Nothing stays the same

True colours.
Who knew that green peppers and red peppers could be one and the same? Not me, that's who. Are they more ripe, more sweet, or do they just fancy a change of colour scheme?* Whatever the reason, they do it because it's in their nature to do it.

Writing and publishing, like our peppers, is subject to growth and change. If I wanted to get poetic, I'd say it is an ever shifting landscape.

The independent book shops of old have been squeezed out by the chain-stores (although thankfully there are still a few around). The chain-stores in turn are now grappling** with Amazon and ebooks. And readers seem to want ebooks on every available platform, device and format. 

It doesn't seem that long ago since I was at the London Book Fair, standing next to an Espresso Book Machine and discussing the economics with an author, an independent publisher and a shop proprietor. It was 2009, actually.

Now there seems to be so many ways for writers to get their work out there that you have to wonder what's stopping us. And there are no shortage of great websites and blogs out there to offer advice and guidance. But before every writer runs themselves ragged, in several directions at once, it might be wise to think about what sort of writer you are. And to revisit that question regularly.

Say what you like about Fifty Shades - and I haven't read it, so I can't say much - it has sold in droves and seems to unashamedly have hit its target audience. No, it's not Shakespeare, and yes, it has generated controversy about whether it empowers or demeans women. Most importantly, for any book, it is being read.

There is so much pressure on writers to focus on 'out there' that it's easy to disconnect from the joy of writing. Of starting with a blank page and the seed of an idea, then lovingly crafting that into a fully realised set of characters, situations and locations. That, my friends, is a little piece of magic, and it's an inner process. The only way isn't Essex, after all; it's in being the writer only you can be***.

And on that note, I'll be getting back to my esoteric fantasy, Covenant. 

* Sweeter, it turns out.
** Some might say 'capitulating'.
*** I've yet to see a pepper worrying about the competition in its efforts to develop. 

The Chapel in the Woods

Today I'm joined by Susan Louineau, who has completed and published her first novel, The Chapel in the Woods. I managed to bag some of her valuable time (see below) to find out about how she writes, why social media is her new friend, and the benefits of a soft pencil. 

1. As a new author, what do you wish you'd known at the beginning?

I wish I'd had the courage to put my work out there sooner.  I've wanted to be an author for very many years but confidence held me back.  Don't let anyone put you off, close your eyes and jump!

2. Tell us about your book.

The Chapel in the Woods is a mystery set over three time periods; 1172, 1942 and the modern day.  It's main characters are all Britons who found themselves in the same village in the Loire Valley and their contribution changed the history of that village forever.

3. What made you decide to write over three different time periods?

I've always been fascinated with old buildings and the history they conceal. I stumbled upon a derelict chapel in the forest near my home in the Loire Valley and couldn't help wondering who may have passed through there and what their purpose was.  I heard a rumour that it was believed that an English monk had hidden in these woods in the 12th century and that it had been named after him - though this has not been substantiated.  I, of course, thought of Thomas Beckett and THE CHAPEL IN THE WOODS was conceived!

4. Why set your book in France and did that choice present any additional challenges?  

I lived in France for seven years and am a confirmed Francophile.  Having studied there, renovated a house, had children and cooked, eaten and made merry, I simply enjoyed writing it all down and celebrating their unique lifestyle.  

5. How much research did you do about the ebook market and the various
publication and distribution options?

Absolutely none, it has been a steep learning curve.  Since I published in March I have 'met' an amazing number of fellow indie authors on Twitter and between us we share, guide and support each other to success.

6. What are you working on at the moment?

I am currently working on a novel set in Cornwall 'The Weather Gods'.  It is again set in a community with all the flavours and values of this amazing County and as the title would suggest intertwines science and mythology.

7. What is your writing process?

I try and write 1000 words a day.  If I get stuck I draw up character profiles of their loves, fears, habits (good and bad) - most of which will never be included in the story but help to define what their next move might be, and it usually does the trick and I'm on my way again.  I seem to work more productively in public places like on beaches or in cafés.  I tend to veer between typing straight into my laptop, writing with a good fountain pen or a soft pencil depending how my mood takes me!  

As a self-published author a large part of my day is spent marketing on Twitter and Facebook and controlling myself not to check my sales figures online every 2 minutes!  I moonlight as a wife, mother and a translator as I like to keep my hand in in the real world so at times writing has to take a back seat.  But variety is important in anyone's life and I wouldn't swap mine for anything!  

The Chapel in the Woods is available through Amazon.

I know something you don't know*

What does a maze represent for you?
I'm sure we've all seen one particular piece of advice that's handed out to new, would-be and, indeed, seasoned writers: write about what you know. Which is all fine and dandy until I read about  a succesful series starring a time-travelling vampire disc jockey (it really is the way I tell 'em), and then I start to wonder.

I sometimes twist the advice around so that it reads: know what you're writing about. Which makes a lot more sense to me. Not that I'm in the habit of offering writing advice. 

I do like models though (no, not that kind), and while I appreciate Alfred Korzybski's assertion that 'the map is not the territory', it can be bloody handy if you're trying to navigate through somewhere you've never been before.

On reflection, one useful model for good writing might be a combination of: 
a) Sufficient knowledge (information).
b) The relevance of that knowledge to the reader (context).
c) A fresh and compelling way of presenting the above (angle).

Although the requirements for fiction or non-fiction may be slightly different, I think those same building blocks still stack up. And when you look at it that way, anyone can do it. 
[Insert a pause here for optimism or sarcasm, as the mood takes you.] 

A quick glance through my CV (I've been reviewing it this week) shows pieces about interior design, electronic equipment, personal security, private education, staff motivation, intuitive symbolism, chickens, and downshifting, among others.

I guarantee that anyone who knows me even relatively well will find the idea of me writing about at least one of those subjects incongruous and amusing. Nevertheless I wrote what was required. Not because I'm as clever as I sometimes purport to be (I do impressions), but because I understood the brief and the rules of the game. My point is that we ought not to be put off by the idea from writing about a subject because we don't feel we have the expertise. Writing is as much about exploring possibilities and ideas as it is about putting words down on the page.

However, there really is something I know that you don't know. And it's about a fiction competition where I've taken 'silver', only I'm not allowed to mention it yet. The tension is killing me! More news when I'm allowed to blab.  

* Although you can probably look it up on the Internet.

Quid pro quote

How d'ya like 'em?

I must post upwards of a dozen blog comments a month. Some months it's well above that, and I'm by no means not alone in that respect.

Usually it's for someone I follow regularly or occasionally I find something in cyberspace that captures my imagination. Often I choose to comment because it's a fellow author at Musa or a comrade on Strictly or someone else I have connections with (and for the preceding reasons), and who wouldn't want to support a buddy? 

I used to feel a certain pressure with commenting and I have to say that I've long since noted a marked inequity between what I give and what I receive. However, that equation actually liberates me. If it's not a checks and balances arrangement then I'm free to comment when and how I feel like it, although I try to make it meaningful. After all, I want them to know I have read their piece and that I'm paying attention.

Blog posting is a strange and captivating world. It's the column you always dreamed of (minus the money or the guarantee of a readership, of course) or it's a confessional to the world. However, blogs do not write themselves. They take time and effort and focus. In short, they're like any other form of writing.

Commenting does two things:
1. It lets the blogger know that their post has been read and understood. (Or, in the case of the person who wanted to sell me the services of a detective in Arizona, completely ignored but for the odd keyword.)
2. It opens up the possibility of a dialogue. Writers love dialogues - and they needn't be solely about their own work and how wonderful it is, although that can be a great way to start the day/week/coffee break.

I like to ask questions too, partly because I'm a nosey sod and partly because I hope other commenters and readers will enjoy the answers. 

So I may not comment on your blog all the time, but be sure that when I do it's because I want to, and not because I feel a sense of obligation (well, maybe occasionally!). And if I don't comment, it's only because I don't have anything to say.

If you have something to say, why not make a writer's day (and any blogger is a writer) and drop them a line. You never know where the conversation will take you.

So that's what it was all about

Paddle your own canoe or go with the flow?
I'm about a third of the way through the final read through of my fantasy, Covenant, having gone through the traditional love / hate relationship that characterises doing my own editing. Commas have been sacrificed and, occasionally, reinstated; sentences rewritten to the level of my tolerance.

You see, Covenant is an old book. And how I wrote then, hopefully, isn't how I write now. It has its own voice though and that's why I want to nurture through to the printed page. 

What I'm most focused on is the ending.

It seems to me that the ending of a book has to serve a number of purposes:
1. To conclude the story. Or, if there are sequels to follow, to conclude that chunk of the story.
2. To tie up the loose ends you gave expectations of tying up.
3. To give the reader a sense of satisfaction because you have delivered the goods. The blurb did not lie. Thrills, spills, chills, and all manner of other rhyming words. (Grills?)
4. To whet the reader's appetite for all your other writing.
5. To say goodbye to the characters and give them a decent send-off.
6. Paradoxically, to make the reader think about the characters after they've closed the cover - in a good way. When I read a book that has touched me, I'll be thinking about the main characters for up to a week.

There are also those who say, "Leave 'em guessing. End with the sirens or the dragons arriving or the heroine holding a plane ticket that the reader can't see clearly." 

Ending a book, for a writer, is also about saying goodbye to a segment of your life. Whether anyone reads your book or not (and cheers, Jem, for your last reading of Standpoint in case you're passing), whether it's published or not, I guarantee that every writer can be instantly transported back to that time if they were to read their work back again. Maybe that's why I've been told that few authors enjoy reading their own books. 

I sincerely hope I've done the reader and my characters justice with Covenant. Like every author I know that once it's out there, a line is drawn and there's no going back. Frankly, I'm looking forward to it!

Coming soon...