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It’s lovely to see you here in my on-line writing world where I hope to share my news, views and updates with you. 

I’m very excited to be introducing my debut novel, ‘Dancing Through Fire,’ which was a long labour of love (you can read about this in my post called ‘My Writing Journey’).

Let me tell you a bit more about it…

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Set on the sun-drenched shores of Mallorca, ‘Dancing Through Fire’ is a bittersweet tale of love and redemption in an unlikely friendship.

Guy Saunders is a loner living in a dusty old farmhouse on a hilltop in Mallorca, trying to escape his tragic past.

Ellie McAllister is a naive young girl from Scotland working in a local taverna for the summer.

Following a traumatic event one evening, Ellie stumbles into Guy’s world, throwing him head first into an unlikely friendship with a traumatised teenager. Determined to heal her before she heads home at the end of the summer, Guy risks losing his closely guarded life of solitude and anonymity as he faces old ghosts and gossiping locals to save the young woman who has reawakened him.

Twelve years later, Ellie finds herself returning to the dusty old farmhouse and the man she has loved since that summer. As Guy faces his own mortality, he and Ellie struggle to come to terms with their individual pasts, and their relationship, as they take each other on a journey of love, loss and hope.

 

Some comments from Amazon readers:

‘A magical debut novel featuring Ellie and her personal journey. If you are looking for a read which is unputdownable while immersing yourself in an emotional roller coaster this book is for you! I loved this book and couldn’t turn each page quickly enough. The descriptions of the Island and of the many characters who Ellie meets along the way are captivating. Enjoy!’

‘An outstanding book for a debut novel. Beautifully written with a deft touch, it was a real page turner that was hard to out down. A beautiful story showing life’s twist and turns told with warmth and poignancy, created around believeable, relateable and likeable characters. When’s the next book?’

‘A light hand, poetic skill and huge empathy for characters. A truly skilled first novel.’

Read more reviews here

Writing about food

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Photo by Yoori Koo on Unsplash

One of the fun things about writing is that you can experiment with different styles and topics until you find your own voice and your own true writing passions. Writing about food is one such passion for me. For nearly two years I wrote a weekly column in the Glasgow Herald magazine as their ‘cake critic.’ It involved ‘searching tearooms and coffee shops for the best in home baking.’ Can you imagine a better stint as a writer who’s interested in food? I got to eat cake and write about it. It was bliss.

The idea for the ‘cake critic’ column came about when I took my Mum for coffee one day and realised that what would otherwise have been a lovely tearoom was let down by a selection of mass produced, cellophane wrapped sub-standard cakes. Where was the home baking? Why didn’t they feel it worth investing in some high quality baked goods at a time when The Great British Bake Off was at its peak and the public was getting increasingly savvy in its pursuit of the real deal? As someone who had always longed to run a coffee shop with an on-site bakery it really irked me. If I had owned that coffee shop…. And so I went home that day and promptly wrote an e-mail to the editor of the Herald outlining a proposal to highlight the best home baking in Scotland. I wanted to promote the best baking and the bakers behind it. It felt like a truly noble cause to me. Within twenty four hours I had received an e-mail back saying they liked the idea and that I should go in for a chat. The chat went well and the rest is history. I acted on an instinct, a passion, and it paid off. It taught me that when an inspired idea comes to you it’s worth acting on it because you never know where it’s going to take you.

My time as ‘cake critic’ made me realise that writing about food is my writing heaven. It inspires me and consumes me more than any other topic. Even now, as I focus on writing fiction, food plays an enormous part in the story-telling, giving me a way to appeal to readers senses whilst fulfilling my own writing passion. I can happily spend hours thinking about the perfect meal for a specific scene: the colours, the flavours, the textures, the smells…. I picture the food in my imagination as it would be on the table or the plate or the tartan picnic rug pinned down by a bottle of red. I want to share those imaginings with readers so they too can smell the bacon frying and the coffee brewing as they ease themselves into each scene. Some of own favourite reading memories are those which involve food. Joanne Harris comes to mind: her deft hand has taken me on many wonderful culinary imaginings, each infused with the sheer joy of food which we so admire in the French. Who hasn’t been left with the lingering taste of chocolate, peaches and blackberry wine having read her works? It’s sublime reading for foodies.

So where does the passion for writing about food come from? It’s simple really. It stems from a passion for food. Period. I was lucky to have parents who both had a love of cooking and who encouraged me to roll up my sleeves and get into the kitchen as soon as I could feed myself. They ignited in me the basic instinct to nurture others through feeding them before I could even understand such a concept, and that is something which has stayed with me all my life; it’s one of my greatest joys.

As a very young child I can remember food being a thing of wonder. Before they were trendy and copious avocados were my food heaven, followed closely by peanut butter. From as young as three years old, they were the treats I asked for on birthdays in place of sweets and cake. I wanted proper adult food having developed a taste for the good stuff. Jelly babies and matchsticks were not on my agenda.

It wasn’t just the eating of good food that I’d been introduced to so early, it was the growing and preparing and cooking of it too. I spent my childhood watching my mother going up and down the stairs tirelessly carrying buckets of water for her vegetable patch which produced no end of wholesome ingredients for wonderful meals. I watched my Dad spend entire weekends cooking curries from scratch, hiding away in the kitchen while he mixed and marinated and revelled in the magic he was making. I would watch, entranced by the slow stirring and careful adding of spices as he prepared a feast for us all, bringing far away flavours and exciting new tastes our way.

As a result, I grew up being very hands on when it came to food. Before I even got to school I was the one cutting the core out of raw kidneys to make them fit for a pie, my small hands covered in blood and slime. I was the one who stretched high on my tiptoes to harvest elderflowers in the garden when my Mum took a notion to make wine. Before long I was the ‘queen of puddings,’ tasked with creating fantastical cakes and desserts whenever we shared our table with friends and family, quietly thrilled to see them enjoy what I’d made. By the age of nine I was cooking roast chicken dinners for the family, mastering seasonings and timings and how to keep the bite in steamed carrots. It was, and still is, my ultimate pastime.

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Photo by Max Delsid on Unsplash

My parents encouraged me to experiment, to think in bold flavours and to take my time presenting food to others, to really care about what I produced. It was one of the biggest gifts they could ever have given me. Our collective love of food was also one of the things which time and again, through all life’s ups and downs, brought us together as a family. And that, more than the food itself, is what I find so wondrous about it all. Food has an amazing way of bringing people together. A shared meal, a shared experience, can connect us no matter who we are and where we are. Whether it’s a shared Snickers bar in a moment of hunger or a celebratory meal for one of the most important times in our lives, there is nothing more fundamentally human than eating together. No matter our culture, our life choices, our language or our place in the world, food can transcend all boundaries, bringing us together, taking us to new places, and seeing us safely through the best, the worst and the ugliest times of our lives.

They say you should write what you know about, so it’s no surprise, all things considered, that I should find myself writing about food. It’s a passion which weaves through so many aspects of my life; my family, my social life, my teaching, my photography, my travels, my health and my fitness. Finding that golden thread, that passion which connects all the different aspects of our lives, is one of the greatest blessings a writer could hope for. Not for the first time, I find myself quietly thanking my parents for the gift they shared with me which has touched my life in ways they could never have imagined.

Writing is not the most important thing in my life…

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Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

I’ve read a lot of writing advice over the last year which focuses on putting writing before everything else, if you want to be successful that is. I suppose it’s like everything else which requires time, patience and hours of practice: you have to be committed to the end goal whatever it might be. You have to be passionate about your craft and exclusive in your focus. And to a certain extent I agree that to achieve a goal or a life dream requires the kind of dedication which you can sustain over what can be a very long time: my fist novel took me 22 years to write. But…

I find myself getting increasingly frustrated with the kind of advice which suggests that we should pursue our dreams at the cost of all else. For example;
“The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bullshit story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.” (Jordan Belfort)

Really? What about real life, the practical day to day considerations which, far from being empty excuses, are the very factors we need to prioritise; family, health, earning a wage, for starters. I’m in absolutely no doubt that those three elements of my life are, and always will be (at least until I retire and earning a wage shifts to collecting a pension) my priorities.

My family will always matter more to me than anything else and time with them will always be more precious to me than time spent at the keyboard. I would be lying if I said otherwise. They are my reason for being. They are my oxygen. They are also, as it happens, my biggest supporters when it comes to my writing. They keep me sane and they keep me grounded.

Photo by Artem Bali on Unsplash

My health and wellbeing, having lost it once, is also something which I put above the dreams and goals I nurture. I have learned the need to factor in down-time across my week, to rest when I’m tired, to pay attention to my body’s warning signs and to invest in planning and prepping a healthy diet and lifestyle. If I fail to do these things, I cannot be the best version of myself, which means I cannot give the best of myself to my family, my day job or the dreams and goals I need the energy to sustain over time. At the moment, my day job is so exhausting that when I come home I rest up for a couple of hours instead of heading straight to my laptop. I have no mental energy left, I often can’t think straight and I know I need to recharge (my migraines tell me loud and clear): it’s the end of the school term and I’ve learned to roll with the energy ups and downs the academic year can bring. I’m fine with this — holiday periods give me clear runs at writing with a less stressed head.

Which brings me on to my actual day job…. My teaching life may well be exhausting at times but it’s the job which pays my salary and allows me to live in the house I love not far from the river with my partner, my cats and all the writing tools and research opportunities I need to pursue my goals and dreams as a writer. My day job is what makes it possible for me to have the quality time with my family; the trips away together, the shared experiences, the moments when we make the memories which will sustain us in the days and years to come. My job is much more than just the payer of bills though. My job, my vocation, is also how I add value to the world. Working with young people who have additional support needs, whose lives are chaotic, often tragic, is a job in which there can be no half measures: you’re either all in with these kids or you’re all out. At the risk of sounding sanctimonious, it’s a job that matters. I can’t be present in body while my mind is off on a literary adventure. It’s why quotes like this grate on me so much:

“There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when it’s convenient. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses; only results.” (Kenneth Blanchard)

I am committed to my writing, but not more committed than I am towards my family, my health and my work with young people who rely on me being ‘all in.’

For years, as I raised my son as a single parent and taught full time in challenging environments, struggling to hold on to my health at times, I would feel like I had failed because I couldn’t focus more on my writing. I would read motivational quotes about not making excuses and about how goals and dreams were only ever goals and dreams if you gave them your all, pushing yourself, sacrificing other areas of your life in what felt like the ultimate endurance test. It has taken me a long time to accept that this simply isn’t the case. It is possible to quietly work away at a long held dream and continue to nurture ambitions for the future without compromising what I believe should always be our life priorities. As Robert Louis Stevenson wrote:
“Perpetual devotion to what a man calls his business, is only to be sustained by perpetual neglect of many other things.”

No matter how committed I am to my writing, to my goals of finishing book 2 and to my dreams of writing books 3 and 4 and so on, it will never come at the cost of my family, my health or my job. Does that make me a bad writer? A half-hearted one? An ‘all talk’ dreamer? No. I don’t believe it does. I think it makes me an even more committed writer. It means that I hold on to those goals and dreams in the midst of life, never giving up, keeping my faith that I’ll get there and focusing on all the things which will support me to get there in my way and in my time. I find it hard to believe, when I hear anyone say ‘writing is the most important thing in my life’ that it really is. But just in case there are any writers out there who believe this to be the case, I offer this quote from Theodore Roosevelt:

“Be practical as well as generous in your ideals. Keep your eyes on the stars, but remember to keep your feet on the ground.”

There are, I believe, aspects of our lives which should never take second place to our goals and our dreams.

Thinking in Colours

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Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

When I’m writing I think in colours. Every character, every scene, every plot twist is represented in my mind in shades which find their way out of my sub-conscious and into my fully conscious creative mind. I didn’t realise I did this when I was writing book 1: it struck me when I started book 2 and realised that the colours in my mind, which were influencing the tone and the look and the feel of the story were altogether different.

‘Dancing Through Fire’, set pre-dominantly in Mallorca, is all the colours of warmth: hot pinks and tangerine oranges, deep raspberry reds and golden yellows. They are colours which are weaved through the book along with cobalt blues and emerald greens, all rich, vibrant, life affirming colours. When I look back on my time writing ‘Dancing Through Fire’, I realise how much of it was spent visualising; bringing to mind the details of eyes, flowers, sunsets, oceans, food, clothes and skies. I could not write the scenes in my head until I saw them in colour – every last detail. It wasn’t that I described every last detail, I just needed to know it and see it before I could start to put it on paper. Take the following extract, a key moment in a reunion which, despite being filled with emotion, could have been flat and lifeless had I not brought it to life with the colours I saw as I wrote it in my head.

“And I can’t quite believe it, that she’s here at my table again like she never left, like it isn’t twelve long years since we last did this. It makes me feel as if I have reawakened, as if everything around me has suddenly come to life again….Even the hibiscus flowers around my garden have opened wider than I think I have ever seen them before and they are straining upwards like mini satellites searching for the sun and absorbing it into their buttery yellow petals and flame orange hearts. There is miracle in the way they respond to the heat, their tips translucent gold against the clear turquoise sky. At nights they will bow their heads ready to sleep, wrapping petals like satin shawls around themselves and I will marvel all over again at how clever they are. They are mesmerising today, in this heat and in this company.”
(‘Dancing Through Fire’, by Catherine Alexandra)

Book 2 is all neutrals; pale gold, light caramel, soft grey, dusky blue, sea green…. The setting is different (East coast Scotland) and so the weather and the environment is going to naturally be cooler but the colours aren’t just about that; they’re as much about the characters and how I see them. They walk in these colours; they breathe and love and fight and restore each other in a haze of soft, pale, muted tones. It’s hard to explain, but if I didn’t see them in colours so vividly in my imagination I do not think I could bring them to life on the page. These colours carry their experiences and emotions, everything about their lives as they shift from silvery grey dusks to gunmetal grey storms, baby blue skies to inky black nights. Each scene, each plot twist, each conversation is imagined in shades of a palette which colours the entire book.

I’ve come to realise that for me, as a writer, a mind without colour is unthinkable. I’ve often been asked what I think comes first: plot or characters. I’ve deliberated long and hard on this one and in doing so missed the obvious: it’s neither. Colours come first, for me anyway. I usually have an idea in mind, but what I see, or even feel first, are the colours which will eventually blend with words to bring life to new characters and their stories. Now that I have realised I do this, and can do it in full creative consciousness, my writing experience is all the richer. If you haven’t thought about writing this way, give it a go. It might change how your see everything; how you imagine and create and produce. It might also, as I have found, enrich how you see the world around you as you actively seek to find the colours in everyday life.

How I ended up in a police cell.

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Photo by Matthew Ansley on Unsplash

I never thought I’d see the inside of a police cell. If anything I feared the idea, what with my claustrophobic tendencies and my inherent need to be the good girl. Stepping into a cell wasn’t part of my plan and it certainly didn’t fit with the ‘teacher, writer, nature appreciator’ bio I was cultivating. Yet here I am, writing about my experience of hearing that heavy steel door slamming shut on me, leaving me standing cold and alone in the middle of a bare, lifeless, 8×6 space of nothingness. Let me explain…

When I’m writing, I tend to focus on things I know or have experienced or can easily imagine by asking myself the ‘what if’ questions. It’s one of the reasons I’m drawn to writing women’s fiction: I can relate, and therefore write with more authenticity. I can use the emotions known to me as a woman, the issues which impact on us at different stages of our lives and the commonalities which bond us to underpin any number of plots and story twists. Sometimes, however, along comes a story-line which demands a different level of knowledge and understanding. And that’s when the life of a writer becomes interesting; it becomes an opportunity for growth and a chance to experience the lives of others.

When I finally accepted that my current work in progress (book 2) was going to involve the police, an arrest and some time in a police cell (I don’t want to give too much away here) I knew I was going to have to approach the local police and ask for some advice. After an initial enquiry to Police Scotland I found myself sitting face to face with a police Sergeant who patiently answered all of my questions, indulging my creative whims and wonderings as he walked me through protocols, procedures, logistics and legalities. I took copious notes, and as one question was answered another was asked. It was a fascinating couple of hours which not only helped me make sense of my own story-line but which also sparked numerous ideas, spinning a web of possibilities for my characters and their lives. It was the first time I had really done any ‘professional’ research and as we talked I realised that I was absolutely exhilarated by the discussion: I was in my element. I admit, there probably aren’t many writers out there who don’t like talking about their work, but talking about it and realising that you’re developing knowledge and opening yourself to new ideas at the same time is altogether different.

As our conversation ended, I was asked if I’d like to see the holding area, where people who have been arrested are processed and interviewed. I had a sudden rush of imposter syndrome, wondering if this was the moment when I’d be accused of imitating an author, only to find myself guided gently by the elbow into a cell as they quietly closed the door and went to call for a psych evaluation. It’s a very real fear, imposter syndrome, and let me tell you, a police station isn’t the place to have it. I decided to feel the fear and do what I had to do anyway. For my art, you understand.

Know this: f you haven’t ever been arrested keep it that way. The cold harsh reality of the police desk, the small interview room with no windows and the unrelenting formality of it all is not for the faint-hearted. It was quite the eye opener. As I walked through each different area, hearing what happens at each stage, I tried to walk as the character in my book, putting myself in their shoes, imagining what they would do and say and feel. When we reached the cells, the Sergeant talked me through what it would be like when it was busy, on a Saturday night for example. He spoke about what I would hear and see and experience, details which I frantically wrote down in my notebook : it was research gold. Then came the question which stopped my pen mid-word.

‘Would you like to experience what it’s like having the door shut on you?’

After an initial thanks but no thanks reply he very kindly pointed out that it would be great from a research point of view and that he’d be right outside all the time: the door would only be closed for a few seconds. He was right. I stood in the middle of the cell, feeling cold and alone and decidedly apprehensive as the thud of the heavy steel door reverberated around the space. True to his word however, the door opened just a few seconds later and I made a quick exit.

A couple of things came out of this for me. First of all, I was struck once more by the kindness of strangers. The police Sergeant I met with didn’t have to be so generous with his time and so engaged with my research. I was blown away by how helpful he was and how interested he appeared to be in my writing process. I think he appreciated that as a writer of fiction I was determined to get it right; to raise real issues and handle them with authenticity. The second thing I learned was that real life research, i.e. not surfing the internet, is one of the most dynamic and energising aspects of being a writer. It connects us with other worlds, other lives, other possibilities. It helps us grow our minds and open our hearts as we explore what we don’t yet know. And let’s face it, as a writer, that’s exactly what we want to do for the readers who open our books and step into our worlds.

How to increase your productivity in 10 easy-ish steps.

 

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Before I begin, let me be very clear: I have not mastered this. Over the last year, I have however worked very hard to try and increase my productivity by figuring out what works best for me. I’ve not worked out the key to  applying them all at the same time (wow – could you imagine that?!) but across a period of time, in any number of combinations, these different practices / approaches have helped me to increase my productivity.

I started really thinking about this following the publication of ‘Dancing Through Fire.’ As I threw myself into writing book 2, I quickly discovered that when you’re working full time in a busy job with a fair amount of day-to-day stresses, time and energy for writing soon disappears. I was hitting the mid-afternoon slump, just as the school day finished (for the kids anyway) and so my productivity was crashing. As a result I’d get home, be too exhausted to think about the book, let alone write it, and by the time I’d perked up I’d have to pick up on whatever was left over from the school day. Something had to shift, in fact many things did.

I’m sharing the following changes in thinking and lifestyle I’ve made so that if you’re in the same place, struggling to get the best out of yourself and to make the most of the hours you have in each day, you can maybe find something here to help.

1. Diet and exercise

I quit sugar over eight months ago. A month after quitting sugar I quit carbs, adopting a keto diet approach to eating. This has been the single most significant change in my lifestyle to increase my productivity – it has balanced my hunger, my sugar levels, my mood and my energy, meaning I no longer get the mid-afternoon slump and I have the mental and physical energy to be significantly more productive in all areas of my life. It can be a controversial diet but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. As a lifestyle it promotes sensible exercise too – long walks in the fresh air, occasional bursts of high energy activity, cycling and so on. If it doesn’t suit your body type, find the diet and exercise regime which does. It’s basic self-care and it can make all the difference to how well we function.

2. Sleep

Seems straight forward enough but how much do you really get? I’m up at 6 am every day so I aim to be asleep by 11 pm each night to give me optimum performance the next day. Anything less and I start to suffer, particularly if it goes on for a few nights. That extra episode of Criminal Minds just isn’t worth 50 minutes less sleep…

3. Relaxation

Easy said, I know. I struggle with this too. What I’ve learned is this – if your idea of relaxing is sitting on the couch for a couple of hours watching back to back Criminal Minds then do it. If you relax by walking your dog and listening to music, or going for a run then do it. It’s not what other people tell you to do that matters, it’s what physically and mentally relaxes you. We all need to do it, especially the people who tell you they don’t.

4. Self-discipline

Mmhh… I think it’s fair to say we all have our highs and lows on this front. I’m more self-disciplined when I compartmentalise my time and chunk my tasks – it makes things more achievable. I’ve discovered that being self-disciplined means having clear boundaries, particularly around self-care. Eat your lunch, no skipping. Take five minutes, behind a closed door if need be, just to breathe and bring your shoulders down from your ears so you can get on with what you have to do. Self-discipline = self-care in many ways. Be firm with yourself so you can create the conditions for getting things done.

5. Know yourself

I’m not talking about a conceited kind of self-interest, I’m talking about knowing when you’re at your best for certain things. I’m at my best first thing in the day for writing. I know this and so I work round this when I can. I’m getting better at knowing when I’m going off track and what I need to do to fix it: have a 10 minute nap, make a cup of tea, eat something etc . It’s not about working in a prescriptive way, following generic guidelines – what works best for you will be very different from the person next to you. You know you best.

6. Hobbies

Linked to the next point about mindfulness, hobbies are essential for switching the brain off and focusing on something altogether different from the day to day thoughts which occupy your mind. What do you love to do? What activities make you forget time? For me, reading, gardening, photography, cooking / baking can all do these things. Doing something creative, tapping into that bit of ourselves, also has a wonderful way of spilling over into other areas of our lives and enriching them, for example our day to day work. Here’s a link to an old post I wrote about why writers need hobbies: https://calexandrabooks.com/2018/03/12/why-writers-need-hobbies/

7. Mindfulness

When I’ve mastered point 4 myself, I’ll be making time for this every day. I’d thoroughly recommend the Headspace app if you’re a beginner – it offers 3 minute sessions which anyone can do. The best thing about meditation? You clear your mind, slow your thoughts down, and create space for your head to get to work. I can’t tell you how many times, post-meditation, the answer I’ve been looking for pops into my head.

8. Motivational quotes

Not cheesy at all. The right quote can find you at the right time, powering you on to finish a difficult task or stay focused on what matters. I personally look for quotes from writers who I admire and who talk good sense about their craft. It inspires me.

9. Spend time with the people who matter

Let’s be blunt. The people who can be the biggest drain on our energies and therefore our productivity levels generally aren’t the people who matter most to us. I need time with the people I love to re-charge me, to ground me and to remind me what really matters. My family is everything to me. Time spent with them does more to energise and motivate me than anything else. Love matters.

10. How much do you want it?

This is the question I ask myself every day. I have it typed out on a piece of paper and blu-tac’d to my computer to remind me. If I don’t want it that much, enough to sacrifice other things and prioritise my life around it, then I’m wasting my time. If I really, really want it, then I know what I need to do…

 

 

 

 

 

The Trouble with ‘Book 2’

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Having put your debut novel out into the world, and started what you dream will be an exciting, fulfilling and long career as a writer, the question of Book 2 soon starts to dominate your thoughts. The temptation is to focus purely on the marketing and self-promotion which comes with self publishing your first novel as an indie author, but the danger in doing so, is that the business of actually writing your next one gets lost along the way.

I’ve fallen head first into this trap over the past 12 months, torn between how much time I spend on social media publicising ‘Dancing Through Fire’, and how much time I devote to getting on with Book 2.  My intention to self-publish Book 2 on 1st January 2019, exactly a year to the day I published Book 1, turned out to be the aim of an innocent; a first timer in the industry. It was bold, it was sincere, but it turned out to be unrealistic  in between navigating this strange new world as a writer and working full time as a teacher. Lesson learned.

On the plus side, I have made enough headway to be pleased with the progress of Book 2 and to know I’m on the right tracks, something which can be more difficult to gauge than you might think, particularly if Book 1 and Book 2 aren’t linked an any way. I’ve been incredibly lucky to receive some amazing and generous reviews from readers who took a chance on me and my book (this, I should add, is the most motivating thing of all) and who offered positive feedback around my style, my use of language and my storytelling. As a writer, I therefore want to make sure that I build on these strengths so that Book 2 doesn’t disappoint. I might still be a very small fish in a very large pond but it really matters to me that I get this next book right, not for the sales,  but for the readers who have encouraged me, supported me and invested in my very early writing career.

Taking a different approach in Book 2 is therefore a gamble of sorts. I wrote the first chapter initially as a short story, over a decade ago. When I got to the end I filed it away knowing that I hadn’t quite finished with the main character yet: she had a much bigger story to tell. I worked on it a little, in the years between finishing ‘Dancing Through Fire’ and actually publishing it, and found that my voice in Book 2 was very different: that first chapter had been written at a time in my life when things were quite difficult and I was disillusioned. I’m ok with this change in voice though, given the difference in the female protagonists in the two books, and the very different contexts, but it did raise the question in my mind as to whether or not readers would welcome the change.

So why take a gamble at all? For me,  I change, develop, experiment and mature as a writer not just as part of the natural process which comes with time and experience but also out of fear of becoming a formulaic writer. Whilst I want to retain the personal writing style, use of language and storytelling techniques which have been well received in ‘Dancing Through Fire,’ I am hoping that the story and the characters in Book 2 will be a departure from what could otherwise so easily become the ‘same old.’ It’s a very real fear for me, having read so many formulaic books through the years. 

At the moment, with Book 2, I’m in the writing no-man’s land: the middle. I think most writers would agree it’s the trickiest place of all. You’ve set the scene, started telling the story, and you know where you want it to go (mostly anyway – characters have a habit of changing the plot mid-way, taking you in a whole new direction) but there’s a whole lot of story to happen in between. The middle area is the danger zone for me – the area where I can start to lose structure and direction if I’m not careful. It’s where I can lose focus.  The challenge, as I see it, is to keep the writing and the plot tight and to resist rushing to the end which is already planned out in my head.

There’s also something about Book 2 which says you’re in it for real. It isn’t just a passing phase, this writing business, it’s a life choice, the pursuit of a passion , a new career in the making and a commitment to the readers who make it possible for you to write at all. The thrill of publishing that first novel, your debut, is just the beginning. When I talk about my plans for Book 2, when readers ask me how it’s going, when it’s likely to be published and what it’s all about, I feel an energy like no other: the kind of energy which comes when you’re in your element. There’s an excitement about knowing there’s more on the way, that you can and will, and already have shared your words and your stories with the world.  And that makes all the challenges, the self-doubts, the ‘what – ifs’ and that ever present imposter syndrome worth it all in the end.

I remind myself of this as I sit here, the white screen waiting for me, with a thought provoking cup of tea in hand…

Here’s to Book 2!

 

The power of reviews

reviews

When you finally put your book out into the world you know that you’re opening yourself up for feedback and criticism – it can be a daunting prospect. You also hope that if readers enjoy your book, they might leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads to encourage others to give it a go, and that can be a thrilling prospect.

What I didn’t fully appreciate when I first self-published on Amazon KDP however, was just how much I would come to value the reviews left by readers. Having spent 22 years pulling everything together to put my book out there, the reviews from readers who have enjoyed my story continue to mean more to me than the sales figures. My partner said at the very beginning that it wouldn’t be the number of books I sold that would be the measure of success; it would be that first 5 star review from an unknown reader. He was right. When that first review appeared on Amazon I was thrilled. My story had reached out to someone I didn’t know and touched them in a way that inspired them to write about it and recommend it to others. Job done. Then the next review came in, and the next… With each review a little momentum was gained and my confidence grew, showing me that I was in fact an actual author and not an imposter!

Leaving a review for a book does much more than boost a writer’s confidence though; it can have a major impact on the success of a book. The more people talk about a book, the more potential readers become interested. Readers listen to other readers: a few words of praise from one can influence another much more effectively than most well planned social media campaigns.

Reviews also influence what search engines show potential customers. If a book has a good number of reviews it indicates that it’s of interest to a good number of people and so the search engine decides it’s worth displaying. Reviews ultimately make your book more visible in an on-line world which is crowded with ‘products’ fighting to be seen. They therefore become a valuable marketing tool. In fact many professional review sites, bloggers, potential publicists and so on won’t even consider supporting or representing a book which doesn’t have a certain number of reviews already under its belt.

As a writer, reviews give me a unique insight into a reader’s mind, showing me what they enjoy, value and appreciate. In this way readers, and their reviews, can influence a work in progress. What readers think and feel is, after all, central to a writer’s work; it’s what drives us. 

With that in mind, I’d like to say a huge thank you to the readers who have taken the time to leave a review of ‘Dancing Through Fire’. These reviews have supported me as a new indie author, putting my debut novel out into the world, in countless ways. They have motivated and encouraged me, surprised and inspired me. They really are the ultimate measure of success for those of us who aim to reach out to others through stories. speech marks

To see the full list of reviews for ‘Dancing Through Fire’ on Amazon,  please click on the link below:

http://amzn.eu/d/9KwlOmH