Merry ‘Twixmas! Looking back, looking forward @TheFictionCafe @RNATweets @lord_dodo @moleskine #RomanticNovelistsAssociation #NewWritersScheme #bookblogger #bookbloggers #bookblog #amreading #amwriting #readinggoals #writinggoals #blogginggoals

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It’s a funny time of year, isn’t it, the week between Christmas and New Year? No one knows what day of the week it is or what they should be doing. Everything seems to come to a standstill, the world taking a breath between the excitement of Christmas past and the promise of the new year yet to come. A great time for a bit of introspection, muse on the year past, plan for the one about to start.

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That’s what I have been doing the past couple of days, anyway. My girls were staying with their dad, the Irishman flew off to Dublin for a few days with his parents, I had the house to myself and some time for contemplation and organisation. I tidied up the Christmas detritus, got out my new diary and calendar ready to fill with blogging and writing goals for the year ahead, and had a think about what I want to achieve and how I’m going to do it.

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2019 was a very busy year on the blog. I did loads of blog tours, read a massive 165 books in total. Friday Night Drinks grew in popularity and I had some great guests and I increased my following. On the downside, my TBR grew ever more massive and out of control, I neglected the travel and writing areas of my blog and failed miserably to complete my two reading challenges because I over-faced myself with blog tour commitments and could not devote as much time as I wanted to free reading. My NetGalley backlog also grew to the point where I got turned down for a couple of books because of my abysmal ratio. Something needs to be done.

So, bearing all of this in mind, what lies in store for 2020 and what are my plans?

My Friday Night Drinks and Tempted by… features are both fully booked and planned to June, so they will be carrying on as before. I will be setting my Goodreads Reading Challenge target at 150 again, with the hope that I can exceed it as I have the last two years. I have decided against doing any other external reading challenges, as I don’t need the pressure. Instead, I will make a second attempt at doing my Desert Island Books (more detail on that to come in January.) I am also determined to be more diligent with the Travel, Bucket List and Writing areas of my blog and have diaried in some regular features for these. I’m looking forward to getting a bit more variety in to the blog.

In an attempt to get some control over my NetGalley ratio and TBR, I have decided to go back to the original aim of the blog as set out in my first ever blog post and buy no new books in 2020, or request any more from NetGalley. I’ll just be reading the ones I already have. Unfortunately, these means cutting right back on blog tours to free up reading time. I’m limiting myself to a maximum of two per month after January and February (where I have already committed to more than two!). I am allowing myself to receive my one Book Club book each month, and spend my monthly Audible credit. I have a few books on pre-order which I will let stand. Other than that, I’ll not be buying anything new, but reviewing what I already have, as randomly selected from my book jar. I’m actually looking forward to the challenge. I got a few book-themed Christmas gifts to see me on my way too.

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(Fear not, dear authors with books being published in 2020, I will be making a list ready for when the ban is lifted!)

I had a bit of an epiphany back in the spring when I had Bell’s Palsy and could not read for six weeks due to issues with my left eye. I had always been a little snobby about audiobooks not being ‘proper reading’ and had never counted them in my reading totals. Well, I have to say, audiobooks were my lifeline during those long boring days of illness and now I am as zealous a convert as St. Paul on the road to Damascus. I am listening to them at every opportunity and, in fact, my favourite book of the year was consumed in audio format. So, in 2020, I will be listening to even more audiobooks and reviewing more of them on my blog.

After a couple of lax months at the end of the year, I also plan on making sure I review every book I read or listen to next year (unless I hate it) and being more engaged with other people’s blogs in the new year.

On the writing front, I’m back in the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme for the third year, and I am determined that this is the year that I start submitting my book to agents and publishers. I’m planning on attending some RNA events again this year, including conference in July, so I hope to share some of that journey with you. My very kind and wise friends have supplied me with some lovely Christmas gifts to help me along, including this gorgeous Story Box gift from my lovely friend Mary-Louise and a Smithson notebook from the Irishman (a hint to get the book finished, perhaps?)

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As far as travel goes, I currently have nothing booked, which is unusual, but I have last year’s trips still to share and I am sure there will be things planned soon, so watch this space!

All in all, I am excited for the coming year, and all that it is going to bring for me, and for the blog. I hope you will continue on this journey with me, share the highs and the lows and, most of all, the book love. After all, it is fairly meaningless without all of you. Thanks for being here and

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It’s Time! NaNoWriMo 2019 @NaNoWriMo #NaNoWriMo #nano2019 #amwriting #amwritingromance #FictionCafeWriters

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It’s that time of year again. That month where a cadre of crazy writers make an attempt at a heroic feat. The author’s equivalent of an endurance race, writer versus keyboard.

It’s time for NaNoWriMo.

For anyone not in the know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. Every November, writers taking part commit to trying to write 50,000 words of a new novel in just 30 days. Thats the equivalent of 1,667 words per day. Every day.

During this time, writers come together in the NaNoWriMo community to support each other, cheer each other on, hold each other accountable, celebrate and commiserate as appropriate. They do this in the virtual world via the NaNoWriMo website or in person via local write-ins. It’s like having the world’s biggest writing group on your side. People are talking about it on Twitter, on Facebook, on Instagram. In forums and WhatsApp groups and in person. You can feel the collective energy spurring you on.

Some people plot and prep their novels meticulously in advance and start with a whole, shiny plan on November 1. Some start with a blank page and a vague idea. Others, like me, fall somewhere in-between. Some aim to get their next novel kickstarted in their usual way, some are revising old manuscripts, some use the time to try something a little bit different, experiment, have some fun. Plotter, pantser, plantser, old-school wrimo or writing rebel – everyone is welcome.

This is my third year taking part. The first year I did just over 32,000 words of my first full novel. Last year was a dismal failure. This year I am trying something new and I am determined to finish. I’ve got a bit of a plot, a lot of support and fire in my belly. I’ve got all my tools. I’m ready to go.

It’s going to be intense, so I’m coming off social media and abandoning the blog for the month to focus on the challenge. Apologies in advance for my absence. Blog commitments such as tours and Friday Night Drinks will be honoured, but other than that I’m going dark. I hope you will indulge me and not abandon me entirely. I will be back early December, older, tireder, but with lots of new reviews and, hopefully, the makings of a novel. Come back and I’ll tell you how it all went.

Or better still, why not join me? If you’ve ever wanted to write that book, now is the time.   If I may steal a few words from my favourite work by the inimitable Dr Seuss:

And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)

KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!

So…
be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,
You’re off the Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!

Hop on the NaNo website, sign up now, it’s not too late. And if you are looking for a writing buddy, I’d be happy to have you on board. I’m JoolsM, pop me a request and we can cheer each other on to the finish line. I’ll see you there on 30 November.

Ten Things I Learned From The Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme by Helena Fairfax (@HelenaFairfax) #GuestPost #RNA #NewWritersScheme @RNATweets #amwriting #amwritingromance

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Tonight I have a slight departure from my usual Friday Night Drinks post. Instead, I am delighted to welcome fellow RNA author and New Writers’ Scheme alumni, Helena Fairfax, to the blog with a guest post on ten things she learned from participation in the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme.

So, let me hand over now to Helena:

Every year the Romantic Novelists’ Association offers an opportunity to 300 unpublished writers to have their work critiqued by an experienced romance author. I joined the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme ten years ago. I look back now on how much I’ve learned since posting off my first manuscript (yes, it was all done by post then!) and I continue to feel an enormous debt to my RNA reader for giving me a grounding in what makes a great romance novel.

I passed through the New Writers’ Scheme twice.  The first year I sent off just the first three chapters and a synopsis of my novel.  I knew the story was going astray, and I was right to have reservations.  I received a four-page, detailed report highlighting where the reader felt the manuscript wasn’t quite right, along with some constructive suggestions on how to improve it.

So, back to the keyboard I went, to do what all successful writers do – rewrite. And this was the first lesson I learned:

  1. Writing is rewriting. Writers need to be able to look at their work dispassionately and not take a critique personally.
  2. My fictional characters are real. I take this for granted now, but I found it exciting and strangely alarming to have someone else talk about them as though they were actually living beings and not just creatures in my head.
  3. Because the characters are living and breathing people, they MUST have a clear motivation for their behaviour. What is it in a character’s past that has made her this way? As my reader advised, ‘Keep asking yourself why/why not?’ If you give your characters a solid past, they become well-rounded people your readers can believe in.
  4. A romance story revolves around conflict. My reader said, ‘It’s about why the hero and heroine, so obviously attracted to each other, not only won’t admit they have fallen in love, but feel that they can’t…Your hero and heroine should have goals that are in direct opposition to each other.’ The greater the emotional tension, the more the reader will want to keep turning the pages, desperate to know how these two will ever get together.
  5. There must be a situation which FORCES the hero and heroine together. If not, then why not just part on page four, if they are in opposition to one another?
  6. Romance novels are all about character. ‘When you’re structuring a romance, you should be thinking about the plot not so much as moving your characters from A to B, but as a series of situations that test their fears and bring their goals into conflict.’ Take it from me, this focus on character rather than plot makes it very difficult to sustain the tension necessary for a page-turning read. Anyone who thinks writing a romance is easy should try it for themselves!
  7. Romance novels aren’t about the perfect heroine. Readers don’t take to the heroine who is beautiful, successful, has lots of friends, and always does the right thing. We can relate to someone who has flaws. Lizzie Bennett, one of the most famous romantic heroines of all time, spends almost the entire book being prejudiced, but we all love her. (On the other hand, don’t make the heroine too silly, or readers will put the book down. Again, romance writing is a tricky business.)
  8. The synopsis needs to encompass all the above points: the characterisation, motivation, goals, source of conflict, how the hero and heroine are forced together, and how they overcome the demons that are keeping them apart.
  9. Handling rejection. Of course I was disappointed the story needed more work, but the letter that accompanied my critique stated: ‘Always bear in mind that most published authors have experience of rejection. All writers, published and unpublished, need to be tenacious and determined…Have faith in yourself!
  10. And so back to the dreaded rewrite. I resubmitted the entire novel the next year. This taught me another valuable lesson – that if you want to write a book, the only way to get it done is to put your bum in the chair and type. I had a deadline, and I stuck to it.

Since receiving my first ever developmental edit, I’ve written a further four novels, contributed to and edited a best-selling anthology , and written a non-fiction history of women’s lives in Yorkshire. My first critique helped me to focus on the craft of writing. Two years ago I joined the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. I’m now an intermediate member of the SfEP and an associate editor at the Betterwrite Literary Agency.

Nowadays I work with both new and established authors, and I find it a great pleasure passing on the lessons I learned from my own first critique from the RNA.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the New Writers’ Scheme with us, Helena. Despite not yet being published, I have already found it invaluable to my writing and would urge any aspiring author whose novel has a touch of romance to consider applying to the Scheme. Details of how to do it can be found here.

Applications for the Scheme in 2020 will open on 2 January.

About the Author

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Helena Fairfax is a freelance editor and author. She was born in Uganda and came to England as a child. She’s grown used to the cold now, and these days she lives in an old Victorian mill town in the north of England, right next door to the windswept Yorkshire moors and the home of the Brontë sisters. She walks this romantic landscape every day with her rescue dog, finding it the perfect place to dream up her heroes and her happy endings.

Helena’s latest release is a non-fiction historical work called Struggle and Suffrage in Halifax: Women’s Lives and the Fight for Equality. Women’s voices are all too often missing from the history books. This book looks at some of the key events in the fascinating history of the mill town of Halifax, West Yorkshire, from the point of view of the women who shaped the town. It’s available on now from bookshops and retailers and from Pen & Sword Publishing and you can buy a copy here.

Connect with Helena:

Website: https://helenafairfax.com

Twitter: @HelenaFairfax

Facebook: Helena Fairfax

 

 

Bell’s Palsy, Audiobooks & Gaining Perspective

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Hello, my friends! I know, it has been a while, did you miss me while I was gone? I hope so. I’m going to assume you did, and that you noticed I wasn’t posting for the last six weeks, otherwise all of this is a bit pointless, isn’t it?

So, I’m sure you are dying to know what kept me away from my beloved blog, and the fabulous book community. If you haven’t seen any of my brief social media posts, you won’t know that I have had Bell’s Palsy for the last month and a half, which has been a massive nuisance.

For those of you who don’t know what it is, here is a link to some information about Bell’s Palsy. When I woke up on the Tuesday morning after the Easter bank holiday weekend, the whole left side of my face was drooping down and I could not close my eye. My first thought was that I was having a stroke, it was absolutely terrifying. I immediately called an ambulance as I was home alone with my eleven-year-old daughter and I did not want her having to deal with me if I collapsed. As it was, it was really upsetting and frightening for her until my sister arrived. Luckily, she lives close by and the ambulance soon arrived, and they took great care of me. I was assessed quickly at the hospital who confirmed it wasn’t a stroke and I had Bell’s Palsy. They gave me steroids and sent me home, and then the most boring and frustrating six weeks of my life began.

I could not close my left eye at all, which meant I was constantly having to lubricate it with artificial tears, tape it closed at night and, unexpectedly, I could not drive, write or work on a screen, because trying to focus my eye on a screen or print for more than a minute or two made my vision blurry and gave me a headache. Worst of all, I couldn’t read. At all. For FIVE-AND-A-HALF WEEKS!

I haven’t gone five and a half days without reading for as long as I can remember, probably never, so this was an appalling situation. I did try and remind myself that at least I hadn’t had a stroke, and this would pass in time and that, for some people, this was their permanent reality and I was lucky, but this only worked some of the time. I missed it so much, it is such a central part of my daily life. I had blog tours scheduled that I had to pull out of, which I hated to have to do. I have a novel in progress that I had promised to my beta readers by mid-May which was laying unattended. I was so frustrated.

I turned to audiobooks, for which I was both grateful and disgruntled. I only normally listen to audiobooks while I am doing something else – driving, walking the dog, cleaning, washing up. Sitting and just listening to them didn’t quite work for me. They go by so slowly compared to how quickly I read. They kept sending me to sleep. I only managed to get through six-and-a-half in five weeks, when I would normally have read about 15-20 books in this time. I could actively FEEL my TBR mounting in the background, my blog shedding followers, people writing me off as a disappeared blogger. My timeline for my novel slipping away. Honestly, I know I sound moan-ey but it was awful. I’m so rubbish at being ill because I so rarely am and I normally try and ignore it, and I’m even worse at being unproductive. I’m usually someone who multi-tasks, so enforced periods of inactivity drive me mad. I was a terrible patient, but luckily I was just looking after myself so at least I didn’t bother anyone else with my general misery.

The good news is, I’m pretty much back to normal now. Back behind the wheel, back on the books and, at last, on the blog. I’m looking forward to catching up on all the reviews and blog posts I had to postpone, and my apologies to all the authors, blog tour hosts and guests that I had to disappoint. I promise I will catch up and reschedule as soon as I can.

Aside from moaning and complaining, I have used this time to reassess some of the things going on in my life and what is important. Not being able to read and blog has reinforced how central to my happiness these two things are. I realise that I have taken my usual good health for granted and this is not good. Things could have been very different if the diagnosis had been worse and I need to take the time and trouble to be fitter and healthier. To this end, I have started a new healthy eating plan and have lost 10 pounds so far, and have rejoined the gym to start getting fitter. I really appreciate my family, particularly my kids who have been so helpful and understanding about my inability to do much for the last six weeks, my partner, and my poor sister who had to do all of the school runs while I couldn’t drive. I am very lucky to have so much support.

I also found that, having not been able to work on my book for six weeks, I now know how much this matters to me. so, it is time to crack on and get this finished, albeit now on a delayed timetable. But life throws us obstacles and curveballs and we need to learn to roll with the punches, adapt and find a way to get back on track. I am taking the last six weeks as a chance to slow down, reassess, take stock and learn some lessons. Now it is onwards and upwards, and I am so glad to be back amongst you all. I missed you, even if you didn’t notice I was gone.

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Calling Authors, Bloggers, Tour Organisers, Publishers, Agents…Uncle Tom Cobley and All! #booklove #FridayNightDrinks #5W1H

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Dear friends of the bookish world, just a quick call out to let you know that I am looking for willing ̶v̶i̶c̶t̶i̶m̶s̶ participants to feature on my blog on either of my guest post items from dates in April onwards. Both of these features give contributors the chance to reveal a little about themselves and their work to my readers, and hopefully allow us to get to know each other a bit better and all learn something fun and/or informative.

Yes, I want YOU! Yes, you at the back, I’m talking to you as well. No point hiding, I can see you!

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The first feature you will be familiar with if you read my blog regularly, as I have been running it for six months now and it has proven very popular. It is called Friday Night Drinks and you can see the previous ones I have done here. As you will see, it is a fun, chatty format that covers a lot of random topics and, as I am quite nosy, it is not for the shy and retiring amongst you, time to let it all hang out! This is open to anyone connected in any way to publishing and I have dates available from the end of May onwards.

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If this sounds a little frivolous and intrusive, I have a new feature starting at the end of March called 5W1H, which is a more serious and focuses on the process and craft of writing.

The new feature is aimed primarily at authors and is based on the What, Where, Why, When, Who and How question format (hence the name). I’ve got lists of questions about the writing process each starting with one of those six words, and the guest will get a random selection of one from each category to answer about their writing. So its six questions about your work and your writing process, plus a chance to showcase your latest project. I’m hoping I, and my readers, will pick up some fascinating and helpful insights and tips from some of the great writers out there. I have slots open on this from mid-April onwards and it is not fixed to any particular day of the week so I am happy to tie it in with publication days or other events you have going on.

So please, step up and let me know if you are interested in taking part. Please. Pretty please.

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In all seriousness, I love getting to know others in the publishing world and gently probing (not in an invasive way) them to discover more about their work, so I’d be delighted to hear from you.

Come over, the door is open and I’ve got the kettle on…

Social Media Hiatus #amwriting #bookblogging #bookblog #socialmediahiatus

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Just a quick heads up to let you know that I am going to be taking a little hiatus from social media for a few weeks while I try and get some writing done.

I have a writing and pitching retreat coming up and my book needs A LOT of work before then, so I need to get my head down and focus. It is going nowhere fast at the moment! It is a goal that is very important to me and I owe it to myself to give it the focus and time it deserves.

I will still be honouring all my blog tour commitments and publicising those as usual, my usual weekly features will also carry on as normal, but I apologise in advance for not being around to share other people’s blog posts as much as I usually like to.

I’m also conscious that I have a huge NetGalley backlog to clear and I really want to get the book into shape for submission by the summer, before the RNA conference in July if possible so, for these reasons, I won’t be taking on any new review requests or blog tours until September.

I’ll still be around, just maybe a little less than usual. Wish me luck as I plough through editing the book, and thank you for your support.

2019 Blogging Intentions & Reading & Writing Goals @TheFictionCafe @RNATweets #RomanticNovelistsAssociation #NewWritersScheme #bookblogger #bookbloggers #bookblog #amreading #amwriting #FictionCafeReadingChallenge2019

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As it is new year, and my second blogiversary is approaching, I thought I would do a little post setting out my reading and blogging goals for the coming year, such as they are.

To be honest, after the overhaul I gave the blog last summer, I am fairly happy with where it it as and am inclined to let it coast along unchanged for a while. I have the weekly slots for my Tempted by… and Friday Night Drinks features filled up to the end of May, so they will be carrying on, along with my staple book reviews. I also intend to try and do more regular posts in the Travel, Bucket List and Writing categories, as those have been somewhat haphazard so far. I have a few exciting trips already planned for the coming year, so I’m looking forward to sharing those with you.

I am introducing one new monthly feature this year, which is called Desert Island Books. Not exactly a cryptic title so you may work out the gist of what this is about but look out for a post coming on Thursday of this week for more details on this. Otherwise, it will be business as usual on the blogging front.

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On the reading front, I decided to go back to the principles which were originally behind the blog, and spend the year trying to reduce my TBR, which has gotten completely out of hand if I’m being honest. I just made a spreadsheet to keep track of all the books I own but haven’t read across all mediums and the tally is frankly embarrassing. So, I’m cutting back a bit on blog tours and focusing on reading some of my existing titles.

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To this end, I have set my Goodreads Challenge 2019 goal at 125. I am also going to attempt my online book club, The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2019, which involves reading 25 books which fall into a specific categories – one every two weeks. I’ll be fitting books from my existing TBR into these categories where possible. Here are the details of the challenge, if you are interested. Watch out for the reviews of these books popping up fortnightly under the FictionCafeReadingChallenge2019 hashtag.

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(If you are interested in joining The Fiction Cafe Book Club, please follow the link above and send a request. I highly recommend it, it is the friendliest corner of the internet for book lovers.)

On the writing front, I’m back in the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme for another year, working on edits to my work in progress following my report from my reader last year and planning on having the manuscript ready to pitch as soon as I can. I have a writing retreat booked for March and it is all systems go on the novel front. Wish me luck as this will be me for the next few months:

What are your goals for this year?