Meeting the challenges of writing Book 2

meeting the challenges of writing book 2

I saw my mother-in-law at the weekend. She’s not happy with me. Why? She wants to read the follow-up novel to Haven Wakes right now. Why isn’t it ready? How long does it take to write a book, for goodness’s sake?

Don’t get me wrong. My mother-in-law is lovely and very supportive of me. She’s just keen to see what Steve Haven does next. Me too.

The (fingers crossed) almost-final version of book two is with my publisher, Burning Chair. I’m waiting for the next round of edits from the lovely Si, eager to get on with the polishing process.

I have to admit that writing book two in a series has been a challenge. I even wrote about the main stumbling blocks in creating it last year, including:

•          Pushing Steve’s buttons (again)

•          Keeping the balance between science and fantasy

•          Steve’s world is getting bigger

•          New research

•          Publisher and reader expectations

So how did I do? Did I meet those challenges?

Pushing Steve’s buttons (again)

This challenge was all about giving Steve enough reason to leave the safety of school and return to the world of magic. In Haven Wakes, Steve was pushed into that world. This time round, I wanted him to willingly jump.

In book two, Steve desperately wants to be somewhere other than the mundane world he’s always known. His time in Darkacre has changed his view on life and he’s got new, magical friends in his life that he cares about. It’s a no-brainer for him to return.

Challenge met? Yes

Keeping the balance between science and fantasy

Magic and robots. You’ll find me use that phrase a lot as way to explain the world of Haven Wakes. I wanted to keep that mix in book two, but I knew that Steve would be delving further into the magical world so keeping a balance could prove difficult.

I think I’ve managed that challenge well, with a deep dive into the magical world (not just Darkacre) and a bigger picture of the workaday (scientific) world too. There are also more examples of the interplay between the two cultures.

Challenge met? Yes

Steve’s world is getting bigger

For this challenge, I wanted to take Steve far beyond the city limits of Caercester. The initial destination I intended to use ended up being a non-starter. It was too restrictive for the adventure I wanted to take Steve on, and the same purpose could be served closer to home.

One of Steve’s main bugbears with his parents is that they never take him with them on their travels. In book two, Steve experiences his own travel adventures.

Challenge met? Yes

New research

Research for book two was extensive, to say the least, both on scientific, magical, and other topics. Want to see the list (or at least part of it)?

  • solar power
  • oil platforms
  • (more) robots
  • legal systems
  • architecture
  • origami
  • henges
  • Greek and Roman mythology
  • ancient Greek puddings
  • tram and train systems
  • space stations
  • artificial gravity
  • spies
  • EMPs

I didn’t use all my findings in book two. Some may turn up later in the series, or in other series after I’ve finished writing the Haven Chronicles.

Challenge met? Yes

Publisher and research expectation

This was probably the scariest challenge of the lot; creating a book that equalled Haven Wakes in quality, maintained the momentum, and pleased both my publisher and my readers. Phew!

Well, I seem to have succeeded with creating a novel that my publishers like (with a few tweaks). The verdict on whether my readers will like it is still to be reached. Personally, I love where I’ve taken Steve – even if I’ve made him suffer on that journey – and I hope you’ll love it too.

Challenge met? Yet to see.

The Result

Overall, I’ve succeeded in meeting the challenges of writing the follow-up novel to Haven Wakes and I’m keen to see what you all think of it. There’s still work to be done and sometime soon I’ll be asking for beta readers to have a look at book two. In the meantime, all I can ask is that you – and my mother-in-law – hang on for a little bit longer.

What I’ve been reading over the Summer

book covers

This summer seemed to go on forever but with autumn waiting at the door, I thought I’d share what I’ve been reading over the last few months.

With two of my books with my publisher Burning Chair and no edits to keep me busy, I avoided the dreaded thumb-twiddling by diving into my to-be-read list. Here are all the lovely book covers and the reviews I left on Amazon and Goodreads.

I am Dust by Louise Beech

I am Dust by Louise Beech

Beautifully Haunting

I am dust. She haunts me. Two phrases from this supernatural novel that encapsulate so much of its heart.

This beautiful ghost story is so much more than that. There’s romance, friendship – both the real kind of like-souls and the ‘just because you’re around’ kind of the teen years – and a multi-layered story that unwinds and reveals at just the right pace.

I loved the switch back and forth between the present and the past, which was done so well, and the growing suspense. The ending wasn’t predictable; neither was the identity of Morgan Miller’s murderer. I so wanted a happy ending for the main character, Chloe. Despite her demons, she grew on me as someone who deserved the best in the world.

P.S. Chester rocks.

The Curse of Becton Manor by Patricia Ayling

the curse of becton manor by patricia ayling

Historical mystery and ghostly goings-on

The Curse of Becton Manor packs a double historical whammy with its two period settings of the 1950s and the 1590s.

The dream of life in an Elizabethan country manor house soon turns into a mixed blessing as Tom and his friend George happen on the ghostly mystery of Becton Manor.

I loved the interplay between the two time periods and the level of historical research that made both timelines so believable.

Ghosts. Intrigue. Adventure. What a brilliant mixture.

My Father’s Daughter by Lily Lawson

my father's daughter by lily lawson

Memories and Moments

This well-crafted collection of poetry by the very talented Lily Lawson features memories and moments that anyone can connect with.

From love, to friendship, family, and moments of just being. Beautiful.

Words of Alchemy by Camilla Downs

words of alchemy by camilla downs

Magical

This collection of free-verse poetry is vivid and heart-felt. At times it seemed like a book of affirmations; at others a meditation on life. Even more poems reminded me of magic spells, sending love and good wishes out into the world. I enjoyed reading the explanations that many of the poems carried too.

All in all, Words of Alchemy by Camilla Downs is a magical read.

The Crow Folk by Mark Stay

the crow  folk by mark stay

Marvelously Magical

After I was only a few chapters into The Crow Folk, I began to get the impression that this novel was a mixture of Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Worzel Gummidge. By the end of it, I’d found that it went far beyond both of those stories.

The melding of scarecrows come to life, witches both young and more mature, a sense of community, and the limitations of English village life during the early years of WW2 created a wonderful adventure that had me reaching for The Crow Folk every night.

The humour is just right and the dialogue is written so deftly that I could picture each conversation.

I can’t wait for the next instalment in the Witches of Woodville series.

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Next up is Point of Contact by Richard Ayre. Watch out for my book review on my Instagram account (as well as Amazon and Goodreads).

The Summer Life of Fi

summer life of fi

Summer time, and the living is ea-zee… ♫♪

Or at least it is if you don’t have to write a blog post when you’ve nothing much to say. You see, while I wait for my publisher to get back to me on Book 2 of the Haven Chronicles, life is just normal and un-writerly. Well, kind of. Let me explain.

Writing something else

Okay, the summer life of Fi isn’t totally un-writerly because I am working on another book, a non fiction offering that brings together my author and copywriter hats. Having said that, it’s almost finished and will be flying off into the inbox of my publisher by the end of July.

Copywriting, as usual

Ok, so my normal working life is reasonably writerly. I create articles and blog posts for clients under my copywriter hat. Articles like this – How To Find Profitable Work From Home Jobs and my own blog posts too. This one is for authors – How Authors Can Find Out Where Their Readers Are Online.

Cutting down my TBR list

I’m desperately behind with my TBR list so I’m tackling that over the summer. Expect lots of book reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and on my social media too. My current read is the chilling, ghostly, and very theatrical I Am Dust by Louise Beech.

Thinking about the next book to write

While my publisher has the second book in the Haven Chronicles series, I’m planning out where I will take Steve next, who will accompany him, and how much more danger I can throw at the poor lad. It’s looking good so far.

Walking the hound and making memories

My morning walks with Bailey are a brilliant way to gently wake up my brain before the day’s work begins. Early evening dog-walks mark clocking-off time.

The summer weather and my teens being off over the holidays gives me the perfect excuse to drag us all out for a trek or two. Yesterday I took them to the zoo. We saw alpacas, and snakes, and an owl called Bovril.

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So there you go, the summer life of Fi. What about you? What are you doing over the holidays?

What do Authors do in between Books?

what do authors do in between books?

Let’s be honest. As readers, we pay most attention to authors when they’ve recently released a new book.

Ooh, shiny new reading material with a pretty cover. How exciting!

And that’s perfectly understandable because even if we scour their monthly newsletters, look them up on social media, and gush over photographs of their dog/cat/boa constrictor, what we’re really interested in is getting our hands on their latest literary offspring.

But what do authors do in between books?

Wait

Last weekend, I submitted the latest draft of book two of the Haven Chronicles to my publisher, Burning Chair. The wait is now on for their response and the next round of edits.

Authors do a lot of waiting. We wait for:

  • inspiration to write the next book
  • news from our editors/publishers/literary agents, usually involving a round of edits to our work in progress
  • feedback from beta and ARC readers
  • book reviews to roll in
  • royalty payments

Plan

So much planning. We plan:

  • our next writing project
  • our social media and blog posts
  • the next book launch
  • which bloggers and book reviewers we’ll contact and what we’ll say
  • our marketing strategy
  • how we’re going to spend those royalty payments

Talk

We keep talking to our readers and audience. I mean, it would be rude to just call everybody up when we have a book to release. So we keep the conversation going just to let everyone know that we’re still here, toiling away to keep our readers happy.

This can be one of the hardest things to do for an author because short of selling the books we’ve already got out or announcing the release of the next book, it can be tricky to think up topics that our readers would be interested in. So along with the talking, we listen to what you’d like to hear from us.

We keep up the conversation by:

  • building our mailing lists and sending out newsletters
  • staying active on social media, including interacting with our readers
  • writing blog posts around the topic or world of our books
  • attending literary conferences (like this one I attended in Chester)
  • writing guest blog posts

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So yeah, I’m doing a whole lot of all of the above, plus working on a non-fiction book and living life in general. I think it’s going to be a busy summer.

What I’m reading this Summer

summer reading

The edits on the second novel in my fantasy series, the Haven Chronicles, are coming along nicely but I have to admit that working on my copywriting business and editing my novel have taken a toll on my reading. My eyes are too tired to read at bed-time and I can’t find much spare time in the week to open a book.

So, I’ve set myself a new readerly goal of finishing my TBR (to be read) list by the end of the summer. There’s some brilliant books sat on the shelf behind my desk, just crying out for some loving attention. Here’s what I want to read in 2021:

The Curse of Becton Manor by Patricia Ayling

From one of my fellow Burning Chair authors, Patricia Ayling, the back cover blurb tells me that , “The Curse of Becton Manor is a gripping tale of betrayal through the ages, and how the ghosts of English past still haunt all the way to the present day.”

This thriller is definitely one that I’ll review on this blog.

Find The Curse of Becton Manor here.

The Crow Folk by Mark Stay

Book 1 of the Witches of Woodville series, The Crow Folk is set in 1940 in World War Two torn England, with the promise of ‘rationing, blackouts and witchcraft’. One back cover review calls the novel, “Doctor Who meets Worzel Gummidge”.

To be fair, it had me at ‘witchcraft’.

Find The Crow Folk here.

Point of Contact by Richard Ayre

Written by another Burning Chair author, Richard Ayre, I think Point of Contact deserves a full back-cover blurb mention:

A series of horrifying, unexplainable deaths. A race against time to stop an all-powerful madman. And the only person who can stop it all is battling his own demons.

Newcastle, England. People are bursting into flames without warning or explanation. When the local police seek an expert in spontaneous human combustion, there is only one man to call: ex-firefighter Ian Fenwick, a man with a past as dark as his future.

Fenwick finds himself thrust into his most deadly investigation yet, pitching him against a crazed killer and mysterious entities known only as The Visitors.

Can Fenwick stop them before they make the whole world burn?

Find Point of Contact here.

The Binding by Bridget Collins

Imagine you could erase your grief. Imagine you could forget your pain. Imagine you could hide a secret. Forever.

Books and magic in one novel – my ideal read! The Binding tells the story of a book binder called Emmett Farmer who has the skills to capture a person’s memories in a book so they can forget.

I also have her novel, The Betrayals on my shelf.

Find both books here.

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Now I just need to finish editing my novel so I can get back to some serious reading time. What’s on your TBR list?

5 ways that Readers can help Authors like me

5 ways readers can help authors

Over the last couple of days, I’ve been asked the same question by a friend and a couple of readers. All three of them have read my debut fantasy novel Haven Wakes and left glowing reviews, but they wanted to know what else they could do to make my life easier.

After a think, this is what I told them.

Recommend my books

Here’s what I mean:

  • You’re twittering with the best of them and you come across a reader asking for YA fantasy and sci fi book recommendations. Why not tell them about Haven Wakes?
  • Your book club is on the look-out for a speculative fiction book to read. Suggest Haven Wakes.
  • Your friend’s cousin’s daughter’s friend wants a new fantasy series to read. You guessed it! Point them to Haven Wakes.

Whenever you comes across a chance, please recommend my books.

Share my social media posts

With any luck you’ve already connected with me on at least one of my social media channels:

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

Pinterest

If you come across my social media posts, especially ones pointing to my newsletter or book sales page, it would be really helpful if you could widen my reach by sharing my post with your connections.

Blog about my books

If you run a book blog, whether that’s as a writer or a reader, it would be really appreciated if you could drop me and my books a mention.

If you need content for your blog, let me know and I’m more than happy to answer your questions for an author interview, pen a blog post on writing-craft, or write a piece on some other suitable topic.

Even better, sign up to be an ARC reader and blog as part of my next book launch.

In return for a mention on your blog, I’ll happily share it on my social media channels. It’s a win-win for us both.

Request my books

If you want to buy my book in paperback from your local bookstore but they don’t stock it, why not ask them to order it in? With any luck, they’ll buy in more than one copy so some other reader can get their hands on it. You could even take a shot of my book on their bookshelves and post it on social media (don’t forget to tag me though).

I know that not everyone can afford to buy my book. The next best thing is to borrow a copy from the local library. If this is you but they don’t have a copy, it would be really appreciated if you could ask them to order it in. I dropped off a copy to my local library for just this reason.

Sign up to my mailing list and share my Author News

Social media is an absolute boon for authors to get the news out about their latest books, but it’s reliant on algorithms and readers being online at the right time to see our posts. A mailing list doesn’t have either of these restraints and is the best way to keep up-to-date with an author and their latest news.

Sign up to my mailing list and receive:

  • a free short story set in the same world as Haven Wakes
  • my monthly goings-on and writing progress
  • my book news, including the chance to be a beta or ARC reader
  • a book recommendation that I love and hope you will too (and not a book I’ve written)

And if you have friends who you think might appreciate reading my Author News too, why not forward my newsletter on to them.

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While buying our books and leaving book reviews will always be the best way to help us authors, lovely readers like you can make us smile in so many other ways too.

Progress? What I’ve been up to in March

March progress

I’ve been so head down in editing Book 2 of the Haven Chronicles that I completely forgot about writing a blog post until today, which unfortunately (or fortunately, in my case) coincided with me taking two hours out of my working day to get my hair done for the first time since Autumn 2020.

Now, I’m back at my desk freshly coiff-ed and raring to go. Except…

I haven’t thought up an inspirational, amusing, or informative blog post to write, so instead I’ll share with you two guest blog posts of mine that were out in March.

3 Ways To Step Out of Isolation

The lovely Lily Lawson was kind enough to let me appear on her writing blog at the beginning of March.

With the end of lockdown here in Wales on the horizon, and seeing reactions from friends, neighbours, and loved ones that ranged from outright fear to the need to get out there and celebrate, this blog post was my personal slant on how we should embrace our new normal.

You can find it here.

Fantasy With a Touch of Science

A little later in March, I featured on Clare Rhoden’s blog, talking about my love of fantasy and science, and how those two things shaped my debut novel, Haven Wakes.

I talk robots – from Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet to the Astrobees on the International Space Station – and you’ll also find an extract from Haven Wakes which shows some of the ways my love of futuristic tech and scientific development played a role in the novel’s world-building.

You can find that blog post here.

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As for the editing of Book 2, well, it’s coming along nicely. There’s more robots, more fantastical places to visit, and many more faces – both good and bad – and as usual, Steve is in for a bumpy ride.

More help for self-isolating readers

more help for self-isolating readers

Back in March last year, when most people had just entered the Covid-19 lockdown, I posted about where readers could find extra things to read if they couldn’t afford to buy lots of new books in Help for Self-Isolating Readers.

By the beginning of this year, I was all too familiar with a completely different problem that readers  in lockdown were having. Not a lack of money to buy books, not a lack of time either. No, this problem was altogether different – a lack of motivation.

It wasn’t that people didn’t want to read, far from it, but more and more I heard readers – some people I knew and others in online book clubs – bemoan the fact that they just couldn’t settle down to read during 2020. Whether it was worry over the pandemic, anxiety caused by money problems, or just a vague air of unease that hung over them, many readers increasingly found it difficult to concentrate on a book, however cherished or lovingly anticipated.

And it’s a problem that I hear from readers in 2021 too. That’s why I decided to write this post, with more help for self-isolating readers but this time on how to switch off so that you can get back to reading on a regular basis.

Commit to reading time

This might seem like a silly thing to suggest. If you’re sitting down to read a book, then of course you’re committed to reading it. Hang on though, hear me out.

Your mind might be on tomorrow’s Zoom meeting, or the pile of ironing that is threatening to engulf your home workspace. You might sit down and fall into a daydream of a night out at your favourite restaurant/cinema/anywhere you haven’t been because of lockdown. You may begin to read, but stop, then start, then drift off again as your mind niggles at you to do something else instead.

The answer? Why not make an appointment with yourself to read? You make appointments to go to the dentist. No, hang on, that was 2019. Okay, well, you make appointments to have Zoom work meetings or home-school your children. Why not make an appointment, with yourself, to switch off and lose yourself in a book?

Set it on your mobile phone or write it on the calendar. You could even leave yourself a sticky note on your computer screen.

Indicate to your mind that this is booked time for you and no-one else. You’re busy, curled up in a chair or bed, possibly with a cup of tea, giving all your attention to your read of choice.

Switch off distractions

You’ve settled down with a brand new book, all comfy and ready to escape to another world, and then your phone rings or pings or vibrates. Whatever it’s doing, it drags you from your read.

Or it might be that,

  • you try to read in the lounge while your children watch TV
  • you’re reading an ebook on your tablet, but notifications keep popping up on the screen
  • your laptop is within reach and you can’t help but notice every time an email drops into your inbox

Switch it all off. Turn off the mobile phone or put it on airplane mode. Mute or turn off the notifications on your tablet for now. Put your laptop in another room or turn it off (you’ll be saving power, whether battery or electric).

It’s just another way to commit to yourself and your lovely book.

Settle somewhere you won’t be disturbed

Picture this. You’re nose down in a book, rivetted by the storyline, and then your partner pipes up that they just want five minutes of your time – promise.

Here’s another one. You’ve sat down at the kitchen table to read with a drink, then your teenager announces that they need the space so they can do classwork on their laptop.

There’s two parts to this. Firstly, if you want to have time to read, tell your family members (or anyone who might try to get your attention) that for the next twenty minutes, an hour, two hours, you will be reading and you don’t want to be disturbed. Once you’ve told them, they have no excuse short of an emergency – Timmy has fallen down a well, the cat is choking on the goldfish, or the house is burning down.

The second part is choosing a place to settle where disturbances are reduced as much as possible. That might be your bedroom, a quiet corner of the garden, or any room that the rest of the family are unlikely to need during your slot.

It might take a while to train your family, possibly with the use of ‘Do Not Disturb’ sticky notes, but they’ll get the message eventually.

Make yourself comfortable

There’s nothing worse than settling down to read and realising that your feet are chilly, or the slightly ajar door is casting a chill on your bones, or you really need the loo.

Equally, don’t settle down anywhere you can’t remain for longer than half an hour. Those dining chairs may look fabulous in your Instagram shots but can you honestly relax on one for any lengthy amount of time?

Comfort isn’t just about temperature, posture, and support. What about your eyes? Is there sufficient light in a room to allow for relaxed reading?

Finally, is it a quiet space? Some people can cope with a level of noise while they read. Others need sound-cancelling headphones. Make sure that your reading spot is as quiet as you need it to be to relax into your book.

Get back into the habit

I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but apparently it takes an average of 66 days for a behaviour to become a habit. That’s about two months to get back into a book-reading routine, two months to be able to comfortably settle down and read without distraction on a regular basis.

Two months is just about the right time to train your family too, two months for them to come to the conclusion that you will not be disturbed and that you deserve your regular reading slot.

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What about you? Have you had trouble reading over the last year? Or do you still have a healthy, bookish habit?

What you can expect from me in 2021

what you can expect from me in 2021

I meant to write this blog post at the beginning of January but time got away with me. In fact, I think that’s a sign of what the rest of my year is going to be like – busy, busy, busy.

While much of the world was on hold in 2020, it feels like 2021 is the year when we pick ourselves up and ask, ‘what’s the best way to cope now that we know what a pandemic looks like?’. That’s how I’m tackling it.

So where will the Life of Fi go in 2021?

Book Two of the Haven Chronicles

The still unnamed (I know, I know) second book in my fantasy series is with my publisher for edits. I’m doing my best to stay calm and button-lipped while I wait, but I’m honestly excited to see what they think and how they feel my baby (sorry, manuscript) could be improved.

The plan is to release Book Two later in 2021. So, as they (someone?) say, watch this space.

I wrote about my editing process back in 2019, in Once upon an edit.

Book Three of the Haven Chronicles

One of the challenges of writing a series of books is ‘shiny object syndrome’. I’m happily working on book two and my mind wanders off to all the things I could do in book three, four and five.

So while my current focus is on getting Book Two out into the big, wide world, I have a brimming notepad filled with ideas on how the series will unfold. In fact, I may soon be moving onto a second notepad.

Once Book Two is polished to its final version, I’ll be getting on with writing Book Three. I already know exactly how it starts. Steve and the darkling are still in hot water and it’s only going to get worse.

2020 Together and 2021 Still Together

Along with all the other contributors, I’m still doing my best to promote two anthologies of shorts created to raise money for the NHS Charities Together Covid-19 appeal. To date, we’ve raised over a thousand pounds for the NHS appeal.

By the way, none of the contributors make any money from 2020 Together and 2021 Still Together. All profits go to the NHS.

Find both anthologies here.

My Other Book

I’m also working on something else, a book that will bring together both my experience as an author and as a copywriter too. It’s a non fiction book for a group of people that I love to support.

Writing it is a completely different experience to penning a novel, but I’m enjoying the process immensely.

More about that later this year.

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So there you have it – my focus for 2021. Oh, and just in case you’ve assigned yourself a word for the year, here’s mine,

progress

What have you got planned for 2021 and what’s your word for the year?

Image by iXimus from Pixabay