Friday, 29 May 2020

Writing To Music

Music is an important part of my writing process, and I think this can filter through to my books, whether I'm 'borrowing' songs for titles (Everything Changes But You) or giving a character a passion for a type of music (A Beginner's Guide To Salad's Ruth and her love of cheesy pop, for example).

I always write with music in the background (or through headphones now the house is full because of lockdown). Sometimes it's music to set the mood (festive, summery, break-up songs) and other times it's simply music I love. With Book 12, the music I'm listening to while writing the book came about in a slightly different way.

I needed a song for a particular scene in the book, preferably one from the 70s, and after a little procrastinating search (my writing days are littered with these), I found the perfect song. The Buzzcocks' 'Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve?)' was added into the book and I popped it onto my spotify playlist for the book.

All my books have a playlist, sometimes made up of music mentioned in the book or sometimes music that follows a similar theme to the story (you can find the playlists by clicking the 'Book Extras' option under each book on the right-hand side of the blog). With Book 12, music plays an important part, so the playlist will be made up of music mentioned, including The Buzzcocks' offering.

I really liked the song and found myself playing it at the start of each writing session. I did this so many times, the song easily puts me into Cleo's world so I started a new playlist, imaginatively called the 'Writing Book 12' playlist. 'Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)' is the first song and I've added others that set me in the right frame of mind for writing the book.

It's only a small playlist at the moment, but I'm adding to it all the time.

Friday, 22 May 2020

Home Schooling For Dummies*: The Shit Sandwich

*Me, the parent, not the kid

Confession: we've had a bit of a shit sandwich of home-schooling over the past couple of weeks.

The first slice of bread for the sandwich (good) was that SATs were due to be held last week. Usually, this would be BAD because I have a hate/hate relationship with SATs. But the tests have been scrapped this year, which means Isobel doesn't have to sit them. Hurrah!

But then we have the shitty sandwich filling - and it's a double helping. First, we have the government's insistence that schools should open on 1st June (too soon, in my opinion), and our local council agrees. Isobel is in Year 6, which are supposed to be going back and although we've agreed as a family that this won't be happening for her on 1st June, it adds even more anxiety to this whole thing.

And secondly, we've had a bit of a tough week. There's been frustration and shouting and the lowest point was the debate** whether a calculator can produce two different answers if the same information is put in. Isobel later said they're not allowed to use calculators in school. NOW I KNOW WHY.

** debate is stretching the truth. There was frustration and a major difference of opinion. Lots of it.

But now we get to enjoy the other slice of bread that makes up our shit sandwich - half term! I have never been more grateful for a school holiday.

Friday, 15 May 2020

Setting Goals and Marking Milestones

When I'm writing, I usually set myself writing goals, usually 2,000 words per day but reduced to 1,000 words for last couple of books (apart from during November last year when I took part in Nano). And I've reduced the daily word count even further for Book 12.

Life BC (before Coronavirus) meant I could write all day when the kids were at school, but now we're combining working and home-schooling the youngest, it isn't so easy. I knew I'd get stressed if I attempted to keep up the same pace as before, but I also know I'm lazy and that without some kind of goal in mind, I wouldn't get much - if anything - done.

I don't have a deadline for this book, but I've created one for myself, because I want to start a new book for this year's Nano in November. I'd like a bit of time to plan that book, so ideally I want the first draft of Book 12 finished in September. I worked out I could comfortably get this draft done in time by writing 4,000 words per week, which works out at 800 words a day, which doesn't seem so daunting.

Each time I reach my weekly target (sometimes before the end of the week - very exciting times), I mark it off in my diary (I'm a simple beast, who responds well to the smallest rewards) and it's a boost to see that I'm getting there, bit by bit. I've also started marking the bigger milestones with post-it notes (see? Simple beast, small reward) and I've posted these on my social media. Again, it's a visual reminder that even though my daily word count goal is quite low, I am building up the words and one day I'll have a full-length manuscript.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Book News: Everything Changes But You Paperback

I'm chuffed to bits to be able to present the paperback of Everything Changes But You, which is available from Amazon now!

The book's cover had a makeover a little while and I love how it looks 'in the flesh' - I couldn't stop stroking it when my author copies arrived! I wrote Everything Changes But You back in 2014, but I still love Ally's story with its sprinkling of magic and I hope it'll find new readers in its additional format.

Be careful what you wish for...

Ally Richmond is dreading turning thirty and bidding farewell to her youth. And when her husband says he wants to start a family, she begins to panic.

Is this all that life has to offer from now on? Popping out babies and growing old gracefully? She wants a life crammed with glamour and spontaneous adventure, not one full of dirty nappies and night feeds.

When Ally makes a silly birthday wish for a new, exciting life, her wish is granted.

But when Ally is presented with the freedom and opportunities she craves, she soon realises this new life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and that there really is no place like home. But can she find her way back - or is she stuck in this new reality forever?

Monday, 11 May 2020

The Little Things In Lockdown

During lockdown, I've really appreciated the little things I would usually take for granted; sitting outside to read my book (I have a whole post dedicated to my little garden here), watching the plants in my garden and kitchen windowsill grow, sitting down to watch a film (or theatre these days) with the family.

Books and writing have always been important to me, but they've been even more of a comfort over the past few weeks, allowing me to step away from reality for a little while and escape into a world where Coronavirus doesn't exist (I wrote a piece for my local writing group's blog about Coronavirus and what it means for my own writing here) and books have kept me company during the dreaded car park shuffle outside the supermarket (if you're going to be standing around for ages, you may as well do it with a book in hand, right?)

TV and film has been a good way to escape reality too, and they've become a much bigger deal. We don't just sit down to watch a film anymore in this house - we make sure we have popcorn and sweets to enjoy them with, and it goes in my diary, so we have something to look forward to at the weekend. Seriously. All the little things now go in my diary now; I bought some scones and clotted cream so we could have a cream tea and in the diary it went, when a theatre put their panto of Cinderella on YouTube, it went in the diary, along with our rock-painting plans and other little activities that I normally wouldn't think twice about.

I've been downloading box sets from iPlayer and catching up with stuff on Netflix, and I've found some gems I would have otherwise missed. I didn't watch Last Tango in Halifax when it was on originally, but I devoured the whole lot and loved it. I have no idea why I didn't watch it first time round, but I'm glad I've caught up!

With everyone at home all the time, I've been trying to do something different at the weekends, whether it's panto at home or rock painting or baking etc. One great success was the lime loaf the kids and I baked a couple of weekends ago. 

I'd been craving a slice of lemon loaf from the coffee shop in town, but obviously that wasn't possible, so I decided we'd give baking our own a go. I eventually got my hands on some flour and eggs, but my local Asda didn't have any lemons. They did have their green cousins, so we thought we'd see how a lime loaf would turn out...

It turned out AMAZING! I'd never made any kind of loaf before, so I was really proud of our efforts. It was lovely, especially the lime icing.

I used this recipe, substituting the lemons for limes. For the icing, I mixed 100g of icing sugar with the juice from a half a lime (I'd make a bit more next time though!)

This of course went in the diary.

Other family 'events' have been the community-style games of Scrabble we've played, where you have one set of tiles and take your turn whenever you get the chance. It's a more relaxed version where you can take your time, but still competitive! We set our board up in the kitchen with a score sheet and each game lasts a few days.

Other 'little things' that have made me happy are my plants. The raspberry plant we planted last year has grown back and is shooting up, so we should have some fruit during the summer.

I've also sown dahlias for the first time (and sown seeds indoors for the first time - I usually throw them in the big pots outside and hope the best!) and they're growing nicely.

I've re-potted some of the bigger ones into their own pots. My local Asda didn't have pots (it's only a little store, bless it) so I've used anything pot-shaped (or anything that could be cut into a pot, like the bottom of plastic milk bottles) and poked/drilled holes in their bottoms. I like the idea of reusing stuff I'd normally throw away, and I'm going to keep doing this even when the lockdown has ended.

What little things have kept you going during lockdown? Have you discovered anything new?

Friday, 8 May 2020

Home Schooling For Dummies*: A New Normal

*Me, the parent, not the kid

When is a bank holiday not a bank holiday? When they've moved it from the Monday to Friday to coincide with VE Day. And guess who forgot about this until Sunday night, after Isobel had gone to bed under the assumption that she had a day off 'school' the next day? Yup, this numpty.

It seemed cruel to snatch her day off away from her in the morning, so I didn't. She had the day off schoolwork. AND she's had a day off today, on the real bank holiday.

My school, my rules.

I'm finally starting to feel a bit more relaxed about this home-school stuff. We have our new timetable that seems to be working, and it's starting to feel... normal. Or a new normal, at least. We're five weeks into homeschooling (with two weeks of Easter hols in between) and the thought of Isobel going off to school every morning seems a bit weird. That isn't to say I think it's a good idea for her to home-school for a long period - far from it. Supervising is very different to teaching, which I discovered last week when Isobel needed help with her maths.

Do you remember when we were at school and we scoffed at maths, and questioned when we'd ever need to know these things? Well, that came back to bite me on the arse when I couldn't explain how to work out how many non-red cars were originally in a car park if some left and 60% of those remaining were red. NOW IS THE TIME I NEED TO KNOW THAT STUFF, and I failed.

My brain was frazzled, but luckily BBC bite-size came to the rescue when we found a clip with the formula you need to follow (confession: I still don't understand it).

If lockdown has taught me anything over these past few weeks, it's that I shouldn't give up the day job and go into teaching.

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Kindle Unlimited - Read My Books For Free!

If you're a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, you can currently read five of my romantic comedies for free (though this can change over time, so please do check).

The books are:

One summer can change everything…

Mae has no time for men in her life! Local vet Alfie might be totally gorgeous but she’s far too busy looking after her young daughter and running her little bed & breakfast by the sea.

Willow is in the middle of building her dream home with her husband, Ethan, when disaster strikes. And with every month that passes she secretly worries that her happy ever after will never come true…

Melody only intended to stay in the bustling seaside town for a few days. But when she meets Hugo – the charming man in the ice cream van – she decides to stay a little longer.

It seems the little bed & breakfast is full of surprises!

Ruth loves nothing more than curling up in front of the telly with a family-sized bar of chocolate. She doesn’t do diets and she certainly doesn’t do exercise. But all that changes when she’s invited to her school reunion.

Bullied at school for being overweight, Ruth’s first reaction is to rip the invitation into a million pieces. But then Ruth hatches a plan. She’ll lose the weight and arrive at the reunion looking gorgeous and glamorous, leaving her old classmates in awe. Especially her former crush, Zack O’Connell.

With the help of her friends and a new, unbelievably hot colleague, Ruth begins her transformation. With six months until the reunion, losing weight will be a piece of cake, right?

Three women. Three weddings. But who will say I do – and who will say I don’t?

Ruth can’t quite believe she’s managed to snag The One but when he proposes, she can finally accept that she’s found her happily ever after. But when Ruth finds herself booking her dream church for just six weeks away, she starts to panic. You can’t plan a whole wedding at such short notice. Can you?

Trina has only just walked down the aisle, but she’s already starting to question whether they can make their marriage work. Will they survive the honeymoon period, or have they just made a very big – and very expensive – mistake?

Erin has somehow found herself agreeing to be a bridesmaid for the tackiest wedding known to man. With drunk hens, ridiculous outfits and a terrifying wedding planner, just what has Erin signed up for?

Will you…date me?

Delilah James, singleton and smoothie-addict, has six months to find a date for her oldest friend’s wedding. Oh, and to prove to her ex, best man Ben, that she has totally moved on since he dumped her out-of-the-blue nine months, eight days and seventeen hours ago…

So, with her two BFFs playing Cupid, Delilah launches herself into the high-tech, fast-paced and frankly terrifying world of dating. Luckily there’s the hot new guy at work, Adam Sinclair, to practice her flirting on – even if, as a colleague, he’s strictly off-limits!

Yet time’s running out and date after disastrous date forces Delilah to tell a little white lie – and invent a fake boyfriend! But will her secret crush on Adam ruin everything? Does she even care about Ben anymore? And is it too late to untangle her web of lies and take a real date to the wedding…?

Be careful what you wish for...

Ally Richmond is dreading turning thirty and bidding farewell to her youth. And when her husband says he wants to start a family, she begins to panic.

Is this all that life has to offer from now on? Popping out babies and growing old gracefully? She wants a life crammed with glamour and spontaneous adventure, not one full of dirty nappies and night feeds.

When Ally makes a silly birthday wish for a new, exciting life, her wish is granted.

But when Ally is presented with the freedom and opportunities she craves, she soon realises this new life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and that there really is no place like home. But can she find her way back - or is she stuck in this new reality forever?

Happy Reading! :)

Friday, 1 May 2020

Starting a New Book

This is always an exciting part of the writing process, but it can be a bit scary too; being stared at by a blank page, wondering if you can pull off a whole novel (yes, even when you've done it several times before). 

That first sentence can be intimidating, but you've just got to go for it and dive into the story. It doesn't matter if the first sentence is rubbish - you're going to go back and edit later anyway. The important thing is to get going and allow the words to flow.

I've recently started Book 12. I'd started to get to know my characters (you can see the tips I shared here) but you can only get to know them a certain amount before it's time to get stuck in. You'll learn new things about them along the way, which is the best part of writing - when your characters start to come alive on the page!

The first characters I met were Cleo and Paul. Cleo Parker is the main character and I love her already. You can see my mood board for Cleo on Pinterest here but here are three things I have learned about Cleo so far:

  1. She likes to keep lists
  2. She works at a seaside fish and chip shop
  3. She loves coffee

Paul is an old school friend of Cleo's. Here are three things I've learned about him:

  1. He's a policeman
  2. Cleo had a MASSIVE crush on him at school
  3. He still has the ability to turn her insides to jelly

Next up is Cleo's grandmother, Cordelia and her new friend, James.

Three things I've learned about Cordelia:

  1. She likes to help out in the community
  2. She likes to crochet
  3. She loves watching reality TV with her granddaughter

Three things I've learned about James:

  1. He's divorced
  2. He has two children
  3. He works at the amusement arcade

And finally, there's Cleo's best friend - but she doesn't have a name yet (you can help out with the name if you'd like. In my next newsletter, I'll be asking my subscribers if they'd like to have the character named after them, so make sure you've subscribed if you'd like the chance to have your name in the book!)

Three things I've learned about the best friend:

  1. She works at the fish and chip shop with Cleo
  2. She's a single mum
  3. She has terrible luck with men

So, that's how the new book is coming along at the moment. I'll be finding out lots more about these characters over the next few months and I can't wait to share Cleo's story with you!

Monday, 27 April 2020

An Ode (Sort Of) To A Tiny Garden

My garden is little and messy. We have grass, but only because it's growing through the cracks in the concrete ground at an alarming rate. I have some pots out there, but a few weeks ago they were a mass of weeds (winter and laziness are my excuses of choice).

And then Cornoavirus happened and we were all confined to our homes and that messy little lump of walled-in concrete at the back of my house became a godsend. I'd never really appreciated the chaotic little space before, but I certainly do now. It's a little bit of outdoors space that we can use whenever we like, and I know not everyone has that luxury.

As lockdown came into place and the weather turned surprisingly glorious, I started to weed the pots, one or two at a time, and I found those few minutes out in the fresh air really helped after being cooped up. I also found some flowers among the weeds: daffodils, irises, hyacinth and bellis.

As the weeks went on, most of these died off but there are more waiting to take their place. The raspberry plant we potted last year is growing back and there are a couple of lilies popping up out of the soil. There are some other... stuff starting to sprout again (I'm not a gardener and I can't remember what was planted in which pot. And no, of course I didn't label them) as well as some new plants growing from the seeds I sowed once the weeds had vamoosed. I also sowed some dahlia seeds indoors, and these will eventually go outside too.

There's also the birds in the garden, which we finally managed to entice last spring. We have a feeder and a birdbath (though we are yet to witness them having a scrub) so it's nice to sit and watch them visit. Our old faithful feathery friends the wood pigeons, starlings, blackbirds and collared doves have been, as well as the return of magpies, and I spotted a crow on the roof last week (they're my faves).

I like spending a few minutes checking on the plants and watering them (and whipping away those nasty little weeds that insist of trespassing) each day. There's the all-important fresh air, as well as the excitement of seeing things grow. But it isn't just the pots that have been keeping me busy out in the garden. Most days, I've taken my blanket out and laid it out on the concrete so I can have a read (Luna usually joins me. Sometimes one of her squeaky friends does too). I've even taken my crochet out to get some vitamin D while working on my sausage dog projects.

As well as nature, book-reading and outdoorsy crocheting, we've also used the garden to carry on with my youngest daughter's basketball training. The league has been suspended (obviously) but Isobel has been out in the garden, practicing her dribbling and shooting. There may not be much space, but she's having a go!

A few weeks ago, the garden was an underappreciated space, but now it's like another room of the house. We're using it every day, for a range of activities, and I'm definitely grateful that it's there.

Friday, 24 April 2020

Home Schooling For Dummies*: Home School Lite

*Me, the parent, not the kid

The Easter holidays are over so we're back to home-schooling. The first two weeks were a bit stressful because it was new and neither parent or child had a clue how it was going to work, and then the novelty quickly wore off. 

We received a newsletter from the school at the beginning of the week, part of which says 'we do not expect parents to "teach" their children lessons but will give ideas and links to resources and activities which will help your child gain an understanding of some of the learning they are missing' and 'please don't worry about your child "falling behind" - it is the same for everybody', which was reassuring and made me less anxious about trying to cram too much into Isobel's timetable.

So we have a new timetable now. She has reading and maths tasks every day, plus any Live Classrooms her school set, and some writing, spellings and art throughout the week. This week, the BBC have put out a daily Bitesize program on iPlayer and the red button, and there's loads of content on the website too. We've also been making the most of the sunny weather this week by getting out into the garden to do some basketball drills we found on YouTube.

The week has gone well. Tweaking the timetable has definitely helped to keep the house a bit less anxious. I've even been able to start writing a new book this week and it's felt great to get some kind of normality back!

Monday, 20 April 2020

Three Ways To Get To Know Your Characters

I've been busy planning Book 12, which is always an exciting stage of writing a book. Anything can happen, and there are a whole new set of characters to bring to life. But how do you take an idea for a character and make them feel real?

Visualising a character can help. Maybe there's an actor/actress you have in mind when you daydream about the movie or TV adaptation (we all do this, right? Even before we've started the first chapter?) or you could create a mood board on Pinterest. I've set up a board for my main character, Cleo to help me to pinpoint her style and personality (you can see Cleo's board here).

You can also interview your character, collecting info from the basics (full name, nicknames, date of birth, hair/eye colour etc) to physical features (scars, tattoos, birthmarks, do they wear glasses or contact lenses?) What kind of music do they listen to? What's their clothing style? You won't necessarily put all this information into your book but it helps you to build a bigger picture of the character.

There are loads of character questionnaires out there. Give it a google and find out what makes your characters tick!

Another technique I've started to use is giving my characters a career test. For The 12 Christmases of You & Me, I didn't know what Maisie did for a living, so I did a career test for her to find out. As well as giving suggestions for the kind of career she was suited for, I found it give me more of an insight into her personality. It made me think how she would answer the questions, so although I already knew what Cleo's job is, I used the career test to help me shape her character. You can find the career test I used here, or use our friend google again.

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Book News: The 12 Christmases of You & Me

I know it's far, FAR too early to be getting festive (even for a Christmas nut like me) but I wanted to share the blurb for my new book, The 12 Christmases of You & Me, which will be out later this year.

What if you could go back in time and fix the biggest mistake of your life?

Two years ago, Maisie’s best friend walked out of her life and she hasn’t heard from him since. When she wakes up in 1993, she naturally assumes she’s dreaming. But when she finds herself in the past again the next night and her actions in the dream alter her present-day life, she begins to wonder if she’s somehow hopping back in time. And if she is time-travelling, can she save her friendship with Jonas?

When Maisie is forced to relive Christmases of the past, will she face up to her mistakes, or make them all over again?

The 12 Christmases of You & Me is a magical tale of friendship, first loves, and learning to live in the present.

I've loved working on The 12 Christmases of You & Me as it combines three of my favourite things: Christmas, time travel fiction and 90s nostalgia. The story has been in my head for a long time, but although I've written magical stories before (Everything Changes But You and The Mince Pie Mix-Up) I wasn't sure if I could pull off a time travel novel. I kept thinking about the story and how it would work, but I wasn't brave enough to dive in and give it ago.

But then last year, after a recommendation from my brother (thank you, Marc!), I watched Dark on Netflix with my teenage daughter and absolutely loved it (we binged the two available seasons in a few days). Dark involves time travel and it fired me up to finally get my own story out there - and I'm so glad I did! I can't wait to share Maisie's story - though I'll have to wait until October.

The 12 Christmases of You & Me is out on 20th October 2020 but is available to pre-order for just 99p now.

Friday, 3 April 2020

Home Schooling For Dummies*: Another Week Survived

*Me, the parent, not the kid

If you're home-schooling because of the Coronavirus lockdown, give yourself another pat on the back, because we've done it again - we survived another week!

The second half of last week was tough, but I've found it a bit easier this week and there haven't been any school-related meltdowns (though we still have this afternoon to get through, so I hope I haven't just jinxed myself). We've been a bit more relaxed this week, which has helped, and I've decided to only work in the mornings, while Isobel's dad is on 'duty', and I'm finding this approach less stressful. It means I'm only getting half the work done that I normally would - and I know I'm lucky that I can choose to do this - but I was finding it a struggle to concentrate on the two things at once.

Another thing that has helped this week is the promise of the Easter holidays. We just have to get through this afternoon and then we have two weeks off from home-schooling. I don't think I've ever looked forward to the school holidays more!

After the holidays, I'm going to try to be even more relaxed with this home-schooling thing. At the weekend, I was stressing because the school hadn't updated the home-school work on the website for the following week. In the end, I made up my own projects, based on the maths and reading tasks from the week before, plus some Easter-themed tasks I either downloaded from the Twinkl website or made myself. And then, on Monday morning, guess what was there? A new set of work for the week! (I still stuck with my Easter work, because I'd already printed quite a few things out, plus it had taken me AGES to make an Easter-themed crossword!)

So, lesson learned for me: chill out. Being super-organised helped during the first week when we didn't know how this was all going to work, but nothing bad is going to happen if Isobel isn't sat with her schoolwork at 9am on Monday morning.

How have you found home-schooling so far? And, on a scale of one to ten, how much are you looking forward to the school holidays?

Monday, 30 March 2020

Giveaway: Beat the Lockdown Blues With a Romantic Comedy

I think we're all getting fed up of being stuck inside now (has it only been a week?) so I thought I'd try to spread some cheer with a weekly giveaway of one of my ebooks on Twitter.

Here's how it'll work:

Like my giveaway tweet to enter

Every Friday a winner will be picked. The winner chooses one of my books (which is then removed from the list) until either
a) all the books have been won
b) we're let out to play

The first winner will be picked this Friday (3rd April)

The ebooks will be gifted by me from Amazon, so it's UK only as I can't gift to other countries