In homage to and in support of Indie Authors everywhere! As most of you know, I self-published my first novel in June 2021. After the initial euphoria, I have found the marketing side of things a challenge, despite having a so-called plan of action. I knew it was going to be tough, but I hadn’t bargained for feeling like I’ve been dumped in the middle of the Pacific Ocean without a dingy, let alone a paddle.
How do we Indie Authors make ourselves shine when 7,500 titles are published on Amazon every week?
Those members of my Indie family who are keeping afloat, I salute you.
I’d felt buoyant all week but started floundering in the promotion ocean again yesterday after my upcoming book signing with other Jersey Writers Social Group members was cancelled at the much-looked-forward-to JERSEY PRIDE. Perhaps not too surprisingly, COVID-19 was to blame, again.
So, feeling slightly down, I put together this short video in homage to and support of Indie Authors everywhere. #withlove
When Becci Murray asked me to be a part of her forthcoming Bookstagram Tour for Azalea Fern and the Last Ruin of the Extinct, I was seriously excited. When I realised the invitation included beta reading it as well, I felt honoured, as well as surprised; it had been a very long time since I’d read a middle grade children’s book but, you know what? I ended up binge-reading it as it blew my socks off!
I loved everything about it. The characters, especially the gorgeous Azalea. I laughed like a drain in parts and cried like a baby in places where the storyline blurs into the reality of the world as it is today. Becci’s beautiful descriptions of places and things instantly draw you in, and I tumbled, head first, into Azalea’s world but, for me, it is Becci’s wonderful sense of humour that shines through in all her books, which makes them such a delight.
I first got to know Becci toward the end of 2018, she was looking for some publishing advice. Ha! Ha! I was flattered but, although I wasn’t going to let on, I was floundering in the vast seas of publication dilemmas with my first novel, Just Say It. So I was very unsure what sound advice I could give Becci but I managed to redeem my lack of helpful knowledge by inviting her to do an author interview when Billy’s Brain Booster Juice first hit the shelves.
Victoria @bongtreebooks refers to Azalea Fern and the Last Ruin of the Extinct as ‘a corker of a book.’ Why didn’t I think of that? Because, that is exactly what it is.
I might be the oldest Azalea groupie on tour, but I am so looking forward to the 3rd August 2021 – my slot on the Azalea Book Tour #bookstagram#booktour to promote this brilliantly written middle grade children’s book.
HAPPY FRIDAY EVERYONE! I have recently received my swag, the author copies of my first born novel, Just Say It and I’m feeling good! Cue Mr Bublé. Just Say Itis about one woman’s inability to say those three small words, I love you. It is so important to tell everybody you love you love them! You never know when the opportunity to say those words to the people you care about might be snatched away from you. So, go on! It’s Friday, Tell Everybody You Love You Love Them! Just Say It! So now we are all in the mood to spread some love, here is the promo video for Just Say It!
FOR THE LOVE OF DOGS! The Canines who stole my heart.
There have always been canines in my life. If I’d suffered from any dog-driven allergies as a child, it would have been really ruff because my parents would have had me re-homed.
FOR THE LOVE OF DOGS! HONEY
When I was still strapped inside my pram, my parents bought a Corgie puppy, Honey. As soon as I was upwardly mobile, Honey became my constant companion for the next fourteen years.
While still adjusting to life after my father’s death, I was looking forward to the summer holidays. De-mob happy, after being released from that borstal-like boarding institution that my mother referred to as school, to enjoy endless weeks in the summer sunshine, with the ever faithful Honey by my side.
My recently, but very merry widowed mother was nowhere to be seen when I arrived home, and neither was Honey. I ran around the house and garden calling her name – Honey, not Mummy. It was my mother’s handyman who delivered the core-shattering news that Honey was now buried under the cherry tree in the paddock.
I sat with my back propped up against the cherry tree nursing my broken heart until it was dark, which was when my mother rocked up. I startled her and she panicked. She thought I’d run away from school because my face was covered in tear-stained mud. Apparently, she had forgotten I was coming home that day.
‘Why didn’t you tell me about Honey, Mummy?’ I wailed. For once, she was speechless.
After Honey’s demise, I spent eight years roaming aimlessly in the dog-less wilderness, until I visited my mother and step-father one weekend to get my canine fix. Their furry four-legged family had just increased to three with the addition of a springer spaniel puppy called Tiger.
FOR THE LOVE OF DOGS – TESSA
I was fed the story that we were going to visit the owners of Tiger parents, to show them what a handsome boy he was growing into and, apparently, there was still one puppy that hadn’t been sold. When we arrived, my step-father put that puppy in my arms and said, ‘I think we should call this one your dog.’ I was over the moon dog.
I wanted to call my new baby Bessie, which was quickly vetoed by my mother who thought Bessie was a name for a sheepdog, and Tessa might be ‘more appropriate’. Curiously, the name Tessa would become synonymous with my writing life.
Springer spaniel Tessa and I absconded to the Channel Islands a couple of years later, much to my mother’s pique.
Tessa loved me so much. She was a one woman dog. Insanely jealous of anybody coming near me, especially boyfriends, which made it difficult to sustain a long-term relationship!
At 14, Tessa, like Honey, sprung over the rainbow bridge. Yet again, I was devastated, finding myself alone in the dog-less wilderness nursing a broken heart. I vowed I would never to have another dog because it is too painful when something happens to them.
FOR THE LOVE OF CATS – TILLY, OLLIE AND MISHA
Desperate for a furry friend, I went catty. Not that being catty makes the pain of losing them any less. I also found out that giving your heart to a cat is so much more stressful. They come and go when they please. You spend sleepless nights worrying about why they haven’t come home. When you finally do drift into a fitful sleep they bound in announcing their arrival and demanding attention at 4.a.m.
Never lose your heart to an animal, because, after they love you, unconditionally, they’ll break your heart. It’s a cruel twist that their lifespans are so much shorter than ours.
FOR THE LOVE OF DOGS! CASSIE
A few years ago, the catties got a shock when we bought home a Shorkie and christened her Cassie.
I had said over and over again, ‘I don’t want another dog!’ But my arm was twisted and Cassie found her way into my heart as soon as we made eye contact and I can’t imagine life without her.
She is the only one that never complains when I sing. I can sing my way through a whole performance of Blood Brothers when we are out walking in the fields and she never bats and eye, or an ear. Although I suspect that, sometimes, she may be selectively deaf. For example, the words come hereare often difficult to catch, especially when it’s windy, and you are feisty by nature.
I’m always bending her adorable little floppy ears when voicing my concerns, and she listens to me intently, agreeing with everything I say.
She is my constant companion, my leveler and my muse. She never answers back and everything, perhaps with the exception of bath time, is her favourite thing. Oh, for the love of dogs, here I go again.
She Had Met Liars Before by Dreena Collins, talk about six of the best! Now available Amazon, I bought my copy planning to savour each story, one at a time, at my leisure. Soaking up every word of what I knew would be beautifully crafted stories… Instead I ended up binge reading all of them, which left me thirsty for more.
I’m pleased to say that Dreena is a fellow member of The Jersey Writers Social Group, where she delights her fellow members with her stories during group meetings, but these stories of strength and survival really are six of the best, powerfully poignant and intricately crafted.
The only good thing about me gobbling up these wonderful stories so quickly, is that I am looking forward to reading them all again, soon.
It’s been two years since I visited the country my heart chose as its second home. Travel undaunted has always been my motto and when Gov.uk’s travel traffic lights status turned to green for go on 7th May 2021, I couldn’t wait to book my flight.
72 hours before my flight, I was paying a not inconsiderable amount of money, after having my pre-travel COVID-19 test done… just about at the same time Gov.uk announced they were changing the Portuguese travel traffic lights back to amber from 8th June 2021 – I was due to fly on 5th.
My heart sank when the breaking news appeared on my iPhone , but I’ve since met others who were already on their flight to Faro when the news broke.
I considered my options. If the Portuguese status had changed to red, I would have been inconsolable, but amber, for me, was okay. I wouldn’t have to rush back to self-isolate before going back to work, because I am fortunate enough to have received both my jabs and, provided I have my trusty Mac with me, I can work from anywhere, but what swung it for me was, at the time I flew to Faro there were 68 cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant in Portugal, compared to 12000 in the UK. So, I decided to take my chances. It was green for go for me.
At the time of booking my flights, information was scanty about all the necessary pre-travel requirements in a COVID-19 world. Bearing in mind I was travelling, Jersey-Heathrow-Faro, I was transiting in the UK,
The best information I found was in an article by Hannah Brandler in Business Traveller on 18th May 2021, which included information on:
The compulsory pre-departure PCR test
The rapid antigen test to take with you on the trip (for returning back to the UK)
And filling out the Travel Locator form for Portugal
The flight from Jersey to Heathrow wasn’t quite full, but on arrival at Heathrow, it was evident that many people, who had waited for so long to go on holiday, had decided to stay at home.
Heathrow 5th July 2021
Heathrow 5th July 2021
Our flight to Faro was half full, having been fully booked prior to the Gov.uk’s announcement.
On arrival at Faro we waltzed through Passport Control, which was an emotional moment for me, in many respects.
Being back in the country that claimed my heart 30 years ago was one thing, but it was the first time travelling since B COVID-19 and B BREXIT, so a heartbreaking moment, for me, not to be able to go through the EU channel.
I really felt for those who had to cut their long-awaited holiday short to make it back to the UK prior to the 8th June 2021 to self-isolate before they had to go back to work, while I count my blessings that I am able to stay for a while longer, provided the traffic lights system stays as it is.
Sad reflections of living in our new uncertain post COVID-19 world.
Sleepless nights? We all have ’em, some more than others and I live with them on a nightly basis. My body clock has been out of whack for years and during those dark times staring at the ceiling, a firework display of thoughts are going off in my head. Mostly random, with a firecracker of angst bouncing off the walls of my solar plexus.
The time between drifting off in anticipation of waking again to enjoy the dawn chorussing of hundreds of ecstatically excited small birds, each with the lung capacity of a huffalump, being woken before the avian choir bursts into song to the sound of purring, isn’t all bad.
Even when I’m luxuriating in a fleeting spell of REM sleep, dreaming about lying on a Maldivian beach drinking cocktails with one hand and signing books with the other, I can forgive our Burmese boy for positioning himself on my pillow with his head on my cheek, his throat nestling against my ear. The soft, deep rumbling of his purr is loud, like a giant bee hovering above a nectar-drenched sunflower, but it is also strangely comforting.
I move him gently under my arm, where he falls to sleep, instantly, and, strangely, I too, feel delightfully dozy.
Here is the official book trailer for my first novel Just Say It. I am excited and terrified in equal measures!
I’d had a shot at writing a novel before, when I was in my thirties, but the time didn’t feel right. Although I had written short stories and miscellaneous features for magazines and newspapers since leaving school, I hadn’t honed my writing skills sufficiently to string together a 100,000 word novel.
The seed of an idea for Just Say It, planted itself in my brain twenty-five years ago, whirling around on the back-burner waiting for the right time for me to set it free.
When I did unleash it, all hell was breaking loose in my life, so I let it go of it pantser-style with a torrent of emotion. Never again. My pantser days are behind me now. I am 40,000 words into my second novel, a well-plotted murder-mystery spoof.
Finishing my first-born novel, Just Say It, I believe is a turning point in my writing life, but I couldn’t have done it without the support and encouragement of many.
The support and encouragement of members of the Jersey Writers Social Group has been invaluable, reguarly providing me with valuable feedback. I would also like to thank everyone who soldiered through reading some of the earlier drafts.
To push me over the line, as my friend Pat Stanley would say, I couldn’t have done it without Deb Sutton, who has, virtually, held my hand throughout the whole process. Thank you so much, Deb, for delivering tough love and teaching me so much.
It’s been a long time coming, but here is the official trailer for my first novel, Just Say It, which will be available on Amazon soon.
It’s been a long time coming, but here is the official cover reveal for my first novel, Just Say It, which will be available on Amazon soon.
I would like to thank members of the Jersey Writers Social Group for their support and encouragement, as well giving valuable feedback, and to everyone who read some of the earlier drafts.
However, to push me over the line, as my friend Pat Stanley would say, I couldn’t have done it without Deb Sutton, who has, virtually, held my hand throughout the whole process. Thank you so much, Deb, for delivering tough love and teaching me so much.
Now, here is the official cover reveal, which gave me the opportunity to include music by Brian Cadoret, who not so long ago produced and arranged some of my songs.
During the past week… I went slightly insane. I could be forgiven for forgetting what day of the week it was, but forgetting which week it was, like I did, is bordering on insanity.
I tore myself away from acute editing mode, and rushed around town like a headless chicken, believing it was my bestie’s Big Birthday the following day. I even cancelled all appointments the morning after her Big Day, anticipating that I might be starting it with a headache.
I was completely blinkered. Blind to the fact that, during more lucid times, I would have known perfectly well that there was still another week to go before the celebrations began.
With approximately two weeks to go before I lose my first-time novelist virginity, I seemed to have lost the plot.
Some might say, I am a little nuts at the best of times, it’s in my psyche.
I talk to all my animals
I drift off when I’m being spoken to
And, sometimes, like a skittish Springer Spaniel, I only respond to being called to heel, if feel like it.
The first forty-eight chapters seemed to go swimmingly, in my humble virgin novelist opinion. Whee! I thought, but when my virtual hand-holding mentor identified a few, relatively minor and easily rectified plot holes, I started having a wobble.
A wobble that led to panic, plummeting self-confidence and the inability to string a sentence together, as I seemed to have lost my grasp of the English language.
When you are blessed with a virtual hand-holding mentor, one who instinctively knows when to back off while you to sort out your scary writing demons, you can be confident in the knowledge she’ll be stepping back in again to get you over the next hurdle, once you’ve find your feet again.
While I am hyperventilating in my darkened boudoir with only a handful of days left to publication, I know my virtual hand-holding mentor, is still slaving away. Ironing out all the creases that sent me slightly nuts over the course of last week.
I had a significant confidence crisis last night. I am not quite sure why, when I am so close to achieving my goal, as I can – finally – see the light at the end of the tunnel. So why did I suddenly feel like a jellied mass with a blancmange for brains?
My self-confidence wobbles throughout writing my first novel, Just Say It ,have been many. Writing is such a solitary pursuit. You rattle away on your keyboard for weeks, months and years, lost in your own fantasy world. Getting into the heads of your characters and then, like the bully that you are, you present them with situations that will challenge them, as well as make them laugh, and cry.
You believe you have a story to tell but, your goal of sharing your novel with potential readers is a darn scary business, and there is so much to learn along the way.
The dearth of blogging on this site since I made the decision to self-publish, won’t have gone unnoticed by some, but the polishing process to get the manuscript shiny enough for publication, has been full-on. The easy part is writing the novel, the hard part is editing it.
So what to do to hit you pre self-publication angst on the head?
We wannabe authors all know what we are are letting ourselves in for. At whatever stage of our writing lives, we are going to have to grit our teeth and share our writing with others at some stage. Other writers group members, and so on. So we need to prepare ourselves when receiving feedback, because we know we are going to have to take the rough with the smooth.
Not everybody is going to like, let alone, enjoy, what you are writing about. And it hurts, when they don’t, but because you are so determined to see your work in print, you will get over it by:
growing a hide of steel
getting rid of that niggling voice of self-doubt
and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone
I’ve only read about Writing Buddies. I’d never had one, until very recently, and I consider myself incredibly lucky. It’s made a huge amount of difference to my whole writing modus operandi, as well as during a major self-confidence crisis!
Goodness knows how huge last night’s dip in self-confidence crisis could have been without the person who is ‘holding my hand’ and leading me through the scary self-publishing process.
I’m hanging on every word of someone I barely know, but have every confidence in, because I know she will see me through the maze of self-doubt. Her faith alone will see me through the crisis.
I was recently invited to write some free poetry WE PAW Bloggers E-zine — Issue 74. The subject was, ‘things that inspire you, and’ my contribution, with its innovative title, ‘The Things That Inspire Me’, proved to be a liberating experience. Poetry was my first love, but it has been several decades since I last wrote a poem, so I am more that a little rough around my poetry edges.
I decided to create a video to go with it. Unfortunately, my recorded voice sounds like someone whose been sitting at a bar all evening and is about to slide off their barstool, so I downloaded the basic Speechelo package. It’s a handy piece of kit – you just type in your text, and the software spews out a recording of a disembodied voice speaking your words. A cool tool.
Since then, a kind friend has re-recorded the vocal for me, although she doesn’t want to be credited and this this is her version. Brace yourself for the ending, though. My sound editing techniques need more work!
‘Put yourself out there,’ they said, after the umpteenth rejection of my first novel. ‘Why don’t you self-Publish!,’ they said. I nodded, smiling sweetly, thinking, ‘oo-er I’m not sure I want to take the scary path to self-publishing.‘
I had set my heart on being traditionally published and, during the first lockdown, I was presented with the best opportunity I would ever have to buff up my manuscript.
The first Lockdown , that worrying time when we all had little else to do but think, it also prompted many people to sharpen their pencils and start writing their first book.
Over twelve months later, the competition from others vying to see their name in print is fiercer than it has ever been. In the current climate, agents will struggle to find the time to read all the MS’s they have received from the ever-growing numbers of wannabe authors.
2021 was the time to ‘get myself out there.‘ I’m no spring chicken, so I need to get on with it. So why did I hang around when I’ve been sitting on a finished manuscript for such a long time? Well, however old you are, your self-confidence often needs buoying up, even if you believe you have a story worth telling, and there is no better person to do that than your editor.
I knew the manuscript would benefit from a damn good edit, but not by me. I had been editing it until I was blue in the face, but who was I going find to do it?
At that point, I was still unaccepting of anyone’s suggestions about how my ‘first born novel’ could be improved, as well as being nowty* with those closest to me if they dared suggest any changes.
Well, it was a heroine in my case, and someone who had read the draft manuscript two years ago. She’d asked me then if I’d wanted her to edit it and, for some ridiculous reason, I declined. I have no idea why. Maybe I was terrified about what her overall reaction was going to be or, how much of it was she going to edit out?
Fortunately, and very recently in the scheme of things, I got over myself and emailed her the manuscript. I was still reserved when I received the edits of the opening chapters, even changing things back to my original version in a couple of instances.
But, around chapter twenty, her suggestions and changes began making perfect sense. Since then, there have been times when I thought some of the changes she’d made were as I’d originally written them. Ahem.
I am not quite there, yet, but I do feel incredibly fortunate to have found someone who is not only editing the manuscript, but will ‘hold my hand’ through the whole self-publishing process and who is making me feel that self-publishing is not such a scary path after all.
Leaning to trust, as well as respect, your editor’s decisions, is key. Writers pour their innermost feelings into their writing and they should never send their book anywhere without a few sets of well-trained eyes to help improve it, but editors are more than a second pair of eyes, they delete everything that hinders rather than benefits a story.
The bottom line is that an author and editor need to work together because, ultimately you both share the same goal – to get, and keep a reader’s attention.
I stumbled across this image today posted on FB by the author Laurie Buchanan. It made me realise how dilatory I have been recently, when it comes to reading and reviewing the work of self-published authors, many of whom are friends.
Reading and reviewing books by self-published authors is key to their success.
Reviews, good or bad, are important to authors, especially the first timers – whose ranks I hope to join soon. Family and friends might not be entirely honest with you about the quality of your writing, any plot holes, or your saggy middle.
Reviews are also good for potential readers. They help them better understand what the book is about, and whether or not it is the rollicking good read they are hoping for.
A glimmer of hope; our yellow brick road to recovery. Exciting times ahead, but it will be a gradual process, and some things can never quite be the same again. The world at large will have to make significant, and long overdue changes.
COVID-19 was a wake-up call to to the world. It was the pinnacle of man’s destruction of our fragile earth from climate disruption, to racial injustice and rising inequalities. As we tiptoe our way back to life as we once knew it, certain age-old ideologies have to go.
Our fragile planet is in big trouble, and things cannot go back to the way they were. Changes have to be made. We have to change, from the way we work and live our lives, to ensure the devastation of COVID 19 – or something similar – never happens again.
To dig ourselves out of this nightmare, our recovery programme will have to be one of global cooperation. We all need to do our bit to rebuild a more equal, fairer society. We have to do it for our children and for the generation yet to be born.
BEYOND THE COVID-19 CLOUD
My Carbon Footprint
During the first Lockdown, I took a long, hard look at my life. The most important part of our lives are the people in it and COVID-19 so cruelly denied too many people around the globe that Devine.
Where we chose to live during our very short time on earth with the people we love, is also fundamentally important. Furthermore, your home, your feathered nest, does not need to be of grandiose proportions.
There were many aspects about my life I wasn’t happy with. Too much of everything. Clothes, most of them I’d long since ‘grown out of’, but kept them, hoping that that one day, I would wake up and, magically, slip into them again.
CLUTTER! I have hung on to everything, random photos, press cuttings, travel memorabilia, coursing back through decades of my life, including my late Father’s motor mascot… which weighs a ton.
Then, I started mugging up about what I could do to best help the planet.
OUR ROAD TO RECOVERY
Reduce, Reuse and Recycle
If you haven’t already made adjustments to your life, here are some of the basic changes you can make.
We’ve got a long way to go, but it’s not too late, if we act now. It is of paramount importance that we start now!
If we all do something, however small, to save our fragile earth, we can help its regeneration. The future of this planet is in your hands, and maybe, one day, it will return to being the wonderful world we once knew for future generations to enjoy.
The fact I have started writing the Dotage Diaries means I’ve reached that time of my life when I start conversations with the words, ‘I remember when,’ which tells me I’ve, involuntarily, joined the Craft Club.
‘I remember when,’ is a phrase my grandfather started his sentences with. ‘I remember when… I was your age…’ He would say, and I would wait, wide-eyed with anticipation, to hear what sparkling adventures he got up to when he was the age I was then.
It makes me laugh now because, sometimes, I can’t remember where I left my car keys five minutes ago. Yet I can tell you about the time I fell into a bed of stinging nettles aged about five. My big brother had told me umpteen times not to walk along a wall fringed by 4-foot grandfather stinging nettles. I blatantly ignored him, and he got all the blame for my stupidity.
So how come I can remember what my homework was when I was eleven, but can’t remember which floor of the multi-story park I left my car an hour ago? Well, I am reliably informed that it is something to do with decreased blood flow to the brain. I used to be able to stand on my head. I wonder if I still can? It might be an idea to try to precipitate a rush of blood to my brains.
This sad state of affairs is telling me that I have, unwittingly, joined the Craft Club. I remember when… here we go … I heard about the Craft Club for the first time, while I was earwigging a conversation between my late step-father was having with one of his oldest friends and telling him he had joined the Craft Club. I thought it was unlikely that someone as macho as my step-father would be signing up to master the art of crocheting, or mashing up bits of paper with starch to make unidentifiable papier-mâché shapes. But, whatever club he had just joined, it was the source of much amusement.
Then, one of my gorgeous older friends, who always made quick work of the Times General Knowledge crossword, became frustrated when she started taking longer to finish it.
‘I know all the answers,’ she grumbled, ‘I just can’t remember them.’
So, if you don’t know already know, you will have worked out that the CRAFT in Craft Club, stands for Can’t Remember an F-ing Thing.
I’m off to see if I can remember how to stand on my head, failing that I’m going to improvise, and hang upside down in a chair.
The final edit of my first born novel, Just Say It, has been ruthless. Sadly, this scene with my MC, Lisa, after bumping into her old flame, Rory, for the first time since he walked out on her eight years ago, has got the chop.
‘How can you possibly think about driving anywhere, let alone in a foreign country, without bringing a map? We’ve been driving around in the dark for hours now.’ Lisa snapped. Rory shrugged.
‘I assumed the campervan would be fitted with some sort of Sat Nav, so it never crossed my mind, but of course, that was before I left home and had no idea, I was going rescue my feisty damsel in distress old friend whose ancient Land Rover expired on the quayside at Portsmouth Docks, and, out of the kindness of my heart, become her knight in shining armour. She then had four glasses of wine when we got on the ferry and threw up all the way to Santander. I know you are feeling like shit, and I know I promised that you would be languishing in a night hot bath at the B and B, La Balbina, three hours ago, but if it were me, on my own, right now, I would get some sleep in the campervan and find the B and B at dawn.’
‘Well, you could have but, as you say, out of the kindness of your heart, you offered to take me and all my goods and chattels all the way to The Algarve, so there is no room for one person to sleep in the back, let alone two. And, yes, okay, I did a bit of celebrating when I got on the boat. I’ve finally left the UK for good, and I bumped into you for the first time since you went to work one morning and never came back. I was just about to report you missing when Finty dropped into conversation that you’d been offered an assignment in Australia.’
‘Well, I was young and feckless in those days, and I did apologise by email.’ Lisa sighed while thinking, ‘as if that made it okay? It didn’t.’
‘Hang on… somebody’s walking towards us.’ A man with a flashlight was weaving around in the middle of the road.
‘Go on, ask him!’ Lisa suggested.
‘Well, I’m not sure…’
‘What do you mean you’re not sure? What is it about men and asking for directions? I’ll sort this out.’ Sliding the passenger door open, Lisa got out of the campervan and walked towards the smiling stranger. He was wearing a check shirt, and a large beret at a kilter, which Lisa assumed was the Basque tradition. He staggered and almost fell, reaching out to grab hold of Lisa’s outstretched arms to steady himself.
‘Oh shit, he’s drunk!’ She thought. ‘Boa Noite, senhor. Estou procurando o B and B La Balbina!’
‘Zer esan zenuen?’ came the slurred response.
‘Li!’ Rory shouted out of the driver’s side campervan window. ‘I think he’s talking Basque, and it sounds like you are talking Portuguese.’
‘I know I am talking bloody Portuguese. I’ve been practising for weeks. The Spanish, I mean the Basque, and the Portuguese are neighbours, so he might speak it unless you happen to have picked up a bit of Basque on your travels. At least I’m trying to sort out this mess we’re in! B and B… La Balbina. La… Balbina!’
‘Shouting won’t help!’
‘Shut up, Rory! Unless you are going to be a bit more useful. He’s about to say something.’
‘Bai… han up,’ came the response. He was pointing up a track and taking Lisa by the hand, he led her back to the campervan, climbed in the back and passed out.
‘And then there were three,’ Rory sighed, ‘but anything’s worth a try. In you get. He was pointing up there, I think.’
They stopped outside an unlit Basque farmhouse as several unseen dogs started barking aggressively. There was only one dimly lit window downstairs, and Lisa, having assumed the role of leader, went to have a look inside. An elderly lady stirred from her sleep in an armchair, and a couple of sheep that lay at her feet got unsteadily to theirs.
‘I really don’t think this place is in Alistair Sawday’s book, Rory. This can’t be La Balbina. They’re very animal friendly here, but it doesn’t look like a B and B to me.’
There was a thud as their passenger fell out of the van, letting rip a selection of Basque expletives as he got up, which silenced the dogs and proceeded to swagger towards the front door singing loudly:
‘Abestu gora Euskadi’
Sing up Basque country
‘aintza ta aintza’
glory and glory to its
‘bere goiko Jaun Onari’
Good Lord from above
The heavy wooden door groaned open, and the sheep came thundering out, followed by the old lady, who let rip more colourful Basque expletives from the female perspective.
‘It must be her husband…’ muttered Rory.
‘No shit, Sherlock…’
Wielding the shepherd’s crook she was walking with above her head, she brought it down with a fair amount of force across the man’s shoulders and unleashed a few more heartfelt Basque expletives, which the man thought was hilarious.
‘Ouch!’ said Rory. ‘That’s not very nice!’ And with one last chorus of Abestu gora Euskadi, he turned to flash Lisa and Rory a beaming smile, tipped his beret, and disappeared inside.
The old lady nodded her approval.
‘La Balbina?’ Lisa asked, hopefully.
In broken but perfectly understandable English, the old lady replied, ‘Go back down there, turn left, and then right. La Balbina is the first place you see, and I thank you for bringing home my old mozkortuta.’
Looking at the blank expressions on Lisa and Rory’s faces, she added, ‘My old drunk.’ Then she went back inside, closing the creaking door behind her.
Twenty minutes later, Lisa was languishing in her promised hot bath.
The growing pains of a virgin novelist are real. It will be six years at the end of June since I started writing my first novel. At various intervals during that time, I celebrated reaching ‘The End’ but realised, after all that deluded carousing, writing a novel is more than just telling a story.
I had just been made redundant when I started writing Just Say It and during the first carefree Pantser-style writing year, I poured out my post redundancy frustrations into the novel I’d carried around in my head, for twenty years.
I wrote all day and most of the night. I would wake up around 3.00a.m., and going back to sleep would be impossible because all I could think about was getting the story out of my head on to my hard drive.
I listened to music and drank wine, whilst I was writing – obviously, not at 3.00 a.m. The words flowed, along with the Pinot Grigio, and my confidence soared. BUT... with each break I took from it, I went back to it, knowing it wasn’t right, and spent another year rewriting and revising.
I’m not sure if a more methodical approach at that stage of my writing life, would have helped. I might have looked less like a spaced-out zombie, but there was no time to be disciplined. I needed to unleash the beast but, in hindsight, the snapshot ideas I’d been carrying around my head for years meant that I wrote my first novel the hard way. I ended up having to unpick it and put it back together, countless times.
I wasted months trying to write the story dipping in and out of the backstory until I confused myself with the timeline… so no hope for any potential reader.
I wasted a huge amount of time zapping the clichés and idioms which should have never been in there in the first place.
My saggy middle was a real concern for some time.
My biggest mistake? I was naive enough to start sending the MS to agents, when it was wasn’t ready for my closest friend, and biggest (only) fan, to read.
Inevitably, the rejections began flooding in and I had more than just a wobble, it was a total confidence meltdown BUT… you pick yourself up, retrieve your MS from the dustbin, and start over.
Info-dumping, stage directing and extreme scene setting. I plead guilty to them all. My biggest problem has been repeatedly using multiple point of views in the same chapter/scene, as well as the another issue. My author’s voice was constantly intruding and I wasn’t aware I was doing it, so it is imperative that you get as many people to read your MS as you can before you send it anywhere. Writing is a lonely business and, in my case, I carried on making the same mistakes over and over again. Your MS needs to be pristine, so you need to develop good writing habits.
Come up with an engaging plot, fully develop your characters and make sure you have a watertight, beginning, middle and end. No saggy middles!
Constant editing and revising is key and, when you’ve done it a hundred times, do it again!
The biggest lesson I’ve learned from writing my first novel, apart from all of the above, was that my pantser-style had to go, along with listening to music and guzzling wine while writing. I scrupulously plotted my second novel, and completed the first draft in four months.
So don’t make the silly mistakes I made when writing your first novel. Relieve yourself of some of the pain! Plot it, go deeper, not wider, don’t faff around with subplots, focus more on you MC and their emotional dilemmas.