Stepping Outside the Comfort Zone and #NaNoWriMo

This week…

Emma Baird and Caron AllanCaron Allan and I took a giant step outside our comfort zones this week when we did an event at Dalmuir Library—Murder, Mayhem and Indie Publishing*.

It involved, urgh, public speaking and honestly I’d rather go to the dentist than speak in front of people. Because I was reading from our books, Night and Day and Artists Town, I had to take my glasses off to do so which meant I got to avoid looking at people and gauging their reactions. You know, ‘Jeez, this is dead boring and that woman cannae act’ sort of thing. Or, ‘Crap. I thought I’d signed up for the Graham Macrae Burnet talk. When can I escape?’

In the end, it turned out to be… enjoyable. We’d formatted the evening as a Q and A session and I skillfully made sure I asked most of the questions, forcing Caron to do a lot of talking. What surprised me was how interested the audience were. One of the best feelings you get as an author is when a stranger reads, and hopefully likes, your book. Grateful as you are to family members, loyal husbands and friends who buy it, strangers have no emotional connection to you. They fancied the sound of your book and they’re under no obligation to say, “that was good!”

The same goes for questions. Our small but select audience seemed genuinely interested in what it’s like to write a book and what we do during that process. I’d anticipated having to plant questions but it wasn’t needed in the end and the event organiser had to step in to bring the questioning to an end so folks could get on with the serious business of teas and cakes.

Thanks to West Dunbartonshire Council Libraries and Cultural Services, everyone who attended (we had guests who came all the way from Edinburgh) and Sandy for doing his fair share of ferrying us to and fro.

Next year Derby where Caron lives!

On another writing note, I completed #NaNoWriMo on Friday, notching up my 50,000 words. Forcing myself to write every day proved interesting. Some days were dead easy; others the words had to be dragged out of me. It meant taking my laptop on train journeys and banging out the words while I ate lunch or dinner at times. The book isn’t finished. I’m struggling with the end and the further on I got, the more I realised I hadn’t got the structure quite right so it will need a major overhaul once I’ve finished. Still, it’s done and pre the official deadline on the 30th too.

Did you step out of your comfort zone this week? And if so, what did it involve and did you get a rush of adrenaline once you’d finished?

*If Caron’s the one writing murder stories, does that make me ‘mayhem’?!

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Murder, Mayhem and Indie Publishing

Dear lady, this month thou shalt stand up in front of people and attempt to inform and entertain… Not much of a tall order is it?

Up there on this year’s to-do list, which always includes something along the lines of Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, was’do a workshop/book event’. As someone who’d rather have a tooth pulled out sans anesthetic than stand up in front of an audience*, this is a biggie. I’ve published four books so far and this is my first ‘launch’.

Night and Day by Caron AllanTo ease the experience, I bullied roped in another writer to join me and billed it as a Q and A session. Given that most people think they have a book in them, why not appeal to that audience by positioning our event as an exploration of the world of indie publishing? And unlike me, my author chum makes decent money from her books. Who better to treat the audience to her wisdom?

Here’s the billing: Ever wondered if you could make it as an author? The internet, Amazon, Kobo, iBooks and more have made it ridiculously easy to self-publish, and the quality of books available in this sphere is better than ever, thanks to the wide range of self-publishing services now available.

Self-published authors Emma Baird and Caron Allan discuss Caron’s books, and her writing and publishing process from start to finish. Do you need beta readers? And what are beta readers, anyway? How do you typeset a book? What’s the best way to edit your work, and what free online tools are available for authors?

The discussion will address these and other questions, and we’ll also be happy to take any questions you want to ask.

Caron Allan is the author of the Friendship Can Be Murder trilogy and the Dottie Manderson mysteries. Her latest book, Scotch Mist, came out this year, and The Last Perfect Summer of Richard Dawlish is scheduled for publication early next year.

Caron published her first book in 2012, and her books have gone on to sell tens of thousands of copies and providing her with a full-time income. She lives in Derbyshire with her husband and three cats.

Emma Baird is a freelance copywriter and has four books to her name—Katie and the Deelans, The Diabetes Diet , The Girl Who Swapped and Artists Town**. She lives in Dumbarton with her husband—and yes, a cat.

Our event takes place on 19 November, kicking off Book Week Scotland.

 

*It’s in one of West Dunbartonshire Council’s local libraries. The audience will be small select.

**About to be five. Ten Little Stars, a collection of short stories, is out now.

 

 

Rewriting Your Novel – by Caron Allan

Caron Allan Fiction

I love rewriting, writes Caron Allan. There, I’ve said it. I think I could be the only person in the history of the world who actually enjoys rewriting. In fact, I like it a lot more than writing the first draft. I hate that bit. Okay, maybe not hate. I love the thrill of writing the first 50 pages or so, when it’s all fresh and exciting, and it begins to unfold on the page. Love that. But…sooner or later I always hit the first-draft wall. I know it’s because I don’t plot. I’m a pantser, so sue me, I hate to plot. But it makes the initial experience of writing a draft rather an emotional, rivers-deep-mountains-high kind of affair. But…rewriting, oh that is a whole new thing. I LOVE rewriting. You are free from the ‘burden’ of creating and, stepping back from your work, you can begin to polish and tidy.

Don’t revise as you go. I know there are always a few people that system works for, but trust me, it’s not for most people. You get so bogged down in the detail that you never progress. Write the whole book, from beginning to end, always looking forwards, pressing on till you reach ‘The End’. If you can’t remember the names and places mentioned earlier in the story, just do what I do and put a massive X in its place. Or refer to a list of names and places you create as you go along. It’s so much easier to revise a whole book. Like creating a sculpture, you’ve got that solid block to chip away at.

Put Your Book Away

After finishing your first draft, don’t immediately start revisions. Unless you are on the clock and the deadline is almost on you, put the book away for as long as you can. This is the perfect time to write another book. Yes, really. Leave your first draft for at least a few weeks, ideally a few months, or even a year. You will need to approach it next time around with a degree of detachment to get out of writer mode and into rewriter mode.

So you’re ready to start. Read it. Don’t write, don’t type, don’t tweak, fiddle, twiddle or jiggle. Just read the whole story through from beginning to end. You are trying to get an overview. Afterwards, make notes on how you felt about the book. Does the story hang together? Does the plot progress logically (unless an illogical plot is essential to your story)? Do you have that sensation of tripping up as you read—a bit like when you miss a stair and think you’re falling—that’s when there’s a problem, usually a plot problem. Try to pinpoint what it was that made you feel like that. Put a sticky note on the page, or if a computer file, highlight the section, or bookmark it, or make a note in the Track Changes.

If you’re frustrated by not being able to make changes as you spot them, or worried you might forget, again, make notes in the Track Changes feature of Word, or pencil notes in the margin, or use sticky notes if working with a paper copy, just don’t change the body of the book yet. Hopefully after rereading the whole book, you will be able to see the strengths and weaknesses of your draft. You will see what needs to go. If not, give it to a trusted friend or writing pal to read. Ask them to be honest and not just pat you on the back. Rewriting can feel very much like ‘fixing problems’ or putting right things that are wrong, this can be quite demoralising. Don’t get into this mind set. Remember, you’re polishing, refining. Putting flesh on a flexible framework. It’s all good.

POV Consistency

Start tinkering. Start with the easy stuff like consistency of character description and behaviour, check the names and personal details of all characters, check place-names are correct and consistent throughout. Then move on to point of view. With POV, consistency is everything. If you’re writing anything other than an omniscient third person viewpoint, then there will be things your characters cannot know until it is revealed to them. Make sure you’ve nailed that.

Next, check for all those words you overuse. For me, that’s words like So, And and Also. A friend of mine uses Thus in almost every paragraph…it’s really annoying. If you use unusual words to describe something, don’t repeat them more than once as unusual words stick in the reader’s mind and break the spell: the worst possible offence you can commit as a writer of fiction. Make less use of unusual words such as coterie or Schadenfreude, words that stand out from the page. If you use clichés—please don’t—but if you absolutely must, do it just once, don’t repeat them.

Check hyphenation, apostrophe use, adverbs and speech tags. I don’t agree with the ‘don’t use adverbs, they’re evil’ approach, but use them sparingly. (See what I did there?) Keep metaphors and especially similes to a minimum, unless writing poetry, they are also irritating. Don’t use fussy speech tags: he responded, she retorted, etc. Once in a while is fine, but you don’t need to tag every speech, just enough so the reader knows who said what. The word ‘said’, 90% of the time, is the best speech tag there is, it’s invisible.

Tidy your grammar, get rid of typos and unnecessary repetition. Check your tense scenes or action scenes for long, meandering sentences that slow the reader down and take forever to read, or have to be reread to try to figure out the meaning. Check slow, reflective, emotional or romantic scenes for accidentally humorous clangers, or break-neck short sentences that rush the reader too quickly through the text.

Read it again. And again. Tweak as you go, now, but remember some changes will have a knock-on effect and need to be addressed multiple times throughout the book. Now pass the draft to your close friends/beta-readers/book group, for your first round of feedback.

Then—I hate to say it—you need to do it all again. I read somewhere that if you don’t hate your book by the time it is published, you haven’t done enough work on it, and believe me I’ve come so close to hating a couple of my books. Your book is not ready for your editor or proofreader until you are absolutely convinced that it’s perfect. Trust me, it won’t be. But it’ll be pretty close. As an editor, there’s nothing worse than getting a script that is little more than a first draft. It’s like seeing a neglected child. And when you make your first sale, it will feel like it was worth every minute.

Caron Allan

Caron Allan is an Indie author who writes cosy murder mysteries as well as not-so-cosy mysteries. Caron lives in Derbyshire, England, where Mr Darcy came from! Caron is deeply interested in literature and social history, and has a bachelor’s degree in those joint subjects.

By way of a day job, Caron works as an editor and proofreader on a freelance basis.

You can find out more about Caron’s writing on her website:

caronallanfiction.com

Also, Caron is on Facebook and Twitter and would love to hear from you.

https://www.facebook.com/Caron-Allan-476029805792096/

https://twitter.com/caron_allan

Day and Night – a Review

Night and Day: a Dottie Manderson mystery (Dottie Manderson mysteries Book 1)Night and Day: a Dottie Manderson mystery by Caron Allan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I do love a good crime fiction novel – and particularly when it’s historical crime fiction. That gives you added bonuses. You get the time period of the Golden Age of crime fiction, but with modern considerations, such as detailed characterisation and stories that aren’t just plot-driven.

I enjoyed Night and Day a great deal. There are plenty of likeable characters that you feel you want to read more about, a plot that moves along well and lots of enjoyable period detail. (I, for one, love reading about what people ate and long to live in a time where the servants leave me out cocoa and sandwiches when I come in from a night out…)

Dottie Manderson is a gorgeous character – sassy, bright and modern (for the 1930s, that is) and very relatable. She’s partnered with a detective and you just know this is going to play out satisfyingly in a ‘will they/won’t they’ way. There’s a Cluedo feel to the whole story, and I love it for that.

A great read and I’m looking forward to catching up with more of Dottie, Flora et al.

View all my reviews