NaNoWriMo 2017 – I did it!

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Taking part in this year’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) hadn’t even crossed my mind – until the author Susanna Bavin suggested it.

Susanna, who has appeared in my Behind The Book series, wrote a blog post featuring quotes from her writer friends about their experiences of NaNo. Having completed it in 2015 (just), I added a comment and thought that was the end of it.

It wasn’t until a Twitter conversation later where Susanna invited me to be her buddy this year – and some of her friends and mine encouraged me – that I first thought ‘maybe I should do this?’ I talked it through with Mark because I knew from last time that I would need his support if I was going to manage it. He was all for it (I moan about him but he’s a good one really), so I signed up.

Did I mention it was already October 22nd and NaNo starts on November 1st? Not only that but I was just about to head off on holiday for half term week so not much time for prep. I decided to continue with the book I’ve been working on for Friday 500 – and luckily I convinced my writing buddy, Kate, to join in.

We began our Friday 500 project in September 2016 (the idea was that we would email each other a minimum of 500 words each week of our respective novels). It’s worked really well. I’ve had a lot of fun trying out different things. I’m writing third person but alternate between characters. I started with two main characters, went up to three, went back down again and then tried writing first person. I also realised that I really REALLY needed to have some sort of plan. So I stopped and spent a solid couple of weeks plotting and then I started again, almost from scratch.

By October, I had two chapters and a really quite detailed idea of where my story was going but I would have happily continued to plod along had Susanna not offered to be my buddy for NaNo.

I was really excited to get started. I didn’t include any of the words I had already written but, because I had spent so long thinking about the story (even dreaming scenes some nights), the words really flowed. I was still getting up at 5am and writing some days so I could get my word count up but, unsurprisingly, having Freya at school all day this time was a big help.

Nano stats

As you can see, some days were better than others. I realised at the start that I really needed to get some words in the bank because there were days, particularly weekends, where it would be a struggle. Once I had that safety net it pretty much sailed along. I even managed to finish a couple of days early – unlike last time when I was almost still typing up to deadline.

I actually found it quite emotional writing the final chapter, maybe because I had actually written all the chapters before it (I only had six and an ending last time and the rest were scenes).

What’s also been really great this time is having a supportive group of writing buddies to talk to via Twitter DM every day. Writing can be a lonely pursuit but they always gave me something to smile about.

And here it is, my certificate (isn’t it nice that it goes with my blog colours). I think even those who didn’t reach the 50k are winners. We all had our own goals but more importantly we all wanted to write – and that’s what we’ve done.

NaNo-2017-Winner-Certificate 2

Thank you very much to everyone who has supported me – and especially Susanna. I’m very excited to have an actual draft. Now on to editing.

Did you take part in NaNoWriMo this year (or in the past)? How did you get on?

 

 

 

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A Look Behind The Book With Jan Baynham.

jan baynhamWhile currently searching for a home for her debut novel, Jan Baynham is already hard at work on her second.

It could be that she’s making up for lost time – having only really been bitten by the writing bug since she retired.

I was so inspired by Jan’s story that, while I normally feature authors who are either about to be published or already in print in my Behind The Book series, quizzing Jan about her experiences seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.

Here’s what she had to say.

Can we start by talking about how you got into writing? Has it always been a passion? When did you start to write for publication?

I’m always full of admiration for people who are so passionate about writing that they have always written and found time to write while working full time. My writing journey has not been like that. Other peoples’ writing has always been a passion for me, in that I’ve loved reading from as long as I can remember. As a teacher, it was teaching pupils to write stories and poetry that gave me the most pleasure. Often, I modelled the writing and you could say that was when I first began to write stories. This continued when, at the end of my career, as a teacher adviser for English, I trained other teachers in the art of teaching writing.

When I retired, I joined a local writing group and began writing short stories. I was hooked. Very soon, I took a Telling Tales short story course at the university, followed by one on novel writing. The tutor for both the courses was a published author and it was after these that I began to submit my writing for publication.

I know you write novels, short stories AND flash fiction (I think you have also written some non-creative work for teachers, too). Do you have a favourite? How difficult is it to switch between them?

I think my choice of favourite has changed over the time I’ve been writing. At first, I loved the fact that in a short story you can complete a story in relatively few words and feel the satisfaction of having achieved something. However, my stories tended to be becoming longer and longer and I often found it difficult to keep to the word counts specified by a competition, for example. Certainly, after the novel writing course, I began to think that maybe I could attempt something more involved. I’d have the opportunity to write a more intricate plot and develop more characters to interact with one another. My tutor, Lynne Barrett-Lee, instilled that confidence in all of us. So, now, I think my favourite has to be the novel. I love getting immersed in the story and thinking about my characters all the time. However, in between writing and editing, I still like the freshness of writing shorts, especially flash fiction,

You are currently looking for a home for your debut novel. Can you tell us about it? How long did it take to write?

My debut novel is entitled A Mother’s Secret and took me a number of years and several drafts to write. It had a major re-vamp after an editor I met at the Romantic Novelists’ Association Conference in 2016 kindly sent me some suggestions for tightening the structure. It is a dual narrative family saga set in rural Radnorshire in 1946 and 1965. The novel follows three generations of Jenkins women, who are part of a family torn apart by secrets of Black Market dealing, forbidden love, illegitimacy and prejudice. When one of those secrets is exposed, Angela Jenkins’s life is thrown into turmoil. A year long journey to find her true identity takes her to Sicily and an Italian family she didn’t know existed. Only when she knows who she really is can she move on with her life. I hope the novel is a reflection of the social history of both eras and explores the role of women for whom the conventions of the times meant family secrets were deeply buried for fear of disgrace.

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Are you able to talk about the experience of submitting it? Do you try and find a publisher who you think fits? Have you considered self-publishing?

I’m in the process of submitting directly to publishers who are looking for family sagas and to agents, especially those who are looking to build their list of authors or are open to new writers. I haven’t considered self-publishing because I don’t think I have the confidence to be in charge of every stage of the process. With a very limited experience of working with an editor or a critique partner, I don’t know if I could make all the critical edits myself. I know there are people that you could get to do that with you and I very much admire those writers who do self-publish successfully.

I submitted one of my stories for publication, it was rejected and it felt like someone had trampled on my dream. I was a proper drama queen about it. Have you experienced rejection and, if so, how do you handle it?

Yes, I have experienced rejection many times and you never get used to it, do you? However, last week, I received what I like to call a ‘positive rejection’. Last month, I took part in a Twitter pitch where writers were invited to pitch their novels in 140 characters. Along with novel number two, both pitches were ‘liked’ by the publisher and I was invited to submit the first three chapters and the synopsis of each. Novel two didn’t get any further but the publishers then asked for the whole manuscript of The Mother’s Secret. I was delighted!

When the rejection came, the email contained a number of very positive comments – they liked the dual-narrative structure, the strong characterisation, the way the women’s experiences differ so markedly makes their linked tales all the more gripping for readers with a suggestion of how it could be improved further. The novel’s complete manuscript is currently with two other publishers so I’ll have to see what they say.

What about that all-important synopsis? I’ve read so many “how to” posts and they all seem to say different things about length, style and detail. How did you decide what to do?

I find writing synopses hard. I follow the synopsis guidelines for each submission as what each publisher or agent asks for may be different. Generally, getting the synopsis down to one side of A4, single spaced, is what I aim for.

You joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers Scheme in 2016, how useful has that been? What do you get out of it?

I’d heard from various writing friends what a wonderful scheme this is and I’m now in my second year. My first critique of the completed draft of The Mother’s Secret was very detailed and helpful, and I was able to undertake a full edit with the readers’ points in mind. This year, I was only in a position to submit a partial manuscript of my second novel, Whispering Olive Trees, (46,000 words) but I added a detailed outline of the second half. I have recently received a very positive and encouraging critique from my reader. The main advice is obviously to finish the novel but she has given many helpful suggestions and ways forward when I come to the editing stage. So a big thank you to her.

What about social media? I know you’re connected to other writers. How important has that been to your personal journey?

Social media has played a vital part in my writing journey. It’s through FaceBook and Twitter that I’ve ‘met’ other writers who have been such a support to me. Several of these I have now met in person, too. I’m thinking especially of Susanna Bavin, Susan Jones, Judith Barrow, Carol Lovekin and Wendy White. I started a Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page to keep anything ‘writerly’ away from my personal FB page and my Twitter following has increased considerably since it started, too. I also run a blog about my writing journey and although the comments are often from a very loyal band of writer friends who regularly comment, I’m amazed to see how many people read the blog from all corners of the world. Just as I appreciate their support, I try to reciprocate when other writer friends have some exciting news to share by tweeting, re-tweeting and inviting them onto my blog.

Lastly, do you have any tips for writers?

Just to keep going. Enjoy your writing and keep writing. I also recommend finding a writing group or, as we did, forming your own. I love meeting up with a few writing friends and we’ve become very close. After every meeting, we all go home enthused, ready to get writing again.

Jan quote

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Thank you very much to Jan for answering my questions. I love how she is inspired by her friends’ successes. I’m the same. I have everything crossed that soon we will be raising a glass to Jan. A Mother’s Secret sounds like a gripping story to me.

You can find out more about her writing by visiting her Facebook page, following her on Twitter or reading her blog.

Thank you also to the wonderful Susanna Bavin, author of The Deserter’s Daughter, which is getting glowing reviews, for introducing us.

Next up I will be chatting to Isabella Davidson about her novel, The Beta Mum: Adventures in Alpha Land.

And, just in case you’ve missed any, you can find all my previous Behind The Book posts here.

A Look Behind The Book With Heidi Swain.

20170104_091654Since her debut in 2015, Heidi Swain has quickly risen up the ranks to become a best-selling author with her hugely popular brand of “feel good fiction”.

The good news for her many fans is that earlier this year Heidi started writing full time – and that hopefully means we will get to enjoy even more of her wonderful books.

Speaking of which, the author’s eagerly awaited new novel, Sleigh Rides And Silver Bells At The Christmas Fair, comes out next month.

Before that Heidi, who is based in my adopted home county of Norfolk, agreed to talk to me for my latest Behind The Book post, which I am thrilled about.

Here’s what she had to say:

How did the idea for your debut, The Cherry Tree Cafe, take shape? How long did it take to write? Was it always your dream to write and publish a book?

The Cherry Tree Cafe was the second novel I wrote. The first, long since consigned to the memory stick, was an attempt to see if I had enough words in me to fill a book. I enjoyed the process so much that I thought I would do it again but this time with a plot that indulged my passion for cakes, crafts and friendship.

I can’t remember how long it took to write but it was considerably longer than my latest book and yes, it was always my dream to be published. At the Cherry Tree launch party a school friend told me that she could remember me scribbling away between lessons.

It was picked up by Books and The City (Simon & Schuster) following an open submission (and went on to be an Amazon best-seller). How did you find out they were interested and what was that like?

I had submitted the book to the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers Scheme and on the back of such positive feedback decided that this would be the novel which, one way or another, would be my debut. The Books and the City open submission came along at just the right time and I had an email a few weeks later telling me they loved it and wanted me to go to London for a meeting. I think I held my breath from then until I heard the magical words ‘we’d like to offer you a two book deal.’ It was amazing. Verification that I might just be able to spend the rest of my life doing the very thing I love most. I feel incredibly lucky.

Are you ever sad to see any of your stories come to an end? I imagine it’s almost like living with the characters, albeit in your head, after a while, do you miss them? If that’s not a daft question.

Not a daft question at all. You’d be amazed how often I’ll be out shopping and think ‘Lizzie Dixon would love that dress,’ only to then remember that she’s a fictional friend and not a real one…but I tell her anyway. Now that’s daft!

I can’t say I’ve ever felt sad to see a story end. If I’ve got the ending right it feels like completing a circle and of course with five books based in and around Wynbridge I know the characters will always have the chance to pop up again.

Can you talk about your heroes? Are they ever based, even in part, on real people, actors for example or someone you know? How do you make sure that they are appealing to the reader?

I’ve only ever written one character based on someone I know and that was because they were simply too irresistible not to include. I’m not telling you who it is though.

With regards to making heroes appealing, that isn’t something I consciously think about when I’m writing. I always make my main characters people I would like to be friends with, people who aren’t perfect but real and I think that comes across and strikes a chord.

What’s the most exciting thing to happen since your first book came out (besides publishing more)?

That is such a difficult question to answer. Hundreds of exciting things have happened but I’ll force myself to pin it down to two. The first was in May last year when I was asked to attend an event organized by my publisher, along with some of their other commercial fiction authors. The venue was incredibly swanky and overlooked the Thames and Tower Bridge. Lovely Jane Costello stepped out onto the balcony before the guests had arrived and said ‘today is a good day to be an author’. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

My second standout moment was discovering that The Cherry Tree Cafe had been such an e-book sensation it was going to be published in paperback as well. Not only was this an exciting moment for me, but also the many, many readers who had been constantly asking if it was ever going to happen.

And I know I said I’d stick to two but Milly Johnson, who has been the most supportive author pal imaginable, supplied a quote for the front of Coming Home To Cuckoo Cottage this year and I just don’t think I can top that!

Do you write full time? Is it like a 9-5? Does it flow easier the more books you write? Do you ever get writers’ block? How do you combat it?

Yes, I do write full time now. In June this year, having secured an agent and written two books within 12 months for the second year running I took the decision to leave the day job.

If I’m working on a first draft I tend to write at all hours and all over the place. When the words are flowing it is paramount to capitalise on the moment. However, after the first draft frenzy a routine is re-established. I like to start as early in the day as family life allows with a view to finishing at lunchtime and then use afternoons for writing blog posts and catching up with social media. I try and keep weekends free. Apart from Twittering of course. I’m never off Twitter.

I don’t necessarily think it does get easier. If anything it’s harder because your expectations are higher. You are constantly striving to make the next book better than the last. That said, I’d written the first draft for Sleigh Rides in ten weeks whereas a previous one was a real battle. A lot of that was down to life throwing spanners in the works. You have to factors those in I’m afraid, but don’t let them stop you.

No, I haven’t experienced writers’ block. I’ve had tough times and I’ve struggled but I simply refuse to let those days get the better of me. I force myself through it.

There seems to be a strong community of lovely writers, particularly on social media, who all offer support. How important is that to your writing? Do you belong to a writing group or have help (aside from your editor?)

The online writing community is hugely supportive and that is incredibly important. I don’t currently belong to a writing group but I do have lots of author pals who are just a message away and I attend occasional local one-off creative writing day courses and RNA events to ensure I interact with real people rather than just stare at a screen or notepad all day. Being an author is essentially an isolating experience and for a chatterbox like me my author pals are a real sanity saver.

sleigh-ridesCan you talk about what you’re working on at the moment? 

At the moment I’m balancing a couple of things. My Christmas 17 read, Sleigh Rides And Silver Bells At the Christmas Fair, will be published in October so I’m doing lots of promo for that while at the same time working on my summer 18 release and of course planning what will come next. It’s always pretty frantic but I love it.

Your Twitter profile says you write “feel good fiction”. It’s not only my favourite type (to read and write) but, under the broad umbrella of romantic fiction, it is always near the top (if not the top) of the best-selling and most popular genres. And yet, critics still seem consistently underrate it? Does it make you cross and do you ever feel the need to defend what you write?

No, I can’t say I ever get cross or defensive about that because I listen to what the readers have to say. As you point out ‘feel good fiction’ hits those best-seller spots all the time and that adds up to a lot of very happy readers, reading stories that they love and I feel honoured to write them.

When someone tweets or messages to say they’ve saved my book for their holiday read or that they were delighted to find it in their Christmas stocking, that’s an absolute highlight for me.

heidiswainquote

Any top tips for struggling writers?

Never stop believing and never give up. If you really want to be a writer then make that commitment and give it everything you’ve got. Once you’ve made the decision to succeed nothing will hold you back – you’ll make time to write, you’ll find a way to be published and you’ll wonder why you didn’t get on it with it years ago.

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I can’t thank Heidi enough for taking the time to answer my questions, especially when she’s got so much going on at the moment. I particularly love what she said about making the decision to succeed. What do you guys think?

You can pre-order her new book, which is out on October 5th, here, find out more about her via her website or have a chat on Twitter.

I will have two more Behind The Book posts for you next month.