Sunday, 25 January 2015

Write About What You Know

The glitter ball sends kaleidoscopes of light across the dance floor. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice a cameraman training his lens in that direction. I lean my arms on the balcony and look down at the people sitting at their round tables, waiting expectantly. The band strikes up and my partner takes my hand.

"Shall we?"

I take a deep breath as he leads me down the red carpet and onto the dance floor. This is my Strictly moment. A nightingale is singing in Berkley Square and a couple dressed in their Sunday finery glide past us. For a minute I am Flavia and my partner is Vincent as we step onto the floor.

"What dance is this?"

I am brought back to reality with a bump. "It's a foxtrot," I hiss.

For we are not on the set of Strictly Come Dancing. We are, in fact, at a tea dance at the Waldorf Hotel to celebrate our anniversary; the camera crew are here filming for a series about finding love online and the man by my side is not Vincent but my husband of three years, Ian...
This is the beginning of an article I wrote for The People's Friend and, if you bought a copy of the magazine the week before last, you might have read it. In it, I describe how my husband and I met at a salsa class in Lewes and our shared love of dance. Some of you might remember me blogging about the Waldorf Hotel tea dance (mentioned above) in 2013. If not you can read it here.
When I first started writing, I remember reading an article by Doug McPherson (you can read his guest post here) in Writer's Forum on writing about what you know. Doug knows a lot about music and circuses, so you can guess what he likes writing about! What good advice that turned out to be - I found that by writing about something I love and know a lot about, half the work had been done for me. 
It's also worth remembering that it's possible to get a lot of mileage out of one topic. Dancing is a huge part of my life and, looking back over the last couple of years or so, I realise that as well as the article, I have written and sold seven dance themed stories to different magazines. My first ever People's Friend story was called Dancing Queen and my latest, about a woman who realises a perfect dance partner doesn't necessarily make the perfect partner in life (I beg to differ of course!) will be in this weeks issue. I won't tell you the name of the story as it will probably have been changed.
Of course, I write about a lot of things I know little about as well (autism, gardening, sailing, anything historical etc.)  but finding out about it takes time... when I write a story about dancing the research as already been done.
I'm beginning to think I've now saturated the market with my dance stories... maybe I should take up golf! 

Monday, 19 January 2015

Six Months to Get a Life - Guest Post Ben Adams

And now for something completely different! I would like you to give a very warm welcome to Ben Adams whose debut novel, Six Months to Get a Life, is being published on Wednesday. I discovered Ben on Twitter back in May and started to read his very humorous blog.

"What do people do when their divorce comes through?" he asked in his very first blog post. 

Well, what Ben did was write a book, a funny one at that, and I think we'll all be very glad he did. Since that first blog post, I've followed his path from new writer to publication and I wouldn't be surprised if he is destined to become the new David Nicholls.

So let's make a start, Ben.

First of all, what made you come up with the idea for Six Months to Get a Life?

I am not sure I came up with the idea really. I think it came up with me. My writing career has had a few false starts. While I was at school I wrote science fiction nonsense that I didn’t dare share with anyone. In my 20s I dabbled with crime fiction but too many hours spent staring at blank pages and a lack of life experiences meant that I couldn’t make my stories sing.

In my 30s I mostly wrote boring work-related web content and the occasional acerbic complaint letter to the council, the Royal Mail, The Guardian and the dog over the road – it defecated on my drive.

And then my 40s came along. Sometimes it takes a life event to set you off on the right track. ‘Six Months to Get a Life’ was ultimately triggered by my own family upheaval. My head was filled with a variety of emotions that seemed to me to be looking for a way to escape. Eventually, I just started writing.

Over the course of the Spring and Summer of 2014, my furious typing eventually moulded itself into ‘Six Months to Get a Life’.

I suspect I already know the answer to this, Ben, but how much of the story is based on your own experience?

To start with, a lot. And then through various moments of realisation (including ‘people will slit their wrists if they read this crap’ and ‘my ex will go ballistic and she would have every right to’) the book evolved. I invented a new ex – one who the principal character, Graham Hope, had met at a sexually transmitted diseases clinic. I invented some new friends for Graham, some totally new scenarios for him to get caught up in and, without giving too much away, I invented a love interest.

Whilst I found it hugely therapeutic to get my own personal emotions out of my head and on to a computer screen, I actually enjoyed writing the made up stuff even more. It made me smile and even laugh out loud at times. OK, I know you shouldn’t admit to laughing at your own jokes, but I just did.

You have probably noticed that I haven’t said anything about reinventing the lead character. That is because Graham Hope is essentially me. I know I won’t sue myself for misrepresentation, so, with Graham, I thought I would stick to what I know.

Graham does his best to have a positive outlook on life, as do I. Graham craves human company, whether it’s going out for a few beers with his mates or something more intimate. As do I.  Graham hates nightclubs and is hopeless on the dance floor. As am I. Graham gets tongue-tied around attractive women, as do I. According to Graham’s ex, Graham has a big ego and a small penis.  Next question.

Moving swiftly on! I know your children have read your novel – what was their reaction?

Um. ‘Six Months…’ isn’t a children’s book. I didn’t object to my youngest (he is 12) reading the book, but I didn’t exactly give it to him to read either. I put a version on to my Kindle to take on holiday to proof-read (don’t worry, it was professionally edited and proof-read too). But what I hadn’t realised was that the book would appear on my son’s Kindle as well as mine.

On about day four of our holiday, I was floating about in the pool when, out of the blue, my son asked me what ‘twerking’ was. It transpired that he had been reading the book for the past few days.

He did read the whole of the book. He recognised bits of me in it, as well as the odd venue that we have been to as a family or the odd event that I had ‘hijacked’ (his words – I prefer to say ‘adapted’). He turned out to be a pretty good continuity editor too, pointing out a few mistakes in that early draft.

At the end of the day, much as it pains me to say it, I don’t think I have knocked JK Rowling off the number one spot on his reading list. And I haven’t even made it onto my elder son’s reading list, but that’s fine by me.

There is a rather disturbing scene in a night club... what’s the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you?

Yes, the aforementioned ‘twerking’ scene. That would never happen to me. No matter how much I have to drink, I would never be seen within ten yards of a dance floor.

This month’s interview with a journalist from a popular international website would certainly be up there on my list of most embarrassing moments. The journalist had told me she wanted to talk to me about the book. Great. Why then, did she spend the whole interview asking me about my personal situation and my attitude to dating?

Questions such as ‘Why did you split up with your wife?’, ‘Have you dated since your separation?’ and ‘After being with your wife for 20 years, are you worried about having sex with someone different,’ were all answered with versions of ‘mind your own business’. I was embarrassed by how little I was able to offer her and won’t be holding my breath to read that particular article, if it is ever even written.

I have to confess I'm rather intrigued to read it now, Ben. Next question - you’ve put a lot of effort into marketing your book- how important do you think this is and any tips as to what you think has worked?

I was about half way through writing the book before I even gave a thought to marketing. I was under the impression that if you write the killer book (here’s hoping anyway), it will fly off the shelves. End of.

I now realise that you might write the killer book, but unless you invest money and particularly time in promoting it, it won’t even make the physical shelves. Instead, it will languish in a dark corner of Amazon’s behemoth of a website, undiscovered by anyone except for my mum.

I loved writing the book, but my goals go beyond writing something. I want people I have never met to read it. I want to make my mark on the world. What have I done to turn that goal into a reality? Well, I have jumped into social media with both feet. I didn’t do twitter and was only an occasional Facebook user before my author journey began. I now tweet, have a blog and an ‘author platform’ (I am still not entirely sure what that means).

 The most valuable activity I have undertaken over the past few months though has been the networking with fellow authors on social media, meeting friends who have ‘been there and done it’. Wendy is one such author who I am indebted to for her willingness to share.

One lesson that comes out loud and clear from the author networks is that you won’t sell your book without reviews. I have spent much of the past month pitching my book to bloggers. The book launches this week. Hopefully the promised reviews will flood in over the coming days.

 In addition to my own work, I am still hoping that my publicist secures some much needed media coverage. My own hard work will only take me so far…

Now let's get down to the nitty-gritty. If Six Months to Get a Life was made into a film (and I shall be expecting seats at the premiere) who would you imagine playing the part of Graham?

As I have said, Graham is pretty much me. So I’m thinking Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp or Jude Law… Cough.

Finally, publication day for ‘Six Months…’ is nearly upon us. What’s next for Ben Adams?

A pint of beer, a quiet smile to myself, and then it’ll be back to writing. I am already well into my second book, ‘Six Lies’. Hopefully it will be out by Christmas.

Thank you, Ben for a very enjoyable (and amusing) interview... I hope you will remember me when you are famous!

Graham Hope had it all – a wife, two perfect children, a detached house in the suburbs and a huge TV.
He now has an ex-wife, lives in his parents’ spare room and gets the kids and the dog at weekends.
He might be lost and lonely, but Graham is not a victim. Six months from today he will be forty-three. He vows to sort this mess out by his birthday. He gives himself six months to get a life.
Will Graham play a meaningful role in his boys’ lives?
Will his mates take him under their wing?
Will he move out of his childhood home?
More importantly, will he ever have sex again?
For Graham, failure is not an option.

You can read  extracts from six Months to Get a Life here 

You can buy Six Months to Get a Life here

Author Biography

Like a lot of people, Ben went to school, then college and eventually grew up and got a responsible job, a house and a family... and then his mid-life crisis kicked in.
Realising that life was in danger of becoming all too serious, Ben started writing. Not in the way that Forest Gump started running, but at least he started. He wrote on steamed up mirrors in the bathroom to make his children smile. Eventually he graduated to making up stories to entertain his kids at bed-time.

Ben now concentrates on writing stories for grown-ups. He writes for people who have lived, loved, worked, strived and suffered – people like himself. People like you.

Ben lives in southwest London with his two boys, his dog and his constant stream of girlfriends. He dreams a lot too.

Contact Ben

Website: here  Facebook: here Twitter: @benadamsauthor

Monday, 12 January 2015

Writing Targets 2015

It's that time of year again. Two weeks ago, I looked at my 2014 writing goals and discussed whether or not I had achieved them. This week I shall be setting in stone (or on screen) the goals I talked through with Tracy at our teacake session... were we really in the tearoom three hours! You can read Tracy's own goals here.

So (deep breath) here are my 2015 writing targets:

1. Continue to write one short story a week.

2. Write at least 40,000 words of my novel by August to enable me to submit something for the RNA New Writers' Scheme critique (I could say write the whole novel but I'm being realistic here). I intend to try to write at least 500 words of it on at least four days a week - this way, it won't seem a chore. I'm hoping I'll write more but we'll see. Can I say I'll start next week, Tracy? *hangs head in shame*

3. Go to the RNA conference. Although it may seem a small goal, it is a big one for me - for reasons I have given in this post. I've already printed out the form and it should be in the post tomorrow.

4. My final goal is to publish at least one more collection of my published magazine stories. I've been thrilled with how well Room in Your Heart has been received and have been asked many times whether I'll be doing another collection. This is already in progress and my second collection will be available soon... so watch this space.

I hope my 2015 goals are manageable but I've learnt from last year that I need to be flexible. If there's something that's not working then I'll change it. After all, targets are just that... something to aim for.

In other news I have a story in the People's Friend Special. It's a historical story about a quarryman's family and is once again set against the backdrop of the Lake District's beautiful pikes. The illustration is by Michael Thomas.

Also, I've just heard that my first People's Friend serial (written a year ago) is in the process of being illustrated by the very talented David Young, which might mean that it may be published soon. Can't wait!

Monday, 5 January 2015

RNA New Writers' Scheme - Why I Joined

Last Friday, early in the morning of January 2 (12.02 to be precise) I sat at my computer with my finger hovering over the send button of an email. This email was my application to join the Romantic Novelist Association's New Writers' Scheme.

Over the last couple of years I have had some lovely guests on my blog and many of these are novelists who have found publication after being enrolled on the RNA NWS. Karen Aldous, author of The Vineyard and The Chateau is one of them. Rather than re-invent the wheel and tell you what the RNA NWS is myself, you can read Karen's guest post about it here and here,

So why apply? The answer is simple - because I want to write a romantic novel.

Although predominantly a short story writer (I love writing them and have been very lucky to have been successful in the women's magazine market) a lot of my fiction is romance. As well as the magazine romances, I have written two short romantic serials for The People's Friend and published Room in Your Heart my collection of romantic short stories. As I am always searching for new achievements, a novel seemed the obvious next step.

So why hadn't I taken it? Well, I did start. As I mentioned in my last blog post where I revisited my 2014 goals, one of my aims was to have written a novel by the end of the year. Sadly, this didn't happen. I only managed three chapters and I realised it was because I was not taking the novel as seriously as I should. I had the time to devote to it (as well as the stories) but I was not making the best use of that time.

What could I do about it?

During 2014, I was lucky enough to meet (in real life and on-line) several writers currently on, or recently graduated from, the RNA New Writers' Scheme and I began to wonder whether this might be the path for me. What I needed was a proper deadline to aim for and I knew that if I joined the scheme I would have to have something ready to be critiqued in August. As well as that, I would have the support of other writers on the scheme. With that in mind, last Friday, I pressed the send button and went to bed - to find, the next day, that I had been accepted onto the scheme!

I am excited by the prospect of taking my novel seriously this year but for those of you who like reading my magazine stories... don't worry, I have no intention of giving them up!