It’s Not Kissing Up, it’s Promo

I’m delighted to welcome my second guest blogger of the month, Sue Moorcroft.  Sue is an award winning romantic novelist (more details of her work below). Sue kindly agreed to write a piece on the importance of self promotion as a writer. Hope you enjoy, and remember feel free to comment! 

Why am I writing this post?

Why will I write the next two blog posts I plan to write this morning, another guest blog plus an entry on my own?

And chat to people on Twitter and Facebook?

It’s because I love talking about myself …

Yes, but apart from that! It’s ‘promo’.

Promo is part of the life of every writer I know. We understand the need to keep our names visible and interest people in our books and the Internet has provided us with a massive global platform on which to do it. Wonderfully, the platform is interactive and conversational. Comments on blogposts, Facebook threads, conversations on Twitter, none of them are just ways of beating prospective readers over the head with constant ‘Buy my book! Buy my book!’ or ‘Love me! Love me!’ messages. Each is a valuable person-to-person connection.

I realise that some of the people who fall into conversation with me DO buy my books. I know, because they tell me. They come back and tell me that they enjoyed the book and ask me about future books. In conversation, they become comfortable with my voice or my sense of humour, we chat about the subjects I’m researching and they’re interested by what I’m going to make of the subject. I ask the Twitterverse what a hot hero might wear to a halloween party, and they tell me he should go as a devil in red lycra – they feel they have a stake in the book, and I get help that I genuinely want. The Twitterverse has also found me a US attorney, told me how to hack a website; Facebook has provided me with a host of heroes with spooky eyes and the name of a clear anti-freeze. (Which led to a fascinating conversation about whether I was planning a murder and whether cooking and eating them would be a good way to dispose of the body. Also whether barbecue sauce would be appropriate. But I won’t be putting that in a book.)

I feel privileged to be writing in an era when readers can click ‘contact me’ on my website, befriend me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter specifically to say, ‘I enjoyed your book’. (Or, ‘Here’s how to cook and eat a body …’)

So, yes, blogs, Twitter and Facebook are part of promo. But they’re not about courting readers – they’re about enjoying knowing them.

Sue Moorcroft writes romantic novels of dauntless heroines and irresistible heroes. Her last book, Love & Freedom, won the Best Romantic Read Award 2011 at the Festival of Romance and her next, Dream a Little Dream, published on 1 November 2012, is the one with the devil in lycra.

Combining writing success with her experience as a creative writing tutor, she’s written a ‘how to’ book, Love Writing – How to Make Money From Writing Romantic and Erotic Fiction (on superspecial promo price of £0.77 at the time of writing this blog.) Sue writes a regular Formula 1 column, short stories, serials, articles and courses and is the head judge for Writers’ Forum. She’s a Katie Fforde Bursary Award winner. 

Check out her website www.suemoorcroft.com and her blog at http://suemoorcroft.wordpress.com/ for news and writing tips. You’re welcome to befriend Sue on Facebook or Follow Sue on Twitter.

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Searching for inspiration 1: Writing about the madness of war

Following my rather glum last post (sorry about that folks), I have decided to spend some time on ‘research’. I use the term research advisedly. Perhaps I mean searching for inspiration? I have a few parts of my novel that need fleshing out or re-writing and instead of sitting down to just ‘see what comes’ I would really like to open myself up to new literary (and perhaps film) experiences, in the hope I will come back to my manuscript a better writer.

One thing I really want to get to grips with is writing battle scenes.

We’ve all read a few battle scenes in our time. Some are meticulously detailed, naming every part of a weapon, and every slight movement of the hero’s body and that of his foe. This approach can be very educational, but sadly also sometimes very, very dull. Other descriptions take gore to its very extreme, perhaps to shock the reader as much as to accurately express the horror of war. Sometimes an author might take the madness of war and turn their prose into something disjointed and surreal, this can work or it can be so surreal you’re never sure what’s going on.

Fifteenth-century miniature depicting the Engl...

So, how to approach this problem? Sorry that’s not a rhetorical question, I’d actually appreciate your views and any recommendations you have for novels where you feel the author has handled a scene particularly well. I’m most interested in battles pre guns (excluding field guns and canons), so pre 1900’s

(I have already been recommended Charter House of Parma by Stendahl and am currently reading it)

Looking forward to your views on writing battle scenes and any recommendations you may have. Thank you 🙂

It’s not writers block…. I’m mulling.

Or at least I hope so.

I’ve been through my manuscript I’ve removed a whole heap of unnecessary words and paragraphs, corrected spellings and grammar. I’ve highlighted areas that ‘tell’ but do not ‘show’ and areas where I’ve scrawled ‘develop’ or ‘re-write’. I have also written a list of major issues to address:

One of these I discussed in a previous blog, is my need to develop a strong female character to replace the one that was cut in the last purge. A writer friend suggested to me to see if any of the existing male characters might be suitable to be altered to be a woman; something I’m now seriously considering.

Another issue was my need to be clear about the parameters of magic within the novel – I thought I had a good handle on this, but the more I consider it the more I tie myself up in knots. Related to this, I was advised to get a good back-story going for the character who has emerged as the (anti)hero of the book. Strangely I have back stories (in my mind) for all other characters but not him. He’s a mysterious character which is partly my excuse for having failed to do this a long time ago.

With all this on my mind I’ve now come to a complete halt.

I spent some time last week reading through celtic mythologies and looking at information on ancient world religions. I did this to try to get back ‘in the zone of myth and magic; something that never used to take much effort!

A combination of a lack of solid time-blocks to write in, and continuously switching my attention from one issue to another made this a very frustrating week. I have written a few new chapters, but I don’t think they’ll make the final cut. It occurred to me I might be so keen to get this book finished asap, I’m trying to tackle too much at once. Consequently I’m not thinking very clearly.

My only hope is that out of this chaos some great writing will emerge; I need to accept it won’t be this week, or the next. I’m going to take a break, do some reading (of some of the books you all kindly recommended last week, featuring strong female characters) then revisit my book.

Thank you all for your continued support and in advance for your comments and advice.

Eleanor of Aquitaine – The mother of all Plantagenets


This month’s guest blogger is Susan Abernethy co-creator of ‘
Saints, sisters and sluts’ – an informative and entertaining collection of abridged histories of the worlds most notable women; from Queen of the Saxons, Aethelflaed (b868), right up to 2011 nobel prize winners Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkol Karman.

Susan has kindly agreed to help me spread the word about the glorious Plantagenets. As anyone who follows my blog and/or twitter I’m a big fan of Plantagenet King, Richard III. In this blog we’re going right back to the beginning with the formidable Eleanor of Aquitaine, mother of all Plantagenets. 

Married to two Kings, mother of two kings and at least eight other children, zealous crusader, embroiled in wars and rebellions, held captive for sixteen years and finally taking the veil; Eleanor of Acquitaine was certainly a formidable woman. 

Born in 1122, in Southern France, Eleanor was the oldest child of William X, Duke of Aquitaine. Eleanor’s father provided her with a comprehensive education covering Latin, music, literature, riding, hunting and hawking. Her brother and mother died when she was young so Eleanor became heir to her father’s dukedom, one of the largest and richest in France at the time. Beautiful, wealthy, and landed, Eleanor was a highly sought after marriage prize. The winner of this prize was French prince, Louis (later to become Louis VII) who she married in 1137. Before their marriage it was agreed Eleanor would retain rights to her inheritance free and clear of Louis, and when her future son became King of the Franks he would inherit the Duchy of Aquitaine.

Although Louis adored Eleanor, their marriage was stormy, due to Eleanor’s feisty nature, her interference in political and religious matters and his piety. It was not until eight years after their marriage she had her first child, a girl, Marie. In the same year, Louis was invited to go on Crusade to the Holy Land.

Eleanor took up this challenge with zest, pledging to the Crusade and recruiting many people to go, including her ladies in waiting. In their travels to the Holy Land, they stopped in Constantinople and stayed with the Byzantine Emperor where

English: Eleanor of Aquitaine, queen consort o...

English: Eleanor of Aquitaine, queen consort of Henry II of England. Français : Aliénor (ou Eleanor) d’Aquitaine, reine consort de Henry II Plantagenêt, roi d’Angleterre. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Eleanor was greatly admired. They went on to Jerusalem and Damascus but partly due to Louis’ lack of authority they were hounded out by the Turks.

By the time they returned to France, Eleanor and Louis’ marriage had completely broken down. When Eleanor’s second daughter, Alix, was born in 1151, Louis was ready for annulment. The annulment was granted in 1152 with assurances by Louis that Eleanor could retain all of her inheritance.

As soon as Eleanor returned to her Duchy, she sent word to Henry Plantagenet, to come and marry her. Eight weeks after the annulment they were married and October 1154, Henry and Eleanor became King and Queen of England.

Over the next thirteen years, Eleanor had five sons and three daughters. Henry was unfaithful to Eleanor and their marriage was not a tranquil affair. By the time her youngest child was born, Henry was deeply involved with his favourite, Rosamund Clifford and the marriage was strained beyond repair. In 1167, Eleanor agreed to a separation and returned to her Duchy in Aquitaine.

In 1173, her eldest son, Henry, rebelled against King Henry II. Eleanor may have aided and abetted him along with her two other sons, Richard and Geoffrey. King Henry eventually had Eleanor arrested and in 1174 they returned to England. Because Henry feared any alliance between Eleanor and his sons, he kept Eleanor in captivity from 1173-1189.

Henry’s eldest son rebelled against his father again in 1183 but lost, dying soon after of dysentery. After his death Henry allowed Eleanor a trip to Normandy and some freedoms, although she was still under guard at all times. She even appeared at court with Henry on important occasions.

King Henry II died in July of 1189 and their son Richard I, the Lionheart, became King of England. It is said his first order was to release his mother from captivity. Eleanor rode to Westminster where the lords swore fealty to her in the King’s name. She ruled as Regent on behalf of King Richard while he was out of the country and when he was on the Third Crusade. Richard was captured in Germany while trying to return home after the Crusade. Eleanor negotiated the ransom for his release, though it drained England’s treasury.

Richard I died from a battle wound in 1199. Eleanor lived on into the reign of her youngest son, King John. At 77 years old she attempted to unite England and France by travelling Kingdom of Castile to choose one of her granddaughters as a bride for the son of the King of France.

In 1201, King John and the King of France were at war. Eleanor went to Poitiers to keep John’s enemies at bay and was besieged at Mirabeau castle. King John rescued her and she finally retired to Fontevrault and took the veil as a nun. She died there in 1204 at the age of 82.

You can follow Susan on twitter @SusanAbernethy2

Developing strong female characters in fantasy novels

A couple of weeks ago I knocked 80,000 words (yes, eighty thousand) out of my manuscript. Now, at 174,000 words the tome was very, very heavy so it could certainly bear this loss. What I cut, however, was my female lead, Agnes.

I didn’t cut Agnes out because she was a weak character, or because she was female I cut her out because her journey was essentially running in parallel with the main storyline. I was bringing her through childhood to a point where, at the end, she’d be primed for action in book two. I love her and certainly want to revisit her, but when I took a step back I saw there was just no need for her. I felt upset to have lost Agnes, but pleased with myself for having been so brutal.

Now I have a book full of men. I like men. I especially like the men I have created, but I can’t bear to carry on with a book with so skewed a bias. I do have three female characters, one of whom was crying out to be developed, but I want to be careful as to how I do develop them.

Often you find that in films and some books strong female character = ‘bitch’ or ‘plucky but ultimately ineffective’. (I mean Keira Knightly in  Pirates of the Caribbean, did anyone even notice she wasn’t in the last one? Sorry, I’m not keen on Ms Knightly)

I’m not a feminist, or at least I don’t think I am. Come to think of it I’m not sure what one is anymore, so perhaps I am, but I do think it’s important to consider what stereotypes you reinforce or reflect when you write.

Any recommendations for fantasy books (or any genre) with good female characters who aren’t bitches, overly masculine, or just a tragic love interest would be greatly welcomed – I know there are many out there.

Dust covers – An author, rampant.

Just a bit of fun today,

OK get yourself in the zone, you’ve secured your agent, you’ve secured your publisher, all the editing has been completed and now the book is about to be published. You’ve been asked to supply an author photo for the dust jacket (is there an e-version of this?) what do you supply? (Let’s ignore the fact you might not get a say and that printed books may be on the way out!)

Now let yourself go with this – what kind of pose are you going to go for? Are you going to make like classical painters and include items in your photo that depict what kind of person you are inside? Will you be sitting, standing, lying down?

To my mind there are far too many author pics showing very intelligent looking people in glasses sitting in their study surrounded by incredibly intellectual books. Authors are supposed to be creative creatures, so it would be so much more interesting if there was a bit more quirkiness.

A fellow twitterer asked me what I’d go for and off the top of my head I said ‘Steampunk dress, carrying a massive bazooka’. It has nothing whatsoever to do with my story – but so much the better.

So what’s your dust jacket pose?

The Arvon experience – Part 3 – fears & dreams

Overcoming fears and making dreams come true.

Overcoming fears

A large part of the success of the Arvon format is simply that, for one week, it brings together a group of writers. At first this can seem a little daunting. After all, aren’t ‘other’ people so much more ‘sorted’ that oneself; more confident,  more experienced, more talented? What becomes clear, during the week, is almost everyone else is thinking exactly the same thing. It was great to spend time with a group of people experiencing the same challenges; difficulty finding time to write, difficulty in sharing the process with one’s nearest and dearest, feeling guilty for writing when there are ‘more important’ things to be done and so on… (if you’re a writer you’ll be able to add to the list!)

Testament to the power of Arvon in bringing writers together and facilitating the forging of relationships that go beyond the week itself, six of the attendees  had met on a previous course. This group set up, and encouraged others to join, student led co-mentoring sessions. I didn’t join myself, mainly because my aim on the course was to pull my sprawling novel together, rather than focus on specific passages. However,  those who did go found the feedback on their writing useful.

Every night three or four students read a five to ten minute passage from their work in progress. Each night I enjoyed the variety of styles and the sheer talent displayed – I also experienced a growing sense of panic about reading my own work. I considered simply not doing it, but I would have been the only one who didn’t. So, I put my name down for the last night and probably wasted a little too much time agonising over which passage to read. (If anyone is interested I might post the passage here; seeing as its escaped my clutches and wandered into the ears of real people already?)

Part of my initial reticence was that no-one else was writing fantasy (or sci-fi), although there were a few writing something with a fantastical element. Maybe Arvon should consider a fantasy writing course? That would bring the weirdos out of the closet – I include myself here!

When I finally did my reading the reaction was good. I was relieved to have got through the ordeal, for me that was an achievement in itself. The group gave me great feedback.

Making dreams come true.

Thursday seemed to be a turning point for a lot of us on the course. I spent a lot of time on my own, getting over the grief of my massive 80,000 word cull and going through a heap of self-doubt. I later discovered quite a few people were having a similar experience that day. Perhaps it was something in the air, or perhaps it was the fact the end of the week was in sight and we were all desperate to make some momentous breakthrough. The realisation began to hit home that however much input a tutor gives you, at the end of the day its down to you to make your dream manifest.

I had one dream of the outcome I wanted from the course. I didn’t mention it to anyone, because I felt it very unlikely to come to pass. To my quiet delight, on the last day of the course, in my last tutorial, that dream was realised.

I spoke again with Alan about my novel. He said some very positive things about my the depth of my character development and the story overall. He then told me that he felt my work might be of great interest to the publishing industry/readers if I could get it out in the next couple of years. He advised me to re-write over the next year and then send it to him. He offered to read the whole novel and then, depending on it’s state, pass it on to a contact of his; a prolific fantasy and sci-fi writer also involved in the publishing business. He felt this contact may well be interested in it or at the very least be able to put us onto someone who might be.  And there it was, my pre-course dream: that someone in the business would read my work and tell me they knew someone who might be interested.

Now the hard work really begins!