Wednesday, 16 January 2019

New Year Thoughts
Two weeks in, I'm a bit late this year but would like to wish you all a very happy and healthy new year. For the writers among you, I hope that 2019 will be a successful one when you realise your writing goals and dreams. 

For the first time, we travelled to Madeira to see in the new year. The Christmas lights and New Year's Eve fireworks were as spectacular as we were expecting. Even though it was the first wet and rainy NYE for thirteen years, it didn't dampen our spirits! After a celebratory meal at a restaurant near the hotel, we were taken by coach to a castle over-looking the whole of Funchal, an excellent vantage point only surpassed by the ones from the ten cruise ships moored out in the bay.
It's been busy since I arrived back after the week away. A lively first meeting of the RNA South and West Wales Chapter took place a few days later, followed by a meeting with some writing buddies the following day and then on January 11th, I went to the launch of a writer friend, Vanessa's wonderful debut novel, 'The Woman in the Dark'. Organised by the Griffin Bookshop in Penarth, it was a brilliant evening and it was so good to have a signed copy of the much talked about psychological thriller in my hands at last. The event was very well attended. It was lovely to catch up with writer friends I hadn't seen for a while as well as being there with fellow members of our small writing group where we've followed the progress of Vanessa's book from the outset. Since arriving home and starting the novel, I haven't been able to put it down! Look out for an interview with Vanessa in a few weeks to find out more.
2019 sees the five year anniversary of my blog which was started to follow my writing journey. My next blog post will look back over the last five years to see how my writing has developed. The posts have changed in content as they reflect how my writing has moved from short stories to novels. I will also share my intentions and goals for the coming year.

Thank you for reading. How has your year started? What is the first book you've read in 2019? What makes a book 'a page-turner'? 

You may also follow me on @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer page. Thanks.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Goodbye to 2018
This is my last blog post of the year. As many of you know, I took part in NaNoWriMo, and began writing scenes from my third novel. I wrote 25,505 words and sixteen scenes. It was half the target of 50,000 words but I was very pleased since November proved to be a very busy month with the family and attending meetings. It was good to get to know my characters, travel back in time to World War II with some of them and spend time in Northern France being shielded by the French Resistance. As I was writing a number of the scenes, it showed up how much research I need to do and the comments I inserted as I wrote will prove invaluable once I go back to the story in the new year.

For the first time since I started entering in 2014, I was unable to attend the launch of the Worcester LitFest Flash Fiction Anthology. This year, it is entitled 'Sacrifice' after the winning flash written by Dunstan Power. I had three entries included in the anthology this year and one, 'All in the Cards' was read by another writer, Mark Robbins at the launch. 

This time of year is a busy time for Christmas meals. The one for our South and West Wales Chapter was held at Cote Brasserie in Cardiff. The food was excellent and a good time was had by all. The dates for the Spring term of 2019 were decided upon and we are looking forward to welcoming our new members to these. It was unanimous that a repeat of the writing retreat day would be very well received. 

I would like to wish you all a very Happy Christmas. We have a full house this year and some of the family, including two grandsons who are growing up fast, are arriving tonight. Tomorrow, we shall be going to a local panto, 'Beauty and the Beast', in which our daughter-in-law is starring. We shall be going with our other grandson who is nearly three and his dad. I can't wait!

My first blog post of 2019 will be later than normal as we are going to Madeira for New Year. The lights and fireworks in Funchal are reputed to be spectacular so I'm really looking forward to our week away. 

Thank you for reading and for all your support in 2018. What traditions do you like to keep at Christmas and New Year? 

Monday, 26 November 2018

RNA South and West Wales Chapter Writing Retreat Day
Last Wednesday, the South and West Wales Chapter held its very first Writing Retreat Day. It was expertly organised by our very own, Catherine Burrows. Catherine had experienced such days when she lived in Kent and was full of enthusiasm for how successful they were. Our venue for the day was the Events Room at John Lewis Department store in the heart of Cardiff. The venue was ideally situated with excellent car parking facilities, near bus stops and just a four minute walk away from the station. There was no charge for the room and we cannot praise John Lewis highly enough for the generous way they accommodated us. 

We arrived at 10.30 am ready to start writing at 11 am after grabbing a coffee, being signed in by security and hearing the 'housekeeping' rules from Catherine. We set out our lunch, a communal affair with each one of us bringing something to share. As you can see from the photos, a feast was in store. One member, Evonne, brought non-alcoholic Buck's Fizz which went down very well. 

This was the agenda for the day:
10.30 am - Coffee
11 am - 1 pm Morning writing session
1 pm - 2 pm Lunch
2 pm - 4 pm Afternoon writing session
4 pm - 4.30 pm Debrief session and end of retreat

There were ten of us attending and the room was big enough for us to spread out, with a table each, and concentrate on writing in silence (or with head-phones for music). Power points and multi-plugs were available for those needing to top up the charge on their laptops but others had brought notebooks and wrote in long-hand. We caught up over lunch and we had a chance to discuss our work and our current WiPs as well as plans for the afternoon ahead. A number of us were taking part in NaNoWriMo and it was a wonderful opportunity for members to raise the word count or push on with edits.

Our organiser for the day busy at her lap-top.
Catherine had asked us to bring our imaginations and creativity and, from the responses at the end of the day, that is exactly what we did. We all went home feeling proud of our achievements. For me, being with other writers in such an atmosphere certainly helped the words flow and I'm sure others felt the same.

As a group, we wrote 23,337 words and edited 7000 words. The general feeling was to repeat the day again soon. A huge thank you to Catherine! It was a very productive writing day with excellent company, delicious food and writing chat.

Another special thank you must also go to Stacey Taylor, one of our Chapter members, who was our John Lewis contact. Thank you, Stacey! You were a star and looked after us brilliantly. 

Thank you for reading. Have you been on a day like this? What were the highlights for you? I'd love it if you shared your experiences with us. Thanks.

You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer  Facebook page.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Twelve Days In
Today is the twelfth day of NaNoWriMo 2018 and I'm taking time out to give you an update on my progress . . . or lack of it. That's not strictly true because although I'm behind and not achieving the word count needed to write 50,000 words in the month of November, I have averaged over 1000+ words so far. 
In my last post, I was close to making a decision about whether to participate or not. I did choose to register and decided to write as many scenes from my new novel as I could.
Here are some benefits I can see so far:

  • I have written something every day apart from two separate days when I was out all day. On each occasion, I wrote words on the next day to compensate. This means that on my graph - I love graphs! - there is a steady rise in the words I've written.
  • I've read through the previous day's writing and done a quick edit  before I start writing a new scene. This puts me back into the scene and I'm able to hopefully slip back seamlessly into the story.
  • As I write, I've inserted comments to follow up later. This has given me a better idea of the areas of research I need to do before I begin to write the novel properly. So far these include: duties of a groom and stable girl, officer training in WW11, legality of accepting a 'foundling', getting letters and mail to soldiers in France. 
I'm enjoying getting to know my characters. The scenes are from Mary's story so far and written from her point of view. 

Thank you for reading this short post. I haven't written any scenes today so I'll get back to my novel and report back to you in a week or so.

If you are taking part in NaNoWriMo this year, how is it going for you? I'm thrilled that many of my writing buddies are doing so well and are on track to achieve their goals. I'd love it if you commented, even if it's just your word count if you prefer. Thanks.

You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.

Monday, 29 October 2018

Shall I, Shan't I?
It's that time of year again. You know the one, when social media is full of posts about writers aiming to write 50,000 words in the month of November. Since 2014, I have taken part every year and I'm a big fan. This year is different and 'to NaNoWriMo or not to NaNoWriMo?' that is the question. Whereas in past years, I was ready to either start a new novel or complete a half written one, this year I'm not in that position. Novel three is at a very early planning stage and I am a planner at heart. The idea has been nagging away at me for some time and I know there's a story to tell. I've met most of my characters and know who they are - their names, where they live and what they are like as people. I know what their goals are and have learned about some of the obstacles in their way. But I still don't feel ready to start writing their story.

With November 1st. looming, these are some of the choices I have:

  • Do not take part in NaNoWriMo this year and continue with my planning
  • Use the discipline of the month to get back into writing -  maybe short stories and flash fiction pieces - both of which I have neglected since editing novel two.
  • Write scenes from the novel to use later, based on my newly met characters and see where they take me.
For me, the advantage of taking part in NaNoWriMo has always been the increased word output, the curbing of procrastination and complete immersion in a story and that is why I'm loath to not participate entirely. The disadvantage is that the writing often needs a great deal of editing and after a mammoth edit of my novel this summer, do I want that again?

It was while I was mulling over the situation that I came across this article, The Six Month Novel Writing Plan for 2018/2019 by Emily Harstone. It was featured in Authors Publish Magazine and she talks about a month by month plan over a longer time instead. She recommends it for people like myself who work better if there is a deadline. She believes that 'one of the enemies of novel writing is not having a strict deadline. If I take too long writing a novel I often forget most of the details and plot that were covered in the beginning of the novel, so that the start of the novel and the end do not match. I then have to go back and edit swathes of writing.'  What interested me was that in her plan she has incorporated editing alongside the writing and the word count could be adjusted at any time. For example, she has a Two Hour Editing Binge Once a Week - Once a week, I would make sure to do an extra two hour editing stint during one of those days. Instead of writing new material I went over what I had written so far and edited it a little, just to make sure the story line and character development was as cohesive as possible. Again in Month Four, Harstone recommends this - Take a week off. Read but don't write. You will come back stronger. - and this - Write one hour a day every day outside of the week off. If you are not at least 150 pages at the start of this month, you should write for two hours most days. 

If you have time, you can read the whole article HERE. Emily Harstone suggests that you can adapt her plan to suit you but explains how it has helped her  write a first draft, edit it and get her novel ready for submission to agents. Would it work for you? Does it appeal more that the pressure of the NaNoWriMo daily word count?

Are you ready for NaNoWriMo 2018? If you are going to take part, I wish you loads of luck and hope you achieve your goal. 

Thank you for reading. You may also follow me on @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer page. 

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Silent September
There have been no blog posts from me in September and it's the first time since the blog started in January 2014 that I've left it this long. However, I have been progressing on my writing journey and learning a lot - I've been in the editing cave! How has it taken me that long, you may ask? Didn't I start that in August? In next week's post, I shall tell you how I went about it prior to submitting my novel.

I wasn't editing for the whole time, though, and here are some writing related things I did:

Amazon Author Academy Wales
This was a free event held at the Celtic Manor in
Newport. The first session was led by Darren Hardy who led us through the process of uploading a book on Amazon's KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). For someone like me who has never tried to self-publish, or even contemplate it, he made it seem very straightforward! He demonstrated every step and stressed the benefits of publishing independently. The second session was entitled How To Write a Best Seller and took the form of a panel discussion. Darren interviewed Orla Ross, Mark Dawson and L. J. Ross, three indie authors, whose books sell well. The third session dealt with Marketing Your Books and Finding Readers and the business side of writing.  The importance of finding readers, turning them into fans and finally into ambassadors for your books was stressed. The authors all agreed that having a social media presence was essential. Any ways to promote your book through mailing lists, target ads., price promotions, launch packages, pre-ordering a long time in advance of publication and blogging a few sample chapters beforehand were mentioned as successful strategies by the three novelists. The final session was Making It Happen - The Business of Being an Author. Members on the panel discussed outsourcing things like accountancy, cover designs and editing. Jo McCrum of The Society of Authors talked about contacts. It was an interesting day and it was good to catch up with author friends and meet new writers.

Publishing Options and Submitting Your Novel - 
This was the second of Alison May's workshops I attended in Birmingham. As always the day was full of interesting and helpful advice, plenty of interactive activity and above all it was fun. In June, we had looked at editing and the analytical aspects of writing, but this session concentrated on the business side. Alison started by looking at the pros. and cons. of Traditional v. Self Publishing. She talked to us about pitching our novels to agents or publishers and the importance of making 'every word work really hard.' She asked us to write pitches for our current novels. As always, I found it hard to be succinct and cut back to the essential information that summed up or sold my book. I have worked hard on that since! She also talked about contracts and how the Society of Authors can help check these if you are a member. The day flew by and I was amazed at how much Alison covered - blurbs, the effectiveness of book covers chosen by publishers to make the book sell well, synopses and how to submit to the appropriate publishers/agents for you. I came away with my head buzzing, keen to get back to the WiP. I highly recommend attending a course run by Alison!

Sparkle Writing 1: Hook and Hold
This was an excellent day's writing workshop organised by the RNA Marcher Chapter in Hereford. It was run by Libertà Books and it focused 'on the vital first 10% of your story, roughly the free sample that an e-book buyer can download.' Author Joanna Maitland, a member of the Chapter, was the presenter and kept us busy for the whole day with examples, practical ideas and activities for: 
  • the HOOK to get the reader to start reading
  • the HOLD to keep the reader reading to the end of the excerpt
  • the 10% moment to get the reader to BUY the book
I came away with plenty of food for thought and when I returned to the editing, I looked at the beginning of my novel with a very critical eye! 

As well as helping to plan the Autumn term meetings for the South and West Wales Chapter of the RNA, attending meetings and catching up with writing buddies, you can see I haven't neglected my writing journey completely. It's just that I've kept it to myself! I have finally finished editing Whispering Olive Trees and last week, I submitted it to the two editors who requested the full manuscript at the 2018 Conference in Leeds. Both said they were happy to wait for it; at that stage, most of the novel was in a first draft form. I'll try now to forget about it and intend to start planning novel number three in earnest. It's going to be another mother/daughter saga, this time involving a 'foundling' and the contrasting location will be war-time France. I can't wait to get back to story-telling and writing again. 

Thank you for reading and returning to the blog after an absence of posts from me.Can you write alongside editing or, like me, can you only work on one thing at a time? I'd love to hear how you work.

You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.

Monday, 20 August 2018

Guest Interview With Sue McDonagh

Today, I’m thrilled to be chatting to my writing buddy, Sue McDonagh. I first met Sue in 2014 when we both joined a new writing group in Cowbridge. I like to think we hit it off straightaway and, that November, we supported each other through the ups and downs of our very first NaNoWriMo. Sadly, the writing group is no longer but Sue and I still meet up regularly to talk about all things 'writerly' . . . and other things, of course. Sue’s debut novel, Summer at the Art Cafe, was published by Choc Lit on Tuesday 15th May.

Sue, welcome. Can you tell us what inspired you to write Summer at the Art Cafe?

Hi Jan, and thank you so much for having me! The inspiration behind Summer at the Art Café was my own journey towards passing my motorbike test, nearly a decade ago. Was it really that long ago? It still seems like only yesterday. Learning a new skill when you’re, *cough* older, is probably always going to be a challenge, particularly one which exposes you to the constant danger of being squashed by inattentive drivers. It certainly does sharpen up your driving responses though, and I really enjoyed the thrill of learning to control such an exciting vehicle as safely as possible. 
Belonging to Curvy Riders, an all ladies motorcycle club, brought me in touch with amazing women from all walks of life from over the UK, and the seed of the novel germinated. 

Perhaps, you’d like to tell us how you got the book published. 
Having joined the Romantic Novelists' Association under their New Writers' Scheme, I hammered my novel into shape and submitted it for their assessment. ‘Submit it’, they advised, so I began the process of sending to agents and publishers, along with carefully considered covering letters and synopses. During that time, I also sent it to publishers ChocLit, for consideration in their Search for a Star competition. Months passed before I heard from them, and no-one was more surprised than me to hear it had been shortlisted. I didn’t win, but it turns out that I was a mere one point behind the winner. ‘Did I have a second book ready to go?’ they asked. I did, but it was unfinished and I thought, pretty awful. Then my lovely mum died, and I found it really difficult to get on with finishing it. My writer friends urged and kicked me in the nicest way to the finish line, and I’m delighted to say that ChocLit signed me for both books. 
The euphoria of being an almost published writer lasted for a couple of months, until I received the edits. 

I was totally not prepared for: ‘Don’t like the beginning, or the end. Or the middle. Needs a total re-write.’Along with eight pages of closely packed criticism . . .
Put it in ‘the freezer’, I was advised. I did, and it didn’t look any better when I took it out a week or more later. I truly wondered whether I was cut out to do this. Christmas was rushing towards us, and I had a deadline of Feb 1st. I doubted myself. I doubted my editor! What could she possibly know? I’m writing this in complete honesty, because I hope it will help some of you who will most certainly experience this in your publishing journey.
Eventually, I knuckled down to the extensive re-write that was required. Encouragingly, I saw my writing improve as I worked my way through. Until I got to the last portion of the novel, when I became increasingly and horribly aware that my ending wasn’t going to work any more. And the deadline loomed.
You’re too close to it. Have a break for ten days,’ my editor told me. ‘I’ll get back to you.’ Ten days of not writing? I could barely countenance it after almost two months of focused story-building. I gritted my teeth and switched to painting, while in my head I junked the entire shameful mess. I expected the very next email from my editor to say, ‘We did our best, but sorry. Better luck next time.
I was both astonished and relieved to open an email that read, ‘It’s fine, I’ve made a few suggestions, get on with it.
Where I’d flipped into disaster-mode thinking, my editor had actually read more deeply into my characters and what they wanted and my ending was back in position. So clever. I don’t think I could have actually finished that book without my editor!

I was struck by the pace of the writing in your novel. The story line kept me turning the pages yet the characters are very credible, too. Can you say which came first, the characters or the story you wanted to tell?
I’m so glad you found it pacy! I wanted it to mimic the whole excitement of learning to ride a motorbike.  Lucy represents so many of the ladies I met who told me of their learning experiences. Several readers have written to tell me that they felt I was inside their heads as they were reading! Ash is, of course, my utterly ideal hero…

Biking is very important to you and you are very much involved with Curvy Riders. How much of you is in the novel?
Hah, they tell you to write about what you know, and it’s fair to say I’ve certainly
done that with Summer at the Art Café! Lucy’s journey to master her motorbike are very much drawn from my own experiences. Along with countless other new riders, I dropped my bike so many times trying to do a U turn that I very nearly gave up. After kicking a cone over on the first part of the test, and then failing after a perfect second part of the test by dropping my bike in the snow outside the test centre, I can honestly say I have plenty of stories of my own to call on.
Having said that, Lucy developed her own character as time went on, and I constantly found myself surprised by her dialogue, as if I was simply a conduit for her voice. She and Daisy have made me laugh so many times. Writing has been a revelation in that respect. I thought I was the one in charge!

The novel is a feel-good story that up-lifts the reader yet it deals with a number of serious issues. Can you tell us why it was important for you to explore these?
My own life has been a series of dramatic highs and lows. Treated for advanced stage ovarian cancer aged 24, it changed my life and my career path. My hopes for having a family were dashed, my long term health constantly under review.
I now consider myself incredibly privileged to be owned by a wonderful, loving, extended family that includes my two boys and their daughters, and my three step-children, one of whom is about to pop another little girl into the world, and another of which has with extraordinary generosity of spirit, long-term fostered three very young children. I believe that the way we grow from these experiences shapes not only our own personalities, but also the friends and people we gather around us.
I know people in these toxic relationships, who gradually become subservient to their increasingly domineering spouses, and yet continue to hope that things will get better, that it’s just a phase. Lucy’s friends can see clearly what is happening, but the opportunity of jumping off the Gerry-directed treadmill only occurs because she wins the motorbike. Because it’s not his idea.
Riding a motorbike requires a kind of focused isolation. There is no-one else to ask. Just you, inside your helmet, and your ability to move that motorbike about. There are often scary moments, and you can’t just walk away and let someone else deal with it, because you have to sort it out there and then. With each incident, you grow a bit more in confidence, and this is what I wanted to show Lucy experiencing.
My personal experience of belonging to a big ladies only motorbike club is only briefly touched on in the novel, although I did want to show that camaraderie. Women riders are a growing minority, and although many are just as happy to ride with their menfolk, being out with your girl-friends has a different dynamic. Getting lost just makes it a curvier ride, we help each other move our bikes on slippery gravelly car parks, we find the best places to have coffee and cake, and we’re not above a spot of mooching about in shops, building sandcastles and sightseeing when we want to, either!
Like me, Lucy always wanted her own children, but when she meets Daisy, she begins to realise that long term parenting of someone else’s child is very different from a casual meeting with a little girl on her best behaviour. 
Her life was on full throttle from the minute she sat on that purple motorbike, wasn’t it?

Since the novel was published a few months ago, the reviews have been amazing, both in numbers and ratings. Can you tell us how you felt as the first ones started coming through?
I couldn’t believe how quickly the reviews came in – I wasn’t expecting that! I even had a #BestSeller flag!
I confess I was a little bit anxious as to how it would be received by ‘non-bikers’. To date, I have had over 84 mostly 5 star reviews, and most of them have been from people who’ve never ridden a motorbike. But they’re thinking about it now…
I’m so appreciative of everyone who has taken the time and effort to leave a review. I’ve read every single one, and it’s just lovely that people have warmed to the story that my characters have woven. 
Because Lucy and Ash and Daisy, they’re real people, y’know…

‘Planner’ or ‘pantser’ – which were you when you started writing and has that changed now you are a published novelist (I love saying that!)?
Even though I’m an airy-fairy artist in my other life, I know that really I’m a complete control freak, so I’m a Planner. I have colour coded spread-sheet things with my characters on, each chapter planned, the emotion arcs, everything.
I blimmin’ love a pack of coloured Sharpies, some Post It notes and a massive flipchart! Although that could be another art form, I guess…
But when I’ve planned it all, I start writing and my characters take it all off in a different direction. I go with the flow and see what happens. There’s a magical alchemy about writing, isn’t there? I can fret and worry about plot threads that aren’t working, or stop writing altogether because I over-think something, and then I start writing and somehow the words tumble out and fix themselves.
I’m not going to analyse that in case it stops happening!

You are a busy artist so I’m sure I’m not the only one to wonder where you manage to fit in your writing time. Do you have a particular writing routine?
I don’t watch much TV, and once I start writing I am able to shut everything out, so I write whenever I can. Social media is a distraction though. Also my dog, Scribble, is better than a FitBit, nudging me to take him out for a walk when he thinks I’ve been sitting about for too long.

You have a very distinctive style of painting that is so evident in the cover of Summer at the Art Café, do you have a distinctive style in your writing, too?
I read somewhere that Art is not about what I see, but what I make you see. I’d like to think that my writing makes my readers laugh but also cry a little too.

Many reviewers are saying they can’t wait for your next novel. Can you tell readers when and what to expect?
The second in the series is already written, and should be released in early Spring 2019! It’s based in the Art Café on the Welsh Gower coast, and focuses on two characters who popped up in Summer at the Art Café. There’s a gorgeous little boy, Liam, and a wonderful naughty neighbour who never failed to make me laugh, Beryl. I’m currently writing the third in the series, about a spiky heroine with a tendency to blurt. Can’t imagine who I’ve based that on…

No comment on that! 
Thank you so much, Sue. I’m thrilled to see how well your novel is doing and it’s been a privilege to watch your journey from the start.  

Summer at the Art Cafe is published by Choc Lit.  
Link to the book on Amazon:
Blog and website:
Twitter: @SueMcDonaghLit

My thoughts on Summer at the Art Cafe: ***** 5 Stars
Summer at the Art Café is a delightful read where you'll find humour and emotion. The writing is pacy with a story line that kept me turning the pages to the end. Authentic characters are well drawn with enough layering to show both their strengths and flaws. You care about what happens to them. I particularly rooted for Lucy on her journey from life with her controlling husband to become a confident self-assured woman. The resilience she showed when learning to ride her newly-won motor bike was admirable! Added to the mix was the gorgeous Ash and lovable Daisy. The novel is a feel-good story that up-lifts the reader yet it deals with a number of serious issues, too. These are handled sensitively. A book I thoroughly enjoyed reading, I can’t wait for the sequel and have no hesitation in recommending this debut novel.

Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed finding out more of the story behind Sue's debut novel.

You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.