Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Crits and Chocolate Biscuits

Every writer needs feedback. After all, of no-one is going to read your work, why bother writing in the first place? Writers write to be read. Before we unleash our work(which has been a long labour of love, lets face it) to a world full of eager readers (well, wishing doesn't harm anyone) it is best to have a critical eye passed over your writing. Reading aloud to your cat doesn't really cut the mustard,because no matter how clever they are and how attentive, they don't have the skills. Honest, I know.
Receiving feedback can be a very scary time for a writer, we've slaved, slogged and slavered over a page of flash, a short story or even a tome of a novel and we want it to be right. It's an essential part of the process, and without it our writing cannot develop or grow and that goes for the big bang authors as well. 
So writers need to find somewhere safe to obtain feedback whilst providing honest and constructive information about the reading experience. There are many places to go and it's a very individual choice. Here are a few I have used:

  • Writing Groups - traditional and online (I'm in debt to my own online writing group, Writers Abroad)
  • Online Critique Groups - these can be genre specific e.g. Historical Fiction or very general like Ladies Who Critique and Critique Circle, there are loads
  • Beta Reading Groups - again a plethora can be found just googling or searching on Facebook
  • Online Writing Communities - groups of writers and readers together in a social community connecting through words, e.g. Wattpad
  • Writing Buddies - you may be fortunate to have made friends with another author where you can agree to swap crits
Most of these places require you to participate in providing feedback as well as receiving, which is another fab way to develop your writing. 
And the biscuits? Well every writer needs chocolate, don't they?

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Don't Judge a Book by its Cover?

Producing a book is not just about writing a story, as many of you know. That is only a small part of the many processes that take place, albeit a very important one. When you choose to self publish your book, you can add many more 'things to do' to what seems a never ending list. Designing a book cover is one of them. Even if you employ someone with the skills to do this you will still have to think about what you want the cover to convey to a potential reader. 

For me, covers are very important. I will choose a book purely by what I see on the front, without reading the blurb. (I used to read the last line *Shock!Horror!* until my husband convinced me it wasn't a good thing to do). 
For The Duke's Shadow, I did pay someone to produce the end result, because I felt overwhelmed with getting my debut novel out. I spend a long time looking for images and settings which I thought would a) say something about the overall theme of the novel, and b) entice the reader to look inside. And as you can see, it was well worth the money.

I'm planning to release 'The Good[Expat}Life on Wattpad as a serial, as I want to gather some feedback before I publish it in October. I still need a cover and this time I've created a simple cover myself in Publisher using a pencil caricature of Penny and George (the two main characters) played about with colours and fonts and this is the result.

It sounds easy, but actually it has taken me probably two maybe three days in total to get to this stage. But I've enjoyed using a different creative process and, for me anyway, it does what it says on the tin. The jury is out and I still believe that you have to have a good story, however slick the cover may be. What do you think?

Until Later, 

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Meet George from The Good{Expat}Life

1. What is your real, birth name?  George Horatio Nelson – I know, my mother thought it would stand me in good stead… how wrong can someone be? Don’t tell Penny that I've revealed my middle name, will you?
2. Do you have a nickname? Well, not really. Penny calls me lots of things, especially when she’s angry. Mostly she refers to me as l’uomochifa the man who does, or who will do as Penny reminds me. She’s very organised.
3. What do you look like? One woman where I worked thought I looked like George Clooney. No, honest she did! Penny said that the resemblance stopped with the name George… but I know she’s teasing me.  
4. How do you dress most of the time? Well, it depends what I’m doing. If I’m strimming (which I do a lot) it’s usually a pair of thin cotton trousers with an elastic waist (cheap buy from the supermarket), an old white t shirt usually with remnants of the last strim, an old cut sock on my arm (the strimmer motor burns it) and a hat (or if I’ve forgotten it, a clean pair of underpants – much to Penny’s disgust.)
5. How do you "dress up?"  Erm, I wear a shirt usually on the top half. Penny likes me in pastels, pink and lilac.
6. How do you "dress down?"  Erm, shorts usually (isn’t that what all men wear “down” or trousers?) too early in the year say our Italian neighbours, they are still in their puffa jackets until mid-July.
7. What do you wear when you go to sleep?  Nothin’ usually, the odd cat around my neck, who doesn’t stay there long. I like ‘skin to skin’ but Penny insists on wearing some kind of nightwear. Just in case. Of intruders or such like. So she says…
8. Do you wear any jewellery?  My wedding ring. I did try an ear stud many years ago, but Penny was not impressed. I thought it was very ‘George Michael’.
9. In your opinion, what is your best feature?
  Definitely not my hair. Definitely Penny.
10. What's your real birth date?  I’m 59 years young. I’m sure you can work it out. We have a big double 0 birthday next year. Penny wants to ignore it, but it’s time for a celebration don’t you think? Perhaps I can persuade with a list. She loves lists.
11. Where do you live?  In a very small house with very large grounds. Large enough to hide from Penny and her lists. (I do love her tho’ and she does get things done… with my help of course).
12. Do you own a car?  Yup. But don’t want to talk about the front wing. Penny!
13. What is your most prized mundane possession?  My strimmer of course. Used to use a hand scythe and I still have it. Its handle was made by Pietro, the old guy who lived here. He made all his tools and I have them all.
14. What one word best describes you? Obedient?  

Until Later, 

Monday, 30 June 2014

Birthday Sway Bag - Blog Hop

I've been asked by Pam Burkes, who writes novels together with her sister and are known as The Chicklit Sisters, to take part in this fun blog hop. I can thoroughly recommend their books, they are light, fun and so true to life: How to Survive Your Sisters, was particularly so as I am one of three!

I have to choose a number of favourite or desired items I'd put in a swag bag for a significant birthday including: a book, beauty product, snack food, music album and 'my choice'. So here we go...

Book: I have struggle to name only one book that I would take so I've settle for two. The Time Travellers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, because it is such a fantastic read and Lorna Doone  by R D Blackmore, a book I've read several time since I was about eleven and never tired of the romance.

Beauty Product: As I rarely buy beauty products I would really like a luxury hamper full of luxurious body creams and unctions (to protect me from the results of weather and age), a nail care set (gardening and nails do not live well together) and a large tub of hair gel (I'm wearing my hair very short as it's easy to manage, but need to make it look a bit more 'funky'). As a hamper would be too large to fit in the bag, a voucher for one would do nicely.

Snack Food: I'm a very big fan of Maltesers but can't get them over here in Italy, so definitely a bag (or two). To balance this into a healthy snack food, I'd sneak in a tub of home-made hummus and some veggie sticks.

Music Album: Now, I don't like listening to one album full of songs by the same artist so it would definitely have to be an MP3 player (or whatever modern equivalent) with a bit of: John Legend, Jake Bugg, Caro Emerald, the Puppini Sisters, Paolo Nutini and a bit of classical.

And Finally, my own choice. Now this is not difficult. A new posh journal, preferrably hard backed A4 with a pretty cover and fresh, lined paper. And an instrument to write with, a fountain pen. Perhaps a Mont Blanc? This one is particularly pretty...
So that's my swag bag full to the brim! 

I've tagged a fellow WA member, Angela Williams, to share her swag bag on Monday 7 July. Angela regular blogs over at her site the Amsterdam Oriole.

Until Later,

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Meet Penny from The Good{Expat}Life

Last week I introduced one of the projects I’m working on. Today I've interviewed one half of the two characters, Penny.

1. What is your real, birth name? What name do you use? My father was so disappointed that I wasn't a boy he insisted I was called Phyllis and he could shorten it to Phyl. *sigh* I blame my father for a lot of things, my love of lists, my total non-interest in politics and for wanting me to wear the trousers. I've been known as Penny since the day I was teased at school about having a boy’s name.

2. Do you have a nickname? What is it, and where did you get it? George loves to call me poppet. Usually when he’s done something wrong and he’s trying to butter me up, but it never works. He sings this song about being a poppet and wishing I was small enough to put in his pocket. I know, he’s special… well he has special needs anyway.

3. What do you look like? George would say that I look like Goldie Hawn and every time I look in the mirror I close my eyes and picture myself with long blond locks, large eyes and a smile to die for. Instead I probably more resemble Mrs Brown. But George says I put myself down and who am I to argue?

4. How do you dress most of the time? I’m still wearing clothes that we bought in the UK and all of the power shoulder jackets, smart shirts and skirts that are impossible to garden in have been shredded for one use or another. Usually a pair of shorts (an old pair of George’s that are fraying at the edge) and a grubby t-shirt. Italian clothes are made for much more ‘petite’ figures. As George says I have ‘big bones’. 

5. How do you "dress up?" See Answer to Question 4

6. How do you "dress down?" See Answer to Question 4

7. What do you wear when you go to sleep? See Answer to Question 4 but replace the shorts with boxers.

8. Do you wear any jewelry? What is jewelry? I wear a copper bracelet but it usually turns my skin green. Great for aching fingers tho'.

9. In your opinion, what is your best feature? My big feet, they ensure that I don’t topple over. I’m tall and would look stupid if I had small feet. My father, however, used to sing ‘Can’t love ya cos your feets too big’. See what I mean?

10. What's your real birth date? 29 February So I’m at least a quarter of the age I should be. Is that right? Never was good with maths…

11. Where do you live? In a small (very tiny) casa shared with two dogs, nine cats, a couple of chickens and the odd (tailess) lizard, courtesy of the cats.

12. Do you own a car? Erm, I think it’s silver, quite large and has a few dents in the front wing. That was not a good day, George was most cross but how is one supposed to guess where a concrete post that can’t be seen really is?

13. What is your most prized mundane possession? Why do you value it so much? A very battered Filofax from my days as a proper employed ‘executive’. I know… you wouldn't believe it would you? But it’s handy for keeping lists in. Have I told you I love lists? George on the other hand…

14. What one word best describes you? Tolerant (as long as things are done my way)

Next week we'll talk to George...

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The Good (Expat) Life

The Good {expat}Life is one of the projects I'm working on at the moment. It's a humorous contemporary story about Penny and George who have to make a choice between their life in England and their retirement plan in Italy when their business falls flat on its face. They can't afford to keep both and they bravely decide on new beginnings, helped by best friends Daphne and Roger. 

To say that the story is loosely based on the truth is a bit of an understatement, Penny and George live out some of the experiences and situations we may have endured since moving to Italy almost seven years ago. And I can say that I do identify with Penny, though I don't think I'm quite as tough on Simon. He, of course may beg to differ. All the characters are based on a mish-mash of people, a trait here, a habit there and a splash of physical features and abracadabra! So to all the friends (and others) that I have met here, I can put hand on heart and say I defy them to identify with one of the characters. What they may see is a hint of others they know, but one rule of writing is never to use a real person. So apologies, but if you want to audition for a role in the TV sitcom, happy for you to apply.  

Most people, those who don't live abroad, have a very rose tinted vision of people like us who have moved away from our natural home. Mainly they think that we have a swimming pool - ha! First we couldn't afford the maintenance, never mind the installation. And our land slopes downwards, a little tricky unless we were going to install a water ride. And, apparently, we sit on our terraces, sipping Prosecco until the sun goes down after a day at the beach basking in the sun. Well, the odd day may be spent like that, but more often than not we're growing and picking vegetables (cheaper), strimming (initially with two old hand scythes that were left here along with a number of other hand-made tools) the two acres of field-like land that is loosely called our 'garden' and feeding an array of abandoned animali that we've adopted. 
But like Penny and George, we wouldn't swap it for the world.

More about P & G later...

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

To Tweet or Not To Tweet

As writers, and particularly if we enter the world of self publishing, we are told that a presence on social media sites is essential. We need to market our stuff, bare our souls and shout about how great we are. Not so hard, right? Given the number of social media resources, it should be a breeze.

I find it really difficult. I start of with good intentions; but soon fall from the path of good social media. I start to blog daily, the it falls to weekly, then sporadically. 

I visit Facebook far too often and get distracted by posts wanting a puppy or kitten saving, or reading about jolly jaunts, gaze longingly at pictures of my grandchildren in the UK, keeping up with what to plant in the orto (veggie garden) or how to rid the lettuce of slugs and bugs. Then there are the writing sites, with advice on all areas of writing, books to buy - ever so easy with a kindle, just a click away!- and updates from writing friends. That's half a morning gone in a blink of any eye and I still haven't posted anything. 

I do have a Twitter account and read recently that you can schedule 'tweets' ( and as they are short posts, I thought maybe I could manage that. And there aren't any pictures to distract my eye. So I made a plan of subject areas I can tweet on a daily basis, and  just spent an hour on Tweetdeck, writing tweets for the next few days. That was of course, after my Facebook session. And I can schedule my blog, this one, to be exact.

As to the other social media sites, I haven't even explored them for fear of never lifting my head to write another word. What media sites do you use and do they help your writing? Or are they a bit of distraction and take more time out of your day?