Nanowrimo & the Therapeutic Benefits of Writing

I’ve always been a bit of a bookworm, and found a love for writing when I was about 10 years old and asked to write a short story as part of a school project. Around the same time, I also wrote a poem which would go on to be published in a local anthology four years later. Writing is a part of who I am, and while I always dreamed of becoming a published author, it certainly wasn’t something I actively focussed on. In fact, I set my sights on becoming a vet and studied the sciences at school. They say “life has a plan” though, and Life didn’t want me to be a vet.

I was bullied at secondary school to the point that I changed schools when I was 14. “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you” was something I heard a lot and a big fat lie. Words do hurt, and they can scar. I found solace in my writing. Poetry became my outlet. It was a way for me to express my emotions, without having to physically speak. Roll forward to 2006, and life was a whirlwind. I got married, moved to the Channel Islands, got pregnant, miscarried, got pregnant again, and in 2007 had my daughter 8 weeks early by emergency C-section. To say my mental health was fragile would be an understatement, and yet again I found myself turning to poetry as a way of expressing everything I was feeling.

My daughter’s pregnancy and birth was traumatic to say the least, and I was put on bed rest as part of my recovery. I didn’t know anyone on Jersey, my daughter was still in hospital, and my husband was working 60 hours a week. My laptop became my best-friend. I found a “content mill” website, which is a website that essentially takes your work and uses it to fill other websites, paying on a “pay-per-click” basis. Through that, I discovered Nanowrimo.

Nanowrimo, or National Novel Writing Month was launched in the 1990s as a way to encourage people to finish a novel. The challenge is to write 50,000 words during the month of November. It’s grown so much that there are factions around the world, who meet up on a regular basis. It has made writing a social event. I decided to have a go at writing a novel, and at some point I wrote a God-awful murder mystery called “Murder at Meadowview”. I couldn’t get a publisher, so I went through KDP and self-published. It’s one of those books that I wish I could remove from all living memory, but sadly as is the way of the internet, it has been published and so therefore, it is around forever.

But something good did come out of it. I realised I could finish a novel. And writing a novel is just as therapeutic as poetry. Since then, I’ve taken part in Nanowrimo every single year, and every single year I’ve completed a novel. My skill as a writer has evolved, and I’ve also been lucky enough to get deals with some great publishers. You can find my erotic and contemporary romance books HERE and my urban fantasy book HERE.

Recently, I was told by a friend that I’m very good at putting on a brave face and getting on with things, even when the whole word is falling apart around me. The past eight weeks in particular have been absolutely awful for a variety of reasons. The thing is, as much as I love a chat and a gossip, and I’m happy to talk to anyone about anything (I’m not ashamed of my mental health problems), I rarely just go and tell someone. Part of my anxiety is feeling like I’m putting on other people. I’ve had cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), and talking therapy, and they were both very beneficial, but I find I get more out of writing.

At the beginning of this year, I decided to embark on a holistic journey, studying aspects of Complementary and Alternative Medicines (CAMs). Journalling is a very real therapy that was touched on when I did my own CBT and talking therapies. It’s an act of writing down your thoughts, particularly those you find difficult to talk about. It’s also a creative writing technique often used by writers during Nanowrimo, who are suffering with writer’s block. By sitting in a quiet room, perhaps with some calm music playing or incense burning, anything to get you into a meditative state, you put pen to paper and write whatever comes to mind.

For me, writing has now become a career rather than something therapeutic. I’ve completed my degree – not in science as I’d previously hoped, but in Arts & Humanities, as life intended. And while I am in a better place now, my mental health is still something I struggle with on a daily basis. Most days are good, and I can focus on writing novels for everyone to enjoy. I still get bad days though, and on those, I turn to poetry and pour my emotions into my laptop.

Poetry Written

Begin with a word, now choose another,

be the word’s mistress, don’t be its lover.

Bend it and twist it, do what you will,

out of your fingertips, let the words spill.

Find the words meaning and find it again,

snap it and crush it, and kill it and when,

you’ve found the right word that you want to use,

scratch it. Start again. Adore the abuse.

Find your beginning, a middle and end,

find some nouns and verbs and let them all blend.

Mix them all into a witch-worthy brew,

just leave them to be, and let the words stew.

Abandon your ink blots, start a new page,

unleash your dragons, your love, and your rage.

Once you are finished, you’re done and you’re through,

kill all of your darlings, then start anew.

Let the ink flow, until your pen’s run dry,

there’s nowhere to go, no tears left to cry.

Have you revealed yourself, hidden away,

seen the bleak night turn into bleak day?

Family forgot you even existed.

Are all those scrounged words, humbled and twisted?

And have you chewed off less than was bitten?

The answer’s yes. It’s poetry written.

 

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Summer holidays, food poisoning, and new books…

The past six weeks have been eventful to say the least.

Let’s start with the good news. I got the rights back to The Black Door, which had been previously published with the fabulous Tirgearr Publishing. After giving it a new edit, re-formatting it, and designing a new cover, it was re-released on the 26th August.

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ASIN: B07WVRFVPS / ISBN: 978-1687345493

Kindle US, Kindle UK, Kindle CA, Kindle AU

It’s available to read on Kindle for £/$4.99 or free on Kindle Unlimited, and is also available in paperback for £7.99/$12.99.

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More writing news: C.V. Leigh is doing very well. I’ve been a bit quiet under this persona, simply because I’ve been run off my feet with other areas of my life. But, I’ve signed the contract for book two of the Wolves of Faol Hall series, and have finished the first draft of book three.

The Change is no longer available on KU, but can now be read on e-readers other than Kindle. Find your buy link: HERE.

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Blurb:

Kincaid pack Alpha, Alistair, has called his family back to their ancestral home in the Scottish Cairngorms. His wife, Megan, is losing control of her ability to shift and it has him rattled. When it comes to light that Nathan Trevell, Megan’s ex and the lycanthrope who turned her, has travelled from the States and is in the UK, closing in on his family, Alistair is even more determined to keep everyone safe.

Nathan isn’t deterred by the Kincaid pack. He’s in the UK for a very specific reason, a reason that threatens to turn the lives of the Kincaids upside down – and possibly endanger them.

Being cooped up together in Faol Hall only serves to highlight the differences between the Kincaids, and fighting soon breaks out. Can they put aside their issues and present a united front, before it’s too late?

Unfortunately, that’s where the writing news ends for now. As always, I took a break over the summer holidays. My son has gone into year 6, and if he’s anything like his sister, next year I’ll only see him if he’s hungry or needs me to drive him somewhere, so I decided to make the most of it this year. I made lots of plans to go places with them and do exciting stuff. Halfway through the holidays, they went for a sleepover at Nanny’s. Hubby and I thought this would be a great time to do some adulting. We ordered takeaway, went out for meals, booked tickets to see Russell Howard live… and halfway through his show, I got hit by food poisoning and had to run out. (Sorry Russell.)

I’ve never felt so ill in all my life. The actual poisoning only lasted two or three days, but the final three weeks of the summer holidays were ruined because I felt utterly drained. I haven’t been able to eat properly for almost a month now. In fact, my appetite only really came back the day before yesterday. I now feel much better, but I’m struggling to write. My plan to finish the child-friendly epic fantasy was a bust. I haven’t been able to finish the second draft of Wolves of Faol Hall Book Three, and I still haven’t written a book to go with a cover I won back in February!

Hopefully my mojo will return at some point, but for now fans will have to be content with books I’ve already written.

Sorry about that.

Hope everyone else has had a lovely summer. Time to look forward to the autumn and start planning for Christmas!

 

Writing a character

How many times have you picked up a book, and put it down again because the characters are wooden and lack dimension? Sadly, too often. The dialogue’s the same, the speech patterns are the same, there’s no depth to them, they’re unrealistic, and they become boring.

I get asked a lot how I manage to make my characters realistic, and the truth is I base them on real people.

Some authors will write an in-depth character sheet for each character. They’ll go as far as writing a history for them, and creating family trees. I don’t. Or not for a standalone novel, anyway. I’ll write a basic sheet so Bob doesn’t have blue eyes in one chapter and brown in another, and I’ll jot down their flaws, but I don’t delve too deep into their past, because to be perfectly honest, it’s irrelevant.

When writing Seven Dirty Words, I knew it would be more than one book so I did make notes about Paige’s previous encounters with men, and TDS’s ex, but only because I knew they would be mentioned or featured in Four Letter Words as well. For short stories and novellas like the City Nights collection and A Different Kind of Therapy, I barely made notes at all because the stories were so quick, all I needed to really know where what the characters looked like, and how they spoke.

Speech patterns are essential when creating characters. Nobody speaks the same way, and if your characters are from different areas of the country / world, then you will need to make sure their dialogue features dialect and accents. I find it easier to set my novels in the South West, or the East Midlands because these are accents and dialects that I’m familiar with. In Later, the character of Marcel is French. When I wrote his dialogue, I started to think with a French accent, and I made sure I included some French words, and I’ve been assured it does come across well.

However, I broke these rules when I set the C.V. Leigh novel The Change, entirely in Scotland. The Kincaid brothers are Scottish, but the dialogue doesn’t feature Scottish phrases and dialect until a very minor character is introduced. This is simply because it would have been difficult to read if every time they said ‘didn’t’, I wrote ‘dinnae’. There is one scene, which includes a local in a pub, where the drunk character’s dialogue features Scottish dialect for authenticity.

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Another important area of character creation is looks. As with speech, nobody looks the same.  But, they can look similar. If characters are related, it’s a good idea to make sure they have the same colour eyes, or the same shaped nose, or the same hair type. Of course, it is possible for two complete strangers to have the same coloured eyes. But, remember that some colours are quite rare. For example, it’s unlikely that you’ll have an entire group of unrelated people who have red hair and green eyes, which is a look that a lot of authors seem to go for (including me).

How deep you go into description will depend entirely on your writing style. Some people use a lot of description and spent a lot of time telling the reader how their characters look, while others may go an entire book without mentioning hair or eye colour. And telling someone that a character has brown hair and blue eyes is a bit flat. Remember the rule of showing, not telling. I know from experience, because this is a flaw of mine!

Speaking of flaws…

We all have them. We all have an area of our body that we don’t like, and it’s important your characters do too. Some readers have commented on how Paige in The Words Series is plain looking or not particularly beautiful. The truth is, she is meant to be. But, it’s written in first person and she lacks confidence. She looks in the mirror and doesn’t see someone who is curvy and beautiful, she sees a snubbed nose, thick arms and thick thighs, covered in bruises from rugby and martial arts. In The Black Door, Imogen comes across as angry and standoffish. She’s not a horrible person, but she is a single mum approaching 40, who feels like she is constantly competing against younger, prettier women. Her husband has just left her for someone a lot younger than she is, and the office she works in is full of young, pretty 20-something-year-olds. She has very little self-worth.

Of course, their love interests see past these flaws, but I always feel it’s important the reader sees characters how they see themselves, especially in the beginning.

He pressed his lips against mine, and any irritation was drowned out by pure lust. “Take the job,” he said against me. “Fuck Tremaine. It’s not him I want.”.png

As I mentioned earlier, I do tend to base my characters on real people. Not the entire person, but snippets. They might look vaguely like someone I know, but have someone else’s hang-ups and another person’s speech patterns. I also (subconsciously) tend to inject some of myself into them.

It’s important to make sure that the characters are alive. Without them, there’s no story. Take your time to people-watch – a favourite hobby of many authors. Look at how people walk, look at their facial expressions. Listen to dialects and accents, and speech patterns. Take note of what people dislike about themselves, and then put it all together. You may end up writing a best-selling novel.

Novelist: The full-time job, but part-time.

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There’s a romantic notion that writers spend their time either in coffee shops with a fountain pen in hand, scrawling notes in a beautiful notebook, or locked away in a writing room, with a bookshelf that reaches across one wall, and a view overlooking a stunning garden, full of inspiration. I’ve read statuses and comments telling authors that to be successful, they need to be able to push a book out a month, and spend £1000s on marketing and promotions. However, for me, this is not achievable. Not because I don’t want it, but because it’s simply not practical.

My office varies between sitting on the sofa in the front room or sitting at the dining table in the kitchen. One day, I hope to be able to transform our spare room into a little study, but it will be one that I share with my photographer husband and gaming children since the idea is that we invest in a high-spec PC they are able to use as well. It won’t be a private sanctuary I can hide away in, and I think this is partly why I struggle to make writing a full-time job, even though crafting a novel requires my undivided attention.

The average job is 9-5, Monday-Friday. My husband works longer hours than that, and on top of his day-time job also runs his own photography business. I don’t have what most people consider to be a “day job”, and a lot of people assume that I should be at home playing the good housewife, writing in my spare-time. Those that don’t think a woman’s place is in the kitchen, have the idea that I do write full-time, from the comfort of my own living room. Neither of these are true.

I’m a writer. I have been since 2008, when I got my first freelancing job. Since then I’ve moved onto editing, proofreading, fact-checking, and dabbled with cover design. I set up RW Literary Services, took it down again when I got overloaded, and have recently set it back up taking on even more work. I write for private magazines and websites, as well as “content mill” websites, churning out article after article on a variety of topics. So, yes, as a writer, I work full-time. Sadly, it does not pay enough to be considered a full-time job, nor does it allow me the same hours to work on my novels.

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Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ungrateful! I love creating new covers and helping other authors reach their goals. I love promoting my friends, and finding books for readers. However, I wish that I could call myself a novelist, and right now, I don’t believe I can.

The dream of having a library that I can hide away in, spending my days working on the next novel, be it a Charlotte Howard erotic romance or a C.V. Leigh paranormal story, keeps me going. It gives me something to aim for. One day, I will be a full-time novelist. But just lately, I’ve found myself being dragged down with negative thoughts, mainly because of the unhelpful and unachievable goal aspects spewed across social media.

There’s a difference of opinions over whether quick releases are positive or negative on an author’s career. Some claim to be making six-figure salaries by writing, self-editing, and self-publishing a book a month. Personally, I don’t think that’s realistic. Yes, some authors are clean writers and capable of producing quality work in quick time, but not everyone can, and I don’t think it’s fair to tell authors that they should be forgoing an editor and cover designer in order to save money. I’m not saying that because I work as an editor and cover designer, I’m saying it because it’s true. Even with my self-published books, I didn’t work alone. I had a whole host of people working behind the scenes. Even as an editor, I would never think to edit my own book. You should have an unbias opinion and a fresh set of eyes scan over every piece of work that’s going to be read by the public. But, that’s just my opinion.

I don’t think writing a novel a month is going to help my situation anyway. I’m a slow writer, and even slower at editing. I can write a first draft in 20-30 days, but that is just a first draft, and nobody should ever publish a first draft. My debut C.V. Leigh novel, The Change: A Wolves of Faol Hall novel is in the process of being edited, and because it’s a new genre for me, it’s taking a looooong time to get through. In the mean time, my head is full of ideas for new romance novels that I can’t give any attention to because the way my brain works means having to focus on one project at a time, and with RW Literary Services doing quite well, and my romance novels needing to be marketed, I’m already being pulled in several directions, and it is affecting the quality of my writing (shown by the amount of editing my recent books have needed). But, bills need to be paid, and editing a debut novel doesn’t bring in any money at all.

Saying that, I don’t think I’ll give up RW Literary Services even if I become a best-selling author. I’ve quite enjoyed creating digital artwork and expanding my skill-set. I produce images like the above in my downtime when I’m trying to clear my head from everything that’s tumbling around in it. Most of the images, I’ve picked up from commercial-free sites, but a few that I’m working on at the moment are from my husband’s stock.

I write romance as part of my career, and I still hold onto that romantic ideal of sitting in my own library, gazing out across my beautiful garden with bees and butterflies flitting around herbs and fruit trees, while my books make money without needing any help from me. But for now, I’ll have to make do with a laptop, on the sofa, and using my paltry royalties to pay for marketing.

Book Review: Murder at the Book Club by Betsy Reavley #amreading #murdermystery #bookreview

Murder at the Book Club

Blurb:

Imagine nine women meeting. Tea and cake are on the coffee table. They’ve come together to share their love of books. They are friends. They trust each other. It’s a happy gathering. What could be more harmless?

Then scratch the surface and look closer.

One is lonely. One is desperate and one of them is a killer.

When the body of a woman is discovered on a Cambridge common, DCI Barrett and DI Palmer are called in to investigate. But the motive behind the crime isn’t clear…  And it all leads back to a book club.

As the lies, volatile friendships and tension among the group rise to the surface, DCI Barrett and DI Palmer must work out the motive and track down a cold-blooded killer. But just when they think they are on the right track, a twist in the case throws them off course…

Review:

**3.5 stars**

This was the first book by Betsy Reavley that I’ve read. Murder at the Book Club is a murder-mystery that surrounds a group of women in a book club. After two of them are killed, the police uncover a host of secrets and lies that the women have been living with for years.

I started out really enjoying the book, and could tell from the beginning that it was going to be akin to Midsomer Murders – a cosy murder-mystery, but maybe a little cliched. It was a good idea, and I did like storyline / plot, however, I felt it was let down by the stereotyped characters.

Writing wise, I noticed a few minor errors that were missed in editing, such as the comment in Toni’s POV that they enjoyed a glass of chardonnay at the book club (in the first chapter), which was quickly followed by her disgust that some of the members turned up with wine, and she preferred to drink tea.

The book is written in third-person omniscient. For me, this didn’t quite work and took me out of the story a few times. I don’t enjoy switching POVs as it can be confusing, but this is just me and it may work for other readers.

Saying that, it was a quick read and didn’t require too much thinking. I would consider this a “holiday read”. Would I read it again? Probably not. But, I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys cosy, Hallmark-type murder mysteries.

Want to read it for yourself? Murder at the Book Club is available to buy: HERE.

This review is also available on Goodreads and Amazon UK.