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The dreaded to-do list

There was a time when retirement was meant to be when you slowed down and took life easily. Like so many of my contemporaries, that idea seems to have passed me by.

Even my writing to-do list gets longer by the day. I haven’t done any work on the next novel in months. I’m currently busy trying to get to grips with Scrivener – a tool to help writers keep track of projects and which many authors swear by. A couple of months ago, I bought a new website template which is proving considerably more complex than I ever imaged and I’m not getting very far with it. Currently, my eBooks are on Amazon and I’ve decided to make them available in other outlets. Another learning curve to climb. I also need to spend time learning more about how to utilise things like twitter and a whole host of other marketing strategies. I have books on making the most of Goodreads and Facebook, how to understand Search Engine Optimisation (still not sure I even understand what that means) plus several other books and tasks that have been at the bottom of my to-do list for years!

The trouble is, the technology defeats me. It uses language I don’t understand. It’s not just the jargon – the individual words make sense, but strung together as they are, they seem to mean something different. It could be a foreign language for all I can comprehend!

Time to stop and remind myself:-

Being Busy Isn’t the Same as Being Productive

Is it a list of things I have to do or what I would like to do?

Time to prioritise – the urgent is not always the important.

I need to step away from all the technical stuff. I’m a writer so I’ve decided to do nothing but write for the next month. I’ve signed up NaNoWriMo – the challenge of writing 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. A good excuse not to feel guilty about not bothering with all the other extraneous promotional/marketing stuff and just do what I love doing.

It’ll be a challenge. For a start, I’m a slow writer. Upping my average of 500 words a day to 2000 means the chances of managing to get anywhere near the magic 50,000 number are pretty remote. I’m not a planner either so I have no detailed plot already worked out to speed up the process. The book is another Fiona Mason mystery so I do have a main character plus Pete and Winston of course and it’s set in the Rhone Valley of France. I have a vague idea of who I’m going to kill off and why, but that’s about it. However, there’s a big community of support out there. I went along to a welcome meeting of my local regional NaNoWriMo group and met lots of enthusiastic local writers, which is an excellent start.

I’ll let you know how I fare in next month’s blog.

Books, books and more books.

Bedtime reading

My hobbies are listed as reading, writing and travel. It’s one of life’s great pleasures to curl up in bed at the end of the day with a good book and travel to a different world. In a life that is ridiculously busy, where my to-do list always seems longer come bedtime than when my day began, it’s a great way to unwind, to forget about the problems of the day and let go of the guilt about those things you should have done but never got round to. There is something very special about holding a brand new physical book in your hands as you cuddle down propped up on the pillows.

Just as I seem to have a to-do list that’s three pages long, I have an ever-growing number of books on my to-read-next list –  mainly by my writer friends whose new releases I’ve promised to read. There are 402 books on my Kindle alone – I blame the wonderful BookBub – how can I resist all those fantastic discounted and free offers? That’s without all the books sitting on my bookshelves (there is a bookcase in every room in our house with the exception of the bathrooms) many of which have been sitting there for years waiting to be read, including several that date back my student days when my reading tastes were very different. The truth is that 90% never will get read. I’ve promised myself not to download any more books until I’ve sorted myself out. I can’t remember the last time I visited the library.

Non-fiction essentials

At night I read fiction. The two shelves in my study packed with books about writing, publishing and marketing are hardly suitable for bedtime reading. There are also several books on my Kindle on topics such as  how to build a website, use Twitter, get the most out of Goodreads and Facebook plus how to use assorted social media which are best read sitting at my PC working through the various suggestions. Finding the time to read during the day is a challenge. Important though the advice these books offer might be, working through them slips down the pecking order of priority all too quickly. At the end my day, I want to escape into a good novel not add to my must-do-soon list.

A gem of a story

Every now and again, we all come across one of those novels we find difficult to put down. I’ve just finished reading one. Although I like to think I’m fairly catholic in my reading tastes, the truth is that I end up reading mostly what I love to write – crime. The Scrying Stone doesn’t come into that category. Witches and vampires are definitely not my sort of reading so when a friend asked me to read it, I confess I wasn’t expecting to find it the most engaging book I’ve read this year. I met Jacqueline Farrell a few years ago when we did a three-day novel writing course together at The Writers’ Holiday at Fishguard. I was so captivated by the story, eager to find out just how the characters I’d come to care about were going to get themselves out of the latest crisis that several nights I read into the small hours long after my husband was sound asleep. Towards the end, when I couldn’t wait to know what happened next, I even found time to read it during the day. I don’t remember the last time that happened. If you fancy taking a look, The Scrying Stone is available on Kobo, Scribd, PlaysterBarnes and Noble and Amazon and its FREE!

Have you read any good books lately that you’d like to share? 

Jemima, Jessica, Louisa? – What’s in a name?

Little did I realise the flurry of response posting the proposed book cover for my new series on Facebook would provoke. Murder in Morocco is the first in a new series I’d planned to call the Aunt Jemima Mysteries. But it seems “Aunt Jemima” conjures up a very different picture for my American friends from the eccentric, go-getting if now elderly adventurer that I envisaged. I hadn’t appreciated that the name is offensive to some people in the US where it can be derogatory label and conjures up images of an obsequiously servile black woman.

I’ve lived with Aunt Jemima for over eight months and it’s not going to be easy to find her a name that doesn’t change her personality entirely. I suggested Jessica but that didn’t go down too well either.

Names are crucial – they reflect personality and changing a lead character at this stage in the game is no easy task. I’ve had lots of suggestions on my Facebook Author page – keep them coming – but it might help to know more about my eponymous heroine. Continue reading


Truth to tell, my PC and I always had a difficult relationship. He (it must have been male because it never listened to reason, was stubborn and could be extremely childish at times) had this frustrating habit of refusing to do what he was asked – I would press all the right keys etc but he just would not co-operate and I would have to call for techie husband to sort out the problem. You might know, the minute hubbie walked in the door, the PC would spring into action and sit up like a naughty puppy to all intents and purposes saying, ‘It wasn’t me – it was her!’ behaving itself perfectly without his old master having to touch the keys. It’s true, it was my husband’s old machine passed down when he got a better model and my PC knew it’s true master’s touch! It never messed him about.  

Continue reading

Technology and Me

I’ve just spent three frustrating days updating my recently published paperback of Blood and Chocolate in Create Space. I decided the original print size was too small. Surely it wouldn’t be that difficult a task? Update the file and reload it and adjust the spine size for the cover – a half-hour job at most. Don’t you believe it!

Originally, I had used as a template all the measurements for an earlier novel printed by another printer. There were a few problems but the Create Space reviewer had accepted it. Hoping to avoid any problems, I learnt a few new tricks in Microsoft Word and re-did page size and margins etc to Create Space specifications. Heaven knows what I did, but I upset my PC (it’s never really liked me) to the point that it took my ever-patient techie husband (my PC’s first owner and for whom it usually behaves the moment he steps in the door) had to spend the best part of yesterday afternoon putting it right. After at least five long trawls through the interior reviewer checking every page, I finally managed to get rid of the glitches in my Blood and Chocolate file and up loaded the interior.

Continue reading

Do writers suffer for their art?

Writing can have its downside. At some stage, many of us have probably suffered from lower back pain, aching shoulders, sore eyes or headaches. And then there’s something called writers bottom! Spending much of the day tapping away on the keyboard can even lead to serious conditions such as repetitive strain injury and carpal tunnel syndrome.  We all know how important it is to have a decent chair at the correct height, but how many of us end up huddled over to stare at the screen? My husband is constantly moaning at me for doing so. I can only hope that five hours of yoga, tai chi and Pilates, plus a similar amount of time line dancing and Zumba each week make up for my slovenly posture at my desk. Knowing the theory is one thing, it’s the putting into practice that can easily fall by the wayside. Continue reading

Wannabe Writer Beware!

Writing is like a drug. You may start with the odd story or poem, but you can soon find yourself wanting to do more. Before you know where you are, you’re on the hard stuff – the novel and there’s no hope after that. One thing leads to another. The pushers (agents and pundits) tempt you to write more books on the premise that the more novels to your name, the easier it is to market them or (your readers)that they can’t wait to read the next one. By then, you’re hooked. Unless, you’re writing, there’s a massive hole that needs constant feeding with ideas. Be warned! There’s no Writers’ Anonymous to help wean you off it.

There’s even a word for it. Hypergraphia. It is defined on Wikipedia as a behavioural condition characterised by the intense desire to write. Continue reading

The Pros and Cons of Writing a Series

I’d written short stories for some time with moderate success before deciding to tackle a novel. At the time, some fifteen years ago, I happened to be reading a great many novels by writers such as Nicci French, Minette Walters and Barbara Vine. I loved the edginess of their writing, the idea of the main character finding her life spinning out of control – taken over by events she can’t explain, and if she doesn’t sort it all out, she will end up dead. What interested me was trying to capture the fear, that unease, the tension of wondering what is going to go wrong next? Thus, All in the Mind and Watcher in the Shadows became my first published novels. I was having problems writing the latest psychological suspense and it was my then agent who suggested that I should think of having a series character. Her argument was that it would be easier to sell them to the publishers, but that wasn’t the reason I decided to give it a try.

I’d had the idea of a tour manager for a coach company as a main character for some time. In the spirit of the Golden Age whodunit tradition, it would give me a limited number of people as suspects – my coach passengers, a driver who would be my protagonist’s confidant and partner plus the added advantage that each book would be set in a different country and have a limited time scale – the length of the holiday. Not that things turned out quite like that. Novels and characters take on a life of their own! The agent’s prompting came just at the right time and so the Fiona Mason Mysteries were born. Continue reading

The Ideas Behind the Book

Today is launch day for Blood Across the Divide. I am often asked where I get the inspiration for my novels so it seemed appropriate to explain some of the things that inspired the novel.

Two mysteries – what has happened to Fiona’s missing passenger, and who shot the rebel republican terrorist, Eamon McCollum? Once again, tour manager, Fiona Mason and MI6 chief Peter Montgomery-Jones come together to find the answers and unravel how the two cases are linked.

Belfast rightly deserves its reputation as one of the top British cities for tourists. All looks set for a wonderful tour, but, people are not always who they claim to be. Fiona and her coach party quickly find themselves drawn into the undercurrent of distrust and thirst for revenge that has been simmering in Northern Ireland since the time of The Troubles. Drawn into one another’s investigations, Fiona and Peter need the other’s help to cut through the web of deceit and betrayal to find out what has been going on.

Established parameters

My first two published novels were standalone psychological suspense, but when I was having problems with the third book, my then agent suggested my books would be easier to sell if I had a series character. I gave some thought to the idea and decided my investigator would be a tour manager for a coach company. Her sidekick could be her driver and, in true Agatha Christie fashion, my cast of suspects would be limited to the number of passengers. Continue reading