Friday, 28 May 2010

A week of two halves

Hello hello hello

I've had an unusually rollercoastery week this week *pauses to wipe brow*. Some things have been unbelievably ACE... like the fact that Sweet Temptation is NUMBER ONE in the Heatseekers chart this week (that means it's just outside the official Top 50) - woo-hoo! I am so utterly chuffed. It's still only on sale in Tesco at the moment, so I am also a little bit - actually quite a lot - in love with all those Tesco shoppers who've picked up a copy. Mwah. Thank you, Tesco shoppers. You're great. I hope you like the book. (And if you do, 'Hens Reunited' is currently in a 3 for 2 offer in Tesco too...)
I've already had some lovely emails from complete strangers saying they've read it and enjoyed it, which makes me feel really happy. And one week today, Sweet Temptation will be on sale everywhere else which is great news. So that has all been WONDERFUL.

Slightly less wonderful has been my battle with the current work-in-progress. Honestly, I have never agonised so much about a book before, NEVER. I don't want to sound melodramatic or pretentious (much), but I have just been tearing my hair out over how I could get it to work. It started off as a one-person narrative but then a few months ago, I decided to add in another storyline from a second main character, hoping to weave them together. The storylines and characters were quite different, so the idea was that they would complement each other and then tie in beautifully towards the end. Well, that was the plan, anyway.

Unfortunately, tying the storylines together has been way more difficult than I thought. I tried all sorts of things to bring my characters together in order to justify having a double narrative, but really, I was scraping around to make the common ground work. Although each time I was able to find a temporary solution to the problem, I knew in my heart that something still felt wrong. It just didn't quite work. Deep down, I knew the second narrative had been a mistake.
As I was writing it, I kept imagining my editor expressing doubts, and even worse, the scathing reviews if anyone read it in its current messy state. It was starting to get longer and longer, more and more out of hand. It wasn't right. "Keep it simple," my agent said. Good advice.

So, yesterday I took a deep breath and cut out the second narrative. All 25,000 words of it. Yes. That's 25,000 words, all gone. And yes. I did nearly cry.

BUT... even though making the cut was awful, it wasn't long before I felt so much more positive about the book again, and relieved that I'd finally faced facts, gritted my teeth and removed this second character. I know it was the right thing to do. I've now mapped out the rest of the book for my one remaining character and it works a million times better. And even though cutting out that second character was painful, I have put her aside, perhaps for book 6. It's a good story, just not one that works with my original story.

So there have been deep breaths and sighs, as well as the cheers and smiles this week. Never a dull moment... but I feel as if I've got my head around this novel now which can only be a good thing. I guess it shows that when there's a voice telling you that an element of your novel doesn't work, it's important to listen to that voice, rather than sticking your fingers in your ears and saying 'lalalalala can't hear you' which is what I've been doing for the last few months!

Have a good bank holiday weekend everyone, anyway. I'm off to the Hay Festival to do a few children's book events which should be a laugh. Let's hope the rain stays away this year...

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Like Bees to Honey - Caroline Smailes

Like Bees to Honey, the new novel by the extremely fabulous Caroline Smailes is out this month - in fact, it's on sale on Amazon right now (click HERE to buy yours). I've already got a copy which I can't wait to get stuck into. Not only does it look absolutely gorgeous, the plot sounds fantastic, and just from flicking through, you can see there are all sorts of interesting, quirky design details inside. I think it's going to be a corker.

To celebrate publication, Caroline and her publishers have organised the coolest blog tour I have ever seen. Below, you'll see a funky little widget that opens up chapter 27 of the book. The other chapters are scattered around different blogs, so you have to follow a blog-trail to read through. Sounds like the best kind of treasure hunt to me. So what you need to do now, is go to Caroline's blog for the start of the trail. What are you waiting for?

The next chapter can be found here. Happy reading!

Monday, 17 May 2010

Competitions and reviews and stuff

Hello all,
The sun is shining down here in Bath today.... hurrah! Spring is back, and so are my fitflops!

I am still busily writing the new novel but AT LAST I feel I have turned a corner and know what the hell I'm doing with it. Phew. I felt as if I was stuck on that awful mid-novel this-is-rubbish hump for a long time, which was slightly alarming. The only thing now is that I think the book is going to turn out quite a bit longer than I'd originally expected. Usually, I work to a rough 100,000-word frame, but this time, it's looking like it's going to have another 20,000 words or so...yikes. I'm hoping to pass the 80,000 word mark this week though which will be A Good Thing.

My big exciting news is that Sweet Temptation is now on sale in Tesco! HURRAH! It's not published anywhere else yet, as Tesco are doing an exclusive from now until the beginning of June. I'm really chuffed as it's the first time they've taken any of my books; it feels like a big vote of confidence which, let's face it, is always rather lovely. Unfortunately there isn't a Tesco near us but because I am such a saddo I am going to make a special journey to Bristol just to see my little book there for myself. (I know. I am tragic. Just humour me!)

If there's not a Tesco near you either, then you could still win an early copy via the lovely Caroline, who is running a giveaway on her blog, right here. There's a review of the book too and a guest post from me, about how I came to write this particular book (blog magic has a lot to answer for.) It's very generous of Caroline as she has a book out herself this month, Like Bees to Honey, which sounds amazing. I'm a bit excited about taking part in her blog tour to promote it, so come back here on Thursday to see what's happening!

What else can I tell you? There's a nice review of Sweet Temptation on the 'Heard it in the Playground' site here, and it's in Good Housekeeping this month too, along with an article about friendship by me. Good Housekeeping have called the book 'an uplifting celebration of sisterhood' - how nice is that?!

One last link to pass your way, just before my head explodes with all this me-me-me stuff. Stephanie, who writes the Bah! to Cancer blog is running a Bah! Brilliant Book Bonanza, which is an online giveaway of uplifting reads. Have a look, there are some corkers up for grabs.

Right, that's it from me for now. Better do some actual book writing, I suppose...

Wednesday, 5 May 2010


Hello, hello, hello...
Not a proper blog post (shock!) but I just wanted to flag up this competition on the Heard it on the Playground website. You can win a copy of Sweet Temptation hot off the press!

I can't believe it's nearly publication day... I should receive my author copies any day now and can't wait to get my mitts on them. The book's coming out in Tesco first on May 13th (that's NEXT THURSDAY!) and then everywhere else on 4th June. Exciting!

Otherwise I've had my head down, immersing myself in the new novel like the diligent little author I am. I'm hoping to crack 75,000 words by the end of next week which will make me very happy. More soon...

Sunday, 18 April 2010

(Nearly) Perfect Weekend

Helloooo! It is a gorgeous day here in Bath, bright hot sunshine, and clear blue skies. Have had to come in for a bit actually, as I can feel my skin tingling from the sun.
I've had a fab weekend so far. Yesterday, eldest daughter and I started the day with a morning run as we are both training for this summer's Race For Life. Well, I say we are 'both' training, but she could probably run it backwards with a a few bricks strapped to her back, she is already so fit and speedy. We had our first practice run last week and it ended up being quite embarrassing, with her streaking ahead, stopping every now and then to shout, "Come on, Mum, hurry up!" while I was wheezing and panting in her wake. Yesterday was better although there were still a few 'face like a tomato' comments from all three kids when we got back. Daughter, of course, still fresh as a daisy. "Mum, I think maybe you should do some training on your own before we go out again," she said. Yes, all right, all right!

Anyway, once I'd got that out of the way, we drove to my mother-in-law's house for lunch... and then drove back, sans enfants! Yes, for the first time in almost two years (since our two-day honeymoon in fact), Lovely Husband and I had a night away from the kids. Hurrah! Obviously I do adore them and love them and treasure them but ooohhh... a night off... BLISS. Particularly weird to be having a night off here in Bath - never done that before. Not just the not-needing-a-babysitter thing, but also, having the house empty when we got back. Empty bedrooms. No little snores. No pattering feet (and bellowing arguments) in the morning either. But anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself.

As if the no-kids thing wasn't exciting enough, we'd only gone and booked ourselves onto a hot air balloon flight. Yes! I know! And it wasn't raining or anything! The balloon took off from Victoria Park and I must confess, I hadn't really thought about the mechanics of how it would all work, I kind of assumed we'd just rock up to the park, scramble into a basket and off we'd float. But no. There were 16 of us who were going on the flight and first of all we had to unroll the balloon, so that it was spread right out on the grass. Then he picked some volunteers, two to hold the 'crown lines' whatever they were, at the top of the balloon, two to hold open the balloon as it was filled with air, and two to operate the fans, which blew in the air to inflate it.
I was picked to hold one side of the balloon's 'mouth' open which involved wearing some huge red suede gloves(nice), then standing on one of the cables at the base of the balloon and holding up some of the opening. A guy was on the other side doing the same thing, so that between us we had made a rectangle opening. (are you with me so far?) It was really hard work with the fans blasting out the air and the balloon pulling me about (especially my foot), and then even harder once the flame burner thingy went on and started shooting hot air into the balloon. (You can tell I am a scientist at heart, can't you? Just so technical with my details.) It was so cool watching it inflate though. The pilot walked right into the balloon and was checking strings and cables and things inside, and I could peer around the edge to watch him. It was such a beautiful piece of engineering, like looking into an amazing building, a huge concert hall or arena.
Once the balloon was full, we had to climb quickly into the basket (the balloon won't wait for you, you know!) and then we lifted off surprisingly fast. There was barely any breeze so we drifted really slowly over the centre of Bath, which I didn't mind at all actually, as I loved looking down, trying to identify all the crescents and hills... and our road, and the kids' school! Because there weren't any planes flying, we had permission to fly higher than usual, up to 3,000ft so that we could catch some breeze. It was so quiet up there, so dreamily peaceful, looking down on the rest of the world.
We cruised slowly along for an hour or so before finally landing in a field to the surprise of some fighting pheasants, then having some champagne. One of those really really memorable experiences. Then phoned the kids to say goodnight and my 7-year-old asked, "Did you see the ash cloud?" He sounded really disappointed when my husband told him no, we hadn't actually gone that high!

The kids are due back in half an hour... I can't wait to see them. Apparently they have been 'little angels' for Grandma. Just time for a last sunbathe/Sunday paper sesh before they come home. Hope you've all had a good weekend too x

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Happy holidays

Almost at the end of the school holidays unfortunately... have had a really lovely, chilled fortnight. So nice to have sunshine after the long, cold winter... we have had the paddling pool out in the garden and even the barbecue which has been fab. Bought the barbecue last summer but didn't get to use it once, so it was good to christen it with a few sausages at long last!

Unfortunately, there hasn't been a huge amount of writing done recently. Novel 5 is now up to 57,000 words and I have been tearing my hair out over it - getting tangled up in different storylines and probably trying to pack too much in. Fingers crossed it all comes right in the second draft. May have to wield the red pen and scalpel to knock it into shape.

Much more exciting is the fact that Sweet Temptation is off at the printers... yay! German and Dutch rights have been sold already which is brilliant news. Hurrah! I really can't wait to see finished copies now... it is just the best bit of the whole process when the box arrives and you get to hold an actual copy of your book in your hands for the very first time. And with a bit of luck, seeing them will inspire me to finish the next book... here's hoping!

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Spring, paragraphs and Moomins

Hello again, and how are we all doing? Hopefully Spring has sprung in your part of the world - it's another lovely sunny morning here in Bath, hurrah. Eldest daughter's daffs (potted up at Brownies last year) are finally blooming little yellow trumpets, the crocuses are out, the tulips have pushed up tall green leaves, and there are the first signs of life on the magnolia tree: tiny furry buds. (I love magnolia trees. We only have a small 'Stellar' in a pot but my dream house (wherever that may be) will definitely have a huge magnolia in the garden absolutely dripping with those gorgeous creamy-pink flowers. Oh yes.)

The novel is still coming along, slowly but surely. I am up to 42,000 words now, and have been aiming for 2,000 words a day this week and last, just to keep it ticking along. Of course, that will go out of the window next week, as I've got to switch onto the second draft of a children's book, and need to come up with a new synopsis for something else... and then of course, the Easter holidays will be looming and NO WORK WILL BE DONE. But anyway, this week, I'm aiming to get as close to 50,000 words as I can. I always feel better once I've hit that halfway point.

Book-wise, I've just finished reading The Group by Mary McCarthy for my book group. I could have sworn I'd read this before back in my student days (I think it is that kind of book), but when I came to start reading the other week, it was completely unfamiliar. (This has happened twice to me lately. I was convinced I'd read 'A Patchwork Planet' by Anne Tyler too, largely because it had been sat on my book shelf for years and I just assumed I must have read it at some point. I hadn't though. I think that's what you call a senior moment, which is a bit worrying, seeing as I am still 39. Doesn't bode well for my old age, does it?) ANYWAY. So it turned out I hadn't read The Group after all, and I must confess, I started reading it, feeling very disappointed. The cover has glowing quotes from Sarah Waters, Marian Keyes, India Knight, all saying how wonderful they think it is, and at first I thought I must be reading a different book. It felt really heavy-going, I couldn't keep track of who the hell everybody was and, REALLY ANNOYINGLY, the design and layout is awful, frankly, with page after page of dense, solid prose, with hardly a paragraph break in sight. Perhaps this is very shallow of me, but I find that sort of page layout really off-putting. Even when there is dialogue, there was no paragraphing, the speakers just run on from each other in one great lump. Call me an old fart, but I JUST DON'T LIKE THAT.

Anyway (she says, hurriedly breaking up a rather long paragraph), once I'd got over my fit of pique and got to grips with who everybody was, I did really enjoy it. In fact, it's the sort of book that you want to re-read, so that you can appreciate the early chapters more, knowing what you do about the characters by the end of it. Lots to talk about too - a perfect 'book group' book.

I've just started reading 'A Tale of Two Cities' which I've definitely never read before. I'm finding that quite heavy-going too - maybe I was tired and befuddled by my streaming cold (did I mention my streaming cold?), but I had to read the first few chapters twice over before I could make any sense of them last night. Happily I am interspersing Mr Dickens with lots of eldest daughter's books, all in the name of research. I would really like to write a slightly older children's novel for girls next, mainly because my eldest is too old to read the books I'm currently writing and I miss being able to try them out on her and get her feedback. I've got an idea for a book anyway, but have told myself I need to research the market, so have been thoroughly enjoying myself snuggling up with all her recommendations. She is loving it too - "Mum, you must read THIS" etc, although she is terrible for spoilers - ie, "Have you got to the bit where she.... yet?" I have to put my hands over my ears: "Don't tell me ANYTHING!"

Finally, as a treat to us all, I'm reading 'Finn Family Moomintroll' to the kids for their bedtime story. I read it a couple of years ago to eldest daughter and son, and now I'm reading it to son and youngest daughter, although eldest keeps joining us to listen. It is one of the most perfect books for children, and I am enjoying it every bit as much as they are.

Right... nearly 9.30 and I'd better crack on with the novel. Time to throw in some major angst and drama, methinks... with plenty of paragraph breaks, of course!