Thursday 16 February 2023

WEEK FIFTY-ONE: Writing A Book Series

HOORAY!!! Today, my fourth book in the popular Cornish Girls wartime saga series, A MOTHER'S HOPE FOR THE CORNISH GIRLS, is published. 

A Mother's Hope for the Cornish Girls: Amazon UK

I write these books under the pen-name Betty Walker, largely to keep them separate from my romances, thrillers and other historicals, so readers are never disappointed. And writing a series that has become so popular has taught me some useful skills in writing a series, which I was only vaguely aware of when writing previous series, even for well-known publishers, where getting the 'history' right wasn't quite so vital! Now, I have readers waiting for each new book, who would quickly spot an error - and let me know about it on Twitter or Facebook!

So how does writing a series of books like this work?

Firstly, when working on or having completed book one in your series, it's important to keep a list of characters, their physical attributes, their particular views and circumstances, and how they connect to the plot and to other characters. You may also wish to keep a tally of places mentioned, again with a brief description and which characters interact with that location. You may also wish to keep a note of choices you've made re spellings and punctuation for certain words and phrases in the context of your story. This is because you will need to replicate these choices in future books or risk future books losing continuity.

Some publishers will do this for you! My own publishers for the Cornish Girls, Avon Books UK,  are absolutely excellent and do indeed provide authors like myself with a 'style sheet' or series 'story bible' to allow them to keep track of such choices and character/location descriptions. But I have written book series (plural) in the past for other publishers who have completely ignored such considerations, including huge publishers who ought to know better, one might innocently think, and left me to keep track unaided.

In those cases, continuity may have suffered, and I feel characters were harder to return to as an author. It was basically up to me to read back through previous books and make notes about characters and places and plot points, regardless of how many there were in the series... 

Once, famously, sitting in a swanky London publisher's office with my husband, I was asked by my perky young editor what would be in my next book. I began to chat about my plans for a particularly evil villain, only to be interrupted by an embarrassed cough from my husband. 'I think you'll find, Jane,' he pointed out gently, 'that you killed that character off in the last book.' My editor's face was a picture.

So keep a 'story bible' to accompany the series. Just think, if your series takes off and you become madly rich and famous, and one day wish to drag an author friend or relative into writing more books alongside you for whatever reason, that 'bible' will come in handy as a manual for anyone who hasn't been steeped in the series for years. It will also be useful for the screenplay writers and producers if you sell the television or film rights (and your beloved series actually makes it to the screen, which we all dream of, of course).

Further points to consider when writing or planning a series...

Choose your location wisely. You will need to match location to genre or theme, i.e. a village for a 'cozy crime' series or quirky romantic series based around a shop or similar. Think how many characters you will need to sustain a series. They need to live - and work, in most cases - somewhere in the immediate vicinity, to maintain integrity of the world. So you might want to include a pub, some shops, a hairdresser, a small or mobile library, a parish hall etc. If you fail to mention these in book one and later need to expand your world, this could strike the reader as unlikely if the 'tiny village' suddenly tuns out to have all these other locations and characters, rather like Buffy The Vampire Slayer's home town of Sunnydale, which started small and obscure, but ended up not only with a university but a vast docklands area, even though in the final episode of the show we saw clearly that Sunnydale was surrounded by land, not water! 

Choose your characters' relationships wisely too. Building a world around a set of single people who all live alone and have little extended family could be tricky. But a few married or dating couples, maybe with kids too - bringing in school teachers, Sunday School set-ups and emotional university departures for older children, plus the possibility of child abductions, runaways and serious emergencies! - or people living with grandparents, aunts and uncles, or cousins brings in many more dynamics that could prove fruitful for future storyline development. 

Friends are great in series, of course, and my Cornish Girls series is based around women's friendships in time of war. But blood is thicker than water, and for most storylines you'll need plenty of characters who are bound to each other by more than being neighbours or nodding acquaintances, as these make stronger story threads later in the series. And never throw anyone away by making them too unlikeable or killing them off willy-nilly. You may not realise it now, but John's crabby old gran may be a perfect narrative character in Book Seven, when there's a murder in the local knitting circle!

And always keep genre in mind when planning your series. Much as we may dislike it, books are categorised by publishers and booksellers alike into genres, and if your book series is 'undefinable' that will likely work against your series in the long run, in most cases. So do your research and see how other book series have worked, and try to stay within the usual parameters of your chosen series genre.

Finally, consider whether you want to write a continuous series, where readers need to start with book one and work through, or if your series can also be read as 'standalone' fiction, i.e. they may be linked by location or one or more characters, but essentially each book is a hermetically sealed story that can be read without reference to previous books. My Cornish Girls series can all be read as standalones - I carefully provide backstory in little drips throughout, so readers don't feel overwhelmed by 'what happened previously' but still get the context of what's going on - but a better experience would be to read them in a linear fashion from Book One onwards. It's up to the reader.

Meanwhile, A MOTHER'S HOPE FOR THE CORNISH GIRLS, is out today, which is Book 4 in a probable 6-book series. I am writing Book 5 right now, and that's out August 2023, with the final Book 6 to follow - fingers crossed - in 2024. I would be hugely grateful if you could share it or previous books in the series or this blog post on social media, or even read it and leave a rating/review on Amazon and/or Goodreads, in return for my expertise above on writing series. 

Good luck with your own series writing!

A Mother's Hope on Amazon UK

Wednesday 27 April 2022


 A few weeks back, my latest novel THE MANOR HOUSE was published by Orion Dash in ebook and audiobook; the paperback is due out in December.

THE MANOR HOUSE was written during lockdown in 2020. It was based on an idea I'd been kicking around in the back of my head for ages, but couldn't find the right backstory and vehicle to carry it, which was the tried-and-tested romance trope of a 'marriage opf convenience'.

Except I didn't want it to be a romance, and I didn't want it to be a real marriage. So I knew I wuld be looking at a suspense novel, with romantic elements. I also toyed with the idea of it being an historical novel. But having written 9 historicals ten years ago, and not feeling that I was ready to return to that genre, I opted instead for a sub-genre of the historical, the 'dual timeline' novel.

So I set this new novel partly in the past and partly in the present day. The past is autumn 1963. But what would connect these two very different story lines? A location ... and a person.

And since we were in lockdown, I chose a location that was already familiar to me, and would also be easy to visit within my local area. I chose the beautiful and idyllic Camel Estuary in my own backyard of North Cornwall, England.

The Camel Estuary, North Cornwall. 

The Camel Estuary is a wonderfully atmospheric and picturesque part of the world. It follows the Camel River from the ancient town of Wadebridge through to the sea at the popular Cornish resorts of Rock and Padstow. A trail runs alongside the river on the southern shore, known as the Camel Trail, following the original track of the railway, which was closed in the mid-Sixties.

This immediately gave my story an interesting parallel - the railway existed in the Sixties but in the present day is a walking and cycling trail popular with locals and tourists alike. 

The person that connects the two timelines is a poet, Lyndon Chance. 

Lyndon is a fictional poet, a real wild child of the Sixties with a dark reputation that stretches beyond his death and into our present day timeline ...

Take A Walk in a Local's Skin

To research my local area, ready for writing The Manor House, I initially took to the internet for photos and maps, since driving about during lockdown was problematic. Once the lockdown was over, I drove down there and took a walk along the trail, spent time by the river, explored Wadebridge - though I already knew it fairly well, having lived a few miles away for several years in the past - and soaked up the atmosphere. 

This is about taking a walk in the 'skin' of a local ... noting sights, smells, sounds, textures, anything that will lend a feeling of reality or verisimilitude to the story, a feeling that the reader is there too, on the ground.

Over-Familiarity ... And Taking Care Not To Implicate Any Real People!

One issue with writing a book set in your local area is to make sure you don't make mistakes based on over-familiarity - so double-check everything - and also that you avoid naming or indicating any real people with a present day storyline. I was careful not to be too specific in that part of the book, making sure to avoid involving anything or anyone that coud be considered to refer to a real person or entity. That's standard practice in contemporary novels, of course, but can be more pertinent when you're writing about your own local area.

Show Off What You Love About Your Local Area

But the best thing about writing a book set in your own back yard is a chance to highlight what is best and most beautiful or exciting about your local area and to share that with your readers. The Camel Estuary is a key beauty spot and natural area in my area, and I love that it may inspire readers to visit this part of the world. 

What fabulous places or key landmarks do you have in your local area, and how might you involve them in any novel set there? Remember, location isn't just a backdrop to your story, like stage scenery ... To build atmosphere and harmonise with your characters and plot, a book's setting should in some way reflect or complement those other elements.

THE MANOR HOUSE: out now on Amazon

1963. When Eleanor meets famous young poet, Lyndon Chance, he offers a way to flee her abusive father. In return, she must pretend to be Lyndon's wife. He takes her home to a Tudor manor on the Camel Estuary in Cornwall, where she finds herself in the middle of a feud between Lyndon and his twin brother, Oliver. It's soon clear that the old house hides many dark secrets. But could they be a threat to Eleanor?

Present Day.
  Taylor has come to idyllic Cornwall to research for her Master's thesis, combining her love for conservation with a personal interest in Chance's poetry. Haunted by her own tragic past, Taylor finds Chance's notoriety fascinating. If only the poet's grandson, Julius, wasn't so determined to thwart her attempts to uncover his family secrets.

As Eleanor realises she's out of her depth at Estuary House, drawn to Lyndon like a moth to a flame, Taylor and Julius must fight their own attraction - but could shadows from the past tear them all apart?

A stunning and richly evocative timeslip, perfect for fans of Lucinda Riley, Santa Montefiore and Kate Morton.


Thursday 9 September 2021

A New Thriller! (Publication Day) Plus, On Being Approached By A Publisher

 So here's an interesting thing. Along with a few caveats and warnings.

During the 2020 pandemic, I was approached by an editor from Lume Books who wanted to know how I'd feel about writing a book with a particular sort of whodunnit angle. I was intrigued, and after a few in-depth conversations back and forth, said yes to the idea. I produced a synopsis, we thrashed out a few details that needed to be altered, and then I signed the contract.

KEEP ME CLOSE, my latest thriller, out 9th September, is the result.

It's always flattering to be approached by a publisher. But this isn't the first time it's happened to me. I've had several such approaches during my career. One was for this book, BERTIE'S GIFT

Again, the publisher gave me the general idea - even some key characters and a loose plotline - and I was left to fill in the blanks and write the novel as I saw fit. 

Although I had to write it in only 6 weeks to catch the Christmas market, it worked out very well and we sold translation rights too for BERTIE'S GIFT, for editions in German, Italian and Portuguese. Though writers should be aware, I didn't retain copyright in the actual idea ... only the writing. So that's one drawback if a publisher supplies a large amount of material to a writer upfront. (That's not been the case with my new thriller, however, which is entirely my own work.)

Some time before that, I'd been suggested as a writer for spin-off original novels from a popular historical TV show. I won't name names, but I worked on the project for some months, producing a number of solid synopses, before it finally got spiked. I didn't get paid as nothing had been signed beforehand. So that was a bad experience. Later, I realised why things had ground to a halt when the next season of the show came out and I saw that the plots of the first few episodes were almost verbatim what I'd suggested for my synopses! 

They'd already been shot at the stage I was writing the plots, of course. But because it was based on a real historical location/theme, I'd been using the same sources as the screenwriters, so there was naturally a lot of overlap ... Perhaps they'd decided either that I was clairvoyant or someone had leaked the storylines to me! So all that came to nothing. Not a great feeling.

But this time, with Lume Books, everything worked very well, and there was no time pressure involved. (The pandemic was underway and we were locked down while I was writing much of it, so there were fewer distractions than usual.) 

It was a highly enjoyable experience. I easily wrote the novel to schedule, it was edited in good time, and the publisher has produced some excellent ad assets to accompany the launch. They've also been very supportive re promotion, putting the book up on Netgalley and monitoring reviews for me (as some readers have a sad tendency to write spoilers in thriller reviews, alas). 

Basically, KEEP ME CLOSE has been a success story all round and this time I'm very glad to have been approached.

There's even a blog tour happening this week and next! 


Here's the cover copy:

Someone is hurting the most vulnerable person in your life, but they can’t tell you who it is. What would you do?

When shy publisher Kate Kinley finds mysterious bruises on her mother’s arms she assumes the worst. Suffering with early onset dementia, her mother insists that nothing is wrong; it was just a clumsy accident. But was it an accident, or has her mother’s illness made her forget what really happened?

In desperate need of someone she can trust, her isolation and paranoia grow as the closest people in her life become key suspects.

With each heart-stopping revelation, Kate begins to realise that the perpetrator is no longer interested in inflicting bruises; they want blood.

Keep Me Close is a compelling story of gross immorality, a cautionary tale of how easily wicked people can take advantage of the vulnerable elderly people in your life.

If you love dark, psychological revenge-thrillers like The Sister-in-Law, The Babysitter and The Girl on the Train, you will love this twisty, sinister read. Perfect for readers of Gillian Flynn, Karin Slaughter, and Paula Hawkins.

Buy it here on Amazon UK: KEEP ME CLOSE



Thursday 5 August 2021

Paperback Publication Day! (of a very special book)

Hooray, I’m thrilled to announce publication day for my debut historical saga WARTIME WITH THE CORNISH GIRLS in paperback

The ebook and audiobook have been out since April, but the book in its physical form is out in bookshops now, and also in Tesco and Morrison’s supermarkets for a short spell. 


Browse This Title On Amazon UK


WARTIME WITH THE CORNISH GIRLS was an idea that came to me back in 2019 and felt a bit mad at the time, frankly. I'd never written a saga before, and had never really read one either, except for a few classics back in my youth. But I bought a few current titles to see how the genre had moved on since then, dashed off an outline for myself, and started to write ... all in the hope I could make a creditable fist of the job and find someone to publish the result!

Thankfully, several publishers were interested, but in the end I chose Avon Books, a brilliant HarperCollins publisher I have long wanted to write for, and they offered me a two-book contract to kick off a potential series, which was music to my ears!

This first book in the series is set in Cornwall during World War II, and centers around a top-secret communications and military base in seaside Porthcurno, which is constantly under threat from German bombers trying to pinpoint its location along the coast. 

My three female characters – Violet, an Eastender looking after her orphaned nieces; Eva, a chorus girl injured in a bomb blast; and Hazel, a Cornish housewife desperate to stop her teenage son from joining up – all end up together in Porthcurno, forming a bond of friendship that must see them through the dark and dangerous times ahead. 


By the way, WARTIME WITH THE CORNISH GIRLS is written under my new saga name, Betty Walker, and should be on sale in all good bookshops, plus some branches of Tesco and Morrison's supermarkets.

Pre-order sales have been strong, with over 700 Amazon reviews posted so far, and Kitty Neale, Sunday Times bestseller, has praised the book, saying: ‘A fascinating story, beautifully written, with interesting characters I really liked. A most enjoyable read!’ 


So, have a peek at this first book on Amazon UK:

Also, find me as Betty Walker on Twitter: and on Facebook:

Saturday 1 May 2021

ANNOUNCEMENT: New Writing Name and New Genre!

Hi everyone!

Just a quick announcement that I am moving names and genres yet again!

I have a new writing name, Betty Walker.

 My debut World War II saga WARTIME WITH THE CORNISH GIRLS came out a few days ago, on Thursday, April 29th 2021, under this new name.

Isn't she a beauty?

This is the first in the Cornish Girls series, and is published by Avon Books.

It's been so much fun, writing in a brand-new genre. And I can't wait to see the cover for Book 2, due out later this year, CHRISTMAS WITH THE CORNISH GIRLS.

And now I'm Betty Walker as well as Jane ... a new name to add to my many writing names!!! But this is how writers manage to survive in a rapidly shifting, and often shrinking, marketplace - by reinventing ourselves and learning new skills. 

Have you had to change pen-names or genres to survive or thrive? Let me know below.

Jane xxx

1941. The Blitz rages over London.
And even in Cornwall, the war is being fought…

When Violet loses her sister in the Blitz, she must take her nieces to safety in Cornwall. On the coast, she meets carefree chorus girl Eva, who is also running from the dangers of London.

But Porthcurno hides a secret military base, and soon Violet and Eva realise there’s a battle to fight in Cornwall, too.

Together with local Hazel, who works on the base, they must come together to help the war effort. But will their friendship be enough to keep them safe?

The perfect uplifting wartime read for fans of Nancy Revell and Donna Douglas.

‘A fascinating story, beautifully written, with interesting characters I really liked. A most enjoyable read!’ Kitty Neale, Sunday Times bestselling author of A Daughter’s Ruin

‘A warm-hearted story – at times I laughed and at others I held my breath … I loved the characters and I’m delighted it is the first in a series’ Pam Weaver, Sunday Times bestselling author of Goodnight Sweetheart

Grab your ebook or audiobook copy here on Amazon:

Monday 22 March 2021

Week Forty-Nine: Harnessing The Power of YouTube to Promote Your Books

 So, the age of technology has finally caught up with me, or I've caught up with it, not sure which!

I spend a great deal of time promoting my books, and during the Covid-19 pandemic, I've seen many fellow authors turning to videos and live streams on Facebook.

Unfortunately, I live out in the sticks of rural Cornwall, and my wifi is too pathetic to allow live streaming even for only a few minutes. 

 But I did want to harness the power of visuals - watching an author, hearing an author - and after experimenting with my own digital radio station a couple of years ago for the same promotional reasons (sadly a bust; great fun, but wildly expensive and hardly anybody listened!) and podcasting (again, most people seem to prefer pictures to audio, though I freely admit I didn't make as much of an effort with my podcasts as I could have done) I felt I had some hard-won skills with audio editing and arranging that I could bring across to video editing.

I already had a Jane Holland Author Youtube channel with about 10 subscribers. Bit rubbish, but I'd only posted half a dozen videos in ten years! You get back what you put out, I guess. :)

So I recorded some new book promo videos and also some 'how to write' videos, which I felt might draw in some new punters. In my video 'blurb' or description, I put links to my Amazon Author page and my social media, hoping to pick up at least a few extra readers over a long period of time. This has been a slow process, but I have noticed a small uptick in sales soon after new videos are released, so that's a sign that it's working. But my viewing figures are still too small to really make a difference. If I start hitting 100's of views per video, at some point in the misty future, that may change. Fingers crossed!

There are two types of YouTube content, in general. The first is topical, relying on a 'moment' for views - a book launch, for instance, or news item. You may get a flurry of views when it first goes live, but not much further down the line. The second is 'evergreen content' and this - as the name suggests! - deals with a more longterm issue, such as 'how to write' topics, and may not be so sensational, but is useful for bringing in new views and subscribers long after the video is published. For instance, your channel 'trailer' is evergreen content, a slow burn perhaps, but should keep getting views over the years, while book promo videos barely get any new views after the first year or so. 

 In general, it's best to aim for a mixture of topical and evergreen videos. If reading an extract from your book, it's a good idea not to make this too long, though this may work for some authors with a big following. Try to be personable and informal, but give good content - everyone loves an insight into an author's lifestyle or working methods!


Now, I also happen to have a Certificate in Astrology from the Faculty of Astrological Studies (UK, London-based) that I passed back in the mid-90's. Ever since, I've been reading new astrology books, looking at astro charts and generally developing my skills there, and I even anonymously run an Etsy side-hustle as a horary astrologer (don't ask) which brings in a few extra quid most months.

So I decided to also launch an astrology channel, as these are quite popular and I follow a number of big name astrologers there myself. And in the video description, I put the SAME links to my author page and social media, trying for a double whammy effect. This is because my particular astro channel caters for creative or artistic people like myself - novelists, artists, actors, playwrights etc.

This new astrology channel - Jane Holland Creative Horoscopes - has been rather more successful than my straight author channel. It seems in these troubled times that people are hunting for answers wherever they can find them, and astrology does provide an interesting alternative view on our current situation, so fair play to them. 



My set-up is fairly simple. I use the webcam from my computer - because I can't afford a 'proper' vlogging camera, frankly - and a Blue Yeti mic. (I experimented with a wireless clip-on mic, but it kept cutting out and distorting my voice. Others may find them more useful.) 

For most of my videos, I have a prepared script and run it via a Teleprompter app on my iPad, which plays behind the camera on a tripod while I record, as I found reading it from the actual computer screen made me look shifty!

It's early days yet, but I expected that. It can take several years to grow an audience on YouTube, even with regular concerted effort. But I have committed to posting at least 12-14 videos every month for my astrology channel, and 2-3 for my regular author channel. It's fun at the moment, though hard work, but it's one way of keeping my name in the public eye during a time when few of us are able to get out and about. And it also keeps my brain active - never a bad thing!

Here's one of my specific book promo videos - this one for my spooky thriller THE HIVE. Look at the expression on my face! Gulp ...

The big thing with Youtube is getting more likes, views of videos and new subscribers. THOSE are the things that drive traffic to a channel. The more you get, the more likely YouTube is to show your content to new people browsing the site or searching for keywords. And that means the more people see your name or your content, and are more likely to ... yes, you've guessed it ... to buy your books!

So please visit one or both of my channels above, 'Like' some of my videos and Subscribe to my channels - you'll need a Google or YouTube account to do this - and hit the bell for notifications of new videos as they arrive.

Thank you!

Do YOU have a YouTube channel, maybe to help you sell your books or for some other purpose? Let me know in the comments below, feel free to link to it, and let me know how it's been going for you.

Saturday 3 October 2020

Week Forty-Eight: Breathing New Life Into Old Projects

Back in the early noughties, I had a sudden flash of apocalyptic vision and wrote a Young Adult adventure fantasy called The Book of Tongues. It ran to about 50,000 words, which was about right for the time, and involved a princess, magic, a quest, and the eponymous Book, of course.

But it was the first in a series, and I wasn't sure where it would go after Book One, or even if I'd taken it far enough in Book One for the first instalment to make a satisfactory read. I ummed and ahhed over it, did some rewriting, but ultimately had no idea what to do with it ...

In those days, I no longer had an agent. And easy self-publishing on Amazon did not yet exist. Only so-called 'vanity' outlets which would have embarrassed me - not to mention cost me more money than I had, still an impoverished poet with barely a penny to my name!

I was also busy churning out babies at the time, so my novel-writing career consisted merely of writing the occasional saucy novel under a dubious pen-name in order to a.) survive and b.) keep my hand in the fiction game while bringing up a parcel of tiny infants.

So The Book of Tongues went into the proverbial bottom drawer, as I really had no idea what to do with it.

Fast-forward about ten years to 2013, and my career as a commercial novelist had been kickstarted. I now had a new agent and was actively writing and selling novels, including a YA paranormal romance Trilogy. One of those books - Witchstruck - even won the Romantic Novelists Association YA Novel of the Year Award in 2013.

Now more aware of the YA market, I picked up Book of Tongues and re-read it. Having developed greater skill as a novelist, various issues leapt out at me immediately, and I saw at once how to fix them. But the long-term trajectory of the series still escaped me. I had a great set-up, but something was 'off' about the overall world of this fantasy.

So I sat down and worked on a range of possibilities for where the series would go next, and in doing so, I stumbled across the reason why my first book felt wrong in some way. I had been basing everything on a certain well-worn trope in fantasy ... and now I realised how to escape that trope by introducing a different story strand altogether, and so bring something wholly unexpected to the story!

I rewrote the book with this new plot idea in the mix, and enlarged the book at the same time, as during those intervening ten years, YA Fantasy had become much larger and longer, almost unwieldy in length. So the 50K book grew to 75K.

I sent it to my agent, with high hopes of finding a publisher ... and had those hopes dashed.

The idea was exciting, my agent said kindly, and the writing excellent, but the characters were under-developed and some of the confrontations between my main characters and the antagonist were too complex and therefore confusing. 

In other words, the idea was sound but the manuscript still needed work.

At the time, I was snowed under with other projects. I'd just come out of two 3-book contracts with Random House, and was embarking on a third 3-book contract with Hodder. I was also working on some side projects for self-publishing, as Amazon KDP had come along and I'd started self-publishing shorter and unsold fiction manuscripts. 

So I put Book of Tongues back in the drawer.

Fast-forward another seven years to early 2020. (Do you see how long this book has been in development?)

The pandemic of Covid-19 strikes. We are in lockdown. Everyone has decided they have a novel in them, so I'm not alone in spending my days slaving over a hot keyboard.

I have about three projects on the go, under contract. But I finish all those during the lockdown, and look about restlessly for something 'different' to work on before I need to start my next contracted thriller. (I get bored writing in the same genre all the time, and need to blow off steam periodically with different genres and styles of writing.)

The Book of Tongues calls to me.

I re-read it yet again, while studying my agent's notes from 2013. Suddenly, I can see what needs to be done, which was not easy while I was still so close to the project. I find a new thread between my main characters that allows them to bond in a richer, more provocative way.

And I rewrite the book for the third time!

Here's what I think the problem was. When you're fresh from writing a book, especially if that book has been developed over a long period, you can suffer from 'brain fatigue' and feel exhausted at the thought of rewriting it yet again! So although you may get great notes on a manuscript, your brain can't get to grips with what they mean in real terms, and unless you're up against a contractual deadline - which introduces adrenalin and fear into the mix, so allowing your brain to function again! - you are likely to throw the messed-up manuscript away from you and start something else, something less taxing to consider.

This time, I had no brain fatigue but was eager to work on something different.

So I saw the editorial notes clearly and was able to act on them, also drawing on my increased skill and experience as a novelist since back in 2013 to improve other elements of the story and create a smoother read overall.

I also changed the title to THE SPELLWORKER, as I felt the original title, The Book of Tongues, might struggle in today's market. But I retained that concept in my series title.

The book is now nearly 90,000 words long!

So, off it went to my agent again.

Reader, she declined it.

The YA market is tough right now, my agent told me, and the book has elements which might make it less appealing to publishers in 2020 than would have been the case back in the early noughties. There may also be other similar or clashing projects out there right now. Better not to send it out to publishers when I can write something more apposite to the times and find a buyer more easily.

Back to square one, it seems.

Happily though, I still believe in the book, and in 2020 I have options that were not readily available to me in earlier iterations.

I ask my agent's blessing to self-publish and generously she gives it.

As with everything I've self-published, I believe in this book, even if others might not, and I want it to find readers out there, and I also want to be able to write Book Two knowing there are people waiting for it.

The YA market is incredibly tough, I agree. And finding YA readers without going through the usual channels of a traditional publisher is going to be extremely tricky - perhaps even impossible.

But unless I want this book to languish forever unread in a dusty bottom drawer or - these days - in a forgotten computer file, then I must take the plunge and self-publish. Life is short.

Finding value in abandoned manuscripts involves seeing what worked when it was first written that won't work now, because times and the market place have changed, but also what was good about the project and should be preserved. 

It also allows you to see the whole thing with more clarity than was possible when you were still too close to it, perhaps even bringing a little indifference to its fate, so making edits easier to implement.

But you must have full confidence in the project and in yourself as a writer. 

Just because others have said NO to what you've written, and even if it never sells more than a few dozen copies, almost seeming to justify that negative opinion, you must retain confidence in your ability and judgement as a writer. 

Because THAT is all we have, deep down. 


That's what it's all about for writers. So embrace your confidence, and enjoy what comes with it. And don't let anyone tell you no. If you believe in the work, then let's see it.

And here is The Spellworker, a YA Fantasy which I have just indie published under my YA writing name, Victoria Lamb ...




Available NOW in ebook, paperback, and via Kindle Unlimited: support indie authors!





Wednesday 29 July 2020

Week Forty-Seven: Experimenting with Unusual Story Ideas

Sometimes you get an idea for a story set-up that doesn't fit what's selling out there, or you know most publishers would pull a face if presented with the idea. Yet you can't get it out of your head.

Amazon UK

That's what happened to me when I came up with my idea for the Stella Penhaligon mysteries.

Stella Penhaligon is an astrologer who helps the police with their enquiries.

As someone with a background in astrology, this was a fun idea for me. I could use all my knowledge and skill with astrology (basically my hobby for the past few decades!) and merge it with my knowledge and skill as a novelist (my job, in other words). 

The merger was a dream come true for me.

The only fly in the ointment was that my idea didn't fit with the kind of books I'd already been writing under my Jane Holland - very straight, hard-edged contemporary psychological thrillers. And I suspected that most publishers would have a hard time with an astrologer as a main character helping the police.

To add to this, I'd never before written a story with a police officer as a main character!

Yet I knew I wanted two main characters in this series - Stella, the astrologer, and DS Jack Church, the local officer with whom she has most contact.

Finally, I was aware of a need to make money as a novelist, which means not wasting time on books that might never get published. But also that self-published books provide a small amount of money to keep me ticking over from month to month, while book contracts can take anything up to six months to produce any income from the point of acceptance by a publisher, sometimes longer.

I approached my agent and we discussed this. I suggested that I self-publish a short series of novellas about these characters, and see how readers took to them. Thankfully, she agreed. (Coz she's amazing!!)

And so I sat down and wrote the first novella. It's called UNDER AN EVIL STAR. (See below for US link.)

The series is set in Cornwall, where I live, which feels like a suitably spooky, gothic region for a crime novella involving astrology.

A severed head is found by the police. Stella's father, a local vicar, is missing. She casts a chart to find him and falls under suspicion when the severed head turns out to be his ... But who would kill a vicar and why?

I put the novella on pre-order, and had a few sales come in at once. Not so shabby! So I made a space in my writing schedule and wrote a second and third novella, THE TENTH HOUSE MURDERS and THE PART OF DEATH. I then put all three on sale at Amazon.

All are now out on sale. Early days yet, but after a sluggish start, I changed the covers and sales have become more promising. I will need to leave it a while to get an overall sales picture, but if it seems worth doing, I may write a full-length Stella Penhaligon mystery in the next year or so, and see if any publishers would like to acquire it for a series.

Sometimes, you need to take a punt on an unusual idea, and hope it works out. Some ideas flop. Others need some massaging to succeed. What you need for them as a writer is CONFIDENCE and TIME. Be bold and write it, regardless of your fears that it won't succeed. Stay true to your vision and see it through to the end, never abandon the project partway through.

You can't tell if an idea is 'bad' until you've finished it, and that's a simple truth most newer writers don't get. Most writers have a tendency to panic, jump off too soon, and start afresh with a different idea. A "better" idea, or so they tell themselves. But they are likely to get scared again with this new idea and repeat the cycle.

Until you've gone the distance with a story and reached the end, you can't be sure if it was working or not. Because you can't see the pattern clearly when you're too close to the loom. Keep weaving, steadily and confidently, and not listening to internal or external voices, and when it's done, step back for a better look.

Only time will tell whether it was worth my while making these three novellas. Meanwhile, new readers are finding them every day. Will you be one?

Thursday 19 March 2020

Week Forty-Six: Fiction in the Age of Coronavirus

We live in unprecedented, rather than interesting, times. In a few short weeks, ordinary life has become, well, extraordinary. Not to mention frightening. We have no idea what will happen next. Worst of all, some of us may die, or have loved ones who will die, a grim new reality made clear to us by politicians and news bulletins alike.

As writers, and especially perhaps as genre writers, we are accustomed to presenting the everyday and mundane in our novels, as an anchor for the otherwise outlandish world of our plots. As part of our skill set, we construct an accepted - and acceptable - fictional version of 'reality' as our characters know it and as our particular genres demand.

But what should we do when that 'everyday reality' has shifted sideways - almost overnight - and is now far from anything we have ever known in our lifetimes? When our realistic characters are now more likely to be in lockdown for anything up to half a year, and therefore unable to commit or investigate murders during that time frame, to meet friends or loiter in cafes, go to concert halls and theatres, travel anywhere beyond the end of their garden path - if they're lucky enough to have one - have sex, or fall in love? When apocalypse has actually become a thing?

We are at least used to the solitary life as writers. Self-isolating holds fewer terrors and issues for us than most other people working from home, I should imagine.

But as writers we are faced with a choice, it seems to me.

We stick our literary fingers in our ears - 'la la la' - and pretend we still live in that Other World, the one we inhabited roughly three weeks ago, and write characters who fit that lifestyle, despite the fact that it's becoming harder to envisage going out for a latte or booking a flight to Greece or dropping a book off at the library or sticking a knife between the vicar's shoulder blades ...

Or we accept that the world has changed, and therefore set our books in a speculative future world, when (hopefully) the coronavirus crisis has passed but is definitely still a thing. A world where characters may well be happy to murder each other - perhaps more so than ever! - but police are less well-equipped to investigate because of reduced numbers or shaky infrastructure, when sleek, Armani-clad executive heroes are few and far between because even the biggest companies have lost billions, and friends are less ready to shake hands or air-kiss on meeting, or new lovers to fall into bed together (just in case the infection is still around), and the world is financially on its knees.

 One of my writer friends said recently that it was becoming harder and harder, as she wrote her current novel, to remember what used to be normal everyday behaviour in a normal everyday world. Because that life and that world are both rapidly slipping away from our memories ... We are already adjusting to our new reality. Soon, even the most insistent coronavirus denier will find it hard to depict our world before the plague with any confidence, nor will readers believe in their now unrealistic reality.

And yes, what about reading fiction?

It seemed at first that people were eager to reach for plague fiction, for disaster and apocalypse novels, out of a ghoulish desire to mock this new reality with previous fictional versions of it.

But actually, it seems to me that people want to read about apocalypse because they are experiencing it first-hand, and instinctively need a fiction that reflects their strange and uncertain new reality.

Of course, as the horror continues, that urge may change. People may grow weary of finding reality in their fiction, and will turn to fantasy instead. Even though that 'fantasy' may simply be a contemporary book set before the virus, in the comforting pre-2020 world they remember ...

I think we ignore coronavirus at our peril as writers. (Though agents and publishers may well ask us to, fearing the saleability of any genre fiction that flirts too closely with reality.) Even historical writers may find themselves instinctively choosing plague periods for their next novels. Of course, we may all have pre-corona novels in hand, and can't suddenly introduce global death and disaster partway through a light-hearted romance or a chilling murder mystery, even though that is exactly what has happened to all of us, out here in Corona Land.

All of our lives have been INTERRUPTED by the virus and nothing will ever be the same again. How could it be?

We won't all come out from self-isolation or lockdown in four to six months and find life continues as usual. The virus may slow, but it won't disappear completely. And by then, many things we once took for granted - food chains, coffee shops, street vendors, household names, even global transport infrastructure - may have been irreparably damaged by a long income freeze or simply gone bust in the meantime. And some publishers and bookstores may even be on that list ...

I don't have any answers, I'm afraid. I only have questions.

But when we've finished writing our current books, do we continue in the same vein, as virus 'deniers' in fiction terms at least, on the grounds that most people, terrified by what is happening around them, must inevitably want to read about a world BEFORE the virus, because they find that lost reality easier and more comforting to experience?

Or do we start to write books set in the real world, in the post-virus world, where our characters and their choices reflect our own uncertainties in the age of coronavirus?

P.S. My latest publication is UNDER AN EVIL STAR (oh, a prediction!!) out last month, first in a new crime thriller series.

Only 99p/99c for the ebook.

Please consider buying if you'd like to support my writing. Thank you.

Under An Evil Star on Amazon UK


Under An Evil Star on Amazon com (USA)