Category Archives: Being a writer

Explaining how to plot

I’m currently writing a book on plotting and I’m reading sections out to my writers’ group because they’re my target market. The most common request from them is to show how how the theory works.  But that’s not easy. I can’t use well-known books as examples because I can only see the final result of the creative process. I don’t know  for sure how their authors  thought up the stories.

At obvious solution was to use my own books as examples. But that doesn’t work as well as I’d hoped because I don’t want to reveal all the twists and turns of my stories to people who haven’t read them. (It would be a spoiler overload.)  Also  I can’t actually remember the ups and downs of the plotting process in enough detail to use it as a good demonstration.

So I’ve decided to create a plot in real time while I write the book. This will allow me to show my readers all the false starts and changes of mind that we all have. I can show step outlining live and demonstrate how to go backwards and forwards in a plot, gradually building up the details, rather than try to create perfection first time from start to finish.

The members of my writers’ group are enjoying watching the process and even starting to suggest ideas on what might happen next. I’m enjoying it too. It’s difficult and demanding but it’s stretching me to create a completely different plot from anything I’ve ever done before. It started as a one-off story and has already developed into the first book in a trilogy with some very deep themes.

If this approach proves successful,  I way well write another book looking at the actual writing process – dialogue, scene building, etc – where I’ll show various ways to bring the scenes from my plot to life on paper. Who knows, I might even end up writing that trilogy too.

The Problem with Paper

When I first published There Must Be Horses, I picked the most usual size for children’s books and opted for cream paper because it looked good. However, as soon as I tried to make the book available for UK shops,  I realised I had a problem. Although Amazon’s Createspace prints that size book on cream, the print-on-demand company I wanted to use for non-Amazon orders doesn’t.

One solution was to buy books in bulk from Createspace and handle the orders myself. But I wanted to spend my time writing, not running backwards and forwards to the Post Office with parcels, so  I solved the problem by having a small print run done and using a distributor to handle the orders.

Now that print run has nearly sold out, my initial problem has come back. This time I definitely want to use print-on-demand so I had two choices: publish a second edition that’s a slightly different size with cream paper or keep to the current edition and change the paper colour to white. Having two editions would complicate things so I’ve settled for changing the paper colour.

So, if you buy There Must Be Horses now, you’ll find that it’s printed on white paper, not cream. You may also spot that the spine is slightly narrower than older copies, because the white paper very slightly thinner than cream paper. But everything else about the book is same, including the story inside.

A new way of blogging

When I first decided to have a blog, I decided to have a freestanding one as I wanted to write about a wide range of subjects. However, that hasn’t worked out well in practice. Blogs work best when they are focused on a particular topic (which mine wasn’t) and I still needed to have a news page on my website. Once I added in our new website about self-publishing, life became too busy and I stopped updating my blog much at all.

After a bit of thought, I’ve decided to reorganise the way I work online. Now anything related to my own books, myself  or horses will get posted here as part of my author website. Anything related to writing, publishing and marketing books in general will be posted on helpwithpublishing.com. And anything about helping youngsters learn maths will eventually be on a brand new website at mathsed.co.uk.  Please be patient about that one – it may take quite a while to put together.

Looking forward to 2015

For the last few months, my time has been swallowed by home educating our granddaughter who has been too ill to go to school. But she’s now back at school part-time so I can get back to writing.

I haven’t been completely idle during that time – I’ve published The Green Sheep – but I haven’t created anything from scratch. So my New Year’s Resolution is to be a proper writer and tackle fresh projects. I’m starting with a pantomime for our local theatre. Then I’ll have to work on something completely different, but I can’t decide what that should be.

The options so far are

  1. Another story about Sasha and Meteor (from There Must Be Horses)
  2. A new horse story, not featuring Sasha and Meteor.
  3. A young adult fantasy with horsey connections but not actually about horses
  4. A book for homeschoolers about algebra.
  5. A book for writers about creating plots.
  6. A series of short novels about a world with dragons

As you can see, my head is teeming with ideas. I’d welcome your opinion on which ones to work on so please add a comment to tell me what you think.

Partying with Princess Ellie

Ist July was publication day for Princess Ellie’s Perfect Plan, the much requested 13th book in my Pony-Mad Princess series. So I’ve had a double celebration recently – the publication of the new book and the 10th anniversary of the series itself. To mark both occasions in an appropriately horse way, I sponsored the first ridden pony class at the Royal Isle of Wight County Show and invited Anne Finnis (the person who originally thought of the series) to come down from London to watch the event with me.

anniversary cakeAnne and her husband arrived on the Friday evening, so we started celebrating with cake and champagne. I’d baked the cake myself and, although I’m not the world’s best cook, it tasted okay.

We had to be up early on the Saturday because I was giving Princess Ellie books to the competitors in the leading rein class which started at 8.30. I really admired them for managing to look so smart so early in the morning. This is the young lady who came second. For some reason horse and pony classes at the County Show gives blue rosettes for first and red for second, although most places do it the other way around.countyshow1

Next in the ring were the two competitors for the First Ridden Pony class. Everything went well until a tractor starting up near by and frightened one of the ponies so much that he misbehaved and dumped his rider on the ground. Luckily she wasn’t hurt and I gave her a book to cheer her up. That left the one remaining pony as the winner, but he was so lovely that I’m sure he would have one even if there had been a dozen other ponies. His name was Huey and he also won the leading rein class too so he ended up with a championship rosette as well. You can see it on Jack’s jacket.

countyshow2His sister rode Huey in the first ridden pony class and you can see her rosette on her jacket. It had “The Pony-Mad Princess” on the ribbon tails because I’d sponsored the class.rosette

After the two classes were over, I’d finished my official role of handing out prize books so we went to explore the rest of the show. It was a lovely event, full of animals and country activities. The falconry display was fascinating – one of the birds flew so low over my head that its wing brushed my hair.

We thought it would be good to try some of the activities but pole climbing looked much too scary. I felt much safer  milking a cardboard cow.

cow

 

 

 

 

My publisher, Usborne, had asked us to post pictures of the day on Twitter, but it’s difficult to look at photos on a mobile phone in full sun. In the end, we solved the problem by hiding under my coat which earned us some strange looks from passers-by.

tweeting

 

A new use for old stories

stories for illustrationLike most authors, I have stories that are hidden away in a drawer or on my computer. Some have never been published. Others have been published in the past, but are now out of print.

Self-publishing provides a wonderful way to give new life to stories, and I’ve done so successfully with Perfectly Pony – a collection of pony stories and facts for readers of 7+. But it’s much more difficult to do with picture book texts because I only have the words, not the pictures.

So I set to wondering who might appreciate pictureless picture books. The first group that came to mind were sleepy children, lying back on the pillow with their eyes closed. They could listen to my stories and make their own stories in their heads.

Then I realised there was another group who might want them even more – would-be illustrators who wanted to try bringing a story to life with pictures. Why not make my stories available for them to practise on at college, school or home? And maybe they could also be used by teachers who wanted to trigger their students’ creativity.

That’s the idea that triggered Stories for Illustration – a selection of five of my picture book texts complete with tips on illustration and permission to copy them and use them in class and in portfolios. I’ve put gaps in the text to show where the page turns might go and added tips at the end of each story that look at particular issues the illustrator needs to consider. And of course, they are still fine for reading aloud to those sleepy children.

I’ve no idea how many I’ll sell and I don’t really care. What matters to me is getting my  stories out of the drawer and back into the world where they can be read.

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Discovering my author brand

group picture

Authors and teachers enjoying a group picture

Last week I spent an enjoyable day on a course in London organised by Usborne, who publish my Pony-Mad Princess books. There were only four authors (including me) working with Justin Somper and Phil Norman from AuthorProfile so we all got plenty of individual attention. And I needed that when it came to deciding on my author brand.

The other three authors were all on their first book so the themes of that story helped decide their brand. But I had a trickier task because the range of books I’ve published is so wide. There are more than forty so far including picture books, early readers, chapter books and a novel for older readers plus non-fiction books on subjects ranging from rainbows to special effects.

Justin encouraged me to focus in on the core of collage of book coversmy writing to see if I could find a common theme in my fiction and, to my surprise, I did. I now realise that all my stories are about  family, friendship and the power of love. So that was the first part of my brand sorted out.

The other part involved thinking about me rather than my writing. As soon as I started focusing in on myself, I immediately came up with the animals I love most – horses. But Justin encouraged me to think more deeply, asking lots of searching questions about my relationship with my favourite animals and how that relates to my writing. By the end of the session, he’d picked out three important phrases for me to remember. So I am:

  • the little girl who never got a pony
  • the author who bought a horse to help research her novel
  • the author who deliberately chose an imperfect horse

So I was able to come home confident that I now I know who I am. Thanks Justin and Phil for a great course. I loved every minute.

 

 

Exciting news for Pony-Mad Princess fans

book coverI love getting letters and emails from fans of my Pony-Mad Princess series, and many of them ask when I’m going to write another book. Until recently, I’ve said that the series was finished. I’d run out of ideas so there weren’t going to be any more Princess Ellie stories. But I was wrong. There’s now another book on the way – Princess Ellie’s Perfect Plan comes out in the UK in July.

The first Pony-Mad Princess books were published in 2004 so 2014 is a very special year for Princess Ellie. To mark her 10th Anniversary, Usborne are re-issuing all twelve books in the series with new covers and extra pages at the end that we’ve filled with quiz questions and pony facts. They also persuaded me to write a brand new story – a special Anniversary book will be published in the UK in July.

As soon as they explained what they were doing, I was keen to write the book. The only problem was deciding what it should be about. I’d used so many ideas that it was difficult to think of something completely fresh and different. I had long conversations on the phone with my collaborator, Anne Finnis, who came up with the original idea for the series. We thought about having an anniversary celebration in the book, but I’d already done that in A Surprise for Princess Ellie. Then we thought about having a royal baby, but it was difficult to work the ponies into the story and Will and Kate got in first by producing their own royal baby.

Finally, we decided to give Ellie a real problem to solve. The first book in the series brought Ellie and Kate together. Maybe this one should threaten to pull them apart. Desperate not to lose her best friend, Ellie would need to find a perfect plan to stop that happening.

You can tell from the title that this is the storyline we chose to develop. But I’m not going to tell you what happens. You’ll have to wait until the book comes out. If you want to be one of the first people to read Princess Ellie’s Perfect Plan, you can pre-order it from Amazon now.

 

 

Google v Authors Guild – a decision at last

It’s eight years since the Authors Guild first sued Google about scanning books and displaying snippets. During that time, the Guild claimed to be representing all authors, not just their authors, and attempted to sell us all down the river by entering into a deal with Google that would have given them permission to produce and sell our books without the copyright holders permission and would also have prevented us suing Google ourselves. The Google Book Settlement was over 200 pages long, hard to understand, very one-sided in Google’s favour and a nightmare for authors. It took a  great deal of effort and hours of time to fight but fortunately we won.

The judge who threw out the dreadful Google Book Settlement was Denny Chin – the same judge who has ruled that Google’s scanning and display of snippets is “fair use” under US copyright law. Judge Chin listened carefully to authors comments on the Google Book Settlement, even those like me who wrote him ordinary letters because we couldn’t afford to pay lawyers.

I’m sure Judge Chin was right in his decision over the Google Book Settlement so I’m happy to accept that his decision on the “fair use” issue is equally right.

Partying with publishers

Contrary to what many people think, authors’ lives aren’t a constant whirl of launch parties and champagne lunches with publishers. Contact with the people who edit and produce our books is mostly by email, and the reality of an author’s life is mainly sitting alone in front of a computer, trying to put words into meaningful order.

partyinviteSo the arrival of my invitation to Usborne’s 40th Birthday Party caused great excitement, especially as the venue was the Orangery at Kensington Palace. The words “posh do” flew through my brain, rapidly followed by a question triggered by the dress code:  “What’s a cocktail dress?” A quick email to Usborne provided the answer so I set off to the shops.

As always, I initially met with disappointment. Designers don’t understand women with big busts. They create a dress for a flat chested size 8 and then adapt it to size 18 by increasing all the dimensions, thus producing a dress for someone who is still flat chested but fat. Honestly, it’s only my bust that strains the material. I don’t need armholes suitable for an elephant, and I don’t want something that’s the same size all the way down. Watching Gok Wan has taught me I should be proud of having a waist so I wanted a dress that admitted that I’d got one.

I finally found what I wanted in a dress agency. Retro style with a halter neck, it fitted perfectly and made me feel good. With the addition of a pink bag and some sandals that looked reasonably smart, I was all set to go. So on Tuesday 11 June, I walked nervously down the extremely long drive to Kensington Palace.

The nervousness wasn’t due to the auspicious surroundings. It was caused by my tendency to turn up to events on the wrong day. Although I had checked the invitation countless times, I still had horrible memories of turning up for a party brandishing a bottle and a happy grin only to discover I was a week late.

Once I reached the Orangery, I relaxed. There were other women in posh frocks, several of whom were changing into high-heeled shoes too precarious for the previously mentioned long walk. I obviously was at the right place at the right time.

book coverAnd then we were inside, being greeted warmly by friendly Usborne staff and served wine and nibbles by waiters dressed in trench coats, hats and false beards The reason for this became clear when Peter Usborne gave his entertaining speech about the history of Usborne and revealed that one of their first books was The KnowHow Book of Spycraft.

His speech wasn’t just funny – it was illuminating. The piece that resonated most with me was “My work is my hobby and my hobby is my work”. That’s so true of writers and explains why so many of use never retire.

The Orangery was packed with fascinating people I would never normally get the chance to meet, and it was particularly enjoyable to meet so many independent booksellers. Although we’re often told they are a dying breed, the ones I talked to were definitely alive, well and fantastically enthusiastic about books.

Huge thanks to Usborne for organising such a great event. I returned home, bouncy and enthusiastic and totally sure I had chosen the right career.

Usborne have published twenty of my books so far: 12 in the Pony-Mad Princess series and 8 in the Amy Wild – Animal Talker series. There’s another book in the pipeline – more news of that later.