Tag Archives: women writers

A Folder Called ‘Bollocks’ – Why Authors Should NEVER Respond to Reviews

Regular readers of my blog may recall I celebrated the much anticipated landing of my first one star review as an author, with a light-hearted blog post and a nod to fellow authors to try not to take them too seriously.

In the last month I have seen a few knee-jerk reactions to scathing reviews and am almost always saddened, especially when I find one very talented author I greatly respect saying, ‘I just feel like giving up’. But today I began to read this response to a book review from an author on Goodreads, and found I couldn’t read on. To say it felt like watching car crash TV was an understatement.

The first and most obvious thing that occurs to me here is how the author has succeeded in spending what must have been hours alienating a community of book lovers he will have spent hundreds more writer hours trying to reach – 131 of whom ended up liking the bad review even though I suspect many hadn’t read the book. But also, I mourn for the time lost when this author should have been doing what he clearly feels he was put on this earth to do – some actual novel writing.

I am now indoctrinated in to the world of book publication with a few bad reviews of my own. I say a few, because I haven’t counted and have stopped reading them, particularly on Goodreads, where I find they can be at their most brutal for almost all authors I have read and loved. I made a conscious decisions to quit doubting my ability to write when it became clear that the good reviews far outweighed the bad for my debut novel; only if the opposite had been true was I going to allow doubt to sink in. Only then would I question whether I was in the right vocation, which is just as well because I cannot imagine ever doing anything else. I don’t dwell on bad reviews because that would stop me from working and almost certainly stifle me creatively. I only recall my first on Amazon, for the fact that it was the first, and the last one I was gifted with on Amazon UK, because it stayed at the top of my reviews list for what felt like an age after being posted on the very day of the release of my paperback from my new publisher:

one star reviews

I don’t mind sharing it and have spared outing the writer by blanking out her name. It’s not important; nobody died and everyone is entitled to not like my book. I have very good friends and relatives who I know would not like, ‘The New Mrs D’, yet they remain good friends and the rest can’t do anything about being related to me. The review here only became a momentary annoyance for me because this was the day of my traditional publication. Would this person’s thoughts affect my sales? My livelihood? With hindsight though, I think not.

There is always going to be the understandable worry that in trashing your work the reviewer has affected your business and, more annoyingly, without a second thought. It can also be painful to know someone hated your book – not you, remember, your book – enough to feel the need to try and put everyone off buying it. Okay, it hurts. So if you need to, take a few seconds to acknowledge that then move on. But don’t respond. Don’t, don’t… just don’t.

Writing is a business and vendors on sites like Amazon, Google+ and Trip Advisor are always answering bad reviews, because it is considered good for business for them to state their side of the story. If an author does so, it is up for sharing across social media and blogs as a lesson to us all. So think of this from the point of view as a consumer.

As an occasional frequenter of hotels, I would worry about bad reviews but feel heartened to see the hotelier acknowledge the complaint, accept its relevance or explain how it may have been inaccurate and suggest ways forward for change and improvement. As a reader, I have pretty much decided on whether or not I’m going to buy a book after a recommendation, reading the blurb and briefly glancing at the ratio of good reviews to bad. One ‘this is tripe’ among sixty ‘I loved it’ comments isn’t going to stop me visiting Paypal for another ‘buy it now’ trip. (Nobody tell my husband, okay?)

I have thought this way about reviews since day one of my decision to publish, but I understand more than ever why no author should go down the road of responding to reviews after reading the Goodreads thread above today, which is why I have brought the incident to my blog, not as a seasoned pro with twenty published novels, but as a new writer looking in, sucking in my cheeks like a plumber about to give you a very large quote for your leaky boiler and saying, ‘ooh no, don’t go there. Please.’.

Read it and weep. Answering bad reviews is a waste of your valuable, creative time and readers are always telling us they are rarely swayed from buying a book by the appearance of a couple of stinking reviews.

Yes, it is early days for me and no, I haven’t suffered the joys of a scathing public review yet. But I know this much: if and when that day arrives it will be because I made it to a place that was beyond my wildest imagination when I first set out to write a book. Maybe I might need to come back to this post to remind myself where my head was today when dealing with this. I think we all need a nudge from time to time because writing is hard and putting your work out publically feels beyond scary. But I want to write and if you’re still here this far down, I suspect you do too. Enjoy it as much as you can. Hell, why can’t we have some fun with our poor reviews? I even stuck one of my most cutting ones in the middle of a marketing video for a Kindle promotion I ran last year:

Think on, writer pals, think on. If I’ve learned anything in the five short years since I set out to chase my ambitions it’s this: With inordinate passion for writing comes inordinate rejection and criticism. If this succeeds in making you quit, then perhaps you’re not supposed to be a writer. And if you are supposed to be a writer, focus on the parts you love; all the things that bring you to your writing desk each day. And file every ill-thought out, scathing review you happen upon in a mental folder called, ‘bollocks’.

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Chick Lit Books – An Open Letter To Real Book Lovers

george wade

Lucy Kelson: George, I think you are the most selfish human being on the planet.
George Wade: Well that’s just silly. Have you met everybody on the planet?
– ‘Two Weeks Notice’.

This weekend I had my very first book signing event at the Waterstones store in East Kilbride, Scotland. It was a great and pime at my first signing... for a chick lit book?votal day for me, being a newly published author in the shop nearest my home, where I’ve spent many happy hours getting high on new book smell and about three purchases low on cash. And all with my big sister and various other members of my family watching and cheering me on.

The Waterstones staff were fantastic; so supportive and encouraging as well as taking care of my needs and sharing stories of other authors’ come-from-nothing successes to bolster my confidence. All in all, it was a fabulous day – a huge thanks to them for inviting me along.

But there was one moment that threatened to spoil it all at the very beginning. As I sat watching shoppers stroll by, all avoiding eye contact with me as though I had a clipboard and a ‘Market Researchers do it in the Street’ t-shirt on, the very first stranger to approach me smiled, picked up a copy of ‘The New Mrs D’ and glanced at the back cover for all of one second before placing it quickly back down with a scowl and taking off as fast as her legs could carry her.

Being perpetual jovial sorts, my sister and I looked at each other and burst out laughing.

‘This is going well, don’t you think?’ I said, showcasing the books in front of me with a sweep of my arm like a model displaying prizes on ‘The Price is Right’ …and knocking my glass of water over them. (Oh yes I did).

Three down, twenty to go…

Don’t get me wrong, I do judge a book by its cover, but never without having read the entire blurb first. So what was it that made a person run away after having a glance at my cover and a read of the first two lines on the back?

I don’t know and I never will. But here’s my best guess. Dare I say, that brightly coloured, cartoon cover and the promise of a light-hearted, comedy novel that screams, ‘chick lit’?

The week before my first signing, I had responded to a comment left on a Facebook book club wall that asked something like, ‘does anyone else here hate chick lit?’ So I bit my lip and wrote what may have been a contender for longest Facebook comment in a thread ever. It went something like this:

‘As a writer of what has been called chick lit, I’d like to defend it if only because it depresses me that it gets such a bad rap, like it doesn’t deserve its place in literature. I read all kinds of genres and regularly have two or three very different books on the go at the same time but I never rule an entire genre out. I love to try something new, dipping in to different writer styles often. Chick lit has its place for light reading, for laughs, for comic escapism. I have had several men who professed to hating the chick lit genre read my book then come back and tell me they really enjoyed it. I was thrilled when science fiction writer Dylan Hearn, who took the plunge into something new for him, read my book then wrote a rave review and blog about it, admitting he had never picked up a chick lit book before.

I want to defend the genre because it is reading all of the dismissals of it that stops many women from writing what it is in their heart to write, for fear of being rejected by the ‘literary police’. Anything new, bold and original is exciting to find and nothing would ever be created if writers didn’t take the difficult step of bringing their stories out into the world. The fact is, we all have different tastes and to me, writing is not just a craft but an art. It should be a joy to bring that which you were meant to do out in to the world and, after all, art is about freedom of expression. It’s about capturing the imagination and taking it anywhere you wish it to go. An individual may hate the work of Van Gogh, but that doesn’t make him any less of the incredible & innovative artist that he was. It’s all a matter of personal taste. What sings to one person can screech like nails on a blackboard to another. And what’s wrong with that?

Perhaps you read one or two bad chick lit books. Perhaps, like me, you’re of an age where you’ve read countless books with will-they-won’t-they, she-hates-him-then-she-loves-him plot lines and think you can’t stand to read another. But then, if you are like me, you’ll remember that you loved these once and now you’re older, you’re perhaps looking for something different. It doesn’t make those kinds of stories any less relevant, they’re just not relevant to you.

I would ask anyone not to discount an entire genre based on some they’ve read or seen, as not all books in any genre are the same. The majority of chick lit writers are women and we should be encouraging more female writers to find their voice. The only thing I have to say that I don’t like about chick lit as a genre is the name. I’m 44 years old, I’m not now nor have I ever been a ‘chick’. I hope it changes to ‘contemporary fiction’ or something equally suitable. I’d like something that says I write commercial, comedy fiction for all genders.

And for the reader, let’s not be afraid that no one will ever take us seriously if we admit to liking a bit of easier reading and laughter – the best medicine there is. There is a lot to be said for so called ‘easy reads’ too. They encourage more people to read and that, we should all be able to agree if we’re true book lovers, is a fundamental and beautiful thing.’

Others have written on this very subject of course. In his article for Huffington Post, entitled, ‘Stop Being Literary Snobs and Embrace Chick-Lit’, Ben Mirza writes, ‘There’s a reason why these people hate chick-lit, and it’s nothing to do with declining standards. It is simply that these people hate escapism and frankly, hate a genre that focuses on the general lives of women.’

The hatred of escapist comedy reading is something I know many readers have and there is absolutely no wrong in this. To each his (or her) own. For me, one of the most interesting things about comedy is the fact that everyone loves to laugh, yet comedy books seem to be the target of the harshest critics, often accused of appealing to a readership of the lowest, common denominator.  I don’t know about you, but I’m a little bit tired of being told what I should and shouldn’t be reading. Overall, I want books that test my intelligence, scare me a little bit, make me think, make me question things, freak me out, make me cry and make me laugh – and I can get all of these things in a year filled with reading a little bit of something from every genre. There’s a special place for all of it in my brain.

Lucy-Anne Holmes sums it up nicely in her 2014 article for The Guardian:

‘I’m not going to apologise for enjoying books that focus on women’s careers, families and love lives, as romantic comedy often does. As a woman – as a person – discovering what I love to do, feeling empowered to do it and falling in love have been pretty seismic events in my life, ones I can identify with far more than discovering a murdered body in a disused car park.’

So let’s not profess to be specific genre haters; let’s continue to be book lovers with open, hungry minds requiring nourishment from a wide variety of sources . And to those who still say they hate chick lit, I say, ‘that’s just silly. Have you read every chick lit book on the planet?’

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The Rollercoaster – 29,000 Downloads Later

Remember this scene from the 1980’s comedy film, Parenthood?

If you follow my progress you will know two significant things have happened to me lately:

1) I left my agent and found my novel, ‘The New Mrs Dunpublished with a loss of my sales rankings and
2) I held a three day free promotion last week in an attempt to push the book back in to the charts.

It worked.

Last week, 29,000 people downloaded ‘The New Mrs D‘ for free, giving me what I hope will turn out to be a substantial new readership. Hooray!

And many authors are asking me how it happened. So as always, I am only too happy to share as much as I know here.

Firstly, I went to www.fiverr.com and paid for three services at $5 a time. A promo video, an SEO expert to share my video link as many times as possible and a marketer to send details of my book promotion to forty websites.

I also successfully managed to secure a small advertisement with www.bookbub.com. Bookbub only accept something like 10-20% of submissions I believe and require that you have a certain amount of five star reviews. But I do credit this with the huge spike of downloads I achieved on the very first day.

I paid what was at the time, just over $30 to have The New Mrs D promo mailed out to a 210,000 strong mailing list of fans of chick lit. The prices have risen a little lately, but you can find them here.

What’s great is that although I didn’t have the funds to reach the 1,030,000+ subscribers of their women’s fiction list ($245) The New Mrs D reached the no1 best selling humour spot on both the Amazon UK and US free stores list for the entire length of the promotion. It’s highest ranking over ALL of the free store books was no4 in the UK and no7 in the US – beating many of the other BookBub promoted novels for those days who would have accessed the one million plus mailing lists. Not at all bad!

What I didn’t do was tweet my book link constantly or flash post to hundreds of Facebook pages. Some people may have done that for me through the Fiverr.com gigs, but not I. I simply do not believe it works. I did write a blog post and share it across my social channels and I did share the promotions progress over the three days. I also manually entered the book to around twenty free ebook promoting websites. And that is it, the sum total of my efforts.

As I type, The New Mrs D is no 20 in the best selling literary humour chart, just ten places behind Helen Fielding’s ‘Mad About The Boy’. Maybe it will stay, maybe not. Maybe it’s a post promotional lucky spike in sales that will tail off. Only time will tell.

But what a roller coaster! It’s thrilling and hard and scary and up, down, up, down and round and round. What a ride, this writerly life.

I like the roller coaster.

Back to book two!

Those lovely folks at Novelicious.com made me this.
Those lovely folks at Novelicious.com made me this.

Those lovely folks at Novelicious.com made me the quote opposite. Read my full interview on the site HERE

If you wish to know the specific details of services I used on Fiverr, please email me at hell4heather@gmail.com

I’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have in the comments here also!

Porn Addiction IS No Laughing Matter

porn quote

It’s just five days since The New Mrs D was released and I have already had some wonderful feedback from readers, most saying they completely associate with her. One Amazon reviewer sums it up nicely:

It is so refreshing to have a main character who isn’t perfect, who is always struggling with weight, self-esteem issues and pants that keep rolling down (due to muffin tops and not sexual behaviour).’

However, yesterday I received an email from someone, who I must point out has NOT read the book, which has led me to sit down to write this blog post today.

The New Mrs D tackles the difficult, mostly unspoken about subject of porn addiction in a work of comedy fiction. The person emailing me asked why I would think porn addiction, which has blown up like a bomb in society, with many innocent people getting hurt every minute of every day, is something to laugh about. I will not name this person; it was a highly personal and confidential email from someone whose identity I am happy, indeed – determined to protect.

But I did feel a need to answer this question, lest anyone else should be misled into believing that this is what my book seeks to do. In fact, its purpose is far removed from making light of the subject. My reason for writing it was to bring the issue to the fore.

Editors called it ‘a laugh on every page’, ‘hilarious’ and ‘very timely in the year of the new Bridget Jones novel’. Yet no one wanted to publish it. They said it was ‘too close to the bone’ and an ‘icky’ subject. One editor said she just didn’t believe anyone would marry a man like that.

I didn’t just decide to pick something controversial to sit down and write a comedy novel about; I felt it needed to be addressed. All of my research and experience has shown me that plenty of people have and do marry men like that. Plenty of people live with porn addiction in their relationship on a daily basis, slowly letting their self-confidence reach the point of shut down without ever telling anyone what is happening, purely out of shame. They think it is their fault. Or, that in some way it makes them look bad for not being able to cope with what is fast becoming acceptable in modern society – the sexualisation and objectification of women in everyday media outlets. I would go as far as to say it is probably more people that each of us know than we realise.

How many people reading this post have been in some way affected by a partner’s porn addiction and never told a living soul? How many people reading this are thinking, ‘pah! Like it’s a real problem?’ Naturally, there are people on both sides of the fence.

What would you think if I told you of women that have left a room in tears after what to most people would seem a harmless, everyday advert, featuring a perfectly toned woman in a state of undress, appears on the TV? Does that sound excessive and neurotic to you? Then you have never been the partner of a porn addict. To the partner of such a person, every picture like this becomes – to their mind– a potential trigger to the addict. Think, ‘sparkly glass of wine in front of an alcoholic’. And you are the grape juice in the dull glass beside it.

The question on whether this is really a problem is an interesting one. In ‘The New Mrs D’ it most certainly is, as the partner uses porn instead of making love to his wife. He, in fact, is unable to make love to his wife but can reach ejaculation whilst watching porn. An editor who wrote a feedback report on my manuscript asked the question, ‘would porn use really cause a sexual dysfunction?’

Norman Doidge of The Guardian wrote a very interesting and revealing article on the Brain Scans of Porn Addicts. It told of how ‘scan images show that watching online “adult” sites can alter our grey matter, which may lead to a change in sexual tastes.’ He concludes with this story:

‘In her book, Bunny Tales: Behind Closed Doors at the Playboy Mansion, Izabella St James, who was one of Hugh Hefner’s former “official girlfriends”, described sex with Hef. Hef, in his late 70s, would have sex twice a week, sometimes with four or more of his girlfriends at once, St James among them. He had novelty, variety, multiplicity and women willing to do what he pleased. At the end of the happy orgy, wrote St James, came “the grand finale: he masturbated while watching porn”.

Here, the man who could actually live out the ultimate porn fantasy, with real porn stars, instead turned from their real flesh and touch, to the image on the screen. Now, I ask you, “what is wrong with this picture?”.’

Porn addiction in a commercial comedy novel may be considered by many to make uncomfortable reading. Bringing the issue of what many people consider virtual adultery is, I grant you, different and edgy. I believe difficult subjects can be made more palatable and accessible to a wider audience in works of commercial comedy fiction. It is not easy and it is a work that has taken me almost two years to complete in the hope that I have handled it sensitively.  But what if I can help people to be able to say out loud, ’actually, I hate this porn culture we live in’? What if I can trigger conversations about matters that were once kept behind closed doors?

In my search for publication, I was asked if I would remove the porn addiction element. In edits, I was advised to try altering the age of the protagonist to a woman in her thirties (Mrs D is in her forties) and maybe consider changing my name to a male pseudonym; anything to make its subject more comfortable and marketable.

I wanted to write about a real person, in a very real situation. I also like to make people laugh and offer something different in an increasingly androcentric world.

The comedy part of my novel is not around the subject of porn addiction, it is around a women’s

Wonderful review from Amazon Australia
Wonderful review from Amazon Australia

life altering honeymoon alone in Greece where she discovers a lot about herself. I sought to speak to women, empower and educate them. It follows the laughter, tears and moments of clarity in the life of the partner of a porn addict. If I’d have removed the porn addiction element of the story, The New Mrs D may well have been published traditionally. I chose not to, because then my reason for writing the book in the first place would have been lost.

I’ll let the readers decide if I did her – and this very timely subject – justice.

You can buy The New Mrs D HERE. And please do come back to tell me your thoughts.

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The ‘Let’s Have a Break From The World Cup and Talk About Death’ Blog

First – NEWS! The New Mrs D is now available
to PRE-ORDER on Amazon! Hooray!(Follow the link)
Here it is again in case you missed it – LINK

And second…

skul 1

I have a confession. I’m drawn to graveyards. Which is just as well because there are no less than
two in the lane where I live and sometimes – just sometimes – I take a detour walk around one of them with the dogs.

I don’t know why, but they hold a certain morbid fascination for me. In particular, the very old gravestones. The inscriptions can tell so much about someone’s death, but also, they make me ponder how they lived.

The nearest one to me is where they bury people that have more recently passed. And by that I don’t mean just strolling by as Sally the lab cross and I do now and again, thankfully.

The other is Stonehouse Old Kirkyard, which is a fabbie – if spooky – place full of real historical significance. Here is where I really like to hang out, trying to decipher some seriously old headstones. My family will tell you I don’t often go out and visit the living, so they’d be amazed if they knew how much time I spend visiting the dead.

Stonehouse is in the heart of old Covenanter country, so the old Kirkyard is full of people that died in the name of religious freedom. (Covenanters were a Scottish Presbyterian movement that played an important part in the history of Scotland). But even more interestingly, it has a witch’s stone. Yep, at the end of my road.

Witchcraft was (allegedly) rife here in Stonehouse between the 16th and 18th  centuries. Kirk 1In fact, at one  time people would only  dare travel through the village whilst carrying a  branch of Rowan, said to keep bad spirits away –  and a handy thing for swatting all the midges. The  Rowan  tree  remains ever present in some  of our  gardens to this day, swaying quietly in the breeze while keeping us safe. That  is, if  you  believe in all that mumbo jumbo, which I,  being of  sane mind and character of course, do not.
The witch’s stone, or ‘bloodstone’ is, to put it in my own words, ‘a stone that bites you when you prod it.’  It’s a table stone with a skull carved on, that has a hole below the mouth. It belongs to one James Thomson,  who died at the battle of Drumclog in 1679. And one day, a wise person, let us call him, ‘Thomas McThumb’, came  along, poked their finger in the hole and pulled it out to find blood on it. Gasp!

Now, thanks to Thomas running home to tell everyone about it, this eerie phenomenon brings visitors to the village, queuing to have a go at getting their own fingers bitten too. NB: This has nothing to do with the red ocre running through the stone – nothing I tell you! The witch’s stone is spooky and it maims you. Keep coming here, the local Coop needs your sticky plaster buying business.

What is the Covenanters’ grave to do with witches? Legend skul 2would have us believe that Stonehouse, being almost encircled by the river Avon, has its ancient witches trapped, due to their inability to cross running water; hence why they are still here biting folk in the Kirkyard.

Where am I leading you with my historical tales of witchcraft and bleeding fingers?

Well, the last time I was there, leaning in for a little look and wondering if the witch would bite me if I just, poked one little digit into…..

Garghhhhhhh! (That was me by the way).

There was a snuffling, scratching sound that made my heart stop.  Then a clod of earth hit my back. This was it; the Stonehouse witch had got me and I was going to die here, with my finger stuck under the mouth of this skull like a sort of gone wrong game of Operation.

BBBBBBBBUZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!

‘You touched the sides! You touched the sides! Your cardboard patient with the boozer’s nose is DEAD.’

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Sally – with witch grave on her nose.

Without removing my finger, because you never know, it could have been plugging the way for a few more escaping ghosties, I turned round to see Sally enthusiastically kicking back earth, attempting to dig up the body of James Thomson.
I. Kid. You. Not. So, let me tell you, he may be mysterious and have a spooky witch sleeping on his head, but his bones smell delicious.

I snapped Sally back on her lead and we  ran home to hide… behind our Rowan tree.

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Our very own amulet against witchcraft.

Exciting Project For New Women Writers

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I’m delighted to share some information about the exciting new WoMentoring Project, a scheme which seeks to help new women writers in their quest for publication. Their new website has been launched today! Good luck to all involved.

Below is some more information for any women writers, or interested mentors who may wish to get on board to use or support the project.

About?

The WoMentoring Project exists to offer free mentoring by professional literary women to up and coming female writers who would otherwise find it difficult to access similar opportunities.

The mission of The WoMentoring Project is simply to introduce successful literary women to other women writers at the beginning of their careers who would benefit from some insight, knowledge and support. The hope is that we’ll see new, talented and diverse female voices emerging as a result of time and guidance received from our mentors.

Each mentor selects their own mentee and it is at their discretion how little or much time they donate. We have no budget, it’s a completely free initiative and every aspect of the project – from the project management to the website design to the PR support – is being volunteered by a collective of female literary professionals. Quite simply this is about exceptional women supporting exceptional women. Welcome to The WoMentoring Project.

Why do we need it?

Like many great (and not so great) ideas, The WoMentoring Project came about via a conversation on Twitter. While discussing the current lack of peer mentoring and the prohibitive expense for many of professional mentoring we asked our followers – largely writers, editors and agents – who would be willing to donate a few hours of their time to another woman just starting out. The response was overwhelming – within two hours we had over sixty volunteer mentors.

The WoMentoring Project is managed by novelist Kerry Hudson and all of our mentors are all professional writers, editors or literary agents. Many of us received unofficial or official mentoring ourselves which helped us get ahead and the emphasis is on ‘paying forward’ some of the support we’ve been given.

In an industry where male writers are still reviewed and paid more than their female counterparts in the UK, we wanted to balance the playing field. Likewise, we want to give female voices that would otherwise find it hard to be heard, a greater opportunity of reaching their true potential.

Applications

In an ideal world we would offer a mentor to every writer who needed and wanted one. Of course this isn’t possible. So instead we’ve tried to ensure the application process is accessible while also ensuring that out mentors have enough information with which to make their selection.

Applicant mentees will submit a 1000 word writing sample and a 500 word statement about why they would benefit from free mentoring. All applications will be in application to a specific mentor and mentees can only apply for one mentor at a time.

Why our mentors are getting involved

The reason I’m doing this is simple: mentoring can mean the difference between getting published and getting lost in the crowd. It can help a good writer become a brilliant one. But till now, opportunities for low-income writers to be mentored were few and far between. This initiative redresses the balance; I’m utterly delighted to be part of the project. – Shelley Harris, author of Jubilee

I have only achieved the success I have with the help of others, and now I am keen to pass on that help. I particularly want to reach out to those who don’t have the privileges of wealth, status or existing contacts, but who have so much to gain and to give. – Marie Phillips, author Gods Behaving Badly

I’m so pleased to be involved in the WoMentoring Project, and I can’t wait to meet my mentee. I know from my own authors how isolating an experience writing can often be, especially when you’re just starting out, and so I really wanted to be involved. I hope that knowing that there is someone on your side in those early days will give writers courage and confidence in their work. – Alison Hennessy, Senior Editor at Harvill Secker

The WoMentoring project is the kind of opportunity I would have relished when writing my first novel. It’s founded in the spirit of paying it forward, and I’ll take real pride in sharing whatever experience I’ve gained with a mentee. I’ve benefited from the advice and encouragement of some truly inspirational writers, the right voice cheering you on can make all the difference when you’re in your solitary writing bubble. The formality of the mentoring arrangement also gives a sense of responsibility and focus – something that’s invaluable when you’re lost in the sprawl of a work-in-progress – and it’s beneficial to mentors too. – Amylia Hall, author of The Book of Summers

My career as an editor has been immeasurably enriched by working with inspiring women writers, yet the world of publishing would have been inaccessible to me without the time and support I was given when first starting out.  The WoMentoring Project is a wonderful, necessary thing and I’m very proud to be taking part in it. – Francesca Main, Editorial Director, Picador

I wanted to get involved with this project because I’d like to help authors feel that whoever they are, and wherever they come from, they have a right to be heard. – Jo Unwin of The Jo Unwin Literary Agency

Why female writers feel they need this opportunity

I’m interested in being mentored because although I think you have to make mistakes to learn, having someone who’s been there help you work out the ones with no value can be really useful. Most of all I’d like to have someone to push and challenge me on what makes me and my writing tick. 

The idea of women sharing their skills and experience in a dynamic, nurturing way is a really important one given the lower profile given to female writers. Even though the mentoring is one to one a collective voice and resilience is still being built up – I think it’s a great idea that, for writers like me, will help get rid of some of the layers of doubt and creative loneliness that come with being a beginner. – Clare Archibald

I’m on my third novel; I’ve had good notices from Faber, HoZ etc. but still not quite there. What I need is that final push. I especially need guidance on pacing, keeping the action pulsing along. I feel a mentor could be hugely beneficial in this process. – Suzy Norman

Find out more:

Twitter: @WoMentoringP on twitter and to find the latest buzz, follow and use hashtag #WoMentoring

The New Mrs D – A Publication Update from a Terrified Author

Image I have been asked by many for an update on my road to publication, so today I am making an announcement: The road has been temporarily blocked. And yes, I am now terrified. I do want to do what I promised I would for other new writers and that is share my journey. I’ve had to be quiet about it for a while, but can now give you all full access.

Since finishing the first draft of my first comedy novel, The New Mrs D, in November 2012, I’ve had a roller coaster of a time. After sharing her with a few friends, then getting her proof-read and copy edited and subsequently undertaking so many rewrites I lost count, she was ready to go out to agents. Two small, little known agencies even approached me and asked for her but I declined. I wanted to try the big players first.

My submission of a synopsis and three opening chapters to agents yielded some very encouraging results. Of the thirteen I submitted to I had four tell me they liked it very much but didn’t think they could find a market for it. One called it ‘laugh out loud funny’ and another said, ‘this is seriously funny stuff’. One of the four – a very large and prominent UK agency – told me they’d love to see anything else I write in future. Two agencies went as far as to request the full manuscript and one – Hannah Ferguson of the Marsh Agency – signed me up. In all, the time taken from submission to signing with an agent was around six weeks.

Mr and I jumped up and down. We opened our favourite bottle of whisky and stood in the garden looking at our beloved rented house, talking about how in a couple of years we might finally be able to buy it. Surely the level of positive responses and the speed in which I got an agent meant I’d written something really special? Then, my agent submitted to ten major UK publishing houses… and all of them passed. Actually, I have ended up with thirteen rejections in all, if I count some small presses that didn’t reply.

I’m not going to do any naming here, I feel very grateful and privileged to have received feedback for my work from some top editing professionals, most of whom made very kind comments as well as offering some useful, constructive criticisms. I rewrote again on the back of the common theme elements that came out of the exercise. Still, The New Mrs D remains on the shelf as far as the world of publishing is concerned.

I wanted to write something less mainstream; a non-romantic comedy. A novel about a less than perfect, forty something woman who isn’t seeking a man to complete her story. One who will not necessarily stay single for the rest of her life, but who has bravely broken away from the social norm of standing by her man – yes, five days after the wedding – and running off to find herself. She has flaws, she makes bad decisions and – shock horror – she admits that actually she isn’t happy with her husband committing what she considers to be virtual adultery.  Oh and she says ‘fuck’ from time to time.

I’ve taken a very serious, quite modern issue and written a riotous comedy around it and I grant you, this is unusual. If you search the internet for humorous fiction novels by and for women that are not romantic comedies you will draw a near blank as I have. Go on, try it. Not that I don’t love romantic comedies. They are huge business and I enjoy them as much as the rest of the romcom buying public. But I didn’t want to write one. I wanted an older protagonist, who has begun to grow out of her need to chase love and adoration in order to feel complete. I wanted to challenge media objectification of women and speak out about the saturation in our magazines, movies, adverts and the Internet, of women in varying stages of undress. And I wanted to do it in a humorous, easy read which might reach and empower women. Editors have described it as containing ‘close to the bone, crude humour’. Guilty as charged.

My protagonist married a man with a porn addiction and in order to research this, as well as drawing on my own feelings on the subject, I read books and trawled countless internet forums. On the forums in particular, I saw heartbroken women being told the real and only problem is their own self confidence. They are told to ‘put up’ with their partner’s porn use as it is ‘just something men do’. And ‘while you’re at it go lose some weight to feel better about yourself’.

Of course, it must be said that some women don’t mind and are accepting of and even joining in with their partner’s porn use. I want to stress that my book is not attacking the porn issue or discussing its rights or wrongs, it is about the women that aren’t comfortable with their partners using it and are not speaking out. Women in these situations are often not even telling their closest friends because they are embarrassed to admit it makes them feel bad. To quote an article by Joy Go Mah in Huffpost Lifestyle:

‘The vast majority of films produced tell the stories of men, with women cast as girlfriends, wives, or mothers, or in other periphery roles.’

By the same token, the vast amount of comedy fiction I have read has been about women who are already in or yearning to be cast into these roles. I remember how much, even as a younger woman, I enjoyed Shirley Valentine, Educating Rita and First Wives Club – all empowering stories about older women temporarily shunning men and marriage to find themselves. I think these books and films did okay. 🙂

So now – *drum roll* – I am, on the advice and with the support of my agent, going to self publish The New Mrs D.  My story needs to be out there, I am committed to it and I want to bring it to you. And yes, I am very, very afraid. Self publishing can be like throwing a fish into the ocean. But some very kind authors have given me amazing support and advice. Every one of them saying, ‘go for it’.

The quote pictured above was posted on the Facebook page of the wonderful and inspirational Elizabeth Gilbert on a day when I was struggling with the fear of striking out alone with my novel. She continued:

and our fear of being rejected, criticized, ignored, marginalized, typecast, bullied, challenged, misunderstood, mocked, dismissed, and — worst of all — disappointed in ourselves when our completed work does not match the dream of inspiration that initially flourished so beautifully in our minds. I am afraid of all these things, don’t get me wrong. And I’ve experienced all those things. But you know what I’ve always feared more? Facing my death someday and realizing that I never lived a creative life because I was too shit scared to try. Because that would be the worst, saddest, most frightful fate of all. Thus, and always, we must march right over our fears, trampling them to dust under our bootheels (as Hanneke de Groot would say) and continuing ONWARD!

As usual, in my mind, she was talking to me. So I’m off to make something… it’s a less conventional comedy novel called The New Mrs D. However, I am not going to ask you to spend your hard earned cash buying a copy until it is as perfect as I can make it. Had I won a publishing deal, I would be getting some professional editorial advice to make sure the plot is as tidy as it can be, so I am working with someone I have found myself right now. Then I need to get a cover and have the manuscript all properly formatted for publication. All of this costs money, of which I don’t have a lot, so I will be working as fast as I can on all of these aspects and announcing a release date soon. I hope to bring her out for your summer holiday reading enjoyment.

And a special thank you – to all the people who have followed my tweets, Facebook page and blog offering encouraging comments on my writing and telling me how much you want to read The New Mrs D. All of this has added to my determination to keep going. I really do appreciate all of it and feel lifted every time someone tells me how much they enjoy my writing.

This is why I know I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing with my life. And to anybody reading this who is afraid to create something unique, or tempted to alter their natural creative instinct to go and do what everyone else is doing, I encourage you to fight it and keep doing that which makes you YOU.  Don’t give up. I’m not gonna.

Added 19th June 2014: AND… they said it should never happen, but it has! You can now buy The New Mrs D HERE and within TWENTY-FOUR HOURS of it becoming available for pre-order, my little book went into the Amazon 100 Best Sellers in Women’s Fiction Humour chart in the UK. My book… which they said was ‘unmarketable’.

I’m not sure where it will go from here, but I’ll keep you posted.

COver design smaller Heather X

A Christmas Gift With Love

Below is a rare, serious excerpt from a book idea I have scribbled in one of the many ‘ideas’ writing pads – an outtake if you like. It’s important to be bold, be yourself and be versatile in your writing. Thank you for bringing this blog to almost NINE THOUSAND reads in time for Christmas. This is my gift to you.

When Shakespeare wrote the line, ‘a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,’ he was talking to you. No, not you in the book, YOU.

You on a 7.35am London bus heading to work. You clinging to a grab rail on the tube while holding my words in the other. You shining cellphone light across a darkened bedroom while a partner snores beside you, after having not made love to you again tonight. Who felt pain of rejection and grasped it to yourself like it was born from you. YOU.

Shakespeare meant that what matters is what something is, not what it is called. Not the gift wrap it is presented in or the labels it has collected along the pathway of life. What you are is what’s important.

Lyricists who have written of love, said, ‘there’ll never be another you,’ and ‘nobody does it better’. They also meant YOU. Don’t believe me? Let me explain…

Do you like coffee? Correction. Do you love coffee?

For those of us that do, nothing lifts us like the smooth aroma of loveliness we experience when putting our nose over a newly opened jar of our favourite coffee in the morning and breathing in. Deep, rich, awakening; the smell that makes you thirsty.  You could almost drink the grains but you know they won’t taste as good as they smell without the addition of water, perhaps milk, or an indulgent lacing of silky, thick, sumptuous, cream. The real taste of the grain is bitter and coarse, yet the smell carries true coffee lovers away to Brazil on a cloud of ‘it’s a great morning’ delight. Coffee. Even the word makes you salivate if this is your cup of choice. Feel that pungent, brown velvet coffeeness fill your lungs right now. You can taste it can’t you? A bean by any other name wouldn’t smell as sweet.

All the senses you awaken when experiencing the aroma of that which you love is the way I guarantee a person has felt when breathing you in. You have given someone joy. You have delivered a simultaneous jolt of joy and anguish to the heart of another merely by entering a room. Your presence, no matter who you are, has made at least one person’s day at some point. For them, nobody did it better, there’ll never be another you and a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. They need to have what you are. YOU.

So, not everyone likes coffee. No matter. If the whole world was made up entirely of people with exactly the same tastes, who would ever feel motivation or need to bring it new, exciting things? A world with people that all look the same; art that now appears uniform, written works that only need speak to a single audience, never reaching to capture an imagination that’s free to explore?

We are all different. Thank God for that.

Without diversity, there is no debate. Without debate, there is no exchanging of opinions, no pooling of ideas, no move for change or improvement. No need to be different or unique. Who wants a world of sameness?

Look at yourself right now. Go on, really look. Check out your reflection in the tube window opposite; get out of bed and take in the soft, fleshful delight of your own face and body; a body that has lived and loved. Only this time stop looking with your eyes and look with the eyes of that person that once breathed you in like smooth, darkly aromatic coffee and was lifted.

‘All you need is love,’ said the late, great, John Lennon.

You are beautiful, unique and somebody has loved you. Maybe it’s high time for you to love you too. To have love in your life is as necessary as breathing and the first – even only – place it must come from is YOU.

Merry Christmas xxx

My book, The New Mrs D, is all about one woman’s hilarious, yet poignant journey to make peace with her true self. I hope to be able to bring it to your bookshelves soon! Read all about it HERE

Of Childbirth and Flatulence

Hello blogland!

HINT: This post is titled in such a way that you know EXACTLY where it is going…

At a family get together yesterday, my pregnant daughter and her partner asked my husband whether he wanted their baby to call him pappa, granddad or grandpa. He scratched his head for a second, said ‘okay, he can call me grandpa,’ looked at me… and we both burst out laughing.

Grandpa.

What was so funny about that?

Well it was because we looked at each other and saw, not Stephen and Heather, but granny and grandpa. How funny! Not that we’re not looking forward to meeting our new grandson when he decides to arrive sometime in February next year. It’s just that all of a sudden, it feels like someone stepped hard on the accelerator pedal marked ‘our old age’.  And they did it while we were still gliding round on ice with the ‘we’re ACDC fans; we’re still partying like it’s 1999; we counted our wrinkles yesterday and didn’t go into double figures’ handbrake on. It was both sobering and inexplicably hilarious.

We’re old. Old. Old. Old. Old. OLD. We’re out with the old and in with the old. We’re Darby and Joan; grannie and grandpa.

As I listened to my younger kids chatter excitedly with their sister about who would be the best aunt or uncle, I searched my hands for liver spots and wondered if it was time to buy a floral hat.

And while my husband was probably wondering why his midlife crisis was going to come after and not before his first Christmas pair of slippers, my mind wandered away to the day I went into labour with my eldest, now-pregnant daughter. When at the first burst of pain, I begged for a lower body anesthetising epidural quickly followed by ‘that full leg and Brazilian wax I’ve always wanted.’

When seventeen hours later I found myself peering into a hospital cradle that I remember referring to as ‘the fish tank’ at the new, wrinkly, pink face of a girl – now a woman who will soon be called ‘mum’ – and couldn’t believe she was mine.

When at twenty months of age the same girl stood up and walked across the room for the first time like she had been doing it forever, obscuring my view of This Morning with Richard and Judy.

When, within four months of her toddling about the house like a hurricane, she was making determined grabs at my blouse, hoisting herself up my front every five minutes like I was Mum Everest and screaming whenever I tried to put her in the playpen. When, as a last resort I finally gave in and got in it myself, letting her run riot around the lounge so I could read a book in peace.

I recalled ten years previously, when  a line  of midwives and doctors tried without success to break my waters in order for my youngest daughter to come into the world. It was like the scene in Aeroplane when people were queuing to slap the lady passenger who is having an attack of hysteria. By the time my very eminent consultant turned up to solve the problem, I’d had sixteen puffs of gas & air and was somewhere on the ceiling with all the flowers and happy people.  As she rolled up her sleeves and got to work, I told her,

‘I feel like a f*cking glove puppet!’

Note to self: warn pregnant daughter that excruciating pain makes you swear at posh people…

Finally, as the conversation turned to my son’s fifteenth birthday this Wednesday, I reflected on turning up at my mother’s house with him on the way, to find only her husband at home. In a panic he handed me Windeze tablets instead of the painkillers I’d begged for as he called the hospital and I subsequently spent several hours in the labour ward with a doctor and midwife battling to keep a straight face as I farted at the height of every contraction.

If my daughter asks me, ‘does your dignity leave you during childbirth?’ I shall tell her the truth:  Only when you tell everyone about it in your blog.

But what of the beautiful babies at the end of all this effort?

They end up asking you twenty-two years later, when you’re congratulating yourself for being in that ‘forties are the new thirties’ stage of your life, if you want to be called nan or grannie.

I want to be called ‘Cher’. Yeah, Cher’s cool. Cher would never fart in her consultant gynaecologist’s face.

And Cher NEVER gets old.

Nested Clauses – And And And And

I took advantage of a great free critique offer on the first 700 words of my novel from Flourish Editing. I’d like to thank them for some great tips to help me with rewrites, especially learning that I ‘have a tendency to use long sentences peppered with nested clauses’ – I don’t know what they mean 😉 They were absolutely right of course. I do recommend you look them up if you are working on a first novel too.

And so another writing day is begun. And what have I done? That’s right; two sentences starting with ‘and.’ If John Lennon can do it and sell squillions of Christmas singles then so can I. Except the selling Christmas singles bit…

Image
Sure, I write funny. See. ‘Funny.’ That was easy.

I thought it was time I wrote a blog post of my own. Don’t be alarmed. (Unless you’re one of those Nissan GTR’s my husband has been lusting over. If so, as you were). I’ll try to be brief.

Work on the Mrs David Dando rewrites are still going strong, particularly between midnight and 3am! But I’m mindful of the need to give my brain a change of scenery and work on other things. Because watching Professor Brian Cox isolating his DNA in The Wonders of Life this week with my tongue hanging out just wasn’t cutting it. So, I’ve been looking with interest at this year’s Sitcom Trials. Can I invent a laugh out loud outline and four shiny new characters in just twenty days? Meh, why not? The result may not be as tidy as it could be, but I can’t let an opportunity to get creative in a new direction for a time slide. It’s just ten minutes of script, right? And some important people will read my stuff. And maybe one of them will laugh. And maybe I should remember that I’m not John Lennon before writing another of these ‘and’ sentences…

If you are a follower of my blog, or even having a nosy five minutes and are still here to read this bit, (you are still here aren’t you? You are? Good!) then you’re possibly an aspiring comedy writer yourself. So, leave your sitcom ideas in the comments box below, I’ll steal the one I like best and get the job done in ten days instead of twenty. But, more seriously, let’s all have a shot at the Sitcom Trials. Then the winner can come up here to Scotland to meet me, most likely sat in the audience crying into my Irn Bru. And good luck to each and every one of you that does as you’re told.

Here’s a snippet from a sitcom script I wrote last year, that won’t be in the running but might make you get scribbling one yourself:

FORTY YEAR OLD SINGLE MUM CILLA IS AT THE FRONT OF THE QUEUE FOR THE CHANGING ROOMS IN A LADIES CLOTHES SHOP, WAITING TO TRY ON A DRESS.  HER TEENAGE SON ROBBIE IS NEARBY, LEANING ON A RACK FULL OF LACEY WOMEN’S LINGERIE.

Cilla: (TO THE SHOP ASSISTANT): Excuse me, has anyone about my age and size ever gone in there to try this on and come out crying?

THE SHOP ASSISTANT SHRUGS.  CILLA’S MOBILE RINGS AND SHE STEPS BACK OUT OF THE QUEUE TO ANSWER IT, SWIPING ROBBIE OVER THE HEAD WITH THE DRESS AS SHE SPIES HIM FIDDLING WITH A PAIR OF KNICKERS ON THE RACK.

Robbie:  Wha….?

Cilla: (INTO THE PHONE) Hello, I’m trying on various fashions for Vogue at the moment and my time is limited.  Is that Milan?

(THE CALLER IS HER SISTER, JEAN. SHES DISCUSSING THEIR MOTHER). 

Jean: She won’t go.  I’ve done my best; arranged everything.  I even gave her sugar to coax her.

Cilla: Really?  Maybe Dr McLaren will subscribe mild laxatives or something?

Jean: I’m not talking about her bowels, you pillock! Oh God, tell me I don’t have to start talking about her bowels.  Are they next to go?  What if I have to remind her to go to the toilet?  Or worse – take her!

Cilla: Yes, you will totally have to take her to the toilet.  How are your wiping skills?

Robbie: Eww, that’s gross!

Cilla: Robbie, you mustn’t think of your Gran that way.

Robbie: I wasn’t!  Aww, I am now!  (SEE’S A PRETTY GIRL LOOKING AT HIM): I’m not, I’m not.

The end.  No, I mean of the snippet – not the episode. And there I went and nested a clause again 😉

Happy writing!