Friday, October 28, 2011

[NaNoWriMo] It's the Final Countdown. . . Tips and Strategies

Sorry about the cheesy 80s blog post title, but I couldn't resist. I'm not made of stone!

The madness of Nano starts on Tuesday, so we have a weekend (a long weekend, if you're Irish) to plan and prepare. Here are my favourite first-week tips:

1. Get ahead of target early.
Cannot stress this one enough! I've used up all of my annual leave for the year, so I can't take the Tuesday off to get a head-start (I did last year), so for the first four days, I'll be balancing Nano and work. Still, this step is important. For the first four days, I'll be aiming to write more than my daily target of 1667, so that if I have a bad day, I'll still be somewhat ahead.

If, like me, you're balancing Nano and work, school, kids, etc., just carve out some time as early as you can and pull ahead. I've planned a full day of writing with Writer Friend (who isn't doing Nano, but is in the late stages of an edit and is using Nano as a motivator) on the first Sunday in November, with the intention of creating a nice little cushion of words in case something comes up later in the month and I fall behind.

2. Plan the first bit.
I'm a pantser rather than a plotter ('half the fun is getting there', as the Greyhound ads used to say), but for Nano, I plot the first sections of my book. Sometimes it's just a few scenes, sometimes it's a chapter, but it's a fantastic way to stop those moments where you freeze 500 words in and think 'OK, I got her off the bus BUT NOW WHAT??'

My planning looks usually looks something like this:
Kate arrives at the house. Goes inside. Talks to parents. Goes upstairs. Sees letter on bed. Reads letter. Calls Marge. Marge's reaction. . . . etc.

So, when I start writing, I have this skeleton to flesh out with descriptions of the three characters (and probably some description of Marge, too, although we don't see her) and I'm less likely to get stuck while Kate is chatting to her mum and forget where to go next.

Usually I do this for the opening bit and then allow myself to revert to my classic pantser ways :)

3. Make the most of the first week or two.
I find that during the first week, friends and family are cheerfully indulgent about your inability to spend any time with them or behave like, you know, a normal human. I hear lots of 'It's great that you're so dedicated!' 'That's such a cool thing to do!' and 'Can I read it when it's done?'.

But after a week or two, I start to feel guilty for saying 'no' to everything, and I start to make plans and accept invitations. Also, as November wears on, we get over closer to Christmas and I always find that things just crop up and need to be done.

So get as much done as you can while the guilt is at its lowest level!

4. Ignore other people's word counts.
Nano is a competition with yourself, not with anyone else. Don't worry about anyone else's word count. Some people on the Nano forums break 50k on the first day. Also, don't fall into the trap of assuming that everyone writing faster than you is writing total rubbish - they might be, they might not. But don't give them any headpsace, positive or negative. They are on their path, you are on yours. Put blinkers on and get back to writing.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Real Women Week: Cecelia Ahern and Realistic Role Models

This week I'm doing a couple of posts on 'real women' - see Monday's post for my discussion of the phrase itself!

I was watching TV last week and the Irish author Cecelia Ahern was being interviewed. I haven't read any of her books yet and had no prior opinion of her.

Cecelia had just had her hair cut quite short, and it looked good. The interviewer asked her about it and she said 'Well, I'm not a natural blonde - which maybe a shock-horror moment for some of you! - and I dyed my hair so much that it got really damaged and I had to cut it off.'

I had two thoughts.

One was, I'm very glad I don't dye my hair. I have absurdly sticky-out ears and having to go for a pixie-cut would equal fashion suicide for me, not to mention cold ears (I have a theory that no blood reaches them because they are so far from my head).

My second thought was, well done to her for saying it!

I have a bit of a bugbear about celebrities who present unrealistic standards for women. Some years ago, a perfume ad featured a shot of Victoria Beckham from behind. Several sources alleged that the image was digitally enhanced to make Victoria's butt look curvier than it is, and looking at the photograph compared to candid shots taken of her, it certainly seems likely.

I don't know if it's true or not - I hope it isn't - but if it is, then it's the kind of thing that makes me really angry.

Some people are born beautiful, and that's great for them. But for most women, famous or otherwise, life is a constant struggle with what we perceive as our own inherent mediocrity. We dye our hair, we wear makeup, we buy clothes to hide our 'faults', we wear loose-fitting trousers because of our 'thunder thighs' . . . some of us get cosmetic injections of surgery.

And virtually no one is perfect.

Which is why the Victoria Beckham Arsegate thing annoys me so much, if it is indeed true. VB is extremely skinny. Like all physical characteristics, skinniness can be very beautiful or very ugly, so I'm not making any comment on that fact. But I feel that celebrities have a responsibility to present the downsides of how they look too - or rather, the reality of how they look. It is incredibly unlikely that someone could maintain a figure as slim as VB's and still have a round, curvaceous butt. It's possible, but I have never seen it in real life. I carry all my weight on my butt and even mine gets smaller when I lose weight.

When I hear of things like that, I picture a teenage girl who hates her body, looking at TV ads and thinking 'my waist looks like hers, but why is my stupid butt so flat??' or 'My butt looks like hers, but why do I have this stupid belly to go with it?' Because, sweetheart, life does that and the media is lying to you. It's hard to gain or lose fat in a focused way, especially for those of us who don't have personal trainers and our own chefs.

Which is why I applaud Cecelia Ahern. She has lovely hair. It's a very nice colour. But she just told the whole country (or at least the ones who watch TV at 8.10 am) that if you want hair that colour and you decide to dye your hair to get it, you may face the consequence that it gets damaged. She was honest about what lay behind the - very attractive - image that she projects.

Every time someone is honest about their looks, we move a step closer to accepting women as they are. We don't have to be perfect - we need to be OK with being as we are!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Real Women Week - Love, Hate and Labels

I have a love-hate relationship with the term 'real women.'

As I said in my post about panic disorder, I think being open and honest about what we're really like as humans is ultimately a good thing. Not that every individual needs to share deep and personal information, but in general I believe that a wee dollop of honesty helps everyone. So I am cool with the concept of 'real women' - of all women being able to talk openly about how they really are. Myths have damaged a lot of women.

But. I detest a lot of the ways in which I see the phrase 'real women' used.

I have found that the term 'real women' is very often a euphemism for 'women above a certain weight.' There are Facebook groups with names like 'Real Women Have Curves!' and 'Real Women Eat Cake!' and such. I have heard men declare their preference for 'real women' when what they mean to say is 'I prefer women of a particular size or shape. I am choosing to use an insanely prejudiced term to express a perfectly acceptable preference.'

We're all real, folks. If you don't like some of us, that's life. But don't say any woman isn't 'real' because her body doesn't conform to what you like.

Real women have curves. They have lumps and bumps. They also have slim waists, flat stomachs, toned butts and every damned thing in between. And it's all cool.

We live in a society that likes to tell us we need to be super-skinny. That's crap, and it's great that people are embracing the idea that this isn't necessary, and owning their curves.

But seriously, it's time to start thinking about the language we're using for this backlash. Can it maybe not be so freaking nasty and exclusive?

The oft-quoted statistic is that the average British woman is a size 14 to 16, depending who you ask (for US readers, think 12 to 14). Yet a size 14 to 16 is perceived as large. It's good that we're more aware that not every woman fits into the profile that the media tells us is attractive - in fact, very few do.

And yet, there's more to that statistic than meets the eye. By definition, if 14-16 is average, then a lot of women must be below that weight, and equally a lot of women must be above it. Let's take a look at one woman who is a size 8 and one who is a size 22.

She might be healthy. She might be unhealthy. She might be far from her ideal weight. She might have an eating disorder. She might be beautiful. She might be sexy. She might be married or single.

Every one of those statements could apply to either woman.

So why do some people say that the smaller woman isn't real?

Women claiming their own appearance and accepting themselves is a wonderful thing, and I hope it continues. The next step is to learn to make ourselves feel good without using language that dehumanises and defeminises any woman. Because if you can only feel good by putting someone else down, that's called bullying. And everyone agrees that that sucks.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Priorities - Top and Otherwise

On Wednesday I said there was one compelling reason not to do NaNoWriMo - if it conflicts with another, higher priority.

We're writers, though - artistes. We're not supposed to have other priorities! We're meant to be dedicated. Over and over, we're told 'You have to want this.'

We do. But we can't want it at the expense of everything else.

In the last few years I've come to understand a lot more about priorities. Like most young people who are lucky with their health, it took me a long time to realise that health always had to be the top priority. Always.

I've been fortunate with my own health - apart from a terrible susceptibility to colds, and a tendancy towards anaemia and low pressure, I have had few health problems since I was a teen. But I do have anxiety, and my anxiety manifests as health anxiety or hypochondriasis. I have never lived with health problems, but I have lived with the fear of them, and that has given me the tiniest glimpse into what life may be like if you don't enjoy good health.

It looks tough.

Without my health, I couldn't work as easily, I couldn't write as easily and I may find it challenging to spend time with the people I love. So in spite of my enormous desire to be a writer, above all else I prioritise my health. If I need sleep, for example, writing has to wait.

And there are so many other things - day jobs, families, friends, hobbies, passions, charity, volunteering, exercise. You can fill in your own blanks.

It's wonderful to love writing, and to be dedicated to it. But it's also important to be able to step back say 'Guess what? Right now, this needs to come first.' Whatever 'this' turns out to be.

Have a fab weekend everyone!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

[NaNoWriMo] 5 Reasons To Do Nano . . . And 2 Reasons Not To

It's that time of year again. . . writers and would-be writers all over the world are wondering whether or not to 'do Nano'. In fact, sometimes it seems that so many people are passionately pro-Nano that not to do it means you aren't a real writer.

I'm as pro-Nano as they come and I disagree. Nano isn't for everyone. And even if it is for you, it's not necessarily for you this year.

5 Reasons To Do Nano

1. You think you'll enjoy it.
The absolute best reason to do almost anything. If Nano looks like something you'd enjoy, and there's no outstanding reason not to do it, I suggest jumping right in!

2. You have a book idea that you've been considering for a while, but can't seem to get started.
Nano is a great way to get a kick-start - the forums are full of people all over the world, at every stage of experience, and they act as a great motivator (and a terrible time-drain!). The deadline, the challenge and the community can be a great way to galvanise yourself and get going. Which brings me to. . .

3.  You don't know anyone else who writes and feel a bit lonely.
The blogosphere is amazing. It is a fantastic way to meet other writers, talk about writing, and feel less alone as we sit pounding the keyboard while our friends and family wonder why we aren't in the pub. Nanowrimo is very similar, except on a larger and somewhat less personal scale. Instead of connecting quite deeply with a smaller number of writers through reasonably in-depth posts, you get quick, message-board sized titbits from thousands upon thousands of writers. I don't think anything beats blogging for forming connections, but if you want to feel as though you are part of a large, global community, Nano is the undisputed king.

4. You're a perfectionist who writes five words and changes seven of them.
I've done this. I get so obsessed with writing a perfectly publishable future bestseller than I can't get anything actually written (I'm reliably informed that this is a prerequisite for any of the other stuff happening). I write my opening line: 'Heather took a long drag on her cigarette.' Then I think 'Does one drag on, off or from a cigarette?!' and ten minutes of frantic Googling follows. Then I decide that to say someone has dragged or pulled on a cigarette is a cliche. Then I think 'No one will publish a book if the first line shows someone smoking. How about she took a sip of her coffee. . .  but will I be accused of copying Friends if the first scene is in a coffee shop?!'

The Nano ethos - write fast and write fun, essentially - cuts through all that. Heather has her cigarette and the novel keeps going, because I have to write 1667 words that day to stay on target. She can quit smoking and start on the protein shakes in December, when the editing starts. But as (I think) Sam Goldwyn said, at least you have something to change.

5. You want to write outside your comfort zone.

This is my favourite reason to do Nano. Usually, I write historical fiction. Last year, I fancied trying an urban fantasy for a change, and I loved it (the experience, not the book. We will talk about how crap the book was another time). My latest idea is also an urban fantasy and I can't wait to get stuck in. Without Nano, I would have been completely paralysed by the fact I was attempting something new (see above reason. . .). Next year I'm hoping to try a whole new genre if I'm feeling brave!

. . . and Two Reasons Not To.

1. It doesn't fit in with other, higher priorities.

It would be lovely to think that writing was our top priority all the time. But life is very big, and people have families, friends, day jobs, college, illness and all manner of other things. If something is a higher priority for you than doing Nano, you need to decide if you can balance the two. And if you can't, applaud yourself for knowing what's best for you and your life. Regardless of what anyone says!

2. You don't want to.

At this time of year, it can feel like everyone is doing Nanowrimo, but it really isn't for everyone - nothing is. If it doesn't grab you, write your story your way and laugh at all of the frantic word count related Tweets popping up in your feed - and the very best of luck to you :)

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Little Bit of Blog Housekeeping

I've mentioned a few times recently that I felt I was losing some of my blog mojo. I've been blogging for a couple years and I'm still unpublished, and I may be exhausting the list of things to talk about!

I don't want to stop blogging, but three times a week is proving a little much. So for the moment, I've decided to run some weekly posts on topics I really want to write about, that are slightly outside my normal range.

The first one, predictably, is NaNoWriMo. I'm one of the MLs (Municipal Liaisons - local reps) and a passionate pro-Nano evangelist, but I also recognise that the Nano ethos, while it works for me, doesn't work everyone. I am also aware that the blogosphere explodes into a sort of Nano-inferno every late October and early November.

If you don't want to read my Nano posts, there will be a great big [Nanowrimo] at the start of them so that you can avoid them easily. There will also be lots of non-Nano blogging too, as non-Nano bloggers are a resilient and tolerant bunch, and they deserve some content too :)

The second regular feature will be announced as soon as I can think of a name for it :) Expect a Nano-post on Wednesday.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Thinking of Self-Publishing? What Doesn't Matter - Guest Post from Catherine Ryan Howard

The blogosphere's self-publishing guru Catherine Ryan Howard is on a blog tour at the moment to celebrate the launch of her kick-ass new novel, Results Not Typical. She has popped by today to talk about the issues that every author considering self-publishing should . . . not worry about. This is why Catherine is great :) - Ellen

About a year and a half ago, I self-published for the first time. Eighteen months is a long time in a revolution, and it’s difficult to really remember how radically different the attitude towards self-publishing e-books was, not to mention the technology available to those of us who decided to take the plunge.

But it was different.

I’ll give you a for instance: when I self-published Mousetrapped, Amazon Digital Text Platform had just started accepting Microsoft Word documents; before that, you had to have at least some technology savvy to use the service (or more than I had). Flash forward to today and you not only have a name change – Kindle Direct Publishing – but one of the easiest to use self-publishing services in existence, and the promise of your book in four Kindle stores and counting.

Another thing that’s changed is that the internet is now rich pickings for anyone looking for information on self-publishing – my own blog included. But some of it is less practical help and more ill-informed conjecture. I pity some times the writer thinking of or beginning the process of self-publishing, trudging through all the hot air, BS and (occasionally) downright ridiculousness looking for instructions on how to upload to CreateSpace, or what’s the best price for their book. In the best cases, the person speculating on the future of publishing is in another league to you and me, and we don’t need to listen to them because we cannot yet relate. In the worst, the person has as much experience in publishing as I do in marathon training. (None, in case you were wondering!)

So if you’re out there combing blogs, forums and Twitter feeds for the data you hope will help you decide whether or not to self-publish or, if you’ve already decided, how you should proceed, remember that these things do NOT matter:


The book is dead apparently, and by the end of next week there won’t be a single bookshop left in the world. But just like those science-fiction movies of the Sixties that had us all whizzing around in flying cars by now, believers in the end of publishing might have jumped the gun.

This doesn’t matter because you are not spending all your life savings in order to open an independent bookshop. You are self-publishing, in all likelihood, an e-book (which we know the market is growing for) and a POD paperback (that, even if it never sells a single copy, will not cost you money). Whether or not we’ll be reading print books ten or twenty years from now has absolutely nothing to do with what you’re doing.


This is another topic popular with the self-publishing evangelists: should you forget about submitting to agents and publishers (remembering that all print books will be gone by the end of next week...) and go straight to self-publishing instead? Won’t you make more money that way anyway? And won’t you likely waste months if not years of your life trying to get your book published?

This doesn’t matter unless you have a time machine that has enabled you to see into the future where you’ve, apparently, made a million selling your own books, and you also have a six-figure book deal on the table from a publishing house. Tip: money that doesn’t exist yet doesn’t actually exist at all. You can’t assume that by uploading your novel to Kindle and setting the price at 99c, you’ll be the next Amanda Hocking. You won’t. When you hear of authors turning down publishing deals so they can self-publish instead, read beyond the headlines. They frequently have successful publishing pasts and so already have established readerships that can support such a decision. Furthermore, submitting your book to the experts – and yes, agents and editors ARE the experts – will at the very least get you some feedback on whether or not your book should see the light of a published day, whatever way you decide to go.


There are some self-publishers who think there’s a magic formula to this thing, and that they can copy or emulate the success of the likes of Konrath, Leather, Edwards and Voss, etc. by doing exactly what they did: writing a good book, price it at 99c, get a good cover, write a good description, repeat as required. Recently a very famous e-book success story wrote a book about exactly how he did it – which was a bit different to everybody else – and there was such a spate of wannabes writing blog posts like him and tweeting like him that it was practically embarrassing.

This doesn’t matter because self-publishing isn’t black and white. It has many shades and you have to decide what’s right for you. It might sense for one writer to self-publish their backlist and their next book; it might make sense for you to continue to submit your novel but self-publish some short stories on the side. Similarly, you can’t repeat the success of other self-publishers by doing what they do, because luck and timing are such huge factors. Get tips and ideas from them, yes, but don’t copy them. You need to follow your own path. You may not be as successful as them, but being somewhat original is the only way you’re going to find any success at all.


Results Not Typical on

Results Not Typical on

Goodreads Giveaway:

If your readers visit they can enter a giveaway to win one of five paperback copies of Results Not Typical. Open for entries from September 30th-October 31st. Open to all countries.

About Catherine:

Catherine Ryan Howard is a 29-year-old writer, blogger and enthusiastic coffee-drinker. She currently lives in Cork, Ireland, where she divides her time between her desk and the sofa. She blogs at

About Results Not Typical:

The Devil Wears Prada meets Weightwatchers and chick-lit meets corporate satire in the debut novel from Catherine Ryan Howard, author of the bestselling memoir Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida. Through their Ultimate Weight Loss Diet Solution Zone System, Slimmit International Global Incorporated claim they’re making the world a more attractive place one fatty at a time. Their slogans “Where You’re Fat and We Know It!” and “Where the Fat IS Your Fault!” are recognised around the globe, the counter in the lobby says five million slimmed and their share price is as high as their energy levels. But today the theft of their latest revolutionary product, Lipid Loser, will threaten to expose the real secret behind Slimmit’s success...The race is on to retrieve Lipid Loser and save Slimmit from total disaster. If their secrets get out, their competitors will put them out of business. If the government finds out, they’ll all go to jail. And if their clients find out… Well, as Slimmit’s Slimming Specialists know all too well, there’s only one thing worse than a hungry, sugar-crazed, carb addict – and that’s an angry one. Will the secret behind Slimmit’s success survive the day, or will their long-suffering slimmers finally discover the truth? Available now in paperback and e-book editions.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pendants and Panic Attacks - U Magazine Reader Issue

I got a nice surprise in the supermarket yesterday. This is not a sentence I have a chance to say very often.

I spotted the readers' edition of U (an Irish fortnightly magazine). I had submitted a short piece for their 'Favourite Things. . .' section, so I picked it up to see if they had used it.

They had :) I picked up a copy to go with my lunch and spent the rest of the day in a benign good mood. There is something very nice about seeing one's name in print.

Anyway, the item I chose to write about was a silver and garnet pendant I bought while I was interrailing in 2008. Other contributors chose sensible things like sunlight, being female. . . I wrote about jewellery. Of course. They're lucky I didn't write about chocolate.

But going on that trip was a major step in my ongoing journey through panic disorder. I promised myself that if I got through the trip without a panic attack, I'd buy myself something great in our last stop (which was Paris, so evidently finding something fabulous was going to be a dreadful trial. I mean, clearly. Guys, not only did I shop in Paris but I made my friend come with me. Luckily she still talks to me). This pendant was it. It isn't my normal style - or it wasn't, at the time - but I fell in love. It looked like something that a European princess would have owned - a Habsburg or a Wittelsbach or a Braganza. It looks like something that would be smuggled across borders under a corset, and sold to a shadowy gentleman to fund a revolution.

In other words, it had no business being owned by a temp from Dublin. With bitten nails.

I bought it anyway. It reminds me of how far I've come on my journey through panic, and it reminds me that I got here largely by taking risks, pushing myself outside my comfort zone and generally behaving like a normal person in the hope of becoming one.

I stepped outside my comfort zone with this piece too. I just told the readership of a national magazine about my mental health issue. It's firmly in the public domain now.

But I'm cool with that. There is still a stigma attached to mental health issues, especially in Ireland. And while I can't preume to comment much on lots of the more pressing mental health issues out there, but I can talk about my experience with panic. I can't offer any wisdom or any insight. But I can say what worked for me, what didn't, and perhaps most importantly, I can turn to another sufferer and say 'Me too.'

Might not be much help, but every step helps to de-stigmatise a little.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Guest Post: Pete McCluskey on Writing

Today I have Pete McCluskey visiting my blog - Pete has just released a new book, My Little Lighthouse, and is donating some of his proceeds to one of my favourite charities, Crumlin Children's Hospital in Dublin. Crumlin was one of two hospitals that cared for my friend Paul's son Conor, whose life was an inspiration to Paul's friends, both online and offline. Hope you enjoy his post and thanks for visiting, Pete! - Ellen

“Ask and you shall receive”.
My wise old mother has many sayings but this is one of her favourites.
I’ve been reading and admiring Ellen’s blog for many a long day now. After polite enquiries, Ellen kindly agreed to accept a guest submission from me for her blog and I’m delighted I asked.

I’ve written three books of contemporary fiction in the last three years and each one, I hope, is simple in style and clear in direction. This is my style. This is the way I write. This is why I am drawn to blogs like Pink Tea and Paper. It’s down my alley, right up my street and bang down the avenue of things I like. Things like Trigger Bars, Talking Heads, cheesecake, Colin Bateman mystery books, trifle – uncomplicated-you-get-what-it-says-on-the tin stuff.

I like reading books and writing books that both I and millions like me can understand without having to memorise a cast of thousands, without having to look up the dictionary for unpronounceable four syllable words (John Banville – I love your books but why so many obtuse and obscure words???), without having to read through pages of the traumatised lives of pauper-like creatures that are barely human, who live in the lashings of rain in Limerick (I tell you no word of a lie – Angela’s Ashes sucked the life out of me!!).

Give me a happy book, a book with sunshine, a book with some humour in it, a book with a happy ending. It doesn’t have to be “Little House on the Prairie” happy – just some smidgeon of happiness. Something to make you smile, something to brighten your day. Something pink, something with caffeine in it, something written on paper that makes you take your mind off the daily routine.

I’m currently publicising my latest book, “My Little Lighthouse”. It’s a self-published book – as are my previous two books. Not everyone is lucky enough to hook up with a publisher or an agent – in Ireland the number is down to about half a dozen of each species. You probably stand more chance of replacing Wayne Rooney on the Manchester United team, or winning the Euromillions or scoring the presenter’s job on the Late Late Show. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. It also doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go the self-publishing route. If it was okay for Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling and Roddy Doyle then - it’s alright by me.

“My Little Lighthouse” is about a man who gets struck by lightening (ouch!) and as a result looses his memory. He runs his software company nearly single-handedly and the company will go down the tubes if he doesn’t regain his memory. Will his wife – the only person he recognises - and his two grown-up kids be able to save him, his company and their family life?
Don’t worry – it’s not doom and gloom. Don’t worry – there aren’t any four syllable words to look up. Don’t worry – it doesn’t rain once after the first chapter! Happy ending??? Now that would be telling now, wouldn’t it. . .?

Anyone who would like to buy a copy from my website will be helping Crumlin Children’s Hospital. All website sales up to the end of this year go directly to the hospital charity. Visit me at

Finally, a thanks to the lady with the pink tea and paper. Continue reading and supporting Ellen’s blog and let’s make the rain stay away a little longer.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Book Covers and Font Issues

Have you seen India Drummond's excellent cover for Talli Roland's no doubt excellent novel, Build A Man?

If not, it's worth looking at - I think it's a great example of good cover design. And it got me thinking about cover art, and what does or doesn't work for me.

I know absolutely nothing about design, but I have very strong feelings about it - like the guy who said 'I don't know about art, but I know what I like.' I know what I don't like.
My big pet hate is anything that looks amateurish. If I look at a cover and think 'I could have done that,' I instantly won't like it. I want to feel that skill has gone into creating a cover. And there is no area with more scope for looking amateurish that the text of the title (And I have a font problem. I love them. I download them constantly. When I designed the invitations for Paul's wedding, choosing the fonts took weeks, not least because his wife is as bad as I am).

But a good cover is a fantastic thing. I think India's design does a great job - it's vibrant and eye-catching without being loud, and it gives a sense of the character and the tone of the book (or at least what I assume the tone will be, having read Talli's other books).

Do you have any favourite book covers?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Insecure Writers' Support Group - Proving Myself and Salmonella Scones

Once again, it is the first Wednesday of the month, so it's time for all Insecure Writers to stand up and be counted. There are some great bloggers participating in this monthly blog hop so it's worth popping over to Alex's blog and having a browse :)

Today I want to talk about making myself jump through hoops. 'Jumping through hoops' is a phrase we hear a lot as writers - agents with stringent submission requirements are 'making us jump through hoops', publishers that won't accept unagented submissions are 'just giving us an extra hoop to jump through.' One of the most common arguments in favour of self-publishing over traditional is simply that - 'I don't want to jump through any more freaking hoops!'

But I am a pessimist, a hypochondriac, and above all, I am an insecure writer. I like hoops.

I have blogged before about my terror of succeeding, so I'm sure you all know that you are not dealing with a sane person here.

I am not a person who trusts myself. I don't think I'm a good driver. I don't think I'm a good cook. I am convinced I will be the first person in the world who gives her family salmonella from undercooked scones.

So how does this manifest in my writing?

When I seriously started writing again after a few years of, well, not, I told myself I wouldn't query until I had written two books. My first novel was a deeply personal one, and I was scared I only had one book in me. But if I'd done it twice, I thought, I could confidently sign a contract for more than one book and trust myself to honour it.

It was a good idea. I have never queried my first novel, as it isn't strong enough, but last year's sketchy Nanowrimo idea has turned into a proper novel that I intend querying, and I trust myself to keep coming up with ideas. Now that I'm looking for them, I'm finding them.

If I hadn't given myself that space, that two-book window to learn about myself, I would have been desperately querying a substandard novel and sitting up all night chewing my fingernails and worrying about honouring a contract that I had not yet signed. (Like Charlie Brown, I am trying to only dread one day at a time).

Someone probably does need to sit me down and assure me that scones won't cause salmonella. But making myself jump through a hoop before I considered querying worked for me.

There are times when you need to learn to trust yourself.

Just hope you have a sympathetic friend who'll tell you when you're not growing anymore and you're just letting the fear win :)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Character Names - A Little Alliteration

The main character in my current work-in-progress has an alliterative name. She was Becky Bailey, until I discovered the show Spooks has a character called Beth Bailey, so I changed it to Becky Barrett. It hasn't stuck yet - I'm hoping it will. I've always found alliterative names cool, and Becky isn't very good at being cool. She deserves a little cool in her life.

Unfortunately, the main character of my next book has popped into my head and she has an alliterative name too. I'm not too attached to her first name yet, so I'm working on changing that - her family figure heavily in the novel and I'm very attached to their surname (it fits very well with my - you guessed it! - alliterative title).

I don't want characters with alliterative names to become My Thing. JK Rowling pulls it off in the Harry Potter universe, but I write either urban fantasy or realistic fiction in which some weird crap happens. My characters are grounded in the real world, and alliterative names just aren't that common.

Anyway, at least I have a title for the next one! That's always an important step :)

Now, back to editing Becky. Sigh. . . . How is everyone else's week looking?