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Getting to Know You: Adam Peacock

Drum roll please! May I introduce you to Adam Peacock, a member of Elementary Writers and author of ‘Open Grave‘.

Because Adam is a debut author, I wanted to introduce him to you as I suspect you will be reading Adam’s novels for many years to come.

My thanks to Adam for taking the time to answer my questions.

Vic x

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Tell us about your book(s).
My novel Open Grave is a crime thriller set in the North East of England. The protagonist, DCI Jack Lambert, is different to most other detectives within the genre in that he is gay. On a personal level, this is something he is struggling with, having only recently made this admission at the beginning of the book.

The main ‘crime’ within the story is that of a serial killer who is murdering people in pairs, burying them and then digging them up so that they can be found. Alongside this, gang warfare is about to break out between rival criminal groups and a well-known local celebrity reports that she is being stalked. I wanted to create a sprawling world within my book with multiple threads, the idea being that nothing ever resolves neatly, with certain storylines and characters crossing over into future novels.

What inspired your novel?
I read a lot of crime and so it felt natural to write something within that genre. The inspiration for Open Grave came about from an image I had in my head of a crime scene in which a member of the public stumbles across two bodies in an open grave (strange, I know). The story unfolded from there.

What do you like most about writing? What do you dislike (if anything)?
I quite enjoy editing, which is a good thing as there’s always plenty to do when you don’t intricately plot your book before beginning! Knowing that I am whipping something up into shape is a great feeling.

The thing I dislike most about writing is just how easy it is to fall out of your routine when it comes to putting words onto the page. Like most things in life, a few days away from the computer can easily stretch into weeks and this can lead to unnecessary procrastination.

Do you find time to read, if so what are you reading at the moment?
I do find the time to read. As I prefer to write in the mornings, I dedicate time to read most evenings. I’m currently reading Martina Cole’s Dangerous Lady.

Which author(s) has/have had the biggest influence on your writing?
As a writer, I would have to say Stephen King and Jo Nesbo. I would also include Lee Child in that list. With regards to Stephen King, I read his book On Writing before I penned so much as a character profile and I use the template he gives in terms of how to go about writing. I also enjoy reading his books!

As for Jo Nesbo, I find the protagonist Harry Hole to be a wonderfully complex character. He has many of the traits that we see in crime fiction from such detectives but I find myself invested in Harry in a way that I rarely find in other books. I also like that Nesbo leaves certain threads open between books, which always leaves me wanting to read more. With Lee Child, it has to be his pacing. I find myself flying through his books and every page carries a tension with it. This is something I am hoping to refine in my own work moving forward.

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Where do you get your ideas from?
Usually they just pop into my head either as an image – like happened with Open Grave –  or as a question. I like the idea of concocting a problem, in the form of a question, which seemingly makes no sense initially. Within my own writing, I basically keep asking a number of questions until an answer presents itself. This helps create misdirection.

Do you have a favourite scene/character/story you’ve written?
I enjoy the opening scene from Open Grave, mainly because it is the opening chapter of my first published novel. In terms of a character, it would have to be gangland boss Dorian McGuinness, my protagonist’s former employer. I feel like his character has a lot of room to grow and that there are all manner of skeletons in his closet which may or may not be revealed in future…

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently writing the second novel in the DCI Jack Lambert series and I’m excited to see where it will go. This novel is a little more focused around one event and, with characters having already been established in the first novel, I am keen to see how they react to the hurdles put before them.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given (and who was it from)?
In a non-direct sense, Stephen King’s ‘just get an idea and go with it’ has had the biggest impact on me. Whilst this can lead to a lot of editing, it minimises the scope for procrastination and I find myself able to get on with things. I also try to stick to his mantra of completing 1,000 words a day with varying degrees of success.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
I’m definitely not a plotter! Get the idea and run with it. Of course, as I work through a novel, ideas spring into my head in terms of where I want things to go, but you won’t find any colour-coded charts or timelines pinned to my wall. I should point out, that’s not a judgement on writers that do spend time plotting, I’m merely saying that it doesn’t work for me.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Yes! Read Stephen King’s On Writing, get yourself along to a writing group and don’t fret about giving it a go. Most writers I meet begin by being somewhat self-conscious about their work, often talking down their ability and/or experience. I’d say just get stuck in and see what happens. If you can get into some kind of writing routine, you’ll soon see huge improvements in your work.

What’s been your proudest writing-related moment?
Until recent times it would have been winning the Writers’ Forum monthly magazine short story competition. However, opening the email from Bloodhound Books to find that they believed in my work and wanted to publish Open Grave has definitely topped all other writing-related moments!

You can order/download Open Grave‘ now. You can also follow Adam on Twitter and on Facebook

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Getting to Know You: Charlie Laidlaw.

Today it’s my pleasure to host writer Charlie Laidlaw on the blog. My thanks to Charlie for sharing his time and experiences with us. 

Vic x

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Tell us about your books, what inspired them?
My first book, The Herbal Detective (Ringwood Publishing) was inspired by the seventeenth century witch craze. Back then, it was a crime not to believe in witchcraft. What, I thought, would happen now if someone still did believe in witchcraft? That said, to make this improbable tale work, it had to be a bit of a Benny Hill romp. It’s a fun book.

My second, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead (Accent Press), while a gentle comedy, is darker. It’s really a reworking of The Wizard of Oz – young woman gets knocked on the head, remembers her life in flashback, and emerges from the experience as a different person. It’s a book about the power of memory and how, if we remember things in a different way, we can be changed by that experience.

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Where do you get your ideas from?
Good question because I have no idea. The basic inspiration for my second book came on a train from Edinburgh to London, which was apt as Edinburgh is the only city in the world to have named its main railway station after a book. When I got home, I wrote the first and last chapters. The first has changed beyond all recognition, but the last chapter is pretty much the same.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
Not really, no. I tend to be something of a perfectionist and am constantly editing and rewriting. I hope that, for the reader, it comes across as effortless. From my perspective, everything is hard work – so I tend to like most of the stuff that eventually makes it into the final cut!

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
Not entirely sure what you mean. But I think that good books need good characters, a good plot, and good narrative and dialogue. Those are at least some of the basics. However, as I’ve mentioned the word “plot” I suppose I’m a plotter.

Can you read when you’re working on a piece of writing?
I’m always reading because I take inspiration from other writers, and the world and the characters they create. You can’t write if you don’t read.  Simples.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
I can’t remember who gave me this advice but, like most advice, it’s both blindingly obvious and wise. Simply: you can’t edit a blank page. In other words, it doesn’t matter if you’re writing gibberish. You can go back to it later and turn it into English. The important thing is to keep writing.

What can readers expect from your books?
I hope, to be entertained. But also, maybe, to be taken on a slightly mad thought-provoking journey. I like books that are not too deep, entertain me, and make me smile. I hope that’s what mine do.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Keep writing and don’t give up. I honestly believe that some of the best books ever written will be mouldering at the bottom of landfill because their authors received one too many rejection. If you genuinely think that what you’ve written has merit, stick with it.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I like the way that one idea can lead onto another and then another. I dislike it when those ideas turn out to be bad ideas, and I’ve wasted days or weeks of my life. I try now to plan well ahead, with an ending in sight.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
It’s complete and provisionally entitled The Space Between Time. While (again) a gentle comedy, it’s also about mental illness and how we can grow up with false impressions of the people closest to us. It was a difficult book to write, because it has to balance lighter elements with tragedy and poignancy.  It will be published late this year or early in 2019.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
I’d like to say, putting in the final full stop. But that just provokes me to go back into the manuscript and edit, edit, edit. So, perhaps the best moment is when your editor and proofreader tell you that no further changes can be made!

Review: ‘I Am, I Am, I Am’ by Maggie O’Farrell

I Am, I Am, I Am‘ is a memoir told through near-death experiences. 

Maggie O’Farrell is a beautiful writer, she frames every incident with emotional sophistication. The drama inherent in every chapter is balanced with O’Farrell’s exacting attention to detail. I have cried numerous times while listening to this audiobook as well as marvelling at the insightful and intelligent storytelling. 

Separating each chapter with the part of the body that was responsible for her almost-demise, O’Farrell bucks the trend of the chronological autobiography. This is possibly one of the most inspirational books I have ever read. In the dictionary, beside the word ‘resilient’, there should be a picture of Maggie O’Farrell.

From the first chapter, I was absolutely enthralled. Even when I wasn’t listening to it, I was thinking about it. I’m not sure I will ever stop thinking about it.

As someone who rarely revisits books, this is the biggest compliment I can give: I will read ‘I Am, I Am, I Am‘ again.

Vic x

Review of 2017: Chris Ord

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
I’ve had a good year. My debut novel, Becoming has sold well and received widespread acclaim. I’ve visited a number of schools giving talks on writing, and presented at several reading events. I was commissioned by Woodhorn Museum to write some passages for their Wonderfolk interactive family experience. This was a proud moment for me, as I spent my childhood walking up and down the narrow path past the pit where the museum is now. However, my favourite memory has to be completing my second novel, The Storm.

I play solo horn in Newbiggin Brass Band, and a couple of years ago we were involved in a local project ‘Haalin’ the Lines.’ Funded by the BAIT team at Woodhorn Museum, the project was led by the remarkable performer and singer-songwriter, Tim Dalling. Tim was commissioned by BAIT to take historical accounts being gathered by the Newbiggin-by-the-Sea Genealogy Project and put some of the stories to music. The aim was to bring back to life the tales and oral histories of local heroes from the village. One of those heroes was ‘Big’ Philip Jefferson, the first Newbiggin Lifeboat Coxswain who was awarded a clasp to his silver medal for an attempted rescue of the Norwegian brig ‘Embla’ in 1854.

The fascination with ‘Big’ Phil stayed with me after the project and further research revealed what an incredible man he was. The story of the night Phil and a few young men from Newbiggin tried to rescue the ‘Embla’ became the backdrop for the novel. However, the events of that night are only the starting point, as the book weaves this together with a folk tale, and a series of mysterious incidents to create a tense, supernatural thriller.

Setting is so important to my writing and it means a lot to me to write a story set in the village where I grew up. History is filled with tales of kings and queens, leaders and generals. This is the history they teach at school. But the true heroes are all around us. They are the people who built our communities, lived and died for our families, friends, and neighbours. What remains of those heroes is love and memories, and it’s vital we keep those alive. Our folk stories are our heritage and we can still learn from them. Writers and creatives play an important role in raising issues, stimulating debate, and provoking challenging questions. I hope my books are more than stories, but also make people think and reflect on the world.

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
Music has always been my first love, and my best moment in 2017 is a musical moment. As I said earlier, I play in my village brass band. The past two years have been our most successful and this year we retained our Durham League title, won the North East Regional Championship for the second year running, and qualified for the National Finals in Cheltenham.

We worked hard in preparing for the Finals, but you are playing against the best in the country. Wales, Yorkshire, and the North West all have strong, competitive bands and challenging against them is tough. There were twenty bands in the final and finishing anywhere in the top six placings is considered a success. The draw was not kind to us and as with the year before we had a long wait before we took the stage in nineteenth position. The band performed well, though not quite at our very best, leaving the stage with mixed feelings. Finals are unpredictable and always throw up surprises. Few had us anywhere near the prizes.

The announcements prior to the results were agonising, and full of the usual formal fluff and flannel. Eventually, they got round to revealing the prizes, and we were delighted to be awarded fourth place. This is one of my proudest moments in banding. The band folded many years ago and was only revived in 2010. They’re a great bunch of people and musicians, and to come from nothing and finish fourth at the Nationals is a remarkable achievement. We’ve been promoted and next year brings a whole set of fresh challenges. For the moment, we can enjoy the success.

Favourite book in 2017?
A few years ago I read a book called How to be Free by Tom Hodgkinson. It became a bit of a manifesto for me. I read it every now and then to remind me of some important anchors in my approach your life. I decided to read it again this year.

The book has its flaws and some of the author’s ideas are contradictory and simplistic. However, there’s plenty in there to enjoy and it’s worth reading with an open mind. It’s especially engaging if you’re deliberating a life change. I’ve listed the chapter headings below. They provide an indicator of his anarchic approach to life. I see them as a useful common-sense checklist for embracing a certain kind of freedom. You won’t agree with them all, but they make you think, and a number of them inspired me to focus on new priorities.

  1. Banish anxiety; be carefree
  2. Break the bonds of boredom
  3. The tyranny of bills and the freedom of simplicity
  4. Reject career and all its empty promises
  5. Get out of the city
  6. Cast off your watch
  7. Stop competing
  8. Escape debt
  9. Death to shopping, or fleeing the prison of consumer desire
  10. Smash the fetters of fear
  11. Say no to guilt and free your spirit
  12. No more housework, or the power of the candle
  13. Submit no more to the machine, use your hands
  14. Stop moaning; be merry
  15. Live mortgage free; be a happy wanderer
  16. Disarm pain
  17. Stop worrying about your pension and get a life
  18. Sail away from rudeness and towards a new era of courtesy, civility, and grace
  19. Live free of the supermarkets
  20. The reign of ugly is over; long live beauty, quality, fraternity!
  21. Depose the tyrant wealth
  22. Reject waste; embrace thrift
  23. Stop working, start living!!!

Favourite film in 2017?
I’ve not seen enough films this year. I’ve probably forgotten most of the ones I have. It’s a problem of mine, and my wife is always reminding me that I have seen films I’m convinced I haven’t.

One film that stood out for me was Baby Driver. It’s cool, stylish, full of action and has a great storyline. I enjoy a strong narrative and like to be entertained. There’s a role for challenging and thought provoking character movies, but I tend to fall asleep to a lot of those arthouse flicks. I like escapism, and Baby Driver is a bit of fun. It has an excellent soundtrack too. Thanks to Tarantino it seems to be a necessity these days.

One caveat is Kevin Spacey. Always a terrific presence on screen, his reputation is now in tatters. I suspect the film will be buried now. Some of you won’t want to see it because of him. I respect that. It’s a dilemma facing us all now. Should we separate the art from the artist? I must admit if I erased from my life all the creatives who had deplorable views or behaviour there wouldn’t be much culture left. I tend to leave the judgements to the courts or the gutter press. Perhaps that isn’t good enough.

Favourite album of the year?
My wife, Julie has been listening to the latest album by Hurray for the Riff Raff, The Navigator. I recall loving their last album, and the snippets I was hearing around the house hooked me again. I downloaded The Navigator a few weeks ago and have listened to little else since. Essentially, the band is the creative vehicle for lead singer, Alynda Segarra. Of Puerto Rican descent, the album has a strong Latin flavour. The songs and lyrics are exceptional, but it’s the rhythms and mood that I love most. I’m into drums at the minute and love to hear them used in inventive ways. The standout track is ‘Pa’lante’ which contains the lines, ‘I just wanna prove my worth, on the planet Earth, and be something.’ Those words resonated with me. It’s a sentiment that connects most creatives. I think we all want to leave our mark, and if it doesn’t happen in your lifetime die hoping it will someday. Who knows? Maybe our time is yet to come.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
I’ve had a transitional year, readjusting to moving back into contractual work and finding the time to write. While I wouldn’t describe this as a downside, it has meant that I have had less free time. Writing is about discipline and making the time is a challenge. I’m enjoying my new role. It is rewarding, but my passion is writing. My long-term goal is to reach a point where I am writing most of the time. Many writers speak of how they write because they have to. Once you have caught the bug, the compulsion is overwhelming.

However, sustaining a living as an author is like building a business. It takes a few years to build your experience and reputation. The world of publishing has changed, and whilst this offers many opportunities it also means the financial rewards are not as great. I’m an advocate of the indie route. Why be J.K. Rowling when you can by Joy Division? I also like to be control of my own destiny. The opportunities presented in the mainstream would have come at too high a price for me.

I look at the likes of Louise Ross and Mark Dawson with great admiration. They have been bold and clever enough to build a living doing what they love. My success is far more modest, but the creative rewards are what excite and drive me. Whatever happens artistic integrity and authenticity are my primary goals. If others love what I do that is a bonus. Passion may not be enough to pay the bills, but keep working at what you love and the rewards are great. The important thing is to never give up. A film deal would be welcome though.

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
I’m an obsessive compiler of lists and revel in the opportunity to write my resolutions for the year ahead. I’m still working on my goals for 2018, but my main one is to complete Awakening, the follow up to Becoming. One of my challenges is to strike the right balance between work and writing. It takes discipline to write and finding the time is important. If there is one thing I would love more of it is time. I crave it more than anything. Filling that time with words and music is my idea of heaven. My other goals will revolve around music, travel and running. There are still a few bands I’d still love to see in concert. I go to lots of gigs and there are a few in the diary already. I want to see Sigur Ros, an Icelandic band. I also adore musicals and still haven’t seen ‘Les Miserables’, one of my favourites. I intend to put that right in 2018.

What are you hoping for from 2018?
A top four placing with the band at the Regionals would be great. We’re in a higher section now, so it’s going to be tough. I’m also hoping to visit Berlin this year. I passed through in the early 90s on the way to Poland, and regret not getting off the train for a few days. Croatia is another country I’d love to visit and that’s on my list for the summer. Depending on finances I hope to return to Iceland. It’s a captivating place and I promised myself I would return after a visit in 2016. The costs are eye-watering though and 2018 may be a touch too soon to cram in all this travel. I live in hope though.

Finally, I hope my readers enjoy The Storm. I loved writing it and it would be great if others appreciated the book too. It’s always daunting releasing your work, as you never know what the feedback will be. First and foremost, I see myself as a storyteller. If I can entertain people for a few hours, and make them think that’s all the success I need.

Becoming‘ is available from Amazon in paperback and e-book. ‘The Storm’ will be released in January 2018 and will also be available on Amazon.

To find out more about Chris’s writing you can visit his website or find him on Facebook

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Linda MacDonald

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we’ll talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Today on Don’t Quit the Day Job, we have the lovely Linda MacDonald to talk about how teaching Psychology to sixth formers inspired her debut novel, ‘Meeting Lydia‘. My thanks to Linda for sharing her interesting journey to publication

Vic x

How a computer, an A level topic, a classroom accident, radio news and a work-related breakdown all contributed to my writing career.

My 2001 resolution was to buy either a home computer or a rabbit. The computer won. The day job of teaching in a sixth form college demanded I learn how to use one. Little did I know that this computer, this alien in the living room as I thought of it for a long time, was to be the vehicle of inspiration for my first novel, Meeting Lydia.

Friends Reunited hit the headlines later that year and on a wave of nostalgia, I found the only boy in the class who was never horrible to me at a time when I was bullied. Many emails followed and supplied me with two themes for a story: the long-term effects of school bullying and the psychology of internet relationships.

Write about what you know is the oft-heard mantra. My main character became a teacher of Psychology, someone able to analyse the pros and cons of electronic communication. It was already a topic on the A Level specification and I asked for volunteers to come to an extra lesson to discuss the issues. I told them I would like to tape them with view to gathering authentic ‘student speak’ for a novel I was writing. Their amazing contributions formed the basis of three chapters and added to the quirkiness of a novel.

I was driven by a fire that consumed me: a book that had to be written. In the evenings, when the supper was eaten and the dishes were washed, I made myself write instead of collapsing to watch some inconsequential rubbish on TV. I wrote random chapters, as yet no clear plan of how they would interlock: the bullying backstory; a collapsing marriage; menopausal madness; the psychology of jealousy.

And every morning on my drive to work, I listened to Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme, hoping for an interesting piece to provided inspiration for the email exchanges that must be anything but mundane.

Five years later I had a novel of over 110,000 words; three years after that, I had drafted a more commercial sequel. But the day job still had cards to play. In 2009, I smashed my wrist tripping over a classroom chair and as I lay in hospital, I mused. I was in my fifties, time was running out and I decided to go the self-publishing route.

Sadly, perhaps ironically, the job that was to fuel my writing career was also partly responsible for my having a stress-related breakdown in 2011. ‘Adrenal fatigue’ is a label I found best summed up my condition and my day job became impossible.  I took early retirement. I didn’t have a choice. Yet looking back, without the breakdown, I would have carried on teaching for another few years and I wouldn’t now have four published novels.

Life is unpredictable and I still don’t have a rabbit.

Linda’s latest novel ‘The Man in the Needlecord Jacket‘ is available now. 

Getting to Know You: Caroline Roberts

Next month, I will be interviewing Stephanie Butland and Caroline Roberts at Berwick Literary Festival. Today, I’m warming up by getting to know Caroline.

Thanks to Caroline for taking the time to speak with us today. 

Vic x

Tell us about your novels.
I have 4 published novels all set in Northumberland:

The Torn Up Marriage is about love, loss, betrayal and family – a story about ‘messy’ love, and how hard relationships can be when we tear our own worlds apart.

The Cosy Teashop in the Castle and The Cosy Christmas Teashop, its sequel, are romantic comedy novels set in a quirky Northumberland Castle inspired by the wonderful Chillingham Castle near to where I live. My friend ran the tea rooms there for seven years. It’s a story about striving for your dreams, finding your identity, with a host of delightful characters and of course  lots of tea, cake and romance.

My Summer of Magic Moments is a love story about rediscovering those special moments in life, especially after a gruelling time. Claire has recently finished breast cancer treatment and escapes to a cottage on the Northumberland coast. I particularly love the setting at Bamburgh which is one of my all-time favourite places. It’s a story about love, healing, and finding your way through life.

I think through all my books I’m trying to explore love in words, not just romantic, sexual love, but the love between family and friendships too.

What inspired them?
My interest in relationships sparks it all off – things I see in real life, read about in magazines or newspapers. And the settings are very much inspired by my wonderful home county of Northumberland where I have lived for fifteen years, its rolling hills, castles and stunning coastline.

Where do you get your ideas from?
My ideas come from things I have seen, read, overheard, experienced, then I let my imagination take over. A real place can start me thinking about what might happen there. I knew I wanted to set a book at the cottages I used to jog past, nestled right beside the beach between Bamburgh and Seahouses – that became My Summer of Magic Moments.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
My favourite novel is my latest, My Summer of Magic Moments. It is particularly special to me as it was informed by a wonderful lady who herself had gone through breast cancer. It also has lots of real moments included from my family and friends. This book carries a little piece of my heart, and I feel so thankful to have had it published.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was
from?
“Don’t get it right, get it written”, a friend from the Romantic Novelists’ Association told me that (I think originally it may have been from Dorothea Brande’s book). It’s so true and stops you procrastinating about getting it perfect first time, which I think can cripple many a writer. Just let the creative juices flow and get the story out. Later is the time for editing.

What can readers expect from your books?
A really good love story, with fun, family, friends and food, set against something sad such as loss, grief and betrayal – the hard stuff that affects us all at times in life, all in a beautiful Northumberland setting.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?

  • Write what you are passionate about. If you love what you write this will make the writing process so much easier, and it will come through to readers (and hopefully publishers/agents if you are looking to be published) and spark their imagination and interest too.
  • Finish the book! Don’t pressure yourself that it has to be perfect. Just keep going forward and get the story out. Make time to write regularly, and you will get there. Editing is for later.
  • Submitting – If publication is your aim, finish the book, polish up your first 3 chapters, spend time on your synopsis and cover letter, and only then start sending it out. Try and be as professional as possible. Do your research on who you are submitting to – and send exactly what they ask for. Do try and personalise your cover letter to show you have spent time finding out about them/their company.
  • Persevere – the submission process can be long and hard, and rejection is never easy. Try not to take it too personally – easier said than done, I know – but keep going and try and learn from any critical feedback you might get.
  • Link up with other writers. Look for local groups, or link with groups in your genre. The support and friendship within organisations such as the Romantic Novelists’ Association is invaluable. It was only by taking a deep breath and pitching at the RNA Conference that I got my book deal offers.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I love the creative process – getting lost in my imaginary worlds where the scenes unroll and the characters seem so real. I also really like meeting and chatting with readers.
Dislikes: Deadlines, writing a novel to a short deadline set by the publisher can feel somewhat stifling. Marketing and publicity can also be challenging and time-consuming too, I really didn’t have a clue how much the author is expected to do of this themselves before I got published, though I’m much more comfortable with this side of things now.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
I’m on the final edit stage of my next book, The Cosy Christmas Chocolate Shop,  a romantic comedy set in a fictional Northumberland harbour village that’s a mash-up of Craster with Warkworth plus a few tweaks of my own. I had great fun researching all things chocolate for this book, and was inspired and helped by two fabulous local chocolatiers.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
Holding the first paperback copy of my debut novel, The Torn Up Marriage, in my hands. That was such a special feeling. I had spent over ten years trying to get my novels published and it was a real ‘I Did It!’ moment. A dream come true.

Guest post: Stephanie Butland on the ‘difficult second novel’.

 

The ever-lovely Stephanie Butland has released her second novel, ‘The Other Half of my Heart‘, and to celebrate, Stephanie is visiting the blog today to talk about the ‘difficult second book’. Is it myth or is it that much harder to write your second novel? Read on to find out! As always, thanks to Stephanie for taking the time to share her writerly wisdom.  

Vic x

The Other Half of my Heart

Ah, the Tricky Second Novel. Is it as tricky as the name suggests?

Well, the first thing to say is that telling someone that something is going to be difficult isn’t really a brilliant start. Just try, right now, NOT thinking of a purple snake and you’ll see what I mean.

I think I managed to dodge a bullet, second-novel wise. There was a two year gap between my signing a two-book deal and the first novel coming out. That meant I was writing the second novel without any pressure from either:

  • the critical acclaim/worldwide success of the first book
  • the fact that it died on its arse.

(The reality for the first book, as so often in life, was somewhere between those possibilities.)

Also, I was already being paid for Novel 2. I think that was more important than I knew: although the money wasn’t enough to Be A Writer and nothing else, it did make my early fumbles at a second manuscript necessary. It took me a long time to grope my way into the plot and shape of my second novel, so had it not been expected – was it not being paid for – I think I might have abandoned it altogether. In fact I did, for a while. I started writing something else. My agent and editor admired it, and then pointed out that that wasn’t really the book that had been bought. So I went back to ‘The Other Half Of My Heart’ with much the same frame of mind as whoever it was who had to spin straw into gold. Except I didn’t even have any straw. But I was being paid. So I kept at it.

And as well as an advance, I had a deadline. This meant I ended up writing seventy thousand words in two months. (In fairness to myself, I’d written the first thirteen thousand over the previous – um – year.) Most of the words were terrible, but I had something like the shape of a book. Honour was satisfied and my editor put on her rose-coloured specs (or maybe her x-ray ones) and saw through the mess to the novel that was waiting to be coaxed into life. She gave me some hints and I did some editing and, bingo. (Well, not quite. You can read about the whole business here.)

In all honesty I don’t think my second novel was any harder to write than my first. It was a different experience, but because I’d had two non-fiction books about my dance with cancer published already, I knew that every book was different. And of course part of the reason each book is different is that the writer changes, grows more, knows more.

When I was writing ‘The Other Half Of My Heart’ I knew a lot that I hadn’t before. I had more of a sense of how publishing worked, so I didn’t feel quite so small and lost – a bit like when you’ve started a new school, but you’ve been there long enough to figure out the short cuts and understood how the canteen works. I knew that there would be a period during the writing, towards the end, when I was convinced that it would Never Work, but when I got to that point I remembered that I’d been there three times before and ploughed on.

I knew that I could write a book, and I knew that it was a question of making time and working hard.

I also knew how thrilling it is when the words do start to work out what they are doing and the characters are real enough that every little thing you write about them doesn’t have to be decided. (The first time I dress a character, everything needs a lot of thought. Once I’ve decided that someone wears, say, a tweed Crombie coat with a velvet collar, then the rest of their wardrobe will follow very easily. Put that character in hospital fifteen chapters later and I don’t even have to pause before putting his button-up pyjamas on – this is not a man who sleeps in boxers and a Def Leppard t-shirt.)

I’m just completing my fourth novel, and I think I can say though every writing experience has been different, there was nothing about this second novel that was more difficult than the first – or either of the books I’ve written since.

I suspect that, as writers, we are more fraught when we approach the second novel. It feels as though there’s more at stake. I don’t know that there is, because at the end of the day, it’s about the reader and the page and whether there’s enough on the page to keep the reader interested, whether it’s a first, second, or seventeenth novel they’re reading.