We’ve all heard the phrase ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ and it is one that gives us writerly folk something to think upon.
When plotting a story, we are frequently advised not to rely too heavily on coincidence – the reader must not be cheated; he or she must be led, carefully yet often unwittingly, through a series of events which come together to form a plot. Said plot should, apparently, follow a generally accepted structure of crisis points, resolutions and thematic arcs. What we should not do is make our characters behave in an unbelievable way, stumble through coincidental events or allow something so outlandish to happen that the reader is alienated and throws down the book in disgust.
However... we have all heard stories (have we not?) of real-life events which would break these rules if incorporated into our fictitious plots. Clearly if the writing is of non-fiction then that is excellent news; it probably means that the subject matter we have chosen will make a rollicking read. Also, I am a firm believer that rules are made to be broken, in certain circumstances at least. I can think of many stories where ridiculously unbelievable things happen and, somehow, the writer manages to pull it off. Yet there are undoubtedly situations where using an event, or series of events, which occurred in real life in a fictitious piece just won’t work because the reader would be left saying that just wouldn’t happen. Whilst our response could justifiably be well, dear reader, it did! that just won’t cut it if it does not feel honest to the person you are trying to engage with.
I can recall a fair few training courses and writing workshops where, in group discussion, plot points have been shot down as being too unrealistic only for the writer to declare that it had in fact actually happened. It’s always interesting and it always makes me reflect, particularly as the past year has seen me writing and editing four non-fiction books about incredible, heroic, moving, dastardly and quite unbelievable events, a few of which would have been dismissed as absurd had they been incorporated into a work of fiction. By way of example, meet Henry Brown, a 19th century American slave who escaped to freedom – by post! After thirty three years of living his life in chains in Louisa County, Virginia, Henry claimed to have received a heavenly vision which told him to mail himself to a place where there were no slaves. Probably born of desperation, it is still completely bonkers and a truth which is, I think, stranger than much fiction (although I feel that I should point out that I am currently reading Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams).
If you’d like to meet more of the fascinating folk who have inhabited my year they can be found in the four volumes of the ‘Keeping Up With the...’ series which I have published with Marvin Close. So far we have covered Jones, Williams, Brown and Smith and it has been a roller-coaster ride during which I have met many interesting and noteworthy individuals. I’m planning to set up Facebook pages in the coming months so that anyone can share pictures and stories of their own notable namesakes. I'd love to see old photos alongside family stories of heroes and black sheep. I will also be posting some extra stories on the Facebook pages which are not featured in the books together with some of Marvin's excellent cartoons!
The four volumes are packed with inspirational stories if you are looking for an idea for a piece of writing. Putting them together had my mind racing as I began to imagine how I would tell their stories or include them, disguised, within my own plot. Just make sure you don’t come up with something so crazy no one will believe you!!
Here’s hoping you had a great Christmas and that Santa brought you all of the books you asked for.
Happy New Year,
Each book is £4.50 in paperback and £2.49 on Kindle. Click on an image to take a further look.
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?
We all have so much to do, don't we? And it can be hard deciding how to split your time. I'm certainly finding it difficult to decide. There are my two lovely boys who are growing up fast, my husband who is out at work a lot so time together is precious, the housework and shopping (and all the other 'little' things which need to be done to keep our lives ticking over but which seem to add up to days) and that's before I get to the stuff that is just mine, such as this little blog and my writing and crafting. Yet on a day like today, the garden is calling out to me. Oh, and exercise... that hugely important thing that gets shoved to the bottom of the list, mostly because I am always so damned tired there is nothing in my legs except jelly.
Hmm, tough decisions. As it stands I have spent three hours this morning on my laptop formatting non-fiction books but I think I will allow the garden to take me for half an hour soon.
Not that I am complaining. When I left work I didn't know how I was going to fill my days but, piece by piece, I've built up enough of a life that I could fill my sleeping hours and still not get everything done that I would like, and to the standard I would like. In a strange way, that pleases me. I need direction or I get confused.
I think it also makes me lucky and I have to remember that when I am stressing about when I am going to get everything done, particularly when someone is ill again. In the last few weeks, we've had colds, croup, hand foot and mouth and a sickness bug in the house. I have to say, it doesn't make getting that novel written any easier! But I'm learning to roll with it and do what I can when I can. The result is that I rarely take a break, and I'll have to keep an eye on that. If I get a spare moment, I'm logging on to do some quick editing or grabbing a camera to take pictures of my Etsy inventory. I do worry that I have taken on too much this Summer, as the books and the Etsy shops are all scheduled to go live in September, but it should calm down a little after that. Oh, but I nearly forgot, I'm also administering the open competitions for NAWG this year so if you've not yet sent in your entries, get writing!! Details can be found HERE.
Of course then there's all the marketing to do... There's no point spending all my free time holed-up inside on my own to put pretty and fun things out into the world but then not having the time or energy to tell anyone that they're there. So, watch this space, I'll be bending your ears soon...
In the meantime, there's also the small matter of the tiny office at the back of the garage which I have ear-marked for a workshop/writing room. I can write anywhere but my crafting bits and pieces are all over the house. They are getting underfoot and are at risk of damage. I really need somewhere safe and clean to store everything if I am going to start selling . (Note to any would-be burglars reading this - it is alarmed and will only have ribbons, paint and glue in it so don't go getting any ideas..!)
So do you think I can change this...
I think I might need some HELP!!
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.
Well it wasn't quite an Unexpected Journey but it was a long one - Florida and back for ten days with a nearly-four year old and a nine month old baby (and my husband, of course)... Amid all the preparations and the frankly terrible sleeping pattern of the babe, my blog and my writing life have been much neglected. But today both boys are in nursery and I've pulled out my papers and begun to plan a new project. I'm still struggling with the novel and am beginning to come around to the idea that it might never take flight so I've decided to take the plunge and try my hand at writing for radio. Not something I am familiar with and it is going to take a lot of hard work, but I have an idea that really excites me and I can't wait to get properly stuck in. I've been reading a book 'Writing for Radio: A Practical Guide' and I'm going to listen to as much as I can lay my ears on. In the meantime I have scoped out the characters, plot and themes so it's just a case of knocking it together now. Right?!?
Before the holiday I dipped my toes into giving talks/workshops. I did two: one at the local library ('An Introduction to Creative Writing') and a talk at a retirement group in Swillington about writing, my ideas and my book. It was an interesting exercise and I am very grateful to Rothwell library and Elderberries in Swillington for letting me have a go and for making me feel welcome - especially you Elderberries!!
I've also been doing a reasonable amount of reading, although I have not been posting regular reviews. Since coming back from the NAWG conference at the beginning of September laden with books, I have a large 'to be read' pile and I will be spending a fair amount of time between now and Christmas reading and reviewing them. The NAWG conference at Warwick was as inspiring as ever - I returned with loads of ideas, so much motivation and with many new friends. I really do recommend the weekend as a wonderful place to attend workshops and meet other writers. It is so friendly and all the tutors are extremely approachable as a rule. For those unfamiliar with the organisation, it is the National Association of Writers Groups and they take individual members too (like me - it costs around £20 a year). The website is HERE and they run loads of competitions, some for non-members as well as members. Do check it out. The association also runs a retreat in May which I have never attended but am hoping to get to next year.
In the meantime here are some of the books I have read recently:
This blog post is just for fun! I asked six other writers to name a song which got them in the creative mood and to tell me why. These are their responses...
A big 'thank-you' to everyone who responded.
If you ignore everything else, do this. Read, discuss and read some more. There is plenty of information available on the internet (CreateSpace, KDP, blogs, YouTube etc), in magazines, in books (e-books are a cheap option).
How much of it can you/do you want to do yourself? There are companies offering everything from a full package to a simple proofread. Will you create your own cover? Format the book yourself? Obviously the more you spend on production the more books you have to sell to cover your costs. But a poor cover or errors in the text will hurt sales. It’s about balance.
If you are not tech savvy and are using Amazon (there are other providers out there), use the Word template and Cover Creator tool available in CreateSpace.
Ideally seek a recommendation from someone you trust. There are still people out there who will take your money and give you very little in return.
(like me!)· Think carefully about your reasons for self-publishing.
If it is because your work has been rejected by agents and publishers, think hard about why it was rejected. Was it because it is not yet ready or because they do not believe it is marketable? Whatever the reason, try to understand it and think about how it will affect your self-published book.
Certain types of books are more likely to be successful than others. If, for example, you are producing genre fiction with a recurring main character and you can produce good quality novels on a regular basis then you have a better chance of selling your books than someone writing a one-off collection of short stories (like me!), for example.
· Set your expectations too high.
This isn’t the same as setting your standards high. Aim for a finished product which is as close to a traditionally published book as possible. But don’t expect too much sales-wise. Only a few make money out of self-publishing. Though that’s not to say yours won’t be one of those success stories we all love to read about.
· Give yourself plenty of time.
A couple of months, at least. Once you have been through the process you will probably be able to format and publish in an afternoon but for that first time, give yourself plenty of opportunity for checks and rechecks. There WILL be glitches!
· Use a cover design which screams ‘self-published’.
Either work out how to do it yourself using image manipulation software and professional images (which you will probably have to purchase – take a look at Shutterstock and istock) or pay someone to do it. And use a proper font. One that shows up clearly against the background and can be read when your image is reduced to thumbnail size. Take a look at the Font Squirrel website.
· Make sure you don’t infringe someone else’s copyright.
You won’t have the safety net of an agent or publisher to give your book the once over from a legal perspective so either make sure you are crystal clear on the law or play it safe. In particular, don’t use song lyrics or images unless you are sure that you are entitled to.
· Sit back and wait for the sales to roll in.
They won’t. If you are serious about this then you will have to do the leg-work. This means an on-line presence, perhaps regular blog-posts, appearing in local press, soliciting reviews, conducting readings at schools, writing groups etc.
Ideally have an online presence built up before you launch your book. But don’t ignore the power of local media and personal appearances and events. Obviously a cost/benefit analysis needs to be done and the more books you have to promote the more you will get back from each investment of time or money.
And you need to do all of this whilst writing the next book!
· Reward yourself for each success, however small!
Be it a compliment from a reader or a sale. Celebrate steps forward and don’t dwell on set-backs unless you can learn something from them.
· Give up.
Ever. Full stop. If it is what you love then go for it. Your passion will come across and inspire others.
And you never know, you might be the next Kindle bestseller!
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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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