I’ve been a bit sniffy about NaNoWriMo in the past. The name is bad. It easily beats Movember in the annoying and contrived stakes and is enough to put anyone off.

The idea that someone has to write 50,000 words of a novel in November seemed to me to be encouraging all the worst writing practices.

When it comes to writing practices, that’s something I’ve been very precious about. Mine involved only writing in a special notebook with a specific fountain pen which was dedicated to my main character. Once the words were handwritten, I would read them into a recorder, create a voice file and send this off for transcription. I was fond of telling anyone who stood still long enough within earshot that this procedure was essential. I had to do it this way, it was the only way in which the creative process could take place.

I wrote five novels in this manner. I also attended several Freefall Writing retreats where I would have to work twice as hard as everyone else because I had to transcribe my own handwritten work so that I could print it out and hand it in.

But I believed this was the only way I could write. I was also quite proud of my method and wondered how anyone could produce work of any merit without following my lead.

Then my transcription service lady retired. I was left with nobody I trusted to get my words into readable form. I tried Dragon. All I can say about this amazing program that allows you to type with your voice is that it works. Up to a point. And that point is when it deciphers my voice into something plausible but not quite right. Near enough to look OK to the first glance but actually meaningless drivel. Or at least drivel with less meaning than it was meant to have. It may have been me, but the time it took for corrections of a Dragon derived script was longer than typing it two fingered myself in the first place. I invested a huge amount of time customising it to my voice and the vocabulary I use. I may try it again one day. On the other hand, I may not because I no longer need it.

My writing teacher, Barbara Turner-Vessalago has always been dismissive of my insistence on handwriting everything. She has always viewed it as an affectation. She even devoted a paragraph in her book which, without naming names, invited me to take a good look at myself and my writing practice.

My sixth novel, and the third to be published, was written on a computer. It’s called Limited Liability and I know it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. And it was done without all the emotional props I’d gathered around me.

When November came around this year, I’d ditched enough of my pretentiousness to enter. (I also grew a moustache for Movember but that’s for another blog post, or maybe not)

It has been brilliant. The encouragement from fellow WriMos (arrgh!) has been inspiring and there have also been local events so that we can meet up and write together. I couldn’t be more impressed with the Lancashire and Cumbria Region or with the NaNoWriMo website.

I’ve done fifty thousand words of the next Jenny Parker novel, Critical Analysis, and I’m very happy with the whole experience. I don’t see why I should stop just because November comes to an end. I’d like to write fifty thousand words every month!

NaNoWriMo is important. It makes would-be writers become real writers. The only way to learn to write is to write, in my experience. The more I write, the better I get.

Thanks, NaNoWriMo.

Those of you who have been asking for a fourth Jenny Parker book can be grateful as well.


What should I write?

This business of selling books has many people scratching their heads. It’s all very well being a writer, but we all have to make a living, don’t we? If what we write isn’t of interest to anyone else, what’s the point?

Take Harry Potter for instance. J K Rowling really hit the jackpot with that series. It’s earned about £1 billion or so they say. I’m told she started writing them about ten years before the first one was published. I can’t see where the clever view of the future market came in here. She just wrote the things she wanted to write. It was the public that decided to like them.

The Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon did give rise to some steamy derivatives which sold in vast numbers. But the market for romantic fiction is well established. Mills and Boon, for example, have kept it provided for years. Fifty Shades was, like Harry Potter, a bit special but not out of the ordinary in terms of market sector. Similarly, Dan Brown’s books sell in their millions but are part of a mainstream genre with a huge established readership. There’s nothing unique about any of these books other than the amount they sell.

So how does that help a poor writer who is trying to find a market? Is there a niche somewhere that hasn’t been filled?

I don’t think so.

Being derivative, in other words taking someone else’s theme and trying to do a variation of your own, isn’t going to work. I once wrote a humorous science fiction novel. The response I received was along the lines that they had Terry Pratchett for this kind of thing, he does it a lot better and, what’s more important, he has a loyal readership. I would have to be either better or different and I was neither.

What I mean is that you shouldn’t set out to be a second rate Rowling, a E L James lookalike or a Dan Brown clone. People already have the real thing to read, they don’t need you to give them something similar and slightly inferior.

There’s another reason for not writing something just because you think it might sell. By the time you’ve written it another trend will have taken over. You’ll be old hat.

So, write what comes up for you, what has energy for you, what feels right for you. By all means imagine you are writing for someone else but make this a specific person rather than a statistical demographic.

What people like to buy are good books. Books that are written with heart, carefully edited, professionally produced and gently offered for their appreciation.

Book sales and reviews

There’s a lot said about self-publishing. Much of it is derisory, as if self-published books are inherently inferior to those conventionally published. I suppose it’s because the vast majority of them are.

I’ve already referred to the plethora of titles that have been released by the relative ease of self-publishing and the way in which the sheer numbers make it difficult to be seen and purchased. Most of the self-published work is really awful, that’s true. This makes the half-decent or even quite good stuff hard to distinguish.

One of the ways to boost visibility and sales is through reviews. However, it drives me mad that unscrupulous authors are using fake reviews to boost sales.  If you’re willing to pay, there are people out there who will provide them.

I see reviewers on Goodreads giving five stars and a long positive review to a dozen books a day. You can buy fifty 5* reviews for about $1200 at

If you want to make sure they’re good, you can write them yourself then send them to who will post fifty of them for $250.

I’m not recommending you do this, only pointing out what we’re up against. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your book is inferior just because you have fewer reviews.

To the honest author, reviews are gained with difficulty one at a time.

My experience is that a good book will get its fair share of reviews eventually, there’s no need to panic. People are busy, even if they absolutely love your book it’s not often they will take the time to put up a review.

There’s nothing wrong with encouraging readers to review your book. Many authors provide free copies in the hope of more reviews. It’s never worked for me, though. Begging is my preferred option.

There’s another side to reviews, though. Some people may take exception to what you’ve written and leave a really bad review. It’s hard to take at first. When I received my first negative review, I forgot all the good ones and believed my book was as bad as this person was saying. I considered giving up writing altogether. It’s human nature to be hard on ourselves.

I’ve been fortunate, I suppose, I’ve only had a couple of real stinkers. My advice is to welcome any review, good or bad, but never enter into a dialogue with the reviewer. I’ve seen experienced household name writers answer critical Amazon reviews and I don’t believe they achieved anything other than to give added exposure to the review. When I see a negative review I can make up my own mind about the person who wrote it and whether they have been reasonable and fair.

So come along to this, share your experiences and get that essential publishing strategy sorted out.

It’s being held on 18 January 2015 in Chorley, Lancashire. It’s a one day workshop to give you a head start on the publishing road. Even if you’ve self published loads of books, I’m sure that it will be a day well spent with professionals in every aspect of writing and publishing.

photo credit: symphony of love via photopin cc

What Writers Need

I’ve been thinking. Dangerous, you might well say but bear with me.

As I wrote in my previous post, my writing has gone through various phases. I’ve learnt a lot and am still learning. There’s things I wish I’d known at the start, but isn’t that the same with anything in life?

So, what is it I most needed early in the process?

Encouragement, sure. But I believe I got plenty of that from friends and family.

Time. There’s never enough time. I made enough time to write a novel a year by cutting down on the amount of crap telly I watched. Now, I tend to wake up and start writing straight away. Time is just a matter of priorities.

Feedback. Once I began to employ professional editors my writing began to improve massively. I love the editing process, I like being told what to write, what works and what doesn’t. Having an editor gives my writing greater freedom.

A plan. That’s what I needed. I still need one and it needs constantly updating. The plan I’m talking about is my path to publication, and beyond. Had I known as much about the publishing industry when I began producing novels as I do now, things might have been different.

For a start, I would have been much more encouraged. I may have been sufficiently motivated to devote even more time to writing.

What I needed was someone that knew what they were doing to take me through the steps and the decisions that have to be made in order to get a book out there and into the public domain.

Someone friendly and knowledgeable. Someone like me.

So there’s this:

It’s being held on 18 January 2015 in Chorley, Lancashire. It’s a one day workshop to give you a head start on the publishing road. Even if you’ve self published loads of books, I’m sure that it will be a day well spent with professionals in every aspect of writing and publishing.

photo credit: Eigappleton via photopin cc