Looking for holiday romance…

Looking for holiday romance…

img-20161119-wa0008I was in Lanzarote last week. That near-barren island of glinting black sand, volcanoes and fields of charred lava. Sheer rock faces that plummet into the deep blue Atlantic and waves that explode on the shore with flumes of white spray.



There is nothing gentle about the landscape in Lanzarote, it is awe inspiring. Powerful and dramatic. It turned my head to the idea of romance.

I’m waxing lyrical, and I’m talking fiction, of course. I can’t help myself. As a writer every new place, vista and experience holds (as yet) untold potential.


A hero forged from molten rock, a narrative spun over sharp peaks and yawning craters. A heroine trapped by the ocean.


A passionate love story rising out of the sun-baked land.

Ah, for the inspiration of a setting so poetic that the plot (almost) writes itself.

Training (or taming?) my Dragon

Training (or taming?) my Dragon

I’ve had a very productive month. Not on here – you’ll know that, if you follow my blog regularly (or should that be irregularly?) The blog has suffered from my rush of productivity, but the FINAL DRAFT of A Bed of Brambles has at last been dispatched to my editor! At least, I’m calling it the final draft… she may think otherwise.

It’s a relief and a delight, to get rid of the words I’ve been hunched over for the last six months. Rather like handing your homework in, and knowing you’ve done a good job, because the book is so much better for the editing. All the same, I’ve become rather jaded with re-reading, and re-writing.  We needed this space; me, Hettie and Alexander, so that we can learn to love each other again. And my apologies to all those readers who’ve been clamouring for the second book and would rush at the chance to read more about Hettie and Alexander. I’ve been keeping you on tenterhooks for far too long, but we are getting there now – really!

With the chasm of time that losing the book freed up, I motored through the farm’s end of year accounts. Numbers are so much more obedient than words, aren’t they? The numbers are either right, or they’re wrong; no shades of grey here (pun intended).  And at last I got around to submitting new plans for the barn we’re hoping to convert on the farm. It’s all go on the land. The combine is rolling, harvest is on us again: long days, weary men and an endless supply of refreshment to be produced from the farmhouse kitchen.

As I write, the sun is shining, a siren call away from my desk and the four walls of my office, but book three is calling too… It’s a habit, this bloody writing, that is hard to resist. So, I got to thinking, why can’t I have both? Outside, moving and writing a book. Uh oh.

I’m a devil for coming up with ideas which swallow hours of time when I find myself with ten minutes spare. And I’ve already learnt that Dragon dictation is going be one of those. Hours already spent learning how to work it, and I haven’t written a word yet (can you still call it writing if you’re actually speaking?) Oh well, I don’t have to worry about that yet, because so far my Dragon hasn’t listened to a single word I’ve said. No, I tell a lie! As I’m typing here Dragon has just opened the dictation box I asked it to open forty minutes ago. And this is meant to increase your word count?

I’ll let you know how I get on, but don’t hold your breath… I’m busy, taming my Dragon. I think we’ll both be spitting fire by next week.

The Lake District – rustic romance to inspire

The Lake District – rustic romance to inspire

DSC_0296DSC_0297I’m blown away by the rustic romance of Cumbria this week. Even the barns are enchanting, and then there are the hills, the rocks and the lakes; forests and waterfalls. There are lambs in the fields (and on the narrow lane to our cottage); calves with doe eyes grazing behind dry stone walls. The foxgloves in bloom, poking pink flowers through bright green fern…

border-collie-191776_1920Catch your breath in amazement stuff around every corner. And I’m inspired. Land Rovers and collie dogs working for their living. Farmhouses and cottages, keeping centuries of stories behind stone walls. And a countryside so rugged that just getting by must be a challenge for the people who live there after the tourists have gone home. When the rain pours off the mountains and the lakes overflow, or the roads are blocked by snow drift. When swift cloud engulfs the rocky hills and valleys to leave you isolated in a world of mist.

landrover cumbriaAcross the field from our holiday home stood our nearest neighbour; a white-washed stone cottage with a grey slate roof and a wooden gate to the front. The red Mini Cooper outside, with it’s personalised number plate, tells me that this must be Hayley’s house. There’s no sign of children, so I’ve decided that Hayley is in her mid twenties. And she lives alone, because the house is empty when Hayley has gone to work. No regular visitors either, but one irregular one: Late in the evening a Land Rover parks beside the red Mini. It’s gone before dawn. A proper working vehicle, this, with winches, and muddy tyres. Long wheel based and laden with gear. No personalised number plate to help me out here, but I’m going to say that this Landy is driven by a man who works on the land. A farmer or a gamekeeper, maybe even a vet. Occupations which might explain why he turns up so late and is gone so early. Or could it be that there’s an altogether different story unfolding in that cottage…

Hmmm. I think I can feel a Cumbrian rustic romance coming on.

Road Trip!

Road Trip!

A quick one this week, because we’re off on a mini UK tour, and I really ought to be packing, or editing, or cleaning the house. Because you have to leave the house extra-clean when you’re not going to be in it, don’t you?

I’ve just spoken to the mates who are coming with us, and we’ve sorted our packing lists: Wellies, waterproofs, sun-cream and sandals. So, pack for all weather, basically. I’m glad the car doesn’t have a baggage allowance.

A pre-harvest jolly to Yorkshire, Scotland and the Royal Highland Show (which I’m weirdly excited about). Home via the lake district, by boat if necessary, seeing as nature is filling those lakes up as I write. I’d quite like to bring a Highland cow back with me, but only one that can swim.

I’m taking the editing with me (who am I kidding?) because I’m about to bust my latest self-imposed deadline, (final re-writes back to the editor before I go away, oh dear).  And I’m stressing about the ancient terriers, or stressing about the poor souls who I’m leaving in charge of them, actually. They’re standing outside in the rain at the moment (the terriers, not the carers), looking ancient and mighty bedraggled (I won’t humiliate them by sharing a picture here). But, for some reason which I really can’t fathom, they do come back in to pee. I might lay a shavings bed in the boot room , then the carers can just muck them out.

Here’s wishing for some sunshine, (and an England win tonight). COME ON ENGLAND/SUMMER (delete as required) – let’s be having you!

Mood setting – painting a picture in words #amwriting #amediting

Mood setting – painting a picture in words #amwriting #amediting

As writers, we have a rich selection of words we can use to set a mood; an emotion; a moment. The art of good writing (and the joy of good reading) takes us right in to a time and and a place – and sets the mood of the moment – without telling us.

There’s a scene in the novel I’m editing (A Bed of Brambles – the sequel to A Bed of Barley Straw) where the hero (Alexander) is sitting above cliffs, recovering from the hurt of an emotional upset, and being soothed by the landscape around him. So, that’s me telling you what’s happening.

Amidst her pleas of “Show us!” My editor queried my choice of words in this scene – “would he be calmed by the waves crashing against the rocks?”

Good point; crashing and rocks are hard, angry words. How about “calmed by the waves washing across the pebbles on the beach?”

Here’s one picture of the landscape, similar to that which I’m seeing when I’m writing the scene:

Angry Anglesey coast

It is angry isn’t it? The waves are crashing against the rocks. It’s moody, and melancholy; in turmoil. Blacks and greys and an unsettled sea – all very Poldark! Passionate, oh Lord, there’s all sorts of angsty words I could use (and a risk of becoming clichéd)

Here it is in sunnier mood:

Sunny Anglesey-coast

Now I’m uplifted. The sun warming the cliff-face, ripples on the grey-green water… and I could talk about the clouds, but I mustn’t overdo it. I’m falling into that cliché trap again (frothy and fluffy, the ocean tumbling over the rocks).

The same coastline, different angle – let’s do serene:

serene Anglesey coast

I’ll let you chose your own words, I’m not sure Alexander is ever quite this peaceful, still, enticing. Oh, hang on, he is enticing, just not in such a clean way 😉

It’s a maze and a labyrinth, feeling your way to the right words. And that’s before I’ve even told you how he’s sitting on the bench… Is he leaning forward with his head in his hands? Is he lounging back against the salt-bleached wood with his long legs stretched out in front of him…

It’s a mood, a moment in the novel. It’s why editing fries your brain.


May blossom, cow parsley and a flowering horse-chestnut. Rustic romance in rural Essex

May blossom, cow parsley and a flowering horse-chestnut. Rustic romance in rural Essex

Lovely day for a walk. And the Farmer promised that the route he had planned would only take 40 minutes. I’m still running in the hip,  you see, and I was meant to be editing, but the sun was shining through the office window. No contest really…


May is my absolute favourite month of the year (or it is this month, next month it might be June). Lush is the only word:

May blossom living up to its name, and cow parsley crowding the verges.

An hour and forty minutes (and several good climbs) later, when the hip had “had a good workout” (the Farmer’s words, not mine) we stumbled across (I was only stumbling a little bit) this little beauty…


…right in the middle of nowhere. How’s that for rustic romance. I can always edit tomorrow, it will give me something to do until I’m able to walk again.

Hippy adventures

Hippy adventures

My but the body is a resilient tool, and the mind’s capacity for adaptation is a wonder!

Three weeks on from my hip replacement and my skill on crutches has developed apace. I’ve almost got used to having no free hands, shuffling items from pillar to post until they reach their final destiny (I WILL position that cup of coffee next to my easy chair). I can use the crutches like chopsticks to move some things along, but the greatest amusement in my day is had with my long handled gripper. I’ve been honing my gripper skills with determined ambition; knickers from ankles to washing basket with one sweep of the arm. Target practice at the dustbin for extra sport. I can pet the dogs, or even prod them when they’re scratching at my carpet. What fun! A comedy of terrier confusion as they try to work out that one.

Life isn’t without frustrations. Tell me I can’t bend over and I instantly start dropping every thing I touch (not to mention a few that were sitting around minding their own business until that sweep of the gripper got them). I have been known to drop the gripper too, and my crutches. Proper stymied in those moments.

Support stockings have driven me close to madness. The surgeon chopped my leg in half, but it’s those bloody stockings that bug me. Erotic they aren’t. When I have taken the time to imagine a man kneeling at my feet freeing me of hoisery, this wasn’t the scenario I dreamt of. The only release I yearn is escape from their deadly boa constrictor grip.

I long for the loo to be a haven again, where I can sit in comfort. I learnt the hard way that slow progress to the dunny+lack of scissor leg action+more wasted minutes reversing onto the bog and dropping my troos (not too low!) is a receipe for disaster (especially if someone has put the lid down – thirty years of marriage when he didn’t drop the lid and suddenly he’s Mr Diligent.) Oh how we laughed.

Every cloud has a sliver lining. Housework has gone out the window, swiftly followed by the ironing. My mother filled the freezer with delicious home cooking. A joy for the first fortnight, but we’ve now fallen prey to a sordid ready-meal habit. The sister has been on dilligent standby duties, instinctively absorbing all the gritty jobs which I couldn’t ask anyone else to do (I won’t abuse you with detail). I baulked at calling even her when the terrier puked on the carpet. It was a weird sort of torture, observing the glorious mess from my seat, unable to clear it up. Now I never thought I’d miss the skills to do that job, but at least the farmer learnt something: don’t give old dogs eggs for breakfast without anticipating consequences. Even if we are out of Chappie.

As I type said farmer is washing the kitchen floor. Unasked and unprompted. And that my friends is an indication of just how low this house has fallen.

BookBub, Kindle Countdown and crossing those dastardly time-zones

BookBub, Kindle Countdown and crossing those dastardly time-zones

I’ve been so stuck into writing my new novel, and with harvest upon us as well, that I have to confess to my marketing efforts throughout July and August have being poor (verging on dismal). No surprise then that I have witnessed a drop in sales: For the last few weeks I’ve been flat-lining with only the occasional one-or-two books perking up the sales chart and keeping me from despair.

It was that despair, however, which urged me to bung off a submission request for a BookBub UK Featured Deal. Reading the BookBub submission guidance, I didn’t rate my chances. A Bed of Barley Straw has limited reviews, and the e-book is only available on a single platform (yes, it is Amazon, no surprises there). My personal Magna Carta carries an edict which states that I must embark on at least one marketing foray each month. To be frank, submitting to BookBub felt like an easy way to tick off a checkbox, with no further effort required when my submission was rejected.

To my utter surprise and delight the book was accepted!

BookBub Abobs

My promotion was scheduled to begin on August 20th. A mere seven days from receipt of the acceptance email, with seven days prior payment required. Clearly I wanted to seal the deal and get my $40 off in rapid quick time. (Ideally within half an hour, as I’d promised the Gallivanting Granny that I would take her to market. [PS – I wasn’t selling her])

The first flappy panic – the question “when do you want your deal to end” – involved a trawl through the BookBub Ts and Cs to find out if there were any rules governing this. The information was easy to find in their FAQs (in my haste for rapid solutions I also fired off an email to the BookBub partners, who I’m pleased to say were quick to get back to me.)

Having successfully straddled that hurdle, I decided to complicate things for myself by running a Kindle Countdown Deal concurrently with the promotion. (July’s marketing tick-box checked retrospectively).

Kindle Countdown clock

I have to admit that it was luck rather than planning which enabled me to do so. If your book is enrolled in KDP Select you are permitted to run one Kindle Countdown Deal, lasting a maximum of 7 days, during your 90 day enrolment period. The price of your book must not have been changed in the 30 days prior to the Countdown commencing, and the Countdown must conclude 14 days before your enrolment period ends. Also there are price criteria, and you must be willing to discount your book by a minimum of £1 ($1 US).

That’s a pretty specific set of rules, but luckily KDP enforce them for you. So your book will not show as eligible for the deal if you are sitting outside of their criteria. Phew! It would have taken me more than half an hour to work that out for myself.

The next flappy panic involved TIME ZONES. Simple for some maybe, but my brain was having none of it.

BookBub stipulate that the e-book must be available across all platforms (phew again) at the promotional reduced price (£0.99 in my case) at 12.00pm PST (Pacific Standard Time) and that price must be in place up until 11.59pm on the day the deal ends.

My Kindle Countdown must be scheduled in GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) and I’m living in BST (British Summer Time). As someone who still hasn’t grasped the intricacies of changing my clocks twice a year, this could be a disaster. Luckily I’ve got 7 days of Kindle price reduction to span a 5 day BookBub promotion. Gotta be possible right? Flappy panic two.

(I’ve emboldened the numbers to allow you to share my hysteria, not as a useful aid to your own cross-time-zone promotional dilemmas. Sorry, but it’s no use looking to me for help with this.)

I read the blog of a fellow author who had scheduled Kindle Countdown Deals to run simultaneously across multiple time-zones. A dizzy spell ensued, which necessitated the use of smelling salts.

I scribbled vague numbers and arrows on to scraps paper for twenty minutes, before bringing in my support team – The Farmer, The Engineer and The Gallivanting Granny. To be fair, they had bigger things on their minds (harvest and market stalls) but between them they failed to allay my confusion. The GG was indignant that there wasn’t somebody else who could do this work for me. Bless. She thinks I’m corporate.

I got there eventually, with a prayer and a whistle. Flappy panic three when the Kindle price didn’t drop at 6pm on the 19th. BST of course, it dropped at 7pm (and yes, I know now, I was way ahead of myself. At 7pm in the UK it was only lunch time in America. I think).

By accident, my over-generous over-lap did provide some feedback. I followed the advice on the ALLi Self-Publishing site, and posted about my Countdown deal on Twitter, Facebook and here on the blog. Those efforts produced three sales from the Countdown Deal alone, in the hours between my price reduction and the issue of the BookBub email. (And I’m not knocking that. Three sales was more than I had achieved in the previous seven days.)

What happened next speaks for itself – screenshot taken at 9am on day two of the BookBub promo (that’s BST if you’re interested).

Amazon sales chart

Glory halleluiah, my best day of book sales to date (although I have done ‘better’ when giving them away). Interesting that I’m also seeing a rise in my Kindle Unlimited pages read.

And look how pretty my Amazon #rating is! (There’s a #39 in there somewhere, in case you can’t see it)

Amazon ranking #39

I fully accept that this is a temporary promotional blip, but I’m not going to let that burst my delusional bubble.

Today’s plan was to push on by shouting about my Kindle Countdown Deal on social media, as per the guidelines in the ALLi blog. But Unfortunately my internet is dead. I am blocked from obsessively checking my sales figures, from posting to Facebook or Twitter. I’m writing this instead, but you may not get to see it. Our internet provider tells me that we have used up our monthly data allowance. It’s only the 21st of the month for mercy’s sake!! Oh yes, YD is home from Uni, and she’s over-fond of NetFlix.

Now, should I fork out more cash to get us reconnected? Or should I take advantage of the downtime and write like a dervish?

If you’re reading this, I must have made my decision. #ammarketing

We’re all romantic fools at heart…

We’re all romantic fools at heart…

As a writer of contemporary romance with a novel to sell I am clear about my target market.  Now I’m not a fan of pigeon holes. Or of sweeping judgements which attempt to predict character by demographic. But having issued that disclaimer, please bear with me as I litter this post with offensive generalisation. It’s the grubby truth of marketing, and I accept that having a criteria on which to base your marketing efforts does make sense.

To ensure the best response to my own marketing, I carefully researched my target audience. Ok, that’s a lie. I gave it my best guess. I mean we’re talking contemporary romance. How hard can it be? Young women of average intelligence education. We all know that it’s the dreamy lasses who want to read about gorgeous hunks – men who will love them completely, and whose hearts they will mend. Passion, adoration (and a soupçon of scorching-but-meaningful rumpy-pumpy). The cynical mid-lifers (of which I am one, which should have told me something as I am writing this stuff) have been there, done that and thrown away the t-shirt. Some have nurtured ill will against romance ever since the departure of husband number three. And the highly educated know enough to understand that it’s all a load of fanciful tosh, they are busy improving their literary minds with important books.

The elderly? Please. You need to ask? As for men, well we all know that their perfect relationship is straight-forward (willing woman – leg over – meat pie for dinner. Depart to watch the match). If the match is showing widescreen at the pub, we have our happy-every-after. I warned you that this would be offensive.

If you are ranting at me right now, please take some solace in knowing that I now understand the folly of these collective ‘isms’. They are wrong, wrong and wrong again. We are indeed all romantic fools at heart. Take if you will as an example, the lovely letter I received this week from a farmer. A man who I happen to know is the wrong side of 60 (strike that, let’s make it the right side of 60!) He qualified his letter with the fact that he wasn’t much of a book reader, preferring the Farmer’s Weekly. He reads, he tells me, one book a year, on his holiday. He usually chooses a romance (did you see that coming? If not – shame on you.) That letter made my week. And there is the card I received in the post from an octogenarian. The photographs sent to me of my book in exotic locations, despatched by a woman who holds rank in City banking. The builder I met in Tesco who apologised for having not read my novel yet. I countered his apology with one of my own; “It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, what do you usually read?”  His reply – “Mills & Boon.” I misjudged, again.

One of my closest friends is on husband number three. I realise now that this fact alone is a credit to her faith in true love. Isn’t that really the message of every romance? And she’s read the book three times. Happy endings, I find, can bring a tear to the most hardened of eyes. Boo sucks demographic. You don’t know us at all.

What? I’ve got to sell it?

What? I’ve got to sell it?

The Eldest Daughter works in PR. The Brother asked what the ‘target sales’ for my book were.

The what?

“If someone buys it, I will fall off my chair with joy.” I told him cheerfully. The Brother was happy with my reply, but the ED was more persistent. “Send me your marketing materials. Would you consider a give-away competition? What about press coverage?”

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. My foray into authorship is so nervously tentative that I have hidden my novel behind a pen name (that is partly because of the raunchy scenes, which I quietly hoped my children and mother would never get to see). Too late for that. I will tell them I Googled ‘novel sex’ and copied somebody else’s words. Although that particular search might reveal more than I care to witness. I made that mistake when I wanted to buy rabbit toys for my daughter in law this Christmas (actual toys for an actual rabbit. Please).

It didn’t take much research to realise that, with the sheer number of books being published each day, a debut novel by an unknown author was destined to total anonymity. Part of me rather likes that idea. I wrote this book for myself, and I will have a copy on my bookshelf until the day I die. After my passing, the grandchildren (when they arrive – take note ED) will exclaim in wonder that Granny wrote a book. (Hopefully they won’t read the sexy bits. Although, I will be past caring by then).

My target sales crept up. One hundred books sold would put me in the top 10% of published authors (I read this – somewhere); that 90% of books sell less than one hundred copies. If this is true, it is tragic. Of course, some of those books will have been specialist or niche. Never intended to achieve mass sales. But just think of the number of wonderful stories which might be out there, that we don’t even know about!

I put the word out to extended friends and family. I reckon I’ve got twenty plus guaranteed sales, and I’ll probably buy a dozen myself.

Three hundred sales (I did the maths) would pay back the money spent publishing the book (although not the money spent buying a dozen back). Time spent writing has been a pleasure, so I don’t want payment for that. The husband might argue that the time could have been better spent elsewhere.

So, yay – I have a target. I simply need three hundred people to buy my book. If it’s a good enough read, and amuses them, maybe sales will grow from there? Or from the sequel (now underway) when I eventually publish that.

Easier said than done, though, finding three hundred people who want to buy your book. Back to Google, CreateSpace, @thecreativepenn, @JFbookman… I could go on. Hundreds of blogs, thousands of bloggers, millions of tweeters on twitter who are #writing #self-publishing #givingadvice about how to market your book. And CreateSpace tells me I should be one of them.

Gulp, here I go then. I am not ‘tech-stupid’, but I’m not “tech-savvy” either. And I am frequently ‘tech-frustrated’. I am too impatient (there we go, again) to spend time working things out and setting them up correctly. If my *avatar (*little personal picture – I have learnt that) doesn’t chose itself and load automatically, I am inclined to throw my hands heavenwards in despair and leave the Twitter/Wordpress generated, headache-inducing image in place. Consequently my blog is somewhat basic (I can see you, nodding). But it does exist. As for Twitter, well! That is a whole other blog.

And press coverage? Oh no, I’m not nearly brave enough for that. Yet.