Looking Back Over 2020

looking back over 2020

I normally take a moment in December to look back over the year that is almost at an end, but 2020 has hardly been a ‘normal’ year. So I’m taking that moment in November instead.

The Elephant in the World’s Front Room

Whether you’re writing a novel based in the here and now, reporting the news, or penning a blog post, there is no getting away from the fact that Covid-19 is here and taking a large slice of our ongoing consciousness.

I’ve heard 2020 referred to as ‘the year we all stayed in’ and ‘the year that didn’t happen’. To me, 2020 was the year that most of us realised what and who were important to us.

Friendships and family contact went online for many of us. I haven’t met up with my in-laws since before the lockdown began. Instead, we have Sunday video-calls, complete with our dogs barking to each other excitedly. I’ve met up with one local friend, twice, this year. The restrictions of the pandemic have forced the rest of my friendship conversations online and over the phone. Chats with our neighbours are done at a distance, often from the other side of the road, but we’re still there for each other.

Both of my children turned ‘adult’ this year. My son is now 16 (the first step to being a grown-up) and my daughter is 18. Neither birthday was marked with a party or expensive celebration. Instead, they were quiet family occasions, just the four of us, with a takeaway in the back garden over the summer for my son’s birthday, and then a quick, masked-up trip to Pizza Hut for my daughter’s eighteenth in the autumn.

Of course, we’re now on the verge of not just one but possibly three Covid-19 vaccines. Fingers crossed that they are healthy and effective and mean that 2021 isn’t a repeat of this year.

Guest Blogging

The writerly blogging community rallied around each other during the pandemic, reaching out to make sure that none of us went unheard or were left feeling isolated. As a result, I featured on several of their lovely websites in 2020:

A big, warm, thank you to all you for allowing me to introduce myself to your readers.

Writing

One benefit of having extra time on my hands was that I made good progress on the second book in the Haven Chronicles series. By the end of the summer, Burning Chair offered me a publishing deal for it – phew!

The lovely Si from Burning Chair will be getting his editing mitts on my manuscript in December, and Book 2 (with whatever title we decide on) will be published early 2021.

I also contributed a few pieces to 2020 Together: An Anthology of Shorts. All profits go to NHS Charities Together Covid-19 Appeal. So far, 2020 Together has raised over £600 for the charity.

A follow-up collection of shorts, 2021: Still Together will continue the good work when it is released at the end of this month. I’ve got a couple of pieces in that too.

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So there you have it. That was my 2020 so far – weird, mostly in-doors, and spent with the people I love. It’s not the year I envisioned on the first day of January and it has certainly been a challenge. Still, there have been plenty of gems amongst the pebbles.

How about you? How has your 2020 turned out?

Book 2 of the Haven Chronicles is on the way

book 2 of the haven chronicles is on the way

I can officially announce that Burning Chair Publishing have offered me a publishing contract for the second book in my YA fantasy series.

On 14th September, I happily emailed my signed publishing contract back to Burning Chair and began the process of editing my manuscript after receiving feedback from Pete and Si.

So what’s the process and the plan for Book 2 from here?

  • What I’m doing at the moment is editing my novel in response to Pete and Si’s feedback. Once finished, I’ll email that off to Burning Chair (version 2).
  • As you can see, my novel is still known as Book 2. I need to come up with a book title.
  • Burning Chair will create a developmental edit document and email it back to me.
  • I’ll then edit my manuscript and email it back to them (version 3).
  • Burning Chair will carry out a copy edit to check for inconsistencies.
  • More editing on my part, then back to Burning Chair (version 4).
  • In discussion with Burning Chair, the book cover design process will begin.
  • Once the content of the manuscript is agreed on and we have a book cover, Book 2 will be sent out to beta readers.
  • With the feedback from the beta readers, I’ll make final changes to my novel (version 5).

The plan is to publish Book 2 at the start of 2021, unless we can get through the whole process above in time for publication in mid November (who knows?).

What can you expect from Book 2?

Steve and his friends will be forced to face the consequences of their actions in Haven Wakes. The world of the Haven Chronicles series – both magical and work-a-day – will be expanded beyond the city of Caercester. A new threat will raise its head, dragging Steve and the others back into danger.

If you want to know the inspiration behind the first book in the series, have a look at this article from last year.

Follow my writing journey of Book 2 on my Twitter account.

Broken magic (or the one where it all went wrong)

broken magic

On the last day of June, something awful happened. MailerLite broke.

Let me explain.

I use MailerLite to send out my author newsletter at the end of each month, but due to an infrastructure upgrade – “the most complex project in our history” – that has proved impossible.

Fingers crossed everything will be fine and dandy in time for my July newsletter to go out.

So in the meantime, I thought I would share my June newsletter with you here on my blog.

Kind words, a catch-up and a new book recommendation

Summer can’t make up its mind

One minute it’s too hot to do much other than laze around with a hefty supply of ice lollies, the next the rain is so heavy that you can hear it on the roof and the patio.

I refuse to give in to the inconsistency of the British weather though. My summer wardrobe is staying out, even if sandals are no good for dealing with puddles and my knees are a tad chilly.


June catch up

This time last year, I posted a blog about what was going on in my life.

So I thought I’d repeat that this June and tell you what’s happening in the Life of Fi. You can read the full blog post here.


Guest blog posts in June

I’m lucky to be part of a wonderful community of writers and two more of them were kind enough to let me guest post on their blogs this month.

The first post was What to expect when you’re published by an independent publisher for Melissa Hawkes. A couple of days later, I was featured as Writer of the Week by Mrs Average Evaluates.


Book Recommendation – Love is Deadly by Gene Kendall

Gene Kendall is a fellow Burning Chair author and I had the pleasure to beta read his novel, Love is Deadly. 

Brad has a big problem.

Not his crippling credit card debt.

Not his ex-wife, and current business partner, who still blames him for the messy break-up of their marriage.

Not his lovable, but spiky, personality that keeps him alive, but alone.

No, Brad’s big issue is that he sees dead people. And those dead people have started to fight back.

Brad is a paranormal investigator who uses his powers to shepherd the lost souls of the newly-departed to the light on the other side. In return for a fee. Naturally.

But when a case goes badly wrong, Brad finds himself the prisoner of those he’d usually be hunting. Can he use his unique talents to save not only his own skin, but all of humanity?

You can pre-order Love is Deadly here.


Work in Progress

I’m at that exciting stage in writing Book 2 of the Haven Chronicles where the first draft is almost finished.

I have a small number of chapters to write which will include a confrontation at sea and an escape for some of the characters. Within the next few weeks, I’ll be sending it off to Burning Chair. Fingers crossed they like it as much as Haven Wakes.


Kind Words

Or what readers have been saying about Haven Wakes.

I’ve had some brilliant book reviews over the last few weeks.

From Beccy11 on Amazon:

This is the first book in a new sci fi series and not only did I absolutely love it, so did my 15 year old. The main character Steve is very engaging and the story is well written. My son likened it to a robotic Harry Potter – make of that what you will! A brilliant read – thank you.

From Sue Wallace on Goodreads:

I really enjoyed this book. Great story and some good characters. Looking forward to the next book.

Read all my Amazon UK reviews here and Goodreads reviews here.


Connect with me on social media

You can keep up with all my news and daily goings-on by connecting with me on social media. You might even see the occasional photo of my dog, Bailey.

Of course, you can always find my website here.

Talk to you in July. Stay safe.

Fi Phillips – Fantasy Writer

June Catch Up

June catch up

This time last year, I posted a blog about what was going on in my life:

  • I’d just finished the developmental edit of my debut novel Haven Wakes and forwarded it to the guys at Burning Chair.
  • My chatty muse had taken advantage of the fact that I’d finished my dev edit by throwing a new story idea at me.
  • I was using my daily dog walks to think over the next book in the Haven Chronicles series.

So I thought I’d repeat that this June and tell you what’s happening in the Life of Fi.

Lockdown Life

We’re all there, aren’t we? Even though the COVID-19 lockdown has been eased in certain parts of the world, there’s no denying that it’s still affecting us all.

Lockdown life for me actually isn’t that much different to normal life. I work from home so that’s the same. My husband works from home, so that’s the same too.

My teens aren’t at school and college at the moment but at 16 and 17 years old, they’re happy to amuse themselves. So short of not having to do a school run on a morning and in the afternoon, that hasn’t changed much for me either.

The main difference has been the fact that we can’t go to see friends and family, and we’re missing our monthly visit to the cinema too. Compared to some people in lockdown though, we are incredibly lucky and grateful for it.

Writing Progress

Oh, yeah, that book I’m working on…

Book 2 of the Haven Chronicles (still untitled) is coming along well. I’m on the last few chapters of the first draft.

Today’s writing began like this,

Steve lay on the bed, the halter now loose around his chest. His heart had only just begun to slow in its battering of his ribs. He was aware that his eyes were uncomfortably wide, so he blinked them a couple of times until they felt normal. He wanted to sit up, but he had serious doubts whether the meal Jem had served them earlier would stay in his stomach. He felt like he had just experienced the worst rollercoaster ride ever.

Once this draft is complete, I’ll spend a few weeks making sure that it works and polishing it to a writerly shine. Then it’ll be time to send it away to Burning Chair. Who knows if that paragraph above will survive the developmental edit?

Writing Book 2 has been a very different experience to writing Book 1 (Haven Wakes), so I’m a little nervous to see if Burning Chair like this one as much as they did the original book.

Fingers crossed.

A Space of My Own

One benefit to having extra time at home is that I’ve finally managed to sort out my writing space. I now have a desk (rather than a dining table), a tidy surface to work and write at (instead of the entangled mess of wires, gadgets and paperwork that I had to cope with before), and a beautiful view of my garden.

You wouldn’t believe how much of a difference it makes to my working day.

A new way to help Fellow Authors

Another benefit of the lockdown is that I’ve managed to re-think my copywriting business. It began when a couple of author friends moaned how difficult they found it to maintain a writerly social media presence.

They didn’t know:

  • what to post,
  • how often to post,
  • how to build a following,
  • and most importantly, how to use their social media to sell more books.

Since I landed my publishing deal with Burning Chair last year, I’ve been on quite a journey learning exactly how to do all of the above, so I thought why not share that information with other authors?

So starting this summer, I’ll be offering two writerly social media services. The first is a full social media service, writing and posting on behalf of authors. The second is a DIY social media consultation where I’ll have a friendly but informative chat with authors to help them put together a social media plan for themselves.

You can find more details over on my copywriting website here.

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So that’s it. We’re all caught up now. How about you? What news do you have to share?

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.

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?

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.

Kick starting Book Two of The Haven Chronicles

kickstarting book two of the haven chronicles

NaNoWriMo (or to the uninitiated ‘National Novel Writing Month’) kicks off at the beginning of November. So what’s it all about?

Well, the aim is to write write write for the entire month, working towards a total word count of 50,000. I’ve never yet made it all the way to 50k words (I think my maximum output has been around 25,000) but knowing I’m writing alongside other NaNoWriMo writers really spurs me on.

This year, I’ll be using NaNoWriMo as a way to kick start the first draft of the second novel in the Haven Chronicles series.

October is all about getting my chapter plan complete so I’m ready to start writing on 1st November.

If you fancy having a go at NaNoWriMo yourself, here are my top tips to survive the month:

1. Plan your book

I don’t necessarily mean have a complete chapter plan to hand before you dive in, but having a brief sketch of the main points of your novel – main character, antagonist, setting, beginning and end – can really help.

2. Decide when you will write

If you already have a regular writing slot, then brilliant, carry on with that. If you don’t write regularly though, it might be best to put some thought into when you will write during the month of November. What’s realistic? Remember, you still have to eat, sleep, go to work, wash, walk the dog, or whatever else your life entails.

3. Decide where you will write

Do you have a place that you always use for writing or does it tend to shift? Will you have access to a quiet corner to write each day in November? Do you need quiet? Maybe headphones will help, or perhaps you like to write to a level of noise and hubbub. Will you type, write by hand or dictate? You might want to set up a writing station for the month, even if it’s a mobile writing station to work around the rest of the household.

4. Warn your family and friends

Let them know how important the month is to you and that you may not be as readily available as normal. It might be that during your time slot, you don’t answer your phone or check social media and emails. If people know in advance that you’re not to be disturbed during a particular time slot in the day or evening, then things will probably run much more smoothly.

5. Gag your internal editor

I know, I know, sometimes it’s just too tempting to check back over your writing and give it a little tweak. Don’t. That isn’t what NaNoWriMo is about. Write, write and write some more. Keep your editorial demon happy with the thought that once the month is over, there’ll be a whole load of material to edit.

6. Make some NaNoWriMo buddies

Just because you’re head down writing like a maniac this month doesn’t mean that you have to do it alone. Chat with the members of your Home Region (for me, that’s Wales), connect with your real-life buddies who are also taking part in NaNoWriMo, or have your say in the online forums. There are virtual write-ins and word sprints to take part in too.

7. Don’t let the word count distract you

Don’t get hung up on continually entering your word count into the NaNoWriMo website and checking how everyone else is doing. Of course, all NaNoWrimers know what the minimum word count is to reach the magical 50k (1,667 per day). Use that as a rough guide but when you’re sat at your writing station during your writing slot, just write.

Haven does something else

haven does something else

It’s been one week since Haven Wakes was published by Burning Chair, and I’ve been delighted with the response so far – so many kind words, reviews, and shout-outs on social media.

So what now? Well, I suppose I’d better write the next book in the series.

Book two in the Haven Chronicles has the working title of ‘Haven Journeys’ but I don’t think that’ll be the final title. It does, however, give a hint of what Steve will be doing.

Haven Wakes introduced you to:

  • our main boy, 12 year old Steve Haven
  • his normal life
  • his world
  • a new, hidden, magical world
  • his new, magical friends

The second book in the series will continue Steve’s adventures. I can’t tell you too much, but the second book may include:

  • Steve’s magical friends mentioned above
  • the powers that be in the magical world
  • a jaunt off abroad (with less jaunt and more danger)
  • more background to the world of magic
  • a new dilemma for Steve

What will I be researching to help me write Book 2? Many, many things but I can tell you that I’ll be looking into how a desert city might look in the future.

My target is to finalise my chapter plan by the end of October at the latest and have the first draft finished early 2020. Wish me luck.