Monday 27 June 2016

Recently I've been watching... THE AMERICANS and more

My occasional telly round-up :)  Click the series name for more info.

I so looked forward to this, and it lived up to my expectations: series 4 of
The Americans.  It's set in the 1980s, and stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as two Russian spies who live in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington DC, posing as a normal American couple with two children.  One of their close neighbours is an FBI agent...

I watched the whole series over a period of 2 evenings, but you need to start at the beginning.  It's quite low key for series these days, a proper old fashioned spy drama/thriller without a ridiculous amount of car chases, etc; it's just brilliant scripted and acted.  Keri Russell as Elizabeth is fab, another fictional woman I want to be (after Lagertha in Vikings and Michonne in The Walking Dead).  Highly recommended!

*****Five Stars***** 

I just watched the first series of Alone, which is a reality show in which ten men are dropped onto Vancouver Island in British Columbia to survive alone, in winter, amongst cougars, bears and wolves, for 90 days.  I loved this, as I'm fascinated by survival in adverse circumstances.  It's good because there's no annoying presenter; it's all filmed by the contestants themselves.  They have an emergency phone to ring if they want to 'tap out' (ie, if they've had enough).  One wimped out in 12 hours, another on the 2nd day (okay, they did have bears and wolves outside their tents...), but four of them kept going for nearly two months.  One guy made a yurt and a canoe - the difference in their capabilities was amazing.  Definitely watching the next series.  Only downside was that you don't find out what happened afterwards; it would have been nice hearing what the four who really made a go of it thought of it all, and how it affected them when they got home.  You get to see this about the winner, but not the others.

****Four and a half stars**** 

I quite liked The Whispers, about an alien race who invade the minds of the children of important people in the government, etc, in order to manipulate their parents, because the aliens want to take over the planet.  Yes, it sounds pretty silly, but it's good.  The main problem is that so many of the cast are kind of irritating, especially the main female character, Clare, and some of the children are a bit ghastly (though others are very good, in particular Henry, a little sweetie), but I watched a whole series without being made to!

***Three and a half stars*** 

I've watched the first three episodes of New Blood, a new BBC detective show.  It's fairly entertaining and the plot of the first story was good, but it's a bit too self consciously 'twenty-somethings in 21st century London' for me.  A tad lighter than I like, too.  Familiar faces are Mark Addy (Robert Baratheon in GoT) playing the sterotypical old school detective who resents the 'new blood' and wants everything done his way, but then looks an idiot when aforementioned New Blood solves the case, and Anna Chancellor (Duckface in Four Weddings and a Funeral).

***Three Stars*** 

More coming soon.... 

Friday 24 June 2016

DOs and DON'Ts for First Time Novelists

Recently, I clicked on a post on Twitter entitled '21 tips for new writers'.  It was on a writing blog, not a marketing one, but I was appalled to see that the first 15 tips were about establishing your social media presence, your author 'brand', choosing a great cover and blogging about your book as you write it, to create interest for when it's published.  Only at the end were a few sentences about making sure you can actually write in the first place, as though the blogger had remembered to say a few words about the content of the book itself, as an afterthought.

Here's my advice.
I don't mention your author 'brand' once.  
Because it's about writing the novel.  

Dos and don’ts for first time novelists

Twenty-four years ago I thought 'I wonder if I could write a novel?'  This article is for those who’ve recently had the same thought - random pieces of advice for those who are putting finger to laptop key for the first time, taken from my own experience and observation of others’.  I hope it helps!

  • DO read a lot, and when you do so, take notice of why certain passages appeal to you, or bore you.  Be aware of the structure of the story as a whole, and what it is that makes you keep turning the pages…
  • …but DON’T try to write like your favourite authors.  Those whose work you love reading are successful because they have their own ‘voice’, and you need to find yours, too.  In the future, when your novel is published, some readers might say that your style reminds them of so-and-so’s, but this should be a happy accident, not something you seek to achieve.
  • DO plan your novel first.  It needn’t be 50 pages of in depth character studies and scene setting; I often start a novel with just a few pages of notes about the first few chapters, but you need to know where those chapters are going.  I don’t make character studies; I carry the personalities in my head and think about them a lot (I imagine unwritten scenes, sometimes!); I think if you write a character via a list of personality traits it can become a bit 'writing by numbers'.  However, you might want to make lists of the practical details, like his date of birth, name of the company he works for, etc.  For the story arc alone, it's a good idea to have at least a basic plan, because….
  • …. everything you write should be relevant to the plot, so that you DON’T dive off at tangents and then realise that the great scene outside the pub is going nowhere.  And it helps with time continuity.  I have pages of A4 blu-tacked all over the wall in front of my desk, to which I constantly refer.
  • DO show your first attempts (the first few chapters, maybe) to someone who will give you an honest opinion – ie, not a family member or friend who may tell you only what you want to hear.  It’s really hard doing this, I know.  I felt sick with nerves when I gave my first novel to someone else to take a look at!  Of course it’s not for me or anyone else to say that someone shouldn’t do something they enjoy, but it helps to have realistic expectations if you’re hoping for any sort of success in getting published/finding a readership, and it can help you iron out your weak points; you might ramble too much, for instance, or include far too much backstory (one of my downfalls!)
  • … and DON’T be in too much of a hurry to publish on Amazon, if that is the route you want to go down.  Make sure this is the novel you want to see as YOUR DEBUT.  If you’re submitting to agents/publishers, that’s different, because they’re the only people who’ll see it and won’t remember your name for more than five seconds, but once you self-publish, this is the novel by which your writing abilities will be judged.  I knew my first three weren’t good enough, so I didn’t even send them to agents (I wrote them in the days before Amazon Kindle).  You learn with each one you write. Yes, yes, yes – I’m aware that some super-talented people become bestsellers with the very first one they write; you may well number among those, and I bow with respect if you do, but many authors you admire have a few unpublished ones hidden away, or at least a novella and a pile of bad short stories!  Okay, let’s have a cliché here – most overnight successes have been at it for years.
  • DO think about what you like to read.  You know those long, descriptive narratives you skip-read in books?  Don’t write them.  Mostly, people don’t much care what the sideboard was made of.  Ditto how much your character paid the taxi driver and how much change she was given, unless of importance to the plot.  Cut the bits that aren’t interesting.
  • DON’T look at hugely successful books you think are rubbish and think, well, if that can become a bestseller, anything can.  A book that has been slammed for its literary merit has probably struck a chord with the public by hitting on a gap in the market, or dealing with a subject that interests many people, or simply by having a very efficient publicity machine behind it.
  • DO remember that those ‘I can’t write, I’m useless’ moments pass.  We ALL have them, honestly.  If you’re reading something you’ve just written and think it’s a heap of garbage, leave it alone, go and do something completely different, or have a moan to a writing buddy about it.  You might find that the the next time you look at it, it seems better – or that you can find a way to improve it. 
  • Talking of skip-reading, DON’T use your novel as an opportunity to show off your knowledge about something.  Yes, many of us write about what we know, and indeed use our experiences in our novels (it doesn’t half save time on research if you already know what you’re talking about!), but it should always be PLOT RELEVANT.  If you’re desperate to display to the world your in depth knowledge about the architecture of Prague, don't slip all the information into your romance novel unless it's a romance novel about two architects/artists in Prague. Ditto chunks of info taken from your research notes.
  • DO get your work professionally proofread before publishing it on Amazon or sending it to an agent or publisher.  Don’t just go with the first proofreader you come across; ask around (ask me!), look at their websites, see if they feature any testimonials from other writers.  Since self-publishing on Amazon began, loads of people are setting themselves up as proofreaders and editors, and some don’t know what they’re doing or are deliberately out to make money, not caring about the service they provide - there is no such thing as accurate proofreading software.  Let me tell you about a short story I was asked to read a while back.  The first page alone had so many errors that I suggested it was withdrawn and professionally proofread.  The poor guy told me that he loved to tell stories but was hopeless at grammar and punctuation, so had paid someone to proofread for him….. beware of the charlatans!
  • BUT……DON’T make the mistake of thinking that your editor (if you choose to use one) and/or proofreader will turn your rambling scribblings into a polished best-seller.  You need to revise and re-write until your novel is as good as it can possibly be, BEFORE it goes to the (editor and the) proofreader.  I know one of the latter who found over FIVE THOUSAND errors in one book she worked on.  Aside from these errors, it read liked a badly written first draft.  When the ‘author’ published it on Amazon, she got some very bad reviews and tried to pin the blame on the proofreader, asking for her money back.  Proofreaders are there to correct your typos, grammar and punctuations errors, not wave magic wands!
  • On that subject, maybe DON’T plunge into writing a novel if your grammar and punctuation is lousy.  If your written English is very weak, it’s best to learn how to improve it, first.  You could write blog posts or short stories, so you get used to writing.
  • DO try reading the dialogue aloud, to see if it sounds realistic.  And if you’re not sure what language a Liverpudlian teenager or a Cornish Victorian housemaid would use, find out before you write it!
  • DO leave your novel for at least a week between re-drafting.  Classic advice, but it really, really works.  I’m writing a novel of roughly 125,000 words at the moment and by the time I get to the end of one draft and go back to the beginning again, it’s been an average of a fortnight since I looked at the first few chapters, so I can see them with fresh eyes.  If you keep going over and over the same pages, despairing over them, you’ll drive yourself nuts.  You can’t see for looking!  However, if you leave it for a few weeks, you often find that the bits you thought were crap are actually fine – and you see exactly how to re-write that bit that just wasn’t working. 
  • DON’T try to be clever.  Don’t use your novel to show off your vocabulary.  Keep it simple.  Don’t use ten words where four will do.
  • DO be aware who you’re writing the novel for, at the same time as writing from the heart.  Is this story just to get all your angst out?  Okay, then it’s fine to use it as a way of exorcising your feelings towards your ex boyfriend.  Go for it.  If you’re writing it as a way of finding a readership, for this and future works, though, it’s worth reminding yourself that this catharsis should be entertaining, first and foremost.  One of the best pieces of advice I ever saw was 'write as a reader'.
  • DON’T get TOO caught up in social media.  Yes, I know you have to build your online presence, and use social networking sites to let the world know about your books, etc etc etc and blah blah blah, but while you’re joining in with a jolly four-way discussion on a Facebook writers group about how hard it is to motivate yourself/find time to write, you could actually be WRITING.  Don’t feel you HAVE to join Facebook groups and Goodreads forums, etc etc.  They’re great for networking and the exchange of ideas, but often it’s just chat (or worse, oneupmanship) and won’t get the next chapter written.    Having said that…
  • …. DO be moderately active on Twitter – it’s a wonderful site for networking, ideas, finding articles for advice on blogging, marketing, and the practical side of publishing your book.  You can also ‘meet’ so many interesting, amusing and helpful people – for this, it’s by far my favourite social networking site.  
  • One last word about Twitter – be there IN PERSON, at least some of the time.  DON’T think you can do all your future marketing via the software available, those ones that churn out tweets and retweets 24 hours a day without you having to look on the site.  Interaction is all.
  • DO make sure any practical stuff in your novel is properly researched.  Few things scream ‘amateur’ more than getting your facts wrong.
  • DON’T tell everyone you know that you’re writing a novel.  The vast majority of people don’t understand the publishing industry (and why would they?), and their first question after ‘what’s it about?’ will be ‘are you getting it published?’.  If it’s not an immediate best seller, many will presume it’s no good. 

Good luck!

Sunday 12 June 2016

Big huge thank you!

I'd just like to say a big huge thank you to everyone who voted for me in the Bloggers Bash Awards!  And to Sacha Black and her gang for all their hard work in organising it.

I was delighted to see that I came second in the 'Best Pal' award: 

"Which blogger do you want to go to the pub with? Or maybe have dinner with? Who never fails to reply to comments, and has thoughtful things to say. Maybe they encourage the community through weekly challenges or blog parties. Who wouldn’t the blogging world be the same without?"

That's a lovely one to win, I was pleased just to be among the nominees for it!

Big congratulations to Rosie Amber for getting second place in Book Review blog - I am a member of her reviewing team #RBRT), so it's great to see that we're doing something good.  Not just book reviews, Rosie does all sorts of other posts, such as info for writers and bloggers, and genre specific reading suggestions.  And a big cheer for fellow #RBRT member Shelley Wilson for winning the 'most inspirational' category :)

Thank you!

Saturday 11 June 2016

Dealing with bad reviews, recommendations, and more...

Writer and blogger Maria Savva chose to interview me for her Goodreads blog this week.  I am posting the link on here because it contains some advice for new writers, such as recommendations for editing and proofreading, dealing with bad reviews, length of novel, etc.  Also some author suggestions!

Read the interview HERE


Friday 10 June 2016

Recently I've been watching... VIKINGS! and more... occasional posts with thoughts on TV series I've binge-watched via Netflix, etc

I've just seen the latest series of Vikings!  This is one programme that gets better and better and better... fabulous story and characters, brilliant actors, amayyy-zing scenery - I love it.
Lagertha with treacherous Rollo, and Ragnar, he of the curious facial expressions


The star for me has to be the wonderful Lagertha, a role model for all women, I reckon ~ I want to be her even more than I want to be Michonne from The Walking Dead.  Why Ragnar ever let her go in favour of the scheming, faithless giraffe (Princess Aslaug), I shall never understand, and it seems he wishes he hadn't, now.  Love the bits in England from a historical point of view, too.  Such a good and unexpected ending this time. Totally gripping, excellent plot, first class acting, has never disappointed me, got to be in my all time top ten TV series.

A giraffe
The scheming, faithless Princess Aslaug

*****Five big huge gold stars*****

Just made a great new fun discovery: UnREAL, about a reality TV show called Everlasting ~ one suitor, a flock of hopeful and impossibly glamorous women, and a very jaded crew.  Really opens the eye to what happens behind the scenes on reality TV shows; scarily so!  I watched the first series over a couple of nights, and the second one has just started.

****Four Stars*****


Now...Fear The Walking Dead. It just doesn't compare with the real Walking Dead at all, I don't think.  The plots aren't as gripping, and the only characters I like in it are Nick and Strand ~ the others are either irritating or just flat and boring.  I watched the seven episodes of series 2 last night and, although some bits were quite good, my main thoughts throughout were:
  • a) I wish either the zombies or someone with a gun would do away with Chris, Alicia, Ophelia and Travis
  • b) why doesn't Strand stick with his 'this is my boat' stance, and tell them to either act a bit appreciative or get the hell off it (with the exception of Nick)?
  • c) why does Kim Dickens always play the same character?
The sooner they give up on the west coast and get themselves over to Georgia, the better.  Rick and Daryl will soon sort the wheat from the chaff.

***Three stars***

It's never not a good time for a picture of Daryl Dixon

I sort of watched (by which I mean I sometimes read while it was on, and/or fell asleep) the first series of Between, a teenage thriller about a small town in which everyone over the age of 22 dies from a mysterious virus, and the town is then cordoned off... it's okay, just about, if you like teen dramas, but it doesn't have plot holes so much as plot chasms.  Just too daft, for me.  Most of the characters got on my nerves; the acting isn't that great.  Or it might just be because they're all teenagers, or thereabouts.  I prefer programmes about over 25s, generally; they tend not to think they know everything, and throw less tantrums.

 **Two stars**

People as ancient as me might remember Roots, when it was first out in possibly the late 1970s.  If you don't know about it, it's the allegedly true story of a family of slaves, taken from Africa to work in the cotton and tobacco fields of North Carolina.  I believe Alex Haley was revealed to have made the whole thing up, about twenty years ago, but it can be just watched as fiction based on historical truth, anyway.  The remake is four one and a half hour long episodes.  It's okay; episodes one and three were pretty good (and in three the acting was a lot better, mostly by the wonderful Jonathan Rhys Meyers), but two and three were unbelievably schmaltzy.  Could have been terrific, but cheesy beyond words.

***Three Stars***

Oh, go on, then, here's a picture of Jonathan Rhys Meyers...

A very James Bond style thriller....I only saw two episodes of The Catch, starring Mireille Enos, who I loved in The Killing.  In The Catch she plays Alice Vaughan, a top private investigator in LA.  I nearly turned off ten minutes into the first episode, which was a riot of split screens, loud background music and ludicrous action, but then it got better, with a terrific scam, and I thought it might be really good.  It's a little too silly, but I might watch some more.  Mireille has some fab frocks and hairdos in it, by the way.  The scam-artist-she-loves is revoltingly smarmy.  Can't see what she sees in him at all.  

**Two and a half Stars** 

My June 3rd TV reviews/recommendations HERE, and April 14 HERE  


Tuesday 7 June 2016

Five books for under a fiver!

I've joined with four other writers, Bev Spicer, Carrie Ann LahainWendy Janes and Dylan Morgan (click name for Twitter profile!) to promote five of our novels, in five different genres, on offer from 10-16 June - just 99p or 99c each.  You can't go wrong, as they say!

All have (genuine!) reviews from a variety of sources, and are also available on Kindle Unlimited; please click title for Amazon UK link, and I've also given the link.

Kicking off with my dark family drama The House of York, also on HERE.

Love, loss, jealousy, abduction and murderous intent form the basis of this highly acclaimed, complex family saga spanning the years 1993 - 2014.

"The ending to the story kept me thinking for days." ~ Shaz Goodwin, book blogger and Amazon Top 100 reviewer.

"Best book I've read this year." ~ Joanne Phillips, top selling women's fiction author.


I love this guy's books, I've read nearly all of them!  Here's Dylan Morgan's THE link HERE.

Forced home to attend his parents' funeral, James Harris returns to a place of childhood torment and gruesome horror.

"If you like your supernatural horror to be dark, gruesome and unequivocally gory, then this is the book for you. It is explosive, expertly written and riveting." ~ Shelley Wilson: author of YA fantasy novels.

"A captivating and suspenseful read . . . a story-telling standard equal to some of the biggest names out there in horror today." ~
Sharon Stevenson: author of The Gallows Novels and the After Death Series.


Next, here's Bev Spicer's super creepy psychological drama/thriller What I Did Not Say, on HERE.

Jessica Morley is on her way to meet with a man she has not seen for fifteen years. In her bag there is a package she must deliver.

"Outstanding mystery/thriller.  I was blown away by this novel…" ~ Babus Ahmed, Amazon Top 1000 reviewer and prolific book blogger

"Part 2 was the trial, where the pace and tension were excellent. The pages seemed to turn themselves." ~ Amazon Reviewer.

For fans of the cosy mystery, here's Death Times Three by the girl who knows Las Vegas because she lives there ~ Carrie Ann Lahain!  You can find it on HERE.  

A Las Vegas librarian trips over a murdered artist and an amateur sleuth is born. Two short stories and a novella.

"Elinor (Gray) is a wonderful amateur sleuth—she’s whip-smart and determined without coming across as nosy or arrogant." ~ Elizabeth Maria Naranjo, top Amazon reviewer.

"I'm a sucker for stories involving a female
who can't resist sticking her nose into a curious puzzle and the
attractive man who can't stop her." ~ Teri Case.
Popular with family drama lovers ~ here's What Jennifer Knows  
by Wendy Janes.  On HERE
Jennifer Jacobs unwittingly discovers a link between two of her friends. Should she speak out or stay silent?

On half price offer 10-15 June only

"Jennifer is the kind of woman you would want as your friend..." ~ Liz Lloyd, book blogger.

"I started off liking What Jennifer Knows...I finished the novel loving it." ~ Judith Barrow, novelist and creative writing tutor.


Hope there's something there that appeals to you.  Please do share this with your friends!  Thanks for your interest, from me, Bev, Carrie, Wendy and Dylan. :)