Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Dear unsatisfied customer

Dear unsatisfied customer,

I know how you feel, having bought goods and services myself and found them wanting. The price doesn't enter into the equation and I recognise you've chosen to spend your money on my book. Thanks for that initial vote of confidence.

I read your review with interest - as you can imagine, I read them all! I can't speak for your experience because, let's face it, nothing has that fingernails-on-a-blackboard feel to it like an author trying to justify their work to a critic. And it could be argued that if I have to point out the good bits, or what I was trying to achieve, that's as good as admitting I've failed.

However, while I'd never knowingly attempt to change a person's mind once it's made up, may I offer some advice? If a book has really disappointed you, when you review it why not let the author - and other readers - know where it failed and why? That way your negative experience can be turned into a positive by giving the author something to work on with their next book.

I hope the next book you choose is more to your liking. Incidentally, I have other books out there that you might enjoy, or not! 

Best wishes,

An author

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Spotlight on Angie Sage

It all began in Cornwall. This is where the landscape for the Septimus Heap series was born and where Angie Sage at last got the chance to switch from illustrating books to writing them.
Although you will find the Septimus Heap novels in the nine to twelve years old section of the bookshop, they were written for, and are read and appreciated by, all ages. The books are fast paced, exciting tales of adventure full of interesting people and many layered relationships. They take place in a fictional world, which has enough similarities to our own to resonate, and enough differences to intrigue and entertain.
MAGYK, Angie’s first book in the series, went to number one on the bestseller lists in New York and London. “It was such a buzz, getting that phone call from my publisher.” Her other long running series, Araminta Spook, which is for younger children, reached the top ten of the children’s bestsellers.
Angie grew up in the south of England.  Straight out of school, she trained as a radiographer with a view to getting into medical school, but when that actually happened life had other plans.  A few years later she went to art school, knowing that she wanted to be part of making beautiful books. 
“After art school I got an agent and became a jobbing illustrator,” Angie says. “I did Ladybird books and toddler books, but I was pretty sure I could write too. So eventually I wrote my first book—a very simple story for under fives in rhyming couplets—and sent it in as a dummy book. After six months they said they were still looking at it. Six months later they told me, yes, it’s still here. I imagined it in a dusty corner, lonely and ignored. I waited yet another six months and with a heavy heart I phoned them up and asked them to send it back to me. The next day I got a call from the editor, who told me, ‘I was just walking down the corridor to put your book in the post when I realized that I don’t want to send it back to you.’ And that was that. They took it, and on the strength of that I got a literary agent.”
Angie balanced life raising her two daughters with illustrating, and writing a few early reader books. But, as with the pictures, she always felt that the early reader books weren’t quite what she wanted to write. Then the illustration work began to tail off. “I was actually without work for six weeks, and I thought, well, I can’t go on any longer than three months but I’m going to use this time to get into the atmosphere of something. I really thought that at the end of it I would have to go back to being a radiographer. I was actually making enquiries about refresher course,” she says with a shudder. “But I had this scene that was haunting me, where someone finds a baby in the snow, so that’s where it started. At the end of three months I had the first eight chapters, and on the basis of those my agent got me a publisher.”
And so began the Septimus Heap series, a three book deal that went to five books and then, as the Septimus world expanded, to seven. “The characters just kept arriving, and their lives just kept growing. When people ask me about them, I talk about them as though they’re real because they feel real. I think it’s the characters that sustain the series.” The series continued with the TodHunter Moon trilogy but the publication of book three, StarChaser, in October, will be the last of Septimus Heap—apart from a few follow-up novellas for diehard fans.
Angie left Cornwall in 2007 to move to a very old house in Somerset where she and husband Rhodri discovered a huge wall-painting of Henry VIII, which at times rather took over their life. It’s a house that would not be out of place in Septimus Heap, but it is also a demanding creature that can make it hard to concentrate on writing.
Angie is disciplined in her approach, and works a full working day. “I tend to work until the Archers comes on. If I’m into a book I will have a schedule with a word count, usually a thousand words a day, and if I’ve not done five thousand words in the week, I’ll need to catch up on the weekend. And then there is all the other stuff too: emails, letters, keeping up with Septimus fans and even at times, just finding time to think about new things, which sometimes gets lost but is, of course, the most important thing of all.”

Angie is now lead author on a project that is a departure from her normal way of working in that it involves planning five books in a series story arc but writing only the first one and handing the rest over to other writers. “It’s an interesting and different way of working,” she says, “and I’m learning a lot.” She also has a new series in mind and a standalone YA (Young Adult) novel waiting for the go-ahead.
A writer’s life is about so much more than just the writing. Angie is planning to move to a less demanding house and hoping to get out on the water a lot more, but she has a sneaking feeling that writing is going to be a huge part of her life for some time to come. In March 2016 she will attend The Writing Retreat in Cornwall as a visiting author, talking to the guests and sharing writing tips with them. She’s looking forward to being back in Cornwall, and in such a magical location.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Things I wish I'd understood years ago about being a writer

Over on Along the Write Lines I've been celebrating the launch of my third novel in a year. Needless to say, I didn't write them all in 2015 so any current success is due to a lot of previous writing in the wilderness. As every writer knows, it's tough out there so the occasional hint or signpost helps us stay on the trail.

Allowing for the possibility of the simultaneity of time (each that one, spell checker!), and the potential for influencing our past selves from the present, to create a better future (that is, current) outcome for ourselves, here is a little missive from me 'now' to me 'then' (circa 1980 something).

Hello. If you can see me, sorry about the hair. On the plus side, you'll save a fortune on all those combs you keep losing. 

You're obsessed with writing and you're still picking away at that fantasy novel of yours. Good, stick with it, but don't become too attached to the way it looks now. While I have your attention, here are some writing tips from your (probable) future.

You may want to jot them down in that notebook you carry around with you all the time...

1. Talking about writing isn't writing. Neither is wishing. The considerable time spent on both of those activities could be better applied on the page.

2. The first draft is play. After that, it's work. This means that if your first draft is really difficult there's something awry. Do you know your characters well enough? Are you really committed to this particular book? Do you know why it's so important to write this book now? Is there something else you'd rather be writing?

3. The first draft will be as rough as a cat's tongue, and that's perfectly okay. Don't get trapped in the perfection game.

4. Write about the things that matter to you, even the things that trouble you. No one else has to see it. And yes, I still remember you burning a book you wrote, in your teens, because someone looked at it without permission. Get a lockable cupboard, or a safe!

5. Invest in yourself and in your writing. GO TO NIGHT SCHOOL! If you start a course, bloody well finish it. You already try different types of writing, but go deeper. And don't expect too much from the songwriting thing. And keep the comedy notes.

6. Don't be afraid. On the page, I mean. Write whatever you damn well please. Unfair, sordid, longing, dark - get the words out and worry about the sense of it later. In fact, forget looking for any sense. They are just words. Rejoice in the power of self-expression for its own sake.

7. Seek out the company of other writers and learn from them. You can do that in writers' groups, in a library, or just by keeping your antenna primed. 

8. Lastly, don't wait for things to happen. Make them happen. And then write about them. See you in quite a few years!


Cause & Effect

A seemingly random attack on a child and a clinical assassination - neither one is any of Thomas Bladen's business, but all that is about to change. When his girlfriend Miranda's father calls in a favour, Thomas must use all his surveillance skills to investigate the attack for a man he despises. Jack Langton may be in prison now, but he is still pulling the strings and everybody's dancing. As Thomas delves deeper, he finds out the truth about Miranda's past and his investigation takes him closer to the dark heart of the shadow state.


Other books about Thomas Bladen and the Surveillance Support Unit.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Cocktails and crystals - Samantha Tonge

Ladies and Gentlemen, please be upstanding for our very own, Samantha Tonge!

A couple of weeks ago, (okay, I remember the exact day, Wednesday 18th November) my bestselling summer novel, Game of Scones, won the Best Romantic  Ebook category at the Love Stories Awards 2015. The announcement was made at a London cocktail bar. The awards’ organisers put on this glamorous party and I spent a lovely afternoon mingling with talented authors, publishers, editors and agents, many of whom, up until that point, I had only known online. Plus I was in the presence of the romance deities that are Jenny Colgan and Katie Fforde!

Phew. What an adrenaline rush. I honestly never, ever expected to win, for two reasons. Firstly, the calibre of the other candidates was very high and what lovely, lovely ladies. Secondly, I don’t necessarily think of my work as pure romance, as it has a strong comedic element. Having said that, though, my writing in Game of Scones did take a more romantic direction and was less farcical than my previous books, thanks to a Dutch flight attendant I met who inspired one of the characters (long story!)

So there is me, practising my Oscar face and joking about it with friends (you know, the look someone gives when a winning name is read out, and it isn’t theirs) when I heard the words “Game of Scones”. Someone said I had the biggest smile on my face as I gave a little speech. Another said I was shaking when I returned to my place. Neither of those observations surprises me and I recall that moment with a mixture of shock, disbelief and utter joy.

An award. I’d won an award. It was only two years previously that I signed my publishing deal with digital-first CarinaUK (HarperCollins) and since then have had five novels released. It’s been a rollercoaster journey (sorry to use that clichĂ© but it’s appropriate) with the highs of good sales and  reviews, to the lows of hard, hard writing and promotional work, and deadlines to meet. But that shiny, crystal, gorgeous award made it all worthwhile – and eased the pain of my crippling high shoes and the delayed train journey which meant I didn’t get home until after 1am!

It’s been quite a year for me and Game of Scones. It reached #5 in the AmazonUK Kindle chart and readers seemed to fall in love with the characters and magical Greek setting just as I had – and as a writer you can’t ask for more than that. Of course, like all books, it received unfavourable reviews as well, which is why the Love Stories Award gave it added validation in my mind. It’s a special book, very close to my heart, and I wonder if that’s why it was shortlisted, because more than all my previous work, it pulled on my emotions as I wrote it.

Game of Scones’ standalone sequel, My Big Fat Christmas Wedding, is out now and it is going to be hard for me to finally move on from the characters of those books – namely, feisty Pippa, suave Dutch Henrik and exotic fisherman Niko. I still look back on the last two years in disbelief... the glitzy romance parties I attend in London... my back-catalogue of books out there and I now have some novels in paperback and in shops, which is the very sweet icing on the cake. I wrote for a long time and I subbed for a long time, before I signed with CarinaUK and the writer’s life I am now leading was but a dream – a seemingly unattainable one. So I guess I would tell any aspiring authors not to give up. You just don’t know how close you are to enjoying those book launches and cocktail bars, although the rollercoaster never ends. You are only as good as your next book and I never forget that my dream writerly life could end tomorrow!


Samantha Tonge lives in Cheshire with her lovely family and a cat that thinks it’s a dog. When not writing, she spends her days cycling and willing cakes to rise. She has sold over 80 short stories to women’s magazines. Her bestselling debut novel, Doubting Abbey, was shortlisted for the Festival of Romantic Fiction best Ebook award in 2014. Her summer 2015 novel Game of Scones hit #5 in the UK Kindle chart.

Things don’t always run smoothly in the game of love…
As her Christmas wedding approaches, a trip back to snowy England for her ex’s engagement party makes her wonder if those are wedding bells she’s hearing in her mind, or warning bells. She longs for the excitement of her old London life – the glamour, the regular pedicures. Can she really give that all up to be…a fishwife?

There’s nothing for it but to throw herself into bringing a little Christmas magic to the struggling village in the form of a Christmas fair. Somewhere in amidst the sparkly bauble cakes and stollen scones, she’s sure she’ll come to the right decision about where she belongs…hopefully in time for the wedding…

Perfect for fans of Lindsey Kelk and Debbie Johnson. Don’t miss the Christmas Wedding of the year!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SamTongeWriter
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SamanthaTongeAuthor
Website: http://samanthatonge.co.uk/
AmazonUK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/My-Big-Fat-Christmas-Wedding-ebook/dp/B00XAFSXFG/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1444041016&sr=1-1&keywords=my+big+fat+christmas+wedding
AmazonUS: http://www.amazon.com/My-Big-Fat-Christmas-Wedding-ebook/dp/B00XAFSXFG/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Captain Bartholomew Quasar

One of the joys of social media (arguably the joy) is the ability to drop in on other people's lives and share their magic moments. I recently scrolled through my list and there was Milo James Fowler, smiling away with a book in his hand. How could I resist finding out more about his story, and the story behind his story?

Take it away, Milo James...

1 What was your journey to publication?

Back in 2009, I'd written a couple novels and queried them with agents, but there were no takers. I figured it might be a good idea to accumulate a few publication credits and maybe qualify for SFWA membership before I sent out any more queries. Then back in 2011, I started the Write1Sub1 challenge to write and submit 52 short stories in 52 weeks. A year later, after a few of my Captain Bartholomew Quasar stories had been published, I was approached by Every Day Publishing regarding the possibility of a serialized Captain Quasar novel.

Fast-forward to 2015: more than 100 of my short stories have been published, appearing in AE Science Fiction, Cosmos, Nature, Shimmer, and the Wastelands 2 anthology. It's been an arduous journey at times with many stories surviving more than a dozen rejections prior to publication, but it's been well worth the effort. Seeing my first novel—Captain Bartholomew Quasar and the Space-Time Displacement Conundrum—greet the masses this month has been incredibly rewarding.

2 What appeals to you about sci-fi as a genre?

I like being taken to worlds I've never been, but I also enjoy cautionary tales about where our world may be headed.

3 Do you feel sci-fi is marginalised?

Not in my corner of the universe; it's all I read and mostly all I watch. But I usually realize I'm the exception whenever I find myself in conversations with friends and coworkers. Apparently, no one reads anymore unless it's a book on the airport bestseller rack, and all they watch is reality TV.

4 Which authors have inspired you?

Ray Bradbury, first and foremost. His poetic prose is unmatched, and he inspired my Write1Sub1 challenge. I also enjoy Alastair Reynolds' body of work, as well as China Mieville's and Margaret Atwood's. I'm slowly making my way through everything they've written.

5 What is your writing process?

I used to be more of a pantser, making everything up as I went along and often writing myself into dark, frustrating corners. But now in my old age (pushing 40), I've become more of a plotter. I'll sketch out an outline of major plot points ahead of time so I know where the story's going; then it's just a matter of connecting the dots during the drafting phase. That first draft is my sloppy copy; I vomit out the words and clean them up later. After half a dozen revisions, I present my work to my wife/partner-in-crime who lets me know how I can tighten it up. After another round of edits, it's off on the submission circuit where it will remain until it's accepted for publication. Or until the world ends. Whichever happens first.

6 Where can we find out more about your work?

7 What's next on your writing to-do list?

Snag an agent. Sell a few thousand copies of my novel. Sign a movie deal. Nothing major. Oh, and keep writing, of course. I'm enjoying myself too much to do anything else.

Find out more about Milo's new novel: Captain Bartholomew Quasar

Friday, 4 September 2015

Spotlight on Emma Timpany

Emma, your debut short fiction collection, In The Lost of Syros, was recently published by Cultured Llama. How did you go about putting the collection together?

In all, the writing of the stories (sixteen in all) took seven or eight years. My first short story was published in 2010; a year later, The Glasshouse Mountains won the Society of Women Writers and Journalists Short Story Award and the judge, Vanessa Gebbie, suggested I work towards a first collection. 

I looked at the finished stories I had (around six completed and another four or so in progress) to see if they shared any common themes and found that the characters were all, in some sense, lost and trying to find their way; another link was the work and life on the New Zealand short story writer Katherine Mansfield which ran in and out of the collection like a dark thread. Towards the end of 2012 I started submitting and was accepted by Cultured Llama fifteen months later. The Lost of Syros was published eighteen months after that.

Do you keep a collection of ideas, or do you approach each short story with a blank page and see what develops organically?

My story ideas arise organically, most often from a memory, an event, a feeling, something odd and fleeting; if I get a glimpse or scent a story I try and note it down before it disappears.  Sometimes themed calls for submissions will prompt an idea, for example the ‘Time’ theme for Arachne Press’s Solstice Shorts Competition or Cinnamon Press’s current competition ‘The Lies We Tell Ourselves.’

Congratulations on Flowers making the short list for the 2015 Bristol Short Story Prize. How did you choose that particular piece?

I come from a family of florists and flower-growers and have been (sometimes reluctantly) a florist and flower-grower myself. I wanted to write about the role flowers have played in my life; the fact that Flowers has been shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story prize has encouraged me to explore this idea further.

What is it that draws you to the short story form over longer works of fiction?

The first short stories I encountered as a schoolgirl, by New Zealand writers Katherine Mansfield, Patricia Grace and Owen Marshall, made me fall in love with the form. I’ve never thought of short stories as less powerful or important than the novel or novella. I’m also intrigued by the idea that short stories are, by their nature, a subversive, experimental, marginal form. I like that the fact that I can complete a story in months rather than years, as is the case when I’m writing a novel.

Which short fiction authors inspire you and why?

There are so many short fiction writers I admire: Claire Keegan, David Constantine, Paula Morris, Jane Gardam, Kirsty Gunn, Jhumpa Lahiri, James Baldwin, Patricia Grace, Katherine Mansfield, Ernest Hemingway, John Cheever, Lucy Wood, Alice Munro, Jacob Ross, Jennifer Egan, Julie Orringer, Mavis Gallant, Deborah Eisenberg, Patrick Holland, Raymond Carver, Tim Winton – and that’s just for starters. They all inspire me because they write, or have written, great short stories.

What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I’m working on the longer piece of flower-themed fiction (as mentioned above) and slowly putting together a second collection of short stories. In the coming months I’ll also be editing my novel, Travelling in the Dark.

What are the great challenges in creating short fiction?

The greatest challenges are creating complex characters and their worlds in a few thousand words. For me, the best short stories are, to quote Alison MacLeod, ‘quiet, radical, human and delicious.’

What fascinates me about writing is how it gathers every aspect of living into itself. There’s something mysterious and hard to define about the creation of a story that I find captivating; the gift it offers is a rare kind of freedom.

Do you have a blog or use social media?

Saturday, 25 July 2015

You, Me and Other People - Fionnuala Kearney

The Strictly Writing family is spread far and wide. Like all families we trade opinions, offer support and celebrate one another's successes. We don't send socks at Christmas though.

Our very own Fionnuala Kearney has much to celebrate (which I'll leave her to tell you about in her own words below), and it's a genuine pleasure to bring her to the virtual and comfy interview chair. Join me please for a writing story with a happy ending. 

Hello again, Fionnuala. Do you have a set routine for writing, or a favourite time and place?

Nowadays, writing is my job and I try really hard to stick to a routine. I work every day, Monday to Friday and very often at least some hours over the weekend as well – so it’s pretty full on. On the week days, I write from about nine in the morning through to lunchtime and then keep the immediate hours afterwards for emails/Facebook/Twitter. That sounds like complete procrastination but it’s not! They are now vital tools to keep in touch with other writers and readers. That’s the time I write other non-novel things like blogposts, etc., or update my website. Then, later in the afternoon, I pick up the novel work from the morning which is either writing/editing/revising, depending where I am in the process.

I work from my study at home, which is the smallest bedroom upstairs. I work surrounded with pictures and notebooks and I face the front garden so have a view to stare out at when I’m in ‘thinking’ mode. Next to my desk is the most enormous whiteboard – where I make notes and draw lots of arrows and stuff. (It’s plotting. Really.)

Tell us about your book deal moment – where were you and how did you react?

I was at home, waiting and waiting and willing the phone to ring – had been for days! MY agent called and I knew from her voice she had good news. It was, without doubt, one of the best moments I’ve ever had. After the phone-call, I did a little jig; 80’s ska-style around the kitchen.

‘You, Me and Other People’ has a dual narrative with the story of a marriage in freefall being told from both the husband and wife’s POV. How was it writing from a middle aged man’s POV and how did you find his voice?

When I’m writing, I start with characters first and I have an idea of what particular conflict/dilemma/trouble they have in their life. Beth, the wife, came to me fully formed and more or less insisted I hear her husband out! Adam came relatively easily – I constantly asked myself the ‘what if’ with both of them.

I really wanted to write both points of view because, real life often shows that nothing is ever completely one sided and nothing is ever as simple as the word ‘betrayal’ - it is our flaws as well as our strengths that make us human. Adam is certainly flawed but I found it remarkably easy to get into his head.

As a reader, two of my favourite books are ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls and ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte. Two completely different books but both with tortured male protagonists! It was probably inevitable that I would try to write a male voice.

How are you finding life as a ‘published author’ under contract in comparison to life before? Do you approach your writing differently now?

Well, it’s certainly busier now! I think I’m having to approach things a little differently as my writing evolves. I’m a natural ‘pantser’ but I no longer have the time to be, so do find myself having to plot and plan the story out more in advance of starting. I structure my working life differently because I have to, in order to get everything done – I am aware of deadlines! And I’m very aware of a readership and delivering to them.

Also, it’s not such a solitary existence, in that, I am working into an editor who is also involved in the process with each book. This does mean that I have someone to keep me on track and to help make the novel the very best it can be.

You have been signed by Harper Collins on a three book deal (huge congratulations by the way!) - can you say anything about your plans for the next two books?

I’m currently editing my second novel The Day I Lost You and it is, again, a story told from a male and female perspective. Where in You, Me And Other People, the relationship examined was husband and wife – this relationship is one of friends. It’s obvious at the beginning of the book that one of them has suffered an enormous loss and you’ll have to wait to hear more! I will start writing book three in September this year and though I have some ideas, I’m not quite sure which one I’ll run with yet. Current favourite is one where I want to tackle three perspectives of siblings, though that may change next week!

Did you get feedback on what was it about ‘You, Me and Other People’ that sealed the deal?

I think years and years (some of which were played out on here on ‘Strictly Writing’) of practising and honing my writing skills; of writing three other novels before You, Me and Other People actually stood me in good stead. Practice, while not making perfect, has certainly helped… I’ve heard it time and time again that it is all about the writing.

My editor did tell me that my ‘emotional delivery’ works and I think having the male voice in this particular story helped too.

Is there anything you’d change looking back on your journey?

I’m tempted to say it would have been nice to reach this place quicker, but honestly? I don’t think it would have been possible. My writing experience from the time I sat down first to ‘write a book’ right through until now has been exactly what it should have been – a slow and steady burn, a constant learning process.

I’m so glad that during the ‘rejection years’ that, somehow, I toughened my skin and kept going. It would have been so easy to give up. In fact, there were many times that I did, only to return to it weeks later saying, ‘I’ll just try one more time.’ If nothing else, I am a lesson in perseverance…

What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone who wants to write?

Keep going! Never give up! And even if you only write the tiniest of atoms of a story, persevere. Another day, you will write more.

What do you like to do in your spare time? Do writers even have spare time?!

Spare time?! Ha! Seriously, I love to read. It was my love of reading that first made me want to write so I still love to lose myself in a good book. I’m a foodie – love good food and a glass of vino with family and friends. 

Available in ebook, paperback and audio book.