Thursday, 28 January 2016

Writers' Conference 2015 Podcast

I have started a series of podcasts over on Spreaker!

My very first podcast episode was for my own personal writing show, called AD HOC. As the name suggests, this is a short 5-7 minute show where I chat informally about what I'm working on at the moment. and any thoughts I have on writing or being a writer in general. Not sure about the frequency at the moment, but it would be nice to make it weekly.

My second podcast episode is a more epic job, and well worth a listen if you enjoy listening to writers 'out of hours' and with a glass of wine in hand. It's the first in a new podcast show called TYPEFACE, which I'm hoping to produce monthly, on or around the first of every month (this first one is a little early as I have a busy weekend ahead). TYPEFACE will feature interviews, news and general chat about the world of books and writing.

But I thought I'd kick off the series with a very special podcast, composed almost entirely of interviews on the hoof with writers at a conference last summer.

Here's how it came about ...

At the Romantic Novelists Association Conference, London 2015 - which was a lively event and very hot, with plenty of outdoor drinks and mingling in the evenings - I ventured forth with my trusty iPad and took recordings of writers chatting.

Announcing my intention to record as I approached, I grabbed snippets of conversation, interviews, ran informal question and answer sessions around the packed benches, and generally tried to capture the excited buzz of a writers' conference. After all, this is a writers' conference where (mostly) women who work alone in a room all year get out to meet other writers, exchange news and information, gossip freely, and generally let their hair down without any kids or significant others around to dampen the fun.

Writers recorded include:
 Milly Johnson, Katie Fforde, Talli Roland, Alison May, Kate Johnson, Ruth Frances Long, Rhoda Baxter, Hazel Gaynor, John Jackson, Jo Gilliver, Cal Andrews, Adrienne Vaughan, Lizzie Lamb, Joan Fleming, Rosemary Gemmel, Jan Jones, Roger Sanderson, Liz Fenwick, Brigid Coady, Jane Eastgate, Imogen Howson, Jenny Barden, Janet Gover, Carol Townend, Liam Livings, Fiona Harper, Frieda Lightfoot, Jane Lovering, Lucy Wheeler and many others ...

This unofficial podcast - THE RNA CONFERENCE 2015 PODCAST - is the result.

RNA CONFERENCE PODCAST (photo: Talli Roland)


Please do FOLLOW my Spreaker account if you enjoy listening to writing podcasts - for there will be more to come this year.
Also, click LIKE to show your appreciation, leave a comment under the podcast, and/or share the link on social media.

It all helps!

Disclaimer: I am no longer affiliated to the RNA. This work is unofficial and not sanctioned in any way by the RNA.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Amazon Publishing acquires GIRL NUMBER ONE

I'm utterly thrilled to announce the sale of my self-published debut thriller GIRL NUMBER ONE to Amazon Publishing's crime and thriller imprint, Thomas & Mercer.

GIRL NUMBER ONE: a No. 1 Bestselling Thriller

Some of you will recall the convoluted history of this book, which was rejected last year by well over a dozen publishers. I believed in the book, and wanted to find it a readership, so decided to put the book on the market myself. I did everything on my own: editing, cover, blurb, marketing, and published the book in September 2015 at 99p, under my maiden name Jane Holland.

After a slow start, GIRL NUMBER ONE entered the UK Kindle Top 100, and reached Number 1 in the UK on December 10th.

It stayed in the Number 1 position for five days, when I cannily put the price up to £1.99. It began to drop, but thankfully slowly, and remained in the Top 100 for 84 days. The book has sold coming up to 44,000 paid downloads to date, plus over 4 million reads via Kindle Unlimited.

I was called by an editor from Amazon Publishing back in November, who had read GIRL NUMBER ONE and was very excited about it. Although I had already made some super sales on my own, she felt that teaming up with Amazon would open up new territories for the book, and after some research and discussion with other authors, I had to agree. I was particularly pleased that she wanted to acquire a second thriller from me as well.

I took the offer to my agent, and finally signed the contract last week. GIRL NUMBER ONE will be re-edited and republished with a new cover by Thomas & Mercer later in 2016, keeping all its current reviews. Meanwhile, I will be working on a second psychological thriller for them, which we are currently discussing.

This whole experience has been a real vindication for me of my personal belief in this novel. So if you're out there now, with a rejected novel, and you're unsure whether or not to self-publish, I would say, don't wait for someone else's permission to believe in your book, just go for it. If you go down the same route I did as a self-publisher, you will have little to lose and a great deal to gain.

I've also used this opportunity to make my first-ever podcast, to announce this publishing deal and also discuss my screenplay entry in the Red Planet Prize. Why not check it out? It's only 5 mins long - and I'll be starting a whole series of writing podcasts soon, so you might want to subscribe.

My other novels like MIRANDA are selling well too, on the back of GN1's success

Monday, 18 January 2016

Week Thirty: The Suitcase of Story

While waiting to start my next novel, a thriller whose plot has not yet taken full shape, I've written a speculative screenplay. A sixty-minute screenplay for television, to be precise - the pilot episode of what would be a Victorian paranormal detective series if anyone could ever be persuaded to make it. Bizarre, ambitious, and entirely unlikely, but a set-up I've had in my story suitcase for several years now, and this was its chance to shine.

Writing in another medium after more than two dozen full length novels is an experience I thoroughly recommend. It means stepping outside your comfort zone if you're a confirmed novelist, but you don't step outside it unaccompanied. Writing a screenplay employs the same basic skillset and structural understanding you bring to a novel, it's just that everything revolves around image and nuance via dialogue, rather than prose description, and there's no way to convey internal monologue, bar intrusive subtitles, or something that takes their place - such as, in the case of Reginald Perrin thinking about his mother-in-law, the flashed image of a trotting hippo.

I was concerned at first that I would find myself flailing about in alien territory after the first few pages. Screenwriters seem to use so much off-putting technical jargon: turning point, beat, crossfade, intercut, slugline, controlling idea, pay-off. What I found though, thankfully, was that I was still able to bring the suitcase of story to writing for the screen.

It's a battered old suitcase now - I've had it since I was a child, writing absurd fantasy novels on an attic typewriter - but it has everything I need in there: beginnings, middles, ends, character building, scene structure, dialogue, story arc, and more than a few scraps of plot ideas to keep me going. It even has a false bottom where I keep emotional truths and the resonant detail.

But what's my logline, FFS?
So the thing I have learned about the difference between screenwriting and novel-writing - and please remember that I am a novice at the former - is that story is paramount, whatever the medium. Some narratives, it is true, may be easier to tell as a film, others as a novel, others as a radio or stage play, I expect. But all have this one common thread of story, above all else.

So what is 'story'?

When we were small children, someone probably sat us down and told us our first stories, either from a book or their own imaginations. If we listened, and did not pick our noses instead, we were whisked somewhere else, to a place beyond ourselves where we could suddenly see our own lives in the distance and thereby gain some strange new perspective on them. And to a large extent that is what story is: a way not merely to entertain and divert the bored self for a few hours, but to allow us to see ourselves in a fresh way, to weigh our lives against another's, our character flaws and strengths against theirs, and so perhaps find new - and better! - ways to live.

Chapter One: As soon as the blonde walked into my office, I knew she was going to be trouble ...
All stories follow a common path. They begin somewhere we can all identify with - the ordinary or common ground of an everyday existence. They develop into an adventure or quest that forces us away from the common and into the extraordinary, where every new choice is an effort and a trial, yet nonetheless we start to feel ourselves stretch for the next step up. Finally they often conclude by bringing us full circle to see how far we have come, allowing us to mourn hardships and losses, then celebrate the victories and lessons learnt along the way.

As writers, rather than dwelling too much on getting the jargon or the handshake right, we write best when we bring everything back to story. Story is about character under pressure, yes. But it's also about plot, about action and reaction, about the difficulty or sheer number of steps taken along the journey. Character shows us how each person responds to these challenges in their own unique way. It tells us which way a character will turn at the end of a scene, just as the Russian sub captain always turns to starboard in the bottom half of the hour in Hunt For Red October. So the characters we choose to follow our plot paths need to be special, to stand out as unique, or at least have the capacity to become special under duress. If not, why on earth have we chosen them?

If you're halfway through writing a novel, but your story suitcase is looking a bit threadbare, the best way to replenish it is by engaging with story via reading a book or watching a film or television drama. Sometimes a story that is very different from the one you are working on will turn out to be precisely what you need in terms of inspiration and energy. Films in particular can be useful because they are less likely to shroud story structure in other, more complex elements as prose or a television series so often do. So we may see, with sudden clarity, how to fix structural problems in a novel by grasping how a film-maker has overcome them. Equally, witnessing the complexity of character-building in a novel may lend gravitas and resonance to a few lines of dialogue in a screenplay. Mix up your mediums, have some fun with it, learn something new!

What's in your story suitcase? And what does it say about you as a writer?

Monday, 11 January 2016

Week Twenty-Nine: Five Resolutions For Writers

So we're well into 2016, and most of us will have turned our eyes away from the holidays and towards our writing schedule for this year by now.

These are not so much resolutions for me personally as they are thoughts and ambitions for writing and writers in general. I put them together to remind myself of the priorities we face as writers, and also to stop me from slouching.

RESOLUTION ONE: Know Your Destination

We too often start projects in a rush of enthusiasm without any clear indication of where they will end up. This can be an exciting and provocative choice; it can also lead us down blind alleys in creative terms. Some projects do not have the legs, or some fatal flaw lurks at their heart, and we know the market simply isn't there for such an idea, or not as told in those terms. We are writers, yes, which means we should work from our creative hearts, not to someone else's brief. But that is not carte blanche to write any old nonsense that excites us for five minutes but can't be sustained over the life of a novel.

Novels are long-haul jobs, they are hard work. Make sure you know your destination, or at least have some end point mapped out, before you set off through chapter one.

Can't wait to get home and start my new novel. Not sure what it will be about, but I have the perfect opening ...

RESOLUTION TWO: Finish What You Start

This is similar to Resolution One, except that was about knowing your destination - this is about actually reaching it. If you don't finish your writing projects, if you abandon them partway through because they turned out to be blind alleys (see above), you are teaching yourself to fail.

Don't teach yourself to fail. If it sucks, why did you start it in the first place? (Again, see above.) But okay, now that you know it sucks, finish it anyway. That way, you can at least try to fix it afterwards. You can't fix an unfinished novel, because a novel is a whole entity and its success depends on that sense of balance, on that wholeness.

An unfinished novel is like a bucket with no bottom, or a half-built house. No good to anyone.

RESOLUTION THREE: Keep Re-Examining Your Vision

Writers change and so do their visions. Make sure you are not hanging onto some outdated version of the world in which you are one kind of writer, when actually you have become someone quite different.

Sometimes people ask you to do something that sounds impressive or difficult - maybe they're offering to pay you handsomely, or to write something outside your comfort zone - and that doesn't fit your vision of yourself as a writer. So you turn them down.

Who are you kidding? Maybe once upon a time staying true to your vision was a noble idea. But we're in a global recession and someone has offered you work. So maybe it doesn't fit that lofty vision you had when you started out - you know, the one where you accepted the Booker Prize, and people shook your hand in the street, or tweeted that your novel saved their lives.

Visions like that are a distraction to the real job of being a writer. You have a bank balance. If you can't do the work they're offering, for whatever reason, fine, turn them down. But if it's just because you're not that kind of writer, get over yourself. We're all that kind of writer. Some of us are just pretending otherwise.

I, oh I, wrestling with creation, the word, the writtenness of it all, oh ...

RESOLUTION FOUR: Write As Often As You Can

Everyone says this, and that's because it's important. Maybe you have a demanding day job, maybe you have writer's block, maybe you're sick, maybe whatever. You should still try hard to write little and often. Because the ability to write is like a muscle - you can lose it if you don't exercise it.

I hate writing exercises, personally. I never do them. But if I'm 'between novels' and still want to write, I do the novelist's equivalent to doodling. I get out a notebook or grab a scrap of paper, an old envelope, whatever, and sketch out a plot. Characters. Timelines. Quotes in my head. Snippets of dialogue. And sometimes those ideas grow into stories, into novels, into a series.

Every novel begins with a single word. So write it. Then another one. Then another one.

Have you read a book recently? A book that excited you and made you want to put pen to paper yourself?

RESOLUTION FIVE: Keep Reading, Keep Being Influenced

Once you're a reasonably successful novelist, the very thing that got you there in the first place - i.e. reading and books etc. - is ironically the thing you don't have time to do. Now you have deadlines and proofs and edits and synopses and actual novels to write, and no space for reading stories by other people. Sometimes you don't even have the inclination to do it either. Maybe you are frightened a new important novel will 'pollute' your vision (see Resolution Three), or that you might feel beaten-down by a rival's success, or the force of their language, or their seemingly endless army of fans.

But influence can be a powerful tool. Professional jealousy can open your head up like a tin can and remind you of the wonders inside it. And if you can't face reading your peers in a certain genre, then read other genres or engage with stories via another medium, like film or television, or even art.

The story is what matters. Keep opening yourself up to story and to character, and you will keep replenishing your bucket. (You know, the one without the hole in it. The one you dip into the well each day before you begin to write.)

Good luck!