I am very excited to welcome back Jennifer Joyce to my little blog. Jennifer is someone whom I admire greatly as she has turned her love of writing, and creating things generally, into a burgeoning career. Her passion for her characters and stories really shines through and (together with talent, obviously,) this has no doubt contributed to her self-publishing success and the subsequent signing of a contract with a traditional publisher. Now Jennifer boasts hundreds of Amazon reviews and a paperback title widely available in shops. Below she tells me a little about her amazing journey.
Thanks for coming back to my blog. How are you?
I’m great, thank you. It’s lovely to be back!
My last chat with you was in November 2015, I can’t believe how quickly the time has gone. Back then you had self-published a number of books but had just signed a contract with Carina (now rebranded as HQ Digital) for two books. I know that you have lovely paperbacks out in the world now and I was wondering how that came about?
After self-publishing A Beginner’s Guide To Salad and Everything Changes But You (and free short story A Beginner’s Guide To Christmas), I wrote a festive book (The Mince Pie Mix-Up) and was planning to self-publish again. But I thought I’d submit it to Carina on the off chance they’d want to publish it. I didn’t expect anything but a rejection, but they loved it and I was offered a two-book deal. I’ve since published four ebooks with them, with two more on the way next year, and my latest, The Little Bed & Breakfast by the Sea, was released as a paperback too.
I see that ‘The Little Bed and Breakfast by the Sea’ has over 100 Amazon reviews (click here). That is amazing. You must be pleased?
I’m amazed! It’s been so exciting seeing the number of reviews rising – especially as most people have enjoyed the book!
And is ‘The Little Teashop of Broken Hearts’ a sequel?
Although the books have similar titles, they aren’t connected at all – they take place in different locations and follow completely separate sets of characters.
Your latest book, ‘A Beginners Guide to Saying I Do’, is now available via Amazon (click here). Where does that fit in? I believe it is a follow-up to ‘A Beginners Guide to Salad’?
Yes, it’s the second book in the Beginner’s Guide series, following Ruth and her friends during the next stage of their lives. I wrote the first draft around the time I signed with HQ Digital, but it took a bit of a backseat as publisher deadlines kicked in. As with the first book in the series, I self-published A Beginner’s Guide To Saying I Do.
Now that you are signed up with a publisher, what level of involvement do you have with designing the cover? I know you used to like playing around with them when you were designing your own!
I’m not very involved at all, so the reveal is always exciting and I can’t wait to share them with everybody! I do like playing around with images and graphics, so I like having my toe in both camps as I get full control over my self-published designs.
What is your writing routine? Do you write every day?
I write Monday to Friday while my daughters are at school. If I’m nearing a deadline or I’m falling way behind schedule, I’ll write for a good chunk of Sundays too. In the school holidays, I’ll squeeze in bits of writing when I can and catch up in the evenings.
Do you have or are you seeking an agent?
I don’t have an agent at the moment, but it’s something I would definitely like to pursue again in the future!
So, after all this excitement, what’s next??
I’m currently in the planning stages of Book 9 while I wait for the edits of Book 8. Both books will be published by HQ Digital next year.
Thanks so much for coming, Jennifer. Maybe we can do this again in another couple of years? Who knows, there might be a movie to talk about by then!
That would be awesome – both chatting books again and movie talk!
Jennifer has a lovely website at jenniferjoycewrites.co.uk. Why not check it out?
De-dah! I have finally updated the 'About Me' page of my website. There are a couple of books (non-fiction) almost ready to come out and a new crafting business in the pipeline and it was time to make some changes. I can't wait to get my little online shop up and running. Anyway, it read like a blog piece so I thought that I would post it here as well.
"Where to start?
Not at the beginning, that's for sure. It would take way too long. Besides, I spent many years in an office doing serious things and drinking a lot of tea and who wants to hear about that? (Actually I'm hoping a few people as I'm thinking of turning it into a radio comedy-watch this space...) So I'm going to take the advice of many writers who say you should begin at the furthest point possible, where the action really starts, and run with it from there.
I began writing several years ago, teaching myself from books, magazines and so forth. During that time I have met some amazing and supportive people and I am gradually finding a way forward which does not involve me returning to an office any time soon. I self-published a book two years ago - a collection of eight supernatural stories with the title 'Into Dust and Other Strange Tales'. It is available via Amazon and has been a valuable learning experience. Further information can be found here. I am currently working on two non-fiction books with a friend which we will also make available via CreateSpace. Details will be posted here shortly and I am very excited. Working with someone again has been great and I hope to find more opportunities for collaboration in the future. It's an excellent way to learn and having someone else to bounce ideas off is fun. This year I am also judging the NAWG ghost story competition and administering three of the organisation's other competitions. I am looking forward to it all.
Baby Sam joined the family in February 2016 so I've had much less time this past year to move forward with my novel and even my second collection of short stories has suffered but I intend to get on track with that and also revive my slightly tired blog. I've also discovered a new hobby - crafting! With the sleepless nights and demands of two small children it can be difficult to find decent slots of time to write but I do find the odd ten minutes to half an hour here and there. So instead of firing up the laptop only to find that one of the kids needs me before I have even logged on I have been setting up crafting projects on the kitchen island and dipping in and out of them over the course of the day. And I love it! I love it so much that I have decided to keep it going alongside my writing and hope to start selling a few things on this website and on Etsy later this year. I have been working up an inventory designed to appeal to readers, writers and parents and I can't wait to share it with you. Drawing and art was one of my first loves and it has been incredibly rewarding to return to it.
I need to decide whether to incorporate my new business venture into my blog . My current thinking is to continue to focus on books and writing but to drop in the occasional post about the new business. I'd also like to include more author interviews so I'll work on that and no doubt this second round of self-publishing will throw up some new material as I discover what has changed in the past two years and also deal with the challenges of including images within a book for the first time.
As I write this it strikes me how much my life has changed over the past few years. Whilst I have put a lot of hard work into it, I couldn't manage without the people who support me. Thank you.
Bernie x "
It’s been a while since my last blog post and it is largely due to the absence of any reading or writing in my daily life. Baby Sam still doesn’t like sleeping, day or night, and has picked up every bug going around. I am hoping that some warmer weather will help. Meanwhile Matthew is a pocket dynamo and doesn’t like it if I try and sit quietly for any length of time. Between them they have me on the go from 6 am to after 8 pm and often through the night as well. So you can see how this has happened.
But it’s ok. The boys are great, so much fun and totally adorable. Sam is gradually settling in to a couple of days at nursery which will free up some time (Matthew continues to enjoy his time there). And I am developing a new hobby... Crafting! Whilst I might not get reliable blocks of time during which I can write, I can sneak some shorter bursts here and there. Just before Christmas I attended a craft fair and marvelled at the lovely things people were making and selling. It moved quickly from there. Never one to hang around I joined Pinterest and discovered something amazing called ‘mixed media’. As the name suggests, this involves using many different techniques and materials to produce art. Many of the pieces I have seen have a luscious steampunky vibe to them. So, armed with some birthday money (and as it turns out, much of the grocery money as well) I have been on a spree – Hobbycraft, Amazon, Ebay, Wilko, charity shops – nowhere is safe. I’ve got inks, pastes, stamps, papers, stencils, wooden butterflies, mache books, lace, buttons and I just can’t stop.
Undoubtedly some of the time I could have spent writing and I’ve found that crafting has occupied my thoughts (coming up with designs together with solutions to technical issues like heatproofing coasters) when I would usually have been thinking about plotting. But I have fallen totally in love with it and am thinking about road-testing some of my pieces with a view to putting them up for sale later in the year. It won’t make me rich but I might make back some of the money I have spent on materials. In the meantime it has given me a greatly-needed creative release when I was struggling to find the time and the emotional energy required to write. Plus I think the pieces I have produced so far compliment my book which has a richly dark flavour. I can see a situation where I sell both books and crafts via my website. That’s the dream, anyway.
And today, well today I have had a writing day (note – for the purposes of this paragraph please pretend that it is still Saturday evening!). I am currently on my way back from a ‘Space to Write’ day run by the ever lovely Susan Elliot Wright and Russell Thomas (www.susanelliotwright.co.uk). It got me away from chores and has allowed me to assess where I am. Last week, on holiday with the troupe, I scribbled down a plan. Today I had time to think about it and began to move some of the elements forward. My aim (as Susan says, it helps to say it out loud and publicly if possible!) is to have self-published a second book of shorts by Christmas. It won’t be done in time for Christmas sales but I would like it done by the end of the year. As I am writing this I am thinking that January might not be a great time for a book launch so I might revisit the precise timing but I want it written and formatted by then. It will be a collection of fantasy short stories. Over the past 18 months I have written only two but after today I am a good way through a third. I probably need 8 or 9 in total, depending upon length. So a long way to go, but a plan at least. When I need a break from this project I have a couple of other books and scripts on the backburner greatly in need of attention and I’m working on a non-fiction project with a friend which will hopefully go live soon. It's never the ideas that are the problem... Time and execution - a different matter.
When the collection of shorts is out in the world I will force myself to move on. I love writing short stories but readers, it seems, are not in love with reading them.
Meanwhile 'Into Dust' remains 99p on Kindle - HERE.
That’s my update. I’d love to hear yours.
It's time for a post about 'The Novel'... the children's fantasy book that I began to write around five years ago and still isn't even close to seeing the light of day. I'm working on chapter one at the moment. Yes, all these years later and I am still at the beginning. I'm trying to understand why I am struggling with it so much whilst deciding whether to keep going. Here's what has happened so far...
It all began in October 2011. I had never written a creative word in my life but I had spent many hours writing up legal reports and the occasional technical article. Then one evening I was standing at a bus stop after work, fed up with my job, wondering what I could do next. And it just popped into my head - I could write.
I borrowed some 'how to write a novel' books from the library and bought a few copies of Writers' Forum and Writing Magazine then jumped straight in. 92,000 words later and I'd finished. Easy peasy. I even had a few poor souls read my book from start to finish. I'd like to take this opportunity to apologise to them. I had no idea how amateurish a piece of work it was until several years and lots more words later. I did, however, know quite early on that it was unpublishable as it was. I just didn't realise that the whole thing would need to be binned and rewritten almost from scratch. In an effort to learn more, I headed off to write short stories and dabbled in some fiction for younger children.
I did ok with the shorts. Had fun entering competitions, got some wins and shortlistings and then self-published a collection of which I am proud. It certainly helped me to become a more accomplished writer and it also helped me to understand the standard I needed to reach with my novel.
So I set about rewriting my book around a year ago. This is after the three or four rewrites back at the beginning and another rewrite three years ago.
And I am still on chapter one, although I have a prologue with which I am happy.
"Just give up!" I hear some of you say. "Start something new with all the knowledge you have accumulated in the intervening years." - and it is probably the right advice.
But there is still something nagging at me.
First, I have had two children in that time and the baby is still only 6 months old, so opportunity to plan and write is limited to a couple of hours a week. It is hard to get into any rhythm or to progress the book in any meaningful way.
Second, I have learnt so much. I've attended courses, read articles, read a tonne of fiction aimed at my target audience and I have just discovered the Brandon Sanderson lectures on You Tube which I feel have brought my understanding on by a mile. I feel that I at last know what I need to do and what I am trying to achieve with the book. (Having the skill to do it is another issue...)
Third, I love the plot. It is a fantasy adventure and I can't let go of the world I have built. I do need stronger characters to inhabit it though.
There are many people who warn against getting caught in an endless cycle of tinkering and redrafting and never progressing. And I get that, I really do. BUT I have resolved not to progress until I am completely satisfied with the new direction in which the story is going. I can't afford to spend many more years on this project and so I will keep going until either I am happy with the way the new beginning sets up the (significantly) revised story or I will reluctantly abandon the project. Forever.
In the meantime, 'Into Dust And Other Strange Tales' remains 99p on Kindle and £4.99 in paperback. Perfect if you enjoy a taste of darker fiction.
Just a quick blog post today to spread the word that 'Into Dust And Other Strange Tales' can now be bought for 99p from the Amazon Kindle store (available HERE). It can also be borrowed for free from the library (Leeds - Rothwell branch). If you do read it and like it, please consider leaving a review - it makes all the difference.
In the meantime, I have LOADS of ideas for writerly blog posts which I am excited to be working on and to share with you all.
Have a great weekend,
The table below sets out a few tips I have put together following the self-publication of my book Into Dust and Other Strange Tales via CreateSpace and KDP. The book was published a year ago and it seems like a good time to reflect on the journey so far.
I'd love to hear from any other self-publishers out there - feel free to post comments on your own experiences, particularly if you have used a provider other than Amazon. Or perhaps you are thinking about taking the plunge yourself but have reservations?
Beneath the table you will find two short YouTube videos which are well worth a peek. The first one, produced by Amazon, is an inspiring trip to the self-publishing stand at the London Book fair. To give a balanced view, I have also included 'Seven reasons why you shouldn't self-publish' by literary agent Piers Blofeld. Again, all views welcome. I am curious to know what you think.
I'll be attending the course being run by Susan Elliot Wright and Russell Thomas in Sheffield on Saturday to answer questions about my experience self-publishing with Amazon. Hope to see you there! http://www.susanelliotwright.co.uk/p/workshops.html
Today was a proud day for me - I finally got to see my book on a library shelf. My twelve year old self would not have thought it possible and, although I have been busy with life and other things, I have tried to keep that in mind and celebrate an achievement which might seem a small one. The book is available at the Rothwell branch in the suburb of Leeds where I live - left hand side middle row under novels (even though it is a collection of short stories) and filed under 'K' for Keeling. It's a slim little thing but it is there, I promise! It can be ordered from any Leeds branch in the usual way.
If you live nearby it would mean the world to me if you could take a look, maybe check it out and have a read - even if you don't get all the way through. Each story can be read in 10-20 minutes. It has taken years of work to get this far and it would be a shame if no-one ever borrowed it! It's unlikely to be plucked off the shelf at random (can you spot it in the picture above?!). If you do read it, reviews on Amazon are always appreciated. For those of you unfamiliar with the book, here is the blurb:
’In the darkness the harbinger sings, of death, destruction, the end of all things.’ An injured soldier crosses a moor in the midst of a storm, a man chases an elusive woman through the streets of York, four children play in an abandoned house on a crumbling cliff top... Containing eight chilling stories of love, despair, loneliness and redemption, Into Dust is a collection of supernatural tales which will have you lighting a fire, reaching for a drink and, of course, locking your door.
Amazon link (with reviews if you want to take a look):
There could be many reasons why you find yourself in a writing lull: a project ends before you have an idea for a new one, extra demands at work or at home, a loss of confidence, or perhaps you have just misplaced your writing mojo. My own challenge is balancing my writing time with my childcare responsibilities, particularly since the birth of Baby Sam seven weeks ago. He is wriggling and whinging at me from his playmat as I write. I will go and grab him in a few minutes but in the meantime I thought that I would set out a few ideas for writing related activities to keep you going during those temporary slumps (and they will be temporary. If you really love to write, I'll bet nothing stops you for good).
1 Buy a copy of Writing Magazine or Writers' Forum. They are jam packed with motivational pieces and how-to articles plus the author interviews and reader success stories really enthuse me.
2 Go over old stories which haven't yet found a home (we all have them, surely?). Spend a little time re-reading them and see if you can send them off somewhere new. I find that simply revisiting some of my old work gets me going again and gives me the confidence to begin a new project. Entering competitions is also exciting, can generate a little cash and is a great boost for morale if you win or get placed. I still always pay for feedback where it is available as a fresh pair of eyes can often be exactly what I need to see my way forward. I took a break from competitions for a couple of years but have just submitted to three in the past month. I had forgotten how fun it is and I can't wait for the results. Fingers crossed!!
3 Read. Since beginning to write I read differently, noticing things such as structure, point of view, plot threads etc as well as general sentence construction. It spoiled reading for me for a while but now I have learned to enjoy it again by dampening that part of my brain enough to enjoy the story foremost but still absorb useful tips. Also, I find just reading for pleasure without any conscious analysis to be just as good on the whole as it energizes me and gets ideas flowing.
4 Go on a course. This is obviously more for those who are struggling with inspiration/technique rather than time. They can be costly but I have found a number of local courses which cost around £40 for a day of relaxed teaching and discussion with a group of like-minded people. I try and attend a few each year. It's a great way of injecting energy into a project and of gently moving your skills forward without a huge commitment in terms of time and money. If you are in Yorkshire I recommend the courses run by Susan Elliot Wright and Russell Thomas - http://www.susanelliotwright.co.uk/p/workshops.html .
5 Browse through a non-fiction book or magazine. Great for idea generation and when you have an idea you have impetus.
6 Keep in touch with writerly friends whether they be people you see or people you have met on Facebook or Twitter. There are some great communities out there and I have found lovely, supportive people on Twitter. When I am not able to write I enjoy following their progress, reading their blogs and offering words of encouragement. Their endeavour and success spurs me on as I hope mine does in return.
7 Use shower time, walking the dog time, feeding the baby time as thinking time. This is probably second nature to us all but just keeping your mind in the groove even if you can't get to a keyboard for any length of time will help keep the creative part of your mind happy. Always write those ideas down, though. I came up with a great line of prose which could have been the start of a new story but I was watching the television and didn't commit it to paper. By the time the adverts came I had forgotten everything except for the fact that I'd had a good idea which I couldn't recall. Very frustrating.
8 Attend an author event or literary festival. It all helps to keep you in the writer's frame of mind.
Of course, don't let any of these things actually get in the way of your writing. Some people can move their projects forward whenever they can snatch a free minute, others prefer to wait until they can put aside a block of time. Most of us, I suspect, fall somewhere in between. I'd love to know which you are and whether you agree with the above points or perhaps have some others of your own.
Happy writing x
I didn't set out to write a collection of ghost stories. If you'd asked me little more than a year ago what I was working towards I'd have said 'the eventual publication of a children's novel and breaking into the women's magazine scene'. But then I saw a competition advertised for a ghost story. I forget which publication it was (probably either Scribble or Writers' Forum) and I decided to give it a go - I was having no luck with the women's mags and knew that the novel was floundering.
By this time I had already entered and won or been placed in a number of short story competitions so I knew the drill and embraced the challenge. Always one to be thorough, I set about my research. Here's how I went about it:
1 I borrowed The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories from the library. It contains true Gothic gems from the likes of Sir Walter Scott, Bram Stoker, E. Nesbit, H.G. Wells and Algernon Blackwood. Further, it has an excellent introduction broken down into three parts which serves as an informed access point into the world of the English Ghost Story with a consideration of its varying components over a period of time. I soon came to realise the value of the book and purchased a second-hand copy from Amazon. Then I set about using the introduction and a number of key stories to compile my own notes on the subject. I photocopied four of the stories which I then highlighted and annotated with thoughts and observations.
2 I read the winners of recent ghost story competitions. Whilst I instantly knew that I loved the old fashioned ghost stories I had discovered in The Oxford Book, I thought that it was important to familiarise myself with stories which were winning modern competitions. There are many ghost story competitions run each year and I didn't find it too difficult to get my hands on a few of the top entries, particularly as I tend to buy Writers' Forum and Writing Magazine anyway.
3 I watched a tv programme compiled and presented by Mark Gatiss on the palpable talent of M.R. James following which I tracked down a number of his stories (free or cheaply on Kindle). By this point I knew that I wanted to try something in the Victorian style. I just loved the atmosphere and the imagery and was also curious as to what I would produce having read fairly deeply into the genre.
4 I read an article by Jonathan Stroud about how to write a ghost story. I've tried to find it to include a link in this article but cannot lay my hands on it. It was for Waterstones, I think.
5 I purchased and read a Wordsworth classic: The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton. These are so good that they nearly put me off having a go! I'm glad that they didn't. Lesson learned: try hard not to be intimidated by the quality of other writers, particularly those considered to be among the best there has ever been. Even they must have started somewhere.
6 I read Dark Entries by Robert Aickman. This was another turning point for me. Written in the 1960's, this book contains six tales which are not necessarily ghost stories but defined by the author as 'strange tales'. Again I made notes as I went along and, whilst I found the endings of some of the stories a little too open for my taste, there was no doubt in my mind that I was reading the work of a master of his craft.
7 I set about writing The Final Soul. I'm not sure exactly where the idea came from. I remember wrestling with the plot for quite a long time before putting pen to paper but once I started writing, I couldn't stop. Don't get me wrong, the words didn't fly onto the page; I thought about every single one of them. I drafted and redrafted and despite the recommendations of many a writing tutor, my thesaurus was my best friend for the several weeks it took me to finish the piece. I then put the draft away and wrote a second fairly quickly thereafter. I called the second story Rock Me Gently and I Shall Sleep (and Pray the Lord My Soul to Keep). Now this one did fly onto the page. I was a little surprised at how much I relished describing hands of grey flesh with the appearance of gardening rakes thick with rotting leaves and eyes still bulging with violent death. I really got into the groove. When I'd finished, I revisited The Final Soul.
8 I submitted The Final Soul to a competition and paid a small amount extra for feedback. I always try and secure feedback when entering a competition. It's one of the main ways in which my writing has developed and I find it an invaluable resource (assuming that the person giving the critique has a decent level of experience, of course). The story didn't win but was given a 'highly commended' rating and the feedback was really positive, except for a plot hole at the very end which I had not spotted. Once I had got over my frustration at having made such a stupid mistake, I redrafted the story and went back to working on the novel.
The journey ended there for a while, although the stories never really left my head. I knew that they were among the best things I had ever written and I got a real kick from their production so when I made a new writer-friend who offered to read them for me I nervously agreed to send them over. I'm happy to say that he loved them and encouraged me to write more. At the time I was still struggling with the children's book - I was on the wrong path with it and didn't know how to sort it out - so I jumped at the chance to revisit the dark, the Gothic and the downright strange, during which time...
9 ...I visited some real locations to get a sense of atmosphere and inspiration. The first of these saw me take a trip to York, a natural home of the ghost story. A separate piece on this trip can be read HERE (Using Real Locations In Your Writing). I also took a tour of the delightfully creepy Leeds City Varieties Music Hall where I decided to set my final tale. The grandfather clock in the bar features in the story. Both trips were hugely helpful and definitely added authenticity and some surprising angles to the stories I ended up setting in these locations. Going on tours or around old buildings can be a fantastic stimulant for ideas.
10 After my visit to Leeds City Varieties I tracked down some old music hall tracks on You Tube. The tinny and crackling gramophone effect really created a sense of atmosphere and helped me step into the situation I was writing about. It also gave me inspiration for the title to that story: We All Go The Same Way Home.
It took a while but eventually I ended up with eight stories, each of which I enjoyed working on and I was proud of the end result. The project took me to a place with my writing that I would not have previously thought possible. I think it was something about the tone, the darkness, which brought out the best in me in a way that my other writing just hadn't done. I found that I could still write mysteries, romances, twist stories all within the overall umbrella of the ghost story. In the end I gleefully abandoned my quest to break into the women's magazine market and instead threw myself, hammer, stake and gargoyle, into writing the collection which found its way into the world as Into Dust and I loved every minute of it.
I've been circulating more book reviews than writing updates lately so I thought that it was time to publish something a little more personal. I'll keep it (relatively) short!
Last year was an adventurous one for me, writing wise. I learnt so much in a short space of time, progressing quickly from the two ghost stories I had written over the summer of 2014 (these were not the first things I had produced but they were the pieces I felt most strongly about at the time) to a completed book of 35,000 words which is now available via Amazon (click HERE). Publication date was six months ago and I have already posted several articles on the additional skills I needed to acquire/develop in order to produce Into Dust in both paperback and e-book formats. I haven't yet composed anything, though, on my thoughts post-publication. The main reason for this is that I cannot make up my mind what to say. It has been an exciting and educational (even sociable) experience but I can't deny that sales were disappointing and, although my book is 'out there in the world' and I am proud of it, not many people have read it. I'll leave it there for now and do a full piece when I have decided upon the points that are worth making.
Since making Into Dust available I have been spreading my writing time between:
So that's where I am up to. It is looking like it will be a good long while before I have any new material to put out except, perhaps, if I decide to enter the fantasy shorts in competitions later in the year. In the meantime I will hopefully push forward with the novel and of course, much of my attention will go towards having my second baby boy. In the meantime I would like to say a huge 'thank you' to anyone reading this who purchased Into Dust and to those of you who assisted in its production and sale. You know who you are. Every single reader and/or word of encouragement means the world to me and your support is invaluable. Have a wonderful new year.
I love most types of fiction - crime, mystery, fantasy. Oh, and historical fiction of course and middle-grade books and, well, you get the picture.
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