Autumn and Other Things

483c0dc1ddc26f93d3952375b208c964How has this happened? How is it autumn already? I asked myself this when I looked at the calendar this morning. Life seems very busy and rushing by at the speed of light right now. It was yesterday when I was selling stuff at a car boot sale that my husband said, “You’re really good at selling.” I had to take a moment to think about that. Yes, I may have only been selling tat, but evidently I can sell tat! Anyway, what is one man’s junk may well be another’s treasure.

We say it every year, but this year it seems more true than any other: the past few months have zoomed by. I find myself sitting here wondering what I have achieved in the past nine months. So instead of thinking, “Oh god, no, it’s already October and I haven’t done half the things I wanted to do this year…” I have instead decided to think about the things I have achieved. Like for instance, selling loads of tat at yesterday’s car boot sale – result! I also sold our house this year – result! I’ve lost count of the amount of books I’ve published this year and the amount I’ve currently got in the queue to write. I think the point is, it is just so easy to let time pass you by without reflecting on your achievements and progress. Many of us have probably looked at the calendar this morning and thought, “Oh, god,” while many others – like me – are reminded October is our favourite month, even if it does bring us closer to the dreaded C word. LOL. (CHRISTMAS!)

It’s so important to reflect and to acknowledge all the little things we do on a daily basis as achievements in themselves. There are still three months of this year left and maybe the ground work we lay down earlier in the year will soon bear fruit. Even though I have got a lot going on right now, both personally and professionally, I will try to take time for myself and stop awhile to admire the beauty all around. After a summer I couldn’t wait to be shot of (too hot and sticky!), I felt a little sad with the onset of the cooler weather, but only because I’d wished the summer away, dreaming of that cooler weather. It’s a paradox, I know! It feels like I’ve experienced a little bit of lost time this year – and I am sure I am not the only one.

Anyway, my response to my husband when he said I’m good at marketing is that I must have picked it up since becoming an author. I have learnt a lot from publishing books, possibly more than I have from any other career… The broad range of skills you develop, the all-rounder you have to become … it is a never-ending learning curve, it really is. Being an author isn’t just sitting on your bum writing, it involves so much else, and for that I am thankful. So as we pass into this thankful phase of the year, I will keep reminding myself how lucky I am to be doing something with my life so challenging, yet so fulfilling.

With all this in mind, I thought I’d let you know what I have coming up in the next few months:

  • Leticia, a vampire novella, publishing around Halloween
  • Deadly Virtues, a collection of poetry – TBC
  • The Awoken, a YA science fiction novel – TBC
  • Illicit (working title) – TBC
  • Panacea – TBC
  • Assassin – TBC

There’s a lot to be thankful for!

Sarah x

Writing An Organic Novel Which Becomes a Living Organism

  • What Is An Organic Novel?

An organic novel is perhaps the hardest type of book you could ever write. The author might have a vague idea of what they’re writing and why, but largely they’ve allowed themselves to go with the flow – starting with a basic story arc and adding to the flow as and when.

I’ve sat here and written organic novels and planned novels, so I know from experience that the organic novel is much harder to master but produces the better result.

A lot of authors will tell you they need to hear their characters’ voices to be able to write the story but in my experience, the story comes as strongly to me as the characters and no matter where the characters want to go, you, the author are in charge of their destiny. When a reader gets angry because the author killed off their favourite character, they might assume the author felt nothing when they killed off that character. They’d be wrong. The author feels the loss more than anyone and the author cuts themselves open to put difficult issues and trials on a page. As an author, it’s the hardest thing to do to say to yourself, “This is going to hurt but it must be done and I must go through with it…” Tackling difficult issues HURTS. Always emotionally, sometimes even physically when you’ve been sat in the same position all day and your fingers just won’t pen that difficult scene in the right way.

I don’t use beta readers. I discuss my books with my editor husband and nobody else. My best novel yet might be called Tainted Lovers but I didn’t allow it to become ‘tainted’ by too many cooks spoiling the broth.

206734839

  • Art Is Organic

For me, art can’t be pre-planned; art is giving half of yourself over to the unknown and hoping for the best. It’s letting go of control and allowing your spirit to whirl around a black hole for as long and as painfully as you can take. In the process of writing the organic novel, you might be at war with yourself, or your editor, or yourself and your editor simultaneously, yourself and what you think readers want, yourself and yourself (if like me you sort of method write and start talking with the character who says, “I’d never fucking do that.”

Art is feeling the emotions of a story and not only subscribing to them but living them and absorbing them so that you know other human beings will feel the journey too. It’s hoping beyond hope that something so innately creative and “out there” might actually make sense to a bunch of individuals you don’t even know from Adam.

Art is knowing that the first line doesn’t have to be the best because a book is several lines. Which make a whole. It’s knowing when to make the sentences count, at what junctures do you need to dredge your soul, and how sometimes using greyscale so that when people do transform, it happens in multiple rainbows finally feeding the starved souls of readers ‘hoping beyond hope’.

Art is writing what isn’t pretty, but is necessary to the story. It’s about history, about humanity, about not lying to your reader about what life is like beyond their own castle walls.

  • The Organism

Writing something from the gut means things you put down on paper might repulse some and delight others. It’s true and therefore everyone will have an opinion over something so solid, which you’ve written down in granite and therefore, cannot be changed. The reader might will the story to change but the author (bearing in mind I’ve always been told be careful how you use words – and I ignore that notion continually) cannot change that story because by pressing that publish button, they’ve already put it in stone.

What makes a book an organism is when the author leaves little crevices in a story for the reader to allow their own subplots to slide in. Many people become fond of side characters in books, because they’re people we can imagine for ourselves. The protagonists are often crafted in such a staunch way that they’re the pegs holding down the tent, the driving force of a book – so set in stone – they cannot always be changed. Heroes and heroines can lose their mystery the more story we give them and the more we peel away their shells to overcome each obstacle.

My most recent full-length novel Tainted Lovers was written organically and in some respects, I fought to keep it that way. I didn’t just fight with myself, or my editor, but I fought with every aspect of this novel and it was a fight to the finish line. I wrote about keeping it a standalone in this blog and looking back now, I am so glad I won that particular fight because making this a standalone book has created a living organism which readers now give life to with their reactions and their interpretations, plus lingering questions even as silly as, “Why did he never take his socks off?”

I took some awful issues to task in this novel, one of them being domestic abuse. More than three women who suffered domestic abuse themselves contacted me to say that the book reflected exactly how they felt when they themselves were in that situation. Some of these women had to take a few days and more afterwards to reflect on the story they’d read. I really never even considered whether I was doing justice to women in the same position as my female lead, Adrienne. I just wrote a story I felt in my heart and gut was real.

I love a story which keeps the pages turning. I love commercial fiction. Some books you forget quickly but they were good at the time. I write mainstream stuff as well as literary stuff. I like a balance. But sometimes, an idea comes along and you have to pursue it, no matter the cost. It’s a GIFT and a privilege that I get to do what I do.

Art has to reflect real life, or it won’t touch your readers. Art has to explode life… in a way you might not feel brave enough to do yourself. It’s why we read, why the romance and thriller genres remain the biggest selling genres in the world. Put the two together and you might just get a book to finally knock the socks off David Lewis, the man who once upon a time made love wearing socks…

I finish with one of the reviews I read of Tainted Lovers only yesterday:

on 18 May 2016
I really am not sure what to say about this book, the writing was exceptional and the storyline like nothing I’ve read before. This book consumed me day and night, when I wasn’t reading it, I was wondering what else could possibly happen to Ade and David. These characters are beautifully broken; with dark secrets they fear will end their relationship this story spans over a decade, and really makes you think about a love that is so deep and all consuming, and had me asking myself whether I have ever really felt such a strong connection.

There were so many twists that you just will not see coming. This book will not only touch your heart but will invade your soul and leave you reeling. The author went to great lengths to make this story and the characters complex yet completely relatable; and the poetry throughout, beautiful. I loved Ade’s strength and David’s passion, and together they made this story the beautiful masterpiece that it is.

full paperback cover

Words for Readers, Editors and Writers

Every year I write some sort of roundup of my experiences of the past year; my thoughts, feelings and new things learned. So here it is, 2014, in a nutshell… or three.

2014 has been spent mainly editing books, both mine and others’. I also read a lot for leisure but reading underpins everything and is as much a part of my job as everything else. Reading is a superpower. Writers who don’t read 10 times more than they write are really missing out. It is essential.

It’s interesting therefore that this year, I have read some badly edited books and still enjoyed them. Sometimes you just pick up a story and find something in it that rings true. Mistakes are an inevitability of life, not every book can be absolutely perfect. Sure you may begrudge paying a decent amount of money on something littered with mistakes, but there are a lot of books out there which are 99 cents or less and sometimes, you give them a shot based on recommendation from a reviewer. Often some of those books turn out to be gems.

A lot of people from all walks of life come to me with their words and say, “I’m an accountant, not a writer, please sort this out for me…” or whatever. I always tell people that words are words and if they are your voice, what could be wrong with them? After all everyone has a voice and a story to tell, so what if you don’t sound clever or literary? Every story is worthy. My granddad died an illiterate man but even now, my mum remembers stories he used to tell – so what does that say? If you don’t tell your stories, you might never tell them. Do it. Now. Don’t hesitate.

For every variant of writer, you’ll discover ten different readers who prefer your genre but sometimes cross genres for variety. It’s the variant in genre that usually attracts attention because it represents something new. There is room for everyone in the book world because variety is embraced and is becoming more embraced all the time!

Some readers love to have every detail of a scene described to them, from the colour of a sofa to the smell of the room. Other readers want everything left to their imagination except the dialogue and action. This is subjective and OPINION. It is all opinion. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone also has a mood. Sometimes you read a book and it doesn’t gel, perhaps just because you’re not in the right mood. Everyone else might be raving about it and you feel so bad because you can’t see it! Perhaps coming back to it at a later date will help.

There are even readers who cannot stand the writers they love in real life, but they just love the stories they write. Bizarre? It proves to me it’s not always about likeability or popularity. I always thought the whole point of being a writer anyway was that you didn’t want to be an actor or a model or any kind of public figure but you wanted to put out great stories, so you spent your time behind a keyboard rather than in front of a camera! That is what pseudonyms were invented for. Right? Hmm.

It is important to remember it is only FICTION.

More important is this: EASY READING IS DAMN HARD WRITING. Most readers read to escape. I am one of those. I love a book to wrap me up in its clutches and swaddle me until the final word. I want to have everything taken care of and not be forced to move while I immerse myself in someone else’s work. Which is strange, again, because the books I write aren’t always those kinds of books. Speaking to someone the other day who I know does a particularly stressful job, they said to me, “I don’t want to think when I read a story or see a movie… I want stupidity and nonsense to pervade my brain!” It made me smile, it was just another reminder… not everyone wants the same things from a book/film.

It’s strange also that even though I’m a writer, it’s not my most natural inclination. I was always better with numbers at school, like, much better. My daughter’s first report home from nursery school showed me she also has this early ability with numbers and her grasp of computers at three years old is crazy. So perhaps these skills of mine explain to some extent why I often write puzzles, why I see stories as equations, why the meat doesn’t go on the bones until I have the equation laid out! Seriously, don’t ever step inside my head, it’s really scary! Not everyone is going to get what I do, what I’m about, and that is one of the hardest things to accept as a writer and is yet your simplest and most powerful tool.

They say life is for learning and this year, I haven’t stopped learning—from my mistakes, from other people’s and more importantly, from the things we’ve all done right. The things we do right are the things that don’t teach us anything new but do teach us how to move forward. Moving forward is something we all need to do and separating from the babies we create in our books is hard, but must be done.

A lot of people think writers are mostly crazy people. They are. Most of us are. My social networks are clogged with angry, angry people who are angry, angry, angry about being unheard and unloved. As an editor, I’ve stepped on some shoes (gently) but in the end, my colleagues looked at the end product and knew I was right to tell them how it was. The process always begins and ends with the author. We’re the ones with our names to that work and that is a difficult thing to comprehend. Writers have to be self-editors (without hacking the heart away), conjurors, adventurers, believers, faithful followers, dreamers… the list is inexhaustible. The buck stops with you. So if you don’t agree with an editor, shout up, say why. Compromise if you have to. Tell them no if you feel passionate enough. Argue for what you believe in. Sod them. There are always people around to support, but at the end of the day that book is yours and represents you. Another great tool to have is to be able to take a step back, view your work as a “work” and not a love affair you’ve dreamt up. It is being able to look at it and recognise that other people don’t have a plug into your mind and they need to be able to see all you can see and more. Above all else, listen to your gut. Writing isn’t a science, it’s pretty much a game of contradictions and explosions of mind, but the gut knows. Oh, it knows…!

One thing this year taught me is that writers who write for themselves will never learn but those who write for others’ enjoyment and delight, well, the possibilities are there for the taking and with the right attitude, the future might just hold endless stories…

Happy new year! Always another chance, always…