February newsletter – keeping going in adversity.

Last month I bounced in with lots of resolutions and urged you to join me too, right? Well the first obstacle hit me rather hard – a broken leg and knee while skiing in January. Ouch. People tried to cheer me up by saying, oh well lots of time to read and write, but at first I found being confined to bed really hard. It was like Covid all over again. But as the days pass I remind myself that there is no race. I’m slowly finding a way into it. I’ve started with a few easy tasks – almost not writing, you could say, and now, as those tasks get accomplished, I’m finding it possible to take on slightly bigger ones.
I remember going to a workshop given by Jennifer Haigh and she talked about having to trick herself into writing a novel by pretending what she was doing wasn’t writing at all but was just pre-writing. Reading, making notes, character sketches etc etc until finally she was several thousand words in and she could relax. At the time I thought it was a bit odd – after all, if you want to write, why do you have to trick yourself into it? But sometimes mentally that is just what you have to do.
So I’m still here, still want to Make Things Happen, same intentions in place as last month. How are your intentions coming along? I think February is a really good time to check in and tweak the things you need to do to keep on at it. You’ve still got eleven months, you can’t have deviated that far – so come on! Let’s get back at it. Incidentally one goal which is going well for me is the reading goal. Remember I vowed to read 100 books in 2023? I’m already well ahead of that target. It’s not too late to join/ follow me in my 2023 Goodreads’ challenge.

Last year I wrote several blogs about crime/thrillers. Despite the fact that I read dozens of these books every year, I’d never done a top ten list, but as I started to remedy this, I realised it was going to be a hard task so instead I broke it down to focus on different aspects of the genre – location, narrative, series, etc. In September I began by focusing on novels where the location is essential to, and has really enhanced, the story. In November I looked at unusual narrative forms. This month’s blog continued by looking at the top ten crime series – and even that was hard to narrow down!

This blog got me thinking about how authors manage to write series of books. I’ve noticed that if I revisit things I’ve written even just a couple of years ago there are details I’ve forgotten. How much harder must it be to keep track of things over decades? I’ve gathered together some useful tips in case you are considering writing series.

Firstly here are some great ideas from Piers Torday, a middle grade writer who I rate highly.  (I interviewed him three years ago, and we are hosting him at a SCBWI event this month).

I would also suggest you look at David Hewson’s guide to writing which I reviewedhere He is a fantastic organiser and has lots of tips about working effectively.

The main thing I think is to develop a system where you record information about your characters, settings etc etc which you can then refer back to. Scrivener can help with this, but then so can Evernote and other aps, as well as paper diaries etc. Just work out a system now and stick to it. And record everything! Even things you think you won’t forget!
Here are just a few things you’re going to need to record.
Character’s personal details including date and year of birth. Anytime you describe them physically, add that to your records. Any clothes they wear? Add that in. Turns of phrases, vocabulary. Places they’ve been (or not been). Family members referred to (don’t give them siblings in one book and then refer to them as an only child in another). Attitudes.
I hate those character summary sheets but I really think you’re going to need them.
Summarise the plots, characters, minor characters and settings from each book when you finish it.
Have a time line. If one book ends in May 2022, make sure you take that into account when you start the next one.
I’m sure there are millions of other tips so do share them if you have some good ones!

How to write

I came across this book at the Society of Authors in Scotland AGM. It is very useful and it’s free! You can download it from the Creative Scotland website here 
Even if you’re not making money from your writing right at this moment, you need to have this book by your side.

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