Monthly Archives: August 2020

#WritingTip: act, react and interact – breathing life into my characters

Image saying writing tip

Occasionally, I can see there’s no life in a scene. My characters aren’t acting the story out in a natural and logical way. It’s down to me to make them and I do this by making sure they act, react and interact.

React. I check that this will make my character do this or say this or feel like that. Then I check those reactions are in character because different characters react differently to the same incident.

React emotionally. Let’s take Charlie and Darren. Darren gives Charlie the bad news that Charlie’s wife has left. She’s taken the children. She’s asked Darren to tell Charlie that Charlie will never see any of them again.

Charlie should react to every blow that Darren deals with:

  • his words
  • his inner feelings/emotions
  • his physical manifestations of those inner feelings/emotions
  • actions

Perhaps Charlie’s a decent bloke and literally has no idea why his wife has done these things. How does he feel? Shocked? Horrified? Hurt? Desperate? What are his inner feelings? Does his heart sink? His guts twist? NB These are terms I use literally but they’re similes. People feel as if their hearts are sinking and their guts twisting but actually the organs remain in place. However, humans do have physical manifestation of emotion so I make Charlie break out in a sweat or his hands begin to shake, too.

Or maybe Charlie’s a drunken abuser. He knows exactly why his wife has taken refuge – she’s protecting herself and the kids from his fists and feet, from his vicious tongue, from a life of fear. Is he glad she’s gone so he doesn’t have to listen to her whining about him spending the family income on beer? Or is he furious and vengeful that she thinks she has the right to live her own life and abandon him to his? Do his shoulders relax in relief? Or his hands curl into fists as red edges his vision?

React via action. What action does Charlie take next? Does he cry on Darren’s shoulder? Biff him on the nose? Sit down with pen and paper to list all the places his wife might have gone? Cancel all the credit cards? A lot depends on who Charlie is and Darren’s real role in the story (because I’m wondering about Darren, to be honest). But Charlie will do something.

Interact. If Charlie knows Darren’s in some way responsible for the disaster he might just give him that biff on the nose and storm out in silence but it’s more likely that his actions and reactions will include dialogue. Use of dialogue’s one of the best ways I know of creating interaction. If Darren says, ‘Sorry, mate. Your wife and kids are on their way to a new life in another country,’ no matter how many inner feelings and physical manifestations I give Charlie, it’s going to be natural for him to say something. ‘She can’t have!’ or ‘But … why?’ or ‘Don’t be stupid,’ or ‘You liar!’ or ‘That bitch!’ are all starting points for Charlie’s verbal reaction. He might take action first by piling into Darren with a biff, biff, biff but this is likely to be followed by, ‘And what the hell do you know about it?’ Combining Charlie’s words with his emotions, inner feelings, physical responses, actions in reaction to whatever Darren says or does causes interaction and rescues the scene for me.

NB All of the above is based on me writing the scene from Charlie’s viewpoint. If I wrote it from Darren’s perspective then we’d get his thoughts and emotions and see Charlie’s reactions through his eyes – Charlie’s skin draining with colour or reddening with rage, tears boiling from his eyes or teeth gritting with rage. Maybe Darren would read Charlie’s clenched fists in time and avoid the biff on the nose.

NB2 If I’m really not ‘getting’ Charlie to the extent that I have trouble making him act, react and interact I write the scene first person, to burrow deeper under his skin. Then I convert it to third person (because that’s how I write my novels) but make sure I keep every thought, word, sinking feeling, sweaty palm and biff on the nose.

You may also like:

Should I write a prologue?

What happens in Chapter One?

Chapter Two and beyond

Final Chapter(s) and (possible) Epilogue 

My plotty head, Fiction Land and my dad

Descriptive writing

Learn about publishing

Agent or no agent?

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Book matters: my plotty head, Fiction Land and my dad

Book matters image

I consider myself exceedingly lucky to have a ‘plotty head’. What is it? It’s a part of my mind – subconscious, muse, imagination, a combination or whatever – that makes me a storyteller.

It works in two ways:

  • Someone tells me an anecdote and I have a reaction. It’s physical. It’s as if something just clunked into place above my eyes. I fall into a daze as I work out how I can use what I’ve just been told.
  • My plotty head untangles knots in my storyline or tells me when there’s a hole in my plot. It’s one of the most precious things I own.

I didn’t used to know the best way to use my plotty head. I thought it would remember whatever it had been telling me and supply the same idea or solution at a more convenient time. I was wrong. My plotty head doesn’t care for being ignored. If I don’t capture its latest workings, it jettisons the thoughts and ideas like someone with a thirty-second memory. I’ve learned to take out my phone and make a note at the earliest opportunity. I have an iPhone and a Macbook so the Notes app syncs between the two, meaning that a note I made on my phone lying in bed last night is on my computer this morning and can be copied and pasted into my WIP. (Talking of thirty-second memories, that’s exactly what the dictation facility on Notes has. If I don’t exceed thirty-second segments I don’t even have to type my thoughts into Notes, I can dictate them.) My plotty head utilises my Notes app a lot. I currently have notes headed: Winter 2021 book; Marketing meeting; Newsletter; Summer 2021 book (my WIP); Blog ideas; Brighton and Chichester research; and Short story ideas.

My plotty head is activated by things like cooking, walking or trying to go to sleep but perhaps the most common is reading. It’s nothing to do with what I’m reading – it’s the act of entering Fiction Land that does it. I’m reading about a Regency heroine falling off a horse and my plotty head interrupts with a better way to handle the passport conundrum in my summer 2021 book. It works with audiobooks, too. I’m listening to a romantic suspense novel about arson and I realise I haven’t heard any of the last chapter – my plotty head’s analysing the relationship between my heroine and her mother and how that provides my heroine’s motivation for finding her great aunt. Honestly, I’ve gone back to the beginning of the chapter to listen again and there is literally nothing about great aunts and mothers or even familial relationships. It seems as if my plotty head arrives in Fiction Land, wakes up, stretches and says, ‘I have work to do!’

Sue Moorcroft, ideas bubble and sign to Fiction Land image

Unfortunately, my plotty head has got me into trouble. I hold it responsible for the elaborate lies I used to construct as a kid. When we lived in Malta, one day the school bus delivered me home late from after-school recorder class. Instead of telling my parents that several routes had been combined, which is what had happened, I had used the journey to dream up a complex set of reasons for my late appearance, including a horrible bus driver who stopped to play cards with friends while the poor little school kids waited on the bus. I was proud of my story and told it to my dad. The mistake I made was not telling him that my plotty head and I had been in Fiction Land. Dad went to the authorities and complained. Now, this was an army bus from an army school so he complained to the army. Because he was in the army. And the poor bus driver was a civilian. My story was bitterly refuted by the bus driver and his version – the truth – upheld by other parents. Dad stormed home ranting about being made to look ‘a bloody fool’ and I got in trouble for telling lies.

Lies? Surely it was a story? It had hung together so well he’d believed it, right? Ergo, it was a story.

Sadly, Dad didn’t live long enough to see me make money out of my plotty head. I’m sure he would have forgiven me for making him look a bloody fool about the bus driver and the pack of cards. In fact, knowing Dad, he would have claimed I got my plotty head from him. Why not? It has to come from somewhere.

I just hope it never goes away.

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

Descriptive writing

Learn about publishing

Agent or no agent?

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Filed under Sue Moorcroft

It’s Cover Reveal Day! @Avonbooksuk @BFLAgency

It’s always a thrill to first see a new cover and then share it with others. Here’s the wonderfully appealing cover of Christmas Wishes, which will be published in the UK in ebook on 29th October and paperback and audio 12th November 2020.

Christmas Wishes front cover

Here’s the back image and blurb of Christmas Wishes.

The back cover and blurb of Christmas Wishes.

A sparkling Christmas read from the Sunday Times bestseller – perfect to snuggle up with this winter!

Hannah and Nico are meant to be together.

But fate is keeping them apart…

As soon as Hannah bumps into her brother Rob’s best friend Nico in Stockholm, the two rekindle a fast friendship. But Hannah has a boyfriend – and Nico has two children to look after.

When Hannah loses her beloved shop in Stockholm, though, she is forced to move back to the little village of Middledip – only to find Nico has just moved in too. Under the same snowy sky, can the childhood friends make a romance work – or are there too many obstacles standing in their way?

A heartwarming story of love, friendship, and Christmas magic, perfect for fans of Trisha Ashley and Jill Mansell.

I loved the research for Christmas Wishes when my friend and wonderful author Christina Courtenay invited me to accompany her to Sweden. We stayed with her mum, Birgitta, for seven of the ten days and the other three days in Stockholm. Sweden’s a gorgeous country and I enjoyed every moment. I’m sure I’ll blog about the snow, the ice hockey, the gold vault, the bridges, the Old Town and the vast open-air museum of Skansen at a later date.

Meanwhile, if you’d like your copy of Christmas Wishes as soon as it’s published, you can preorder it now!

Click to preorder Christmas Wishes in the UK button image
Click to preorder Christmas Wishes in the UK

And Christmas Wishes was even mentioned in the most recent edition of The Bookseller. I hope you enjoy travelling between Middledip and Sweden with Hannah and Nico.

Image of Christmas Wishes in The Bookseller.

Thanks to Avon Books UK and my cover artist Carrie May for another winner.

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Writing tip: agent or no agent?

Writing tip
Writing tip

Authors are divided about whether to work with an agent. Here are the bullet points of my own history with agents:

  • Offered representation by an editor who had decided to switch to being a sole agent. Before she got as far as us signing the Agreement, she thought better of being an agent and vanished from my life.
  • Got a fab London agent from a big agency. She sold me into a couple of modestly sized publishers and also large print and audio. We had a couple of near-misses with big publishers but a miss is as good as a mile. After a bereavement, I decided I would no longer be able to write novels and left her flock. We parted friends and are still.
  • Unagented, I sold seven novels to publisher Choc Lit. Some were those my former agent had had near misses with so she checked the contract for me and advised but didn’t negotiate. Later, a contract for an as-yet-unwritten novel was offered and I found I could write new novels after all. Choc Lit sold me into large print, audio and a few modest translation deals. I taught creative writing and wrote short stories, serials, columns and just about anything else to do with writing to augment my income from my novels.
  • Got different fab London agent, Juliet Pickering of Blake Friedmann. We gelled immediately. She placed me with the fantastic Avon HarperCollins who subsequently got me into audio, supermarkets, #1 on UK Kindle, Top 100 in US Kindle, and made me a SundayTimes bestseller. Blake Friedmann got many translation deals for these novels. I now make a living from my novels alone.

I view Juliet as made of gold dust and adept with her magic wand. Authors who choose not to work with an agent sometimes say they don’t see why they should pay a commission (commonly 15%+VAT for home market sales, 20%+VAT for translation) and they get their contracts vetted by the Society of Authors. But, oh, a good agent does more than check the legalese!

  • Pitching. An agent knows exactly who to send your work to and makes it her or his business to maintain relationships with likely editors. S/he will present your work in the best light, too.
  • Negotiation. Some publishers have standard terms … except when they don’t. An agent can negotiate hard, not just in terms of advances but also royalties, escalators, sub-rights and all kinds of other items that I, for one, would be completely foxed by. And, yes, they do check the legalese.
  • In your corner. An agent is likely to be a constant in your career, even should you change publishers five times.
  • Aware of the market. An agent will be interacting with publishing professionals all the time. S/he will be aware if/when better opportunities come up.
  • Intermediary. Author/editor relationships are precious. If there’s a bump in the road your agent can pop up and smooth it out before you and your editor collide head-on over it.
  • Support. I often talk things over with Juliet: the future; an offer; an idea for a book (even though my editor takes the lead on this); a problem with the current book (ditto); one of those little bumps in the road I mentioned. These conversations are via email or phone, usually, but pre-pandemic she frequently took me out for publication day lunch too. (Told you she was gold dust.)
  • Honesty. I sometimes say to Juliet, ‘Am I being a diva?’ She would never be rude enough to agree but she is transparent if she thinks a view could be better expressed. I value the honesty.
  • Foreign sales. Authors can sell global rights to publishers so the publisher then takes on the task of selling translation rights. In my case it’s a mixture: Avon acquires World English Rights so they bring me out in the UK, US and Canada. Blake Friedmann’s highly successful rights team handles the rest for me.

In my view and in my experience, a good agent is a huge asset. NB If you decide on an agent rather than selling directly to a publisher I do think it’s important to get the right agent for you. It’s the kind of relationship that prospers if you like each other and share aims and philosophies.

I sometimes joke that Juliet helps me avoid snakes and climb ladders. In truth, I never encounter snakes … but she’s certainly helped me climb the ladders. I’m now the main breadwinner in my household.

Summer on a Sunny Island is my sixteenth novel, my ninth with Avon. Two more are contracted to them. Juliet does a wonderful job and proved to be exactly the right agent for me.

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

22 Comments

Filed under Sue Moorcroft

#Bookbargain for readers in Canada and the US! @HarperCollinsca @HarperCollins @AvonbooksUK

The ebook of Just for the Summer is currently on super-special promo in Canada and the US at 99c. I knew you’d want me to tell you.

So, what’s the book about? Leah is a chocolate taster (this is a real occupation! Seriously. Google it) and while between jobs is asked to accompany her sister Michele and her family to France for the summer. Michele’s marriage to Alister has ended and she feels the need for extra support. But, it turns out, Alister’s going to be along too! In that case, why should Leah go? To keep the peace … because the situation between Michele and Alister really isn’t peaceful. Michele knows there’s worse to come but keeps the secret from Leah for as long as possible. In all the stress, Leah decides to reward herself with a summer romance with the hot pilot next door. How do you think that goes? Yeah, exactly! Not as she intended.

Two sisters, three teenagers, a summer romance and an unexpected pregnancy. Read about it:

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Writing tip: descriptive writing

Setting is important to my books as they’re seasonal and set in countries other than the UK or in an English village. I keep a picture of Middledip fresh in my imagination or a reader might message me to point out that you turn right of Honeybun Cottage to go to the garage, shop and pub in one book but left in another. (It’s right.) To help me in this I have a map of Middledip and also a spreadsheet so I know when the village hall was closed for repairs and when the pub got a refurb. If you wish, you can see the Middledip map on my website. Just follow the link, click GO! and the map opens up and you can hover over the markers and see who lives where. You can also take a walk around Nelson’s Bar.

If setting and sense of place is important then descriptions are too. Here are a few techniques I like:

  • typical features. In a village setting I comment on whether cottages are thatched or have roof slates, walls of brick or stone. If it’s a seaside village such as Nelson’s Bar then the sea and cliffs come into it a lot. In Italy it’s cypress trees, sunflowers, olive groves. In Malta the sea again, golden stone buildings, prickly pears and dust.
  • colour. I try and paint pictures into the imagination of my readers. A starry night sky is fine but silvery stars and black night feels better.
  • imagery. Simile and metaphor enliven writing and can be a shortcut to sharing my imagination. If I mention a bearlike man I don’t mean he’s furry and walks on all fours. I’m thinking big, shambling, maybe grim. Describing a cruise liner as a floating apartment block can produce the right image without labouring over a long description of cabin beside cabin, deck above deck, balconies and people on them and the whole floating on the sea.
  • character perspective. I often include my character’s feelings, both physical and emotional, when they view a scene. It makes the description interesting and keeps it in proportion. In Summer on a Sunny Island I set myself the task of having Rosa not like Malta when she first arrives. As I adore Malta, it was a challenge. I had to get under her skin and look at the teeming traffic, the road signs she didn’t understand, the dust that covered the car. She was too hot, a construction site was making too much noise. It took her a while to appreciate the joys of snorkelling in a turquoise sea and admiring the golden architecture.
  • weaving. I try and weave description in rather than holding up the narrative by indulging in long descriptive passages. Such passages are static. They don’t tell you what’s happening or how someone feels.
  • senses. Probably one of the things we learn first in writing is to utilise all our senses. If I’m describing my heroine I think the smell of her fabric conditioner, the smoothness of her skin and the sound of her laugh can be as important as the colour of her eyes and hair.
  • seasons. The sea on a sunny summer’s day compared to the sullen, corrugated waves of the winter ocean. Leafy hedges compared to bare branches. Bouncy white clouds compared to ragged grey. A pair of cut off denim shorts or a thick khaki parka. Sparkly flip-flops or fur-lined boots. Everything changes as the seasons do.

How much description you include depends on what you’re writing and how you write. It’s a personal choice and an editorial choice. Without it, readers have nothing to feed their mind’s eye.

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

Learn about publishing

Agent or no agent?

4 Comments

Filed under Sue Moorcroft

Writing tip: learn about publishing

I’m often asked for tips so I thought I’d post a few. In my view, at least as important as improving your writing is improving your understanding of publishing. There’s a lot you can safely leave in the hands of your editor or agent if you have one but an overview of the industry can make your expectations and approach realistic.

You can learn about publishing in similar places to those where you learn about writing:

  • talks (conferences and literary festivals have gone on-line during the pandemic, which often means they’re free – a bonus). The speaker can be an agent, editor, publicity guru, librarian, cover artist, author, media manager, sales manager, self-publishing specialist, journalist, ghostwriter or dozens of other roles but what they’ll have in common is a knowledge of publishing. Example: The Avon Lockdown Show features not just snippets from authors but advice from Avon editors.
  • newsletters. I think these are an underrated resource. I take free daily email newsletters from The Bookseller and Publishers’ Weekly. There are paid options too but even these free newsletters will give you insight into what’s selling, who’s buying, and, importantly, who’s moving. Why ‘who’s moving’? I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read about this agent or editor going into a new role and looking to acquire. ‘Looking to acquire’ means ‘taking on new authors’ if they’re an agent and ‘buying books’ if they’re an editor. It might tell you what is being looked for such as ‘authors from diverse backgrounds’ or ‘feel-good fiction’ or ‘psychological thrillers’. From there, it’s not too hard to find the person online and discover how they accept submissions. NB If you’re taking the free newsletter, read the headlines first to decide which articles are of interest because you can usually only read a couple of articles in full per day. Look out also for writing newsletters from your regional authority. You can often find these as a result of searching your local authority website under ‘arts development officer’ or similar. Example: Writing East Midlands offers a digital newsletter. Sign up by emailing marketing@writingeastmidlands.co.uk.
  • websites. Writing East Midlands is just one of many resources. Your search engine is your friend though, personally, I’d avoid all the entries with ‘Ad’ attached to them. Publishers’ and agents’ websites and blogs are full of information and so are those of writing communities and arts councils. The personal blogs of authors and other industry professionals can be useful too. NB Look for recent content. Publishing changes quickly but websites hang around for ages. NB2 Be aware of market boundaries. Something you read on a US site may not apply to the UK.
  • writing magazines. I’ve worked for both Writers’ Forum and Writing Magazine in the UK and they’re both great for market news such as magazines accepting submissions and whether they pay. I don’t think there’s any substitute for keeping up-to-date with a market you might wish to submit to. There are also books that are guides on getting published. I would suggest you buy the most recent you can.
  • social media. Follow agents and editors! They give hints of what they’re looking for and you can often see what area they work in from the authors they already work with. Join writing communities. I’m part of an authors’ Facebook group where people share their experiences and I often hear news there first. By browsing around social media you’ll find a group to suit you.

These are just my favourites but maybe there’s something here that will work for you.

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?

5 Comments

Filed under Sue Moorcroft