My novel “The Beauty of Broken Things” to be published on World Mental Health Day

I am thrilled to announce that assuming everything goes to plan, my novel The Beauty of Broken Things will be available on Amazon from 10th October 2018, which is also World Mental Health Day.

For those of you who don’t know, the novel is a contemporary love story and an exploration of how our mental health influences our lives, work and relationships. Its two protagonists are middle-aged, unemployed, and struggling with anxiety and depression. They meet as volunteers sorting through second hand goods in a charity shop in Manchester.

I first developed the idea for the book in October 2015, so it will have been a three-year process from start to finish. Although the story is fictional, it’s strongly informed by my own experience of mental health conditions.

The manuscript is close to finished now. It’s already been through several developmental edits and I’m awaiting further feedback on the revised version from a relative who is a published author. After that it will be ready for the final copy-editing and proofreading stages.

In the meantime I’m reading as much as I can about the self-publishing process. There really is so much help and advice out there. I’d like to mention one book in particular, Firefly Magic by Lauren Sapala, which radically differs from others in its genre. Lauren goes right to the heart of why so many creative people feel strong resistance to promoting their work, and she gently helps us to shift our perspective until the prospect is more exciting than daunting. I recommend it to anyone who hates the idea of “selling.”

I also went to the Self-Publishing Conference in Leicester last month, which was a fantastic experience. All the presentations on topics including cover design, marketing and print-on-demand were very informative and the whole atmosphere was so supportive and inspiring for independent authors.

At the conference I was lucky to meet Aki Schiltz, director of The Literary Consultancy. I approached them earlier in the year for a full report on my novel, which I found very useful and motivating. I felt that the editor I was assigned, Thalia Suzuma, really understood and appreciated the story and characters, and she gave me some great suggestions for improvement. The Literary Consultancy have also kindly provided me with further advice on self-publishing.

The next big thing once the manuscript is finished will be the cover design. All the marketing and advertising I plan to do relies on having strong visual branding in place, so this will be a crucial element to get right. I have some ideas already but will write more on this in another post.

Today marks the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Week. One of the most powerful ways we can help to promote understanding of our own mental health and that of others is through sharing stories. I hope my novel will contribute to this.


Art and the fear of mediocrity

_mg_7777Perhaps you can relate to this experience. You go along to your writers’ group with a piece of which you’re particularly proud. Something you poured your heart into, and then polished until it shone. You read it out nervously, and after you finish speaking, there’s an excruciating tumbleweed moment, during which you genuinely think your heart might stop.

Finally someone says, in a thoughtful yet non-committal manner, “Hmmmm.”

At last another voice speaks up. “Well, I thought it was quite well-written.”

And there it is. The word we dread so much. Quite.

Why is it so terrible to be damned with faint praise?  Isn’t it preferable to a savaging? Shouldn’t we be grateful anyone complimented us at all?

When our work elicits only tepid reactions, it feels like our poetry or prose has failed to inspire a single emotion. That despite having attained a degree of literary competence, we’re still not “there” yet.

For those of us who’ve been bleeding at our typewriters for a very long time, not being “there” can be especially disheartening to hear. Because the older we get, the more possible it becomes that “quite well-written” is our final destination on this ride.

In the throes of a first draft, we may veer wildly between delighting in our brilliance and castigating ourselves for being the most execrable writer ever to desecrate a blank page. But deep down, I think we recognise these as passing moods. That neither extreme reflects reality.

The most insidious of my critical voices isn’t the one that loudly berates me for being a dreadful writer. It’s the one that steals into my room late at night, settles on my shoulder and whispers in my ear, ‘actually, you’re not bad. But I’m afraid that’s as far it goes.’

I was talking with some friends last week about our fears of being mediocre. We witness every day how mediocrity is rife in our political and entertainment culture, and yet few artists I know would be happy to be assigned the label of “average” in their field.

And it made me wonder: why are we so ashamed of being something which, by definition, most people are? What makes us believe we have the right to be special? Why do I expect, or even want to be anything more than a half-decent writer with a handful of workable novel ideas?

Is it a sense of entitlement or inadequacy (or both) that stems from having had our worth graded ever since we were children? A necessity of capitalism: that competition for resources requires us to measure our progress constantly against that of our peers and strive for superiority?

I prefer to imagine it’s more because we read Keats or Kerouac, and we were so moved and so blown away by their genius that we committed our souls to aspiring to create at that level. Even though it condemned us to live with the torment of knowing we’d probably never produce even the palest of imitations.

During this discussion, someone pointed out that one person’s idea of average is another’s excellence, and vice-versa. For every so-called masterpiece, a thousand critics will shrug their shoulders. Which isn’t to imply that craft and technique and quality don’t matter. But it does mean that the “faint praise” we’re getting may not represent the whole picture.

Because it is as much about others as it is about us. We may not have found an audience we connect with yet. Even if that ends up being just a couple of readers, if our writing brings them joy or recognition or catharsis, if it distracts them from their troubles by luring them into an exciting imaginary world, then wasn’t it worth enduring all those disappointments?

I think so.

Two of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in life are that we can’t control what other people think of us, and that we can’t truly be anything other than what we are. Difficult as these ideas may be to accept, they also help to free us from the curse of comparison.

I’d rather be a writer who risks putting her work out there for people to appreciate or otherwise, than a perfectionist who remains in perpetual hiding for fear of not meeting her self-imposed expectations.

And none of us really know what’s going to happen anyway after we hit the publish button.


Winter reflections on a work in progress

winterMany apologies for not updating this site recently. I’ve been busy with various projects, including photography and blogging for another site about mental health, which I’ll share once it’s published.  Before things get too hectic as the year draws to a close, I wanted to give you an idea of where I’m up to with my novel.

My fantastic writing coach Lauren Sapala gave me some detailed and very encouraging feedback on the story.  As always it’s a pleasure to read Lauren’s comments because she totally gets what I’m trying to do and responds emotionally to the characters just as I’d hoped.  She also has great instincts for improving a draft and pointing out where something is unclear or confusing.

After making these initial changes I gave the book to my husband.  Although I’ve been working on it for two years, he didn’t know much about the storyline or what to expect. He hasn’t finished it yet, but it’s been interesting to see his reactions, which so far aren’t that dissimilar from Lauren’s: they mentioned liking the same sections. He’s giving me line-by-line editorial comments which are helping to make the writing stronger and more concise.

Once this second round of amends is complete, which I anticipate will be early next year, I’m going to send it to The Literary Consultancy for a full professional assessment. I’ve paid for similar agency reports in the past, so I know from experience that they don’t hold back in telling you what’s wrong with your manuscript. Which is good, because it’s what you’re paying them for, but it’s not necessarily easy to hear either.  So, that will be January’s challenge.

I have no idea what they’ll say or whether it’ll require a complete rethink or just tweaking, but I’ll deal with that problem when it arrives. If it needs significant rewriting then I’ll ask someone else, maybe a couple of people, to look through the revised version. After that, an amazing friend of mine who is a freelance editor has offered to proofread the final copy.

And then… that’s the text done. The next stage will be to start on the cover artwork, formatting, website, adverts and the film I’m planning to make in place of a book tour. It’s exciting to think about.

Some people have asked if I’m planning to have one last go at submitting to literary agents before I self-publish.  As things stand, I’m not.  The reason is that I see self-publishing nowadays as a positive choice, not a last resort for the rejected. I love the idea of having creative control over the cover design and the marketing. Also, my story addresses several themes that are very current (you’ll see what I mean) and I’m not willing to wait years longer to get it out into the world.

I have been through my 15 years of rejection and while it hasn’t exactly been fun, it may have made me stronger in some ways. It certainly rids you of any lingering sense of entitlement. Nobody owes you a publishing contract because you were a straight-A student or got a literature degree or have written stories since you could hold a pen. And potential isn’t enough: if your work isn’t marketable, the industry can’t afford to support you until you get there. Not when they have a surplus of talented writers to choose from.

Although I’ve abandoned the traditional publishing route, I still get a regular hit of rejection in the form of contests. I scaled back my entries this year as they were becoming unaffordable at up to £25 a go and so I only entered five. Four have been a no, but there’s one more result to go before the year ends.  I’m trying not to read too much into my lack of success. When a longlist only represents around 3% of the entries, I don’t think you can conclude the others lacked merit or might not go on to win other contests.

In all honesty I would still like to have validation from the literary establishment one day, but I recognise that it isn’t necessary any more. Technology is removing those barriers. We get to decide for ourselves when our apprenticeship is over and we’re “good enough” to begin for real.

In the end is the beginning


So I have just now typed THE END for the second time, and soon I’ll be returning to the first page to start all over again on Draft 3. And I have to say, despite the slow progress, I’m pleased and thoroughly relieved to be so much further along than I was.

What I had on my hands last spring was a 120k-word sprawling mess of half-written scenes, sketches and notes, which when patched together, vaguely constituted a story. After nearly a year of work, it can now be classed as a 105k-word complete manuscript. It follows a linear narrative structure, it is organised into 32 chapters, the characters are fully realised, and the various plot threads are resolved by the end.

Is it finished? Am I happy with it yet? Absolutely not. There are sentences and paragraphs in this draft that are so monstrous, I have actual nightmares about someone reading and knowing I wrote them. It needs another four or five redrafts at least before it’s fit to be seen by human eyes.

Yet I love aspects of it too. The characters, for example. I’ve been getting to know my main characters, Kerry and Alex, ever since I first “met” them in the autumn of 2015. I have such a clear sense of them now that sometimes I have to remind myself they’re not real. Despite their flaws and problems, they’re a pleasure to spend time with. I hope they’ll be a pleasure for readers to get to know too.

After a short break from the manuscript,  I’m going to look at the overall structure and see if any significant changes still need to be made (they will). Then I’ll go through each chapter alone and rewrite it. After that, I’ll focus on specifics: characters, dialogue, setting, pacing, accuracy, the weather, etc.

I’m happy to admit that one of my writing weaknesses is describing physical actions. I can imagine scenes, colours, textures and scents, and I can hear the tone of the dialogue as the characters talk. However, I find it hard to visualise changes in posture and facial expression. I don’t know why. (Do any other writers struggle with this?)

My task for the next few weeks is to really observe how people communicate emotions through action. Not just the obvious signs like frowning, nodding or clenching fists, but the little gestures and micro-expressions which betray what they’re feeling. I’ll then use these to help convey my characters’ moods more subtly.

I’ll also be polishing the first 5,000 words (which are already at a better standard than the rest) to enter into a competition, the Bath Novel Award. It’s an extremely competitive international award, so my hopes aren’t high, but I think it’s good for discipline to enter contests now and then, and it will help me to focus on making the opening strong and engaging.

Finally, I’m re-evaluating my schedule for publishing this novel. I was determined at the start of the year to see it in print by December, but I’m increasingly realising a) how much work the book needs, and b) how much I still need to learn about publishing, marketing, and social media strategy.

My aim in 2017 will be to get the text professionally edited and finalised, and perhaps the front cover designed too. Next year I can focus on how to sell it. Of course this may change depending on circumstances, but I don’t want to feel pressured to rush towards an artificially imposed deadline.

It’s going to be a summer of editing then, and thanks to everyone for being so supportive and interested in this process.

Celebrating first-time authors over 40


Assuming all goes to plan, I will be 42 when I self-publish my debut novel next year. I’m lucky that my vocation has no real age limits: you can write a good book at 19 or at 90. Creativity follows no predictable schedule – some artists reach their peak early on, but many are late bloomers, producing their greatest works in the latter stages of their lives.

Nevertheless, we live in a culture obsessed by youth and glamour and marketability. We’re also very impressed by precociousness. Publishing may be less influenced by this trend than some creative industries are, but a talented young author with a stunning photograph on the back cover of their book still has an improved chance of becoming a media sensation.

I can never be that young writer now. That ship has sailed. Since there’s no point in regretting the fact I wasn’t able to write an amazing bestseller in my twenties, I had a think instead about the positive aspects of publishing later in life.

Mature novelists are said to have a wider range of life experiences to draw on in their fiction. I’m not convinced that’s always true. There are people half my age who have suffered hardships or embarked on adventures such as parenthood which have given them insights I will never acquire firsthand.

What we older writers have had is the luxury of time to reflect on the events of our lives, whatever they might be. We’ve simply had more years available to us in which to develop our understanding of ourselves and the world, and to learn from our mistakes, should we choose to do so.

Being over 40 and undiscovered has increased my empathy for others who reach midlife with their aspirations unfulfilled. I use this theme in my writing all the time to explore the frustrations of my middle-aged characters and the societal expectations which drive them.

Coming face-to-face with failure has also lessened my fear of it. I know I can deal with chronic disappointment and still appreciate the good things in my life. (This is what I tell myself on the bad days anyway). Seriously though, I’ve learned the value of perseverance, and that some things are worth fighting for.

My extra years of practice have helped me to hone my writing voice, to think more independently, and to be certain of what I stand for. Some writers will have achieved this at a much younger age, and that’s great too. We were never meant to be all the same.

I refuse to read those articles listing ten things you should know, or should own, or should do in your 20s or 30s or beyond. One effect of ageing is that I can’t be bothered with rigid conventional thinking any more. I don’t believe anyone else can set our pace for us or tell us where we ought to be in our lives.

In the time I’ve been writing the self-publishing revolution has arrived, which means I no longer have to wait to be chosen (unless I want to). If I’d been traditionally published a decade ago, I might not have experienced the thrill of gaining the confidence to choose myself. And that in itself is surely worthy of celebration.

Preparing to become an author


My love of writing stories began a very long time ago. I’m not sure exactly when the photo of me above was taken, but I’d guess around 1981. Since then, I’ve written well over half a million words, as well as working as a copywriter and in communications. However, I haven’t yet managed to publish any of my fiction. I’ve decided this is going to change next year.

A few people have asked me when my novel will be available (thank you!) The short answer is before the end of 2017. I can’t yet commit to a specific month for a launch, as I’m not sure how long the editing will take.

I started writing my latest book in October 2015. What I have now is a mess of a 120,000-word draft. The scenes are in no particular order. Like many authors, I can’t write in a linear way from beginning to end. (I’ve tried and it doesn’t work for me.) Some of the secondary characters are still sketches, and overall the writing needs a lot more work.

However, the basic elements of the story are in place, the charity shop setting feels authentic and the two main characters are fully alive. I know how they look, speak, think, move and act. They’re utterly real to me and I could spend hours daydreaming about their lives.

I’m now onto the second draft, which involves structuring, rewriting, and cutting the manuscript down to around 100,000 words or less. If I’m honest, this seems quite daunting right now, but I’ve written novels before, so I know the fear is just part of the process.

I don’t generally show anyone a work-in-progress. Some writers like to collaborate in order to shape their raw first drafts, but I prefer to have it as polished as possible before anyone gets to see it. (Just as I’d never leave the house without make up on…)

Once the manuscript is ready, I’ll ask my writing coach if she can give me some initial feedback. She has amazing insight into what makes good fiction, and she’s so lovely and positive, I look forward to receiving her comments.

After that, I’ll open it up to several more views from friends and other writers. This stage is likely to scare me, but it should give me an indication of the strength of the book’s appeal to readers.

When I’ve made changes based on feedback, I’ll hire a copy-editor to go through line by line, pointing out any grammar errors, inconsistencies, and style issues. People with this level of attention to detail are truly amazing.

I’m really looking forward to the cover design. An attractive and professional cover is crucial for selling any book, and I definitely don’t have the skills to do this myself. I’ll be looking for a striking image that reflects the tone and themes of the novel and a designer to create some beautiful artwork.

The next job is to get the text formatted for Amazon and work out how to set it all up. Then comes the marketing phase. I’ve started on that already with this blog and social media.

I love the idea of self-publishing. It’s time-consuming, risky, and not for everyone. But it removes many of the barriers to getting our work in front of an audience, and puts us in control of our writing, finances, marketing, and long-term careers.

People complain that the removal of the ‘gatekeepers’ allows a flood of mediocre books onto the market. That may be so, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Freelancers can provide all the editing, design and marketing services offered by a traditional publishing house. There are so many brilliant creative people out there to help us. If we’re prepared to invest time and money in our self-published books, there’s no reason why they can’t be as well produced as any we see on the shelves.

For indie authors, there’s no one to grant or deny us permission to publish. That means we get to decide for ourselves when it’s time, which is wonderful, and at the same time, kind of terrifying.

I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember, but becoming an author will be a new experience. I suspect when it comes to it, I’ll need someone to talk me into pressing the publish button.

Making peace with self-promotion

_mg_7435For a couple of decades, I hated the idea of self-promotion. Not just because I’m an introvert with anxiety, although that didn’t help. To me, the phrase had so many negative connotations.

I associated ‘selling yourself’ with narcissism. With aggressive sales techniques, or celebrities showing off about their successes, accompanied with an incessant stream of hashtags and selfies.

The prospect of networking made me think of people who’d approach me at conferences, a croissant in one hand and a business card in the other, and pretend to be interested in my life, until the exact moment they established I was no one of any importance, and moved off to make a more useful contact.

Every time I heard that authors were expected to do their own marketing for their books, a sense of dread came over me. Writers aren’t typically skilled self-publicists. Shouldn’t someone else take care of all that while we composed our masterpieces in solitude?

I have to admit over the last year or so, I’ve radically changed my attitude.

I still believe egocentrism is widespread in society. But I’ve also learned that communicating what you’ve got to offer the world doesn’t mean that you have to be pushy, or fake, or boastful, or any of the things people of my personality type fear so much.

It sounds obvious in retrospect, but I realised that all the people I follow and chat to online, whose writing or art or business I’m interested in, are promoting their stuff all the time. And sometimes it’s led to me buying something from them.

But the sale felt natural. I discovered them, or they found me, because we shared a common interest. I got to know them a little and I liked their style and world view. They made me aware that they had a new book out. I suspected I’d enjoy it based on what I knew, and I was right.

In other words, we connected. That’s what good marketing is: not hard-selling, but building lasting relationships. Of course we want to make money. Our time and skills are valuable, and we have bills to pay. But people who are truly passionate about their art or their products don’t want to pressure a customer into buying something that isn’t for them.

If the idea of promoting yourself makes you cringe, the trick in my experience is to do as much of it as you can in a way that feels right for you. Through a medium you already feel comfortable in. For writers and introverts, that will most likely be blogging and posting on social media.

It’s normal to worry about what people will think. I still do all the time. But I also remind myself that everyone has a choice in what they consume online. If someone isn’t interested in what we do or doesn’t relate to us, they’re free to unfollow our account.

For published authors, there are face-to-face obligations such as book signings and events, which are challenging for people who avoid the limelight. I haven’t had to deal with that yet. I hope that I’d try and talk about things that interest me, and reach out to like-minded readers, and be kind to myself if it made me nervous.

Self-promotion is necessary to build a career, but I don’t think it has to be a necessary evil. I’m starting to realise it can even be fun. If we love creating whatever it is we create, we should be proud to share that love around, not keep it to ourselves. Even if that forces us out of our comfort zone for a while.

Finally, I don’t believe the network of relationships you form while promoting yourself has to be in any way cynical. I feel I’ve made a lot of new friends through having an online presence. And I value your companionship and support, whether you ever buy a book from me or not.