The Old Year Ends…

As the year draws to a close, I suppose it’s time to look back and consider how it was. For me, 2017 was a year of mixed blessings and a badly needed kickstart. I’d fallen into something of a rut, so being challenged and thrown out of my comfort zone, as I have been this year, has given me renewed energy for 2018.

In terms of blogging, 2017 was a quiet year for me. I didn’t post nearly as much as I had the year before, nor was I able to spend quite as much time visiting other blogs as I would have liked to. However, I did make it to the Bloggers Bash in London, and caught up in person with many lovely familiar faces, as well as meeting some new ones. I also spent a magical weekend in Scotland with the Silent Eye, discovering that we can be tested in many different ways.

When it came to blog posts a perennial favourite, Stuck Writing Your Author Bio, reigned supreme for the second year in a row, gaining more views than any other. The rest of my top ten consisted mostly of Wednesday Wanders, with Mykonos, Italy, Heidelberg, Stonehenge, Dragonstone and Bath ranking as the most popular destinations. (And my Wanders will be back in 2018, by the way – I haven’t run out of places yet, and have more travels planned). A post about a weekend in Paris with an old friend also made the top ten – looking at that list you wouldn’t think I started blogging about writing!

When it came to writing, this year was a busy one. I finished the first draft of Silver and Black, my vampire novel, as well as the final edit for Under Stone, the fourth Ambeth book. I managed to squeeze in a few short stories as well, and am looking forward to more writing and publishing in the coming year.

But for now the house is tidy, dinner is almost ready to eat and I’m looking forward to seeing in the New Year. Thank you to everyone who has visited, read, liked, commented and reblogged – you’re all wonderful. Wishing you joy and a prosperous 2018, wherever you are!

Happy New Year! x

Apricots, Reblogs and Eurovision

So I woke up today thinking that I should probably write another blog post. I’ve been down the editing wormhole these past few days, as the final MS of Hills And Valleys has come back to me, so my posts and comments have been a bit all over the place.

Then I saw that the lovely Suzie at SuzieSpeaks had reblogged one of my posts, and that it had then been picked up and reblogged a further two times, which made me really happy – thanks, everyone! The post in question was a bit of a laugh, really, about writing a completely made-up author bio. However, Kristin over at The Pursuit of Another Adventure tried my bio generator using details of her actual life and the format still worked, so maybe I’m onto something.

Earlier this week, the gorgeous girl and I made some chocolate covered dried apricots. We make these fairly often, to be honest – they’re pretty easy to make and yet taste wonderfully decadent. Each batch we make is usually gone within twenty-four hours. I had thought I might write a blog post about making them – I’m not a chef or anything, and this isn’t really a ‘food’ blog, but I thought it might be fun. So we assembled our ingredients and started to take some photos. But they were kind of boring.

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Then this happened, in an attempt to liven up the shots. (That’s BB-8, in case you were wondering – apparently he quite likes chocolate)

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And then we decided it would be more fun to just make them and eat them, so we did. However, here’s the recipe, just in case you’re interested:

Chocolate covered dried apricots

You will need:

A small saucepan

A metal bowl (I’ve not tried ceramic, which may also work, but I think metal conducts the heat more efficiently)

A plate or tray lined with baking paper

Some water

A bar of good quality chocolate (I use Lindt or Green & Black, whichever is on special)

Some dried apricots

Method:

Fill the saucepan to about 2cm depth with water. Put it on to boil. While you’re waiting for that to happen, break the chocolate bar into small pieces and lay them in a single layer in the metal bowl. (Try not to eat too much of it). Once the water has come to the boil, remove the saucepan from the heat and place the metal bowl on top. It should be a tight fit, so no steam can escape. Then set a timer for five minutes. Make yourself a cuppa, read emails, play with Star Wars figurines, do whatever for five minutes.

When the timer goes off, remove the metal bowl from the saucepan (carefully, as it might be quite hot). Your chocolate will be all melted and runny. Yum! Then, using a spoon, drop your dried apricots into the chocolate and coat them on both sides, then remove and place them on the baking tray. Once you’ve used up all the chocolate, put the tray of coated apricots in the fridge for about half an hour to set. Then enjoy!

I think we might make another batch of these today, as we’re all set to watch the Eurovision final tonight and snacks are an essential part of the viewing experience. Steve from Steve Says is at the final in Sweden (lucky!) and Hugh over at Hugh’s News and Views has written a post listing his predictions for the winners tonight. I’m sure Twitter will be lots of fun as well, so am looking forward to a very entertaining night.

However you choose to spend your weekend, I hope it’s a wonderful one!

Stuck Writing Your Author Bio? Try The (Totally Not Serious) Author Bio Generator

Aren't I fabulous and interesting?
I’m so fabulous and interesting.

So I’ve been noticing a trend recently of, shall we say, somewhat overwrought author bios, in which every detail is teased into something magnificent, a picture of a life fabulously lived. I realise that there are, in fact, authors who do live wonderfully exciting lives but I also seem to remember a time when it wasn’t really important to know about it. A time when an author bio was a few lines at the end of a book, photograph optional, and usually read something like: ‘Author X was born in Wiltshire, and still lives there with her husband and three sons.’ Then, if Author X had written other books/and or won awards, these would also be listed. And that was about it. (I’m basing this on the very scientific research of spending time perusing my own bookcase and reading famous author bios, so you know, it’s totally legit).

But nowadays it seems to not be sufficient that we write stories – we have to live them as well. We have to be a ‘brand’. Okay. I understand the idea of leveraging an interesting life into the idea that you might therefore have interesting stories to tell, but there are plenty of examples that prove you don’t have to live with dragons to write about them. The Bronte sisters lived relatively sheltered lives and Emily, the author of Wuthering Heights, was apparently so shy she would turn her back on people mid-conversation, unable to speak any more. She never married, yet she was able to plumb the heights and depths of passion and create an enduring legend of romance that is still considered one of the greatest literary novels ever.

But that was then and this is now, and we are all writers trying to make our mark on a world saturated with choice. And so the bio is rewritten and inflated by agents and publishers, ostensibly to create interest, though I confess I’ve never heard anyone say, ‘Oh, I’m reading a book by X because, did you know, she wrestles alligators and has a pet monkey?’

Therefore, in the interest of giving us all a leg up in the bio-writing stakes, I’ve decided to put together an Easy Author Bio Generator.* It’s basically like Mad Libs – just insert whatever words you think will work:

(your name) was born (time, place) and grew up in (place, dimension etc) learning to (do something odd). They left (your birthplace) for (a far flung destination) where they (did something amazing). (your name) now lives in (somewhere fabulous and unusual) with their (living companions). When not writing bestselling novels, (your name) likes to (do some sort of unusual and creative hobby).

And here’s my attempt:

Helen Jones was born at the turning of the tide on a remote Scottish Island and grew up with gypsies, learning to yodel at the moon. She left the island for the bright lights of Paris, where she wrote dramatic novels in between creating coffee confections for demanding French patrons. She now lives in a yurt hidden in a Welsh valley with her husband, three children and six goats. When not writing bestselling novels, she likes to party with rock stars and dance the tango under a full moon, letting out the occasional yodel.

See? Aren’t I more interesting now? 😀 Go on, give it a try – you know you want to.

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*Disclaimers:

  • This is just a bit of fun
  • I’m sure I’m not the first person to think of doing this
  • I may, or may not, change up some of my bios to see if anyone even notices
  • I mean no offense to those of you out there who already have fabulous and interesting bios – well done, you.

 

The Joy of Synopses

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Well, I’m being a little sarcastic, in case you hadn’t guessed. It’s no secret how much I love to write, but there are some things I enjoy writing far less than others. One of those things is the dreaded author bio – it’s such a fine line between sounding interesting and sounding like a tosser (and to be honest, not sure which side I’m currently on) 😀

The other is the synopsis. Right, I muttered, as I slogged and sweated my way through the very first one I ever wrote, I bet Tolkien wasn’t asked to distill Lord Of The Rings down to a single page summary.

Well, I bet he probably was, actually. And I’m no Tolkien. I’m just a writer with a book I need to send out to agents and publishers, and part of that process involves writing a synopsis.

I remember hearing an agent saying once that a synopsis was simply a blow-by-blow account of everything that happens in the book. All the main plot points and character, distilled into This happens. And then this happens. And then that happens. Sounds pretty easy, when you put it like that. But the actual writing of it is something I find quite arduous, trying to choose which events to include and which ones to omit.

 

So when Sacha Black posted a few weeks back about a book she’d read called ‘Write a Great Synopsis – An Expert Guide,’ by Nicola Morgan, I decided to check it out. And it was well worth doing so. Not only was I able to distill my story down to a 26-word pitch, perfect for the covering letter, I was then able to expand that pitch into a synopsis that fitted onto one page. The book was an easy read as well – short, well written and engaging.  So I would definitely recommend it to anyone caught in the snarls of their synopsis, as it definitely helped me.

I still sweated and slogged a little, but not nearly as much as before 🙂