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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Saving Anna and Visiting Lilly

I’m proud to announce that Visiting Lilly now has a sequel, Saving Anna.

When I first wrote Visiting Lilly I knew that my main characters, Detective Inspector Jake Talbot and Frankie Hayward, had many mores stories to tell, but I didn’t have a publishing contract, so the ideas sat on the back-burner. As soon as I was published by Booktrope they asked if I had any other novels I’d already written, to which I replied, ‘yes,’ and then quietly slipped in that I’d already scratched out a first chapter of Saving Anna, a new mystery with the same lead characters.

I was advised to prioritise finishing Saving Anna, and to build a series. Finish it? I’d hardly started writing it at that stage. Yipes! But hey, if the publisher wants more, then the publisher shall have more. Who was I as a fledgling novelist to refuse such an offer? As time went by I quickly learnt that this is how it works in the world of being a ‘real’ writer. While we were editing Visiting Lilly I was busy plotting and writing Saving Anna.

Having agreed to write a series, I had to come up with a name for it, so that readers can easily see that the books are associated with each other, and that they’ll find a story about the characters they’ve already become familiar with. After much deliberation I decided on Jake Talbot Investigates which gives a fair idea of what a reader will find between the covers. I then realised that the series title is a little long to hashtag on Twitter, so look out for #JTI as I’ll be using this abbreviation in tweets.

Saving Anna book coverVisiting Lilly is based in Farnham, Surrey, but I spend some of my time down in Dorset, and am very passionate about the local wildlife, history and scenery. For Saving Anna I decided to shift location and have Talbot and Frankie travel to Bridport, Dorset, to carry out an investigation. In truth Talbot starts off being requested to only observe a cult, the Temple of Purple Light, and report back to the Ministry of Defence, but he’s determined to find out what they’re up to as their beliefs pose a threat to his catatonic sister, Anna. Furthermore the MOD also need Frankie’s exceptional computer skills, skills he’s prohibited from using except on the Ministry’s behalf.

Neither man knows what they’re meant to be looking for, but observation turns into investigation when they discover a woman’s body draped over the gravestone of one of Talbot’s ancestors. Soon after, a dangerous piece of evidence slips into Talbot’s hands, the plotters’ desperation to get it back becoming the catalyst for murder.

As they uncover a conspiracy that links psychic manipulation, drugs, and death, the two friends grow from master and apprentice to partners in detection, protecting each other from increasing hazards. The trail leads them into deeper shadows, where Talbot’s old enemy waits to wreak a revenge that is as shocking as it is painful.

How far will Jake go to save his sister?

Each book in my Jake Talbot Investigates mystery series is a stand-alone novel, a complete story in itself. I’m now busy writing Book 3, Finding Louisa, which brings the action back to Farnham. A little girl has gone missing from the ponds and wooded acres of Puttenham Common. As they work on finding Louisa, Jake Talbot and Frankie unearth shocking evidence that links back to an old case.

We’ll be running promotions to celebrate the launch of Saving Anna, so come along and join me on Twitter @Listansus and watch out for the #JTI hashtag.

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Billy the Kid is the one on the left

Billy the Kid is the one on the left

Every story has heroes and villains, the good guys and the bad guys, the ones we want to win, and the ones we know will be defeated. In books and movies the distinction is usually made pretty clear cut by the writer showing us that one is the goodie, the other the baddie. Sometimes the boundaries are blurred and we find the good guy being treated as a bad guy, one example being Harrison’s Ford’s character Dr Richard Kimble in The Fugitive. Kimble is accused of murdering his wife, resulting in US Deputy Marshal Samuel Gerard, wonderfully portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones, hunting him down, determined to catch a killer. In the film we know Kimble is innocent of this crime because we see scenes from his point of view, we become insiders, people who have witnessed the truth of the matter.

In real life that insider knowledge is denied to us. If we have a personal friendship with someone, then we might believe that we have some understanding of their motivation for a particular action. If they are a stranger to us, then we rely on newspaper reports, television news reels and hearsay, but these are easily coloured by sensationalism. This distortion can become even further exaggerated if the individual we’re judging died many years ago and has become a legend.

Billy the Kid playing croquet

The new photo of Billy the Kid playing croquet – courtesy of Kagin’s

Ever since a child I’ve been fascinated by the outlaw Billy the Kid, also known as William H Bonny amongst many other aliases, and originally named Henry McCarty. During my childhood he repeatedly appeared in westerns, as a youth lurking in the shadows, propping up a bar, being told he could only drink milk. ‘Is that the kid?’ some gunslinger would ask. ‘I hear that Sheriff Pat Garrett’s in town.’ The characters were clearly defined, Billy the Kid as an outlaw, Pat Garrett as the cop who was after him. We know who’s supposed to win.

So, why do we root for Billy the Kid? Is there a large question mark concerning his guilt or innocence? Or, do we simply feel empathy because he’s referred to as ‘kid’ and therefore must be young and less likely to do bad things? Movie makers err towards portraying him as a sympathetic character, and not a hardened criminal. He’s an outlaw, a man on the run, and just like Dr Kimble, a fugitive. The distinction between the two men is that we have never been given an insider scene for Billy the Kid, we don’t know precisely what happened that set him on a desperate trail.

The recent discovery, and verification, of a new photo of Billy the Kid set me on a trail of investigation. Was this guy a hero or a villain? Firstly I researched his date of birth and set up a noon time birth chart for him. I would go and read what others said about him later, after I’d made my own assessment of his character.

Billy the Kid potrait

The only previously known photo of Billy the Kid

Henry McCarty was born on 17th September 1859 in New York. (no birth time available) Early on that day the Moon is in Taurus, while from approximately 6:30 pm it’s in Gemini, closely conjunct his natal Uranus. This change in the Moon sign makes for two very different characters, but I prefer the earlier Taurus Moon, because when I did read up on him I learnt that he spoke fluent Spanish, and the earlier time places his natal Mercury conj. Mars in the 9th house, which would make him quick to pick up a new language. It also makes him an overall nicer person, steady and loyal; while Moon conj. Uranus would have him dropping his friends as quickly as a hot potato. I rather like the idea of him being a nice person, after all, I’ve been captivated by his story since childhood.

The new photo shows Billy playing croquet, allegedly after a friend’s wedding. This is normal stuff, this makes him a good guy. In his birth chart he has Jupiter in Cancer, showing how he likes and respects the concept of family and a sense of belonging.

So, where’s the villain in him? Is it there? Well, he has four planets in Virgo which would make him someone who is very intelligent, and extremely precise. He has Sun conj. Venus in Virgo giving him a desire to dress up smart, and to be clean and tidy. It can also give someone a slight stature, and records say that Billy wasn’t very tall, hence his nickname of ‘the kid.’ But, what’s this? He has Mercury conj. Mars in Virgo, which is maybe where the trouble begins. He’d have had a cutting tongue, but not necessarily a quick temper; however, it would make him extremely fast to draw a gun when angered, and he’d be highly accurate. This is turning him into Billy the Precision Kid. With Pluto in Taurus trine this Mars/Mercury conjunction, he’s someone who would brew and smoulder, build up hatred deep inside, then react when pushed too far.

Billy also has Uranus square Mercury/Mars conj. which would make him a risk taker. If he were alive today he’d ride a fast motorcycle, weave in and out of traffic at speed, but never fall off, never make a mistake. This square could make him quick to flare up, but more likely when speed is the challenge, such as a horse race or a competition to see who can shoot six tin-cans faster than the other. It could also make him impatient, but more with his tongue than his fists.

During my research I read various accounts of how Billy the Kid first came to kill a man, Frank P. Cahill. The consensus of opinion is that Billy went into a bar to do some gambling (he’d be good with cards and numbers, so probably won often – which might make him unpopular). Over the game of cards he gets into an argument with Cahill, reports suggesting that this was not a new issue and that Cahill frequently bullied Billy and physically assaulted him. On this fateful occasion, Cahill, a big man, knocks Billy down and straddles him, continuing to punch. Fearing for his life, Billy manages to draw his gun and shoots Cahill in the stomach, a wound he ends up dying from.

This story about Cahill’s behaviour, how he repeatedly picked on Billy and beat him up, paints Billy in the light of a man who was forced to take action to protect himself, and had reached the end of his tether with a bully. Billy was pushed too far. Billy was quick on the draw and didn’t think twice about the consequences of his actions, all he wanted was for that bully to stop thrashing him.

It also backs up my assessment that Billy has Moon Taurus. He’s stubborn. He kept going back to that darn bar, refusing to let a bully control his life. If he was born later in the day, with Moon conj. Uranus he’d more likely have had entirely the opposite reaction. He’d have walked away. If someone kept picking on him he’d have turned right around and found a different bar to gamble in, found new friends. He wouldn’t have hung around.

None of this casts Billy the Kid as a hero or a villain, but if I were writing an insider scene, something that only the reader gets to share, I’d show a conversation between Billy and his friends. They’d beg him not to go into Atkins saloon, tell him that they’d seen that bully Cahill go in there earlier, warn him to gamble elsewhere. Billy would, of course, have responded that no man was going to intimidate him into not going where he wanted to go. If Cahill attacked him then he’d sidestep, he was quick on his feet, nimble like a dancer. I’d then change scene to inside the saloon, show Cahill talking with his buddies, telling them how was going to thrash that kid if he showed his face today. As we read we beg Billy not to walk through those swing doors into that bar, but the stubborn youngster pushes them open, steps inside, and an outlaw is born.

Billy the Kid

Birth chart for Billy the Kid erected for 12:30pm

Here are som great places to research Billy the Kid.

http://www.angelfire.com/mi2/billythekid/cahillkilling.html

http://westernfictioneers.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/did-billy-kid-kill-frank-cahill.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_the_Kid

 

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Visiting Lilly by Toni AllenAs a novelist, everything I write is a mixture of fact and fiction, even when describing well-known local locations. Hence, if you ever visit Farnham, Surrey, UK, the setting for Visiting Lilly, Book 1 in my Jake Talbot Investigates mystery series, you might notice that some of the places aren’t described exactly as they are in real life. My intention isn’t to deceive the unsuspecting tourist, after all I’m not writing a tour guide, but a work of fiction. If, by making something a little taller, bigger or shinier it enhances a dramatic scene, then my imagination will stretch reality for the sake of my art and my reader’s involvement with the story.

Maltings Riverside Cafe Bar

The Riverside Cafe Bar at Farnham Maltings, where Talbot and Frankie have lunch together in Visiting Lilly

Several scenes in Visiting Lilly take place at Farnham Maltings. The historic building started life prior to 1750, when it was used as a tannery. Later, in 1845, it was taken over by a brewery for malting their grain, and remained in use by various breweries until brewing methods changed and the building was abandoned in 1956. Eventually Courage sold the building to the town and work began on transforming it into an arts and community centre. The first Maltings Market took place in the Great Hall in October 1970.

I’ve been going to the Maltings for years. It’s a fabulous venue for exhibitions, and I know an artist who rents studio space within the building. You can also listen to concerts, from classical to rock. The most memorable perfomance I’ve ever attended being by the incredible Dame Emma Kirkby when she sang at the Maltings back in the 80’s.

These days I regularly lunch in the Riverside Cafe Bar with fellow writers, and we sit in the sunshine discussing plot dilemmas over a cappuccino, the table covered in manuscripts and note books. We envisage ourselves as bohemian and creative, and what better place to do it than Farnham Maltings.

Maltings Great Hall flea market

Maltings Great Hall flea market showing the stage where Talbot sees Kate selling her paintings in a scene from Visiting Lilly

It’s the Maltings Market which interests Detective Inspector Jake Talbot, he’s an avid collector of antiques and has a keen eye for a bargain.

In the excerpt below you’ll see that I’ve made the rather rickety looking railing on the stage sound a little grander when Kate leans over it to look at Talbot. I took this photo at the end of the day, when the market was winding down, but you still gain a feel for the bartering and excitement of hunting for treasure.

 

I’ve also created a Pinterest board to show how I imagine Kate’s painting of the Bluebell Wood might look.

Excerpt from Visiting Lilly: Talbot bumps into Frankie at Farnham Maltings Market, then discovers Kate is there as well.

Bright winter sunshine dazzled as it bounced off puddles. Using his space at the station saved on parking. Talbot smiled. The Maltings was only a spit away and sunshine meant there would be more stalls outside and rich pickings. Unfortunately it also meant there would be more punters, but that was okay, he knew what he was looking for and most of them were casual browsers. Only sometimes the idiots beat him to a gem, so he’d learnt to perfect that disinterested look, and that sneer, and that knack of putting rivals off the scent of a bargain. Mostly he collected nothing in particular, just anything that took his fancy, from china, to Bakelite, to definitely not silver—all those hallmarks and tarnish putting him off. Junk, Claire had called it, but if it fascinated him, who cared? These days the halls were peppered with modern stuff, too: silk paintings, arty photographs, and occasionally the work of some new local artist.

There was one today, up on the stage at the back of the hall, the canvases large and inviting, the semi-abstract landscapes of woodland scenes done with daubs of bright colours. A fresh vista of bluebells with sunshine filtering down through a lime-green leafy wood caught his attention. It was tempting. Yes, he quite liked that; it definitely had a certain something. People kept getting in his way as he tried to stand back and get a feel for what it might look like in his hallway. They were browsing, only half interested, standing too close to truly appreciate the design. Damn, would the same happen in his hall?

Moving on, he went upstairs to visit a man he knew sold mirrors. Well, he was never one to buy something without judging the competition, yet anxiety riddled him with impatience in case someone beat him to that painting. Perhaps he should go back and buy it before it went. Halfway down the stairs he collided with Hayward going in the opposite direction.

‘Wouldn’t expect to see you here,’ Hayward said, instinctively holding out his hand for Talbot to shake.

Talbot shook it, as gentlemen did when they met. ‘On a mission to buy a painting before someone snaps it up.’

‘Mind if I have a look?’

‘Not at all. What brings you here?’

Hayward about-turned, fell into step beside him, and together they pushed through the crowd.

‘Someone told me there’s a dealer here who’s an expert on Capo Di Monte figurines. I need to arrange a valuation for the insurers.’

‘They were worth at least two grand.’ Talbot halted by the steps that went up to the stage. ‘I can let you have copies of all the photos we took.’

‘That would be useful, thank you.’ Hayward stepped back and let people through as they barged past. ‘You know about antiques, don’t you, Mr Talbot?’

‘A little.’ Starting with a vibration in his pocket Talbot’s mobile burst into ‘Broken Wings’ by Mr Mister, giving him the clue it was a victim of crime. ‘Excuse me,’ he said to Hayward, read the name, and hurried to answer it before every head turned to locate the outburst of rock music. ‘Kate, thanks for calling me back.’

‘Are you stalking me?’

Taken aback, he hesitated. ‘No, I was wanting to speak with you.’

‘So, just because I didn’t get back to you immediately, you decided to track me down and upset my work.’ She made an infuriated grunting noise down the phone. ‘Well, I can’t talk to you now. I don’t want to discuss details of my private life in public.’

‘Kate, Kate, I’m off duty, at Farnham Maltings …’

‘I know where you bloody well are! I can see you from here.’

You can? Looking up the length of the great hall, Talbot tried to recognise her amidst the clamour of stalls and punters. What would she be wearing? She’d look different without her coat and hat. Nope. Slowly he pivoted round three hundred and … ah, that would be her, standing up on the stage, in front of the painting he wanted to buy. Yep, that was her alright, glaring down at him, not even bothering to wave.

‘What are you selling?’ he asked, and smiled up at her, his heart sinking before he’d even heard the answer.

‘My paintings.’

‘Then I’ll leave you to it.’ He was going to hang up and walk away, but she rushed towards the railings at the edge of the stage and peered down at him, saying, ‘Were you really just walking around?’
He nodded. She was almost loud enough not to need to the phone, her words carrying down across the babble of voices bartering below. Frankie was following his gaze, tracking it up to where she stood, the painting a glorious backdrop to her shock of dark hair. It really was not a good idea for the two of them to meet, for them to get stuck in awkward conversation, until one of them eventually blurted out the name Charteris or Lilly.

Visiting Lilly free on Kindle Unlimited

 

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Editing - Fun or Fire?Building a reputation as an author who’s worth reading doesn’t happen overnight. I continuously work at it, but there’s little point in going to all of that effort if I don’t have a quality product. I like to think that I can spin a good yarn, captivate my audience and create interesting, credible characters, but that’s as far as it goes.

I goof and make errors when writing. My spelling isn’t atrocious, but at times it can be most peculiar. You mean that isn’t how you spell it? Hmm, very odd. Then there’s punctuation and grammar: as hard as I try to get it right first time, second time, or even third time, there’ll always be something I’ve missed, or simply don’t know how it’s supposed to be professionally laid out. Of course, we also have those places in the manuscript where I’ve decided to swap a couple of paragraphs around, only to later discover that I didn’t cut and paste, I copied and pasted, resulting in two identical paragraphs creating a sandwich around another paragraph. It happens!

Do I notice these things? Of course not. I’m a writer. A wordsmith: my imagination alight with the creative process. That’s why I have an editor.

I’m very fortunate to have the most wonderful, brilliant and patient editor: Cindy Wyckoff. My publisher for the Jake Talbot Investigates series is Booktrope who are based in Seattle, and yes, my editor is American. When editing my first novel in the series, Visiting Lilly, we had to decide whether to maintain its Britishness, or change certain words for an American audience. After much discussion we decided to keep my very British Detective, Jake Talbot, in character, and only compromise on a few words or phrases which would have been confusing, and therefore interrupted a reader’s understanding and enjoyment of the story.

One example of Br English versus US English is that we call the end of a spent cigarette a dog-end, while Americans call it a butt. I was allowed to use dog-end, because in context it was easy enough for an American readership to work out what I was talking about.

To read the excerpts properly, right click and select open in new tab.

Sa editing  UK US exampleTo the British a pot plant is an innocent flower in a pot on the windowsill; to an American it’s growing an illegal substance. Oops! Any self-respecting police officer should definitely not have one of those in his home. We opted for house plant. As you can see, this change in no way inhibits my creativity, but what it does do is avoid an American reader stopping short and questioning what the hell is going on.

Editing isn’t all about comma, comma, full-stop, semi-colon, question mark. To show you all of that part of the process would be tedious and turn this into an article on grammar and punctuation. The nudges, niggles and hiccups are what we smooth over – ironing we call it. We want the reader to have a silky ride, with no little bumps along the way.

Here’s an example of where I’d used the words procession and proceed very close to each other. It’s all become a bit poetic, so needed to be changed.

Funeral processionThis is an example of repetition needing to be changed.

RepetitionAn even worse example of repetition!

Even more repetitionThen we have sentence structure and the conundrum of who, or what, is making the action. Yes, I often have the wrong object doing something. I know what’s happening, but will the reader?

Shaking handsOn rare occasions I slip out of genre, and the description I use doesn’t fit with the concept of a mystery novel.

Out of genreAnd lastly, we have a laugh, peppering comments with smiley faces and lots of LOLs!

SA Ducati editing sampleBelieve it or not, editing is fun. Love your editor, love the process, and enjoy the ride. The more you put into it, the more pleasure your readers will gain when reading your book. Never forget that happy readers help build your fan-base.

Cindy Wyckoff is Freelance Seattle based Technical Editor and Writer, Fiction Editor and Proofreader.

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Virginia Woolf famously said, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” So, what do we do if we don’t have both of these much desired essentials? Do we throw ourselves down on the floor screaming, “I’ll never be a writer!”? Not at all. Writers are made of far stronger stuff.

Camping in Dorset

Yes, I have space at home to write, as many authors do, but that doesn’t mean that I necessarily have the freedom to write without constant interruptions.

For several weeks of the year I create that much needed ‘room of her own’ in which to write. I pack my little car to the hilt with camping gear and head off to Dorset. On a fabulous campsite with views across Chesil Beach we pitch our tent. It isn’t a fun-park, theme-park type of campsite, especially not out of season when I choose to go. It’s tranquil. Bordering a nature reserve, the noisiest things we hear at night are the owls hooting in the trees overhead, and the waves crashing against far off pebbles. Unless it’s harvest time and the farmers have to work all night to get their crops in before it rains! On those nights we hear combine harvesters rumbling across distant fields, and rush out to see them lit up like spaceships manoeuvring in the dark. It’s all part of the fun.

Now, I expect you’re envisaging a little two man tent and a camp fire flickering under the stars. Nothing quite so romantic, I’m afraid; but I expect you’ve already sneaked a peek at the photo, haven’t you? My tent is a veritable mansion! The label says it sleeps six adults, and yes, there are only two of us. Furthermore, we cheat. We pay a bit extra so that we can have an electric hook-up to power my laptop, run a light and boil a kettle. When it’s really cold we also plug in a heater. This enormous space is no longer a tent: it’s the author’s hub.

My partner and I use the main living area for sitting and chatting, and eating together. We cook in the little front canopy. The sleeping area we fill with king-size inflatable mattresses, sleeping bags and extremely warm duvets. It can get very cold in Dorset in September. Of an evening, this sleeping compartment becomes my ‘room of her own.’ After supper I say the now famous words, “I’m going in.” My partner nods sagely and switches the kettle on. Once inside my room, with the partitioning flap zipped up, I sit cross legged on my mattress, set up my laptop, and pull the duvet around my shoulders. After a while my partner calls, “Tea’s ready,” and I unzip the dividing flap just enough to reach out and be handed my mug of tea.

From then on I write, mostly straight through until morning. Zipped in my secret room, with the light filtering through from the living area, I’m in a world all of my own. It’s magic. Every so often I pass my empty mug out through the flap, and miraculously it gets filled up again with hot tea. It’s very much like having a room of my own with service!

Please don’t think that I totally ignore my partner. During the day we go for long walks, and I take photographs of the wildlife: or we go into Bridport, West Bay or Weymouth and meet some of the locals. Every Saturday in Bridport there’s a flea-market, and we love to go along and have a good rummage, pick up something vintage or a few crystals from one of our favourite stall-holders. Speaking of crystals, in West Bay you can find pieces of calcite along the cliff faces, and fossils as well if you’re lucky.

Rainbow over the Fleet - DorsetSometimes we just walk and talk. On one such occasion we were walking along the Fleet from the campsite to Old Fleet Church, having great fun discussing and enacting a fight scene I was in the process of writing in Saving Anna. Passers-by must have thought we were completely mad, as we kept pretending to strike one-another with a knife, which to them would have been quite invisible. At times a piece of driftwood stood in for the weapon, and then we had to explain that I was an author, and that we weren’t really having a punch-up and trying to hurt each other. By the time we got back to the tent, some three hours later at dusk, we’d finalised the fight scene; every move choreographed to perfection, every word spoken flowing smoothly. We were excited. It was so well planned.

“I’ll make supper,” my partner said. “While you go in and get it written down.”
So, in I went, the action we’d outlined fresh in my mind. I read through the couple of paragraphs I’d already written leading up to the fight scene, drank tea: then began typing.
Within fifteen minutes I called out, “Sorry!”
My partner rushed to the partitioning flap and whispered, “What’s happened?”
“As soon as I started writing, Talbot went and did something completely different,” I explained. “I couldn’t help it. He just didn’t want the fight to end up like that.”
My partner sighed, heavily. “That man Talbot’s a rogue. You can never trust him to follow orders.”
We laughed, but you see, this is what happens, when a woman has a room of her own in which to write fiction. In the peace and solitude of one’s own space, the story takes on a life all of its own.

Saving Anna is the second book in the Jake Talbot Investigates series: due for release this autumn. Book 1 Visiting Lilly is available on Amazon and free on Kindle Unlimited.

Visiting Lilly free on Kindle Unlimited

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I’ve been writing fiction for many, many years, and during this time I’ve met numerous aspiring authors. It doesn’t matter whether we write detective mysteries or period romance, we all tend to have one thing in common – self-doubt. We constantly wonder whether an agent will like our work, whether a publisher will accept our work, and most of all, whether the readers will relate to our work and take our characters to their hearts.

So, how do we overcome this demon?

For my own part I remind myself of the high praise I received from one of the world’s top crime writers, P.D. James.

Embed from Getty Images

At the time I was living on the Isle of Wight and an active member of two exceptionally good writing groups. One group focused on critique and perfecting craft, while the other had built a strong list of famous authors who were willing to attend as speakers. When this latter group decided to run a nationwide competition, they invited P.D. James to judge the finalists, and select the winner. Graciously, she accepted. The theme was: The First Chapter of a Novel.

As a group we were all encouraged to enter something to support the competition, but as it was we needn’t have concerned ourselves about lack of entries, because we ended up with well over a thousand submissions. The piece I submitted was from a work in progress, a rather complex novel I was busy plotting, that had three time-lines I was trying to thread together. I’d written about 15,000 words. For the competition I decided to polish my first chapter, which started, “I know I am in a dream,” written from a man’s first person viewpoint. I was happy enough with my submission, but with so many entries flooding in, didn’t concern myself over winning or losing.

When the big day came for the winner to be announced, and the prize to be handed over, the only person who knew the outcome was P.D. James herself. Not even the writing group’s chairman was privy to the result. The meeting hall we’d booked for the occasion was packed, and the event started with P.D. James giving a talk on her writing methods, and explaining how she drew inspiration from newspaper headlines. A story would pique her interest, usually a topic that had social impact, such as adopted children being permitted to trace their birth parents; then she’d set to researching facts and building characters.

Once we’d all taken a break and afternoon tea had been served, we sat down to hear the results of our competition. Third prize: not me. Second prize: not me. P.D. James started to say how very much she’d enjoyed the winning entry and how extremely well written it was. Then she named the winner. First Prize goes to… Oh my goodness me! That was my name! I couldn’t believe it. I was stunned.

P.D. James asked if the winner was in the room and would they like to step up to the table. I stood.

“I don’t believe it!” she exclaimed. “I thought this piece was written by a man.” She stood, her face alight with excitement. “You’re a woman writing in a man’s viewpoint. I was completely convinced it was a man’s voice. This makes it an even stronger winner. I read your name and assumed you were a man!” She applauded me. This great crime writer stood and gave me a standing ovation. Then she shook my hand and handed me the best prize ever, her praise.

This took place back in the late ‘80s. Shortly after this amazing occasion, life events hit me hard and I suddenly found myself thrust into having to cope with exceptional circumstances. My writer friends told me not to worry if I couldn’t find the time or concentration to write, and assured me that I was building a storehouse of experiences which one day I would draw upon and use in my novels. They were absolutely correct.

I never did finish the complex novel P.D. James so loved, but she gave me the confidence to never stop writing. Since then I have written many other novels, and never given up on my dream of becoming a published author. In 2014 when Booktrope accepted Visiting Lilly, my dream came true.

Book 2 in the Jake Talbot Investigates series, Saving Anna, is due for release this autumn.

If you’re an aspiring author, what keeps you going, and pushing beyond self-doubt? I’d love to hear your story.

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I’m very fortunate to know Barb Drozdowich, author of ‘The Author’s Platform,’ a must read book for every author. Here’s what it’s all about.

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‘The Author’s Platform’ teaches you why you need the various facets of the author platform to build visibility. Barb uses a simple analogy, Operation Book, to help you understand the steps to successful book marketing in the media age. She covers:

• The Difference between a Website and a Blog
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• Newsletters
• Amazon’s Author Central and many more

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Excerpt from ‘The Author’s Platform’

Website or Blog

Let’s start with the hub of your author platform—your website or blog. These words are often used interchangeably but can actually denote separate things. Let’s define.

Usually the word “website” refers to a static site on the Internet containing information that isn’t changed frequently. A programmer or web designer versed in HTML coding usually makes the changes on a per-change or hourly basis. Many authors view websites as expensive, and they certainly can be.

I’m rather frugal and prefer not to spend money. As a result, I’m not fond of static websites. Yes, they serve a purpose. However, I don’t think the average author must make the investment.

Static websites pose another problem. Because new and exciting information doesn’t appear in a timely fashion, these sites don’t attract the attention of Google and therefore often don’t rank very well in a Google search.

Think of Google as a toddler with a new toy. Those of you who have had exposure to toddlers know the toy doesn’t stay new long and, before you know it, the toddler is on to other toys—always looking for something new and different. If the content on a website is rarely updated, Google won’t pay much attention either.

Why should you care about this? As an author in need of visibility, you must rank as high as possible during a Google search. If you have an uncommon name such as mine, ranking on Google is a slam-dunk. Search my name and you’ll discover I own the first page of Google in a name-based search.

If you have a common surname like Smith or Jones, or share a name with a celebrity, you’ll probably never own the first page of Google. A client of mine shares his name with a moderately successful country singer. That’s a tough row to hoe. Ranking higher on Google than a famous person is difficult, but it is possible—as long as your name isn’t Steve Jobs or Bill Gates.

Why do you want to rank high on a Google search? It’s true that the majority of your readers will come from word of mouth. But not all. If a potential reader wants to find you quickly, or they’re looking for books in a specific genre, they frequently perform a Google search. They’ll glean the first entries found, but rarely look beyond the first few pages delivered by Google. Make it easy for readers to find you by ensuring you rank high on a search.

Tech Hint: I have lots of people tell me they “Google” themselves or search for themselves on Google all the time and they rank really well. Google is a responsive search engine. In other words, it learns. The more you perform a certain search, the better Google gets at finding what you want. If you Google yourself all the time, Google will get really good at finding you. Go to the local library and do the same search without signing on to your Google account. You will likely see a very different result. You likely don’t rank as high as you think!

Let’s return to our discussion of websites versus blogs. If websites feature static content, blogs offer a constant stream of new information. To my mind, blogs offer a second benefit: an author can maintain a blog with minimal paid help. Most important, a blog’s fresh content ensures it will rank higher in a Google search. (Remember the toddler example.)

Blogs

During the 1990s, a blog was known as a weblog, indicating that it was something found on the Internet as a serial recording of information—a diary, if you will. Today, blogs are quite different, personalized and modified to display information in a variety of ways. But ultimately, a blog is still a serial collection of information.

In my experience, most blogs are designed by highly technical people with little understanding of the needs of authors. Even if your first blog seems a technical wonder, it is likely to change once you decide how you will use your blog. Please use the information below to make informed choices about your initial direction, or to modify the blog you’ve already developed. Whether you are a new or seasoned blogger, I hope that by the end of this section you will have a better sense of the components required for a successful blogging experience.

This brings me to an important point: regardless of your web designer’s opinion, ultimately your blog must be easy to use and tailored to your needs. If you have a blog that is too complicated for your skill level, ask for help. Make sure that help is qualified and is used to working with authors. We are a niche group with unique needs.

There are many different platforms for blogs including Blogger, free WordPress (also known as WordPress.com) and self-hosted WordPress (also known as WordPress.org). Each platform has positive and negative aspects.

As of this writing, a self-hosted WordPress blog costs no more than $100.00 a year. There are some additional startup costs. For example, how much you spend depends on the graphics selected for your blog.
For a nominal charge, you may also register a domain for your free WordPress or Blogger account. Doing so allows use of your author name unless the domain has been registered by another writer with the same name. For example, I own the domain barbdrozdowich.com and it is attached to my author site.

Do you care if you register your own domain? Only you can answer that question. In my opinion, you should.

End of excerpt

Endorsement

Barb Drozdowich has written a comprehensive, yet quick, simple guide that is a must-have, must-read, must-keep-handy reference. It’s invaluable for not only new authors, but also experienced writers. It should be on every author’s bookshelf!
~ Taylor Fulks, author of My Prison Without Bars: The Journey of a Damaged Woman to Someplace Normal

Barb Drozdowich AuthorBarb Drozdowich

Social Media and WordPress Consultant Barb Drozdowich has taught in colleges, universities and in the banking industry. More recently, she brings her 15+ years of teaching experience and a deep love of books to help authors develop the social media platform needed to succeed in today’s fast evolving publishing world. She owns Bakerview Consulting and manages the popular blog, Sugarbeat’s Books, where she talks about Romance – mostly Regency.

She is the author of 6 books and over 20 YouTube videos all focused on helping authors and bloggers. Barb lives in the mountains of British Columbia with her family.

Author Website: http://barbdrozdowich.com
Business Blog: http://bakerviewconsulting.com
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/BarbDrozdowichAuthor

Twitter: http://twitter.com/sugarbeatbc

Google+: https://plus.google.com/110824499539694941768/posts

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/sugarbeatsbooks/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7234554.Barb_Drozdowich

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