Wednesday, 29 August 2012

First Draft Writing

Because I've just begun writing another novel and am going through the plotting and first chapters of the first draft process, I thought it timely to briefly include a few of my own thoughts on the exercise. Not unlike Sally's recent post on plotting, for story structure when working out the ideas for a new novel, I use Michael Hauge's Storymastery . I has 6 stages and 5 turning points and I find it a great basis for keeping my thoughts and scenes in focus and on track.
It also got me thinking about how and where we write. How we get those words on paper. I've traditionally always handwritten in longhand on A4 ruled paper using every second line like a double spaced first printed draft. Of course, this means typing it all up into the computer. I'm a fast typist so that's not a big problem and it allows for editing along the way but I really must try typing my story directly into the computer. :) It's just that my hands can keep up with my steady flow of thoughts at handwriting pace.
Another method I use, not so much the cut and paste information from the internet for present day background info for my romances, but mainly for typing up more extensive research notes for historicals which usually end up in whopping great big Marbig folders, and when I want to vacate my office and write outdoors or away from home, is to use my Alphasmart, or "Alphie" as I call him. The second photo below will give you an idea of what it physically looks like and link here for the website to find out more about it.

The old way
The new way

It goes for literally 100s of hours on a couple of AA batteries. I have it's own carry bag and you can use it in the car, on a train, plane, outdoor table, on your lap. It's much more lightweight and portable than a laptop but maybe equal to a netbook or similar. It has 8 files and you could write a whole 50,000 word novel on it. It only has a 4 line display but instead of being limiting, actually it keeps you focused on just what you're writing and you can easily scroll up or down to check what you've written. If you don't want or need all those extras and online capability, it's great simply for writing.
Then you just plug it into a USB port on your computer, open your Word file or document or whatever, press the "Send" button and it instantly zaps across. Exciting to watch it happen. So you can type away from home, return and transfer what you've written immediately into your novel file.
Anyway, enough promo for that. I've had mine for years but just thought it might be interesting to hear how other authors write and where they do it. I usually end up in my office for all writing because that's become my habit over the years but when the weather's kind, I might occasionally venture outdoors. With the last days of winter here in Australia, blossom and wattle and daffodils out everywhere, and the weather growing milder with the promise of spring, maybe I'll be doing it more often.

Friday, 24 August 2012

The Secret of Helena's Bay FREE today

The Secret of Helena's Bay has a special place in my heart as the first pocket novel I ever had published by My Weekly. It was only 30k in length, but I felt as though I'd climbed Everest, first when I finished it and then when it was accepted. Anyway, I've put on a sparkling new cover for the Kindle version and to celebrate, the ebook is FREE to download from Amazon today.

You can find it at HERE

And at HERE

So pick up your copy whilst you have a chance.

I'll be having more giveaways in the next few weeks as I gradually replace all my old Self-published covers with glossy new ones.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012


There has been a lot of talk about the four new genres Maggies is introducing. My first two published books were crime novels, Sleeping Dogs and Cry Baby, published by Hale. Both books have a strong romantic element and this is why I started writing romantic novellas. Now I am going back to writing crime and romantic thrillers. I hope I can still do it.

Several of you have mentioned rejections. I spent months rewriting a novella only to have it rejected again, and that can be really depressing. Maybe this is the shot in the arm we all need. Our readers will have more choice, and if the new books are on the shelves every week we will have more opportunities for publication.

Being forced to try something new can be dauting - but also exciting. I was quite happy writing romances, but I had got in a bit of a rut and maybe this is the shot in the arm I need. Writing romance is fun, and we all know exactly what we are doing, but perhaps it is time for a change. Romance can still play a big part in a crime novel, whether it mimics Agatha Christie or Martina Cole, and suspense suggests stalkers and psychopathic lovers, so this could be even more fun. Either way, all we can do is give it our best shot.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Building a personal web presence

I am horribly untech savvy, but it may be useful to others to hear of my experiences of building a web presence for my Cara Cooper writing name. I have done it for free and even I have found it easy although hard work.

I am shortly (when I have time to draft the pages) going to have a paid website. Until then, I have found it a lot of fun to have a personal blog. is where mine can be found and I have built it up to get now 12000 visits per month. Firstly, think of what you want to blog about and follow my rule number 1 - as the song says, Make it Easy on Yourself. I decided to blog about, 'writing and living in London'. It's something I do anyway and as I'm always out and about that simple tagline has given me every scope to vary my posts. On the writing stuff I have given tips on the little I know about characterisation and plotting, have blogged about places that have inspired me (always an excuse to post up nice piccies) and have reported back on conferences and workshops I have attended.

For the living in London stuff I've been able to blog on the Olympics, theatre shows I've seen, films, other things I do in London like dancing and also historical bits and pieces about interesting (well I think they're interesting !) activities such as mudlarking on the Thames with a metal detector. Loosely, they often relate back to writing. My second rule is - to pinch and paraphrase another song title - It's NOT All About You. I find blogs boring which focus entirely on what someone has written, with endless excerpts from their books, and endless adverts and links to sell you their stories. I feel you need a broad brush with blogs, to make them interesting to as many people as possible and hopefully someone, somewhere will 'like' you as an individual and might then be interested in buying your book to see how you write. Hey presto, you then have another reader who might tell their friends about you etc etc. I always try to put up photos to make my blog look more varied but here, be very careful. Recently someone was sued for plucking a photo off the web to which they had no rights. Nowadays with smart phones and digital cameras, it's very easy to take your own, which is mostly what I do. With that in mind, I've illustrated this blog post with something totally irrelevant but hopefully rather appealing - a wild boar piglet who regularly came to the farmhouse we rented in Italy for our hols and from where I've just returned. A little posse of six of them came each night, grunting and snuffling for tidbits and were far prettier than you'd imagine a wild boar to be. Okay, so not incredibly relevant but fun, and hopefully something people might like to see. The third rule is to blog regularly. It is the only way to get a lot of people to check in often. Once you start not to blog, they start not to visit. Good luck with yours. If you don't already have one, jump in, the water's lovely.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Easy Reads - The new name for My Weekly Pocket Novels

My Weekly Pocket Novels are undergoing some huge changes, not least that they're now going to be called 'Easy Reads'. There's a link to the new flyer on my blog HERE (click on the 'Easy Read' link - it will open up the pdf flyer). As you'll see from the mock up covers, they're going to be very sassy and sexy looking!

I also put some questions to editor Maggie Seed about the new imprints, and you can read her answers on my blog HERE.

You'll also see in the comments below the first blog post that Shirley Blair popped in from The People's Friend pocket novels to assure everyone that they're not changing at all, and they'll still be committed to the gentle romances for which they're renowned.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Plotting and Planning Your Pocket Novel

Kate Jackson has written a great report on Maggie Seed's appearance at the Romantic Novelists Association conference the other week. There's also a chance to put a face to a name, with a picture of Maggie on the blog.  On the RNA blog, I was absolutely delighted to see that when Maggie discussed her appearance at the conference she gave me a namecheck. As I said on my own blog recently, if anyone wonders why I do what I do, this is the reason. I get to work with a wonderful editor who appreciates my work.

Anyhow, as you'll see on Kate Jackson's blog, during the conference Maggie gave her five steps towards creating a great pocket novel. Coincidentally, I've been sharing my own five steps to creating a pocket novel with my workshop participants for some time now. They're no substitute for Maggie's tips, but I thought they might be helpful.

I'm also going to share another tip for plotting your novel.

This is the handout, as seen by my participants:

My way of 'plotting' is to think about my story for several days, then write a brief summary of about 500 words. Then I sit down and write. And believe me there is no substitute for just getting started.

I know you want more advice than that, so here are two methods that have worked for me in the past. The Taking it in Stages Method and the What Happens Next? Method

Taking it in Stages

This is a very rough example of my method, but each story is different so there is no set formula for doing this.

*Work out how many words you've got - in this case 50,000 - then split your story up into five stages.

Stage 1: The first meeting (or reunion) and hinting at initial conflicts 10,000 words

Stage 2: Developing the story and setting up any important aspects, including them starting to like each other, albeit tentatively. It's at this point you might want to bring in characters or situations that are going to be important to your ending. 10,000 words

Stage 3: Put your hero and heroine in a situation (or situations) in which they get to know each other and either one (or both) realises they're in love with the other (pivotal moment) but won't yet admit it. 10,000 words.

Stage 4: Have them deal with the problem together, but have something tear them apart so they think all is lost (black moment) 10,000 words.

Stage 5: This is the time to start tying up any loose ends, solving the problem and ultimately bringing your lovers together for their Happy Ever After. 10,000 words.

I can't do a graph here, but you may well notice that they start off going upwards towards the pivotal moment (stage 3), slip right down again at around stage 4 (the black moment), and start moving upwards again to the ending (stage 5). Incidentally 'black' doesn't have to mean desperately miserable. It can just mean the heroine thinking that the hero is never going to love her.

It's not an exact science, and you may find that some sections are shorter than others, whilst others take more than 10k words to bring about. But it is a rough guide and even if you don't stick to the word counts, the different stages of the story might be of some help to you.
The 'What Happens Next?' Method

If you start to flag, and haven't written a summary (or even if you have) it sometimes helps to make a list of what needs to happen and in what order. For example, if Jane Austen did this for Pride and Prejudice it might read:

1. Lizzie has to meet Darcy (included in this would be Bingley moving to the area, and Mrs. Bennett being determined to bring him into her daughter's lives as a possible husband).

2. Darcy has to see Lizzie's sisters and her mother behaving badly in public to form a bad opinion of the whole family, including Lizzie.

3. Jane has to be taken ill at the Bingleys' so Lizzie and Darcy have more chance to talk and get to know each other, and whilst they're still a little uncomfortable with each other, Darcy is starting to notice her 'fine eyes'.

4. Lizzie has to meet Wickham and learn (at least as far as Wickham is concerned) that Darcy has treated Wickham badly, giving her even more reason not to like Darcy.

4. Bingley has to go away suddenly, leaving Jane heartbroken and Lizzie puzzled..

5. Mr. Collins has to marry Lizzie's friend, so that Lizzie visits their vicarage and meets Darcy again at Lady de Burgh's.

6. Darcy has to propose to Lizzie - badly. So she tells him to get lost. She also has to learn about Darcy's part in Bingley going away, but also learns the truth about Wickham.

7. Lizzie goes on holiday with her aunt and uncle and they end up at Pemberly where she sees Darcy in his wet shirt (okay, Jane Austen probably didn't have that). They become more amicable now that the truth is out, and she realises she's in love (pivotal moment).

You didn't think I'd go a whole blog post without at least one gratuitous photo of a ruffled looking hunk in a wet shirt, did you?

8. Wickham and Lydia elope, leaving Lizzie believing that nothing can ever happen between her and Darcy (black moment).

9. Darcy saves the day, forces Wickham to marry Lydia. At the same time he encourages Bingley to resume his courtship of Jane.

10. He asks Lizzie once again to marry him and she says yes.

I know there's lots in between, including Lizzie's argument with Lady de Burgh, Collins's courtship of the two elder Bennett girls, and lots of other happenings, but these are the major events of the novel as they pertain to Lizzie and Darcy. If you make a similar list for your own novel it might help to focus on what needs to happen.


Try the above on one of your favourite novels, or even on a favourite film or television series, picking out the essential plot points as they happen and what the writer does to attain those aims.

If anyone has their own tips for plotting and planning your novel, I'd love to hear them.