#WritingTips: useful to my career have been:

I was once close behind my children when we were about to cross the road. The little one took the big one’s hand and said, ‘Let’s close our eyes and cross our fingers and hope there are no cars coming.’ That is not the road safety I’d taught them! But for some reason he forgot good sense and tried to wish his way to achieving his aim (getting to the park). I’ve never found wishing furthered my aim of having a career as an author, so I thought I’d pass on a few thoughts on what has been more useful.

Learning to touch-type. From experience in workshops and talks, this isn’t a popular tip. Learning to touch-type can be time-consuming and uninteresting and who needs it? Look down at the keyboard and when you press a letter, it appears on the screen. That’s true. That method may serve many authors perfectly well. However, I liken touch-typing to driving. Once you can do it accurately and without thinking about what you’re doing, without looking at the controls but just knowing where they are and how to command them, life is easier and less stressful. Touch typing is usually the fastest way to get words down, too.

Having a partner with a steady salary. OK, that’s facetious because many households need two or more salaries to survive. What it might be better to say is that having a supportive partner helped a lot. He did have a steady salary while mine flipped about but, mainly, he never suggested I get ‘a proper job’ instead of writing. My income’s much better now and this is no longer ‘a thing’ … but it used to be a big thing.

Learning about publishing as well as learning about writing. I think learning about publishing helped me understand the reality of what I was trying to achieve. Agents and publishers genuinely have only a certain capacity and there are a lot of authors vying for the available room on their lists. The more I understand how publishing works, the better I work with my publishers. Publishing is a business so there are always newsletters and articles for me to learn from. And, though my next release Under the Italian Sun will be my tenth book with Avon, I’ve even learned from their lockdown show, too.

Trusting my instincts. If I have a nasty feeling that I could have written this better or research that more thoroughly, then it’s true. I need to face the fact that more work’s needed. The less trouble I take, the less success I’m likely to get. Trusting my instincts extends to professional relationships, too. If I get the feeling there’s an issue then I always ask about it. A direct question and a willingness to be part of the solution helps a lot more than the closed eyes and crossed fingers I mentioned above.

The harder I work the luckier I get. This sentiment is sometimes attributed to Henry Ford when told he was ‘lucky’ to have achieved what he had. It’s also attributed to Mark Twain. I don’t know who said it first but it’s pretty much the credo I live by because hard work is more useful to me than luck. And I can’t touch-type with my fingers crossed.

Click to preorder Under the Italian Sun

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#BookMatters and old pressed flowers

Book matters

Do you have books that have a special place in your heart?

Maybe from your childhood?

I remember those Mum read to me featuring Noddy or Brer Rabbit or the standard stories about Cinderella or The Ugly Duckling. But I also remember my dad’s set of encyclopaedias – The Book of Knowledge.

Image: stack of leather-bound encyclopaedias.
The Book of Knowledge collection

He bought them before I was born and when Mum downsized after we lost him I found room for them on my own shelves, where they still sit. The set consists of eight encyclopaedias and a massive dictionary. This was my working dictionary for many years, before the dictionary built in to my word processing programs became detailed enough for me. The pages on all of these volumes are as thin as skin on old hands and have become creased and foxed over the years. The covers are cool, silky leather and the gilt lettering is easily legible. I expect that some of the information has been superseded by new discoveries and later amendments but there’s still something magical about those colour plates and the sheer breadth of information on these pages.

There are dry-looking articles.

Image: standard black and white article
Standard black-and-white article

But also illustrated poems or ‘colour plates’ that glow with life.

Image: illustrated rendition of The Ancient Mariner.
Illustrated rendition of ‘The Ancient Mariner’

And there are a few pressed flowers among the pages, which I put there when I was a kid. There are also little heaps of dust that’s all that’s left of some! I guess that at some time in the intervening decades I ought to have found another way to preserve them.

I wonder whose wedding I wore this buttonhole for?

Image of dried buttonhole from wedding within the pages of the book.

With the internet at my fingertips on my computer, phone and tablet I never refer to these books now but I still like to keep them as a memory of Dad and of the little girl who used to sit with him to turn the pages (while he had one eye on the cricket on TV).

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#CoverReveal #UnderTheItalianSun #ForthcomingRelease @AvonBooksUK @BFLAgency

Here’s the beautiful, eye-catching cover for Under the Italian Sun, bursting with summer colour and escapism.

I was sold the first moment I laid eyes on this cover and I hope you love it as much as I do. It just seems to pop from the screen.

Here’s the blurb:

The #1 bestseller is back with an uplifting, escapist read that will brighten the gloomiest day!

A warm, sun-baked terrace.

The rustle of verdant green vines.

The sun slowly dipping behind the Umbrian mountains.

And the chink of wine glasses as the first cork of the evening is popped…

Welcome to Italy. A place that holds the answer to Zia-Lucia Costa Chalmers’ many questions. Not least, how she ended up with such a mouthful of a name.

When Zia discovers that her mother wasn’t who she thought she was, she realises the time has come to search out the Italian family she’s never known.

However, as she delves into the secrets of her past, she doesn’t bargain on having to think about her future too. But with local vineyard owner, Piero, living next door, Zia knows she has a serious distraction who may prove difficult to ignore…

This summer, join Zia as she sets out to uncover her past. But can she find the future she’s always dreamed of along the way?

Under the Italian Sun is available for preorder now:

I hope you enjoy your return to Italy and Montelibertà, which was the setting for One Summer in Italy, too. Umbria’s such a gorgeous part of Italy, one where I’ve spent a lot of time. It’s been a pleasure to let my imagination carry me back there as I wrote Under the Italian Sun, thinking of Zia spending a summer overlooking a sun-soaked vineyard in the valley below her as she searches out her own history. One that comes as quite a surprise …

Preorder Under the Italian Sun

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#Writing tip: flashbacks (and how I avoid them)

I always think carefully before utilising flashbacks to reveal backstory. There are other techniques available.

A flashback gives information about backstory to the readers and usually involves a complete change of scene as the incident from the past takes centre stage. It moves the narrative back in time from the point it has reached – ‘flashing back’ to a prior point.

FOR: Flashbacks can be a fabulous way to manipulate a timeline – or two or more timelines – if your novel involves that structure. Or the storyline can be suspended for the flashback to take place at a point that creates a cliffhanger. Frequently, flashbacks are used to tell the readers the backstory. Some genres use them so much that their readers must enjoy them.

AGAINST: A flashback halts the action, so any momentum my story’s building up is lost. Even if it’s exciting and crammed with intrigue, a flashback looks backwards instead of forwards and so sacrifices the all-important ‘page-turning quality’ or has to build up new PTQ … only to halt that, in turn, as the flashback ends and the main narrative takes over again. I’m not a massive fan of halting narrative drive, neither as a writer or a reader. My story is a train on a journey. The readers are the passengers. To utilise a flashback, I have to stop my train and get my passengers to board a second train and then drive that forward. Then I have to stop the second train and get everyone back on the first. It can work. We’ve all had journeys like that and reached our destination. But is it the most comfortable, immersive way of enjoying the ride?

ALTERNATIVES: As my books don’t involve me manipulating the timeline and I choose to construct cliffhangers in different ways, I utilise other techniques to convey backstory so my readers don’t have to change trains.

  • Conversation. Characters talk about past events, weaving their dialogue into the present action so the reader stays with the main narrative all the time. Dialogue’s a powerful tool and can be used to bring out skeletons from closets or probe old sores, provide explanations, expose lies and reveal secrets or hitherto hidden desires and allow characters to show both reader and other characters exactly how they feel or what they know.
  • Thoughts. Weaving memories into present action via a narrator or a third-person viewpoint character who’s acting out the scene, but thinking about the past at the same time. I find this great for revealing emotion and, if I need to, keeping information between Character A and the reader. That can build up tension as the reader knows other characters don’t share the same knowledge and there’s conflict on the horizon.
  • Prologues. I’ve posted about prologues in the past and I know not everyone likes them. However, a scene at the beginning of the book that’s going to have impact later, or even affect the whole book, can be a punchy, effective way of conveying backstory. To stretch my train metaphor, it’s the train manager making a dramatic announcement before the journey begins. Ladies and gentlemen, we hope you enjoy your journey but someone’s standing on a bridge we have to pass under and they may be throwing rocks.
  • Other forms of communication. Letters, diary entries, emails, texts, newspaper articles, websites, social media posts, even graffiti can convey backstory without the train even slowing as it whizzes through a station.

If I’m honest, you might find the occasional flashback in my early books. Maybe as time went on I became a more efficient train driver.

If you liked this post you may also like:

Should I write a prologue?

What happens in Chapter One?

Chapter Two and beyond

Final Chapter(s) and (possible) Epilogue 

Act, react and interact – breathing life into my characters

My plotty head, Fiction Land and my dad

Descriptive writing

Learn about publishing

Agent or no agent?

Sue Moorcroft’s recipe for a short story

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The Last Charm Paperback Publication Day!

It’s my pleasure to reblog Ella Allbright’s publication day blog. As well as sharing a paperback publication day for The Last Charm for her and Christmas Wishes for me, we are niece and aunt. (For avoidance of doubt, I’m the aunt.)

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UK Publication day for paperback and audio #ChristmasWishes

Christmas wishes paperback
Christmas Wishes paperback

Hooray! Today Christmas Wishes is available in paperback and audio!

Hannah’s lost her shop in Stockholm and her fink of an ex-boyfriend is trying to swindle her. She returns to Middledip village to look after Nan Heather while she decides what happens next in her life and becomes embroiled with the family of her teen-years buddy Nico. He’s trying to work out what happens next in his life, too. Wishes are easy to make but it’s harder to make them come true…

The paperback should be available in Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrison’s, W H Smith, Waterstones and many independent bookshops. It’s a special treat for me to see one of my books on the shelves.

You might know that there’s now an online presence for independent bookshops called Bookshop.org and you can buy Christmas Wishes there, too, thereby supporting bricks and mortar stores.

Julia Winwood
Julia Winwood

The audiobook has been narrated by Julia Winwood and I love this pic of her beginning the recording. She was one of the narrator’s for the recent adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman so I feel cool by association.

Christmas Wishes audiobook

You might know that the ebook of Christmas Wishes has been out for a couple of weeks and is currently selling for 99p.

Have a wonderful day, everyone. Publication day is always a red letter day for me.

Buy the Christmas Wishes paperback from Amazon or Bookshop.org or WH Smith

Buy the Christmas Wishes ebook from Amazon or Apple or Kobo

Buy Christmas Wishes in audiobook from Audible or Kobo

To add to the excitement today, for the first time I’m sharing a publication day with my talented niece, Ella Allbright, who you might already know as Nikki Moore. The Last Charm has awesome reviews and if you love deeply emotional fiction it might be for you! It’s been out in ebook for a while but today is the paperback release. Congratulations, Ella!

Front cover image of The Last Charm by Ella Allbright
The Last Charm by Ella Allbright

Buy The Last Charm by Ella Allbright in paperback on Amazon

Buy The Last Charm by Ella Allbright in paperback on Bookshop.org

Buy The Last Charm by Ella Allbright in paperback at WH Smith

Buy The Last Charm by Ella Allbright in paperback at Waterstones

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#WritingTip: Sue Moorcroft’s recipe for a short story

Writing tip

I’ve written a lot of short stories. I’d sold 87 and a serial before I ever sold a novel and I stopped counting sales when I passed 150. I edited two short story anthologies for the Romantic Novelists’ Association and I’ve led many short story workshops. During that process I’ve distilled my short story ‘recipe’.

  • In the Encyclopaedia Britannica, a short story is defined as concerning a single episode. The simplest way of observing the single-episode structure is to write about one conflict or puzzle.
  • I decide on the conflict or puzzle I’m going to write about
  • and decide whose conflict/puzzle it is. 
  • That person will be my central character, ie I’m writing their story.
  • I give the central character the viewpoint
  • begin at a point of change or significance and plunge into the story.
  • I make the central character work out how to solve the conflict/puzzle herself or himself
  • via a pivotal moment (which you might prefer to think of as a turning point or the key) 
  • to trigger the resolution.
  • Rather than ‘ending’, I think ‘conclusion’. NB For some reason I don’t think too much about themes or messages in short stories, although I do when writing a novel. I have no idea why not … maybe they just arise out of somebody solving a conflict.

Getting structure into my short story

Before I begin I express my idea in three points. Either

  1. conflict 
  2. pivotal moment 
  3. resolution. 

Or:

  1. puzzle 
  2. key 
  3. revelation.

I think carefully in commercial terms. Is the conflict correct for the genre and the magazine or anthology I’m writing for? Are the characters? The ending? If I’m writing a short story as a promotional tool for my novels, is it in the same vein and voice?

Now I write only a few short stories each year but that’s more about lack of time than lack of inclination. Short stories have a lovely pure-story feel to writing them.

Writing short stories for writing competitions

This isn’t something I did much, to be honest, but I know a lot of people met success and reward via competitions. However, I was the head fiction judge at Writers’ Forum for five years and when asked for my tips for entrants would say:

  • Follow the rules. This sounds obvious but it’s amazing how often I’d receive 5000 words when there was a 3000-word maximum.
  • Write the type of story the judges are looking for. At Writers’ Forum it was all about story (probably because I was the judge) but I also judged competitions for Writing Magazine and for various other organisations. In that time I received what amounted to essays on a subject or theme or the first chapter of a novel and stories that were nothing to do with the stated subject or title.
  • Make your story stand out. I once had to read about 200 stories concerning Emily visiting the Falkland Islands. You’ve no idea how I appreciated those with an original approach. In about 160 of them poor Emily was visiting in memory of her lost love or family member. Whilst I had every sympathy for her it became hard to feel enthused.
  • Submit in time for the deadline, if there is one.
  • Send the correct fee, if there is one.
  • Don’t attach a discourteous note to the judge. (Yes, seriously, this happens.)
  • Don’t attach a discourteous note to the magazine. (Ditto.)
  • Write a fantastic first page, the best you possibly can. When you’re up against maybe a hundred other stories you don’t want to make it easy for the judge to put your story down.

Good luck!

If you liked this post you may also like:

Should I write a prologue?

What happens in Chapter One?

Chapter Two and beyond

Final Chapter(s) and (possible) Epilogue 

Act, react and interact – breathing life into my characters

My plotty head, Fiction Land and my dad

Descriptive writing

Learn about publishing

Agent or no agent?

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Publication day interview with author M W Arnold @mick859 @WildRosePress

Hi Mick,

Welcome to my blog. We’ve known each other a long time and it’s my pleasure to welcome you to talk about your writing and your brand new book, A Wing and a Prayer. Congratulations on its publication today!

Hi Sue. Firstly, may I say a big thank you for hosting me on your blog, this is quite an honour and a pleasure.

Tell us a little about your background.

Well, I went straight into the Royal Air Force from school and stayed, quite happily traversing the world, for the next 16 years. I really have to thank the Queen for paying for my excursions, if we ever meet. I had a wonderful time! I then left as I’d been married for the last 5 years and the Lady Wife and I had lived in 4 different married quarters so it was time to settle down. I’m still not certain I’m used to being a civvie yet!

What made you write about the Air Transport Auxiliary rather than the Royal Air Force? You served with the RAF for many years, didn’t you?

It was pure chance. I know you’ve probably heard that from a few authors, that they stumbled into a project – well, I really did. I’d been pretty ill and hadn’t been able to pick up any of my unfinished projects. Then it was suggested that I try something new, something which didn’t bring back bad memories. I happened to be watching a television program about the ATA, ‘Spitfire Women’, and the next thing I know, I’m fishing around on the internet. By the end of the day, I had a rough outline of a story and a number of characters fleshed out. My interest in that time period came in handy and before I knew what was really happening, I was tapping away. 

How did you feel when you were offered a contract by Wild Rose Press? Had you published other books already?

My flabber was well and truly gasted! You could have knocked me down with a feather. I had a romantic drama published back in December 2017 and shortly after, that’s when my ill health kicked in. When the contract offer came through, I suppose that was when I first started to think that, perhaps, just maybe, I am an author.

I know the next book’s already underway. Tell us a little about that. Does it follow on?

Book 2 is finished and now with my editor, actually, and is set about 6 months later, around May 1943. This one is more personal, in that the characters find themselves in more peril than the first. There’s a meeting with a big US movie star where things don’t go as planned and which the mystery – a little more minor than in ‘A Wing and a Prayer’ – is centred around. One of the girls gets married and then has to deal with the broken relationship that’s her little sister. I guess that’s what this one is all about, the various relationships between the girls and their various friends and siblings. We see the best of people in the worst of situations I like to think, here.

Do you have a plan to write more books after that to make a series?

When the contract offer came in, I swiftly got to know my editor and pitched some ideas to her. This one is now officially subtitled, ‘Broken Wings – book 1’, so I guess it looks like it. With book 2 with my editor, I’m about a quarter to a third of the way through the first draft of book 3; and this is the Christmas one! I’m having a lot of fun researching and writing this one, especially in making sure my American character gets the full-on mid-war yuletide. I don’t think she knows what she’s let herself in for!

Thanks for coming over to chat and celebrating your achievement.

Many, thanks again for having me, Sue. I’ve had a wonderful time.

The Air Transport Auxiliary Mystery Club!

Four ladies of the Air Transport Auxiliary bond over solving the mystery of who was responsible for the death of one’s sister. Battling both internal forces and those of the country’s mutual enemies, the women find that both love and dangers are cousins cut from the same ilk.

This is a sweeping story of love, death and betrayal set against the backdrop of war when ties of friendship are exceptionally strong.

Image of M W Arnold
M W Arnold

A Wing and a Prayer – Extract

“Mind the duck!”

Mary’s warning was a smidgeon too late. Betty turned her head toward the shout just when she needed to do the exact opposite and keep her eyes on the path. 

“Aargh!” cried Betty as she was sent sprawling to the ground. 

A loud, angry, “Quack! Quack!” was followed by a flurry of wings and feathers as the slightly stunned duck half flew and half staggered to the sanctuary provided by the river. 

“I did tell her to watch out for the duck,” Mary muttered in her own defense as they rushed to help Betty to her feet. 

Penny and Doris took an arm each as Mary reached to retrieve Betty’s handbag. It had landed precariously close to the edge of the river, and the dastardly duck was snuffling at it before Mary seized it and handed it back to Betty. 

“Mary!” cried Betty. “Grab that envelope!” 

Swiveling, Mary saw a large brown envelope and stooped for it before it could fall into the water. “Got it!” she yelled, waving it in the air. Unfortunately, the envelope being upside down, the contents spilled onto the ground around her, luckily missing going into the river. She bent down to pick them up and was surprised to discover they were all newspaper cuttings.  

Buy A Wing and a Prayer on Amazon UK

Buy A Wing and a Prayer on Amazon US

Buy A Wing and a Prayer on Amazon Aus

Buy A Wing and a Prayer on iBooks

Author Bio 

Mick Arnold is a hopeless romantic who spent fifteen years roaming around the world in the pay of HM Queen Elisabeth II in the RAF before putting down roots. This he’s replaced somewhat with his writing, including reviewing books and supporting fellow saga and romance authors in promoting their novels. 

https://www.facebook.com/MWArnoldAuthor

Twitter – mick859

Instagram – mick859

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#ChristmasWishes ebook publication day!

Cover image Christmas Wishes
Christmas Wishes

Such an exciting day when a book first goes on sale! Thanks to all the lovely NetGalley users who have already given Christmas Wishes so many great reviews.

Christmas Wishes is available for download in the UK now.

Join Hannah in her journeys between beautiful snowy Sweden and cosy Middledip as her life in Stockholm fragments and the village calls her back. Nico’s downshifted to Middledip too as he has two children to care for and an eating disorder to cope with. Will any of their wishes come true?

Image: When it came to Hannah's turn she found herself making one of those wishes that are half-formed in the back of your mind, a yearning you've hardly admitted to yourself.

If you’d prefer to await the paperback or audio versions then they’ll be coming along on November 12th 2020.

Download Christmas Wishes on Amazon UK

Download Christmas Wishes on Apple UK

Download Christmas Wishes on Kobo UK

To double the excitement, today’s also publication day in Italy for La vacanza che cambiò la mia vita – which was A Christmas Gift in the UK. Buongiorno to my Italian readers and I hope they enjoy meeting Georgine and Joe.

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#WritingTip: Final Chapter(s) and (possible) Epilogue

Image that says writing tip

It’s amazing how some (wonderful!) writers are able to keep the end to a story going. Black moment after black moment, more twists than a maze, they thrust their characters together and yank them apart … it’s riveting! 

On the other hand, you get the occasional finale that fizzles rather than sizzles and it spoils what’s been a great read.

I try and write the first kind of ending and avoid the second. I believe the right ending for my book already exists in my imagination. It’s just a case of recognising it.

Words such as resolution and conclusion are associated with endings for good reason. I look back at the story’s beginning. What did I want my hero and heroine to learn/find/resolve/defend and what did they have to overcome to do it? How can I answer questions and tie in threads, giving the reader the feeling that they are leaving by the same door by which they came in?

What I don’t want:

  • My characters to resolve the conflicts over a cup of tea i.e. make the conflicts that have driven the book suddenly trivial. I guess that in real life we learn to live with things but that’s not gripping.
  • Someone else to come along and solve everything. I want my central characters to be instrumental in their own ending.
  • The action to occur off stage and some lesser character come on to explain what happened.
  • To cheat readers with hasty contrivances, previously undisclosed facts or hitherto secret characters.

Like an airliner, a story needs a lot of space for its final flightpath. I like everything to go wrong, so completely wrong that it seems irretrievable. Then I make my central characters fight to retrieve it. I plumb the depths of their courage and fortitude, winkle out what they’re prepared to sacrifice in order to achieve a goal. That, to me, is the end of the story.

But … maybe an Epilogue?

Some people dislike prologues and epilogues. I don’t have one in every book or feel that if I have one I must have the other but I don’t shy away from them either.

I try and wind up the final chapter in exactly the right place – after the big resolution – but I’m also mindful of the advice of a past editor not to leave readers too soon. An epilogue is a great opportunity to glimpse my characters enjoying their happy ending, satisfying subplots and maybe including the readers in a joke they’ve shared.

I leave open or ambiguous endings to others. I want readers to put my books down reluctantly, smiling or sighing … but satisfied. I want to give everyone time to say goodbye.

You may also like:

Should I write a prologue?

What happens in Chapter One?

Chapter Two and beyond

Act, react and interact – breathing life into my characters

My plotty head, Fiction Land and my dad

Descriptive writing

Learn about publishing

Agent or no agent?

2 Comments

Filed under Sue Moorcroft