Help for self-isolating readers

help for self isolating readers

With all the worry over Coronavirus in 2020 and the massive upheaval of self isolation and social distancing, we can often forget to check in on each other.  So first off, how are you?

A lot of people in the UK, in fact around the world, have found themselves forced to stay at home and outings have been limited to the necessary. Even where, like me, you work from home, this can still leave you with time on your hands.

If you’re a reader, then that extra time can be a gift. Suddenly you have all the time in the world, or a little extra at least, to read.

Of course, having so much time to read can quickly eat up all the reading material you have at home. That’s where this blog post comes in, to help you get your hands on more ‘stuff’ to read.

Your bookshelves

Yes, I know I said I’d help you find books to read when you ran out of books to read, but have you really read everything on your bookshelves? If you’re anything like me, then you’ll have a habit of buying new books when you’re still working your way through one or more current reads.

What books do you have at home that you’ve never got around to starting? With a family of four readers in the Phillips household, we have a whole universe of books to choose from. Some of the reads I intend to get through this year from our bookshelves at home include:

And that’s only a few of them.

Then there’s the novels you’ve already finished that you’re more than happy to read again. For me, those would include Frankenstein, the Word and the Void trilogy by Terry Brooks, and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

Save your pennies and look at what you have at home before you even think of looking elsewhere.

Authors and Publishers

Many author and publisher websites will feature free reading material to download, and their social media is a great place to find out about special offers like price reductions.

Subscribe to their newsletters to get the latest news on book releases, book deals, competitions, and all kind of freebies.

For instance, if you follow me on social media, you’ll have seen that the Haven Wakes e-book is currently priced at only 99p or cents.

Free books online

There are so many websites that offer free reading material, either to download or read online. A lot of the books available are classic fiction but not all.

This list isn’t exhaustive, but all of these sites provide free reading material:

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If you have any other sources of free reading material that I haven’t mentioned above, let me know and I’ll add them.

3 female authors for International Women’s Day 2020

3 female authors for international women's day 2020

So it’s International Women’s Day 2020 and there have been all kind of celebrations of inspirational women over this past week.

This year’s theme is ‘An equal world is an enabled world’ and within that, one of the missions is to ‘increase visibility for women creatives’.

So here I am, doing my bit, by telling you all about 3 female authors who have inspired me over the years.

Mary Shelley

I came to Mary Shelley through studying her novel Frankenstein as part of my Literature degree course and while the novel itself and Mary’s writing have always been a source of inspiration for me, her personal life – supporting her husband, bringing up her child mostly as a single parent and carving out a career for herself as a writer and editor – was even more inspirational.

Here was a woman who wrote science fiction long before it was commonly recognised as a genre. She wrote extensively, not just in the number of works but in the formats they took – novels, plays, travel writing, children’s stories, articles – but sadly she is only really recognised for Frankenstein.

Sheri S Tepper

I can’t actually remember the first book I read by Sheri S Tepper because I’ve read so many of her novels. Sheri was another prolific novelist, but also a writer of novellas, short stories, poetry and articles.

The main genre she wrote in was science fiction but in my favourite novel of hers, The True Game (actually a trilogy bundled into one physical book), she skilfully combines science fiction with fantasy.

Sadly, Sheri died in 2016 but she left a lengthy collection of fictional works that I’m still working my way through.

Erin Morgenstern

I’m a slow reader. This isn’t down to the speed of my reading but rather the juggling act between work and family. I snatch reading time when I’m waiting at school to collect my son and just before I go to sleep.

So when I had a whole week to read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern while away on holiday with my family in Corfu a few summers ago, it was an absolute joy.

Hands up, this is the only book I’ve read by this author, but The Night Circus grabbed me by my swimsuit straps and wouldn’t let go.

Erin’s writing is as magical as the story that unfolds in her novel, and I have high hopes for future novel.

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What about you? Which female authors have inspired you?

The challenges of writing Book 2 of a series

the challenges of writing book 2 of a series

Ever since, Haven Wakes was released on the big, wide world, I’ve been working on the follow-up novel. It doesn’t have a title yet, so for now let’s just call it Book 2.

I knew where I wanted to take Steve for the next stage in his adventure with Hartley, Blessing and the darkling, but the question was should it be a straight route there or something altogether more winding and obstructed?

I began on the ‘straight route’ back in November when I used the 2019 NaNoWriMo challenge as the springboard to get my novel started. By the end of the month, I’d come to the conclusion that the straight route wasn’t going to work.

In December, I stepped onto that winding and obstructed path and started my novel again.

I’m now several chapters into writing Book 2 with a clear idea on all the places Steve will go and the faces he will meet.

So that was the first main challenge of writing book two of a series dealt with and brushed off. What about the others?

Pushing Steve’s buttons (again)

In Haven Wakes, Steve was pushed into a hidden world of magic but in Book 2, what could possibly persuade him to return?

Well, he misses his new magical friends and he definitely wants to escape his miserable school life, but is that enough? I didn’t think so.

So what would motivate him to leave his ‘normal’ life behind again? It had to be something that pulled on his heart-strings and irked his sense of justice. There also had to be consequences to not getting involved.

In the end, I decided to put someone he cares for in peril.

Keeping the balance between science and fantasy

One of the things my publisher Burning Chair and lots of my readers loved about Haven Wakes was the mixture of magic and futuristic tech. In Book 2, I want to maintain that mix but seeing as Steve will be exploring even deeper into the world of magic, working out how I could include more sci fi elements had me in a bit of a quandary.

In the end, I decided to show the reader more of the world of the Haven Robotics Corporation, and send Steve and his friends off to a destination that relies on technology to survive.

Steve’s world is getting bigger

Haven Wakes takes place within the confines of the city of Caercester. In Book 2, I wanted to show the reader what other places exist in Steve’s world, both magical and workaday.

In my first novel, the Magical Council was only briefly touched on. In Book 2, you’ll learn much more about them and the rules that govern the magical community.

Remember that destination that relies on technology to survive? It needed to be somewhere remote, but reachable (by workaday transport or, of course, by magic). It also had to be a place that a special new character had a reason to visit.

In the end, I found a real-life destination that I’d never heard of until earlier this year which is perfect for a show-down between Steve and co. and, well, that would be telling. You’ll have to read the book to find out.

New research

If I thought the research for Haven Wakes was hefty, Book 2 has easily outdone that. There has been so much research to get my head round, research on:

  • solar power,
  • robots,
  • legal systems,
  • architecture,
  • origami,
  • henges,
  • and so much more.

I have to guard against being sucked into my research so much that I don’t have time to write.

Publisher and reader expectations

By the time, I submitted Haven Wakes to Burning Chair, it was a well-loved and matured beastie. The editing process, guided by my publisher, polished it into the final version that was launched on the world last year.

Now, I have to write a book that:

  • is of equal quality in my publisher’s eyes,
  • has the same tone of voice, pacing and characterisation as Haven Wakes,
  • and satisfies my readers.

That’s the scariest challenge of them all but I’m sure I’m not the only author who has ever felt that way. Wish me luck.

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I’d love to hear what your hopes are for Book 2 in the Haven Chronicles series. Let me know and maybe I’ll include it.

Author Interview with Heather Blanchard

author interview with heather blanchard

Today, I have the pleasure of introducing to you not only a fellow author but long time writerly friend Heather Blanchard. Heather writes about magic, mystery, folklore and the supernatural.

1. When did you first call yourself a ‘writer’?

I don’t think I really embraced the word ‘writer’ until I was actually writing my first book. I always considered myself a writer but I had a bit of imposter syndrome around actually calling myself a writer to other people. Usually people respond with lots of questions and I wanted to avoid that. 

2. Tell me about your books.

My first book, Dark is the Sea, is about a girl who moves back to her hometown in Scotland and discovers that she is a hereditary witch. And because of this, she is in danger from someone who hunts her kind. She has to learn how to protect herself and harness her powers before it’s too late. This book was very much inspired by sleep paralysis that I had experienced in the past, as well as my own fascination with both witchcraft and Scottish folklore.

My next book, The Song of the Mists, is also set in Scotland and again has elements of witchcraft and folklore, but it is about a woman who is investigating cases of mysterious deaths at a local sacred site that has links with fairies and ancient magic. It is inspired by missing person cases I’ve read about that were rumoured to be fairy abductions.

3. What inspires you to write?

Stories about the supernatural inspire me the most. I’ve always been excited by the more mysterious side of things. Witchcraft and the occult, history and folklore. The strange history of places feeds me lots of ideas. 

4. How important is research to you when writing a book?

As soon as I get that spark of an idea then I dive into the research. I love academia, especially the research aspect of it, so research is both important and exciting to me. I collect books on folklore and magic. The trouble for me, is recognising when research is turning into procrastination.

I usually do thorough research for a couple of weeks to see where the thread leads me, so to speak, but after that I get to work on the outline and the actual writing. If there’s anything that needs further research, I make a note to come back to it after the first draft.

5. When and where do you write?

I predominately write at home. I like quiet and my own space with few distractions. And also access to my vast collection of herbal teas. If I’m not working in silence then I like listening to storms or film scores.

I have a lovely desk that I’ve set up but more often than not, I end up writing on the sofa under a cuddly blanket with one of my dogs lying on my feet until they give me pins and needles.

I do travel a bit, and when I do, I like to work in cafes or communal work spaces with headphones on and lots of coffee!

6. Plotter or pantser?

I’ve tried both but I’m definitely a plotter. I enjoy writing character bios and drawing maps of the settings and house plans. I write a short synopsis for each scene, that way, when I sit down to write each day I have a framework to work with. I’m a fan of fast drafting paired with a detailed outline. 

7. Putting aside the writing for a minute, what is your favourite genre to read?

I read widely in all genres, but my favourites are Gothic, magical realism and horror/supernatural. I love Gothic so much that I did a Masters in Gothic literature and film a few years ago. I’ve noticed a lot more Gothic novels in the market recently, so I take it I’m not the only one who’s a fan.

8. Any advice for writers just starting out?

Making daily writing a practice is key. Writing every day breaks through procrastination as well as helping to hone your craft. I recently read the book Deep Work by Cal Newport and it encourages the idea of working undistracted for a set time each day and to be more aware of what your distractions are.

Looking up things on my phone is a deadly wormhole of time suck for me, so now I try and schedule in time to check my emails and social media, and when it’s time to work, I use the Forest app. It stops me from picking up my phone, because if I do, my virtual tree will die. Instead, I keep a notepad next to me to scribble ideas to look up later.

I’m a bit obsessed with reading books on productivity and creativity. I think it’s important to try out different methods and see what works for you. It’s a bit like Goldilocks – something will click in the end. 

9. What books are you working on now or planning for the future?

I have a few ideas swimming around. I’ve written a couple of first drafts of books but they didn’t work out for me at the time, though I may return to them in the future. Right now I’m working on The Song of the Mists which will be released later this year. I’d love to write a vampire novel one day, but my vampire wouldn’t be a romantic figure! 

You can find Heather on:

Twitter: @H_Blanchard_

Instagram: @h_blanchard_

Facebook: @heatherblanchardauthor

Her website is darkisthesea.com

5 things to do when the words won’t come

5 things to do when the words won't come

It’s been one of those weeks when the writing is slow, and the brain fog thick. I have articles to complete for a client and the first draft of my novel to get on with. I know the words are somewhere in there but they’re reluctant to make themselves known.

Is this writer’s block? Surely not. I don’t believe in writer’s block, not really, but my brain has certainly been resistant to getting much writing done this week.

So when the words won’t come, here are 5 things I do to kick through that brick wall.

Check that I’m getting enough sleep

When I was in my twenties, I could cope with 3 or 4 hours sleep on a regular basis. Nowadays, I desperately need at least 7 hours, preferably 8, every night.

If I don’t get enough sleep, I can cope for maybe a couple of days, but after that the brain fog drifts in and everything seems more difficult to do.

Is brain-fog from a lack of sleep getting in the way of your writing? If so, make a promise to yourself that you’ll get at least 7 hours every night. You may have to re-organise your life a little, but try it for a week and see how much better you feel.

Drink water

When I need a boost of energy, I could reach for a coffee or a sweet snack, but I don’t. In fact, I tend to avoid those things as much as I can, and drink plenty of water instead.

I know, water is boring. It doesn’t taste of anything. It’s not frothy or fruity, or mildly interesting. But it’s good for you. Fact.

When your body is dehydrated, one of the first things to be affected is your brain. It just doesn’t work as well.

So whenever I’m having problems getting any kind of writing done, the first thing I do is have a big glass of water, and then another.

Change the record

Generally, I like to write in silence but when I need inspiration, I use binaural beats music. It’s the kind of soundtrack you might usually associate with meditation. I don’t know the exact science behind it, but it always helps me to get writing again.

If that isn’t for you, then you might prefer:

Get my message straight

What am I trying to say with my writing? If this is a non fiction article, what are the main points I need to include? If I’m working on a novel, what happens in this chapter and why?

I open a separate Word document, or grab a pad and a pencil, and plan out what I want to get across.

Take a break

If none of the above work, I step away from the keyboard and do something else for a little while. It might be as short a break as it takes to brew a cup of tea, 10 minutes to unload the washing machine and put on a new laundry wash, or 20 minutes to walk the dog.

When I return to my keyboard, my brain has usually come up with a solution or at the very least  refreshed itself enough to begin to get the words down again.

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What about you? What do you do when the words stay away?

P.S. It worked and I’m now in my writerly muse’s good books again – articles written and a couple of chapters too.

My writerly plan for 2020

writerly plan for 2020

So here we are again at the start of a shiny-new year. The Christmas decorations are packed away in the attic, the chocolates have all been eaten, and I don’t want to see another mince pie for at least 11 months (okay, maybe 10).

Today is my first full day back at work and I’ve spent it doing a lot of looking back, looking forward, and generally re-assessing my writing goals for 2020 and beyond.

Haven Chronicles Book 2

With Haven Wakes published and out in the big, wide world, my biggest goal in 2020 is to complete the next book in the series and hand it over to my publisher, Burning Chair.

Book 2 has a working title of ‘Haven Journeys’ which might give a slight hint as to what Steve Haven does next.

I used last November’s NaNoWriMo to kickstart writing that novel and while I didn’t complete the full 50,000 words needed for the month’s challenge, I still wrote a respectable chunk which allowed me to see whether the initial premise for this book actually worked. The answer to that was, “yes, partly”.

So with a re-jigged plan, a new geographical destination, and an altered ending, it’s all go on the second book in the series. Wish me luck.

Haven Chronicles Book 3

2019 was a massive learning curve for me when it came to finding out about the publishing process and my role in readying a novel for publication.

So with that knowledge in mind, once I’ve handed the first draft of the second novel over to my publisher, I’ll begin writing book number 3 knowing full well that I’ll be juggling that task with editing book number 2.

Fingers crossed my writing muse and editing elf will work well side-by-side.

More short stories

I enjoyed writing my short story ‘The Hidden Knowing’ (only available to subscribers to my newsletter) so much last year that I’ve decided to work on more in 2020.

I may make them available as subscriber freebies, but the end goal is to combine them into a collection which, fingers crossed, Burning Chair will agree to publish.

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So that’s my year mapped out then. What are your writing plans for 2020?

Looking back over 2019

looking back over 2019

So the year is almost at an end. In fact, the whole decade is almost at an end. Very soon it’ll be ‘bye bye 2019, you little angel of a year’, and hello to something completely new and exciting.

It’s time to look back over the last twelve months and all the goodies 2019 has brought with it.

January, February and March

So I began the year with fingers firmly and hopefully crossed. Having submitted my novel to Burning Chair Publishing right before Christmas, this was the last chance for Haven Wakes. If they said no, I would shelve my precious book and begin something completely new.

January was a month of waiting to hear whether Burning Chair liked my novel, and when I finally thought it would be a ‘no’ or I wouldn’t hear back, I got the email I’d been hoping for – a request for the entire manuscript.

February was another month of twiddling the digits and waiting. Would Burning Chair be as keen on the entire manuscript as they had been about the first few chapters?

At the beginning of March, I received an email from Burning Chair asking to speak to me on the phone. Eek! Their call coincided with their visit to the London Book Fair and they finally gave me the news I’d been waiting for. They wanted to publish Haven Wakes!

Over that month a number of things happened:

  • Burning Chair gave me their thoughts on my novel and how it could be improved and edited.
  • They introduced me to two of their other authors, Georgia and Neil.
  • I received my publishing contract.

My publishing journey had begun.

April, May and June

April was a whirlwind of edits, setting up my website and altering my social media presence to fit. I already had a writer Facebook and Twitter account, but I set up an Instagram account too.

My daughter designed a wonderful piece of artwork for the home page of my website and, with my copywriter hat on, I began working on the wordage for each page of my website.

By the end of April, my website was live.

May and June were all about the edits, by both me and Burning Chair, and beginning the process of finding a book cover design for Haven Wakes.

welcome to my world
The books that made me the writer I am today

Inspiration: World Builders
Progress, a chat with my muse, and much much walking the dog

July, August and September

In July, I added my short story, The Hidden Knowing, as a freebie for subscribers to my newsletter, and continued with the edits.

The book cover design for Haven Wakes was revealed in the middle of August, courtesy of Stuart Bache and Books Covered.

With the final edits finished, the countdown began to publication day.

The Hidden Knowing - a short story set in the world of my debut novel, Haven Wakes. Free to all subscribers to my mailing list.
5 reasons I write fantasy
Haven Wakes Cover Reveal
my bumpy road to publication: a cautionary tale
once upon an edit
interview with author Suzanna Williams
inspiration: Roald Dahl day 2019
7 facts about how I write
the inspiration behind Haven Wakes
Haven Wakes is almost here

October, November and December

Haven Wakes was published on 1st October in paperback and e-book formats. That sounds all very factual but for me, it was a dream come true. That’s a cliched phrase, I know, but that was how it felt. After years of trying to get my fiction writing out there in the big, wide world, we had arrived.

October was the proverbial whirlwind of blog posts, promotion and congratulations. By the end of the month, the penny had finally dropped – I was a proper, official, published author and I had a second novel to write.

November saw me use the monthly writing marathon of NaNoWriMo to begin the first draft of the next novel in the Haven Chronicles series and cement my standing as an author by giving readings from my novel at the Chester Literature Festival.

In December, I received an early Christmas present as Haven Wakes became a No. 1 Bestseller on Amazon.

This time last year, I had no idea what 2019 would hold for me or where it would take me. Who knew what magic would reveal itself?

Haven does something else
kickstarting book two of the Haven Chronicles
where you can find me in November
Chester literature festival
NaNoWriMo - How I did in November
9 books to buy

What next?

Book Two of the Haven Chronicles is my 2020 focus.

Steve is back with Hartley, Blessing and the darkling, but with a whole new cast of villains and supporters. He thought his life had already changed beyond recognition, but the journey has hardly started.

I already have it plotted and I’m a few chapters in. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see it published next year?

9 books to buy

9 books to buy

In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re full-on into shopping mode in time for the festive season. One of the best presents, in my opinion, that you can give is a book.

I suppose I would say that as a writer, but I’m not flogging my own novel in today’s blog post. Instead, I want to share nine novels that have stayed with me long after I turned their final page.

For children and teens

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book begins in a very dark way – murder. It introduces us immediately to the assassin, the man Jack and the peril that our protagonist, Bod is in.

Gaiman’s portrayal of Bod as a child, at different ages, is completely believable. In fact, the whole book, although strange on the surface (a child living in a graveyard among ghosts and ghouls) uses the familiarity of family, childhood, and growing up to bind the story together.

Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

I was introduced to the ‘Skulduggery Pleasant’ books when my son found the first book in the series at our local library. Back then, I would still read to him on a night-time. I think I probably enjoyed the book as much as my son did.

Skulduggery Pleasant is the dead wizard detective pictured on the cover who, along with 12 year old Stephanie, investigate her late uncle’s death.

Magic, danger and, well, more danger and magic. What more could you ask for?

Running with the Demon by Terry Brooks

This is the first in the Word & Void trilogy and tells the story of a 14 year old girl called Nest who has strange powers, magical animal friends, and a quest to protect the children in her neighbourhood from demons and the like.

Running alongside Nest’s story is that of a Knight of the Word, John Ross, come to Nest’s town to protect her and the world from the encroaching Void.

For fantasy lovers

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I love novels where an adult remembers what befell them as a child, and that is exactly what happens in this fantasy novel.

‘Ocean’ has Gaiman’s quiet, beckoning tone of storytelling, drawing you in until you have to know what will happen to the characters.

It’s a story of regret, bitter-sweet reminiscence, and the courage of a child who is wonderfully but terrifyingly out of his depths in a discovered world of magic.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

This is a novel of magic, illusion (magical, mechanical and emotional), gameplay and love, set at the turn of the twentieth century in Europe and the USA which leaves you with more questions about the circus than you started with.

The circus arrives without warning.
   No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and  billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

The ‘Word Wizard’ Terry Pratchett is no longer with us but his writing was so brilliant and prolific that I’m sure he’ll continue to have and attract an audience for decades more, if not forever.

‘The Colour of Magic’ tells the adventures of unlikely hero and terrible wizard, Rincewind.

I love the world that Pratchett created in his Discworld novels. I mean, who wouldn’t want luggage with legs and a mind of it’s own?

For those who love the classics

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I came across this book through my studies and it has stayed with me as an example of great writing ever since. Mary Shelley became an inspiration to me too, not only as a writer, but as a creative pioneer, and an incredibly strong woman.

Forget the Boris Karloff Frankenstein’s monster or Herman in the Munsters, this classic novel is a story of arrogance, struggle, abandonment, and heart-break.

I’m on the monster’s side, by the way.

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

‘The Moonstone’ is told through the eyes of members of the family affected by the Moonstone’s seeming curse, their elderly butler Gabriel Betteredge, the family solicitor and the retired policeman Sergeant Cuff.

Considered to be the first detective novel, ‘The Moonstone’ describes the days and events before, during and after the theft of the fated diamond.

This novel is, if you’ll excuse the pun, a gem of a read whether you enjoy crime fiction or Victorian novels or both.

Curtain by Agatha Christie

My final book is an old battered copy of the last ever Hercule Poirot novel. This book belonged to my parents but I didn’t read it until I was an adult. This is by far my favourite Agatha Christie novel, if the only one that ever moved me to tears.

Set in the same country house as the first Poirot novel, ‘Curtain’ sees Hercule old and ailing as his loyal and long-time friend Arthur Hastings does his best to help his friend discover ‘whodunnit’ before Poirot takes his last breath.

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So there you have it, my nine recommended books to buy for your friends or family, or just for yourself, this Christmas.

Happy shopping!

NaNoWriMo – How I did in November

nanowrimo how I did in November

Last month, I tried my hand at the NaNoWriMo challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month in an attempt to kickstart Novel Two of the Haven Chronicles.

I got off to a good start, but then real life got in the way, in the form of:

My final word count ended up at just over 16,000 words. It’s not 50k but it is a constructive chunk of work (and several chapters into my novel).

It also forced me to look at the plot-line for Book Two and decide whether it really worked. That’s the thing with writing – or at least, it is for me – until you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, you don’t know if what you’ve written is the right way to go.

This month is all about finishing a commissioned murder mystery play for a theatre group up in Scotland and preparing for Christmas. I’ll return to Novel Two, with an altered plot-line, once Christmas Day is over.