This is a blog you’ll enjoy if you like writing! I write for magazines in the UK and abroad and I am also the Agony Aunt for Writers’ Forum magazine.



Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Where is your story set?

Settings are incredibly important for fiction. They are where our characters live and they are where we are going to take our readers. So for me, it’s important to choose a setting I know well. The setting for my latest series of novellas, The Reading Group, was a seaside town in Devon called Little Sanderton. The nearest big town to Little Sanderton is Exeter which is 21 miles away and is mentioned frequently throughout the Reading Group.

I should confess here that Little Sanderton doesn’t actually exist but if you were to look up Branscombe, which is in Devon, you’ll have an idea of where I had in mind. When Jojo and Kate go walking to talk about the breakdown of Kate’s marriage in the February, novella they are walking on Branscombe Beach.

Serena’s house where the Reading Group meet each month, is set on a clifftop close by. So is Anne Marie’s father’s house.

The beauty of choosing an imaginary setting is that you can’t mistakenly libel anyone or upset anyone, but you can go and look at actual houses and base your fictitious ones upon them. I tend to use the outsides of real houses and make up what’s on the inside. (So far, no one has actually let me in to have a look around their house, but you never know!)

I also tend to set my stories in places I love. I have some very fond memories of holidaying in Branscombe, which is not a million miles away from where I live. I have walked along several sections of the coast path and spent many a happy day in the local seaside towns and villages, not to mention restaurants. (All in the name of research, obviously!)

Setting a series of novellas in this area was a delight. It meant I could go back there in my mind. Skip back to this idyllic place and take my readers with me. Not a bad way to earn a living, is it!

The latest edition of The Reading Group – April – comes out today 🙂

Click here to buy or get further information.

The Reading Group, all covers

 

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Posted in Settings, The Reading Group, Tips on writing, Writing | Tagged | 3 Comments

Genre novels – what are they and how long are they?

Publishers and agents like to categorise novels into genre. Partly so they know which shelf to put your book on at the library/bookshop. Genre refers to the type of story you’re writing. Here are some of the most popular genres and some very ballpark figures on how long they are.

  • Romance: quite a broad spectrum, ranging from Mills & Boon category romance (Approx 55,000 words) to more mainstream romance. (Approx 90,000).
  • Thriller: covers crime, psychological, cosy, political. (Approx 90.000).
  • Historical: Period stories. (Can be 120,000 plus).
  • Sagas: Multigenerational stories. (Can be 120,000 plus).
  • Fantasy/Sci fi: Includes other worlds, past, present and future. (Can be 120,000 plus).
  • Timeslip: (Can be 120,000 plus).
  • Erotica: Includes all genres, from mainstream to niche. (55,000 plus).
  • Literary: (practically any length – depending on publisher).
  • Commercial Women’s Fiction: a catch all for anything that doesn’t come under another category. (80,000 plus).

I should also mention children’s and YA which isn’t a genre exactly but is a law unto itself. Length depends on age group and publisher.

The above list is not exhaustive. It’s simply meant as a very general guide. Publishers will usually state what lengths and genre types they are interested in receiving.

Digital publishing means that there is a great deal more flexibility than there used to be because the cost of printing doesn’t govern the length of a novel. Many publishers today will consider novels from 55,000 upwards and this was once thought to be too short (except for category romance).

It’s usually easier to sell a novel that fits into a genre because publishers see the market as being more defined. Readers of sci-fi like to read sci-fi. Readers of crime like to read crime. However there are, of course, elements of romance in most of the other categories. It’s hard to avoid as it’s so much a part of the human condition!

A true cross genre novel, for example, a psychological thriller cross fantasy tends to be much harder to sell.

Also, interestingly, although publishers don’t want to buy them, it’s very often a cross genre novel that will become an out of left field bestseller. Fifty Shades of Grey was (in my opinion) category romance plus bondage! Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke was historical plus magic/fantasy.

As writers it’s probably better to know our genre and try to stay somewhere within it. However, I also think that we should write what we feel most passionate about and not follow too many rules. Phew! Did I mention it was complicated!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Posted in Genre, selling your book, Writing | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Writing The End First – Do you write chronologically? Or not?

I can’t believe how long it is since I wrote a post! It’s been mad lately. I’ve been writing the last part of my series, The Reading Group.  Part Five was the Summer Holiday. Blimey, that was definitely the trickiest. Partly because this novella had more than one viewpoint. Partly because it was the culmination, as well as being a standalone novella, of the series. The deadline is in two days time. I’ve just sent it off to my agent and publisher, simultaneously. I managed to mess up my shoulder with RSI towards the end of the novella. I was so immersed in the work that I didn’t realise I was hurting my shoulder until it had practically seized up.  Top Tip, take regular breaks.

Anyway, that’s not what this is about. How do you write your stories? Long or short? I have always written chronologically, but I did something different on this one. I wrote the beginning, then I wrote the ending.  I wrote the middle last.   This had some advantages that had never occurred to me before.

  • Because I knew the ending, I knew the relevance of every single scene prior to it.  Usually I don’t know this until I’ve finished. Then I go back and revise. I think this made the middle much sharper. It was a bit like doing a jigsaw. I had the framework so the middle was much easier to write.
  • I think it was probably slightly quicker.
  • It also gave me a lot more time to reflect on the ending. Because as I built towards it, my subconscious, which I rely on so heavily, was busy enhancing bits of it. So by the time I got there for the second time I knew exactly what needed editing.

Will I do it again? Yes, I think I might. Do I recommend it? Yes.

Reading Group - Bookends 2

The Reading Group January, February and March are all out now. I would love to know what you think of them if you’ve read them.

I’d also love to know how you write. Chronologically, or not? Please do comment.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Posted in Book Deals, Endings, Inspiration, plotting, The Reading Group, Tips on writing, Writing | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

WRITING GOALS and the Rule of Three!

Do you, by any chance, have a New Year Resolution that involves writing? This idea might help you to keep it.

The Rule of Three is one of the most powerful principles I have ever learned. With thanks to Jack Canfield who is a motivational speaker in the US. All you’ll need is a notepad and pen, did you get one for Christmas? If you didn’t, a reporter’s notepad from the newsagents will do. Or just flip up a new document on your word processor.

  • Take a blank page and write your goal at the top of it – which can be anything. Make sure it’s specific though. For example, write a piece of Flash Fiction and send it to a competition. Or, get a feature published in a magazine. Or perhaps you’re thinking big and your goal is to write a 90,000 word psychological thriller. It doesn’t matter: Just commit your goal to paper.
  • Underneath your goal write the next three steps you will take towards it. For example if you want to write Flash Fiction. 1: find a flash fiction competition. 2: Read previous winners. 3: Make a list of possible subjects to write. Or, in the case of the feature. 1: Buy a copy of publication you are aiming for. 2: Establish which features are written by freelancers. 3: Work on a proposal for your feature and send it to the editor.
  • Next, split your piece of paper into days of the week. Under each day, write the next three things you will do to move your goal forward.   As it’s a writing goal many of them will be doing the actual writing. So you may find your later goals look like this. 1. Write the opening paragraph, 2. make a list of possible titles. 3. Edit previous day’s work. Etc.
  • Commit to doing the 3 tasks you’ve set for yourself for at least ONE WEEK. This can take you a considerable way on small goals. Probably past completion. On bigger goals you may be motivated enough to carry on.

Top Tip to help you make this work

Don’t overstretch yourself. Don’t commit to writing 1000 words of your novel every day for a week if you know you don’t have time. Your rule of three can be tiny things. On a busy day your three things may be to write three paragraphs that day. Or three sentences if you like! The point is that you MUST do the three thing you’ve written in your notepad daily. A continual, concerted daily effort is incredibly powerful. The most magnificent castle begins with the laying of a single brick! OK, this picture isn’t a castle, it’s the Fishguard BayHotel in Pembrokeshire! But it’s certainly a castle for writers twice a year. See The Writer’s Holiday. which I highly recommend by the way!

Where was I?fishguard

Ah yes, I use the rule of three on a regular basis in all of my work. It’s brilliant for writing projects. Small and large. It’s also brilliant for promotional work if you’re trying to promote a book, for example.

My January goal in case you’re interested, is to write the next novella in the series of The Reading Group, which is my current project. I will write 2000 words a day, weekdays, 1000 words at weekends, until I have a first draft.  My commitment is to start at 8.00 a.m. and do nothing else until the 2000 words are done. This is how I wrote the rest of the series.

December, January & February are out now. March is out on 1 January 2017. Yikes, I’d better crack on and write the next one! Do let me know how you get on with your goal too.

The Reading Group, all covers

The Reading Group, all covers

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Posted in Flash Fiction, ideas, Inspiration, Short stories for magazines, The Reading Group, Tips on writing, Woman's Weekly, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

My Top Ten Books for a Reading Group!

Have you ever been in a Reading Group? I haven’t, but I was recently asked for my top ten Reading Group Books – interesting question. It made me think. So I’ve reproduced them here – in reverse order.

Would love to know what yours are too.

10       Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Apparently lots of readers didn’t rate this as much as her first novel, The Time Traveller’s Wife. I loved her debut too, but for me this one was better. A superbly beautiful ghost story, full of what ifs and mystery. It really made me want to visit Highgate Cemetery, which features heavily.

9          A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

This is a very funny novel about two sisters, who don’t usually get on, joining forces against the common enemy. Voluptuous gold digger, Valentina, is trying to ensnare their ageing father. The characters are brilliant. Warm and entertaining.

8          The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time by Mark Haddon

Can I call this a cosy crime? It’s so much more than this. The central character has one of the strongest voices I have ever read. ‘He knows a very great deal about maths and very little about human beings. He loves lists, patterns and the truth. He hates the colours yellow and brown and being touched.’ A beautifully written funny and poignant novel.

7          Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

This novel needs no introduction. I loved this book so much because I was in love with the main character by the end of Chapter One. It breaks so many rules. A plain Jane of a heroine, (I think that expression comes from this novel) a not particularly handsome hero! This is a story about overcoming adversity, about the strength of one woman, and about love.

6          I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith An author best known for 101 Dalmatians possibly? The main character is fabulous. What a strong voice. A beautiful novel, exquisite written. I read in the foreword that it took her years to write. Which stopped me feeling quite so jealous. A lovely novel to curl up with on a winter afternoon.

5          Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella Here is a writer who can made me laugh – even when I’m sitting at the dentist waiting to have a root canal filling. I love all of her books, but for me Twenties Girl is the best. Poignant as well as funny. A tender, rather beautiful ghost story.

4          Any book by P G Wodehouse – I’m currently reading The World of Wodehouse Clergy, which is actually a collection of linked short stories. It’s hilarious. It’s stopping me from sleeping. In a very good way.

3          Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty. A legal thriller that actually stands or falls on its emotion. This book divides opinion. There are some reviewers who say a woman would never act like the main character. Never say never! This was a word of mouth recommendation to me. Always good. One of the reason I loved it so much was because it was controversial.

2          The Book Thief by Markus Susak

            I loved everything about this novel. The language, the characterisation, the story, the humour, the poignancy. I especially loved the character of Hans Uberman. I wish I’d had a father like Hans.

1          Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke I was told to persevere with this book. You could certainly have managed without the first 30,000 or so words and for me, (I can abandon a book after three pages) it was a miracle I read it. But wow. I can’t remember who said it was a masterpiece but I agree with them. A wonderful novel. I grieved when I came to the end.

And as you may or may not know, I’m in the middle of writing a series of novellas called The Reading Group!

The ladies in The Reading Group meet once a month to catch up on each other’s lives to drink red wine, and to discuss the latest gossip – oops, I mean to discuss the latest novel they’ve read!   The first one, December, which introduces the series is a FREE FESTIVE Short Story.  You can download it here. Handy to devour with a mince pie, so I’m told!

The Reading Group, all covers

The Reading Group, all covers

Happy Christmas everyone.  See you on the other side!

love Della xx

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Posted in The Reading Group, Writing | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

A Behind the Scenes Look at The Reading Group

Writing my new series, The Reading Group, is one of the most exciting and challenging things I’ve ever done.   This is partly because I am a panster, not a plotter. When I start writing a story I have no idea how it will develop. I begin with a character who has a problem, and away we go.

The Reading Group, all covers

The Reading Group, all covers

When I began writing these novellas I knew from the outset what kind of stuff was likely to happen. This is because the Reading Group is based on a very simple idea.

Five women in the seaside village of Little Sanderton come together to share their love of reading. Each month they take it in turns to pick a classic novel and each month one of the Reading Group discovers that her life suddenly seems to be running parallel to that month’s novel.

In December the Reading Group choose A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Grace, who’s about to be made homeless is dreading Christmas.

In January they choose Emma by Jane Austen. Anne Marie fancies herself to be a matchmaker, but she’s – erm – not exactly an expert Cupid!

In February they choose Lady Chatterley’s Lover by DH Laurence. Uh oh, Kate’s marriage is on the rocks and she has a hunky builder refurbishing her kitchen. Hold on to your hats, ladies!

Are you beginning to get the picture? Writing to this structure gave me a major advantage:

  1. I knew roughly what the plot of each novella would be. (This was a completely new way of writing for me.)

And two major disadvantages:

  1. I had to fit the plot of a full length novel into 30,000 words.
  2. I had to fit it into the time span of a month!

Phew! Yet ironically it was these very restraints that made the writing such fun. I didn’t want to copy the plot of the novels verbatim – where’s the fun in that! So I took what were, for me, the main elements of these beautiful classic stories and then I played around with them. I wanted to write my own contemporary versions with my own contemporary twists. I hope you like the results.

You can download December for FREE. In fact it would help me enormously if you would download December if you have a spare second. Because it will give my series more visibility. Thank you so much.

January, February, March and April are all currently available for 99p. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Posted in Book Deals, The Reading Group | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The Long and Winding Road – to a Book Deal!

‘Whatever the struggle – continue the climb – it may only be one step to the summit.’
Diana Westlake
This is a quote I keep over my desk – because blimey it’s so true of writing.

The road to success is littered with rejection slips as we all know. I could paper St Paul’s Cathedral with mine! I still get dozens. Yet I had my first short story acceptance letter in 1987 – I can’t believe that was almost 30 years ago and I had no idea back then that it would one day be my career. Not just my career, but also one of the best things in my life. My raison d’être if you like and yes it really is that important.

I’m writing this on the train. I’m about to go and meet my agent, my new publisher and my publicist for lunch. I’ve just been signed by a major publisher, Quercus, who are owned by Hachette. In the interests of being ‘cool’ I was going to try and pretend this isn’t as exciting as it sounds, but I can’t because it wouldn’t be true. I have dreamed of this day happening for thirty years.
To be signed with a big publisher was, and always has been, my number one goal.

I have four novels out there, several books on writing, ten or so novellas, even a memoir about a dog, oh and a fair few short stories too. I’ve been making a living from writing for 16 years. It’s been hard work. According to Malcolm Gladwell you have to practice a craft for 10,000 hours before you can become a master of it. I’ve certainly done that. But for many years my number one goal eluded me.

So how did it come about?

Earlier this year my first agent, Judith Murdoch got in touch. I’d just sent her another manuscript.
“Not this one,” she said on the phone, “but I’ve got a proposition for you. One of my editors is looking for a writer. Can you write to order?”
“I can do backward somersaults at the same time if they like?” I said.
I wrote a sample chapter.
They loved it.
I wrote the rest of the novel – or as it turned out, three linked novellas.
They loved them.
So here I am on the train to London.
Was it luck? Was I just in the right place at the right time?
Yes, a little bit of luck, I think. But it wouldn’t have happened if I’ve ever given up trying. Would it? So that’s my very top tip for writers.

Never Give Up. Whatever the struggle, continue the climb, it may be only one step to the summit

Lunch was brilliant by the way. Nothing beats a publisher quoting scenes from your book that made them laugh. The penne arrabiata was nice too!

The novellas that I wrote will be published under the overall title of The Reading Group.  The first three, January, February and March will be out on 1 December 2016. They are available for pre order now.  But if you’d like to get a little better acquainted with the characters before deciding whether to buy then why not download the FREE short story (December) and see what you think.

December

December

Here are the first three covers. So far there are six in the series. I think they’re beautiful. What do you think?

January

January

March

February

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Posted in Book Deals, Inspiration, News, Writing | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

Creating Characters – How well do you know your imaginary people?

social media image with hammerSometimes a character comes into my head fully formed. Sometimes they are shadowy. Sometimes they are shy like real people and I have to get to know them slowly.  Interviewing them is good.

These 21 questions are one of my favourite ways of interviewing them. I may not know the answers, but the character often will. Does that sound mad? Probably, but I’ve never claimed to be completely sane.  I’ve used these questions, or variations of them, with dozens of students.  So I thought I’d reproduce them here. Hope it’s helpful.

  1. Name, age & sex.
  2.  Brief physical appearance. List 3 things.
  3.  Job.
  4. What is your character’s current problem?
  5. Personality type – extrovert, introvert bossy etc.
  6. Where does your character live? Flat, house, rural, city etc.
  7. What, if anything, would make your character laugh or cry?
  8. What is your character’s soft spot/weakness?
  9. What is your character really good at?
  10. What is your character afraid of?
  11. What would make your character furious?
  12. If your character had one wish, what would it be?
  13. How does your character view money?
  14. Does your character have any prejudices? If so, what?
  15. What are your character’s main qualities?
  16. What are your character’s main faults?
  17. Does your character get on with their parents? Siblings? Friends? Neighbours?
  18. What is your character’s biggest secret?
  19. What is the most defining experience your character has ever had?
  20. Who is the last person your character argued with and why?
  21. Summarise your character in a sentence. Pick 3 significant things. E.g. Dora is 82, wears mismatching clothes on purpose and likes to shock her rather pompous son.

One of my favourite things about this particular character sheet is that it doubles up as a plot creation tool. For example Q4 is the basis of a short story or longer piece of fiction.

Q18 is quite good too, when it comes to plotting. Q19 is one of my favourites when it comes  to novels and getting the psychology right.

If you can do Q21 you will probably know your character pretty well.

Happy Writing.

***

My next course, How to Write and Sell Short Stories is at a new venue. Shaftesbury, Dorset. The course will be small – a maximum of 10. (The venue is small.)  It will run on Saturday 12 November between 10.00 and 4.00 and costs £45.  This course is suitable for beginners as well as experienced writers and I hope students will go away with the beginning of a short story, the ending of a short story, (hopefully the same one!) and a good idea of how to develop the middle. Please email me via this website (or leave a comment) if you would like to book a place.

If you would like to know more about writing short stories, please check out my book, The Short Story Writer’s Toolshed. £2.49 for Kindle. £4.99 in paperback.

 

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Posted in ideas, Inspiration, Tips on writing, Writing, Writing exercises | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Writing Courses – are they worth it?

teaching at fishguard

Teaching at Fishguard Writers’ Holiday

There are so many writing courses around these days. Universities run them, publishers run them, magazines run them. In fact every Tom, Dick and Harry (if you’ll excuse the cliche) runs writing courses. Even the smallest town has a literary festival. But are they worth spending your hard earned cash on?

In my opinion, that depends on what you hope to gain. So before you begin, establish what you want and choose the right course for you.

I started my writing career by joining an Adult Education Class called Writing for Profit and Pleasure back in 1987. My tutor knew about getting published. Jean Dynes,who currently writes a column for Writers’ Forum as Barbara Dynes, was already well published.

  • Top Tip Number One: Choose Credibility
  • If you want to get published, get someone to teach you who is well published themselves. It helps if their students are too. I was inspired by another student in the class who had got published since joining (she’d just sold her 27th short story that year).
  • Top Tip Number Two: Choose Expertise
  • If you’re aiming to get published in a magazine and they run a course about getting published in their magazine, then go. They are the best people to teach you. I teach for Woman’s Weekly Magazine in London, Manchester and Glasgow, alongside their fiction editor, Gaynor Davies.

    Woman's Weekly at Blue Fin Buildings

    At Woman’s Weekly with Fiction Editor, Gaynor Davies.

  • Top Tip Number: Three Choose longevity.
  • I’ve just come back from the Writers’ Holiday at Fishguard, which is run by the lovely Anne and Gerry Hobbs. This year’s Writers’ Holiday was their 30th! They have a huge repeat rate of students, who can’t resist their courses because they are well organised, the food is fabulous, the locations (Fishguard, Pembrokeshire) is wonderful and the tutors are all working and well published writers. Top marks Anne and Gerry.
  • Anne and Gerry also run a weekend course at Fishguard in February. I’d advise booking as soon as possible if you fancy it because places are limited. I’m teaching the short story course in February 2017  by the way.
  • More information about Anne and Gerry’s courses can be found at Writers’ Holiday.
  • More information about Woman’s Weekly Courses can be found at. Woman’s Weekly Courses. (incidentally that photograph is not of me, but a much fatter imposter, tee tee).
  • More information about my courses is usually on my website, or you can email me. Next week I am running a day course (Saturday 6 August 2016.) Write a short story in a day. (£29 summer special offer, they’re usually £45). Venue Kinson Community Centre. Please email me if you’d like to book. Or leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

Happy Writing!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Posted in Short stories for magazines, Tips on writing, Woman's Weekly, Writing, Writing conferences & schools | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Tips on Writing Flash Fiction

writing Inspiration

writing Inspiration

Flash Fiction is a term that can be applied to anything under 1000 words but more usually it’s shorter. For the purposes of this blog let’s say between 300 and 500 words.

It shouldn’t be anecdotal, i.e. it should still have the elements of a short story (see definition) but I often see Flash that is quite anecdotal so clearly this will depend on the judge. If possible check the previous winners for hints.

My definition of a short story is: a character with a problem, which is resolved by the end in an unexpected way. The character should change in some way by the end of the story.

Flash Fiction must be strong. The following all work well in flash:

  • Twist endings.
  • Very strong characters, especially in a slice of life story.
  • Powerful emotion.
  • Humour if it’s established swiftly and from the outset.
  • Tales with a moral, for example, criminal gets come-uppance.
  • Strong structures that help to carry the story, for example, the story may be headed up in sections such as a diary format or winter, summer, autumn, spring.
  • Strong themes – such as revenge, hope, loss, love.

What doesn’t work?

  •  Anything that’s too complicated. Plots should be simple with one main thread.
  • Too many characters dilute the story. One central character is good.
  • Very long time spans are hard to pull off.
  • A lot of dialogue is hard to fit in. Snippets are good.
  • Likewise too much scene setting won’t work. There isn’t room.
  • Multi viewpoint is hard to pull off. Stick to one character or use a narrative viewpoint.

Flash must have a good hook and it must have a strong end. It’s usually better to write over your target word length and then cut back. It is very good practice for building both your short story skills and editing skills.

Not to mention great fun.

By the way The Morning After the Life Before is 99p today and tomorrow. That’s the sequel to Ice and a Slice, it doesn’t go on promo very often so grab it if you want it.

Thanks for reading.

Della xxx

 

 

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Posted in Flash Fiction, Tips on writing, Writing | Tagged , , | 7 Comments