Crete, Cats and #NaNoWriMo

This week I’m…

Drinking olive oil

olive oil picture taken by Emma Baird author of the diabetes dietWe’re back from a week in Crete, where it’s obligatory for any tour to talk about extra virgin olive oil and its many health benefits. The Cretans splish-splosh it on everything, so it’s not surprising they are the world’s biggest consumers of the stuff getting through an average 36 litres a year.

Because we’d opted for the hand-luggage only flight, we could only bring back a measly 100ml of the stuff but I promise my meals from now on will contain liberal amounts. As gastronomic destinations go in general, Crete is tremendous. I ate one of the best lamb dishes I’ve ever had—lamb kleftiko, a paper packet of tender meat oozing luscious thick gravy, and juices-soaked carrots and potatoes added in.

Recovering from mozzie bites

Seriously, did those little gits love me because I’ve got sweeter than usual blood? By the end of the week I’d counted 26 bites and my husband kept wrestling me, strait-jacket style, to stop me scratching them. If you ever want to experience the perfect definition of instant gratification—and why it isn’t worth it—get yourself a dozen or so mosquito bites and claw at them with long nails as soon as they begin to itch.

Result? Two seconds of relief and then bites that get infected.

A resident told us this year the island has suffered more than usual. The Cretans themselves were experiencing problems too. Chania’s newspaper says the problem has been caused by cutbacks in Government spraying programmes and in the past few years, the population has gone wild.

Contemplating cats

Emma Baird with catEvery bar and restaurant we went to had its own resident cat, who could spot a sucker miles away. Here is the picture for proof. Up they came, positioning themselves beside your chair and yowling furiously until you gave them a bit of whatever you were eating.

My theory is that Cretan cats and cats in hotter countries are further along the evolutionary chain than those in the UK. They’ve lived alongside humans for far longer, and most of the ones we came across aren’t at all skittish around people. They are very noisy too. The cat’s miaow was developed to communicate with humans, but you don’t meet that many ‘talkative’ cats over here.

Unfortunately, part of the greater progress along the evolutionary chain is because they breed in vast quantities. We saw lots of kittens and young cats, and all kinds of amazing, unusual patterns. Again, in hot counties this is harder to control. Greece has suffered financially in recent years. There won’t be much money around for trap, neuter, release programmes.

Doing NaNoWriMo

For those of you outside the writing world, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. It’s an annual initiative encouraging writers to write the first draft of a novel or 50,000 words in one month. It sounds like a tall order, but if you break it down into 2,000 words a day every day, you’re in ‘eat that elephant one bite at a time’ territory.

My incentive is partly financial. I’m about to ditch Microsoft Word as I’m fed up of spending so much money on it every year when there are just as good freebies out there. Libre Office for example. And Scrivener is software specially created for writers, which you pay a one-off fee for. I’ve resisted it until now because I’m not keen on something that comes with a 45-minute tutorial. Manana never comes soon enough for me, so listening to that tutorial is a tall order. But Word isn’t great for working with long documents such as novels and I fancy Scrivener’s corkboard feature to help me plot.

How does this fit with NaNoWriMo? The folks that make Scrivener offer it at half-price if you complete NaNoWriMo. While on holiday, I outlined a plot using a one-page template I found online so in theory writing 2,000 words every day will be easier because I have an idea of what happens in each chapter instead of pantsing it.

Highland Fling book cover by Emma BairdI’m going to try my hand at a sweet romance, which will be a challenge for me. I’m filthy-mouthed (blame working in journalism and PR for that) so my novels tend to contain plenty of couthy language, the odd bit of sex and other adult themes. Sweet romance ‘rules’ mean no swearing, definitely no sex and the ‘climax’ is the kiss. Once that’s done, it’s game over. Sweet romance is HUGE in the indie publishing world and its top writers earn hundreds of thousands. As one writer put it, fans of ‘spicy’ romance, i.e. the sex stuff, will read sweet romance, whereas the opposite doesn’t usually apply.

Here are the first few paras:

“I didn’t mean to smash his heart into smithereens—and they were his words not mine—but if you want to make an omelette you have to crack a few eggs, don’t you?”

“Stop right there!” My best friend excels at bossiness. She gets up from the sofa and holds a hand out, traffic cop style.

“Do NOT mix up metaphors like that,” she begs. “Please. You’re hurting my ears.”

She’s a copywriter and very fussy about what people say in front of her. If you ever dare utter, do you know what I mean? at the end of a sentence, she jumps down your throat. No, I don’t know. That’s why you’re telling me. I cut that habit out after about the hundredth time she said it.

“Kelly!” I too am on the sofa in my about to be vacated home. I love this sofa too. It took me five visits to the SofasRUs (and all on the days when there were sofa sales so I wasted a lot of bank holidays) to find my perfect one. This is it. Dark red velvet, super squishy and big enough to fit four people, five if you know each other really well.

And tomorrow I say goodbye to this sofa. Just like I wave farewell to the coffee table I rescued from a junk yard, sanded down and varnished myself, the book shelves I built from flat packs accompanied by a lot of cursing, the laminated floorboards I laid one hot and sweaty weekend, the curtains…

Charlotte Amelia Richardson! My mother’s voice. This moping will not do. Kelly backs her up. Not in real life, but in my head; the two of them competing to see who can order me around the most.

Kelly rummages through her handbag and emerges with a large bar of chocolate that she waves triumphantly in front of me.

“Okay,” she says, “if you promise not to mix up any more metaphors and refrain from terrible clichés, I will break this bar in two and give you half.” She inspects the bar, checking the label. It’s the Oreo cookie one, tiny bits of biscuit crumb encased in thick slabs of chocolate.

“The much smaller half.”

I am not having that. I lurch forward and grab the bar from her hands, dancing away from her as she shrieks and tries to get it back. My fingers move fast, ripping through purple foil while Kelly howls, “No, no, no!” I jam it into my mouth, bite off a quarter and hand it back to her, tooth marks and all.

All’s fair in love and war, or love and chocolate, right?

You can read the rest of this chapter on Wattpad here. https://embed.wattpad.com/story/164480382

Wish me luck…

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#Wattys2018 Longlist

a copy of the book cover for the artist's history by Emma BairdA little good news this week…

If you didn’t know already, I’m Scottish (that’s not my news, BTW) and part of our national identity is self-deprecation and a loathing for boasting in any form. My English, Welsh and Irish chums would agree.

Blowing your own trumpet—just not Scottish stroke British. Let’s leave that to the Y… other nations*. Anyhoos, I awoke early on Saturday and checked my emails. There, nestling among the usual suspects—you’ve been picked for a Nectar/YouGov survey! Not-to-be-missed offer on wine/miracle skin cream/trainers/cat collars/anything you’ve ever bought online—was a message congratulating me on being longlisted for the #Wattys2018.

The #Wattys are annual awards on Wattpad, a reading and writing platform used by millions of people all over the world. There are 65 million writers on it (including established authors such as Margaret Atwood and Paulo Coelho). The popular folks publish stories that clock up millions of reads, its landed publishing deals for many and the platform even has its own studios.

I signed up originally because I wrote a book I’d aimed at the YA market, and Wattpad has a mainly teenage audience. I’ve lingered on the edges there ever since. My chapters get read by… ooh, three or four people, my all-time best 45 for one chapter.

Still, it’s good discipline. I use it to spur myself on. My Wattpad followers await their update! (All two of them.) Must write another chapter instead of giving up on this piece of rubbish. And it forces you to concentrate on chapters as individual things. When you write a book as whole, it’s tempting to write certain chapters carelessly—the joining chapters that are just there to add points or move the plot from A to B. When you upload chapter by chapter to a site, it’s important every chapter is as exciting and interesting as it can be.

My all-time most popular piece of writing with the most reads per chapter is a book I gave up on—Unnatural Appetites, billed as plus-size vampire erotica. Niche, huh? Hats off to other erotica writers. Seriously, how do you do it? I got bored. I don’t want to write about people’s bits—their heads interest me far more.

Back to the Wattys2018 long list. There was my little book with its meagre readership. Have a guess how many others are on that list… seven hundred plus. I patted myself on the back briefly and embarked on a ‘lower the expectations’ lecture:

Well, Emma! This is nice, isn’t it? Years of being on Wattpad and getting nowhere. Here is a little success. Little, mind! You know, you and the other seven hundred or so writers. If you’re to benefit from this, it’s the short list that counts. And we’re going to plant this thought firmly – EMMA, THOU ART NOT GOING TO MAKE THE SHORT LIST. Message received and understood?

A little pride punched its way through, however. That long list redefines any definition of the term, but there were 151,767 entrants to that competition. Arguably, the Wattys is the world’s biggest writing competition.

Go me?

Please add your own boasts to the comments. I’m serious. I’ll feel 100 percent better about myself if I’m not blowing the trumpet solo.

 

 

*Shoot. I fear the self-deprecation hides a raging superiority complex.

A Week in the Life of a Blogger

This week I have been…

Writing about sewing machines, keeping your dog safe when it’s Bonfire Night, the changes to Facebook and how they affect businesses, inheritance and virtual reality’s impact on the sport of bodybuilding. Such is the varied life of a blogger. And sending out invoices while wondering about the viability of writing for a living*.

Over-estimating children’s appetite for sweeties. The very well-behaved guisers who called at our house only wanted one or two sweets. Or maybe my offerings (see above) were rubbish. Anyway, as they have a use-by date sometime in the 2020s (ahem), they’ll last another few Halloweens.

Reflecting on the genius of the Duffer Brothers. Seriously, is there anyone who doesn’t love Stranger Things? The second series is even better than the first, and I binge watched my way through it this week.

Avoiding Twitter because I was too busy binge-watching Stranger Things to tune in for the Great British Bake Off final, and saved it up for another night instead. Apparently, I needed to avoid Twitter anyway because judge Prue Leith gave the game away 12 hours ahead of the show being aired.

Wishing my great aunt a happy birthday, her 103rd anniversary… Bodes well for my genes, I suppose.

Trying out new recipes. Like most people, I recycle the same old favourites repeatedly. I bought the Sainsbury’s and Good Food magazines for October and tried out the Budget-friendly Pot Roast, Szechwan Chicken Wings, Egg-fried Rice, Steamed Seabass, and Broccoli, Pea and Mint Soup.

Applying for jobs. My conversion rate is about one in ten. I really need to up the number of applications I make (I do ten a week), but I live in fear that one day all ten (or even five) potential clients will come back at once, and need delivery at the same time.

Looking into BookBub as a promotional tool. More promising than Facebook or Amazon ads, apparently, as your audience are purely voracious readers.

Running. I’ve rediscovered a love for pounding the pavements. When you’ve been inside all day, a run in the dark, rainy weather works wonders.

Writing about vampires, friendship and betrayal. Once the paid work is dealt with, I do what I love – creative writing. (And you can read my stories on Wattpad here – https://embed.wattpad.com/follow/SavvyDunn?type=2) One day, one day, perhaps the stars will align, and the creative work will become the paid work, earning me enough money to make a small income. Nothing greedy. If blogging for a living has taught me anything, it’s how to make do with a lot, lot less.

 

 

*Don’t do it, folks!

Beauty and the Vampire

Ten thousand words into a book and I needed matchsticks to prop up my eyes. And I’m the author. It’s not good when you’re boring the pants off yourself. It doesn’t bode well for a book.

I’ve wanted to write a decent YA novel for AGES. I’ve tried a few times, but not managed. I like one of my attempts, but a YA book it ain’t – more a coming of age thing meant to appeal to other people who grew up in the 80s/90s.

This time, I thought I’d try a tale about a girl who ends up a YouTube star with her make-up for spotty girls channel. It started off okay. I’d found her a boyfriend. I’d introduced them in the tried and trusted Pride and Prejudice way. I’d even injected a little social grit as my heroine had a little sister who was dying (she was using her channel to raise money to get her sister to Disneyland), and she’d gained a ton of followers online who hung on to her every word. Sometimes they were nasty to her, in authentic YouTube style-y.

And then…yawnsville. Darn it, the writing just slogged on, words clinging to the pages instead of dancing in the air.

Inspiration struck this week. I get a lot of my ideas while out walking. Keep her as a YouTube star, I thought, pacing out the steps to Asda, but change the world and make her motivation different. Let’s throw in vampires!

Now, instead of a YouTube make-up channel for spotty gels, she’s got another audience in mind—those who want to look like ordinary human beings, instead of bloodsuckers.

My heroine still needs to look after her little sister, as her family can’t afford the healthcare for vampire immunisation. Only rich folks can afford it, and that means I get to take a sly dig at Donald Trump too.

Always a bonus, right?

Throw in some Romeo and Juliet conflict via a potential vampire love interest et voila! Something rather more entertaining.

I might still bore it up. Wish me luck. And in a blatant attempt to direct you to my Wattpad account, you can read the first instalment here

More Adventures on Wattpad

editingIf I’d hoped to discover a whole new set of fans on Wattpad frothing for my every update, I was sadly mistaken…

Ah well! My experiences on the online storytelling community site were interesting nonetheless. My few readers – we’re talking single figures here – appear to be loyal. You can look at engagement on Wattpad, seeing how much of a chapter gets read. Those dear readers of mine read all my chapters in the main so at least I’m doing something right

I uploaded other stories and they still read on. They read everything quickly too.

As an experiment and because vampire stuff is popular on Wattpad, I thought I’d do a vampire story, Unnatural Appetites. I’m uploading it live, so to speak. I post up chapters when I do them. To do that, I needed to write a detailed synopsis first plotting out the first, second and third act. That was a useful exercise. I’ve done synopsis (synopsii?) before, but not this way. I change it as I go along. Most writers are familiar with a situation or character that seemingly pops up from nowhere when you are writing.

What am I doing wrong? I haven’t bothered following anyone else, apart from the people who follow me. Actively going after followers would help increase my readers. It’s the universal law of social media politeness. You follow me, I follow you back.

[Unless I’m on Twitter and you’re one of those self-publishing marketing companies. Or my nutter radar starts vibrating.]

One person did contact me to tell me she loved my writing and couldn’t believe I had so few followers. Some years ago, a writer friend of mine (Gordon Lawrie: Four Old Geezers and a Valkyrie) you really cherish those comments and it’s gratifying when people make an effort to tell you they enjoy what you write. Too true!

It’s early days. I have the patience of a vampire starved of blood for five days let loose in a shopping mall the day before Christmas. (Thought I’d better use a vampire metaphor there to tie in with Unnatural Appetites.) I need to stop myself logging onto Wattpad more than once a day to see what my figures are. Yes, I know. Lame.

Anyway, who knows what might happen? The Wattpad community might discover a liking for plus-size vampire X-certified romance – I went deep niche – or they might start commenting on my other stuff, helping put it up the Wattpad ranking system.

As others have commented here, I might look at Write On instead. Writers have found this more useful, as the feedback can be thoughtful and constructive. I’ll keep you updated.

 

 

Wattpad – Advice for Writers

wattpadDo any of you use Wattpad? Wattpad, if you’re not familiar with it, is an online storytelling community where people post stories, articles, fan fiction and more.

You create an account and upload stories via the website or the app. Wattpad has 16.9 million unique visitors every month and an average of 30 minutes spent reading. It’s an interesting experience for an author because Wattpad breaks down the information for you. The site will tell you how many reads you get and, crucially, the percentage of a chapter that is read.

Bracing stuff!

Wattpad success stories include Lily Carmine, whose book The Lost Boys clocked up an impressive 33 million reads. She eventually landed a deal with Random House UK thanks to an editor who’d read her book on Wattpad.

Standoutbooks offers the following advice for authors wanting to publish on Wattpad:

Upload a whole book, not a half-written one. If you get engagement, it’s best to make the most of it. You can’t upload chapters regularly if they’re not yet written.

Be prepared to give your book away for free. If there are only one or two chapters uploaded, this will irritate readers.

Remember it’s social media. Respond to comments. Follow other people. Use the comments to send messages to your readers, telling them of other books to come and suchlike.

Be aware of the audience. Most Wattpad users are teenagers and 20-somethings. The genres that do best on Wattpad are science fiction, young adult and fantasy.

I began to upload a story recently, uploading a chapter or two a day. My readership is very small, but it’s loyal. Unknown American readers are reading the book. They read every chapter, which is gratifying. I feel duty-bound to keep posting because they’ve done so. I plan to upload a YA/fantasy novel next, seeing as those genres seem to be the most successful.