Monday, October 14, 2013

Time Management: Working Full-Time and Writing

How do writers with full-time jobs manage to find the time to pursue a second career? I am about to go back to full-time work for the first time in months and after several months of complete freedom of time management, I have no idea how I'll adjust to the routine of 37.5 hours a week, plus commuting time, and still fit in writing.

At the moment (as usual) I have a few writing projects on the go:
  • Editing The Soldiers of Bruges
  • Planning my Nanowrimo 2013 project, The Ripple Effect
  • A non-fiction project
  • Another half-finished novel I really ought to get back to. . .
Here is what I have learned about writing when you have limited time:

1. One project at a time
This is hell for me, because my mind naturally works best when switching frequently between tasks. But it is also a lot more effective. If I only have one hour of writing time each day, I'll get more value from that hour if my mind is already in the world of the novel when I sit down. If I have to remind myself where I am in the plot and what happens next, I'll lose valuable writing time.

2. Know your limits.
I work at a computer all day, and although it is very tempting to spend my lunch breaks writing, I just can't. If I do, I get migraines. There is no point trying to get around that - my brain does what it does, and a girl can only ingest so many aspirin.

3. Simplify other things.
Where possible, I try to minimise the amount of things I have to in the evening - laundry can be put on in the morning before I leave the house rather than taking a bite out of my post-work time.

4. Use 'dead' time.
I can't write at lunchtime, but I can get my hair cut, go to the supermarket, go to the post office, go to the bank and do my Christmas shopping like a boss (and none of those activities give me migraines! Yay!). I like to read, and I am blessed that I can read on the bus.

5. The internet is my friend. Well, kind of.
As above - banking, shopping and several other awkward errands can be done online (not haircuts yet, unfortunately, although I hear Google Snip is in development as we speak). This doesn't work so well when I spend an hour every evening reading BBC news and blogs, but if I had any self-control, I wouldn't have to keep chocolate on a shelf in my house that I can't reach. . .

That's about all I've learned about time management. Does anyone have any other helpful tips? How do you find time to write if you have a full-time job with non-negotiable hours?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Return of Nathan Shepherd: Paul Anthony Shortt's New Book!

And who is she?I'll give you a clue - she has an explosive history with Nathan and she kicks arse.
The next instalment of Nathan Shepherd's story is launching this month, so my old friend Paul Anthony Shortt is here to kick off his blog tour and talk about where his series goes from here.  

It’s great to be back on Ellen’s blog and have her help me welcome Nathan Shepherd back to the world.

I've always preferred series to standalone novels. I love seeing characters develop over a period of time, facing ever-increasing challenges and gradually learning the secrets they need to defeat the villain. There's a sense of building anticipation that you can only get from a series. So what has Nathan Shepherd learned in the time since Locked Within?

The Nathan we see in Silent Oath is a little older, a little wiser, certainly more committed and brave than he once was, and also a little more scared. He's spent 9 months working against the Council of Chains, gathering only a few allies to help him in his fight.

By his side, of course, is Cynthia Keller, who spent most of the previous book laid up in hospital. Like Nathan, she has become stronger for her experiences, and can now definitely look after herself.

Cadence Brook, the witch from Boston, returns to New York, eager to help her friends. Readers will remember that outside reborn aren't allowed in New York, so Nathan takes a big risk asking her for help.

A new addition to the cast is Sam Kinnon, a bartender from New Jersey who's pretty handy in a fight, and takes the supernatural in his stride.

One of the most important things Nathan has learned is that he can't save New York alone. He knows he needs more than just a few friends, and has to do more than win a couple of street fights against vampires. The only thing which can protect the people of New York from the Council is a conclave. The city's last conclave was driven out at the end of a bitter, bloody war over 15 years before Nathan realised he had lived before.

This a theme which carries through the book. Friendship. Teamwork. Community. I love stories of friendship. I've often said that I consider my friends to be my family, and I think this shows in my writing. In Silent Oath, Nathan isn't simply looking for another enemy to fight; he's learning what it takes to be a leader. He sees that his actions have consequences, both good and bad, and is forced to decide whether he's going to try and keep everybody safe, taking all burdens on himself, or share the burden, letting his new family rise to join the struggle, knowing that someone may be hurt, or even killed.

When he works alone, Nathan scrapes by, coming close to death on more than one occasion. When his friends are with him, he is stronger and more determined to fight back. With so many new enemies arriving in town, and Lord Dorian after his head, Nathan will need all the help he can get.

To find about more about Paul, visit his blog or find him on Twitter.  

More about Silent Oath:

Hope has returned to New York City. Nathan Shepherd leads a small band of dedicated fighters against the Council of Chains and the city's supernatural masters. But it's not enough. Because from the shadows of Nathan's former lives comes an old enemy, one who knows terrible secrets that Nathan has not yet remembered, secrets that could undo everything he has fought for.

Nathan's only chance to uncover the memories of his previous existence, and to conquer these new forces of evil, lies in Elena DeSantis. A woman he has fought beside in past lifetimes. A woman he has loved.
Together, Nathan and Elena are the only future the city has.

Friday, July 5, 2013

National Flash Fiction Day Event in Dublin: Flashbulbs

National Flash Fiction Day was on the 22nd June and I spent it - well, some of it - reading a piece of my flash fiction in a pub in Dublin.

Me reading, taken by @AliBrenz
My former writing teacher, Claire Hennessy, is now a director of Big Smoke Writing Factory. When she put out a call for flash fiction, I raided my archives (remember my flash fiction world tours?) and polished my favourites. One was selected for reading at the Flashbulbs event on the 22nd June in Arthur's Pub.

It was a great event. The quality of the fiction was high. The ability of the writers to read well was surprisingly high (am I the only writer who doesn't just know how to read her work aloud well? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?). It was well organised and the readjustment of the height of the microphone between each speaker was impressively seamless.

We heard about galleons appearing in midland towns, a sixteen-year-old character with a devastating voice and a tragicomic insistence that she had 'done it all', the secrets of a pub employee and a rebellious nun. Readers included Alison Wells (her tale, about a holographic guard dog, was full of Alison's characteristic mix of sci-fi and humour) and Bernard O'Rourke, a film journalist and fellow Dublin NaNo-er who read his near-poetry about exploring the city by night powerfully - and completely from memory.

The non-writer and my cartoonist friend who came with me to show support both enjoyed it, which is a pretty good litmus test of a successful event (although you'd probably have to know them both to realise this). The combination of strong writing (I was flattered to be included), good organisation and a contest on the night (5 finalists, with the ultimate decision resting on their reading, judged by Dave Lordan and won by Dervilla McKeith) combined to create a great evening.

Also, there was free chocolate and a real turf fire. How can you go wrong?

PS: If you're curious, I read a very slightly edited version of the story I wrote about Venice for last year's A-Z Flash Fiction World Tour, re-named Acqua Alta.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Christine Glover's Debut: Interview

I could think of no better way to return to blogging after my hiatus than to celebrate the success of one of my very first blog followers - the fabulous Christine Glover, whose debut romance novel will be released in Summer 2014.

Christine is a smart, sassy, dedicated writer with an amazing life behind her and a dazzling future ahead of her. She's a goal-setter (I tell my friends about her goal-setting all the time, like she's an internet guru!) and all-round inspiration, and today she's answering some questions about her shiny new book deal and the writing life!

First of all, many congratulations on your deal! Tell us about your debut novel! Who are the characters we'll get to meet?

Hi Ellen, thank you so much for inviting me to your blog. My debut novel is called THE MAVERICK’S RED HOT REUNION and will be released in Summer 2014. Here’s a sneak peek at Kennedy and Zach’s story:

Corporate Maverick Zach Tanner returns to North Carolina to rebuild his dying friend's resort. He's got the money, the power and the will to transform Sweetbriar Springs into a premier spa for the glamorous, but he doesn't count on the woman he once loved and lost to handle the construction contract. Zach thought he'd buried his desire for Kennedy five years ago, but he's still drawn to her. He's determined to satisfy his craving to get her out of his system, but he won't lose his heart again.

Construction company owner Kennedy Gibson is eager to restore Sweetbriar Springs, but when she realizes Zach is her new boss she's terrified he'll learn the truth about their breakup. She agrees to work with the one man she vowed never to hurt again. She protects her heart, but can't deny the passion Zach's reignites in her. Soon she believes she has a chance for a different future with Zach, but her secret threatens to destroy their red hot reunion.

Now only the power of love can heal the wounds of their past and give them the future they deserve.

You've blogged about getting "the call" on the way to Zumba (proof that exercise is good for you :p). Tell us a bit about your new publisher - what attracted you to them?

My new publisher is Entangled Publishing. They’re an e-publisher that has worldwide distribution with print book options. I’ve been curious about this publishing house since its inception and have interviewed many friends on Digging Out of Distraction about their first sales to Entangled. 

Then I interviewed the Entangled Publishing Indulgence Line’s Editorial Director Alethea Spiridon Hopson who graciously had agreed to judge contemporary series finalists for THE LINDA HOWARD AWARD OF EXCELLENCE writing contest. One of my questions was “What do you look for in an author you are working with?” She replied, “Kindness.” And she wanted a fresh take on super Alpha-licious heroes and the heroines. Right then I knew I had to query her with Kennedy and Zach’s story. A few months later I signed my contract and officially joined the Entangled Publishing family. *Big Smiley Face*

Your blog is known for your signature 'Break Out the Bubbly and the DarkChocolate!' posts celebrating debut authors. How did you celebrate your debut? Was there bubbly and dark chocolate? :)

Initially everything was such a blur that I just went about my own daily business in a daze. We’d already scheduled a dinner date with a couple I adore. We didn’t have champagne, but there was a sinfully delicious slice of dark chocolate cake consumed that night. I brought champagne to my hair salon because I told my stylist that as soon as I sold, we’d celebrate together. I’ve been sitting in her chair for five years and she’s been a great encouragement to me, so it was super fun to celebrate with everyone that day. 

Then I got to celebrate with my Heart of Dixie writing chapter and yes, there was champagne—more to come as I plan to pop some bubbly with my Southern Magic writing mates. And I finally get to sip the bubbly with my fabulous Critique Partner Pam Mantovani when we see each other again. Later on I’ll celebrate again with my friends at the RWA National Conference this July. Yes. I’m a party on the go :)

I've been following your writing journey since I started blogging in 2009. How did you keep the faith while you were looking for a publisher? What kept you going?

I’m very blessed to have an incredible support network both in the writing world and in my non-writing world. We’re all going to have dark days, but if you’re surrounded by positive, encouraging people who believe in you then you’ll find the strength to carry on even when it seems like you’ll never attain your dream. As my Critique Partner Sharon Wray says, “If you quit, then you reject yourself.” 

So instead of quitting when I’m discouraged or disappointed, I give myself a mini break. I hang out with friends, shop, go for a nice walk, read a fabulous book, or watch a great movie. Eventually a character pops into my head, or a story idea germinates, and I can’t wait to get back to doing what I love: writing.

What advice would you give to unpublished writers?

Seek a professional writing organization with resources that will help you grow as a writer. I’m fortunate to be a member of the Romance Writers of America and four writing chapters as well as two online writing groups (I’m a social butterfly in life and in the virtual world LOL). Read, read, & read. 

Take courses, study the craft, and don’t be afraid to query even though it means risking rejection. Every rejection letter is a Badge of Courage. Surround yourself with positive, supportive people who believe in your dreams and give the same encouragement to them.

I love your goal-setting process - I read your posts about it religiously and share them with friends! What goal-setting advice do you follow? Are there any authors or blogs about goal-setting that you love?

I’ve always been a self-driven person. List maker? Check. Type A overachiever? Double check. But my primary goal setting process is derived from this book: LIFE MAKEOVERS by Cheryl Richardson. I revisit the first few chapters every year to develop a core change within myself—a fear to overcome or conquer in order to move forward. 

Another great resource is James Scott Bell’s THE ART OF WAR FOR WRITERS. When I first started writing my goal was to write 2 pages a day, 4 days a week. At the time the pages were single-spaced. Little did I know I was writing a chapter a week! Now my goals are more complex, multi-layered, and I stop to review them every 3 months. 

I also pay myself a quarter for every writing goal I achieve as well as for exercising. Sometimes I pay myself a quarter just for showing up at the computer with my cup of coffee :) Those quarters add up, and I convert them into twenty dollar bills which I use to help pay for my writing expenses. 

Okay, I’m done blathering, but I’ll end on this note: goals are important, but so is treating yourself with kindness. There will be days when all you can do is walk by the computer, look at the screen and tap the manuscript three times before you go out to do something totally non-writing because you need to refill your creative soul. And that’s worth a quarter in my book!

The interview ends there, guys, but just to give you an idea of what a lovely person Christine is, and why I'm so delighted at her success, I want to share what she wrote to me at the end of the interview.

Thanks Ellen. You were my first International blog follower. I’ve had so much fun getting to know you via the Internet. I hope one day to meet you in person. We’ll sip champagne and nibble on dark chocolate to celebrate our friendship. 

This is why I keep coming back to blogging - because you make friends, meet lovely people, and walk around grinning for a whole day because a woman in Alabama that you've never met got the book deal you'd rooted for for four years.

For more info on Christine, visit  

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A-Z Challenge - Bowing Out

I'm sorry to have to do this, because I love the A-Z Challenge, but I'm so far behind this year that I think I will have to bow out.

I really appreciate all the lovely comments and the new followers. It's been great fun finding new blogs. But this month is the busiest one I've had for several years (and I do Nanowrimo every year so I know a little about busy!). Once I've got all of my obligations out of the way, I typically have less than an hour to myself, and I don't have the energy to spend that time choosing a place, researching the place, coming up with a story about it and then trying to write that story well.

Thanks again for the lovely comments and I hope to be along for the trip next year.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Frankfurt Airport: A-Z Flash Fiction World Tour

Douglas Adams wrote that it can't be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the expression 'as pretty as an airport.' I have a particular hatred of the concrete spider that is Charles de Gaulle in Paris, but generally I like airports in the same way that I like chocolate wrappers. It's difficult to have a special affection for them, but I like the job they do and am pleased when they do it well. 

Anyway, today I'm writing flash fiction about an airport I've never been in - Frankfurt Airport. 

Frankfort Airport

It was easier to check one bag, Gina always said.
She packed the case, so she chose what they brought with them. That way, she wouldn't have to spend her holiday listening to Dan complain that he hadn't packed enough t-shirts for Florida. It was a perfect system.
They checked the bag under Gina's name, too. Dan would find a way to mess it up if they didn't.
"I'm going for a latte," Dan said. Gina looked up from her sudoku.
"They'll call the flight soon," she warned.
"I'll be back by then," he said. She fumed quietly. He would be late, and she would have to sit on the plane while they paged Passenger Daniel Frost twenty times.
In fact, they were already paging Passenger Daniel Frost, and he made his connection to Rio just in time - and just as his wife was arguing with the ground staff.
"But my husband isn't here!" she was saying.
"Your bag is checked," said the young man. "You have to board."

Edinburgh: A-Z Flash Fiction World Tour

Sorry this post is - ahem - two days late. This April is an incredibly busy time for me, and it's looking ever more likely that I'll have to drop out of the A-Z Challenge, but I'm enjoying it so I am going to try to make all 26 entries! Today I'm staying relative close to home and going to Edinburgh.


It was their first night in the middle of the tenament.
He worked as a butcher, occupying the bottom floor. When he started work, they had moved into the upper floors, with the rest of the families, couples and older people who couldn't afford anything better.
Every night, she would roll over in bed and sigh.
"I wish we could move to the middle floors."
The middle floors were occupied by the middle classes. Everyone dreamed of moving there.
On their first night in the middle floors, she rolled over and sighed.
"The people overhead are really loud," she said. "And I can smell the butcher's shop from here!"
For the first time in twenty years of marriage, he rolled over and sighed.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Dubai Desert Safari: A-Z Flash Fiction World Tour

Amsterdam, Texas, and Prince Edward Island - that's quite a bit of ground covered, and today we're going to Dubai, one of the United Arab Emirates. To read the rest of the A-Z World Tour 2013, go here.

Dubai Desert Safari

They say that dreams are more vivid under the midnight sun, but no one had warned Kevin about what could happen to a man's mind under a desert sky. In spite of the cold nights, Kevin woke each morning drenched in sweat, his heart pounding. Dreams of people chasing him up fire escapes, through warehouses, across railway bridges and over dark, murky water.
Each morning, he waited for his heart to slow. Then he took a long, cool shower to calm himself so he could smile at his fellow holidaymakers over breakfast.
After all, it wasn't like anyone would ever think to look for him here.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Charlottetown, Canada - A-Z Flash Fiction World Tour

As a little shout-out to the many wonderful Canadians I know, today I'm writing about Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island. To read the rest of the A-Z World Tour 2013, go here.


The little boat had barely stopped running when Daniel swung his legs over the side and sprinted away. His dad shook his head and smiled.
"I hope it isn't this year," he said to his wife. "I really do."
Daniel was thinking the same thing as he ran, the soles of his sneakers slapping against the wooden slats of the pontoon. Not this year, not this year, not this year.
The door of the restaurant swung open and he stood there, surveying the room with such panic that he saw nothing, until he saw her.
She smiled and put her tray down, and he could see in her eyes that it wasn't this year. She was still his, for one more summer.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Buc-ees, Brazoria - A-Z Flash Fiction World Tour

Yesterday we kicked off in Amsterdam. Today we're in Texas, outside Buc-ees, which blog reader Katy Manck describes succinctly as "a beaverface-mascot "mini-mart" gas station that became a huge attraction on Interstate 10 near Luling". 
I couldn't resist that. I'm not made of stone. To keep with the B theme, I chose the branch in Brazoria. 

Also, Brazoria is my new favourite place-name. Just saying.

Buc-ees, Brazoria (TX)

Candi hadn't expected her first marriage proposal to happen in the parking lot of Buc-ees. She hadn't expected to catch the eye of a giant beaver mascot drawn on the sign right after Freddie stammered the words out.
She definitely hadn't expected it to come from Freddie, when she'd just swung by to get her car washed.
And she had never expected to respond to a marriage proposal with "Oh, honey, no."
But here they were.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Arlee Bird and Amsterdam: A-Z Round-the-World Flash Fiction

Today marks the start of the A-Z Blogging Challenge! I'll be posting a piece of short flash fiction each day (except Sundays), set in a location corresponding to the letters of the alphabet. If you want to suggest a place name for a future letter, you can leave a comment here or tweet me @EllenBrickley.

But before we go to Amsterdam, I'd like to kick off with a shout-out to Arlee Bird, the man who started the A-Z Challenge in 2010. This challenge has taught me a lot, so many thanks, Arlee, and a happy April to you!

Today's story contains a bonus travel tip, but I can't promise one of those every post :)


They were talking about the queues at the Van Gogh Museum. All over Amsterdam, every night, people in hostel bars hunch over bottles of beer and talk about the queues at the Van Gogh Museum.
"I skipped breakfast to get there at ten o'clock," Sara said, raking curls back from her face. "And the queue was already halfway around Museumplein. It was like queuing for a rollercoaster."
Matt made a moue of sympathy. "That sucks. And it was raining hard this morning. I had to queue for over an hour, but I showed up at lunchtime so at least it was dry."
"Two hours," Toph interjected. "I win."
"I bought my ticket at the Diamond Museum," Jade said. "That means you can skip the queue."
"Cool," Sara smiled. "Wish I'd known that. My feet were so wet when I finally got inside."
"And did that security guard with the moustache give you grief for dripping water on the floor?" Toph asked.
Jade sipped her beer. She would never be a comrade-in-arms.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

A-Z World Tour Preview Post - A Little Help From My Friends

Today, in advance of the kick-off of the A-Z Blogging Challenge, I want to share something with you all. It's a comment on my last blog entry.

I have a friend called Gar Molloy. He's a cartoonist (see his webcomic, Neko the Kitty, here - it's surreal and smart, but potentially not safe for work and if you dislike profanity or gay cats, it's likely not going to be your thing). He also named one of the characters in his webcomic after me. She's a chain-smoking blonde alcoholic (I'm a brunette who doesn't smoke and rarely drinks things that aren't tea-based) but the world needs more Ellens and I'm happy to see Gar aiding that noble cause.

Anyhoo. A couple of months ago, I posted here asking for place name suggestions for my flash fiction world tour. As ever, I left the field wide open and invited people to suggest any location they wished.

Gar took this concept and ran with it, so for anyone who missed his original comment, here are the list of places Gar suggested. Some of them will feature in my A-Z world tour. Some have been jettisoned for suggestions that are more. . . sane. And easier (honestly, there is nothing like a fellow artist for torturing you).

PS I've had a private rule about not including fictional places (or potentially fictional places, like Gar's suggestions for the letters T, Y and Z) but since I've never stated it publicly, I feel I can break it this year if I wish. Except I just stated it publicly. . . this is what happens when you try to have some integrity. See y'all tomorrow for A.

Burger King
Dungeon of Doom
Earth's Core
Fractal dimension of pure mathematics
Gorilla Island
Hat Factory
Island of Misfit Toys
Jelly World!
King Kong's grave
The Moon
O'Brien's Sandwich Shop in the Ilac Centre
Penney's, anywhere
Starfleet Headquarters, San Francisco
Tesla's Time Zeppelin
Utilitarian Paradise
Verona Beach
West Philadelphia
Xerox manufacturing plant in Dundalk
Yoko Ono's secret hunting grounds
Tesla's Time Zeppelin.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Countdown to the A-Z World Tour!

It's almost time for my second A-Z flash fiction world tour! The response from my lovely followers has been excellent and my list of possible places to write about is, as ever, long and interesting.

There is one downside to my A-Z flash fiction world tour. It makes me want to travel and explore marvellous places with far more frequency than I can afford. If that's my worst complaint, I'm doing pretty well, but throughout April you can expect to find me looking at Wikitravel or Google image searches and making whimpering sounds.

However, I am a little short on choices for some letters. Where possible, I love to get multiple suggestions for each letter, and so far I haven't had a single suggestion for Z.

Since the flash fiction is more fun (and harder for me) when other people suggest the places, I'm going to throw the floor open to anyone who can suggest somewhere beginning with Z.

We're about to kick off a bank holiday weekend in Ireland. Weirdly, for such a historically Catholic country, Good Friday is not a bank holiday here so I will be at work tomorrow but not on Monday. If it's a bank holiday where you are, have a lovely one and I'll be running an A-Z preview post over the weekend :)

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Care Packages To Secure an Agent: Now a Thing

Writers' Digest are advertising a care package to help writers secure a literary agent. I am not making this up - it must be true because I saw it on Twitter.

I clicked the link, and the care package contains information and resources on hunting for an agent. Very practical, I'm sure, but I was disappointed when I saw that. I don't know what I was expecting, but sending someone a care package full of information feels like giving someone a hug made of homework.

So what would I put in a Pink Tea & Paper Care Package to Help You Secure an Agent?

  • Two large boxes of teabags - one black tea, caffeinated as all hell, and one herbal tea. Maybe even pink tea, just because.
  • A mug to make you smile through the difficult parts - perhaps this cheerful one, or if they still made them, the sadly departed Novelist Fuel mugs from Nanowrimo. Every year I suggest they be re-issued. They never are.
  • Valium.
  • Cake.
  • A form query letter with blanks for your characters' names, title and word count. I want one of these so badly and my birthday isn't for another eleven months. . . 
  • A sheet of stamps, for agents and houses that still prefer paper submissions.
  • A giant blanket with the word 'Hug' written on it.
  • An inspiring A3-sized wall chart, listing famous writers and the number of rejections they received, with space at the bottom for the recipient to track their own progress against that of the greats.
  • A framed print of the URLs of Pub Rants, Nathan Bransford, Miss Snark and Rachelle Gardner, designed for easy and stylish display in a study.
  • More cake.
  • A jar of hot chocolate mix (possibly the chilli-flavoured one from Whittards that I've been enjoying since last May).
  • False nails, to conceal one's own bitten-down ones.
  • A book of Sudoku puzzles, to distract writers waiting to see that alluring tease, 'Inbox (1)'.
  • A Starbucks gift card, to give the struggling recipient an excuse to leave the house. 
  • A notebook for recording the journey - although most writers already have many notebooks, another one never hurts, right?

I reckon that would keep most agent-hungry writers happy (or at least happier) for a few days. Have I missed anything? Add your picks in the comments!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

11 Facts, 11 Questions

Paul Anthony Shortt tagged me in this game, so I'll play :)

Here are the rules for receiving this award:
1. Each person may post 11 things about themselves. *
2. Answer the questions that the tagger set for you plus create 11 questions for the people you’ve tagged to answer.
3. Choose 11 people and link them in your post.
4. Go to their page and tell them.
5. No tag backs!
6. Post an image of the award on your blog. There are many versions available. 

11 Facts about me:

  1. I have small hands. Finding gloves to fit me is a nightmare :)
  2. I love flea markets. When I visit a new city I always like to see their flea markets.
  3. I have very bad eyesight - thank God for contact lenses!
  4. I share a birthday with Eva Braun, Ronald Reagan, Bob Marley and Axl Rose.
  5. I have a crippling, intense, severe phobia of hedgehogs. I can't even look at pictures of them.
  6. My first job was working in a cafe in the town I used to live in. A cup of tea was 70p, a coffee was 80p, and a Scone Special (a tea or coffee with a scone served with jam and cream) was £1 (€1.27). Best deal ever, right?
  7. I have sold school uniforms, answered directory enquiry calls, sold broadband, managed interpreters, served burgers in a 50s-theme diner, promoted discounts on toll roads, handed out bags of products to new mums outside a maternity hospital and worked in the kitchen of a four-star hotel (briefly).
  8. I stopped biting my nails when I was 26. It was not pleasant but I only get the occasional urge these days!
  9. My signature recipe is cheese and herb scones.
  10. I don't eat tomatoes or mayonnaise. My sandwich orders are kind of like Sally Albright's.
  11. I once made a chocolate cake with only one tablespon of flour in it. It was fabulous.
11 Questions from Paul:
  1. What movie do you secretly love? I don't think I secretly love any movies - I'm open about my taste!- but I love John Hughes's teen movies.
  2. If you could travel to any place in the world, where would it be? Vietnam.
  3. When you were a child, what was your dream job? Writer, although I went through phases of wanting to be an air hostess, an actress and a doctor.
  4. What was your favourite childhood toy? I can't remember.
  5. Do you have any hobbies that don't involve reading, writing, or that don't involve the internet? Yes! I knit, I bake, I make jewellery, I sew and I'm always trying to learn crochet and failing miserably. I love working with my hands.
  6. Do you have a lifelong dream? To be a published writer and to travel the world. I'm working on them both.
  7. When did you come to realise it? I can't remember, I think I always knew!
  8. What tv show could you watch over and over? Arrested Development.
  9. What one part of modern living could you not live without? The internet. I never get tired of having access to so much information and so many awesome people. I can message my cousin in Manhattan, my schoolfriend in Egypt and find out what time the bakery opens, all at the same time.
  10. What one part of modern living would you love to live without? Cars - although not entirely. I'd like it to be like the 20s, when they were a select thing owned by enthusiasts and people who needed them, used for long journeys and at weekends. I think they're killing modern cities and reshaping our landscape in ways I don't like. I'm with Douglas Adams's character, Ford Prefect - he came to earth convinced cars were the dominant species. I can drive, but I'd prefer to live in a world where I didn't have to do it very often.
  11. What book or movie are you most looking forward to in 2013? Sarah Rees Brennan's Untold. The first book in the Lynburn Legacy, Unspoken, was released in 2012 and was one of my favourite books of the year.
I've been inactive in the blogosphere for so long that I'm not going to tag people who may not see this - all I will say is, if you want to play, please go ahead, post 11 facts about yourself and answer my questions!

1. What's your starsign? Do you believe in horoscopes? Do you think you're 'typical' of your sign?
2. What is your favourite place on earth?
3. If you could have one wish, and it had to be something for you rather than for the whole of humankind, what would it be?
4. Are politics important to you?
5. Tell me in one line why I - or anyone else - should visit your hometown?
6. What's the nicest sweet thing you've ever eaten? Bonus points if you tell me where I can get it :)
7. If you had another lifetime, what job would you like to have?
8. How old would you think you were if you didn't know how old you are?
9. What book would you bring to a desert island, presuming you already had a Bible and the Complete Works of Shakespeare?
10. If the world was facing destruction and you could only save one artefact from our civilisation, what would it be?
11. Do you like your name?

Friday, February 1, 2013

Flash Fiction World Tour: I Need Your Help!

Last April, I spent the month writing alphabetical flash fiction about all sorts of interesting places, from Alaska to Zanzibar, via Chelsea Physic Garden, Woolwich Arsenal, Utah, Rio and Irishtown.

I had a lot of fun doing it, and in the process I learned lots of things I never knew about the world around me, and I hope I managed to share some of that in my posts.

This year, I want to continue my Flash Fiction World Tour, bringing the total number of teeny travel stories to 52.

But as ever, I need the help of my creative and talented readership.

Each piece of microfiction will be themed around a place. It could be a country, a city, a state, a suburb, a village, a forest, a national park, an attraction, a street, a county . . . you get the idea. Nowhere is too big or too small.

And I want you to make suggestions! Give me a place - as large or as small as you like. I'll read about it (this is probably going to be the most fun part for me, because I love learning about new places almost as much as I love going to them) and then I'll write a short piece of fiction set there.

I'm hoping to get some variety so feel free to suggest anywhere you think may be interesting - it doesn't have to be your home - and spread the word!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A-Z Blogging Challenge - signups open!

Last April, I wrote travel-themed daily flash fiction for the A-Z Blogging Challenge, telling tiny tales from Venice and Bamberg and Alaska and Chelsea Physic Gardens and Johannesburg and Lausanne.

I have no idea where this year will take me, but I can't wait to get stuck in again!

Signups for the A-Z Blogging Challenge are open again. The objective is to post to your blog every day in April (barring Sundays) and to theme each post around a letter of the alphabet. Some bloggers post recipes, flash fiction, book reviews. . . whatever they can think of, provided their post topics run from A to Z as the month wears on.

I loved it last year. I asked my lovely blog readers to suggest place names, and found myself swamped with brilliant suggestions. I loved choosing my 26 destinations and researching them to find out what stories might lurk there. I even found an idea for a novel, when I sent two ghost ship hunters to the Skeleton Coast.

This year, I plan to do another fictional world tour, and maybe collect all 52 pieces into a short ebook once April is over. I'll be posting a call for place names on Friday, so please start thinking about places that could feature a story, whether they're interesting, offbeat, mainstream, quirky, dull, urban, suburban, rural or celestial.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Skipping the Start: Non-Linear Editing

I keep hearing about how you need to 'wow' agents with your opening pages. For the purpose of this blog post (and getting published), I am going to set aside my basic mistrust of people who use the word 'wow' as a verb, because such people are often very smart and have good advice.

And on this, I agree. As a reader, the first few pages have to wow me. I have been known to put books down because I hated the opening line. I can only imagine how much more this applies to agents, who are reading for work and have demands on their time.

A few days ago, I opened up the novel I'm editing, and said to myself 'Right.' (all of my internal talkings-to begin with the word 'right', said emphatically in my very Irish accent). 'It is time to edit this thing. Start at the beginning.'

I couldn't get going. The pressure of rewriting the first few pages with added wow was paralysing.

My current opening line is 'Claire was lost in a world of press releases when the text message came in.' Not much, when you stack it up against 'It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they executed the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York,' or 'Marley was dead to begin with,' or 'What do you say about a twenty-five year old girl who died?' or 'Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.'

Text messages and press releases. Welcome to the 21st century :)

I kept staring at the first line. I needed wow factor. I needed top-notch prose. I needed to stop staring at the screen and do something.

So rather than deal with the internal pressure to make this brilliant right away, I decided not to edit in a linear way. I've made a list of what needs to be done, and I'm going to start by tackling the major changes, and then move on to line-editing what's left. I hope that the major plot and character changes will naturally suggest a new, stronger opening, but if not, I'll be in a better place to edit the opening when I know what shape the finished book has taken.

How do you guys edit? Any tips for creating kick-ass openings?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

When Beta Readers Disagree

I have said it before, and it merits saying again - I love my beta readers. They give up vast chunks of their free time to help me make my book better. They are awesome.

But as each one is awesome in their own way, sometimes they give me very different opinions.

Usually this is fine. If I give my new novel to four people and they each highlight four different flaws, I spend some time thinking about each of them and ultimately I change what I feel like changing. No giant flaw has stood out to everyone.

However, sometimes there is a problem that could be fixed in one or two different ways. I'm working on a few of those at the moment - making the main character more likeable in the early chapters (apparently she's a bit of a whiny cow) and upping the stakes in the earlier part of the book. There are dozens of ways to fix those.

And in the case of my stakes problem, I came up with a solution I liked, which I felt would boost the drama and the conflict and the peril for my main character. I asked two of the beta readers what they thought.

One loves it. One hates it. Both had excellent reasons and made strong points.

I tore my hair out for a while and then consulted a third beta reader, who diplomatically agreed with both of them but eventually came down somewhat on one side. A fourth refused to express an opinion. A fifth was only in the country for a couple of weeks and I had so many better things to talk to her about than my book (namely: Italian chocolate - any good? and Your couch - may I sleep on it?).

So what is a writer to do?

In this case, I'm very fond of my suggested fix - it ups the stakes effectively and it allows me to make a point about something on which I have strong views. I believe it has a good chance of improving the book. So I'm going to do it.

I am, however, going to do it while keeping the other beta reader's comments in mind. The beta reader who hated my solution made excellent points about why she feels it may not work, how she feels it may damage the book. Knowing these in advance, I hope I can write the new chapters with those pitfalls and mind and construct the story in a way that means they're not an issue - and if I can't, I'll be aware of the pitfals as I write and can scrap them if they become overwhelming.

Have your beta readers ever disagreed? What did you do?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Blog Stats

Apparently 99 people viewed my blog on Christmas Day.

I would love to know more about this. Were people just bored? Were they inspired by a mention of pink tea in a Christmas Day movie - and if so, which one? Die Hard?

Anyway, in the last month or so, 8 people arrived here by searching for some variation on a theme of 'Diffney quiz' (which I've written about here), including one optimistic soul doomed to failure, seeking the answers to the 2013 quiz, which hasn't been written yet.

Someone else found me by searching 'fun facts about writers'. I'd love to know what else they found.

18% of visitors in the last month were using Linux, and I had the most pageviews from the USA, Russia, Ireland, Ukraine, the UK and Indonesia. And as ever, the most popular browser among readers of my blog is Firefox.

You guys are interesting!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Unusual Endorsements

I recently asked one of my closest friends to read my novel, The Curse of the Carberrys, and tell me what she thought.

This is always a nerve-wracking experience. Here is a snapshot of what my brain does when I give one of my friends a copy of something I've written:

What if they hate it?
I really respect this person - what if, after reading my writing, they no longer respect me?
What if they think I really believe the things that my characters believe?
What if there's something in there that they find offensive? What if I've accidentally used an outdated term that's no longer politically correct?
What if they find out I am secretly unable to spell necessary and occasion? (Ooops, guess that secret is out now)
What if they hate my font?
What if they think the villain character is based on them?
What if they end our friendship with the words 'Ellen, I could never be friends with someone who wrote this crap!'?

The head of a writer is not a place where you want to build a summer-home, is what I'm saying.

Anyway, to date none of my friends have dumped me for bad writing, which is comforting (although I'm sure some have been tempted).

Just before Christmas, a friend who read my novel some months ago finally got a chance to talk with me about it. She lives overseas so we don't meet often.

'I enjoyed it,' she said, 'but it reminded me of you a lot. I had to stop reading it a few times because it was making me miss you.'

I was incredibly happy with this comment. They say you need to write the book of your heart, the book you most want to read, and for me The Curse of the Carberrys is that book (for the moment - I'm sure there will be others). It feels good to know that I have managed to write something that has something of me in it, that isn't just a rehash of plots pulled from TV Tropes and characters borrowed from strangers at the bus stop. It's good to know that I managed to put myself into the book.

It makes facing the edits a little less daunting!

PS - just to prove that real life isn't a fairytale, I have to add that my friend also told me that a particularly pivotal plot moment just didn't work for her and explained why in detail. She was absolutely right- and thankfully it's an easy fix.