I admit that deadlines are good for me. I love writing inside a time frame. But remember, I’m a bit weird – I loved exams. Adrenaline = inspiration for me.
Broad Plain Darkening raised a lot of questions that I couldn’t wait to tackle. So many issues that I wanted to resolve. Imagine me rubbing my hands together in glee.
Once again, I needed a plan.
Strangely, my “plan” looks almost like a maths problem. How does it work?
You’ll notice very few words. The story was in my head. These are just reminders so that nothing got left out. Sticky notes for my brain.
Chapters are important. They need a starting point, an action or change point, and some sort of conclusion – one that leads to the next chapter, or one that closes the action and allows the next chapter to tackle another aspect of the story.
Chapter length is important. That’s what the numbers are about. I’m moving scenes around to ensure that each chapter is a similar length.
The first page of this notebook is dated Oct 19th, 2018. Three years ago today! That means that I was deep in writing Book Three while waiting for the edits to come back for Book Two.
Editing and writing at the same time: heaven!
Editing is such a satisfying task. You wrestle with what comes back; you suddenly see what doesn’t work. Then you scratch your head over how to make this or that point any clearer. You laugh at your hilarious typos (the runted land LOL!) and in your imagination, you high-five the editor at the brilliant saves.
Once again, working with Odyssey Books suited me down to the ground.
Seven-piece Essential Toolkit for Writing a Series
follow up your good starting idea
create characters to care about … ones that YOU care about
expect a great deal of work writing your idea into the first novel … possibly years
refrain from killing your characters too early – but be prepared to kill them at the right time
keep tweaking and submitting until you find a match
be responsive to your publisher’s needs
treasure the publisher who believes in you and your work
I have a dozen ideas for short stories set in the world of the Pale, but it’s no use planning a short story collection (working title The Chronicles of the Pale #4: Before and After) until I actually write those stories.
Jotted words in a notebook – useful as they are – do not turn themselves into publishable writing. And I also have in mind the possibility of a graphic novel or an animation. So a lot of work to be done first, but the world of the Pale now has to wait on edits for my current projects.
In the meantime, watch out for my next novel
How to Survive Your Magical Family
which will be out in time for Christmas. More news soon!
From ABL: To celebrate Australia Reads and the Australian Reading Hour, we’ve put together an audio extravaganza of truly spectacular Aussie authors reading from one of their amazing stories! So tune up the ears and ready the imagination for the following wonderful audio treasures –
Anzac Day is a disputed day of reverence on the Australian calendar.
It’s often conscripted into arguments by both sides of politics, providing support for any point anyone wants to put forward.
“Anzac Day celebrates the landing at Gallipoii, a campaign that sums up the useless violence of war.”
“Gallipoli represents the birth of the nation.”
“Mateship began in the trenches of Gallipoli.”
“Australia’s self-identity is based on the invasion of another country.”
The place of Anzac Day in Australian cultural identity is complex. The legend may not be historically accurate, but the day is culturally significant.
As Martin Thomas says, historical ‘falsehoods are built on fragments of reality, and for this reason they reveal greater cultural truths’.[i]
It’s no wonder that mythology grows out of world-changing events. There are so many shades of grey. One thing that is certain is that WWI was a huge, life-changing time for millions of Australians. And we all know how a single far-off event can have enormous ramifications world wide. Pandemic, anyone?
Today I’m sharing extracts from my book about World War I and Australian story-telling. I haven’t found the answer to Anzac Day’s place in our lives, but I did uncover some interesting questions.
World War I was an astonishing event. The millions of people caught up in the war had never experienced anything like it. For the first time, all of civilisation was trapped in a life-or-death struggle. Whole societies were pitted against one another in a devastating, horrific, technological war. Cultured Europe was transformed into a gigantic threshing ground that crushed cities into shards and men into bloody pieces. No wonder people thought this was the war to end all wars. It seemed likely to be the war to end all of humankind. Everyone continued to fight because to lose such a bloodbath was unthinkable; losing could only mean total annihilation, a return to the Dark Ages. The war was so horrific that everyone was sure that this would be the last time humanity ever resorted to the battlefield.
Everyone was deluded.
World War I, far from preventing more wars, probably made World War II –which transformed ‘The Great War’ into ‘World War I’ – inevitable.
World War I, however, did change the world in significant ways. There were undoubted advances in engineering, medicine, and science, driven by necessity: improved machinery, engine technology, motorised vehicles, aerodynamics, weaponry, surgical instruments and techniques, medical and rehabilitation procedures, prostheses, building methods, communications technologies, and so on.
There were also irreparable damages and losses.
One of the most astonishing outcomes of the war was the proliferation of art and creativity, both inspired by and addressing the war. Viewed as the most literary war ever fought, World War I was the first to involve literate populations on a grand scale. The trove of written memorabilia from the war, and the overwhelming mass of writing about it since, ensure it will remain a focal point in the mainstream consciousness of the west.
Australian World War I prose is a distinct sub-genre. Here I provide a moderating frame over previous research which effectively identified the Australian writers’ reliance on old-fashioned heroic modes of writing war. Our central discussion of how leadership is represented in literature establishes Australian cultural egalitarianism as a factor in the infamously poor discipline of Australian troops. My underlying premise – that literature has both constructive and commemorative cultural value –goes some way to explaining Australia’s infatuation with all things Anzac.
Part of the difficulty we have in understanding the effects of war comes directly from the writings of veterans.
Although the most popular World War I narratives tell a story of disillusionment, horror and grief, most of the writers have a degree of pride and even enjoyment in their service. Many remember war as the best time of their lives, because its dramas, intense friendships, and shared purposes created a sense of community and personal worth that peacetime can never match.
Survivors need to believe that their experiences have some meaning, and the vast majority of soldiers wrote about World War I as a meaningful event. Reading their words in a later age, we use our somewhat jaundiced hindsight to view their motives and actions with a mixture of disbelief and amazement. We tend to evaluate the writings of veterans in terms of our own moral and ethical standards; we doubt that men truly enlisted with the joy of anticipation, with a desire to fight. To most of us, knowing the continued cost of war across the twentieth century, war is the worst calamity which humanity can inflict upon itself. Even though many veterans look back with pride and nostalgia on their service days, we prefer to believe that everything about war is repulsive, and that no aspect of it can be viewed positively; we believe that those who record their war service as the best time of their lives must be deluded.
The truth lies everywhere in between: no simple dichotomy exists, from which we must choose our side; no balanced midpoint satisfies all perspectives. It is not possible to say that war is either the worst event that can befall us or the best situation for comradeship and meaning. Like most human experiences, war is sometimes neither the worst nor the best, but something in between, something quite ordinary and even boring.
More often, war is both the best and the worst, and also quite ordinary for much of the time. This is the heart of war’s mystique for the writer and the reader. Stories of war can reveal much to us about the joys and the costs of living in a fragile world, because such stories reflect both the best and the worst of human life itself, and tend to elide the ordinary days. In war stories as in everyday life, small decisions can be fateful, and accidents, happy coincidences, and inexplicable sufferings are daily occurrences.
My book goes on to explore the novels written by WWI veterans, and the place of WWI generally in our nation’s history – the way we ignore the battles of colonization, the way we valorize masculinity, the way we overlook the bitter arguments about conscription that divided the home front…
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
[i] M. Thomas, ‘Leichhardt on the mind: the manhunt for the Prussian enigma’, review of Where is Dr Leichhardt?The Greatest Mystery in Australian History by Darrell Lewis, Australian Book Review, no 354, September 2013, p. 21.
Louise Mangos, originally from Hertfordshire, now lives in central Switzerland with her Kiwi husband and two sons. She enjoys a very active life in the Alps, and she takes inspiration and energy from the stunning beauty of nature around her home.
Louise has just completed her Master in Crime Writing at the University of East Anglia in the UK and is working on her third psychological suspense novel.
Today Louise is sharing her ideas on inspiration for writing, plus the MUST READ opening scene from her debut suspense novel Strangers on a Bridge.
Inspiration for Writing
Louise: If you want to be a writer, the first thing on the list of ‘must-do’ is to read, read and read. Reading novels in one’s own genre not only provides inspiration, but gives a good idea of the market trends. While I don’t advocate writing to trends, if a writer is having difficulties discovering their niche and wants to attract the attention of an agent or publisher, this might help.
Books aren’t the only places I find inspiration. I live on the edge of a lake in central Switzerland surrounded by the foothills leading to the high Alps. My first two novels and part of my third are set here. I only have to walk out of my door to be bombarded with inspiration.
The setting in a story can be as important as character. It takes on a life of its own, especially in psychological thrillers and suspense where the darkness of human character can be enhanced by the location of the story. In this genre, setting requires an atmosphere and environment that marries the tension and menace of the narrative.
You might think the pristine snowy peaks of the Alps surrounded by wild-flowered meadows in spring hardly conjures a threatening atmosphere. But in the deep winter or in an approaching summer storm, those peaks become dark and foreboding. They change as quickly as an unstable character.
While writing, inspiration doesn’t always come easily to writer sitting at their desk (or the dining-room table in my case). Once the seed of a story idea has germinated in my mind, I need to distance myself from the words from time to time to allow them to flourish.
Getting outside and exercising in nature is an essential aid to my creativity. Our brains, not just our bodies, thrive on exercise. In summer I go kayaking or wild swimming in the lake that lies on my doorstep. In winter I skate-ski on the trails within a few minutes’ drive from my home.
If I’m stuck on a plot point or need inspiration for the next chapter, being outside doing an activity helps to fix those issues in my imagination. I have to be able to write them down as quickly as possible after my outing before my befuddled mind forgets it all. Voice notes on the phone and a pencil and notepad in a backpack helps, but in general I let the writing flow once I’m back at my computer, looking out of my window at the view of the places that nurtured the seeds of my story.
I see it all! The Heidi-esque flower slopes under the looming avalanche!
Louise has chosen the opening chapter of her debut novel Strangers on a Bridge which shows the (inspirational) Alpine setting.
I wouldn’t normally exercise on the weekend, but several days of spring rain had hampered my attempts to run by the Aegerisee near our home during the week. The lake had brimmed over onto my regular running paths. The sun came out that morning, accompanied by a cloudless blue sky. Simon knew I was chomping at the bit. He let me go, encouraging me to run for everyone’s peace of mind.
I chose a woodland track from the lowlands near the town of Baar, and planned to run up through the Lorze Gorge. A local bus dropped me at the turn-off to the narrow limestone canyon, and I broke into a loping jog along the gravel lane, dwindling to a packed earthen trail. Sunlight winked through trees fluorescent with new leaf shoots. The forest canopy shaded much of the track and the swollen river gushed at my side. I lengthened my stride, and breathed in the metallic aroma of sprouting wild garlic. The mundane troubles of juggling family time dissipated, and as I settled into my metronome rhythm, a feeling of peacefulness ensued.
The sun warmed my shoulders as I ran out from the shade of the forest. I focused on a small pine tree growing comically out of the mossy roof shingles of the old Tobel Bridge. Above me, two more bridges connected the widening funnel of the Lorze Gorge at increasingly higher levels, resembling an Escher painting.
Before I entered the dim tunnel of the wooden bridge, I glanced upwards. A flash of movement caught my eye. My glance slid away, and darted back.
A figure stood on the edge of the upper bridge.
In a split second my brain registered the person’s stance. I sucked in my breath, squinting to be sure I had seen correctly at such a distance.
Oh, no. Please, don’t.
The figure stood midway between two of the immense concrete pillars, his fists clutching the handrail. His body swayed as he looked out across the expanse to the other side of the gorge, the river roaring its white noise hundreds of feet below him. Birdsong trilled near me on the trail, strangely out of place in this alarming situation.
Ridiculous to think this person was going to jump. But that body language, a certain hollowed stiffness to his shoulders and chest, even from a distance, radiated doom. Unsure how to react, but sure I didn’t want to observe the worst, I slowed my pace to a walk.
‘Haallo!’ I yelled over the noise of the river.
My voice took some time to reach him. Seconds later his head jolted, awoken from his reverie.
‘Hey! Hallo!’ I called again, holding my arm out straight, palm raised like a marshal ordering traffic to halt at an intersection.
I backtracked a few metres on the trail, away from the shadow of the covered bridge, so he could see me more clearly. A path wove up through the woods, connecting the valley to the route higher up. I abandoned my initial course and ran up the steep slope, losing sight of the man somewhere above me. At the top I turned onto the pavement and hurried towards the road onto the bridge, gulping painful breaths of chilly air, heart pounding.
The man had been out of my sight for a few minutes. I dreaded what I might find on my arrival, scenarios crowding in my mind, along with thoughts of how I might help this person. As I strode onto the bridge, I saw with relief he was still there on the pavement. Fear kept my eyes connected to the lone figure. If I looked away for even a second, he might leap stealthily over the edge. Holding my gaze on him would hopefully secure him to the bridge.
‘Hallo…’ I called more softly, my voice drowned by the sound of the rushing water in the Lorze below. I walked steadily along the pavement towards him. He didn’t seem to have heard me.
‘Grüezi, hallo,’ I said again.
With a flick of his head, he leaned back, bent his knees, and looked ahead.
‘No!’ The gunshot abruptness of my shout broke his concentration. My voice ricocheted off the concrete wall of the bridge. He stopped mid-sway, eyes wide.
My stomach clenched involuntarily as I glanced down into the gorge, when moments before I had been staring up out of it. I felt foolish, not knowing what to say. It seemed like a different world up here. As I approached within talking distance, I greeted him in my broken German, still breathing heavily.
‘Um, good morning… Beautiful, hey?’ I swept my arm about me.
What a stupid thing to say. My voice sounded different without the echo of space between us. The words sounded so absurd, and a nervous laugh escaped before I could stop it.
He looked at me angrily, but remained silent, perhaps vaguely surprised that someone had addressed him in a foreign language. Or surprised anyone had talked to him at all in this country where complete strangers rarely struck up a conversation beyond a cursory passing greeting. I reeled at the wave of visual resentment. Then his eyes settled on my face, and his features softened.
‘Do you speak English?’ I asked. The man nodded. He was still leaning backwards, hands gripping the railing. Please. Don’t. Jump.
He was a little taller than me. His steel-grey hair was raked back on his head as though he had been running his fingers through it repeatedly. His coat flapped open to reveal a smart navy suit, Hugo Boss maybe. I looked down to the pavement expecting to see a briefcase at his feet. He looked away. I desperately needed him to turn back, keep eye contact.
‘I… I’m sorry, but I had this strange feeling you were considering jumping off the bridge.’ I desperately hoped my assessment had been false.
‘I am,’ he said.
O my stars! What a grand opening. Thank you so much, Louise, for sharing. I see my chocolate box view of Switzerland may need some tweaking 🙂
Those Swiss Alps are rather fab. See you next week for more inspirations.
This year I’m sharing some bookish ideas for end-of-year gifts, for yourself or others.
I recently heard society philanthropist Lady Primrose Potter interviewed. She’s an interesting person. One comment that stayed with me was that if you love something and you want it to last, do everything your power to support it.
We all have different amounts of power.
Lady Primrose is an important patron of the arts in a number of fields. While I don’t have that kind of might, I can give my love to books in other ways.
I buy books, I read books, I review books, I recommend books, and I do my best to help fellow authors with purchases, reviews and shares. I know how much effort goes into writing.
But buying books costs money
Which is wonderful if you have it. If you don’t, you can truly support books (and authors) for FREE – see the tips at the end of this post. It all helps, truly!
Books to Buy
There are so many good books out there! If you need help deciding which book to buy for a particular person, I recommend that you check out the reviews and recommendations from the independent booksellers such as
You will be able to see my short reviews and ratings of the 89 books that I’ve read this year, and the 300+ that I’ve rated on this site since joining in Dec 2016. Feel free to follow my reviews on Goodreads into 2021 and beyond!
You choose the source: e-books are of course online, and print copies can be found via online retailers, department stores, OR YOUR HEROIC LOCAL BOOKSHOP.
My courageous local bookstore is Benns Books of Bentleigh. They supported me throughout lockdown with local deliveries to my door, yay. Their excellent Christmas Gift Guide is here.
Free bookish gifts for authors
Finally, some suggestions to cheer up the writers in your life with some free love.
Use the local library, because authors get a tiny percentage of a cent for each borrowing.
Suggest titles for your local library to buy, because authors will get a little percentage of the cover price for every sale.
Use a free reading platform to rate the books you read, such as Goodreads, BookBub, or Voracious Readers. If you happen to ever buy anything on Amazon, you can probably post a star rating or even a review on there too. These days, ratings and reviews help sell books.
Share the books you have. The author won’t get another sale but they will get another reader, maybe with a word of mouth recommendation or a library borrowing of their other books. Chances are that the person you lent the book to wouldn’t have bought it or even found it on their own.
Recommend our books. You have access to readers that your writer friends will never meet, especially if you are a member of a book club. More readers is always better for writers, even if it isn’t more book sales. See above: borrowing from the library helps support us too!
Invite us to talk to your book club, especially virtually in these times of virus. We would love to go viral online! Zoom me in, Scotty.
Drop us a line. Let an author know, by email or tweet or Facebook follow, that you enjoyed our books. One of the most satisfying email I ever received was from a reader who told me that my book The Stars in the Night had helped her understand her grandfather, a veteran of WWI. This actually made me cry. All my efforts were worthwhile!
Share our Beautiful Covers: Instagram and TikTok are great platforms for sharing lovely images of the books you’ve enjoyed. #booklove, #bookstagram, #amreading are all useful. Oh, pro tip: if you wish to tag, please tag the title or the publisher, not the individual author. Some algorithms will demote a post that tags individuals as a friend-share, not a customer recommendation. Hey ho.
Enjoy Reading. Keep it going. Like many other industries, publishing has struggled with new releases this year. Online launches sell about a quarter of the books sold in real-life launches. Love your books and pass on the love.
Happy Reading! I look forward to seeing you in 2021.
Here at the end of 2020, we’ve all know that nothing can be taken for granted. Remember when self-publishing was a last resort for the would-be writer? These days, self-publishing is thriving industry that brings more books to life.
The best self-published books sit happily alongside those that arrived on the shelf, or in the online store, via a more traditional pathway.
However, the best books from all sources are well-written, well-edited, and well-presented. We all know when we find such a book, and we all know the disappointment of starting to read something that doesn’t quite make the grade.
Whether you want to self-publish or you are preparing to submit your manuscript to a traditional or an independent publisher, you need great editing. True, you can do your own editing. But no amount of hard work on your part can replace the fresh eyes of an outside editor.
Today’s post features some guidelines from Desiree Villena from Reedsy, an author support service for self-publishing – check out their website for loads of free resources as well as opportunities to purchase professional services for your writing.
Thank you Desiree for sharing these tips!
Are you ready for an editor?
Desiree: In all the excitement of putting the final full stop on the page, the temptation to send the first finished draft of your manuscript to an editor can be all too real. Resist the urge! Yes, working with an editor will take your book from an excellent piece of writing to a professional body of work that you and your readers will be happy with. But getting the most out of your editor means hiring them at the right time, when you and your work are ready for it.
So how do you know when that time arrives? In this blog post, we’ll discuss three questions you should ask yourself to determine if you’re ready to hire an editor and take the leap forward on your publishing journey. Let’s dive right in with question #1.
1. Did I do my research?
Determining what kind of editor to hire requires careful research into what various editors offer and how they work. Editing is an umbrella term for the multiple processes that take place at different stages and address different things in your manuscript. These are roughly split into three categories:
Developmental editing, the first stage, takes a wide-zoom look at your story, focusing on broad issues such as overall narrative, plot, and characters.
Copy editing comes after the larger issues have been ironed out and looks at your work line by line, checking for coherence, consistency, and grammatical correctness.
Proofreading is the final big step before your book goes to print, or if it’s an ebook, before it’s formatted and put online. A proofreader looks for minor spelling and grammar errors and any formatting issues that might have slipped through the cracks.
Knowing the differences between each of these means you will a) hire the right sort of editor in the first place and b) have your manuscript sufficiently polished before you pass it along!
Genre and market
Besides what stage of editing your book is in, it’s also important to consider its genre and other niche requirements. Each editor will have expertise in a specific area, e.g. non-fiction or children’s books. It’s important that you hire someone whose knowledge applies specifically to the genre or form of your work.
What’s your vision?
You also want to make sure that the editor you choose understands your vision for your work and meshes with your creative style. It can be incredibly draining and frustrating to battle someone who is trying to take your work in a completely different direction than you’d intended. So if your gut says no, don’t force it! You’re sure to find a better match in someone else.
2. Have I fixed all the problems I can?
Rereading a manuscript you’ve already spent weeks, months, or even years poring over probably isn’t your idea of fun. But working with an editor is a costly process, especially if you’re starting with a full-fledged developmental edit! Therefore your editor’s time (and your money) should be put toward addressing problems where their expertise will be most valuable. That means you need to fix the base-level problems yourself.
Start with the obvious, making sure your spelling and grammar are all accurate. Also look out for things such as inconsistent descriptions and any of your “bad habits”, such as the overuse of a particular word or phrase.
Of course, having spent so long buried in your work, many issues will be invisible to you as an author, at least at first. How can you spot the issues to address before you hire an editor?
Here are three quick tips :
Step away from your work. Putting your work away for a while after you finish allows you to approach it with a fresher set of critical eyes when you return to edit.
Listen to your book read aloud, or read it aloud yourself. When you read in your head, your mind may “autocorrect” things. So you end up missing errors. When you read aloud, you are much more aware of whether what you have written actually makes sense and how it all flows.
Make use of alpha and beta readers. Alpha readers, who read your rough draft, and beta readers, who read your revised draft, can give you some great, useful notes. If you don’t trust your own eyes or simply feel you could use some third-party feedback, reach out to your friends, family, and writer friends to spot any initial problems.
Self-editing may feel tedious, but if you haven’t at least given it your best go, you probably aren’t ready to hire an editor. And don’t worry! If you give yourself a decent break first, you’ll find it’s more fun than you’d think!
3. Can I handle the constructive criticism?
The first time you open up your work, your heart and soul, to a fresh set of eyes may be one of the scariest moments of the writing process. Though you are probably your own worst critic, the idea of someone else voicing that criticism is likely to make your stomach turn.
The last thing you want is for a comment to knock your confidence down so far that you lose faith in your work. If this is a struggle for you, remind yourself that you are hiring an editor because you believe in your work. You want it to be the best version of itself, and an editor’s suggestions will only make it better! Any critical comments they make aren’t personal digs, but genuine efforts to help your work reach its full potential.
When it comes down to it, it’s going to be easiest to publish and promote a book that you are truly proud of, a book you know is the best it can possibly be. A well-chosen editor joining you at the right moment will help you achieve this. Once you can answer a confident yes to the three main questions in this post, you are ready to hire an editor and bring your book a little bit closer to that all-exciting book launch!
I’m pleased to say that my mind has been more enjoyably occupied with a Good Book!
Marianne Holmes has returned with an engrossing thriller called All Your Little Lies. This is the story of a woman who wants to help, but is so enmeshed in the lies at the heart of her life that she becomes hopelessly entangled in the investigation of a child’s disappearance.
Annie seems incapable of telling the truth. Socially awkward, she live alone and clings on to her one friend in a leech-like manner, terrified of being completely isolated from the rest of the world.
Annie is unable to form close relationships, and everything she says comes out wrong. Excruciatingly so! At first I wondered whether this was simply an awkward personality trait of hers, but I later discovered that her personal history has just as much impact on how she relates to the world. This story’s a fascinating look into the effects of crime on personal relationships and emotional health.
When Annie seems to be the last person who might have seen a child who has disappeared, her own secrets muddy the truth about what she does know and what she should admit.
This novel starts dramatically, and to me grippingly, with Annie inside her boss’s flat. At first I thought she was looking at her partner’s things. No! Stalker-like, she moves around Paul’s place touching everything and generally pretending that she lives there.
That’s the start.
Events get much more complicated from then on, as we learn more and more about the Annie of today, and also her hidden past.
I found this book an intriguing exploration of a complex case and the after effects of tragedy on lives many years down the track. The events past and present are literally life-changing and gave me much to think about. I’ll be reflecting on this story for a long time.
A wonderfully engrossing read.
Thank you to Agora Books for the opportunity to read and advanced copy, and congratulations to Marianne Holmes on this excellent follow up to her first novel A Little Bird Told Me (see my review here).
About the Book
ALL YOUR LITTLE LIES
When everything you say is a lie, can you even remember the truth?
Annie lives a quiet, contained, content life. She goes to work. She meets her friend. She’s kind of in a relationship. She’s happy. Not lonely at all.
If only more people could see how friendly she is — how eager to help and please. Then she could tick “Full Happy Life” off her list. But no one sees that side of Annie, and she can’t understand why.
That all changes the night Chloe Hills disappears. And Annie is the last person to see her.
This is her chance to prove to everybody that she’s worth something. That is, until she becomes a suspect.
Drenched in atmosphere and taut with tension, All Your Little Lies takes a hard look at why good people do bad things.
Climate fiction (cli-fi) and eco-fiction are having a moment. Quite a long moment. Our concerns about the natural world, our impact on it and its impact on us, are thrown into stark relief by extreme weather, immense wild fires, and the global pandemic.
Only recently Jan Mazzoni discovered that – surprise, surprise – there IS a genre where her writing fits perfectly. It’s eco-fiction. Writing fiction that combines her passion for the natural world with a gripping tale for many years, Jan’s delighted to find a place where the stories she so loves to tell are completely at home.
Not that eco-fiction is new. In many ways, eco-fiction is much like any other genre – historical, thrillers, even romances – because every story needs the protagonist to go through some kind of hellish situation before reaching the (hopefully) happy ending.
As Jan says, eco-fiction just tends to have all this happen in prettier locations.
A yearning for wilderness encouraged Jan to move to a little house hidden in a large, rambling garden on the edge of Exmoor, a windy, bleak but beautiful part of the UK. Here, with husband George and four Romanian rescue dogs, she leads the simple life she’s always craved. She calls herself a recluse-in-training. As an only child she long ago grew up living inside the stories in her own head, and is quite happy there. She can control that world. And when the ideas that come seem like they’re worth putting down on paper, she retreats to the shed at the top of the garden and taps away at the PC. Sadly the dogs don’t usually go with her. It’s too cold up there.
Welcome, Jan, I’m so pleased to speak with you about The Snow Fox Diaries, and about your writing in general. Can you tell me when you decided that you ARE a writer?
JAN: I can’t remember when I haven’t wanted to write. As a toddler I cuddled books instead of toys. I made up stories – usually about animals, I started my animal rights campaigning early! – and made everyone borrow them. Then I became a real librarian. But that didn’t involve writing of course so I went on to become an advertising copywriter which I loved. It was a real learning experience. But I’m easily bored. So next I tried my hand at cookbooks (vegetarian), dabbled in journalism, wrote magazine fiction, a book of short stories. And finally two novels – one of which was The Snow Fox Diaries, which I’ve revised and am relaunching right now.
Is writers’ block a thing for you?
No. I’m lucky, that’s something I’ve never experienced. I love sitting down at my desk – feel a buzz of excitement as I switch on my laptop, I mean a real buzz, like I’ve just flicked a swich inside my head too. Probably goes back to the days when I was a copywriter. If you got writers’ block you got fired.
That’s a bit extreme! You and I first met through a discussion about covers. Could you tell me your thoughts about book covers.
Again, this may go back to my advertising days. For me the cover is like the box that a product goes into. Would you want to buy it if the box was plain brown cardboard? Or if it didn’t at least hint at what’s inside? Same with a book – I can’t imagine having to choose books if they had blank covers. I couldn’t do it. It’s my one problem with using a kindle.
It follows I’ve been very much involved with the covers of all my books. The Snow Fox Diaries originally had a stunning cover that was, in fact, a blue fox as we couldn’t get a picture of an albino (yes, they really are that rare). I wanted to change the balance with this revision, emphasising the moors on which the story is set as a character, while the the fox becomes more mysterious, elusive. We found a moody, misty shot that captures this unique environment perfectly. And then – a miracle – I found a photo of a real albino fox. Tucked on one side, she’s tiny, so you can’t see that she has pink eyes. But I assure she has.
I don’t have a favourite. I like to try new things – something that’s had a good review or has an intriguing title. I’ll read a book just because I love the cover! I do have phases though. Right now I’m into translations. What better way to travel without leaving home? Just visited Poland (Olga Tokarczuk) . Next I’m off to Japan (Takashi Hiraide).
Reading is one way to travel these days! Now, you say that The Snow Fox Diaries is eco-fiction. What is your definition of eco-fiction?
Eco-fiction (also called eco-lit) has been around forever but it’s only just becoming popular. Put simply, it’s fiction that has a strong environmental theme woven through it. It can be any kind of story – horror, love, family saga, YA. My niche is examining the link between humans and animals, the effect one can have on the other, both good and bad. But – as you’ll know from your own growing following – dystopian fiction is all the rage right now, which isn’t surprising with the way the world is being trashed. I love reading it but couldn’t write it. I’d find it too frightening.
I think dystopia and eco-lit both have a lot to say in the twenty-first century, and both link strongly to fact. How much research is involved in your writing?
I was probably researching for The Snow Fox Diaries before I even thought of the book! I helped at a small wildlife hospital, which meant taking in casualties and then nursing them in my own home. It’s one of those experiences that sounds more fun than it is. Baby birds have a terrible tendency to be doing OK, and then to just out of the blue drop down dead. Squirrels bite. They’re through to the bone instantly – and it hurts! Hedgehogs were a favourite, such weird little snuffly creatures. Even so, I recall one summer evening out on the patio with a sickly hedgehog on my lap, picking off maggots one by one, and wondering what on earth I was doing.
I’ve never actually worked with foxes though I’ve spent a lot of time around them. But when I heard the true story that inspired me to write this novel, I already had a lot of background info about caring for wildlife. And I live on Exmoor, so where else would I set it?
I think you’re a perfect match for the story! If I wanted to interview one of your characters, who would you suggest?
It would have to be Kevin. In the book he hangs around the edge of the story, keeps himself to himself, at least until he’s reluctantly drawn into the action. Even then he doesn’t say much, and never lets on what he’s thinking or feeling. Could be very little of course. Or he could one of those complex characters who are full of surprises. I’d love you to interview him because then you could tell me what makes him tick.
Ah! A character keeping secrets from his creator. I love it. What’s your writing goal over the next twelve months?
I like to keep a number of projects going at once. I’m working on three right now. A book of short stories (yes, that link between people and animals again). A novel combining fact with fiction, based on the life of (English etcher) Eileen Soper who was a brilliant wildlife writer and illustrator, a recluse, eccentric of course. She deserves some recognition. And I’ve been approached about making The Snow Fox Diaries into a radio play/podcast, which could work brilliantly. Capturing the moors in sound would be a wonderful challenge. I’ve already found the perfect music for the opening scene. It’s by Sting, called Cold Song, (from Purcell’s opera King Arthur) and it really makes you tingle. Now all I have to do is get Sting’s permission.
Maybe another version! Sounds a perfect choice, though – very English and snowy. Thanks for chatting today, Jan, and good luck with all those projects.
When passion becomes obsession, anything can happen…
Chic, intelligent, highly motivated and unexpectedly unemployed. AND soon to be forty. Not a situation Katie Tremain finds easy to cope with, especially as it gives her time to notice that she and husband Ben seem to get on better together when they’re apart. So when the opportunity to escape the city and work on a dilapidated house on Exmoor comes her way, how can she refuse?
Then, one misty morning, she comes across something so bizarre that she can’t believe her eyes. A fox with fur so white it sparkles, like snow. A very rare albino vixen.
From that moment Katie’s days – and her life – change completely. And as the fate of her faltering marriage becomes entwined with that of the fox, Katie must decide just what she’s prepared to risk to save this beautiful but vulnerable creature.
I’ve asked Nat to help me in the past, and loved her input. Nat introduced me at my latest book launch (back in 2019, when we had actual book launches!)
Today I’m asking Natalie to share some advice for creative people about the business of their creativity.
It’s not enough, as we know, to write a book. For example, the book needs a pitch and its author needs a bio. There is a business attached to storytelling.
In today’s blog, Nat is going to take us through some exercises to help us discover who we are – what values stand behind our creativity. Nat also shares some activities to help writers define who they are and what they have to share.
THE BUSINESS OF WRITING
Writing for business is not the same as writing for creativity or self-expression.
As an author or writer you’re probably well versed in the latter. But if you want to get those words out into the world, at some point, you might need to think of yourself as a creative business.
That means developing a profile and talking about yourself with a brand story. Which might feel like sticking pins in your eyes. So, here’s a few tips for when you get stuck developing your bio or preparing the perfect pitch.
Accept the challenge
Talking about yourself to sell your work is difficult. Possibly unnatural. If you’re struggling to write about you, understand that that this block is not a reflection of your writing capabilities. It’s the tricky human dance between hubris and humility. Many people feel challenged by this task, so acknowledge the difficulty and give yourself time and space to have a go.
Brain dump words
Let your ego off the leash. Without overthinking it jot down an intuitive list of words that describe your work, or how you’d like to be thought of by others. Come back to the list. Feel into the words and whittle them down. Circle the most important 30. Then cull it to your top 20. Be the ruthless editor of your own story. Repeat, to get it down to three words. Use these as themes for your bio.
Draft multiple bios
If it starts to feel like you’re pigeon-holing yourself, try writing in different styles. Write a free range playful version. Then go for bureaucratic and perfunctory (a few games of buzzword bingo will introduce you to the industry lingo). You can also give yourself word length exercises. Write 50, 150 and 300 word versions. Deposit them in your bio bank, then access the appropriate version to fit the context.
Nail your narrative
Distil your work into 30 words. Nail your narrative in the most succinct way. Another option is to pitch it to a room full of ten year olds (real or pretend). Get over any idea that this is ‘dumbing down’. Conveying your work simply does not detract from the complexity of the ideas. This exercise can help you to step back out of your mind forest to see the wood for the trees.
Stage an interview
Sometimes we need prompts or an outsider to help us see what’s buried below the surface. Call in a friend or colleague to ‘interview’ you about your writing style, background or project. The ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘how’, ‘when’ and ‘where’ questions are useful starting points. But it’s often the follow-up questions or conversation that strips away the layers to uncover a gold nugget of wisdom or insight.
Create the momentum
You know how to plot a narrative arc or chart character development. So you’ve got directional skills. You can map possibilities and assess which routes to take. See what happens when your writing career becomes the subject and you put those transferrable skills to work. Make decisions about what you want to achieve and determine what’s needed to get there. Give yourself goals and deadlines.
Some folks don’t want to consider themselves business people, because it’s at odds with the noble artist motif. But if you want to find an audience or make a living as a writer, you might want to get over that. You don’t need to compromise your integrity to tout your wares. It’s just a different type of writing that requires a shift in mindset, a commitment to your work, and a little bit of practice.
Thank you so much, Nat, for these pointers on business writing for creatives. That was – and will be – really useful! More power to you.