Writing a book: solo project or team effort?

As book two of my fantasy series, the Haven Chronicles, moves closer to its ‘fly – be free’ moment, I’ve been thinking a lot about whether writing and creating a book is a lone process or not. Can it be done by an author in isolation or does it require the input of others?

Solo project?

There’s no denying that an author writes a book on their own. Or maybe it might be more accurate to say that they write that first draft on their own. I certainly did, in a whirl-wind of brain dump, imagine, choreograph – scribble, scribble, delete, delete, scribble some more – as I penned/typed the next leg of Steve’s journey into magic.

Once that first draft was done and dusted and polished to what I thought was a shine, I handed it over to my publisher for their response.

Team effort?

The next few months went something like this:

  • publisher feedback
  • create draft 2
  • publisher feedback
  • create draft 3
  • publisher feedback…

You get the gist. There were several rounds of publisher feedback and draft revision before we landed on the final version. Somewhere in among that exchange, a number of beta readers were asked for their thoughts too.

The next stage was to hand over the concept to a book cover designer and while their design won’t change the words written down in my novel, they will add to the online and on-shelf presence of the story. Readers will come to recognise that book cover as much as they recognise my writing and Steve’s story.

Finally, dear reader, there’s you. Once published, a book’s text may be complete and set in ink, but your response will tell me how you’d like me to handle the story’s next stage in book three.

Answer to my question?

Book two in its original form was definitely a solo project. I knew where I wanted to take Steve, Hartley, and the darkling and the perils they would face. I think that’s probably the case for any writer. After that first draft was written, however, it turned into a team effort and book two is all the better for it. Eyes other than my own pointed out the weaknesses I had missed and directed me to solutions I would never have dreamt up on my own.

It’s like that phrase, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. It takes a community of book-lovers and book-experts to create a book in its final form.

So I’d like to thank a few of those people for their undeniable help and support. I couldn’t have got this far without you:

Thank you for being my village.

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.

How to leave a reader review #BeKindToAnAuthor

how to leave a reader review

Okay, hands up, I’m sure a lot of you already know how to leave a reader review. In fact some of my marvellous readers have done just that:

A very good read especially for teenagers but as an adult I thoroughly enjoyed it. Lots of thrilling twists and turns and a story line that keeps you interested. I look forward to reading the next instalment from this talented author.

Granny 3 on Amazon

Absolutely loved this book! As a sci-fi and fantasy fan, I was excited to read Haven Wakes. The book is packed full of memorable characters who inhabit a world full of hidden magic and futuristic wonders. Would recommend as a perfect gift for teens and young adults, although if you’re a Harry Potter fan like I am, you’ll love Haven Wakes too!

Helen Culyer on goodreads

The best way to be kind to an author, after buying their book, is to let them know what you thought of it by leaving a reader review.

Why? Isn’t it just vanity to express your opinion? Not at all – Let me explain:

  • Your reader review can help me to be a better author. Is there some way I could improve my next book? Is there a character who worked so well that you’d love to hear more from them? On the flipside, are there any characters in my book who just didn’t work? No author can be an island. Swim on over and tell me what you think.
  • Your reader review can help other readers. It’s called ‘social proof’, to use the technical term. Your opinion can show other readers if this is the kind of book they would like to read.
  • Your reader review can improve my ratings on sites like Amazon, who in turn will make my book visible to more readers like you.

Where can you leave a reader review?

There are so many places where you can leave a reader review.

Retail outlets

The most obvious place to leave a reader review is on the website of the retail outlet where you bought Haven Wakes.

This could be Amazon, Waterstones, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, Kobo or many more.

Book review sites

The main book review sites that I’ve come across are goodreads and Netgalley, but you’ll also find many groups on Facebook for readers where you can post your review too. Check out The Book Club and The Fiction Café.

Your blog

If you run your own blog, why not share a reader review there? Good for me (reader review that can be shared) and good for you (new content for your blog).

Social media

Of course if you’re active on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, you can always post your reader review there.

What can you write in a reader review?

That’s completely up to you. There’s no right or wrong here. Make it as long or as short as you like.

Don’t forget to leave a star rating too if that’s what the website asks for.

By the way, although you can leave just a star rating, it’s the worded reviews that really help.

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By the way, I’m a reader, and a book reviewer too. I regularly post reviews on the books I’ve read and enjoyed, mostly on Amazon, but you’ll see book reviews begin to figure here on my blog in the coming months too.

Have you read and enjoyed Haven Wakes? If so, let me know. Drop me a reader review. Thank you.

5 facts about the Magic System in the Haven Chronicles

5 facts about the magic system in the Haven Chronicles

“So it’s more like super-hero powers than wands and spells then?”

“Super-hero. I like that,” said Hartley. “It’s actually a little of each.”

Haven Wakes, and the other books in the Haven Chronicles series, are filled with magic.

I knew from the outset that I didn’t want to copy what magic is assumed to be in the real world or use the magic system of any other fictional works (although I’m sure there may be a little overlap). What I did instead is create a magic system from sources that I love and which serve my story.

So here are 5 facts about that magic system.

Magic has a consequence

“Using magic has a cost. It weighs on us in the same way that physical exertion does.”

Hartley Keg in Haven Wakes

The idea of magic use without consequence has always been problematic for me. if there are no consequences, then what’s to stop a magic user doing whatever they want to do? They could become so powerful that nobody could stop them, which is no fun at all when you’re writing a novel. Either the heroes or the villains can’t be defeated: that kind of set up can only run your story into a literary cul-de-sac. The End.

So in the Haven Chronicles, magic is so tightly sewn to the magic user’s physical form, that using magic is like using any muscle. It takes effort and is limited by the individual’s health and strength.

Cast too much magic and you’re likely to pass out, or at the very worst, die.

Birth magic

Each magic user is born with an innate talent for a particular kind of magic. This is their birth magic.

Earth-smiths have a talent for dealing with plants and the earth. That’s what makes them the best gardeners.

Enchanters have a way of influencing people, but not just persuading them to do things. An enchanter can also affect the way you see them, making them look younger or more beautiful than they really are.

Birth magic is generally inherited from a parent, but sometimes it skips generations and a magic user inherits the birth magic of their grandparent.

Charms and Spells

Beyond birth magic, charms and spells can also be learnt by magic users.

In my books, both charms and spells can have a physical effect on something or someone, but are created in very different ways.

Charms are a collection of items, for instance:

  • crystals
  • herbs
  • straw, string or ribbon

that are bundled together, and then imbued with the intent of the magic user. A charm might be used to contain something, reveal the truth, or find a missing person.

Spells are altogether different. Some are spoken, while others are written down. Some of the most basic but powerful spells, such as casting a light orb, are simply down to gesture and force of will.

No Magic School

In my books, magic is taught at home in a family setting. This works especially well for birth magic because there is likely to be at least one living relative who has the same magical skills and can pass their knowledge on.

The basic charms and spells are also taught at home:

  • casting a light orb
  • short-range finding spell
  • protection of an area

but these will vary from family to family.

Sources of the magic system in my books

The magic system in my books is based on all kind of sources. You’ll find nods to folklore and mythology, crystal craft, herbology and various forms of witchcraft too.

If you’re interested, the books I regularly go back to include:

along with many more and so much online research too.

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What kind of magic do you like to read about?

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?

Events in November

Where you can find me in November

This month, I’ll be taking part in the Chester Literature Festival to give readings from my debut novel, Haven Wakes.


On Sunday, 17th November, you can catch me at the Storyhouse in Chester giving a 20 minute reading as part of LitFest Elevenses. My slot begins at 11.00 am in front of the big screen in the Kitchen.

This event is completely free to attend so why not come along and grab yourself a coffee while you listen to a couple of chapters from my novel.


On Sunday, 24th November, starting at 8.00 pm in the Garret Theatre in the Storyhouse, I’ll be taking part in Your Voices: Celebrating Local Writers.

Tickets for this event cost £3.00 and can be purchased through the link above.

I’ll have copies of Haven Wakes with me at this second event if you’d like to buy a copy at £8.99. Unfortunately, I won’t have the resources to take card payment, so it’ll be good old cash only.


I’ll report back later on how my Festival appearances went. Wish me luck.

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.

Haven Wakes is almost here

Haven Wakes is almost here

It’s Monday morning – the last day before my debut novel Haven Wakes is published – and I’m preparing for the big launch tomorrow.

To say, I’m excited has to be the understatement of my life, but I’m also incredibly grateful for this chance to share my stories.

I’m grateful to my publishers, Burning Chair for setting me off on this brilliant, new career path.

I’m grateful to my family for never giving up on my dream, even when I sometimes doubted it.

I’m grateful to all the beta and ARC readers, bloggers and reviewers who have helped me to hone and promote my novel.

I’m grateful to the friends who have been my cheerleaders over the last few months.

And I’m grateful to every reader who joins Steve on his journey into magic.

I’ve always been a writer, but tomorrow I become a published author. I still get a bit giddy when I think of that (I really should drink less coffee at the moment) and I haven’t stopped smiling for days.

Tuesday is a brand new start for me, and Haven Wakes, and all of the novels I have lined up to write.

Bring it on.

The inspiration behind Haven Wakes

The inspiration behind Haven Wakes

If you ask what inspired me to write Haven Wakes, I’d have to say…

Hang on, let me think for a moment. Hm. This could take a while.

Well, I suppose the first thing was:

Magic

Ever since I read my first fairytale, I’ve been fascinated by magic – magic witches, magic beasties, magic wands and books – and just how a world rich in magic would operate.

In Haven Wakes, magic is hidden from the non magical world, kept in protected areas where magic-users can live with a level of freedom and acceptance. It’s part of their DNA but it comes at a cost.

So that’s the first – magic. What else inspired me?

Colourful folk

My childhood was spent ricocheting between Leeds, where my mum came from, the homes of various family members in Scotland (my father’s birth-country), and York where we lived.

In Leeds, I would meet the people of my mother’s past. There was the little old lady who lived in one room with her grown-up son and a gathering of cats, having filled the rest of her large terrace house with junk shop finds.

There were the elderly couple whose narrow home squeezed into a gap in a terrace of houses. She was tall with rosy cheeks, big arms and a warm, overflowing sense of humour.  He was small, quiet, and a man of the earth, always happiest in his garden.

The Scots were just as colourful. There was the auntie who would send me home after each visit with a gift of dolls or jewellery,  the uncle who would catch crabs in the harbour to the music of his portable radio, and the other auntie who would tell me tales of Nessy the monster and how to call her.

All of them were magical to me.

The travelling salesman and the dark fairy

I wrote a story called The Crystal Prince many years ago and where I might have left the story gathering dust on a shelf, two characters from that tale always called to me to re-write them.

One was a travelling salesman called Hartley Keg. He’s the kind of person who makes you smile, even when you don’t want to, who always has the right gadget to hand for any dilemma, and who carries a force of personality that speaks of authority and trust.

The other was a dark assassin, dangerous and intent on her mission. Even though she was a villain in the original story, she was always one of my favourite characters. I pulled her out of my writerly filing system, re-writing her for Haven Wakes as a dark fairy reluctantly on the side of our hero.

What will the future bring?

I live in a house of technology-fiends with gadgets galore, and that’s before you even think of computers.

My teens are the generation that has grown up with computers and mobile phones and VR just there. Whereas it was something new, at some point, to me and their Dad, they just accept all of that tech as a normal part of life.

During my lifetime, there have been so many technological changes in a relatively short period of time. Computers have gone from room-sized, to possible to fit on a desk, to small enough to sit in your palm. Phones used to be big, clunky, resin monstrosities. Nowadays everyone, including me, seems lost without their hand-held, fit it in a pocket, mobile phone.

Cars talk to us and soon self-driving cars may be the norm.

My inspiration for the futuristic world of Haven Wakes came from the thought of where these technological advances will take us. Robots? Fabrics that change colour at the flick of a switch or the brush of a hand? 3D printed food outlets? You’ll find all of that in my book.

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So there you have it, all the things that inspired Haven Wakes. I’m sure there are others too, but these are the main ones.

Magic

Colourful folk

Hartley and the darkling

Thoughts of future tech

And now Haven Wakes will serve as inspiration itself for book two in the series. But that’s another story, quite literally.

7 facts about how I write

7 facts about how I write

When my publisher asked me to create a blog post to explain how I write, I thought, ‘that’ll be simple to answer, I just…

And then it struck me. There’s no just about it. The act of writing, in fact, the whole process of writing, isn’t just anything. It’s complicated, and meandering, and sometimes a complete mystery.

So instead of discussing the whole mysterious and mystical machination that is writing, I broke it down into 7 facts about how I write.

I think

Or is that daydream? What I mean is that before, during and after the act of writing, I do a lot of thinking about my story. I have this whole internal conversation going on most of the time.

It might be

  • snippets of conversation,
  • or where the story is going next,
  • or changes I need to make to a chapter,
  • honing a description,
  • or even the name of a character.

Long before I put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, the action of writing begins with a thought.

Brainstorming

This is probably my favourite bit of the writing process. Before I begin to write, before I work out the plot or what will happen in each chapter, I have a mahoosive brainstorming session where I throw all of my ideas about a story down onto paper.

I use an A3 art pad so there are no lines to limit my scribblings. I write down

  • the title of the novel, or ideas about what the title might be
  • conversations between characters in my novel
  • characters – whether they have a name or not
  • settings
  • questions the book should answer
  • things to include to get the story where it needs to go
  • plans for future novels in the series so I know what path to follow
  • if this happens, then what? scenarios
  • topics I need to research
  • mythological beasties
  • spells and other magical details
  • character descriptions and backgrounds
  • details about the world my story is set in
  • problems I need to solve in my story
  • clues I need to reveal
  • locations of off-stage characters
  • character family connections

and anything else I need to know before I can begin to write.

It’s only when I’ve regurgitated all of those details that I can begin to build the story.

Later on, I’ll use my brainstorm chart as a reference tool to return to too.

I’m a devoted plotter

I’d love to be one of those people who can just begin a story with no plan, but I always write myself into dead ends and plot holes.

I make a plan of the different stages in the story (what will happen in the beginning, middle and end) and then carve the middle section up into anywhere from three to five sections.

Then I plot the path of my story in a sequential manner (this happens, then that, then that, and so on until the end).

Now, comes the fun bit, working out exactly how I’ll present my story:

  • Do I want to start the story-telling at the ‘beginning’ mentioned above, or do I want to start the story later?
  • Do I want to jump back and forwards a little?
  • Do I want to reveal everything, or will some scenes be shown through witness statements or clue-solving?
  • Is the story revealed through one person’s experiences or two simultaneous character paths?
  • Finally, does my story end with the ‘end’ mentioned above, or does it go on further?

I’m a firm believer, however, that plotting should always carry a level of flexibility. After all, when a character decides that they want to walk rather than take the train, they’re usually right.

Where I write

I generally write at my computer in my study. I say study, it’s actually the dining room and my desk is the dining table. My family have long since given into the fact that my need for a devoted place to write and work is more important than their need to eat around a table. Maybe one of these days I’ll be able to afford a garden office, or at least a shed.

I tend to switch between typing and handwriting my story, depending on my mood. If I’m struggling over a chapter or section, then making that change usually helps.

Very occasionally, I’ll write in the garden or at my local coffee shop, but generally I find those places too distracting to get any work done.

I don’t wait for inspiration

I’ve learned this lesson from working as a playwright and copywriter with client timescales to meet. I can’t just wait to be in the mood to write or have some wonderful idea to write about. If I did that, I’d rarely get any writing completed.

If there’s writing to do – whether it’s for a copywriting client or the next chapter of my work in progress – I have to just park my bum, pop on my glasses and get on with it.

Boring but true.

20 minute bursts

My writerly brain works best if I write for twenty minutes at a time. Why? Well, twenty minutes allows me to get quite a large chunk of writing done but doesn’t allow me to get bored or distracted. I end my twenty minutes still enthusiastic about my writing and wanting to return to it after my break.

I also find that taking a break allows my brain to cool off enough to solve any problem I may be having with my writing and/or plan out how to continue when I get back to it.

Reading back

When I return to a piece of work after a break, I read back over what I wrote during the previous twenty minute burst. This serves a number of purposes:

  • It reminds me where I left off.
  • It gets me back into the same tone of voice and pace of writing.
  • It allows me to check that the last twenty minutes weren’t wasted and that I didn’t get off track.

It might take a little extra time to read back but it always helps me to continue with whatever I’m working on.

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So there you have it. This is some of how I write.

Visit my Books page to find out exactly what my novel is about.