Things I didn’t know would happen to a novelist

It’s 21 years since I sold my first short story and 13 since I sold (or my then-agent sold) my first novel but I’m still surprised – even shocked – by certain aspects of being an author. As it’s only two weeks until my tenth novel, Just for the Holidays, hits shelves and e-readers, I thought I’d share some with you.

  • Fresh ideas can be hard to come by, not because too many people have written about them before – but because I have!
  • Likewise, character names. (If anyone ever wants to gather all my character names together in one document, please do let me know. I can help you achieve that ambition.)
  • People asking for my help. I’m afraid I have to disappoint a lot of people over this one. Please see ‘Time Pressure’ below.
  • People asking for charitable donations. I’m so sorry I can’t fulfil all of these requests. I try to give time as a speaker when I can but I’ve stopped donating signed books because over one-third of the donation goes straight to the Royal Mail in postage.
  • Time pressure. Writing to an agreed schedule is different to writing if and when I feel like it.
  • People telling me what I meant when I wrote something. It’s always interesting to hear these interpretations and compare them with my own thoughts on the subject. Sometimes I wish I had meant whatever it’s thought I meant because it makes me look brainier or more insightful than I am.
  • Lovely messages on social media. These are such a privilege. Seriously. They make my heart dance and sing.
  • People waiting for my next book. (Cue dancing, singing heart again.)
  • Being in magazines – just me, not even my books.
  • Needing patience when it comes to contracts and similar transactions. (Patience never has been my best thing.)
  • My characters getting fan mail of their own. (Isn’t that awesome?)
  • Occasionally needing a skin like a rhinoceros and a back like a duck. (You’re trying to draw this in your mind now, aren’t you?)
  • It being perfectly legitimate to spend working hours perusing magazines or watching TV for ideas or research. Ditto travel to other countries.
  • People actively wanting to help with research.
  • Team Sue Moorcroft, my street team, even existing. (You can read about – and even join – the street team here.)
  • Being taken out to lunch or sent gifts.
  • Summer scorchersBeing asked to talk about myself. Really. And if you want to join me at the next event it’s Bibliomaniac’s Summer Scorchers in Harpenden, along with fellow authors of summery bookery, Jane Lythell, T A Cotterell, Eva Jordan and Helen Cox.
  • Being asked to read other authors’ books and supply a quote. I can’t do all of these either, for a wide variety of reasons, but it’s lovely all the same and it makes me feel better about giving to my publisher the names of other authors who might quote for my books.
  • People wanting to receive my newsletter or share my posts.
  • Being able to go to parties, lunches, talks and conferences in the names of education and networking.
  • Being able to set my travel to/from events and cost of tickets and other relevant costs against tax.
  • Thinking of a lot of ideas for blog posts around the publication of a book.
  • The rush of excitement that accompanies publication.
  • The heady disbelief when a book surpasses my wildest dreams (like The Christmas Promise getting to #1. Sorry. I try and introduce this to the conversation whenever remotely possible.)
  • And receiving copies of my books, seeing the cover art and marketing plans.
  • People thinking they see themselves in my characters. I try never to let this happen but maybe it’s unconscious?
  • People saying they know where Middledip is. It’s on a big piece of paper in my study and that’s it, I’m afraid.
  • Doing exciting research. (Helicopters, travel abroad, meeting interesting people.)
  • Emails often being exciting.
  • People reading my blog.

If I’ve missed out anything you have on your list, please add it in the comments!

Just for the Holidays is to be released on 18th May 2017, or you can preorder it now.

What would you do to help your sis?

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Just for the Holidays: Sue Moorcroft 5⭐️

The first review is in for ‘Just for the Holidays’ and it’s five stars! Thank you Jenny O’Brien!

Jenny O'Brien

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Book Blurb

In theory, nothing could be better than a summer spent basking in the French sun. That is, until you add in three teenagers, two love interests, one divorcing couple, and a very unexpected pregnancy. Admittedly, this isn’t exactly the relaxing holiday Leah Beaumont was hoping for – but it’s the one she’s got. With her sister Michele’s family falling apart at the seams, it’s up to Leah to pick up the pieces and try to hold them all together.

But with a handsome helicopter pilot staying next door, Leah can’t help but think she might have a few distractions of her own to deal with…

Book Review

I loved The Christmas Promise (what wasn’t to love) so when I spotted Sue had written another and something set in France it was a sure fired bet I was going to be quick off the mark in adding it to my…

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Is there a right way to write?

I don’t think so. If you want to write hanging upside down from a lamppost with an Etch-a-sketch, you go right ahead. (If you do write hanging upside down from a lamppost with an Etch-a-sketch, please get someone to take a pic and post it on social media so I can see how it’s done.)

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Some of us plot roughly, some plot minutely, some don’t plot at all and ‘write by the seat of their pants’, therefore winning themselves the title of ‘pantsers’. I make use of notes, timelines and mind maps and others say this would drive them demented.file-17-02-2017-08-32-09

 

 

 

 

I like to write in silence. This, in the not too distant future, is going to earn me an office at the bottom of the garden so my silence doesn’t disturb anyone else’s noise. If I don’t have silence I play music. Sometimes it’s classical but I also have an ever-growing and eclectic writing playlist consisting of Pink Floyd, Damien Rice, Jimmy Nail, Neil Young, Rod Stewart, Billy Joel, Eddie Vedder, David Bowie, Mark Knopfler, Leonard Cohen, Harry Nilsson, Carole Bayer Sager and Cat Stevens. It’s what I think of as ‘in the zone’ music and I have an almost Pavlovian response to hearing it … it’s time to work. My friend Elizabeth Chadwick writes with heavy metal music playing and constructs a different playlist for every book. Some people write in cafés or at work during lunch, with the children running laps of the kitchen or while the TV’s on at night. Some say silence would agitate them.

I think you should write in the way that’s right for you – but I do suggest that you try other ways from time to time. You never know when something’s going to work. And if it doesn’t – then you never have to do it again.

Happy writing.

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Putting the ‘commercial’ into commercial fiction

I’m reblogging Jenny Harper’s thoughts on the difference between commercial fiction and literary fiction. This post first appeared on Take Five Authors, a group blog of which Jenny and I are part.

Take Five Authors

Take two novels: each has lively, interesting characters, each is well written. Each has a theme – let’s say, a love triangle. Each explores the strengths and weaknesses, desires and motivations of the main characters. Yet one is described as ‘literary’, the other as ‘commercial’.

What underpins that distinction?

A year or so ago, a friend urged me to read Jonathan Franzen’s hugely lauded book, Freedom, which I listened to on audio. It was, at heart, about a love triangle. It was very long, extremely well written in the sense that the prose was admirable and his exploration of character profound, yet it seemed to me to amble through various people’s lives and come to no very interesting conclusion. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t either like or care about any of the characters and at the end of the book I was left thinking, ‘Why?’.

Read a great thriller, action…

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Write quickly, edit sloooooowly – update

In February I posted Write quickly, edit sloooooowly, a blog about techniques I was trying in order to get my first draft down. You can read it here.

Now I’m revisiting the subject as I’ve worked on the second part – editing slowly.

Here are my findings:

  • My self-imposed deadline for the first draft was March 1. Did I hit it? Yes.
  • I’d hoped that the second draft would be done ‘in a few weeks’. Was it? Yes, pretty much. I sent it to my agent yesterday (4 April). My deadline to send the ms to my editor is 18 April so I’m on course.
  • I expected my second draft to take more time than usual. I’m not sure that it did.
  • My first draft contained more words than usual: over 103,000. This was a worry but, as it turned out, I cut  9,000 words during the second draft without breaking into a sweat. Some of these words would have been cut out under my old strategy of editing the previous writing session firmly before going on with the present session.
  • Having completed the second draft I feel a bit sick of it. Pleased with some parts, convinced others don’t work AT ALL, and that I’ve got this relationship COMPLETELY WRONG and that relationship NOT AT ALL CREDIBLE. This is exactly how I always feel at this stage.
  • I kept a greater number of notes and a more detailed timeline. I don’t feel the time was wasted. The second draft profited from it and I think it saved me time.
  • Knowing that during the second draft I would have to cut a thread that didn’t work did prey on my mind a bit. In the past, I would have gone back as soon as I realised it needed doing and made what I’d written so far work before going forward. This is the part of the process I’m probably least secure about. Time will tell (or my editorial notes will tell) whether I’ve done an OK job or not.

At this point, I do believe that writing quickly and leaving more to the second draft has worked, so the ‘edit slowly’ part might have been unduly pessimistic. This bodes well for my tight publishing schedule.

Will I try the ‘write quickly’ technique again? Absolutely! I’m a convert.

(At least until I get those first editorial notes …)Write quickly-

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Cover reveal!

Here it is! I’ve been dying to show you this for ages – the cover of Just for the Holidays.

 

 

JFTH Ebook cover

ebook cover of Just for the Holidays to be released on 18 May 2017 (Avon, HarperCollins)

I’m thrilled with such a stunning cover.

The paperback, which will be released on the same day as the ebook, will have lots of lovely purple foil and I can’t wait to have a copy in my hands! (For those of you who like audiobooks, it, too, will be released on 18 May 2017.)

 

Here’s the blurb:

The #1 bestselling author returns for summer! Grab your sun hat, a cool glass of wine, and the only book you need on holiday…

In theory, nothing could be better than a summer spent basking in the French sun. That is, until you add in three teenagers, two love interests, one divorcing couple, and a very unexpected pregnancy.

Admittedly, this isn’t exactly the relaxing holiday Leah Beaumont was hoping for – but it’s the one she’s got. With her sister Michele’s family falling apart at the seams, it’s up to Leah to pick up the pieces and try to hold them all together.

But with a handsome helicopter pilot staying next door, Leah can’t help but think she might have a few distractions of her own to deal with…

A glorious summer read, for you to devour in one sitting – perfect for fans of Katie Fforde, Carole Matthews and Trisha Ashley.

Whether your holidays plans this year will involve somewhere exotic or a ‘staycation’ at home, I think that Leah’s holiday will make your summer look better. You can already pre-order Just for the HolidaysGrab your sunscreen!

And for those of you who followed my adventures in a helicopter, it’s this book I was researching!

 

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Bad Train Behaviour is not OK

My home’s only an hour out of London by train, which I visit regularly both for business and pleasure.

I suppose we all have our ‘train behaviour’ pet peeves. I’m irritated by the seat partner who not only takes over the central arm rest but overshoots it to intrude into my space. Or the passenger who watches a movie on a device and doesn’t bother with ear buds, so I’m subjected to the soundtrack whether I like it or not. But these pale into insignificance in comparison to noisy, aggressive drunks.

In my view, being a noisy, aggressive drunk is not OK. And it doesn’t make it OK if the noisy drunks are mature men wearing expensive-looking suits with First Class tickets.

Here’s a message to the mature men wearing expensive-looking suits in First Class on the 8pm out of St. Pancras on Thursday 16th March from the woman travelling alone who got up and changed carriages to avoid you.

It wasn’t OK that you crashed around the carriage bellowing and laughing, that when a fellow passenger asked you to consider others you rounded on him collectively and aggressively and showed him with cold clarity that it was a fight he could only lose. It wasn’t OK that you bought more alcohol from the buffet – your journey to Bedford was only 40 minutes’ long! It wasn’t OK when you whipped yourselves up to fresh anger over being asked to quieten down, making audible intimidating remarks. It wasn’t OK that you used obscene language so loudly that even when I put my earbuds on and listened to Green Day I could still hear you.

After I’d gathered up my coat and suitcase and moved to the next carriage I did complain to the train manager about you. He was great. Other passengers had complained and he’d spoken to you about your boorish behaviour. He spoke to you again and returned to my new location several times to reassure me.

But, mature men wearing expensive-looking suits in First Class on the 8pm out of St. Pancras on Thursday 16th March, it’s not that I was scared of you. You were just unpleasant to be near and I objected to being subjected to your obnoxiousness. I’d had a busy four days in London and I wanted to read for an hour, not have to listen to your inane braying and self-important posturing or feel unsettled by your anger.

I don’t suppose you’ll read this. You might not recognise yourselves if you do. You probably think your behaviour was OK.

But it wasn’t. You need to have a word with yourself. (A quiet one.)

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I Love Dubai! #DubaiLitFest

I accepted an invitation to work at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai without any preconceptions about the country. My itinerary was clear enough – a panel on contemporary women’s fiction, a couple of receptions and outings and three days teaching. With flight times of around seven hours, it was a busy schedule.

But I still had time to fall in love with Dubai.

Dubai marina Sue 2 smallThe landmark style of architecture entranced me. The sunshine was welcome and 25-27c was perfect for me. During my 7-day trip, I don’t think a single person was rude to me, everyone was warm and friendly, I didn’t see a single piece of litter or graffiti. I felt very comfortable and safe.

Dubai’s considered a global crossroads and I can see how it earned that title. It seems that every culture and religion is represented in its populace and, from what I saw, coexisting peacefully. I so wish the rest of the world exhibited the same tolerance as I witnessed in Dubai.

My first evening saw a welcome reception, which included such luminaries as Alan Titchmarsh. Everybody who worked for the Festival was warm and welcoming. They gave me food and wine, so I was happy.

Festival City smallI spent the next morning walking in the sunshine and enjoying the shore of Festival City. There’s a lot of construction in this new area but still plenty to see and enjoy. I didn’t go into the massive mall next door. Honestly. Not then …

Contemp Fic panel, April, Nadya smallIn the afternoon I was part of the Contemporary Fiction panel with April Hardy, who was launching her new book, Kind Hearts and Coriander (very good – I can recommend it) and Nadiya Hussain. Most people know for Nadiya for her triumphant win of the Great British Bake Off but she also writes for children and adults. Her views on writing collaboratively were fascinating.

The hour shot by as our panel, beautifully chaired by journalist Brandy Scott, discussed our work and whether we felt we needed the word ‘women’ in Women’s Contemporary Fiction. The audience were engaged and supplied plenty of questions for the Q&A, laughing in all the right places. A well-organised book signing followed, which was huge fun. Everyone was so willing to chat and, you know, I’m not backward in that department myself.

Saturday was my day off and Diala, a friend I’d made on Facebook, took me out to Jumeira Beach and Dubai Mall.

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Jumeira Beach camel small

Dubai Mall small

 

And then came the Start Up Writing course, three days with a group of ten enthusiastic participants. We covered … well, we covered everything, more even than I’d allowed for as the questions poured in during every session.

My teaching was interspersed with sessions from agents, editors and other industry professionals (during which I think I took as many notes as the students). My thanks to editor Charlie Scott of local publisher Motivate, as Charlie came into my room to talk for twenty minutes to my students about opportunities for writers in the Middle East.

Dinner at the Etihad MuseumWe rounded out my part of the Festival with an open-air dinner at the Etihad Museum, listening to honoured guests speaking about what Dubai meant to them. Moving and inspirational.

I’d like to end this post with extending thanks to Yvette Judge and her fantastic team at the Festival, along with the sponsors who make the event possible.

Thank you to my fantastic students.

And some to those who extended the hand of friendship to me during my stay, especially April and Andrew Hardy, Sharmila, Al, Ronita and Monita Mohan, Dial Atat and Ruba Naseraldeen.

Also to Magrudy’s bookshop, which did such a fantastic job all festival long.Sue Magrudy's books small

 

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Write quickly, edit sloooooowly

A few weeks ago, I realised that I had a self-imposed deadline coming up. I looked at my diary and saw six days in Dubai at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature fairly quickly followed by four or five days in London. As I was moving into the last third of my work-in-progress, currently entitled Makeover at the Angel Café, I could see a problem looming. If I didn’t finish my first draft the time I left for Dubai then by the time I arrived back at my desk for the second half of March, my memory would have been wiped.

Picking up all the threads in order to finish the first draft would have been impossible. I’d have to go back to the beginning and edit my way through until I could gather my thoughts again. This did not appeal.

I don’t think I’m a particularly fast writer. I find the first draft takes a lot of thought, of toing and froing while I tweak plotlines and characters. But this time I was determined to reach the finish line by 1 March. If I didn’t, I could see myself being put back at least a month in my busy publishing schedule.

I decided to adopt the practice of writing quickly and editing slowly. It sort of goes against my usual MO but I thought it was worth a try. Here are my strategies:

  • Abandon the technique of writing myself into each session by editing the words written the day before. It takes time and I am going to edit those words again in the second draft.
  • file-17-02-2017-08-32-33Instead, at the end of a writing session, write a few notes in my ms about What Happens Next, so I don’t lose my flow when I come back to the book.
  • When I have my middle-of-the-evening thoughts about my ms, type them into my phone and email them to myself so I can add the good ones to my ms the next morning.
  • Accept there will be a greater number of ugly sentences and redundancies than usual when I reach the second draft. But my second draft is always for giving my WIP a rigorous shake up, so that’s fine.
  • Reduce the opportunity for interruptions. This meant reducing my time on social media.
  • Use the pockets of time I’d normally spend on social media to do small jobs (such as updating my blog).
  • Work smart. For me, this has meant: making notes when I think of things that need to be changed in what I’ve written so far, rather than going back and changing them;
  • file-17-02-2017-08-32-09and keeping a more detailed timeline than usual. On the face of it, this might seem like more work, but it saves me a lot of time when the information I might be hunting through my ms for is right there in my sprawly crawly handwriting.
  • file-17-02-2017-08-21-20Roughly – very roughly – work out the ending to my book, expressing it as plot points on sticky notes and getting them (roughly, very roughly) in the correct order.
  • Write almost every day. I know I can’t do this forever. If I don’t go out and enjoy the world, what am I to write about? But it’s fine for, say, a month, to write 6 or 7 days a week and it keeps my head more thoroughly in my storyline.

The second draft, of course, will be vital, to incorporate those notes and sort out continuity errors as well as the ugly sentences etc.

By the beginning of March, I should be able to tell you that the first draft is done. A few weeks later I hope the second will be, too …

Watch this space.

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The Laid-back Book Group discusses #TheChristmasPromise

When Tricia of The Laid-back Book Group contacted me to say that The Christmas Promise had been Featured Image -- 2969read by the group and was due to be discussed, I offered to reply to any questions. I found the result fun and interesting so I kindly asked if I could reproduce the discussion on my blog:

Tricia: My reading group met last Tuesday evening to discuss The Christmas Promise. Everyone really enjoyed it and loved the characters. They liked how you brought awareness to personal photos between couples landing on the internet.

Sue: I’m so glad that they all enjoyed The Christmas Promise! There are few things that give me more pleasure than people enjoying my books.

T: Here are a few questions and observations from our group:

The Laid-back Reading Group: How much research did you have to do for the online porn?

S: Unfortunately, it wasn’t hard to research revenge porn. There’s a huge number of online articles on the subject, a government campaign and case histories from victims in many parts of the world. I became angry on behalf of those victims and wanted to shine a light on the subject. I began with reputable and authoritative websites and let my research expand organically from there. Some of the case histories were harrowing: the mother whose 19-year-old daughter had killed herself in her humiliation; the documentary-maker who’d been told by the owner of such a site that he wasn’t in the business of making friends of women; ordinary people whose lives had been marred by online malice. What WAS difficult to research was the legal remedies available. When I began the book the UK had no specific law to counter revenge porn although there was a movement to create some, which the House of Lords dismissed. Then the House of Lords changed their mind between the book being bought and it being published so I had to rewrite! I wish they’d made up their minds the first time.

TLBRG: Alcohol has a negative presence in the story. Did you have to do any particular research about heavy drinking?

S: I’m not sure why alcohol was shown in a fairly negative light in the book as I enjoy alcohol and don’t have a personal drum to beat. Of course, people do act stupidly when they drink too much and that’s particularly highlighted by the Christmas festivities. Truly, over-consumption of alcohol just suited this particular plot and was credible with the Christmas background.

TLBRG: Why did you give Izz such a hard time? Making her part of the upload was completely out of character, even if drunk.

S: Things did go a bit awry for Izz, didn’t they? I’m quite glad if it appeared out of character for Izz as the point I was making is that alcohol does make some people act out of character. I think it’s clear that Izz never meant to do what she did. She was showing off her techie knowledge to Patrick and they completed the upload without thinking of the consequences.

TLBRG: Faux dating – Have you checked the urban dictionary definition? They felt they should make you aware of what it says.

S: No, I hadn’t checked the Urban Dictionary and simply made the term ‘faux dating’ up. Now I do check I see the UD’s definition is when a man pays for dinner and gets no sexual reward. I’m not too worried by that, although my reactions are: a woman should expect to pay her way on any date, partly because why the hell shouldn’t she? and partly to avoid any expectation that she should be intimate in exchange for food. You’ll remember that the subject of financing dates is a theme of The Christmas Promise and Ava has strong feelings on the subject. I garnered opinion from men and women in their thirties on social and in person on this subject. Dating etiquette is fascinating!

TLBRG: P.61 – searching tongues – one member said ‘Tongues really? – Was this necessary?’ and felt this shouldn’t have come until much later.

S: The heat level of a book does provoke a wide range of reactions from readers. How we conduct ourselves in intimate circumstances is so personal that when we read something that jars it can feel uncomfortable. I do understand this but I don’t know a one-size-fits-all solution. Personally, I don’t feel that tongue being involved in a Christmas kiss is unlikely or outrageous.

Many thanks to Tricia and the members of The Laid-back Book Group! It’s been great chatting with you.

the-laid-back-book-group

 

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