Thank you, Cx
I will still write the occasional blog, but most of my writing now is focused on my newsletter. If you would like to sign up, just follow the link below. My newsletters have interviews with writers, as well as musings on my own writing, as well as tips for new writers. They also contain photographs that I don't share elsewhere. And, they contain exclusive information about my books, as well as heads up about publishing dates and how to get them at lower prices.
Thank you, Cx
So did I say my next fiction book I’m writing is about dogs? I had no idea what I was letting myself in for (having up until now written murder mysteries in the whodunnit genre involving the two legged). Trying to write dog voices, I felt at the start like I’d bitten off more than I could chew. I wondered if putting human characters into the story to help move it along might help, but that just made the waters muddy and not to my liking, so they have remained peripheral. I’ll only know later if that was a mistake!
Then I had ideas in my head about so many dog characters to write about. How on earth would the reader remember them all? And what exactly do dogs speak like anyway? (and what makes me an authority?) This was the most important point. Never having had a conversation in the English language with a dog that went both ways was going to be a limit surely!
Having said that, the addition of a puppy into our home has given me ample experiences to watch and listen to her reactions with other dogs (and with people). And I have been blessed with those reactions in spades. One thing I have been reminded of is that dogs are much smarter than they first appear (I always believed it to be so, and am experiencing this lesson every day as my dog trains me). They get to know human habits and manners and adapt to their advantage (if they are lucky and not mistreated). Another thing I’ve learned is that all the dogs are so very different. We meet many on our walks, living in the centre of a city with parks and plenty of open spaces. The young ones in the main are excited, bouncy and happy. They just want to play. Then there are dogs who have a single track mind for their ball and don’t want to be disturbed while they fetch – and whatever you do, don’t steal their ball. Other older dogs are grouchy and have aches and pains like older people. There are nervous dogs, anxious of the things around them that seem unfamiliar.
Then there are dogs who want to dominate everything and all the dogs. There are dogs who clearly seem to be prancing and careful where they tread, while others who just love to get dirty. The more I look, the more I realise that dogs share so many similarities to humans. They are all so different to each other like we are… and they also seem to share so many of our different personality types (though perhaps none with the personality of premeditated malice you might find in a character in a crime fiction story).
So I have started with this knowledge. It’s still early days, but I’m cracking on with writing and really enjoying it. Let's hope it goes somewhere and the result is as fun as the journey!
Recently we got a dog. This has been a huge gift in our lives. There is much more laughter and chaos about the place. Which is no bad thing. We do benefit from new change to our lives, and our dog is certainly a major one. For starters, our home has turned into two homes: a first class lounge, upstairs, where the dog can’t go and the cats now live most of the time in the winter. They lounge on beds and on window seats, stretched out in the peace and quiet, where the air is fresh and the pillows soft. Then there is economy class, down on the ground floor of our home. In economy class everything smells of dog food, dog hair, wet dog bed. There are spit stains, and damp patches on sofas and rugs, which we hope are actual spit and not something worse. Then the walls have either been chewed or have mud up them. I seem to be the one spending all the time downstairs in the economy lounge, while my family find things to do upstairs. Not sure how that happened?
Other minor adjustments include things like the washing machine is permanently on. Who knew a dog needed so many towels? More than us? Also, we never get to sit down for that long before we are up again playing with the dog, or to let the dog out, let the dog in, fill the water bowl, feed the dog (still three meals a day at the moment) give the dog treats, buy the dog treats, brush the dog (Old English), pick up after the dog. We have a toy box, just like a toddler would have and the last thing I do at night is gather the toys all up. But I love our dog so much that I don’t mind. The best thing is when the dog jumps up on the sofa and hugs me, for no reason at all (already been fed). And will fall asleep with a paw on my arm (of course making it impossible for me to write).
Experiencing a dog’s unconditional love (owners like to think it’s not all about the food) is certainly something strange after having spent decades with cats. Oh how we love our cats, make no mistake… and we have not neglected their welfare at all. They receive regular treats around the clock and get to sleep on my bed whenever they like – which means mostly wanting to be stroked when I’m trying to sleep. But just to receive that much love from a fluffy puppy bundle is, well, a welcome surprise. Having had dogs all through my childhood and teen years, I had still forgotten how much a dog soon turns into your shadow and hangs on your every word.
And, the walks are something else. Getting out twice a day into the fresh air – whether in sun or rain, cold or warm – is such a bonus. It’s so easy to sit back indoors and look out of the window and say ‘nah, not today’ (or it is for me, clearly not a wind surfer, rower, or mountain climber). But not with a dog, there’s a much more ‘C’mon. Do it’ mentality in our household. Then you meet all the other dog owners, who make you realise that you must be as nutty as they are (I know they won’t mind me saying that, as they all tell me ‘all dog owners are nutty’ as if it is some badge of honour). I truly believe a dog is good for your mental health. For no matter how bad a day gets, a cuddle from a dog seems to melt the worst of it away. And I have never not wanted to go out and said ‘not today’. It’s just too much fun.
All this past six month’s joy from our dog has left my writing somewhat on the back burner. I gave myself a month to adjust to the puppy, the puppy to me. That turned into two. Instead, I told myself I would plot out my next book’s storyline. And I have done that, thank goodness. I now have Book 3 of the Cambridge Murder Mystery Series, all ready to write. I will certainly get onto that this year. But what has also emerged is the spine of a book where all the characters are dogs, and they live by the sea. It has come from spending so much time with our dog. Wish me luck on this project. I think I’m going to need it!
Clearly dogs don’t think like us, which is something for me to bear in mind when writing. But how much do they share with us? Research is constantly finding new things out about dogs. An interesting study found that staring at our dogs releases a happy hormone. And it does the same for a dog. We both get endorphins when we are together and happy according to this article in The Telegraph. Another article in The Guardian, talks about how dogs are perhaps very good at reading our body language and faces I was most interested by Rupert Sheldrake’s studies about how dogs know when their owners are coming home too. I’m certainly enjoying the research! Happy New Year!
After I'd finished writing my first novel I still had all the logistics left to do (being self-published). Choose a cover, sort someone to proof and edit, then there was the e-conversion, the paperback, ISDN numbers, and all the rest of it. So, for a while the last thing I was thinking about was writing a second book.
But when the dust settled, I knew I’d been gripped by the characters in ‘Poison’. I could see them walking around Cambridge, to me at least they were real. I had already marked out various stories in a notepad, so I knew I had further ideas.
But then, when it came down to it, actually starting to write, I began to wonder if I actually had it in me. A little bit of doubt snuck in. ‘Everyone has one book in them’ is such a cliché, and it couldn’t help but seep into my psyche. What if I was that person? What if I only had one book in me? Who was I? How dare I presume I was a writer.
At first my sales were slow for my first novel Poison, and I wondered what I’d done. Maybe it was rubbish. Maybe I shouldn't have shared what was going on in my head with anyone else. After all, it's a bit presumptuous, isn't it? Thinking others might want to read your private thoughts. Slowly, I began to get positive reviews from complete strangers. It was the funniest feeling. I almost felt guilty, as if my work wasn’t worthy. I am always overwhelmed and so grateful when someone leaves a review, or sends a tweet saying that they enjoyed my novel. It’s like the cherry on the cake.
These reviews were the very things that kept me going, to get me started to write another book. If a dozen people wanted to read my second book, then I was going to bloody well write it.
Then I realised, I’ve been writing for over ten years now. I have a number of other books written, that I decided not to publish. ‘Poison’ wasn’t the first thing I had ever written. I was probably the sixth thing. I’d done my 10,000 hours of writing. It doesn’t mean I’m a good writer. I certainly don’t presume to be a great writer. I just write, like runners run. When I’m writing, I disappear from everything around me. It helps me relax. When I was a kid I used to play the piano, and it had the same effect.
So, I stopped worrying, and I just started writing. I would make this second novel as good as I could. Of course. Why would I ask anyone to read (publish) it if I didn’t? But, in order to get over the hurdle, the beginning of writing it, I just wrote. So, I sat by the fire in the winter, and in my shed in the summer, and I did what I enjoy the most. I hope anyone reading ‘Cursed’ will enjoy it. To a great extent the returning characters wrote it for me. For now I can’t make them do things they wouldn’t do. I can’t push them into corners or tell them what to say. As I just see and hear them in front of me doing their thing. Although they are in my head, they are just being themselves.
I read in the New Scientist recently about what makes our brain create habits. Or, rather, how and why we form them and the role of the brain.
It spoke about how the brain tries to sort repeated behaviour from that which changes or are isolated incidents it has to deal with. So, if you make your toast every morning for breakfast with marmalade, for example, the brain then shifts that into the subconscious or non-consciously thinking part of the brain. Basically, it does this so you don’t have to worry about it anymore. So that making toast is a non-stressful activity. Bluntly, it needs no conscious thought anymore. Let’s face it, you have enough to worry about and the brain is just trying to help. You need to eat and toast is, well, tasty, but not rocket science.
But, by moving it into becoming a habit, well, you stop thinking about it. So the idea goes that it frees up your brain to think about what it needs to – like the bills which have come through the post, the exciting invite about going for cocktails tonight and what to wear, and what to cook your picky family members for tea tonight etc… Your brain has enough to worry about, so filing away all those jobs which can become automatic makes them habits. If you eat toast every morning with marmalade, so it becomes a ‘habit’. So changing it becomes harder. If you decide to quit smoking, eating chocolate, or decide give up drinking for a while you’ll know that your brain is constantly reminding you of the habit; 'gotta eat chocolate'. I know that one far too well. Apparently, depending on the task, the person (lots of variables) it can take around sixty four days to stop a habit or start a new one and get it into being a subconscious action or activity.
What has this got to do with writing? If you are a new writer and reading stuff that writers have written about being a writer, you’ll frequently read them saying ‘just write’, or ‘I write 1,000 words a day’ or ‘it doesn’t matter what you write, write anything’. For a new writer this is tough, it seems like a mountain. Also, it doesn’t always make sense. Surely you want to write quality stuff. Not anything?? But for a writer who has been writing for years, unless they are faced with writer’s block and then they write through it most of the time, this is just a habit. They are saying, join our club and make writing a habit. You can’t call yourself a runner if you don’t run. Or a jam maker if you don’t make jam. Just write.
It isn’t hard for an old writer, because it has already become a habit. So, if you are reading this finding it hard to write, find the time to write, write really well, write stuff you are proud of…just write. Write until it becomes a habit. Then you’ll be trapped, just like us, with the writing bug. I may not be the best writer – clearly (ahem) – but I do try to write every day. Certainly Monday to Friday. It is harder at the weekends, when people descend on you, or you find yourself going places. You have to live, it mustn’t be a stressful task. Writing is a hobby, a habit, a place to escape.
You’ll wake up sorting out your day so you have a few hours if you are lucky to be able to write. You’ll be amazed what you will give up, as a writer, to write. A great invitation to go out. A sunny day outside. The chance to spend time cooking, or learning the ukulele. Why? Because all these things take time when you could be writing.
For more information from the article in The New Scientist about how your brain turns actions into habits, read Teal Burrell’s article: https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22930560-600-take-control-of-your-life-by-mastering-the-force-of-habit/
For most authors, it would not even be an issue - whether to publish in paperback. Before I had said paperback, I remember telling my father that I wasn't going down that route, that there are enough trees destroyed every year just to make books. That the future was e-reading. Then I got asked 'When is the paperback coming out?' In fact, for most of my friends (my age), surprisingly the paperback, or physical book is the norm. So, yet another hypocritical u-turn (my life is littered, believe me), and here I am.
If you think 'Oh, she's making such a fuss about nothing', just note that approximately thirty million trees are cut down every year just to satisfy the U.S. book industry, let alone the global. Read HERE
So I have done it. I don't feel as good about it as I should. Especially as my book isn't short (so more pages, more trees). But I can blame no one but myself. I have chosen to do it. I can only hope that it gets away with it in the name of art. That if there are any excuses for using paper these days, printing out agendas for meetings, printing out endless copies of reports etc...
Perhaps one day books will be used in some clever way in recycling, like old car tyres in playgrounds, or bottles in clothing. Let's hope
In the meantime, it was nice to meet Mike Ripley of Shots Magazine, a crime magazine he runs, back in the summer. Check him out HERE (he kindly gave me a mention too!)
Now it is winter I am increasingly feeling like a hedgehog, or some other hibernating animal, hidden under two blankets, and can be usually found on the sofa. Sometimes my pulse lowers to extraordinary low levels. I know this, because in winter there is bugger all else to do – well that I like doing – than being cosy inside, and well, taking my heart rate (it is easy and involves not much energy to do).
I have tried outdoor pursuits. I love the idea of getting up early and going to watch the murmurations. Yes, I’m all talk. The reality is that I am not an outdoor person in less than clement weather. Perhaps in the ‘old days’, whenever they were, had I been born into a wealthier family, I may have gone south for the winter. Sat in some café in Malta, or even further afield, perhaps Morocco, to take in the warm air and avoid the incessant darkness that descents on us all in good ole’ England at this time of year.
But although I love my father dearly, wealthy he’s not, so here I am, inside, just at four fifteen in the afternoon, with a single light on. Alone (I like my own company, don’t feel sorry for me), writing. Sometimes I think I get more done in the winter, writing that is. Because of the limited opportunities for a scaredy-cat like me – not out kite surfing, I take advantage and sit at my computer.
It makes me wonder how many other writers are more productive at this time of year. I suspect the answer is most. So I should thank the bleak days and the long nights for one thing. For giving me more time to scribble and scratch in my brain for ideas to translate onto the page. Of course, there is always more time for sleep too, my second favourite pastime.
Cambridge inspired me to write the Cambridge Murder Mysteries. I wanted to write for those people who live in Cambridge and love it like I do. I also wanted to be able to dig deeper and learn more about the city myself. All the iconic and notable buildings and locations make such an impression on both local and tourist.
I had to make some tough decisions. At first I wanted to write about the Colleges that exist in Cambridge, because I am so in awe of them. I also realized that my novels in this series are so unrealistic – being murder mystery genre – that it would probably be fine to use the real College names, as no one would believe that what happened in my books would really happen in the real colleges.
But thinking again, and realizing there are reasons why writers don’t use real places sometimes, I decided to change the names to make up fictional colleges, which would just be inspired by the real ones. So, the colleges in my novels are entirely made up. It is important for me to clarify this, as it is important that anything I write is seen as fiction, and not what happens in the actual ‘real’ colleges.
I have kept street names, so for those people who know Cambridge, they can imagine the fictional colleges where actual colleges might be. This enables me to keep the feel of Cambridge city centre, which is so important, given I base the murder mysteries in this beautiful location. So I want people to be able to picture the streets, avenues, parks and other places.
I have kept real pub names. This is out of respect for great places to drink! I’d like to think that perhaps if someone reads my book(s), they might go and visit, if they feel so inclined. Cambridge has the best pubs! (I am biased, I know). Characters may pop in for a drink and meet in these pubs in the novel(s). No one has been murdered in a pub yet, but if they are, I will make up that pub name and it won't be one of Cambridge's beloved pubs (out of respect to the real pubs and not wanting readers to think they are dangerous places!)
There are also some real restaurants I mention as well. Places I like to go and have known and feel are landmarks. For the same reason, if anything like a poisoning happens in a restaurant I make up the name and that restaurant does not exist in real life. Again, this is to protect any real business reputation.
None of the characters in the book(s) are based on anyone in any of the colleges in real life either. They are completely from my own imagination.
Sometimes people ask – friends – if I will put them in my books. I have to say no. First, I’d hate to ever upset anyone. What I might find amusing, someone else might find insulting! Also, I write fiction for the very reason that I like making stuff up. If I wanted to write about real people I’d be writing biographies. So, no, there are no characters based on any real people I have ever met, not will there be. They are all a mash of influences and ideas. I hope you like them. If you think you see someone you know in the book. Then that’s just your imagination working overtime ;)
Finally, Cambridge is the main character in my book(s). I cannot stress enough that I put in locations, places only with the deepest respect. I revere the city. The same goes for the university. It has given me so much, and I believe is the best academic institution in the world! I hold it with such fondness and affection, and always will.
Ricky Gervais is my hero.
I used to watch The Office many years ago in the UK, and when I worked at the BBC I once saw Ricky sitting in the old TVC HQ, in the doughnut seating outside enjoying a coffee. I wanted to say hello, but more wanted to leave him in peace. Not only is he a great comedian and clever writer. But he’s a champion for all the animals. So, he’s got my vote.
I started to follow Ricky on Twitter a while back and Ricky relentlessly shares news about animal welfare on Facebook too, if you are interested. One particular message he sent today made me want to write this.
When you are in power as a ‘celebrity’ or A lister, it is easy just to shut the windows, close the doors and enjoy your wealth and power quietly. Let’s face it, it would be tempting to protect your anonymity and perhaps follow a less controversial path. But Ricky Gervais fearlessly sticks his head above the parapet and shouts loudly about animal cruelty whenever he can, supporting those animals without a voice. Not for any benefit to himself. Just because he cares.
Today I read something Ricky had shared on Facebook, which I genuinely knew nothing about: the breeding of lions for shooting, called ‘canned lions’. Hunting for fun. It made me cry, at the crazy world in which we live where such a practice takes place? How far are we going to go to destroy this beautiful planet we live on, and all the wonderful creatures on it, which have to put up with us, crowding out their habitat and trampling all over them?
WATCH THE TRAILER
It looks like the film is out in July by a brave soul, Ian Michler. Thank goodness for the brave, protecting animals wherever they can. Go Ricky, go. Keep it up. As Johnny Depp said too, if you want the horrid pictures of animal cruelty to stop in your inbox, then let's stop the animal cruelty.
ABOUT IAN MICHLER
When I started writing ‘Poison’ I thought that would be the hardest bit, waiting for the ideas to flow. And to a certain degree it was. When you start something, you have so much choice, so many possible forks in the road to take. You have to think carefully, what is the story you want to tell, what is the tone. Do you want to write a grisly gruesome murder, a romance, a literary novel, a comedy? Do you want something surreal, or is this a book based on a true story? Choosing the avenues to pursue take time at the start.
Then you find your stride and off you go. Whether you’ve plotted it out carefully at the start, or you’re deciding to let the book lead you, this must be the favourite bit for an author. The writing. As it allows you, just like when reading a book, to enter a world outside of your own, outside of reality. You are able to escape, pretend, imagine. The only things that stop you are you either run out of ideas, or you have to put the washing on (or something as mundane which takes time and takes you away from your first love).
Then you get close to finishing. Again you are faced with questions, lots of them. Like, is it good enough? How many times should you polish it, before you risk changing the shape of what you wrote in the first place? You may have done two, three, maybe six drafts of your book. Then there comes a day when you say, enough, I’ve finished. I can move on. Little do you know - if it is your first book - that this is only the beginning again. You need to show it to others, get their opinions, and if needs be reshape bits that they didn’t understand or have given you notes on. That’s if you trust them.
Then you need to think about a cover and an ebook conversion company (if you choose to use one). Which ones? There is so much choice. More decisions. These aren’t decisions a writer likes to make. They’ve written their fiction, they want to go back to their fantasy imagination and write the next thing. Not get stuck in the hard reality of marketing. Making your book stand out on the ‘shelf’ so people see it, want to read it. The writer is really only interested in what is inside, it is all they know most of the time. It can get quite stressful, making all these choices.
If you are selling your book on Amazon then you need a profile. A lot of writers are quite solitary. They don’t want a profile. In fact they’d rather they were not even on the cover, preferring to remain almost unknown, save for hearing people say they enjoyed entering the world they created. It’s just more things that take you away from the writing, from sitting in your shed, spare room, lovely desk somewhere else by the window, for hours upon hours in another world. Publicity is the opposite of that. The last thing you will have thought of as a writer, believe me, is the need to get a good photo, not having gone out much before or seen anyone, let alone having a photo taken of them. Too busy sitting in the shed. Then you can’t mention in the blurb that you love your cat, or like camping, or anything that doesn’t resonate with the book. How can you write a thriller but help hedgehogs cross the road at weekends? The two don't gel for your audience. So you create a profile people want to read, leaving out the interesting quirky things that don't mesh with your genre.
As for me, I survived. Self publishing my novel felt a bit like when I had finished my PhD, and was reading through it for typos, checking it before it went off to the printers. Then the waiting, for someone to read it (in this case two examiners who had to test my hypothesis). Hopefully more than two for my novel, but equally I wait to see how the book is received. Completely prepared for both the good and the bad reviews. Who can tell and you sure can't please everyone.
In the meantime, I'd like to thank Robin Howlett, a very talented illustrator, who helped me enormously by providing a cover which would get people to read my book. He made it easy for me, took all the stress out of it, and provided such a wonderful cover I probably look at it more than I should, not because of my book, but because I love it (and his other illustrations on his website). Please do visit his site you will see so many great illustrations HERE
I would also like to thank Peter at BlueWavePublishing, who provided an ebook conversion service. Basically did all the IT that makes the whole thing readable on your Kindle or iBook once I'd written the thing. Who knew how complicated it could be? Peter did, which is why I used him. If you want a very patient and really supportive ebook conversion service then check him out HERE
I’ve already thanked the people who read this book and spotted typos in the dedication page of the novel, but they deserve to be thanked twice at the very least! Katie, Penny, John, Lindsay, Jo and my father John. Thanks for spotting the dreaded grammar and spelling mistakes. Without yew my buk wud h’ve loaked moore like thes.
If you are writing your first book, don't give up. Just keep going. If you are doing it alone, like I did, then I applaud you even more. I'm sure, like me, you'll wonder if you are doing the right thing at times. But remember why you started. Because you wanted to escape into another world. And if people read your book and you succeed in taking then on that journey too, and they enjoy it, then you have done your job.