Seven Signs you’re a Coffee Addict!

My name’s Sam and I’m… a coffee addict. Got the T-shirt, literally! No two ways about it. The black stuff equates to my writing fuel… well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it! And putting together this blog post wasn’t difficult, as all of these signs apply to me. How about you?

One…Your favourite barista knows exactly what you drink, you go in there so often. For me, it’s either a small, black Americano or a medium one with an extra shot of hot water. Or, occasionally a small hot chocolate. My local barista always seems to be able to read my mood and guess!

Two… You’ll make a detour to go to your favourite coffee shop. Often, when I need a couple of items from the supermarket, instead of walking to the nearest ten minutes away, I’ll march a whole half-an-hour into town just so that I can get my coffee shop fix!

Three… You rate places by the standard of their coffee. Museums, garden centres, airports, department stores… Their actual purpose as a building is secondary to your caffeine needs!

Four… You have a top table in your head of your favourite cafes for certain hot drinks. My current one – for hot chocolate? Marks & Spencer first, followed closely by Le Depart cafe in St Michel, Paris (I visited last week!), then Waitrose and finally Starbucks.

Five… You suffer the classic coffee-addict’s weekend migraine. Supping your Americanos or Lattes from seven am each day, when you are up and out to work, you body starts to suffer from withdrawal when you have a lie-in on a Saturday and deny it that first early caffeine hit.

Six… Even if you are staying in the coffee shop, you order your drink in a take-away cup because it stays hotter for longer and delays that sad moment when your caffeine is all gone.

Seven… You don’t one hundred per cent trust anyone who doesn’t drink coffee. Tea? That’s a bit namby pamby 🙂

And, just for me,  I think I ought to add on eight… You write a novel about your favourite drink! The New Beginnings Coffee Club is set in a lovely village cafe, run by a rather gorgeous, enigmatic barista called Noah.

It’s a must-read for caffeine fans!

 

 

 

 

New Year’s Resolutions for Writers

Happy New Year everyone! I wish you a healthy and content 2017. I don’t make new resolutions, these days – not in terms of giving up chocolate or promising to be in the gym every morning by seven. However I have lived through many years of making resolutions about my writing. Here are the top five I consider to be useful and realistic – and I’m sure some of you have tried and tested effective ones, and it would be great if you shared them here!

New year res for writers

Firstly – be true to yourself. Don’t try to mimic other writers because you will never be a better version of them – just as no one can be a better version of yourself. Love Lucy Diamond? Great – read her books and try to analyse how she pulls readers into her stories and makes her lead characters so likeable. But don’t aim to reproduce her style. You have your own voice which – in my experience – will eventually emerge. It may be a long journey to find it, driven by writing manuscript after manuscript, but when you finally have that lightbulb moment and feel the words in your head are translating to the page exactly as they should, it’s a precious thing that – ultimately – will make you stand out as different, on the slushpile.

Secondly – learn to appreciate constructive criticism. This one can be hard! If you are an aspiring writer and someone more experienced has given you negative feedback, try to step away from your personal hurt and clinically look at the comments. And the same applies to a published author who has just received a bad review. If it is personal and insulting then it doesn’t deserve your attention – but if it’s polite and makes potentially fair comments, then consider analysing the negatives and maybe take them on board. I’ve found some unfavourable reviews quite useful in the past as they have given me an insight into where I  might be going wrong, in terms of creating relatable characters and plots that keep readers wanting to read on, right to the end. And if the negative feedback is from your editor, during revisions, just remember – she/he believes in you and is simply investing their time in trying to make your book even better than they already believe it is.

Thirdly – Read, read and read more. I failed dismally at this is 2016. But some of the books I did find time to enjoy really helped me to be more adventurous with my own writing. It is easy to get stuck in a rut with your own style if you don’t get a taste of how other authors are pushing boundaries and hitting the pleasure-spot for readers. I try not to let my writing style stagnate.

Fourthly – don’t forget why you started writing. Presumably – like me – it was due to a love of words and crafting sentences together. If it was for fame and fortune (*hollow laugh*!) you won’t survive the path it takes to get published. But if writing is a dream that comes from the heart, then when you get rejected or published and have to deal with deadlines, promotional work, bad reviews etc, just remind yourself that you are doing what you love and leaving behind a legacy of your creativity.

Finally, aspiring authors – don’t do what I did in the early days, and make the resolution “to get published this year”. It doesn’t quite work like that! Instead resolve to achieve something more attainable like “this  year I will submit my work to twenty agents” or  “this year I will see if I can get one full manuscript request”. Don’t set yourself too high expectations as you will feel you’ve failed, even if, in the bigger picture, you haven’t. Savour small victories, like a positive rejection letter. The road to publication takes many small steps, not one giant leap.

Best of luck and above all else, don’t forget to be kind to yourself. It’s a crazy business, this publishing malarkey, and dealing with it can be a challenge for us sensitive writing souls.

A Year of Change…

Phew. What a year 2016 has been. Brexit, Trump, countless celebrity deaths…  Some days I hardly dared look at what was trending on Twitter! Global surprises aside, like many of you, I’ve also had a year chock full of peaks and troughs. With one thing and another, I was thinking to myself that I’d be glad to see the back of 2016 – but quickly took that back. Because, due to the difficult times, I’ve actually learnt a lot – about life; about myself.

That’s the thing, isn’t it? We learn nothing from remaining static. So even if the lessons are hard, I’m all for mixing it up and facing change. If we don’t continue to gain knowledge, then what’s the point? So I’m looking forward to facing what life throws at me in 2017.

Reading and writing have, of course, featured heavily in my life this year. There are my own books, including my summer Cornish romance which got to #8 in the UK Kindle chart. That was thrilling and huge thanks to all you readers. Your support and kind words mean so much.

breakfast under a sun small

I am super excited about my upcoming projects as well, and April 2017 sees the publication of my next novel which is all about being true to yourself – and coffee! You can imagine what fun I had, researching that subject (well, it would be rude not to have something sweet with each cup – even if it is as small as this macaroon)!

coffee and cake 2

 

I’ve taken up a course in Mindfulness which means reading books about visualisation and breathing. It was very difficult at first, learning to mediate, with lots of intrusive thoughts, ranging from problems to lists for shopping! But the more I practise, the easier it gets. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who feels like they sometimes need “time out” from their busy twenty-first century life.

mindfulness

I also started a health-kick three months ago and whilst it was difficult for the first few weeks, now I feel fantastic. It’s all about San Pellegrino mineral water, stir fries and blueberries… not that I have given up my daily chocolate fix. I have to be realistic 🙂  I’ve also rediscovered my love of baking which has meant researching and reading recipes online. Below is, ahem, a “healthy” banana cake!

banana cake

 

Finally, 2016 has been a year for discovering new authors. Below is a great debut read from Helen Cox – the style is what I’d call gritty chicklit. It’s a fabulous story for fans of American diner food and Grease.

Helen

Right. That’s me done for the year. Now I’m off to wrap presents. I hope 2016 has been good to you all – and if not, that you feel the negatives have nevertheless taught you something positive. Here’s to a great 2017 for everyone. Have a fantastic Christmas. I’ll raise a glass of fizzy mineral water to you all 🙂

Poldark’s Five Flirtiest Traits!

In my new Cornish romantic comedy, Breakfast under a Cornish Sun, Kate Golightly’s life is a mess. She needs to move forwards and, as part of the plan, heads off to Cornwall to find her very own Poldark lookalike, being a big fan of this super successful TV show.

And who could blame her? There is no doubt that this smouldering, scything sex-god has taken the viewing female population by storm. But why? Here are the five things about this character that really turn me on!

Firstly – and funnily enough – it isn’t that six-pack bare chest. Mesmerising as that grass-cutting scene was, it’s those raven eyes that captured my heart. With their dark, inky depth they show passion. They say eyes are the windows to the soul yet Poldark’s are less transparent than that, in a way, and leave us guessing as to his next actions. They hint at a recklessness and spontaneity that keeps me on the edge of my sofa. He has a lawless and risk-taking side that excites, especially as it is usually driven by his strong moral code. They also show his hurt, for example at losing the love of his life. And compassion. Here is a man who looks out for his neighbours and tenants.

Secondly – that scar. Emblazoned across his face it reminds us of his physical hurt, suffered during the American War and compounded by losing Elizabeth whilst he was abroad. In my experience, picture perfect heroes often lack depth. Flaws tell a story. Here is a man who has life experience and that’s very appealing.

Poldark traits

 

Thirdly – ooh yes, as a romance reader/viewer I do love a man in uniform so was always bound to find this British Army officer appealing, with the red jacket and tricorn hat. A uniform implies its wearer possesses a sense of duty, responsibility and selflessness if things take a turn for the worse. They shout “this is a person of integrity” who, in difficult times, would put you first.

Fourthly – those bedroom black curls. In an age of sculpting gels and groomed male haircuts, it’s refreshing to see a wild-at-heart style that taps into primeval desires unrestrained by society’s trends and expectations. Poldark’s masculine physicality and strength as a soldier and mine-owner compound his irresistible appeal on very basic levels. (Although I don’t want to ruin it for anyone, but actor Aidan Turner actually wears a wig for the show!)

Lastly – okay, that grass-cutting scene was pretty hot. All the more so, because it was an impulsive idea down to Aidan Turner on the day, and this sums up the character he plays. There is no hidden agenda – Poldark is what he is. He’s not trying to impress anyone. He’s being himself. You either want to spend time with him or not. Um, yes please 🙂

If you’re interested to find out if Kate Golightly finds the fictional man of her dreams, my new fun romance is 99p for a limited time on Amazon and Kobo!

 

breakfast under a sun small

 

Five Top Traits for Heroes

I’ve been thinking lately about what is the difference between a romance, which I write, and Women’s Fiction. One is that far more attention is given to the hero in my genre. I’m a romantic at heart and as a teenager and young woman I would often lie in bed at night, plotting out stories starring me and my current actor crush. Some of these were quite complex and would last over several nights- oh yes, the list was long… Starsky, the Bionic Man – even Boy George! This was before I knew I’d be an author. Of course now those dark hours are spent plotting my next novel. And the driving force behind my story is often centred on the hero.

heroes

So what does a hero need to make my heart flutter and pulse rate? In my new release, Breakfast under a Cornish Sun, there are two heroes to whet your appetite and I’ll use them to demonstrate my five top favourite traits. And I’m not talking about physical appearance as women are very varied in what turns them on. Take Lucas in my new book – he is the perfect Poldark lookalike, with his raven curls and swarthy complexion and is an instant joy to Kate Golightly, who headed to Cornwall in search of this fictional hero. Whereas Tremain, on the other hand, is stockier with super short fair hair.

No, personality transcends looks every time when it comes to longstanding sexiness. And Lucas with his dangerous dark looks and couldn’t-give-a-damn attitude demonstrates the first trait I find irresistible. It’s not very PC to say, but I love a streak of arrogance, because this shows confidence. There is nothing more sexy than a man who is self-assured and unprepared to change just to please others.

Secondly, however, I need a degree of vulnerability that explains this cocksure behaviour, otherwise that utter confidence tips into becomes unattractive. Take Tremain, the other gorgeous man Kate Golightly meets when she visits Cornwall. He is surly. Unsociable. A man of few words. Appears rude sometimes. Yet when he does speak his statements seem loaded with emotion and hint at a tragic past only a special woman could get him to share. This vulnerability makes the hero a challenge – can the protagonist persuade him to open up? Because opening up makes a hero seem even braver.

Breakfast quote superhero clark kent

Thirdly, oh yes, I need heaps of passion and both Lucas and Tremain have fire in their eyes. Because passion hints at a sense of recklessness which, in good measure, means the difference between an average and breathless kiss. Passion means danger. Pleasure. Spontaneity. All the ingredients for a memorable encounter that will get readers turning the page.

Fourthly and equally important to passion is compassion. I need a hero who cares for other living things than himself. And in Breakfast under a Cornish Sun this is one quality that will help Kate decide if her future is with either of these two Cornish hotties. I won’t give too much else away, other than to say her chosen one takes a while to work out.

Finally – urgh, this is hard. Which trait to select?! There are so many other qualities I seek in my perfect fictional man. Tenderness. Strength. Humour. Sincerity… in fact I think that answers my question. Complexity. Complexity is everything when creating the perfect hero. Us women and readers like a challenge, right? So we want a hero who is going to take a whole book to work out. And both brooding Lucas and troubled Tremain have deep-seated reasons for their demeanour and behaviour. This makes them realistic and relatable and – I hope – hotter than ever.

Are You your Job?

First and foremost, let me make it clear, I love my profession and thank the universe every day, that I am lucky enough to do a job I adore. But is there the risk that it represents too much of my identity? To me that’s an easy question to answer. My CV is almost the length of a football pitch (okay, slight exaggeration)… In the past I have been a translator, tutor, doctor’s receptionist, hotel worker, envelope-stuffer, retail assistant… you name it, I’ve probably got the T-shirt. But never, ever, before being an author, has my feeling of self-worth been so closely linked to my career.

The good side of this? It drives me to succeed as it is my reputation and self-pride at stake. I think this applies to anyone who is self-employed. I work long hours. I strive to be my best. I do lots of promotional work and forever look to improve my writing. I write speedily to increase my output and become as prolific as possible.

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But the bad side?  Recently I realised that striving to my best – for me – means striving to be THE best and that is an unattainable and dangerous goal. If a book doesn’t sell as well as the previous one, a little voice hints that I’VE failed. If I get a bad review, it feels like a huge blow to the person, SAMANTHA TONGE. If I lose followers on Twitter, I wonder what I  am doing wrong. Writing is so closely linked to an author’s ego. If I were merely tweeting on behalf of an employer such as a school or doctor’s practise, the ups and downs of that platform’s success would have little effect on me as a person.

In my opinion,  the important thing, as a writer – or artist, actor… any of those professions where you give away a little piece of yourself during the process – is to distance yourself as much as you can from the business side. You won an award (like I did for Game of Scones)? Great. Recognize it as an appreciation of your work, not your soul. It might happen again. It may never. That doesn’t mean you, as a person, have succeeded or failed any more or any less. Just received a bad review? The reader isn’t saying YOU deserve to be the target of rotten tomatoes. They simply didn’t enjoy one of your pieces of work in the way that some people love sushi (yuk) and others don’t. Not gaining as high rankings as another author? No matter. That’s the nature of the business. There are lots of contributing factors and whilst you are the face on the tin, you aren’t responsible for everything like the packaging or final recipe – or amount of luck.

me award 2

 

Plus social media  – whilst highly enjoyable – can easily feed into a writer’s fragile ego. Are my photos appealing enough? Are my tweets and statuses funny? Why have my ‘likes’ gone down lately?

I strive to stand back and see being an author as just a job. And this isn’t as hard as it sounds, luckily for me, as I have a lovely family to enjoy time with. If I had come to writing as a younger person, without other responsibilities, the knocks might have hit harder. So my advice? To start with cut down on social media outside the 9 til 5 or during the day if your writing life starts in the evening. See your social platforms for what they are – tools to drive your career and not an indictment of the kind of man or woman you are. A little hint that you are connecting too closely with your job is what you talk about when you speak to a distant relative on the phone. How much of your news is about your work? Have you anything else to say about other aspects of your life like hobbies and trips out? Try to find an even balance.

So next time you get a bad review or your book doesn’t soar, still pat yourself vigorously on the back. Or as you launch a new book, like I will be doing soon with my summer novel Breakfast under a Cornish Sun. You are doing the hardest thing ever – putting actual parts of your soul out into the big wide world, to be scrutinised by Joe Public. That earns you the permanent judgement of being one hell of a gutsy person, who looks failure in the face – instead of creeping around it, too scared to ever dare step out of its shadow.