Upcoming release: The Playmaker

It seems appropriate, as the Six Nations tournament ended this weekend, to announce the upcoming release of my novella, The Playmaker. Out on 8th April and available direct from Less Than Three Press or all major ebook sellers (see below for links).

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Ask Meg, and she’ll say she’s content. A promising career, a steady boyfriend—her future is secure. Just like her position on Brentley Women’s Rugby Team.

Her fascination with Jacqueline, the team’s wild and beautiful flanker—that’s nothing more than infatuation. When Jacqueline unexpectedly corners her and kisses her breathless, Meg is blindsided.

Forced to admit her secure future isn’t nearly as appealing as it had seemed, Meg realises she has two options: keep playing it safe or change the game.

Less Than Three Press / All Romance Ebooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Smashwords / Kobo

Not so much a review of 2014 as a bit of navel-gazing…

This time last year, I started writing a short story… that turned into a novella. It’s about a woman in an established relationship with a man, who falls in love with another woman. Nothing original in that, but something I thought a lot of people could relate to. It was something I could relate to; a story I knew I could tell.

My lofty goal was to finish the story, and to write a syopsis and a blurb. I had no idea what to do with it after that.

I’ve been reading gay romance for some time (much published by presses who only publish m/m romance). But there’s so little novella-length lesbian romance around, I wasn’t sure it had a market anywhere. Then a friend told me about Less Than Three Press. They publish every permutation of LGBTQ romance, with a 10k minimum word count. In April of this year, I submitted. In May I had a contract!

But before I talk about my year after April, I want to rewind a few months. I started 2014 with aspirations of novel writing, of putting myself out there and doing all the things authors have to do these days that aren’t writing. Scary things like networking, having a public interface, blogging etc.

I think it’s safe to say I didn’t do very well on that score, and in truth I shouldn’t have and it doesn’t matter. Not yet. Because I did a lot of other stuff that was much more valuable and pertinent for me, and where I am right now.

For a start, I did a lot of reading: good books, mediocre ones and some that were plain dreadful. Sometimes I read like a reader, and just enjoyed the experience. Other times, I read like a writer, picking out sentences I liked, making note of what made characters interesting (or not), analysing story structure and plots (or lack thereof). I read books on writing, magazines on writing, blog posts and online articles. I went to conferences, workshops and a writers’ group. I beta read for other writers. I used all that to look at my own writing with a critical eye.

In short, I did a lot of work and learned a lot. I think I learned more in 2014 than I have in any year since I left full-time education (barring perhaps the first year of motherhood).

Foolishly, I thought once I’d written a novella, a novel would only be a little bit harder. (Laugh all you like. I deserve it.) I started in May on the high of my new novella contract. I stalled in July (school hols, general burn out and lack of confidence) but got back in the saddle in September, and finally finished in December. By which time I realised this 70k novel, which had taken seven months to write, wouldn’t be complete without a sequel. That is currently at 20k (though roughly written to completion) and is stuck there until January when the holiday chaos ends.

So, the blog pages, Facebook posts and Tweets might look sparse; like there was nothing much going on in this neck of the woods. But I worked out that if I added together all the hours I’ve spent doing writerly things, I’ve been working full-time plus overtime on being a writer almost every week of 2014. Plus being a parent and ‘homemaker’.

Of course, I want to have my work published. But one of the things I learned in 2014 is that I underestimated how long it would take me to write something ‘tight’. Time and again this year, I read stories that were meandering, or bogged down with exposition, or full of unrealistic or superfluous dialogue. Many were badly edited or just plain boring. I don’t want to write stories like that.

I’m sure my own writing has improved, and a couple of publishing contracts are great acknowledgement that it has, but the questions still hang over me: Has my writing improved enough? Is is good enough to ask people to part with cash to read it?

In 2015, I’ll still be working my socks off but I’ll definitely be more patient than I was in 2014. Except when it comes to the dawdlers at traffic lights. They can still expect the full blast of my horn. 🙂

Sometimes things don’t go to plan. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan.

What I’m not going to do today:

1. Play Neil Diamond’s September Morn and weep. (Where did the summer go? So little done, so much to do…)
2. Watch the next episode of ‘Suits’ on Netflix. (That is called procrastination. Stop. It. Now.)
3. Take off the toe nail polish that’s been on my toes a month. (Yes, I need to do it but not now. See (2) above.)
4. Eat lunch early. (I’m not even hungry. It’s only 10.15am.)

In my defence, the summer was good and busy. As well as a holiday to Cornwall, days at the beach and catching up with distant friends, lots of creative things happened which were mainly not writing.

A beach hut was bought, and renovated. Here are the before and after pics:

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The garden was a lot of work, but overgrowth was cleared and food was grown, ending with the harvest of 7kg of green tomatoes, most of which I made into chutney. This was my first time jarring anything but it tasted pretty good. Still, I’m not sure I would give any out as gifts…

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(Is it me, or is that plug plate askew?)

Also, in the interest of encouraging the little ones with their creative endeavours, of which there were many, I knitted a super chunky jumper for the littl’un. I washed it and now the sleeves are too long. Worse still, one sleeve is longer than the other despite both having exactly the same number of rows.

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(I’ve only been knitting 30+ years. Sometimes things just don’t go to plan.)

Ah yes, there was sort of a point to this post. Sometimes things just don’t go to plan, even when we think we’ve got it ‘all under control’.

The novel I started in May hasn’t been touched for eight weeks. However, at the end of July I wrote a short story I felt was good enough to submit to a publisher for an anthology. I should hear in a month if it was accepted.

I received the publisher’s edits for ‘The Playmaker’ (f/f romance novella) a couple of weeks ago. I hate leaving commitments to sit until the deadline but I have to say, when I got the manuscript back I had a bit of a crisis. Suddenly, I doubted it was good enough, no matter what I tried to do to it. So, amidst the baking, boiling, knitting, sewing and all the other ‘stuff’, I closed the document and decidedly did not think about it.

But September is here. Time to get back to work. Time to plan.

My youngest has gone back to school and the house is still and quiet. This morning, I’ve printed out the whole novella and read the editorial notes again. I have some work to do, and I can do it. My writers’ group has a retreat booked for five hours tomorrow. That should give me a decent few hours to get started, maybe enough time to finish.

Once those edits are done, by early next week, I’ll get back to the novel. I’m ready for it. I have 20k good words and detailed notes — plenty to build a story on. My plan is to have the beta’s draft by half term.

It will be good to get those things finished before the winter, because I think for a lot of writers, when the nights are long and the weather is bad, a lot of creative things can happen.

Now… it’s 11.15am. Time for lunch, I think.

Today, I’m re-charging my batteries

Ever done a Myers-Briggs personality test? (There is a free one here.) 

It came as something of a surprise to me that I came out not only as an introvert, but as an INTJ (or ‘the scientist’, or ‘the strategist’, which is very rare in women). But, it also meant that finally so many things fell into place!

Now I understand why social situations exhaust me, even if I’ve been looking forward to a party or event or seeing a group of friends. I need a lot of alone-time to re-charge. And that’s why I feel so drained today. I had a fun but also a loud and busy weekend.

More than the introversion, some of the other aspects of my personality type were definitely traits about myself I had tried in the past to change or ‘overcome’. (I won’t go into the whole list — if you’re not the same personality type it would probably be boring to read.) Now, rather than feeling guilty, which is never productive, I can acknowledge I’m who I am, I’m wired this way, and try to be aware that certain aspects of my personality are difficult for other types to relate to. It’s helped me be more patient and to have more empathy.

I’m always going to be an INTJ, and for the longest time, I didn’t know that. I thought there was something wrong with me that could be fixed. I thought my low boredom threshold was a lack of self-discipline. (E.g. Even though when I’m doing something I love I can work tirelessly for long, long stretches, I’ve never had the same job more than a few years.)

The interesting thing is that during my reading around personality types, and how that relates to writing, I found a piece of research that has made me feel for the first time, being an INTJ is not a curse. 

Why the world doesn’t get writers…

While only around 2 – 4% of the (US) general population are INTJ (for women, it’s less than 1%), in the writing population around 15% are INTJ! And even more amazing than that, the two rarest personality types (INFJ and INTJ), account for approximately only 5% of the general population, but around 40% of the writing population!

(I should add, the research is not extensive, was carried out online and therefore there are probably some biases.)

It’s taken me a lot of years, but it seems like I’ve finally got it right. I’m home in the quiet today, doing a few jobs around the house, talking myself down to a state of internal calm, getting things around me back into order. When I feel like my mind and external space aren’t so messy, I’ll sit down with my laptop and get back to the fictional world I’m writing about.

For some people, it might seem like a crazy way to spend my days, but for me it’s heavenly.

If, by chance, it turns out you’re a fellow INTJ, I have a Pinterest Board dedicated to infographics and quotes on INTJ’s and writing (it’s been a great resource also for honing in on my writing strengths and weaknesses). There are similar resources for all the other personality types on Pinterest and all over the internet. Have fun!

Finally feeling like I’m going in the right direction

A few days ago my story for the Love’s Landscapes event, organised by the M/M Romance Group on Goodreads was posted privately to the group. In a couple of day’s time it will be available for free download: Man of the Match 

I won’t deny, I’ve been sick with nerves about this for the last several weeks. Wondering if I’m ready. Wondering if my writing wasn’t up to par. Wondering if the story would be a disappointment to my prompter.

Well, it’s done now. Que sera, sera and all that!

I’ve learned so much over the last couple of years. These first few stories I’ve written to be put ‘out there’, I’ve written … cautiously, I think. The novel I’m working on now is, of course, longer. It takes place over a shorter time frame and has more action, drama and plot. 

The working title is ‘Sleight’ and is the story of a quiet man who leads a reclusive life (for reasons revealed in the book) who is thrown way out of his comfort zone when he falls for a local windsurfer. I’ve used my local Hayling Island for the location.

Recently, I was extremely fortunate in being able to buy a beach hut on the beach. (For non-UK natives, a beach hut is effectively a shed/basic cabin on the beach. No power or plumbing.) I’ve been waiting for almost 2 years for the right one to come up, so this is very exciting. I spent a glorious day there today with family — it’ll be a well-used space. The view is amazing (I posted a picture on my Instagram) and in the week, when the kids are at school, the beach is almost deserted. I’m hoping to get some really good writing days in down there (before the kids break for the hols) and get my first draft done. There are no distractions, but there is a good cafe (for coffee) and toilets, both a 2 minute walk away.

Still, the windsurfers are apt to come along anytime the wind and tide are right. But I’m not complaining about that. No siree!

 

The last six months, writing, reading

This is a run-down of the last six months, which is how long ago I decided that in order to be a writer, I had to do like a writer. There’s also been quite a lot of gardening.

Books read, according to my Goodreads list, 42. That does include a number of short stories and novellas. I don’t read quickly, so I consider that an achievement. I wholeheartedly agree with the advice that writers need to read, and widely.

Things written for publication:

Something Good: a FREE m/m romantic short story (5k), now available on Smashwords here
Man of the Match: a FREE m/m novella which will be published by the Goodreads M/M Romance group this summer in their Love’s Landscapes anthology
The Playmaker: a f/f romantic novella which has was accepted by Less Than Three Press (!) a couple of weeks ago. I don’t have any release details yet.
Sleight (working title): so far, 35k rough words written of a m/m paranormal/sci-fi novel, which I aim to have ready for submission in the autumn. I’m guessing the final word count will be about 70k.

I’m just about there — a fully-fledged published author!

My blogging and online presence has been much lower-key. What can I say? I’m trying. My Twitter and Facebook get more love than this poor, neglected blog. I read my feed, I just don’t post much.

And now, the garden. For the first time, my kids and I are attempting to grow produce. Nothing grand — we’ve started with tomatoes, beans, carrots and onions. But we already have a teeny, weeny tomato. Every day, my youngest and I go to check on it.

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At heart, though, I’m in it for the flowers. The south of England is the perfect mix of sun and rain, and so far I haven’t been disappointed.

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There are some weeds in amongst the roses — and surprise strawberries, discovered this spring after clearing back some overgrown shrubs over the winter.

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Writer peeps, I’ll leave you to make your own analogies. The sun’s come out, and it’s nearly Pimms o’ clock.

My Writing Process Blog Tour – Romance is Romance

I’ve picked up the baton to blog about my writing process from Charlotte Comley, my friend and fellow writer, who runs The Writers At Lovedean.

A day early, just because…

1. What am I working on?

I’m actually between projects. For the last few months, I’ve been focussing my efforts on editing and polishing. At the end of April, I finished and submitted a novella and a short story. Both are adult romances. One is a free read which will be published in an anthology as part of the ‘Love’s Landscapes’ event hosted by the M/M Romance Group on Goodreads.

This last week, I’ve done a lot of reading, both for pleasure and as a beta reader for other writer friends. I consider this as important as working on my own writing: learning from other writers, sharing the work, being connected.

Starting Tuesday, a new project begins—my first novel! I’ve been planning (in my head mostly) and thinking about this for months, so I’m actually very excited to finally start getting the words down.

The story is a paranormal/near-future sci-fi gay romance, set on Hayling Island (I may change the name for the novel), which is one of my local haunts. There will be plenty of action, some trauma and, needless to say, lots of love.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I don’t think it does. The romance genre has many sub-genres: sci-fi, fantasy, horror, thriller, period, contemporary, military … the list goes on and on. That holds true whether it’s gay or straight romance, or any other combination of individuals in a romantic relationship. This next time, I just so happen to be writing about two men falling in love.

Maybe when I have more work ‘out there’, I’ll be in the minority as far as romance writers go, as I don’t plan to stick to writing one type of ‘pairing’.

So far, I’ve written a novella where the romance is between a lesbian and a bisexual woman and a few short stories where the romances are between gay men. My first attempt at a novel (finally ditched as a lost cause year ago) was about a straight woman who learns how to thrive, including sexually, living alone after divorce. Thus far, I haven’t attempted to write about any polyamorous relationships. Which is not to say I won’t.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Love stories allow me to submerge myself in the rush and excitement of new love, then bask in all the ways the characters can work at making that love last. Exploring emotional and physical connection, particularly sexual connection, I suppose that’s what drives me.

I’m also a sucker for a happy ending, particularly if there’s heartache and obstacles to overcome in getting there. Romance with its pre-requisite happy-ever-after is such a blissful escape—cuddles and chocolate for the soul.

4. How does my writing process work?

Usually I spend a fair bit of time day-dreaming about my main characters before I write anything down, to see whether I fall in love with them enough to commit to a story. It’s rare for me to be struck with enough passionate inspiration to simply dive in.

If it’s a short story, I’ll get directly down to writing once I’ve formulated a rough idea in my head and maybe typed a few notes.

For longer stories, I’ll use a notebook and/or post-its (though I’m going to make better use of Scrivener for my next project) to make notes from anything to places and dates, to character traits or significant events. I use Pinterest boards for visual references, people and places mainly. I also have music playlists (that evolve with the characters and the story) for getting me in the right mood and for inspiration.

Once I have some sense of my characters, and their place and time, I get typing.

Usually, I research as and when I need to as I go along. Sometimes, if I need to do more, I’ll have lists of bookmarks that I can return to, or separate files of information.

I try to type linearly—start at the beginning and keep going until it’s done. That doesn’t always work. Actually, it rarely works. So I just keep typing because there’s always cut and paste. Or cut, cut, cut, DELETE.

I’m a lot less worried now than I used to be about hacking out thousands of words if they aren’t working.

When I get blocked I get on my cross-trainer, cut the grass or do a pile of ironing. Something mundane to let my mind go where it will. As I get more and more experience, I’m beginning to trust that if I let my mind go, it will eventually take me where it needs to. Often that isn’t anywhere near where I thought I was going in the beginning.

Next week…

I am passing the baton onto the truly lovely Jenni Michaels. She’s a busy woman, not just with her own writing but in her tireless encouragement and support of fellow writers. So it just might be that she doesn’t write her blog piece next week, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t worth a follow.

She can be found on Twitter and her blog.