The Seven Deadly Sins of Writers

Just seven? Seriously, this wasn’t a difficult post to write. I can think of many ways authors make life difficult for themselves. But they are complex creatures… yes, I can see their partners or family – or editors! – nodding vigorously in agreement. All of these are based on my own experience, and I’ve worked hard to cross some off my list. How many do you tick? Perhaps you’d like to comment below anonymously!

Before we start, this is how the dictionary defines a sin:
“An act regarded as a serious or regrettable fault, offence, or omission.”

One… the biggest ego in the world – which can so quickly swing to being the smallest. Whilst starting a first draft, I have what I call “X Factor Moments”. That is, flashes of thinking the book I am writing is so brilliant that any film director would be mad not to turn it into a movie. Then, usually, a third of the way through a manuscript, the total opposite happens and I suffer a massive crisis of confidence. It’s an exhausting rollercoaster and a regrettable fault, indeed, because it can shred a writer’s nerves.

Two… using writing as an excuse to justify overindulging in substances. Coffee, wine, chocolate, cake – be it a bad review or fantastic book launch, we’ll tell ourselves our poison of choice is the only way to commiserate or celebrate. This inevitably leads to writer’s bottom and is a huge offence against our health. Last year I took myself in hand and got cycling. I still enjoy my coffee and cake but try to aim for moderation.

Three… Comparison. With other authors – which, inevitably, leads to jealousy. I blogged about this here and can heartily recommend this post if you ever suffer  pangs of wishing you were J K Rowling. Remember, your own success could be just around the corner. Comparing yourself is fruitless as there is a lot more to an author’s career than just the quality of their work. Luck plays a part and it is pointless wasting energy fretting over something that you can never consciously acquire. Instead focus on learning, improving and becoming the best version of yourself.

Four… Use their job as a threat. I do this quite a lot. “Be nice (read that as ‘do a good job’), or I’ll write you, as a villain, into my next book.” I say it with a sweet smile and little tinkling laugh, but believe me, I mean every word. This phrase has come in handy with all sorts of people, including an optician, tiler and a gynaecologist!

Five… Selfies. I now take these regularly to promote my work. And yes, I admit the sin of vanity – I do sometimes use Instagram filters. Like the one below. It’s a coaster about coffee because my upcoming May release, The New Beginnings Coffee Club, features this marvellous drink a lot. Last week I visited my editor and we were talking about photographers who ask clients which is their “best” side. Most of us wouldn’t know but *shamed face* I do now. Although I can never remember which it is!

Six... An obsession with social media. Hands up. At all hours I feel compelled to check my notifications on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. I tell my family – and worse, myself – that this is purely for work. That funny gif of Brad Pitt? *Ahem*, um yes, it might inspire a character. And don’t get me started about checking the Amazon ranking of a newly released novel!

Seven… The blame game when things go wrong. The fact is, the publishing industry – the charts, readers, reviews – it’s all such a random, fickle, unpredictable business. Yes, sometimes causes can be pin-pointed, but prolonged negative thinking, resentments, bitterness – they are highly destructive and ultimately futile. If it’s impossible to focus on the positives – or they just aren’t there – then alter your situation, even if that means changing agent or publisher. I find meditation and mindfulness help. Plus a recent interest in Buddhism. Rubbish happens and will probably happen again. Usually it isn’t personal. For your own sake, try to move forwards.

Coffee Club Chat!

Yesterday I was thrilled to visit my publisher, HQDigital, at the News Building on London Bridge where HarperCollins is based. They had run a competition for bloggers to meet me for coffee and chat about my upcoming release, The New Beginnings Coffee Club. It was especially enjoyable for me to take part in a physical event to celebrate this novel’s release, as so much of my writing life is spent online. So I really appreciated the Coffee Club squad (as I now call them – bloggers and editors alike!) giving up their time.

Talking of coffee, that’s the first thing I thought of when I arrived at Stockport station to make the two hour train journey to Euston. And lesson learnt from my last, nauseous journey to London, I sat forward-facing and didn’t read too much! The weather was gorgeous and in no time at all, I found myself in one of the HarperCollins board rooms, lapping up the beautiful views of the capital’s skyline  – and more of the black stuff.

How wonderful to meet well-respected bloggers Rachel Gilbey (left) and Sharon Wilden. Their reputation precedes them and, along with my editor Victoria and editorial assistant Hannah, we spent three hours chatting, gossiping and belly-laughing about the publishing business, books and my new novel. On hand was an array of tiffin and biscuits, coffee and sparkling water, and we talked about industry trends and our favourite authors.The time whizzed by and it was really fascinating to hear the bloggers’ views on reading, writing and the industry – my editor and I fired off many questions! And I enjoyed explaining about the characters and themes in my  new book which is very close to my heart.

Also, I was super excited to see the fantastic book trailer for my new novel! My editor offered to show it to me before Rachel and Sharon arrived, but I managed to hold off for the premiere!

 

All in all it was such an exciting day. Thanks to Rachel and Sharon for their time and jokes! And remember, ladies, what happens at The News Building stays there!!

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!

 

 

 

 

Love in a cup – Writers and Coffee

T.S. Eliot once said “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons,” and I certainly feel like that about my writing career (although unlike Eliot, I see this as a positive thing!) This rich, chestnut-coloured liquid (I take mine straight) has fuelled bursts of inspiration and helped settled my nerves after a rejection. And it always accompanies a baked treat if there is cause for celebration. Like nothing else (okay, apart from my husband and kids) coffee has been a steadying influence along the rollercoaster journey of becoming a published author. It’s a big part of my writing life and inspired my next novel  out in May, The New Beginnings Coffee Club. Hands up, I’ve conducted something of a love affair with this drink, for many years now. As have many writers. Legend has it that Lee Child drinks 30 cups of the black stuff, every day!

So is it the caffeine that attracts me? No – purists brace yourselves, but I only drink decaff. Yet decaffeinated coffee has come a long way in the last five years, with restaurants and cafes going the extra mile and installing machines that will produce it, instead of offering only instant. I don’t get that chemical hit. So what’s the attraction? For me its the flavour, its richness, the warmth.  I always drink coffee with a biscuit or cake. So no doubt my hit is from that sugar. Nothing keeps me at my desk like an large Americano and slice of cake like the banana loaf below. Just the smoky, roasted aroma makes me feel settled and ready to put finger to keyboard. Perhaps this was why playwright John van Druten said “I think if I were a woman I’d wear coffee as a perfume.

Having said that, we’ve all, at some point, drunk a bad cup – yet still finish it,  even draining the dregs. And I think author Edward Abbey summed up how I feel, when he said “Our culture runs on coffee and gasoline, the first often tasting like the second.” It’s as if my authorly brain sends out messages to consume, regardless of flavour, because it knows that beautiful liquid is a necessary creative tool!

At least five times a week I go into a coffee shop ( and I did work out the maths of how much that means I am spending in a year, and needed a lie-down afterwards!) This breaks the routine of my stay-at-home author job. Sometimes I meet friends, writerly or not. Often though, I just go on my own and spend the time planning out the next chapter of a book. A change of surroundings can be hugely inspiring. And, as explained in the picture below, going out for a coffee means so much more than just going into a shop.

Novelist Gertrude Stein certainly agreed that there is something special about the experience of drinking coffee:
Coffee is a lot more than just a drink; it’s something happening. Not as in hip, but like an event, a place to be, but not like a location, but like somewhere within yourself. It gives you time, but not actual hours or minutes, but a chance to be, like be yourself, and have a second cup.”

I loved writing The New Beginnings Coffee Club, which is about a cafe, in a small village, that has a real community feel. Jenny Masters’ charmed existence comes crashing down around her ears. Can a little bit of caffeine really help her become the woman life always intended her to be?

This book features my most favourite character ever and if you love feel-good stories – and coffee – it’s up for preorder here.

 

 

Never Complain, Never Explain…

There come’s a time, in every author’s life, when they get a bad review. And the more successful your book is – the more reviews it garners – the higher the likelihood of those 1* and 2* ones coming in. Just take a look at your favourite author’s Amazon page and you’ll see what I mean. No one is immune. So, here are my top tips for coping with those harsh words…

Top Tips for Dealing with Bad Reviews

Firstly… accept the fact that it is UNREALISTIC to expect everyone to love your work. In life, not everyone will like us, and the same goes for our book babies. People have a perfect right to express their opinion and will freely do so, especially if they have forked out hard-earned pennies to buy  your novel. Try not to take their view personally.

Secondly… Learn to differentiate between the constructive reviews and insulting ones. I always read my bad reviews (not all authors do!) and you become used to spotting a personal or offensive tone. Fortunately, they are rarer. Most reviewers take the time to explain their point of view fairly, and I do take on board the comments that are constructive from those reviews. Really, it’s a gift, being given an insight into how someone else sees your work. “I really wanted to enjoy this book, but…” or “It just didn’t work for me because…” On occasion, some observations have made me reconsider my writing techniques, and question them next time I put finger to keyboard. I truly appreciate the time anyone takes to write a review and understand that if someone has felt disappointed, they need to express why. On the journey to publication I had to take a lot of criticism on board and I don’t see why this should stop, simply because I am now published.

Thirdly, in the words of Kate Moss… Never complain, never explain. DO NOT ENGAGE WITH WRITERS OF BAD REVIEWS. They are entitled to their view. Don’t moan about it. At the same time, do not feel the need to explain or justify yourself. Just let it be and move on.

Fourthly… be mountain-like. Lately I have developed an interest in meditation and one visualisation I do involves looking at a mountain and then becoming the mountain… let me explain: a mountain never changes. It stands solid. Whether it is spring, summer, autumn or winter. Whether it is day or night. Whether it is sunny, rainy, windy or snowing. Whether a visitor to the mountain calls it beautiful – or calls it plain… the mountain is not affected by any of these external changes. It remains strong within itself.
In other words, as long as you are being true to yourself with your writing- and, in my opinion, have an open-mind regarding your agent’s/editor’s advice and revisions – then nothing else matters. Stand firm amidst all the weather and be proud of your work.

Finally… try to keep a sense of humour and perspective. Be grateful! You’ve made it! Your work is actually out there and people are reading it. Okay, some may not like every page, but at least your novels are finally getting an audience which, presumably, is something you have worked very hard for.

And if you want a laugh, here are a few of the best – and worst! – quotes from reviews for one of the books I have written, that overall got a great rating but still picked up some unfavourable opinions:

I devoured this book in a day!

A little slice of paradise.

To say that I LOVED this book would be a huge understatement

Samantha is a funny, talented writer that makes the words jump off the page

 

Don’t waste your time, life is too short

Chewing gum for the mind

Tough going.

Will be avoiding this author in the future

Harsh comments do hurt – of course they do –  but don’t dwell on them. Eventually, you will be able to read them with a wry smile.  I am just bracing myself for the reaction to my eighth novel, released on 5th May, The New Beginnings Coffee Club. It has one of my most favourite characters ever in it  and I very much hope my loyal readers enjoy the story – along with any new readers who might be fans of coffee 🙂 But who knows. Let’s hope I don’t need too many strong americanos when reviews come in!New Beginnings final cover

 

 

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 🙂