Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Finding your feet – with Lizzy Huitson

Today's guest blog post is perfect for anyone who is thinking about writing (and a good read for established writers too!). Lizzy is a talented writer and part of the Abingdon Writer's set. I am certain you will be reading one of her novels in the not too distant future! 

Finding your Feet: Ten Tips for New Writers
So you’ve decided to take writing seriously. Maybe you’re a young person hoping to start a writing career, or a not-so-young person who’s ready to let writing out of that safe little box labelled “hobby”. Whatever your background, getting started is no simple task. Besides the actual act of getting words on the page, there are a whole host of other challenges you’re going to encounter, so here are some (hopefully) helpful tips.

·       Work at it, don’t play at it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with writing for fun – it can be a really rewarding hobby. If, however, you plan on taking it seriously, you need to prioritise it. Don’t bother cleaning the oven when there’s writing to be done – no-one ever looks in there anyway. Try not to write for five minutes, then watch fifty-seven funny cat videos on YouTube, then blame your real job/kids/dog for taking up all your time.

·       Find a balance. That being said, don’t work so hard that writing becomes nothing but a chore. If you feel you’re in danger of burning out, take a break. A change can be as good as a rest, so put down the historical novel and write a short crime story or some poetry or Doctor Who fanfiction. Anything that breaks the monotony will help get the creative juices flowing.

·       Try not to go crazy with isolation. If you devote a lot of time to writing, it’s likely that your social life will suffer and your friends may not take kindly to being rejected in favour of fictional characters. Saying “What do you expect? I’m working on a novel” does not have the same effect as “What do you expect? I have two toddlers.”

However, there are ways of using writing to socialise. Joining a writers’ group is a way of connecting with other writers and getting your work critiqued at the same time. You could even arrange a “writing date” with another writer (get together at a cafĂ© or pub, do some writing, drink/natter and repeat), and of course there are plenty of online forums for writers.

·       Self-doubt is perfectly normal and does not mean your writing sucks. Even if it does suck, that’s OK. You’re allowed to be terrible at first. Unfortunately, self-doubt tends to linger, so that when you experience any kind of success, you feel like a massive con artist who is days away from being found out and sent to prison. Take a deep breath. Remember that you deserve any success that comes your way – chances are you’ve worked your arse off for it. Also, nobody goes to prison for bad writing.

·       Jealousy is normal and does not mean you are a despicable person. Let’s face it – all writers have egos. So it’s only natural that when other writers become successful, you may experience jealousy and resentment. The only sensible thing to do is to push it deep down inside you where no-one can see it, smile and congratulate them. Success in writing never comes easily, so remember how hard they must have worked. We’re all in this together. 

·       Get some exercise. I’m not saying that in a “Careful you don’t get fat or you’ll never land a husband” kind of way. But if you have a sedentary job and spend the whole working day sitting at a desk, then spend large amounts of your free time sitting at a desk, you are going to feel crappy. Try doing some stretches at your desk to avoid aches and pains. Go for a walk now and then.

·       Develop a good bullshit detector. Most of the time, when people critique your work, they do it out of a genuine desire to be helpful. However, a handful of people have their own agenda and will either pointlessly bash your work or give you spectacularly unhelpful “advice”. Often, it is because they don’t agree with the content of what you are writing rather than the writing itself.

Oh, and ignore that guy you met on a writing course who said you’d never be a good writer until you got more “life experience”. He is probably going to try selling you drugs or persuading you to have sex with him in a graveyard or something. You know, to give you some of that “life experience” you need.

·       Don’t be held back by writer’s block. To misquote Churchill, “If you’re going through writer’s block, keep going.” Just keep writing. Ignore your inner editor and don’t worry if what you’re writing is terrible. Get those words on the page and sort them out later.

·       Cherish your first rejection e-mail. Print it out and stick it on the fridge. Maybe even frame it. In my opinion, this is the moment you become a proper writer. Chances are, you are going to get rejected a lot so you need to shake off the fear of it. I’ve received all kinds of rejection e-mails, from the boilerplate kind to the helpful and encouraging to the strangely poetic. I’ve never received a mean or spiteful rejection e-mail.

N.B. People talk about rejection letters but I’m not convinced they still exist. I’ve never seen one…

·       Find your voice. This is the difficult one. Expressing yourself in the best way you possibly can will always be a challenge. Developing that special something that makes your writing unique may be a life-long process, but the rewards can be immense.
N.B. I am not talking about financial rewards. These will most likely be puny. I mean rewards like creative fulfilment and a sense of achievement and all that woolly stuff.

Most people become writers because they are readers. Try to imagine every feeling, thought and experience you’ve ever had because of something you read. The ways in which writers can affect people they will never even meet are phenomenal. At the least, something you write might brighten someone’s day, and that’s always a worthwhile goal. So let’s get writing!

Lizzy Huitson is a 28-year-old writer who feels qualified to give writing advice mostly because she is no longer 23. Her poetry chapbook “The God of Cold Girls and Cold Places” has been published by Dancing Girl Press, and her poetry has also been published in journals around the world, including Salamander, Goblin Fruit and Vine Leaves Literary Journal. She has had short fiction published in Fiction365 and has recently written her first novel. She lives in Abingdon and has a proper job in Oxford.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

How to fall into murder...with Elizabeth Mapstone

The Coffee Stained Manuscript is proud to present a guest blog by Elizabeth Mapstone, an accomplished fellow author who has recently published The Amazon's Girdle – A mystery with a delicious twist! 

HOW TO FALL INTO MURDER... with Elizabeth Mapstone

I never intended to write a murder mystery. The Amazon's Girdle began as a love story, with former film-star Jacques, mouldering in a corner of the Michelin-starred Paris restaurant he runs with his wife Louise, remembering his all-too-brief time with the Amazon, the one woman he truly loved. But she died. I realized, rather belatedly, I had to decide how.

A natural death, by cancer say, was out – Eric Segal and “love is never having to say you're sorry” (what rubbish!) had done that. Death in childbirth was possible, but my Amazon was a medical doctor, so improbable; and in any case, I didn't want to deal with the concomitant inevitable guilt. A road accident seemed too facile. Suicide was out. Murder suddenly became essential to the story: it was the obvious way for someone as strong as my original heroine to disappear from the scene; she'd never have bowed out for anything less.

This was a bit of a blow. I had a small cast of characters, but now I had to decide which of them was a murderer. Each one might have had a motive, but how is it that all are carrying on with their lives 17 years later? What happened? Was it perhaps one of those murders that went undetected?

Who dunnit? And who decides to investigate this late in the day? And why? Inevitably, it had to be the young daughter of the doomed love affair between Jacques and the Amazon, inspired by her own heroine, the beautiful and malicious French film-star Madeleine Marvell, who deliberately sets out to disrupt the apparently peaceful and successful life of her former husband Jacques.  Complicated? I'd say. But then murder mysteries usually are. And MM makes a delicious villain.

Given the way this story evolved in my head, it is clear that the book is not structured like a classic murder mystery. Working out whodunnit, I think, is not difficult for those who enjoy the challenge. But the motivations of all possible suspects are psychologically sound, and several reviewers have said they were surprised, even shocked at the outcome. Which is hugely gratifying!

Would I ever write another murder mystery? I'd have said NO, until I launched this one into the ether (where else?). It's been fun. So when I have finished my quiet psychological novels (The Porcupine's Dilemma is now with an agent), I might dip another toe in those dangerous waters. Marissa writes them so successfully, I shall ask her advice.

Elizabeth Mapstone has lived in France, Belgium, Canada, and now England, and is a bilingual veteran of numerous occupations: in restaurants, offices, shops, news reporter, radio interviewer, teacher, translator, political commentator, book reviewer, and theatre critic. A new mid-life career began with a doctorate from Oxford, and she became Founding Editor of The Psychologist, then a psychotherapist, and published two books with Random House: War of Words, on the psychology of arguing; and a self-help book that really works, Stop Dreaming, Start Living. Now retired, she is writing fiction, has published several short stories as well as a mystery novel The Amazon's Girdle, and once won the Luigi Bonomi prize for the best opening pages to a novel (soon to appear in The Porcupine's Dilemma). You can buy The Amazon's Girdle here.

 For more information about Elizabeth and her books see:

Monday, 30 November 2015

The way we live

The way we live...

In the latest journal of the Society of Authors I read in interesting article about consumerism (I'm terrible - I can't recall who wrote it). But it got me thinking about the way we live now. Netflix and my recent purchase of this on-demand product is just one example of this. And I'm always a little late to the party. I got Netflix because I want to watch  tv show and movies when I want to watch them. I don't want to sit and watch mindless tv waiting for something good to come on. I want to watch the mindless tv I choose.

Amazon too announced they will charge readers as they read for borrowed books, no longer charging for the full book. I remember a time when if I started a book I had to finish it (admittedly that was just me - but sometimes I was pleasantly surprised at the end). Okay, so I don't always finish what I start anymore, but still... it was something I was doing – there was no incentive to stop reading like there is now. Will this mean more 1* reviews if the book isn't a page turner? Even if the end is crowd pleaser?

I could be wrong, but most authors are traditionalists at heart, or so I like to think. We may embrace the Kindle, after all it has opened up the world of self-publishing, but we still cherish a paperback – holding those carefully crafted stories in our hands. And in waiting for a particular TV programme you often stumble across a show you wouldn't have ordinarily watched.  You see there is a benefit of not watching stuff on demand.

You may not agree with this. Our time is limited you say, why spend time reading something we are not going to enjoy, why waste time watching television shows with adverts. Want to read something you normally wouldn't - they call it a book club - or film club for that matter. I see your points, I do, but my issue is this: the world we live in is fast moving and it seems to be going faster and faster... Will it stop - no, it's likely to get worse. The younger grow up with life happening all around them - documented with a photo and then they quickly move on ( Geez, I sound like a gran)

We are in a fast moving world. We expect things to happen quickly, we want everything to be perfect. I'm no different. I generally get twitchy if I send an email and don't get a response the same hour... yes I have a problem. But being constantly connected via our phones and tablets, I like to say I am just a victim. Social media helps us authors, but at the same time because it's always there on your phone luring you in, if you are like me you tend to feel guilty when for not promoting your book, checking the competition and of course as you can always see what other authors and entrepreneurs are doing, you can see what you should be doing and feel the guilt.

It's not going to change, this world we live in. If you try and slow it down, you'll get left behind, or worse still trampled by a FOMO (someone with the fear of missing out on social media). So what can we do? Well, we can change ourselves - amend our expectations. I'm not saying put your standards in the gutter, but perhaps we need to asses how important something is to us, what the consequences of our expectations are before having them. And I reckon we just need to start being kinder – to ourselves (we won't get everything right, we can't do everything all of the time), to everyone else – put yourself in their shoes before making a judgement, remember that we all make mistakes and for me to note more than anyone else - be patient. Some people take longer to respond than others and what is the hurry.

Right, rant over... What I really wanted to say is that this Wednesday and next I am hosting two guest bloggers. The fabulous Elizabeth Mapson – Author of The Amazon's Girdle who is blogging about 'falling into murder' . I've read her 2nd novel at Abingdon writers and this one is on my kindle, waiting in line. She writes so beautifully, her books are definitely worth reading.  The following week Lizzy Huitson will be giving you her top tips when you start out writing. I've read the post and I have to say even if you are an established writer you will enjoy reading this. Until then...

Monday, 23 November 2015

Success is not final...

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.
Winston Churchill
Today I was reading the Guardian online today when I stumbled on an article about Posh Spice... from Posh to classy it was called or something like that. And I have got to say I found it rather inspirational. It's basically about how Victoria Beckham tried at Pop and failed but then tried at fashion, worked up slowly to what she wanted and basically nailed it. She tried and tried until she got there. I think she even says in the article that she went out to get her success she didn't wait for it to come to her and I've got to say I found it rather inspiring.
The quote above sums this up quite well. I thought I would share it so anyone out there thinking of starting something can read it and hopefully be inspired too. You've got to start somewhere, right?  Here is the link to the article: Posh to Classy
In other news I have just finished reading A Hundred Summers by Biatriz Williams which really tugged on my heart strings. Set in my favourite era - the 1930's. If you liked the Book of Lost and Found you'll probably like this. It's different but of the same ilk if you know what I mean.
Oh and Under the Coconut Tree got a mention in The Ocelot magazine. I picked a copy of the magazine up in the pub and there it was... a lovely surprise! So a big thank you to the editors.
And a final note a few new and fabulous writers will be guest posting on my blog in the next month of so, so watch this space!


Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Publishing a book is like stuffing a note into a bottle...

Publishing a book is like stuffing a note into a bottle and hurling it into the sea. Some bottles drown, some come safe to land, where the notes are read and then possibly cherished, or else misinterpreted, or else understood all too well by those who hate the message. You never know who your readers might be.”   Margaret Atwood

You have to love Margaret Atwood quotes, don't you? So today I find myself going back on my word. I said that from now on I was going to publish my books myself, unless I got a big publishers. However, on brazenly stating this at my last writer's group meeting I realised this brash statement of mine lacked any foresight. There are some great little independent publishers out there and I was a bit blinkered to think otherwise.

 I have therefore decided to approach a fairly new publisher, just one, with Poison in the Water. Why? Well I know someone who has had a book published with this firm and she seems completely happy with them. From what I have seen they seem really committed to their authors, building a relationship and helping with the all crucial marketing. But that is not the only reason I am approaching them. The other reason is that from the stuff they have published, this particular book of mine feels like a good fit. A determined female protagonist with a passion for life who works in fashion… Seems to fit with their target market. Anyway. I am hoping to submit to them soon (Their submission process doesn’t look too arduous either) and I will let you know if something comes of it. My only worry is that I am not getting it proof read before I submit…Obviously if I publish it I will pay for a full edit, but right now I can’t really justify doing so.

So there you have it. When I’m wrong I say I’m wrong.  Chupplejeep will still be self pubbed for now… the good news is that I have managed to put GT onto Scrivener (whoever invented Scrivener deserves a medal) so an updated version without the unfortunate typo and with an Under the Coconut Tree taster at the end will be available by the end of the week.  

In other news I have just finishes reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (I gave it three stars – It was a good book but it didn’t set my world on fire – possibly not the genre for me!) and I’m contemplating what to read next. I’m also looking forward to a writing group critique session coming up… I’ve grown fond of this sub group we have created. For a writer who doesn’t have many friends who write they are a breath of fresh air, people I can discuss plot and dialogue with without feeling like the geek!

I would also like to thank my readers (of this blog) for your support. I don’t get many comments on here and that’s fine but it can make you wonder who is actually reading this (apart from my followers of course!) But the other week I got an email from a fellow writer who said they had read my blog and liked it and it really put a smile on my face…

Until next time.

Monday, 2 November 2015

If you're not making mistakes, then you're not doing...

If you're not making mistakes, then you're not doing anything. I'm positive that a doer makes mistakes.
John Wooden
So yesterday I saw a review on Amazon for my first book – Goa Traffic – pointing out a mistake, an unforgiveable mistake – I had written Sheikh instead of Sikh. I saw the comment and I thought that can’t be right. I definitely know the difference there. There are in fact no Sheikhs in the book. I quickly did a search in my original document and to my horror it was there. How had my editor not picked this up, worse still, how had I not picked this up? The book has been on sale for five years. Countless friends have read it – no one mentioned it. Usually I would say people are too polite to mention mistakes…but believe me typos have been pointed out to me before. So either people have read it and thought, that author is an idiot or they haven’t picked it up (I’m hoping for the latter). Either way I feel bad… It’s strange though when someone spotted a typo in my traditionally published book, I shrugged and said, ah well. I guess with having a publisher you don’t feel your work has to be as perfect as when you self pub- because you have the comfort that they have had confidence in you.  Self pubbing gets such a bad name when it comes to editing that you have to be perfect and for a non-perfectionist (is that a word?) like me  that is hard.
Having self pubbed this book, I feel completely responsible for my faux pas. In fact I feel awful. Now that I know it is there (at least with self pubbing) I can make the change – although it won’t be quick. GT was published in a time before Scrivner when I had to manually sort my formatting. It took an age and I must have wiped from my mind how I saved it as a Mobi file as I have no idea of how to do that now. So I need to put it into Scrivner and organise it that way. This will also give me a chance to add some spiel at the back for Under the Coconut Tree.
I am hoping to get it done this week, but I have also been wondering if I should withdraw GT from the market. Whilst it still has an average rating of 4*s and has 19 5* reviews I can’t deny that there have a few 1* reviews and although critique is good… Do I want a book out there with my name on that I am having serious doubts about?
Don’t get me wrong. I was more than happy with it when I published it, but I was also impatient and my writing skills were limited. I know the POV changes mid scene 9I still like doing that but try to restrain myself) and its more tell than show probably. With every new book I learn some more but once a book is published I cannot open it again. I can’t bear to look inside it. I don’t know why – it’s a thing. Anyway, back to whether I should take GT off the market. The reasons for leaving it on are as follows:  GT sells more than any of my other books, without me doing an awful lot. It has been reviewed by editors and companies too which gives me some comfort. I’ve had emails from people saying they loved it and I’ve had some great reviews… and their reviews are just as valid. Although authors love to dwell on the negative. Plus GT was the book that got me out there. Without it I wouldn’t have secured a traditional publishing contract. In fact, without the commercial success of GT I don’t think I would have had the idea of the Chupplejeep mysteries. And finally, as sales for the title were beginning to decline suddenly sales tripled last month. I’ve sold more copies of GT than any other book so which would I rather fewer sales and 0 1* reviews like my other books or loads of sales and some negative comments – you’ll never please everyone I guess.  For me the benefits, I guess, outweigh the negatives, for now.
So authors, when we get all those rejection letters after we send our books to agents that is just the start of it. There are so many other upsets along the way that we need to deal … but hey, I’ve taken comfort from the above quote and I still believe it is better to do than to keep your manuscript in a drawer gathering dust.  And as H says… It’s just a book –no one is going to die. He doesn’t understand and although that can be annoying at times it takes me out of my writing bubble and makes me realise that it’s not all about me, me,me. I recently read an article where the author said the only people that really read the 1* reviews are the authors themselves.  It makes me laugh because it is probably true. Most people I know avoid the extremes of reviews. Anyway, I’ll put the bruised ego away and take a deep breath as Kingsley Amis says ‘A bad review may ruin your breakfast, but you shouldn’t let it spoil your lunch.’

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

So I stopped writing...

And so it begins. What? I hear you ask along with where have you been? Well I have been on a writing break. When I say that to people I feel like I am talking about a lover or something. A 'break' sounds like something was wrong, that I needed space. Well, I didn't realise it but I did need space. A couple of months ago someone suggested to me that I take a writing break. I didn't comprehend then, when I did, I laughed. "A break?" I asked incredulously. I had a list of things to do. For starters I had Under the Coconut Tree to promote (we'll get to that in a minute), a penultimate draft of Poison in the Water to finish (I was midway), The Body in the Bath to edit and Jetty Jalousie to write...all by the end of the year.
"Just for a couple of weeks," this do-gooder said. I thought nothing more of it and then later, much later, when I referred back to the mindfulness course I have been doing and realised my books were just words - a sense of the ego that only I was stroking, I realised that a break may do me good. So I did it.

It didn't start well. I felt lost without writing, I felt anxious having left Poison half way through an edit and I felt like I had deserted Under the Coconut Tree like a bad friend. But as the days progressed I found that I had been in desperate need of a break all along, I had just failed to see it. People used to ask me 'How do you fit in writing with a full time job etc.'  I always responded that if you want to do something you'll find a way. I said that writing was an addiction (It was, still is although I'm 2 months clean). I said I found the time when H was watching the football, working late, blah, blah, blah. It was true I was writing at every possible moment I could find and it was turning me anti-social. I favoured my characters to people, I valued the written word above speech. It was wrong. I had become consumed by my passion of writing and when I thought about it what was it all for? Why was I putting so much pressure on myself to finish edits, books and so forth. No one was making me do this I was doing it for myself. Was my irrational fear of failing to achieve driving me? Was it fear that if I stopped I would lose momentum? It was probably a bit of both of those things.

But I'm glad I did stop and put it all on the back burner.  I needed to stop and enjoy life by watching Devious Maids and the likes mindlessly, because you know what that is living too. You need down time. You can't continually keep going without stopping or you will burn out.

If you recognise yourself in the above perhaps you too need to take a break from your favourite hobby. I love writing and yes it has pulled me back in starting with this blog post. But this time I am going to set some ground rules:
1) No more crazy deadlines - although I haven't lost all sanity I will have some vague ones like publish Poison next year.
2) Only write on your writing day per week - not every spare hour you find.

I feel refreshed! Which brings me back to the start of this blog: And so it begins... It is time that I start marketing Under the Coconut Tree. The book that I am most proud of, the first in The Chupplejeep Mystery series so this is where I'll start. I find that I am a little rusty in the marketing stakes and social media has moved on at speed since Goa Traffic was released. That book, is still doing well all on its own. Was it all in the name?

So, now that marketing is my thing (it has to be - I owe it to Chupplejeep) I will keep you up to date with my efforts. I know a lot of writers out there struggle with this and I am no different. This week I am targeting Goan Social clubs - after all, Under the Coconut Tree is set in rural Goa. I am also writing to a few travel bloggers. I found a fab travel blog on India just yesterday called Hippie in Heels. It's fascinating how blogging seems to be a career in itself now. Is travel journalism still viable? Is it dying?  IS it just called blogging? I don't know, but I guess the written word is losing it's value when there is so much out there on-line.

Anyway, I digress... the point is my new marketing journey begins and  next week I start back on completing Poison in the Water. Perhaps after a break I can look at it with fresh eyes, perhaps my writing will have changed.

Under the Coconut Tree: A Chupplejeep Mystery is available as an ebook (A delicious £1.99 at the mo.) and paperback here! You can't blame me for a bit of marketing, can you.