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.

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

 

 

The Great British Write-off!

When it comes to finding success, writing is much like baking. At the weekend I went to author Christie Barlow‘s publication party and was determined to take a cake to celebrate. However, my scales were broken, so I decided I was such a good baker, I could guess the ingredients’ weights. What a mistake. That cake ended up in the bin. The next cake’s icing was too runny but looked okay. So we strapped the cake onto the car’s back seat and off we set – not thinking that the backseat is set at angle, plus the heating was on. Needless to say, the icing melted and the top layer off sponge slid off. The result is below!

cake fail christie

I’ve always prided myself on my baking but learnt many lessons from this episode and, effectively, this failure will (hopefully) lead to success next time I attempt such a cake. And it is much the same for writing. I have failed time and time again over the years – still do – but those failures were/are essential, in order for me to learn to improve and hopefully succeed.

When I first started writing, hands up, I felt a teeny sense of entitlement – I’d written a novel. Not many people did that. Surely I deserved a publishing deal? Time and time again I’d be disappointed when rejections came back. But these continued failures eventually made me realise my expectations were not realistic. If I’d given up writing after the first book, I’d probably, still to this day, be thinking that that particular book deserved a contract. But by not giving up, and continuing to fail in this way, I eventually realised that to succeed, I needed to wake up and understand that writing a novel was just the beginning of a very long journey to finding a book deal. And I thank goodness now that my first manuscript never saw the light of day! I learned a lot from all the rejection letters, pictured below.

rejection letters

 

Also, at the beginning, I kept making the same two mistakes – I’d create a main character that came across as whiny (I thought she was simply sharing her angst) and I would also drop a lot of backstory into the first few chapters. Being told where I was going wrong, more than once, eventually made me work really hard at developing appealing protagonists and opening chapters that dived straight into the immediate action instead of giving away the plot of the whole book before I’d hardly started.

I wrote several books before I eventually signed my deal in 2013 – no, I’m not saying how many! And, I learnt so much from each “failure”. One, for example, was a totally high concept book preceded by nothing on the shelves. Agents and publishers had no idea where to place it. I’d written 100% what I wanted, without keeping an eye on the market. And I’m all for that, if you aren’t so concerned about publication or sales figures, but writing is my job, I have bills to pay, I can’t afford to take a risk at the moment. So I learnt that, whilst writing from the heart is paramount, to fulfil my own personal aspirations I must keep an eye on the current market and be prepared to make small compromises in order to make sure that any book I create will fit into a genre already out there.

In fact, that reminds me… the original idea for my bestselling 2015 novel, Game of Scones, was set in… heaven. Ahem, I can still remember my editor’s face when we discussed it. I’d failed to realise that I needed to keep within my brand. I learnt through this and came up with a different idea that I loved. It taught me to think more about readers and what they want/expect from me.

Rejections can be seen as failures. But they aren’t. They are simply the industry’s way of telling you there is more to learn. I can honestly say that every author I know, who has been determined and persevered over the years, humbly learning from their mistakes, has “made it”.

Nor should bad reviews be seen as failures. I’ve learnt a lot from the constructive ones and, hopefully, they have helped me improved my craft and inch nearer to success.

So, try to keep some perspective when you feel you have failed. You haven’t. Don’t ever think you are a write-off. No doubt Mary Berry suffered many soggy bottoms when she first started out! It is hard. I’ve shed tears. Proclaimed at the unfairness of it all. But we aren’t failing if we put our work out there. That takes guts. And the bravest part is being able to admit when we are wrong and start again.

As Colin Powell once said:

There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure.

 

Fabulous Fun with Mrs Gary Barlow!

Er okay. That’s a tiny white lie. I actually spent yesterday afternoon at author Christie Barlow’s publication party for her new book Evie’s Year of Taking Chances. She has a husband, not called Gary, who is clearly very tolerant of her obsession with said Take That singer and who shares the same surname! I wonder if he feels there are three in the marriage? (Well, I did spy a life-size cardboard cut-out of Gary in Christie’s writing room. And, ahem, okay, I gave it a quick hug :)) Needless to say, the entertainment was huge fun – a Gary tribute act. Here is an all-motion snap of Christie shaking her stuff…

christie dancing

I caught up with lovely authors, Bella Osborne and Tilly Tennant (catch their latest books by clicking on their names)…

me Bella Tilly

 

and super bloggers, Joanne Robertson and Annette Hannah

 

me and Annette

 

Christie provided plenty of drinks, plus a buffet and it was great to have  a day out with my husband who, along with the other men, shot bemused glances at the ladeez swooning over “Gary” !

If you fancy treating yourself to Christie’s latest book, you can buy it HERE.

Below is the blurb:

 

It’s Evie’s birthday and the start of a year she’ll never forget. An emotional story of love, friendship and grabbing life by the horns.

Evie’s job has always been her safe haven. As a librarian in the little town of Becton she loses herself in books – after all it’s far easier to read about other people’s problems than set about solving her own.

Then, one birthday, everything is turned upside down. A mysterious parcel containing a beautiful book with a poignant inscription arrives for Evie. It’s the beginning of a new chapter for Evie and she’s inspired to try and find her real mother.

Evie’s search leads her to meet handsome author Noah Jones. Charming and intelligent, Noah seems the perfect catch but what Evie doesn’t realise is that he is hiding something – a key to Evie’s past.

As Evie gets closer to Noah and discovering her mother, she must take a giant leap of faith. Can she embrace the new and make this her year of taking chances? And if she does, will she get her heart broken?

A romantic, funny and poignant story of living life to the full and finding love in the most unlikely of places. Fans of Debbie Johnson and Cathy Bramley will adore this book!

 

Top five reactions when people discover I’M AN AUTHOR.

Recently I’ve made a lot of new friends (in-the-flesh, for a change, and not just online!) and the way they react, on discovering my profession, usually falls into one of five categories, some of which  make me a bit wary of wearing my “I’m a writer” T-shirt.

1  They become starry-eyed. In awe. I blame JK Rowling for this 🙂 People imagine red carpet events and sales in the millions. They start inserting complex words into their conversation (that I don’t understand) and talk of the high-falutin’ literary works they read, as if intimidated. So I thank them, but if pressed further, make it clear I’m nothing special. I’m not curing cancer nor have I discovered a new planet. I’m simply lucky enough to be getting paid for an activity I adore.

2  Almost without exception, they declare that they have always thought of writing a novel. This irritates some authors, but not me – as I’ve said above, I’m not exceptional. If I can do it, why not anyone else? I’m a grafter – had to keep my nose to the grindstone during my four years at university, unlike some friends who could socialise as much as they pleased and just cram at the last minute. It’s been the same with writing – I wrote novel after novel at home, for eight years filled with tears and rejection, before landing my publishing deal. So when people react like this I say go for it! You might surprise yourself. Or, you  might discover it is a lot harder than you imagined.

me writer tshirt

3  Quite often, when people discover my genre – romantic comedy – their awe turns to disdain. And I annoy myself by going on the defensive. I laud Mills & Boon authors who earn more than your average writer could dream of. I explain what a diverse, popular genre it is. I did this recently and received the sneery reply “I’m sure it is”. I imagine, in some circles, actors find this if they tell people they perform in a soap and not on the Shakespearean stage. I’m working on not letting these people press my buttons. Huge skill is required in making prose sound chatty and light. The same prejudice is sometimes shown towards children’s authors. I just have to accept that his is just one small downside to a career I thoroughly enjoy.

4  People say what a difficult job it must be – don’t I ever run out of ideas? I explain my belief that the brain, like any muscle, performs better the more you use it. Before you know it, you automatically take on board inspiration. I used to particularly find this when selling short stories. At the beginning I struggled to write even one. But before my novel deal, I sold 50 in one year. My brain just seemed to adapt to searching out suitable material. What’s more, there are a lot more challenging jobs out there, like nursing or serving burgers and fries all day. So yes, you do require determination and stamina but your passion makes it an easy career to follow.

5  The final reaction – it must be the only job in the world where people feel they have a perfect right to ask how much you earn! Not that this bothers me too much. In fact (just between us) I take a certain pleasure in telling them that most writers never earn enough for it to be their only source of income, and watching their jaws drop! Again, I blame JK Rowling (sorry!) for their misconception that being an author automatically means riches beyond your heart’s desire. If you are lucky, with a decent back catalogue out there, then yes, one day you might earn enough to support a mortgage and family. But don’t count on it. It’s not a profession you enter to become a millionaire.

The Olympic Art of Writing

Up until about ten years ago, I didn’t watch  the Olympics much. So why the change of heart? I believe it’s got something to do with that roughly being the time I started to write. I even went to the London 2012 Olympics and loved every minute of our day, cheering on athletes. So as a desk-bound author, how can I relate to the super-active Olympians?

Olympic writing

Training – I read somewhere that it takes 10,000 hours to really acquire and excel at a skill, whether that be writing novel, playing the piano or swimming 100 metres as fast as you can. And I believe that is true. I still have a lot to learn but I added up my hours dedicated to writing once – over the last decade – and it was heading for that big number. So when I watch those athletes, I don’t just see sportsmen and women, I see ordinary people who’ve been training for years; who started out a ground zero, like I did with my writing; who probably – just like me – have wept and despaired many a time over failures such as rejection or not hitting goals. Who have had to learnt to face and deal with setbacks. And who, equally, have enjoyed moments of unadulterated joy.

Passion – you can see it in the Olympians’ eyes. And let’s face it, becoming a top athlete is not a job, it’s a lifestyle and I can relate to that. Writing takes over much of my mind, from the moment I wake to last thing at night when I am plotting books or fleshing out characters. I’ve put in the hours. I’ve put myself out there in competitions and by submitting my work. I’ve failed but tried again harder. Finally I’ve found a degree of success and now I work hard to consolidate that and meet the next challenge. I wouldn’t still be here, at my desk, without a burning passion for words. And that passion has got me through the hard times, just like it does for a an Olympian who may fall of his bicycle on the last lap or just miss out on winning Gold.

Luck – in my opinion there is a significant element of this involved in succeeding with a career. Your writing can be exquisite but may never reach a wide audience if you don’t find that one editor to believe in it, or if your story is given a misjudged price or poor cover. And I feel it’s exactly the same with excelling in a sport. You could be in your prime just before a major event and then sustain an injury. Or, one year, could just be up against some exceptionally strong competitors. I believe that talent and dedication alone aren’t enough – they also that little, mysterious ingredient called magic.

Of course, there are dissimilarities. An Olympian needs to have full control of their emotions, especially when actually competing. Whereas writers are sensitive, emotional creatures who probably improve their work by fully indulging their feelings. Unless we’re talking steady rejections or bad reviews. If possible, at those moments, you need to call on your logic and keep a grounded perspective.

heart biscuit

 

And as for the diet, ahem, well, I don’t think a sports person would get very far if they consumed my daily, writerly intake! We’re talking crisps at the keyboard, cake and biscuits, and of course the odd glass of wine. Also, I have to *research* food for my writing, naturally, like scones and fish n’chips for my new summer release, Breakfast under a Cornish Sun! In all seriousness, though, the really important consumption for an author is to read widely and observe people – to soak up the inspiration, not soak with perspiration.

So if you switch on the Rio Games, let those athletes motivate your writing. They are proof that with a determined attitude, solid work ethic and a little bit of luck, ANYTHING is achievable.

 

How to Survive Launch Week!

I am currently in the middle of launch week – for my sixth novel, Breakfast under a Cornish Sun – and as you can see from my wee desk, it has been pretty hectic and whilst enjoyable, hard work! So here are a few of my tips, to get the most out of this exhilarating but challenging time.

 

desk launch week

 

Firstly, I always allocate whatever spare time I have to promoting my book on social media. Sounds obvious? Yes, but some authors are very shy of doing this. However it is important, in my opinion, to connect with bloggers and readers, and COMMUNICATE. By this I don’t mean just try to sell, sell, sell. Instead, tweet or post on Facebook in a way that might excite  potential buyers. Share new reviews and snippets of the plot. Talk about the characters. Post about themes related to your story – I have tweeted a lot about Cornwall, Poldark and delicious Cornish food. Try to keep your various online feeds varied. And MOST IMPORTANTLY  interact with the people who show an interest. Like their comments. Retweet. Show gratitude. It is only good manners, actually great fun and very few authors these days have their own PR person – you are your own trumpeteer and your book deserves to be seen and heard. Just be polite and don’t shout too loudly 🙂

Secondly, don’t raise your expectations too high and get obsessed with rankings. Most of my books have usually taken around four weeks to peak in the Kindle chart, and during that time the ranking can fluctuate up and down. If it slips a bit on the second day of release, don’t flounce out of your office declaring the whole show is going to be a disaster (you can tell I’ve done that, right? 🙂 ) And, hand in hand with this… appreciate the supposedly smaller things. For example, one of my reader friends (you know who you are) told me that she’d waited up until midnight the evening before launch day, so that she could download Breakfast under a Cornish Sun as soon as it was available, and start reading it. That meant an awful lot.

Thirdly, pat yourself on the back and celebrate! You’ve done it! Regardless of sales and rankings, you’ve brought a bookbaby into the world and been through the gruelling writing, rewriting and copy-editing process. It’s a mammoth task, producing a novel. It requires real stamina, guts and passion. My new summer book features a quirky cocktail bar called Donuts & Daiquiris, so there was really only one way I could celebrate – cue this delicious Spiced Mojito!

me mojito 2

Fourthy… Don’t let launch week overwhelm you. Whilst I enjoyed  my cocktail evening out last week, I had intermittent stomach pain from sitting down working for too long. And the day before backache. Plus lately I’ve developed what I call Twitter Seasickness – a real sense of nausea from being on there too long, replying to tweets and scrolling up and down my notifications to find competition winners and… you get the picture. In other words, realise you have a life away from your writing and desk. Whilst launch week is super-important, in the bigger picture it isn’t the be all and end all. It takes a few weeks, sometimes a few months  for a book to be found by all its readers and some of you may even delay your blog tour, for example, until the hullabaloo of the actual launch has settled down. So remember to take stock and breathe 🙂

Finally… Get stuck into another project. The more novels you get out there, the more readers you’ll pick up. Plus, thanks to a widening back catalogue,  the bigger those royalty cheques will look. Still allocate a good part of your available time to spreading word about your launch baby… but one of my diehard mottos is:  you are only as good as your next book...

Characters are like Diamonds… the most interesting ones are flawed.

With every book I write, I become increasingly interested in a character’s flaws. Is there any such thing as a true villain, for example? Like the archetypal school bully, there is usually a reason why people are who they are. In the bully’s case they often have low self-esteem and make themselves feel better by denigrating others. Perhaps they themselves were abused or bullied in some way, as a small child.

I don’t believe people are born evil. They are what they are due to what has happened to them along the journey of life, the starting point of which is being born as a bundle of innocence. Getting to know the backstory about people fascinates me – and if you want to fascinate your readers then make sure your characters are not perfect people who would never exist in the real world. characters like diamonds

 

Take books’ heroes, for example.  Mr Darcy out of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. We all love him, don’t we, despite his stand-offish, arrogant ways? Because there is a sense of hidden vulnerability. That, combined with his imperious manner, makes for a killer combination because it makes us curious about our hero; makes us think that the haughtiness is perhaps all a front. This is much more appealing then if Mr Darcy had still been handsome, yes, but cheerful and charming to boot. Where’s the challenge?

You see, in my opinion, women and men  – and smitten readers – want a challenge when getting to know their love-interest. This doesn’t mean the latter has to be an out and out scoundrel. They just need a few interesting layers. Take good-looking Dave out of my fun novella How to get Hitched in Ten Days (which is FREE at the moment). He is heart-broken at having blown a marriage proposal to girlfriend, Jazz, and has to enrol the help of her best friend Mikey, to win her back. But his attitude to gay Mikey borders on homophobic and makes us question our initial impression that Dave is a decent, lovable guy. It takes the course of the story to find out what is at the root of his supposed prejudice.

And in my new summer novel, out this week, Breakfast under a Cornish Sun, we get to meet unapproachable, grumpy Tremain. The lead character, Kate, sees glimpses of a sensitive guy in him, now and again, and this means – to her annoyance! – she can’t easily write him off as a person not worth knowing. The same with Lucas, the other man (and a Poldark lookalike!) she becomes friends with on her trip to Cornwall. Yes,  he is gorgeous and swarthy and has the darkest, sexiest eyes – but would that alone really be enough to grab the attention of a woman looking for something meaningful?

There are all kinds of flaws in people – like in diamonds that can be cloudy, fractured or chipped – but this makes each one of them special and unique. Absolute clarity can be boring – there is no journey; nothing to discover than what is on the surface. And where is the empathy? If characters have imperfections they are more relatable and that makes us, as readers, more likely to care for them and read to the end. So if you want to keep your reader turning the pages, create an enigmatic hero or heroine with emotional and physical flaws, just like the scar on gorgeous Poldark’s face.

 

 

Five Scariest Moments of being a Published Author

I was talking on my Facebook page recently about scary things that had happened since becoming published – and how I had learnt to face my fears. And it made me realise how important it is to grab opportunities, even if you think you are not up to the job. A bit like dating a guy you consider to be out of your league. I’m still a coward when it comes to certain things – I’ve avoided going on a radio show and have yet to organise a real-life book launch, just in case nobody turns up! But here are five things I am proud of pushing myself to do even though, at the time, my stomach was in knots!

To start with, the first time I met up with my publisher, in  London. I’d spent the previous sixteen years as a stay-at-home mum so was completely out of my comfort zone in this new business environment. It makes me chuckle now that I managed to wangle sandwiches in the offices instead of being taken out to lunch – I was like a nervous schoolgirl on a first date! After the formal part we did, in the end, go out for coffee and the day turned out to be fabulous. I surprised myself with an inner confidence. Now I really look forward to my trips down to the Big Smoke.

coffee and chocolate

 

The second scariest thing… reading reviews. The first review for my debut book, Doubting Abbey, went up on GoodReads the night before launch. It was 3* which whilst not a bad rating, didn’t meet my perfectionist hopes. Tears were shed. I convinced myself that the book would flop and that I’d let everyone down. As it was, the book went on to be a bestseller and lots of readers loved the characters and plot. But for a while, I looked at each new review with trepidation. These days, my skin is much thicker and I realise that not everyone will like my work. And accepting that is part of my job.

Thirdly… ooh…. going to my first Romantic Novelists Association party. I imagined, in my head, that the chat would be all about literature and I was going to be outed as the least well-read person in the room. As it was, I couldn’t have been more wrong! Think Prosecco on tap, lots of laughs, a little gossip, and just banter and empathy about being a writer and books. I now adore meeting up with my writerly friends, who are some of the most generous, supportive people in the world.

rna 1

Fourthly… managing expectations has been hard and thinking too much about them is scary – something I try not to do just before the launch of a book, like at the moment with Breakfast under a Cornish Sun coming out in July. I try to control those questions in my head like is my writing good enough? Will I let down my agent? How many copies does my publisher expect to sell? Will my readers love this story as much as the last? I’ve learnt just to take my career one book at a time and to try to be satisfied if a good number of readers end up being moved in some way by the story, regardless of rank or sales or income. I recently received a lovely message from a reader who couldn’t wait to get home to finish Game of Scones  and I couldn’t hope or expect for more than that.

Lastly…I guess, ironically, the scariest thing is finally achieving your dream. Is it really everything you thought it would be? For the most part, the last three years have been a whirlwind of excitement and thrills, with books selling well and an award won. Of course there have been difficult moments, as with any career, when I have thought of that phrase “be careful what you wish for”. Yet finally I feel like I have “come home” and am doing what I should be with people who “get” what I am about. So really, that’s turned out to be not scary at all.