples and those of the Lannisters that made the first book so powerful. 

The series Nashville (the 21st century Dallas, I think!) is terrific, but aside from all the wonderful music and the fascinating insights into the music industry, we love it most of all because of the 'are they ever going to be together' thing going on between Rayna and this gorgeous hunk of masculinity* 

Yes, yes, okay, that was just an excuse for a picture of Deacon!  The Rayna and Deacon storyline is the same as the Carrie and Brody, the Bobby and Pam - it's those tiny moments of bliss when they finally get together that provide some of the highlights of the series, and anyone who has ever got together or reconciled with someone they're crazy in love with knows how fab that is - okay, so your guy might not have been Damian Lewis (dammit!), your girl might not have been the pre-plastic surgery Victoria Principal, but it's nearly as good!

I was asked in an author interview on a blog the other day which of my characters I'd most enjoyed writing, and my initial answer was that I enjoyed all of them, because if I didn't love them and adore writing about them, it would mean that they didn't work.  Here's another thing - characters doesn't come alive because you've written down an intricate bio and list of characteristics in your notes; they do so because they're alive in your head.  If you're finding him or her hard to write, it might be because he or she isn't working.   Something to bear in mind - I keep an eye on it all the time.  

My idea for Last Child was that the main theme would be the relationship between two particular characters, but it's turned out to be a different relationship that's really got me.  I don't buy into all this 'oh, the characters write their own story, they take me off down roads I didn't mean to go down' bollocks, either, as if it's some mystical process that only Writers understand (note the capital 'w'); the story comes from my head and my fingers on the laptop keys. My imagination has simply conjured up a powerful relationship I hadn't expected to grab me so much, and the one I intended to work so well just didn't, that's all.  So I've re-thought the focus of the whole thing.  Be aware: if the character/relationship doesn't work, your story will be forgettable.

If you're writing a series (as so many are doing these days), remember that the readers need to truly believe in the characters, fall in love with them, fancy them, want to take care of them, be extremely irritated by them, want to see them fail, want to see them die a painful death, anything, or they won't read part two, no matter how many spaceships and magic wands and intricate government conspiracies and millionaire mansions you include.

My husband thinks that maybe Brody isn't really dead, maybe he was cut down before he took his last breath, maybe being kept alive somewhere - I live in hope!!!

Perhaps this guy knows....

*(a totally irrelevant ps: I would like to add that my sister and I were just discussing Nashville and the on-off relationship between Rayna and Deacon.  In Julia's words: "As if you could ever marry anyone else if Deacon was an option - who cares if he's an alcoholic, let him sleep it off in the morning!")

Sunday, 31 August 2014

A quick guide to Twitter bios....

Every couple of days I click on my Twitter followers to check out new ones and follow back those I'm interested in.  I'm guessing you do the same.  But how do you decided whether to follow back or not?  'Social media expert', 'chocaholic', 'loving life' - what do those bio details really mean? (ps, this is just a bit of fun....!)

Just 'Author' and nothing else
Doesn't really want to do Twitter but someone told him he ought to.  Your mutual follow will probably be your only interaction; he's off writing, somewhere.  

'Author and daydreamer'
Half way through writing a fantasy novel.  Will post tweets asking how to motivate oneself.

'Fuelled by coffee'
Either a) wants to give impression that he/she spends long hours tearing hair out over manuscript/other creative endeavour or b) is busy mum/office worker.

Expresses liking for wine and/or chocolate
Often a chick lit/romcom author and/or reader.  Friendly, and will be keen to interact on girly/domestic matters. Wishes to appeal to other chick lit/romance readers/authors.

Bio is over-used 'profound' quote ('dance as though no-one is watching', 'be the change you want to see in the world', etc)
Doesn't actually live by any of these quotes, and otherwise has very little to say.  Possibly a spam profile.

Divides up | very important | sounding interests and | qualifications with | vertical lines
Will not interact, but will just post links to own and other posts about whatever very | important and | impressive things | are stated in bio.

'All round nice guy'
Usually is!

'Eclectic Tastes'
Read a vampire book once and quite liked it. Watches the odd 'quirky' film as well as dramas featuring John Hannah/Bill Nighy.  Has tried Greek food. Subconsciously, hopes use of word 'eclectic' will impress.

'Aspiring author'
May request you read their stuff on Wattpad.  

'Debut author'
Usually friendly and keen to share stuff.

'Bestselling author'
Don't feel intimidated.  The 'bestselling' bit may not be absolutely true.  Those who truly are (ie the ones you've heard of) play themselves down on their bios (nothing to prove). May be too important to interact with you.

'Critically acclaimed author'
Writes novels with lots of clever words in them and has some corking reviews from other critically acclaimed authors/literary sites.  Will post links to articles about state of publishing industry.  Tweets usually amusing/clever.

'Avid reader.  Book Blogger'
If you're a writer, you want to follow these chaps. And treat them with respect!

Bio is articulate but includes swear words
Has not grown out of need to shock parents.  May challenge you to justify your lighthearted quips or be rude to you/unfollow you if you seem too mainstream

'Book Marketing Expert'
Will say hello/retweet you almost immediately, but once they realise you do not want to buy their services, you will never hear from them again.

If they even have to find a clever word for knocking back the Blossom Hill, imagine what their tweets are going to be like.... even if this is written with humour, proceed cautiously.

'#Follow back  #Retweeter #TeamWhatever'
Do not follow back.  Block if necessary; will send you spam

Bio invites you to check out website/buy product, thus: 'you can buy my book here (link)' or requests that you 'like' their Facebook page
Will send auto DM with annoying message, and auto 'thanks for follow, buy stuff from me now' tweets.  Will never interact or be interested in anything you have to say.  Thinks Twitter is free advertising site.

'Just here to have fun!'
Will comment in 'wacky' fashion on your tweets... 

'Thought Leader'
Bit of a twat

See 'thought leader'

Stay at home mum who flogs things on ebay/makes own jewellery.  Worryingly perky.

You should always follow these back because they post nice pictures

A claim to be any sort of 'guru', unless obviously being funny
Avoid like the plague (thank you, Paula!)

'SEO. Founder & CEO of (initials). Award Winning HRA Syndicated Educator. CNN. Speaker. Motivational Learning Consultant. SEOCNN'
No, I don't haven't got a clue what they do, either

Bio in different language from the one you speak
And the point is?

Expresses liking for vodka/whisky
Probably quite good fun

Bio is the description of a book
Person running profile will be interested only in selling you this book.  Only interaction will be to tag you in tweets suggesting you buy it/retweet it/try to get all your friends to buy/retweet it.

'Following God's plan'
Will unfollow you as soon as you mention anything to do with knickers, vampires or alcohol, anyway.

'Single, nice guy, just want to be friends'
...or similar.  If accompanied by badly taken selfie (the sort that makes their neck and chin look huge, with the bathroom as a background), will probably just tweet 'hello' or 'how are you' once a week. You can actually feel them sitting there at their computer waiting for you to reply.  Usually harmless, sometimes pleasant, but be careful just in case.

'I am lovely girls'
Porn site from a third world country

and lastly...
No bio at all
...can mean one of the following:
a) Spam profile
b) Person who has only registered half-heartedly and will never use site
c) Person who just doesn't know what to put on bio yet - what the hell, if they look nice, follow them back anyway!

I'm sure you can think of more... okay, and I even called myself 'award-winning' once, though admittedly I changed it after half a day as it made me feel silly, and I believe I used to have my extreme coffee consumption expressed, too.... I rest my case!