Should old attainments be forgot

It’s traditional at this time to reflect on the previous 12 months and then to make a list of well meant but seemingly unachievable goals (that are neither SMART not SHARP), in order to improve one's circumstances in the coming year. And who am I to stand in the way of tradition? So, a drum roll if you please, as we skip through the highs and lows of a writerly year.

2014 saw me working for a bonafide millionaire – and not in a Monopoly sense, although property was involved. They really are just like any other client, which is probably why, once I'd signed on to the project, the scope of the job expanded like a festive waistline and I learned definitively that ten hours’ worth of work cannot fit into the seven you’ve agreed. Even so, it was a great experience, and one day I hope to find the speech on Youtube.

There was another even more interesting client once, although I didn’t find out exactly how interesting until I’d agreed to take on the job. Two words for you: Naked. Sushi. And don’t even ask me about seaweed. (And yes, of course I know you’re going to look it up now.)

2014 saw the launch of three mini-ebooks, each one a collection of 100 or so themed gags. You can find out about them here - you won’t find cheaper laughs anywhere else...

Elsewhere in my dream factory, my monthly green living / humour column finally came to an end after two and a half years (and 16,000 words). The mag editor and I are discussing other topics and meanwhile I’m exploring the world of second rights. Speaking of rights, my short story, The Silent Hills, reverted to my ownership after three years with Musa Publishing, following a mishap after I misread what I was signing (genuinely true and not added for comedic effect). They’re still the publisher of my mid-grade ebook, Superhero Club, so I’ll know better for next time!

Although NaNoWriMo was a great opportunity to make some headway with third thriller, The Caretaker, I have to report that I didn’t get the entire 100,000 word first draft down on paper. Still, 77,000 isn’t bad going.

I met some brilliant new web / blog clients and contacts, mostly as a ghostwriter. Part of the joy of meeting new clients is the challenge of writing about something different. Sometimes, as in the case of healthfoods, pedelecs or zombies, I already had a headstart. However, I can now also wax lyrical about history, mobile discos and digital advertising with the best of them. You could even say I’m a beacon of information – and if you understood that quip award yourself a bonus point. 

A special end-of year shout-out to Chloe Banks, who celebrated the publication of her first novel, and to David Brown, who completed the first draft of his first novel (and who is now making headway into his second).

As for next year, I have a few things planned. I want to finish the first draft of my third thriller, The Caretaker, which is timely because I’ll be hearing from an ebook publisher in January about whether they want to work on the series. I also have a short story collection I want to put together as an ebook, using the cover supplied by Work, obviously, is important, but it’s only as aspect of life (and don’t let them tell you otherwise). 

My thanks to you for reading my words and may 2015 bring you happiness, joy and creativity. 

The truth of it?

Do writers of fiction, like journalists, owe a responsibility to the truth?

As a writer of both fiction and non-fiction I've been asked how I compartmentalise my brain when it comes to finding inspiration.

"How do you know whether an idea will result in a blog piece / article, or a story? I mean, they're completely different types of writing, right?"

Erm...not really. Oh, sure, I know that writing about reincarnation and magical beings clearly isn't what you'd call conventional copy, unlike anonymised data and the value of terabit storage. However, even once you get past the requirements of grammar, spelling and punctuation, there are other shared conventions.

1. The writing has to meet the needs of its audience in terms of information, tone and relevance.
2. The writing has to obey the logical conventions of the genre (I'm calling non-fiction a genre today).
3. You need to deliver on your promises.

Examples? Certainly, step this way.

Your headline deliberately provokes a reaction and the subheaders suggest you have pertinent answers to your core question. But you skirt around the issue and end up leaving your readers high and dry.

You write a fantasy novel, where a magical ring can save the good guys, but each time it's used one of their kin has to die. All the way through the book there have been noble sacrifices, until our two heroes are there, unarmed, cornered by marauding orcs / wizards / demons. Never fear, they can use the magical ring - only which one of them will survive to tell the tale? Imagine how peed off you'd be if no one died (oh, just me then...). You might feel as though you'd been cheated.

Writing for children and young adults places further demands on the writer. Mostly, there are happy ever afters, but that hasn't always been the case. The shadowy heart of many traditional 'fairy' stories is well-documented, despite the Disney cinematic versions that have all but replaced them in popular culture.

Should we though, sometimes, just tell it how it is?

Let's face it, Disney Studios are unlikely to option The Old Curiosity Shop; not without substantial rewrites, anyway. The fabulous writers, Jacqueline Wilson and JK Rowling, are just two authors among many who allow children to experience some of life's harder lessons on the page.

When I came to write my mid-grade ebook, Superhero Club, I spent some time considering why children and young adults read books. Here was the list I came up with:
-    Escapism.
-    Wish fulfilment.
-    Looking for answers.
-    Curiosity.
-    The enjoyment of a good read.
-    Permission to experience experience.

Once I'd met my main character, 12 year-old Jo, and understood what the story was about, I realised I had a duty to show the shadows of her world and to accurately portray the ugliness of bullying and its impact on lives. As the plot developed and secondary characters found their way into the spotlight (that's how it worked in my head), I also saw how friendship and self-acceptance were the shining threads in the tale. It was important that the story wasn't too preachy, although I wanted Superhero Club to include the following messages:

-    It's never the victim's fault and there are positive things they can do.
-    Hope.
-    Everyone has a story, a reason for what they do, even if we never get to hear it in detail.
-    There aren't always easy solutions.
-    We are more than our circumstances, whatever they happen to be.

Today I'm being interviewed about Superhero Club over at Sharon Ledwith's blog. To be in with a chance of winning a free copy, pop over this week and leave a comment.

Life hacks from writing fiction

Lovers of fiction, whatever the genre, will often tell you that it's true to life (for them) and portrays real people with real emotions, often going through extraordinary circumstances. Fiction allows us to live vicariously, and to explore 'what if', often - to quote from the TV classic, The Water Margin: "...In a world very different from our own."

Of course, it could be said that fiction - and especially the writing of fiction - also has a lot to teach us about life in 'the real world'.

1. Character is revealed by how a person responds to circumstances.
Think about Stephen King's The Dead Zone for a moment, and the insight we gain into Greg Stilson from his first scene. It tells you everything you need to know. We have the full measure of him for the rest of the book.

2.   Show, don't tell.
Following on from the previous item, talk is cheap actions speak louder than words (although they are revealing too).

3.   Adverbs give colour to actions. As Bananarama sang, it ain't what you do but how you do it. Think about the difference between smiling joyfully and smiling malevolently. For those of you who rally against the humble adverb (one wonders exactly how you rally), just consider how you might want your actions described in some other way.

4.  Life is a series of drafts, followed by a series of edits.
There's a common idea that the first draft is for the writer, the second draft is for the reader, and all subsequent drafts are for the agent / publisher. The important point is that writing - like living - is a process rather than a destination. It's also not a pass and fail exam. If life deals you a rejection or a failure, it's time to regroup, redraft and redouble your efforts.

5.  It stops when you do.
One often cried writers' lament, especially in the early days, is: "When does it get easier?" Or they ask what it takes to be a proper writer. The funny thing is that getting published doesn't make you a writer. It makes you published, sure, but it's only writing (and continuing to write) that bestows that title on you fairly. In life, a dream or ambition is only over when you say it is. No one else, just you. Of course, you may have to modify your goals and aspirations - that's part of the editing process too!

November is National Novel Writing Month, although any month will do. It's a commitment to lay some foundations, however rocky, and worry about the quality later. Writers aim for and commit to a certain word count per day for an entire month. They share this goal and activity with other writers who offer mutual support, because everyone wants everyone to do well. Whatever you are doing, it's important to find a supportive environment, preferably with knowledgable peers, and to learn as you go along.  

7. Plotters and Pantsers
Some writers don't write a word of prose until they know exactly what happens to whom and when. For others, writing is a glorious leap of faith, starting with a seed of an idea and raw enthusiasm. Whatever your style, either way, it's a journey of becoming. Sometimes in life, prior planning prevents poor performance. At other times, you can't afford to wait, so dive in!

8. Take your inspiration from life and the lives around you.
Many first novels draw directly from personal experience, whether it be composite characters from your own life, or true stories you've seen, heard or known first-hand. Writers know that when you pay attention, look closely and listen, the world is filled with extraordinary people, each with their own unique stories. There are also universal themes, played out in subtly different hues on living canvases. Whatever you aspire to become, or struggle to deal with, know that someone else has stood in very similar shes and found a way through it.  

9. POV
Point of View. Three small words that make all the difference on the page. I once started a novel drawing directly upon personal experience, so I naturally wanted to write it in first person. However, I soon found that intimacy constraining. What I did was start afresh, in third person, and then I found it easier to separate my book and what my characters did from what had actually happened (well, according to my recollection, anyway). In the end, after several chapters and a few thousand words, I went back to first person, but with a different perspective on the scope of the book and what could happen. 

Another word for POV is perspective. Writers learn that even in their own books it's not always about them. Characters do strange things, suggest new ideas, confound us and generally breathe new life into our fiction - if we're lucky. Life can do that too, often when we least expect it. Sometimes it's about something bigger than our needs and our concerns. A shift in perspective can make all the difference.    

10. Writers write - what are you?
Like I said earlier, you can tell a writer because she or he writes. It's as simple as that. Any qualitative assessment is for the critics. So if you want to know who you are, and who you're perceived to be, take a close look at what you do on a regular basis!

Top ten excuses for not paying up

One of the benefits of a conventional employer / employee relationship - apart from the free pens - is the certainty of a regular salary. However, when you step off that merry-go-round and join the freelance dodgems, all manner of hurdles can get in the way.

Here's my countdown of the inexcusable, the incomprehensible and the downright laughable. I hope they amuse you - they were hard won - and that you enjoy the comments in brackets. I would also love to hear the pleas of poverty you've had to put up with, and what you did about them.

Here we go...

10. I've had a lot of outgoings this month (paying other writers, maybe?).

9. I went on holiday for a week (although the payment deadline was actually before you vacated).

8. I wanted feedback from friends first (and maybe a whip-round).

7. I was too busy making money to pay you. (A work of genius.)

6. Crowdsourcing hasn't come through yet (now you tell me...).

5. I was in an accident. (Sorry to hear that. However, you only need one finger for Paypal.)

4. I didn't like what you produced, although I've never told you before - and I can now specify my requirements fully.  (Better late than never...)

3. I kinda thought, despite our agreement, that you'd work these two hours for free, as an opportunity (to starve).

2. I'm broke (and it's your responsibility now).

And the number one spotª - which also genuinely happened to me...after chasing the client for weeks.

1. Sorry, I've been really busy - I've got a new puppy. (She gladly showed me the picture when I asked. ºIt was a cute Dalmatian. However, despite assurances that she would now pay the invoice, ten days went by with nada contact. I lost patience, fired her and kept the work she hadn't paid for. She being the client, not the puppy.)

Going forward

Setting clear expectations at the outset can help, as can getting references from a client (it may seem a disproportionate response for a single piece of work though). The best approach is to have standard terms and conditions that you both sign off against, which effectively becomes a contract. Most importantly, treat your business with the same consideration that you would a client's. 

Looking sharp

You don't have to be smart these days to recognise a SMART goal when you see one. Sing it with me, people:

SMART goals are really useful, both personally and professionally, giving shape and definition to abstract aspirations. Those five filters are also a great way of applying a little objectivity.


Not so long ago I was on the member's forum for Sophie Lizards' and the community was discussing blog post ideas. I got to thinking then that maybe it was time for a new acronym for goals (I'm also a fan of new proverbs, as any reader of The Little Book of Cynics or As Above So Below magazine can attest).

Hence, SHARP goals!

Singular - A defined objective that can be a subset of something larger.
Holistic - All implications and impacts on environment and people have been considered, as well as how achieving this fits in with the bigger picture. (If you achieve 'X', then what?)
Ambitious - This  goal stretches you and demonstrably furthers your ambitions.  In other words, this goal matters and takes you forward.
Reasoned - You've thought this through and determined that, all things considered, this makes sense for you to do right now.
Practical - You understand the steps necessary to achieve the goal.

How do you decide which goals are the right ones for you?

The Silenced Hills

Image by kind permission of
Kelly Shorten and Musa Publishing
All writers love stories, and some say that the best comedians are really storytellers - with a bit of tragedy thrown in for good measure. I'm not really sure where this tale fits, but I've been itching to share it with you.

Back in the mists of time I was travelling from Cornwall to London by train and a story began to unfold. It was the tale of a man on the run, perhaps even from himself. It unfolded over the course of the five hour journey and, from the beginning, was known as The Silent Hills. Many writers have that experience of a story arriving, fully formed, and this was one such gift.

In August 2011 I was fortunate to come across Musa Publishing. To my surprise and delight they enjoyed The Silent Hills and wanted to publish it as a standalone story. There swiftly followed some mid-Atlantic editing and a cover design, before TSH was duly published in October of that year. 

The whole process has been an education and a joy, but - and not for want of trying - TSH never soared to great heights. As a standalone story, frankly, it stood alone. I was encouraged by the publisher to write a follow-up, which made perfect sense when you read the story. However, the 'voice' wasn't there for part two and I knew I'd have to create the plot and narrative this time, which risked ending up with a contrived piece of writing. (Yes, I know that all writing is contrived, but there's often an added inspiration or intent that breathes life into the endeavour. Not so this time.)

I don't know what constitutes good sales, as I have nothing to compare TSH with. It received some good reviews and the feedback suggested that people appreciated the same things about it that I did.

Well, folks, time moved on and I wrote something completely different for Musa - the mid-grade story Superhero Club. Elsewhere, when I wrote the first of my Brit thrillers, Standpoint, I like to think that some of TSH's DNA was also present. One great thing about having Musa publish The Silent Hills was that one of my fellow authors there suggested I join the International Thriller Writers to get regular updates connected with the genre. 

At that time the newsletter covered novels, but not short stories. However, three years is a long time in writing and politics. ITW started listing new short stories and I thought it might be good to get a line in for The Silent Hills, as part of its third anniversary as an ebook. All of which was fine. However...two mini events coincided.

1. The ITW kindly gave The Silent Hills a mention and included Musa's book link.
2. Musa wrote to me on the three year anniversary to remind me that rights would be reverted to me, unless I wanted them to continue publishing The Silent Hills. I, of course, understood that rights reverted to me automatically, so when I received a contract requiring an electronic signature, I assumed it was to re-contract TSH for another three years. Not so. It didn't help that I'd checked out the email and e-contract using an iPad, which is not blessed with a giant screen. 

The upshot is that TSH's rights were returned to me and, quite rightly, Musa removed all versions of The Silent Hills available for sale online. Of course, this occurred at the very same time that the ITW came out that included TSH and a sales link. This is why, if you happened to receive the ITW newsletter, and you liked the title, The Silent Hills, you might have been perplexed why it was impossible to get hold of a copy.

As the young John Connor said in T2: Are we learning yet?

We are now!
Today's lessons are:
1. Always take copies of book reviews.
2. Always read the contract carefully!
3. Always have a Plan B.

Realistically, I now have two choices:
a) Republish The Silent Hills myself, as a standalone story.
b) Incorporate it into a collection of short stories.

Whichever route I take, or even if I decide to retire TSH, I'd like to thank the good people at Musa Publishing for getting my story to a wider audience. It's been quite a ride!

The Magic of Writing

Porsha having a spell in a cauldron.
If you can get beyond Trick or Treating, the same schlocky horror films being trotted out on TV and the sight of Christmas already being on sale, this is a special time of year.

The Celts called this time Samhain (often pronounced Sow-een or Sow-en, although there are other interpretations) - one of the eight festivals that marked the wheel of the year.

Samhain marks summer's end, when winter begins (there were only two seasons). For Christians, 1st November is All Saints Day, or All Hallows Day, which is where Halloween gets its name.

The marking of a special day, ether personally or collectively, is a pause point in the flow of life. It can be a day of reflection, dedication, gratitude, celebration or commemoration. What matters is that we interrupt the usual rhythm and take ourselves into a different frame of mind. If we're lucky, we gain perspective. Sometimes, if we're really lucky, we might even make changes or decisions because we're able to see things more clearly.

For writers, tomorrow is the start of National Novel Writing Month, where intrepid writers - first timers and dedicated followers of the craft - commit (to themselves) to producing 50,000 words in a month. If you are signing up (don't worry, it's not a cult although it might seem like it on the forums!), take some time today to reflect on the writing you plan to start or continue. 

The tagline on the NaNoWriMo website reads: The world needs your novel. It's not the usual message that writers hear. More frequently we hear about the self-publishing vs traditional publishing debate, or the huge advances for famous or renowned authors (they're not the same thing!), or the swarm drone of social media that insists there is a fool-proof way to make your mark with your book - with any book in fact.

Put all that aside today. In between bobbing for apples, eating lurid gooey cakes, carving out pumpkins, dressing up as a skeleton or lighting candles, find time to consider that sentence: The world needs your novel. Treat that as your touchstone when you think about why you're taking up the pen or the keyboard. You will spend many hours writing and, eventually, editing. 

You will face setbacks, crises of confidence (in both directions), and you will take time away from other things to work on your book. Make your words count. Write honestly and fearlessly. Write from the depths of yourself - your truth, your pain, your longing and your deepest and most fragile joys. Create from your regrets, your secret triumphs and your wildest imaginings. Search your soul to produce a novel that the world truly needs; one that enriches, delights, challenges, terrifies, comforts, mesmerises... Make the world a different place and your readers different people for having had the good fortune to read the story you unearthed. That's what good writing is - life changing. When we're touched by a book we're touched forever. 

It doesn't matter if someone disagrees with your use of the comma and the semi-colon; not really. It doesn't matter if someone hates what you've written, or mocks it. Real writing makes people more real; it gives them that permission. That's the power of words. 

My challenge this November is to produce another 30,000 words for The Caretaker, the third in a Brit thriller series. Today, as you read this, I'll be in Glastonbury, Somerset. If you happen to be at Chalice Well Gardens around 11am and you see someone in quiet reflection, interspersed with feverish note-writing into an A4 notepad, that'll be me preparing for November 1st. By all means say hello!

Why I teach what I teach - Kath Morgan

After several dog walks over Praa Sands, where we'd thrash out our plot challenges, and talk about our latest submissions (followed by a recuperative trip to the pub for coffee and hot chocolate), Kath Morgan agreed to write me a guest post. Here, she explains how and why she does it her way.

As the new academic year kicks into gear, and people turn to their adult education brochure seeking something to do to brighten up the dark evenings, several potential students have approached me, wanting to know about my Creative Writing for Beginners course. One question that keeps cropping up in one guise or another is, why do I teach what I teach? You see, my course isn’t the usual beginners’ banquet of knocking out first drafts and sharing them with your supportive but essentially non-critical class mates. It’s more structured, skills focused, and challenging.

Over the past twenty years or so, I have attended more creative writing classes and workshops than I’m capable of listing. I’ve enjoyed them. I’ve been inspired by some fantastic facilitators, been supported and encouraged by some fabulous writing folk, and flirted with a vast range of fiction techniques, such as character, settings, dialogue, etc. But - and this is possibly because I’m a bit dense – I exited time after time, happy and stimulated but none the wiser about how, exactly, I could become a better writer. Or even a half decent one. I learned a snippet or two about writing short stories, a bit about writing for radio, a tad about writing poetry. I wrote a lot, and had flashes of inspiration during which I produced some pretty palatable stuff. But I couldn’t replicate the success, because I didn’t understand why one piece worked while another didn’t. I didn’t know what I was doing.

It stuck me that there must be more to this fiction writing lark than these classes and workshops were letting on, at least in any form that I could access. I wasn’t willing to buy into the popular belief that good writers are simply born able to do it, that you are either born lucky or not. Truth is, I don’t like elitism in any form, so I threw myself into the task of discovering the elusive secret of writing good fiction. I read every book on the craft I could lay my hands on. I joined a couple of hard hitting critique groups and worked diligently on my (pretty terrible at that stage) first novel. I returned to University and took an MA in Professional Writing. I learned a lot.

Most of all I learned that the actual craft of writing good fiction is something that can and should be taught, and can and should be learned. We all possess various degrees of natural talent. To make the most of our allotted portion of it, we need to add craft and practice to our bundle.  So when, seven years ago, I was asked to run a creative writing course in Falmouth for the Cornwall Adult Education Service, I decided I would apply everything I had learned in my previous twenty years as a teacher to ‘teach’ the skills it had taken me so long to learn myself. This approach won't be everyone's cup of tea, but what is?

I designed a year-long course that takes a beginner writer on a roller coaster ride, by the end of which they will be armed with the fundamental skills they need to become a good writer. They will know how to create 3D characters that defy stereotype, how to bring settings to life, how to select and control point of view, how to write dialogue that either illuminates character or advances plot (and preferably both), how to structure a plot that resonates, what on earth show and tell is all about, and a whole host of ways to tighten their use of language. In short, they will have a clear understanding of how to write a good short story. No plays, no poems, no travel features. My aim is not to touch on a lot of things, but to teach one thing well: depth rather than breadth. The skills, once learned, transfer across genres. I want to enable my students to tackle their writing development from a position of knowledge, not ignorance. What they then do with that knowledge is up to them. That’s when the work really starts.


The Value of Value

Ah, Sunday nights. Stanley Turrentine is caressing the speakers, my ginger beer bottle is empty and the rain is tip-tapping on the attic window. It must be time for some philosophising!

Some years ago (i.e. in the old days), I was a product launch manager for a project that wasn't going well. In fact, this particular project was in such poor health that - for a number of reasons - I was already planning the pre-launch recovery and the post-launch recovery too. While I was running around from team to team, trying to get people to do what they should have been doing the first time, a senior manager called me over and commiserated with a smile, adding, "When you're up to your arse in crocodiles, it's hard to remember you're supposed to be cleaning the pool."

Writers not only create fictional worlds for our characters, we also create fictional worlds for ourselves - whether we write fiction or not. Largely self-motivated (allowing for bills, luxuries and kudos), we set goals and decide on destination points that are really, often, quite arbitrary.

That may sound like a weakness, but it's also a strength. Because, when we recognise that our goals are literally that - our goals - we are at liberty to change them. In other words, it's the value we place upon them rather than any objective value.

Ever been here?

Halfway done novelists want to finish their novels.

First drafters want to get through a complete edit.

Third drafters want an agent, or a publisher.

Contracted writers want a lucrative deal, or significant sales - preferably both.

Second novelists want book number two to be better than book one, and better received.

Every aspiration is perfectly reasonable, but how often do we examine what lies behind it?

Here's a case in point. I'm also a freelance writer and one of the sites I use is People per Hour. (You may have noticed the ad on this blog!) Their blurb suggests that, on average, Cert5 writers earn four times more than Cert4 writers. And, by inference, Cert4ers do better than Cert3ers. 

I mention all this because I recently reached Cert4. The algorithm is a dynamic one so here's a screenshot in case I've slipped back a little by the time this post is out there. 

Cert4 is good, but what does it actually mean? I've seen the pages of some Cert5 writers (what, like you thought I wouldn't check out the profiles of competitors?) and some of them charge £3 per hour. So Cert5 doesn't guarantee a high rate. I've also seen some jobs go to a Cert2 writer even when a Cert5 has also submitted a bid. So Cert5 doesn't guarantee a competitive advantage. 

As the man said on TV recently: correlation does not mean causality.

To return to the world of books, goals are important. Without them, we'd never get past the tyranny and adventure of the first blank page. We may lust after or lament the achievement of others, but there's no value in that. It gains us nothing, and for every writer looking at the rung above there are countless more looking up at them.

What values then might be valuable to most if not every writer?

Here are a few ideas...
1. Value your words by getting them down, no matter how frivilous, or how amateur they seem to you at the time.
2. Value your time by carving out writing time, every day without exception.
3. Without exception, always have some way of capturing your thoughts - a pen and paper, recorder, tablet, till receipt and pencil, or whatever you can think of.
4. Think of the journey ahead, but stay in the moment. Books are written page by page. Sometimes it flows like honey; other times it's like hand-to-hand combat with the English language.
5. The English language is your friend. Its rich dversity gives you limitless ways to express yourself. Revel in that and strive to find and express your own voice.

None of the above values will guarantee you literary success, happiness, fulfilment or a contract. They will, however, make you a writer. And you can't put a value on that.

Write then - the fundamentals.

A post or two ago, I invited blog visitors to ask questions. It was a pretty open invitation and I was expecting questions about freelancing, money, the muse, balancing creativity and business, and a host of other tar pits that working writers (and whether you're being paid or not, you're working) have to contend with. 

However, as John Lennon reminded us, life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans (not that I had any responses planned, you understand).

Instead, what I received on the post comments were two deceptively simple questions that really go to the heart of the matter when it comes to writing. Rather than give you a single perspective on Monika's prompts, I thought it would be more fun to introduce a bit of diversity.  

The respondents below number among them a published performance poet, a published novelist, a novelist working on a second novel, a novelist embarking on a trilogy, and however I'm referring to myself this week. I consider all of them friends and I've even met some of them face to face. Here they are, in their own words.

A big thank you to Monika for these prompts:

1. What makes you think you're a writer?

"Although I have always written and loved writing, it has only been relatively recently that I actually call myself a writer (I identified more as a painter/artist for most of my life, but writing has kinda taken over!) The shift from 'artist' to 'writer' was exacerbated by many favourable comments and people being moved by my writing when I tentatively started sharing my poetry." - Jackie Juno

"I can still recall the thrill of squishing ideas together in primary school, and coming up with a story that surprised me and interested other people. (But let's not forget the time I was asked to stand up in front of the school and read out a poem about Christmas!) I'm a writer now because I stuck with it and 'dared' to put my work out there for scrutiny. Those two things are, in my opinion, the only way to be a writer and to develop your abilities." - Derek

"When I left school I believed I was not that good at anything involving the English language. I had a terrible stutter and dyslexia, and intelligible hand writing, partly I think because I am left handed. I could not even speak the queen’s English. So that was that, I had a CSE (remember them?) grade 5, the lowest pass available. Later I returned to night school and completed an O level English language, it was special programme for adults who had poor literacy skills, so I was taught one to one. I passed and got a grade B, something I never believed I would achieve. My teachers had lied to me. I had lied to myself.
   "I began to write stories in longhand, and just go hooked. I remember finding something inside of me, not just writing, but writing stories. That’s what I liked. I would sometimes just write constantly for hours until my wrist hurt so much I could not hold the pen anymore. I think all of this stuff is still in existence in my loft, I must look for it one day. That is what makes me think I’m a writer." - David Brown

"I'm a journalist so in effect, I'm a writer by profession. Having a qualification too, gives me more weight to be able to call myself a writer. It's not 'by experience,' it's having passed exams. As for being an author, my contract gives me a sense of confidence too. When I start earning from my books, I'll call myself a writer proper!" - Gillian McDade

"I think what makes me think I'm a writer is only that I write. It's not too do with how often or how much. It's the simple act of choosing to spend my time putting words on paper even though I don't have to. I feel there should be more to it than that - something about what makes me get up in the morning or what motivates me, but all that might be why I choose to be a writer not what makes me one." - Chloe Banks

"This is all about identity, isn't it? I've never thought to myself "I am a writer" any more than I've ever thought "I am a navigator" or "I am a development facilitator"; they're all things that I can do, skills I possess, rather than characteristics I have whether (in most cases) I like it or not (like being white and English). In short, they're roles.
 "I think it follows that there was no one time when I thought "I'm a writer"; the skill gradually developed. I've always enjoyed writing – mostly letters, when such things existed, but also articles, papers, reports etc, to which I could give a little more elegance, and maybe humour, than is generally the case. In terms of fiction, I started about eight years ago and after about five years started producing stuff that doesn't make me wince when I read it now. I suppose that was the when I became what in some trades would be called an 'Improver'. And yes, it did help when people whose judgement I trust started to say that they actually liked it." - Warren Stevenson

2. What keeps you writing when you are discouraged?

"I must admit I don't really get discouraged. My main concern is that I don't have enough time to write." - Jackie Juno

"I generally go straight into writing something else. I still get discouraged by rejections and by a sense of my own literary limitations, but my desire to write is greater than the inertia." - Derek

"I must write each day, even if it is just a single sentence, or a corny reply to a Facebook post from a family member. That is the minimum I have set myself. Sometimes people will post back, sometimes they might comment that it is funny, or causes a reaction of some sort. This gives me the incentive to keep going." - David Brown

"If I become discouraged, I tend to panic, and force myself back into it. However there are times of discouragement when I want to throw the towel in! But when I see success stories around me, the panic increases because I just can't let others enjoy the limelight by themselves." - Gillian McDade

"When I am discouraged I keep writing because I know how much I've put into writing so far and that I will keep improving if I keep writing, and I remember these times I've been encouraged! I also know that my husband believes in me and, most importantly, I believe it's what I'm meant to do. My faith in God is important and not only do I believe God told me to write in the first place, but just when I was starting to doubt it someone who didn't know me at all (or that I was trying to be a writer) told me that God wanted me to keep writing!" - Chloe Banks

"As for discouragement, I've been described by various people as 'stoical', 'phlegmatic', and 'laid back' – not your usual artistic personality profile I imagine – so although I often write a chunk which I then electronically tear up I don't take this as a personal failure. Probably the equivalent of planing and sanding down a piece of wood which then splits when you try to screw it into position. I've spent months producing work which I then find either isn't what I wanted, or just plain isn't good enough – too boring, too disjointed, over-demanding or whatever. The answer being to check the next bit of wood more carefully before you start, and at intervals during the process. I'm temperamentally an optimist, so I always believe tomorrow can be better, given the ability to learn from the past.
 "Maybe this sounds like a manual for technicians, but then that's a large part of what I am. The ideas complete the skill set, and they have to come from experience, so it's a good idea to have had quite a bit of that, in a variety of settings." - Warren Stevenson

My thanks to all my fellow contributors for their time and their honesty - please click generously:

Jackie Juno 

Gillian McDade

Chloe Banks

John Hanley - Bringing History to Life

Everyone has heard one of those apocryphal stories about going on holiday, on the far side of the world, only to meet someone from your home town. My version of that was a happy coincidence, encountering author John Hanley online and then finding out he is based in Truro - just up the road from me (if the road is 25 miles or so of the A394).

John is both a dab hand at using social media to promote his books and willing to share the fruits of his labours - a blogger's dream! 

1. John, we met over social media. How important has social media been to you as a writer?

When I started promoting my first book I had no experience of social media so I started with twitter by following tweeps who had confessed to enjoying reading in their profiles. I then extended this to those who followed authors who had published books similar to mine. Until I passed the 2,000 follower mark it was a bit of a struggle but now I'm picking up a dozen or so new tweeps each day. I did a cull recently after discovering that nearly 1,000 of those I was following were inactive! I use Just Unfollow to manage and categorise. Tweetdeck is also very helpful for retweeting and scheduling.

I read a few books on social media and plunged into facebook without really appreciating its nuts and bolts. I have been posting background detail especially photographs about my novels on my fb author page  for some time now rather than try to manage a blog on my website as it is far easier! I now use twitter to drive potential readers to both those sites.

Fortunately I discovered ASMSG (Authors Social Media Support Group) early on and now engage with their nearly 1,000 members in tweeting, retweeting, sharing on fb, liking on Amazon author pages and rating and voting on Goodreads.

LinkedIn has also proved a very useful resource and I've enjoyed networking with authors all over the world though I am still surprised by some of the requests I receive especially from members who are not authors.

2. How did the character of Jack Renouf first speak to you, and when did he appear?

Jack has been speaking to me for a very long time as we share so many interests though he is far more headstrong and adventurous than me! He was born in 1920 - the same year as my mother. I grew up in post-war Jersey where my mother had been trapped for five years by the German Occupation of the island. I had often wondered what it must have been like for a young man who had just left school in 1939 and how he would have coped with the harsh reality of war.  Nearly all young men of his age left the island though most of the young women didn't as they had family obligations.

3. Research is obviously a key aspect of your writing - have you discovered anything that changed how you wrote the books?

What I find quite amazing is that over 70 years later new facts are still being discovered about that period. After the liberation in 1945 the UK government carried out a full investigation into what had happed during the Occupation. The subsequent report has been sealed until the year 2045! However, from information I had picked up from family and friends I was aware of certain lines of enquiry that I might follow and have been able to unearth some stories which I have been using in my "fictional" work. 

My principle resource has been my extensive library of second world war books especially the 200 or so items specific to the Channel Islands which I have collected over the past 40 years. During the course of writing Against The Tide I collaborated with someone who had been a Hollywood screen writer and he suggested I beef up one of the sub plots of the novel. This involved a whole new line of research as I always try to make events as realistic as possible. In this case I constructed a complete story around a shipment of industrial diamonds from the Belgian Congo to Jersey. During the research I discovered that not only was there a law firm in the island which represented the very company around which I had based the story but that the Germans had been working along the same lines to defeat the embargo imposed by De Beers to prevent them acquiring these essential elements for their factories!

4. How did you choose Matador as a publisher?

I followed the traditional route of trying to find an agent for several years without success and, after retiring in 2006, decided to take the gamble I was asking of a publisher and risk some of my own money on my novels. I read Harry Bingham's book "Getting Published" which had been recommended by the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook and researched several alternatives before settling on Matador, which is the fiction imprint of Troubador - the mainly educational publishing company I had come across during my teaching career. Troubador offered a full publishing package and Jeremy Thomson the managing director was very honest about the potential outcomes and the poor chances there would be of actually making any sort of profit. The quality of their product was much superior to several other companies I approached though all were quite frank about the responsibility I would have to promote and market my own work.  In choosing an established publisher I have been through the same process as an agented author and experienced the joy of intensive copy editing and proofreading as the company will not print work until the editing is completed to their satisfaction!  I found the cover design process very interesting and even though I came up with most of the ideas Troubador's product management team was extremely helpful.

One aspect of publishing I hadn't really considered was the word count of my manuscripts. I'd read in several places that a first novel shouldn't really exceed 80,000 words. It was only when I discovered how heavily publishers had to discount their books for Amazon and other major booksellers that the penny dropped! Both my novels were over 120,000 words so the production costs were relatively high but the price point remains the same for most paperbacks which means profits and therefore royalties are severely squeezed once 100,000 words is exceeded. Of course the more books you print the better the unit costs but then they have to be stored prior to distribution and that costs as well. None of this applies to e-books but I still have a fondness for hardcopy and my next novels will not exceed 90,000 words!

Another aspect about which I was unaware was the kindness with which the taxman treats authors allowing initial losses to be set against non-writing income. My accountant told me about this though I doubt he would recommend authoring as a means of feeding a family.

5. Any tips for balancing being an author with the time and effort required to maintain the profile of your books? 

If you look at my facebook author page you will see that I spend a lot of time providing historical background for potential readers. I do find that an engaging process but add that into the basic social media activities then time left for actual creative writing quickly disappears. I'm not too worried at present as I'm still new to this business and am confident that I can find the necessary time for writing the next novel in the series especially as I've decided to limit the number of words!

6. Just out of curiosity, did you attend the Writers' Day in Truro in 2012, put on by me and Literature Works?

I didn't know about the Day but would have attended if I had.

7. Where can we find out more about you and your books?

Here are my links:

My website: THE LAST BOAT:
AGAINST THE TIDE regional Amazon link:
THE LAST BOAT regional Amazon Link:
Goodreads author page:
Facebook Author Page:
Amazon Author page:
Troubador THE LAST BOAT:
Review link:

8. Any other experiences you'd like to share about marketing your books?

I found the Cornish press quite helpful and have been interviewed by the West Briton and broadcast on BBC Radio Cornwall.

As the books are largely set in Jersey I was able to secure interviews with local press outlets there as well. As a by-product of publishing my first novel I was appointed as the adjudicator for Jersey's Eisteddfod Literary Section last year

I invited the Cornwall Library Service to stock my books and I now receive a small fee based on borrowings from the Public Library Lending Service each year.

Waterstones in Jersey were happy to stock my first novel especially after the publicity there surrounding the launch but I have not had any success with booksellers in Cornwall even though I have been on Radio Cornwall and appeared in the West Briton.

I've appeared at a couple of local organisations as an after dinner speaker and this is an excellent method of promoting and selling books though it can be quite exhausting!