In a previous blog post, I mentioned that I enjoyed doing writing challenges. At the beginning of the year, I took part in two such challenges on Chris Fielden’s website and have now been published as part of a flash fiction anthology.
I chose to take part for a couple of reasons: I liked the idea of limiting the number of words to tell a story and this was for charity. Both of the challenges I took part in were nearing their end and in fact both finished within a couple of weeks of my submitting my entry.
The first book, Topically Challenged has been published today.
Where did Topically Challenged start?
Alice Trump submitted the idea which was to write a fictional story based on a news headline. Stories submitted had to show a strong theme. The limit was 180 words max. Once the challenge had received 100 stories, then it would close. Not all the challenges are published as books, some are simply published on the website. The ones that are chosen to be published will have any profits donated to charity.
You can buy Topically Challenged as either an e-book or a published book. It contains 100 stories based on topical news headlines. The idea was chosen because news headlines can be a great place for writers to find inspiration for their stories. Some of the stories have been left online so that people can see what kind of stories have been written. There has been a great variety of stories submitted to the anthology and it is going to be an interesting read.
Where to buy Topically Challenged Volume 1
Topically Challenged Volume 1 is available from Amazon in print and Kindle eBook formats.
Proceeds from book sales will be donated to BookTrust, the UK’s largest children’s reading charity. They transform lives by getting children and families reading.
The book can be found on all of Amazon’s websites by searching for the book by name or searching for the Amazon Standard Identification Number (ASIN):
Chris Fielden’s website has direct links to buy the book and you can find out more information such as who designed the cover.
For whatever reason you write, there are usually at least two broad ways to do it. Either you are a planner – someone who plans what they are going to write or you are a pantser. This means someone who is flying by the seat of their pants, or someone who has no plan, they just sit down and write.
Many writers can be both, but many have a preferred method.
I came across this term at the beginning of Nanowrimo in November 2020 and I immediately got it. As someone who frequently just takes a writing prompt and launches herself with it, I get that sometimes it can feel a bit scary, but it is also exhilarating. So, how can you tell which you are? And does it really matter?
If you are a planner:
You like to have an outline.
You might like to have an idea of where the story might end
You might like to plan out a book, chapter by chapter
You might have a special notebook where you plan things out
You might like collecting tools that help you plan such as apps
You might think on a story for a long time before starting to write it
Pros of being a planner:
Easier to begin your writing. You usually have something to write when you start up because you are working to a plan
You know where you are going, so can find interesting ways of getting there
You might have key points in mind for a longer project, such as a novel which will help keep you on track
It is easier to keep going with something when you know the way
Or Someone who likes to fly by the Seat of their Pants
It’s exciting, not knowing where you are going
Some people like to just see where the muse takes them
If you can’t think of something to write, sometimes it is easier just to launch out
You are totally open as to where this thing is going to go
Cons of being a Pantser
It can be hard to start writing on a blank page and even harder if you have no idea what you are going to write
It can make the story uncoordinated or mean that it does not flow as easily
Once you have finished your story it may mean that you need a complete revision of it
You may forget characters’ names or events in the novel and find yourself reinventing the wheel
Which are you?
In the end, it all comes down to personal choice and what works for you. I have tried to start planning my work more but have found that it does not always make for a satisfying story straight away and that it may have needed more work. The stories that I have just sat and written are sometimes more complete stories. That may mean that I prefer more flying by the seat of my pants than planning, but there are times when I have felt that planning is a must.
I first joined Nanowrimo quite a while ago. I had had an idea for a novel for about a year and I managed to write it all during the month. I got the free proof of it, cringed mightily on reading it and shoved it in a drawer, never to see the light of day again.
When I joined Nanowrimo last November, it was a different story: I had no idea what I was going to write. I had spent a few months writing short stories and some had been good, some bad, but I had no idea for a novel, yet here I was, wanting to take part in the novel writing month.
The idea I came up with was spur of the moment, based on a film I had recently seen and in an era I knew very little about. I decided that I would learn on the way. I started the story and managed to write most days, but I did not make the 50,000-word target. I managed around 25,000 words that month. I am now 40,000 words in and I hope to finish this novel soon.
The best of both worlds
Although I began this novel as a pantser, I have, many times, sat down and tried to work out what is happening next. I have kept lists of characters and tried to keep a rough timeline, so I have really had the best of both worlds. I know that the book is going to need some serious rewriting, but I have got to the point when I am enjoying writing it and I know that I am going to finish it. I am then likely to rework it a little before rewriting.
There are other Nanowriting challenges throughout the year. In April and July, they run another two month-long challenges, but this time you set the challenge of how many words you wish to reach. If you are trying to get your writing project off the ground, then this could be a good idea. Check them out and see what you think.
Country Cat Blues is the second book of a series about Aubrey, a former street cat who has taken to solving crime. You can read about Aubrey’s first adventure in Street Cat Blues.
For the second book, Aubrey moves away from the town and into a sleepy rural village called Fallowfield, where he meets a whole new cast of characters, both human and cat. The story neatly runs both cat crime and human crime side by side and the cats are very useful in helping to solve both because they can slip through cat flaps and slide into houses unnoticed in a way that we humans cannot.
I really enjoyed this book. Although it seems a little unusual to have a cat narrating the story, you soon get used to his voice and he can see things that humans might miss. I found it well-written, with some nice comic touches and some great characters, both cat and human. I have not read the first book but found the family easy to get to know with some true-to-life connections between teens and parents. I was less clever than Aubrey as I did not know who the murderer was until near the end of the book, but there were red herrings along the way (much to the delight of the cats).
If you like crime novels and cats and never knew that you could read a book about both, then you will enjoy this book and getting to know Aubrey and his family.
Country Cat Blues is available from 23rd February at Amazon and on Kindle.
An Interview with the Author
I asked author, Alison O’Leary some questions about how she came to write Country Cat Blues and the prequel. She was kind enough to answer them:
How long did it take you to write your first book?
I think it was about two years. It was written in longhand and, to be honest, it wasn’t very good. I only submitted it to one or two agents before stuffing it to the back of the cupboard. For me, the real achievement was in actually finishing it. I felt that I’d accomplished something and that I’d taken the first steps on my journey as a writer.
How many unread but written books do you have in a drawer somewhere at home?
I have three, including the first one, but I’m considering revising one of them. It did attract some attention from agents but didn’t ultimately make it through to publication. I looked at it again the other day and, while it needs some work, I still like the basic idea. It’s a stand-alone psychological thriller which revolves around four women and one secret. Its working title is A Choice Of Enemies. As Oscar Wilde said: ‘A man cannot be too careful in his choice of enemies’ …
Aubrey is a very knowing cat. Who was the inspiration for him?
The real Aubrey was a rescue cat, just like his namesake. He was named Aubrey because my partner was reading John Aubrey’s Brief Lives at the time. As Aubrey once said to me, it could have been worse – he could have been called Brief!
Aubrey was a large male tabby and he had been at the rescue centre far longer than any of the other cats. I’m not sure why, perhaps it was because he wasn’t cute like the kittens. We took to him immediately and it was a choice that we never regretted. He was the most loving, affectionate animal although it would be true to say that he never missed a food opportunity. When he used to stroll about the garden he often had a very purposeful look. The idea for the book came when my partner turned to me and said, ‘that cat always looks as though he’s got a bit of admin to sort out’. Or, maybe, a crime to solve …
What is your process when beginning to write a book?
Once I have an idea, I usually start by making notes, often on scrappy bits of paper, just odd bits and pieces as they occur to me. Then I make a rough plan, just an outline sketch of who does what and when. Once I start writing, I refer back to the notes and keep adding more. What I usually find though is that the book takes a direction of its own so that what started as a minor character develops into something much more significant. Sometimes things just come out of nowhere. For example, in Country Cat Blues there is a ghost called Maudie. I have no idea where she appeared from. She just sort of turned up and started joining in!
Which crime author is your must-read immediately-the-book-comes-out favourite and why?
That’s quite difficult to answer – there are so many good crime writers out there! At one time I would have said Ruth Rendell and in fact I do go back and re-read some of hers from time to time. Now it’s quite eclectic. Elizabeth Haynes is very good, as is Erin Kelly. I used to teach law and criminology so I do read quite a lot of true crime as well. The most recent was The Fatal Passion of Alma Rattenbury by Sean O’Connor which concerned a notorious murder trial in the 1930’s.
Which crime book do you wish you had written and why?
Probably The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie. It was first published in 1926 and was a real ground-breaker at the time.
Thank to you to Alison for such great answers. I always enjoy talking to authors and learning more about their process when they write a book and also their inspiration.
With thanks to Red Dog Press and author Alison O’Leary
This week on the blog, I am excited to bring you the cover reveal of a book that is released next week. Country Cat Blues by Alison O’Leary will be available to buy on 23rd February 2021. It is the second book in the series, but the story will stand on its own. You do not need to have read the first book to enjoy it.
On Saturday 27th February, this blog will be taking part in the book tour for the book. You will be able to read my review of the book. I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you.
If you would like to catch up with the first adventures of Aubrey, the book is called Street Cat Blues by the same author and it can be found on Amazon in paperback or on Kindle.
Here is a synopsis of the book:
Country Cat Blues
When former rescue cat Aubrey moves to the picturesque village of Fallowfield with his owners and their foster son Carlos, he is keen to explore the delights of the English countryside.
However, all is not as it seems among the villagers. The idyllic peace is shattered when a gruesome murder takes place at the village fete.
Tensions run high as spectres from the past begin to emerge, and Aubrey is particularly upset when suspicion falls on Morris, who may be almost permanently drunk, but is also a good friend to the local cat population…
Can Aubrey restore the peace in the village and help clear Morris’s name?
Red Dog Shop: https://www.reddogpress.co.uk/product-page/country-cat-blues
Publication Date: 23rd February 2021
Author Bio – Alison O’Leary
I was born in London and spent my teenage years in Hertfordshire where I spent large amounts of time reading novels, watching daytime television and avoiding school. Failing to gain any qualifications in science whatsoever, the dream of being a forensic scientist collided with reality when a careers teacher suggested that I might like to work in a shop. I don’t think she meant Harrods. Later studying law, I decided to teach rather than go into practice and have spent many years teaching mainly criminal law and criminology to young people and adults.
I enjoy reading crime novels, doing crosswords, and drinking wine. Not necessarily in that order.
Disclaimer: Although I have received an advance copy of the book for review purposes, all opinions are my own and have not been influenced in any way. I have also not been paid to take part in the book tour.
In the UK, we have all had to stay home more, thanks to Covid-19 but this has created more opportunities for creative hobbies. I have enjoyed reading more books, written more short stories and discovered how to make a digital scrapbook.
I was looking for images for a children’s worksheet when I came across PixelScrapper. This free-to-join website has a wide variety of images. This community offers a wide variety of patterns and pictures, similar to real life scrapbook papers and elements. You can use them in your digital scrapbook but rather than using glue, you can just paste on a screen. You can also choose to print them out.
There are two types of membership. A free membership allows you to download a digital kit for free. The kits contain elements, which tend to be single images of a flower or a butterfly, an alphabet font, sayings or mottos and papers which are similar to the papers that you buy to put in a scrapbook. These have all been designed by the members of the site. You can download kits, mini-kits or individual elements or papers. The kits tend to be a collection of digital scrapping items linked by a theme or colour scheme. Every day you visit the website, you can earn download credits which you can then exchange for more items. There is also a paid membership option which supports the website and enables patrons to download as many kits as they want.
The website offers incentives and opportunities to use the items you can download. You can download free items from a monthly blog train. The designers can opt in and offer digital kits. A palette of colours is offered every month as well as some ideas for themes. There is a number of ways to obtain kits. Some can be downloaded from their own websites, some from Facebook pages and some from the website itself. You can take part in challenges to achieve a certain number of pages. There is an active forum community and help available in the form of videos and posts to the forum.
So, what do you need in order to start digital scrapping?
It is a good idea to have a copy of Adobe Elements to help you achieve the images you want. Other free design software is available but most of the posts are aimed at helping you use Elements. You will also want some way of storing the images. These can be memory-intensive, so investing in an external hard drive or even a good quality SD card can be a good idea. You may wish to buy two so that you can have a double back-up. The sheet size you use may depend on the size that you wish to print. You can send these to a printing company or you can print them out yourself.
Glossary of Terms:
Digital Scrapping – the ability to use digital elements to enhance your scrapbook or journal
Kit/Mini-Kit – a collection of digital items for the use of scrapbooking digitally. Can include papers, individual elements, sayings and alphabet fonts
Papers – patterned and/or textured papers which can come in colour or pattern themes
Elements – individual small digital images. Could include ribbons, buttons, butterflies or flowers
Layout –Enhancing a photo in a digital or real-life scrapbook or journal. Usually includes 2, 3 or 4 elements or papers
If you want to learn more about digital scrapping then do check out PixelScrapper. Let me know if you have already tried it in the comments.
I have always enjoyed reading books. I am a member of a local book club and we meet up monthly to review and discuss books we have read. Reading a variety of books and authors is a really good way to improve your own writing.
An author whose blog I follow, mentioned NetGalley, so I checked it out and liked what I saw.
Read and Review
NetGalley is a website where publishers allow book reviewers and bloggers to read books before they are published, in order to get reviews. It is a UK website where you will need to create a log-in and undertake to review the books you get to read. As part of the profile creation, you are asked where you will review the books, whether on the website or on a blog. You are expected to review the book as part of it being made available to you.
There are a wide range of publishers registered there, including Faber and Faber Ltd, HarperCollins, Hodder & Stoughton and Mills & Boon. All kinds of books are there, including children’s books, non-fiction, fiction, autobiographical books and comics and graphic novels.
For the more popular authors or publishers, you might have to be approved before being offered a book to read and review, but there are also free books that anyone registered can access and read.
The downloads offered are known as digital review copies and they are similar to galley proofs. The text has been edited and corrected and proofread too. It is hoped that there are very few errors left as it is almost time to print the book. You might find one or two mistakes, but generally, the book is being offered as if it were an e-book. The aim is to bring the books to the attention of influencers in the book world and people encouraged to become a reader, include librarians, teachers, journalists and booksellers as well as reviewers and bloggers. You are encouraged to link your account to your social media, Goodreads and to verified industry organisations. The website used a NetGalley Shelf app to make the books available but other devices and apps are supported.
Readers and reviewers do not pay to use NetGalley, but publishers do. The website will also work with independent authors and marketing and PR companies. The aim is promote books and help with marketing and promotions.
My first book review for NetGalley will follow shortly. If you have a book blog or enjoy reviewing books, do check them out.
Ever felt like your freelance business is stuck in a rut? There seems to be no new work coming in, you don’t seem able to move forward with your work, or find any new clients. Perhaps you have been working for the same clients for some years and it’s feeling stale. You want to move forward as a freelancer, but you can’t see a way through. It’s time to think outside the box.
People in employment can feel stuck too. Perhaps they’ve been passed over for promotion, or they feel that their manager never gives them enough credit for the work they do. Either way, they feel stuck and unappreciated and wonder how to free themselves and feel better.
It’s important to understand that it is possible that your emotions will pass, and that all it’s going to take is a new freelance contact from a client, a new networking situation or even a project at work that has gone really well, but equally when you are feeling bored and struggling to get the work done though lack of interest then you need to take action.
Take stock of your situation
Give yourself some thinking time and some space. Choose a day when you don’t have a lot of deadlines coming up and write down 5 things that are good about your work, and 5 things that frustrate you. Be as specific or broad as you wish. What attracted you to your work in the first place? What has made it seem as though it is going wrong. Take a few days and add to the lists if you need to. See if you can work out where things are going wrong.
Decide to make a small change.
The worst thing to do is to keep on doing what you have aways done and expect the result to be different. Finding a way out is not easy, but it is worth trying to do. If you feel that you are fairly clear on where things have gone wrong, and you have an idea to try, then try it. You have nothing to lose and it may help. Decide to try it for a reasonable length of time and make a date in your diary to assess it and whether it has made any kind of impact on yourfreelance work or how you feel. Be prepared: this small change may lead to another small change and another. Make sure that you can assess what difference they make to your business.
Ask for help
This can be difficult to do, but it may be the only option. If you are struggling to see what is going wrong, or what you could do to change things, then you may need some help. If you have a friend who is able to understand what you do, and whose opinion you trust, then it may be as simple as arranging to go for a coffee with them to talk things through. Some forums have places where you can ask questions – look for one for people who do what you do as they are more likely to understand your problems. You may need advice from someone who is further along in their business or who has done things differently.
Be accountable to someone
Find someone who you can be accountable to when it comes to getting work done. It’s a way of making sure you get things done when you work on your own. You could also help them to be accountable to their own business. You can decide to check in with them weekly, monthly, or whenever suits you both.
Find a mentor or coach
It may come to the point when you feel that you need more specialised help – and that it’s time to look for a mentor or a coach. Don’t just jump straight in: get to know someone first. Hang around their groups, do something small with them first and see whether their style fits yours. The coaching has got to be within your budget, but it also has to have similar aims to yours. You can take recommendations, or you might just come across someone through another group. It will need to be someone you trust, if you are going to pay them for their help, and you have to feel that you are getting your money’s worth. See it as money that you are investing in your business and use it wisely.
Be prepared to walk away
In the end, it all comes down to whether you can make peace with your freelance business and get it going again. You need to be able to work out what has gone wrong and what steps you need to take to fix it. If you are unable to find your love for your freelance work, then you need to be prepared to walk away and find something else.
It’s not an easy decision to make, but sometimes it may be the right one. Before making such a decision, talk to everyone that it will affect, and make sure that you have taken all the steps you needed to in order to try to make the business work. Businesses fail all the time, the important thing to do is make sure that your mental health does not go down with it.
Have you got to the point where you have felt stuck in a rut and not known what to do? What was your solution to the problem?
There are times when writing a blog comes so easily. Then there are times when it becomes more difficult. It seems that every subject that you want to write about, has been already covered many times before, by more esteemed writers, in such a better way than you could ever write.
What’s the point?
Surely, when it has been said before, there is no point in rehashing old ideas, old arguments, boring anecdotes and yawn-worthy lists. No one can possibly have any interest in what you have to say.
Well, possibly not, but do you really speak for the whole of the global population? In these days of the internet, absolutely anyone could come across your blog and read your next post. And this could never happen, if you hadn’t written it. You see, writing something, anything has to be better than writing nothing. At least then you have something to show for your time.
So, assuming that you are not going to give in to unworthy feelings, here are some ideas on where to start when all inspiration for the next blog post has left you.
Read a couple of favourite blogs. Find out what other bloggers are talking about. This is not so that you can copy what they are doing, but one possible blog post is to acknowledge another author’s post and answer it, or give your own twist on it. It can be helpful to see what others are talking about. Read critically and an idea may pop into your own mind. If two or three ideas come along, then jot them down. It is always useful to have some ideas on the go.
Look at news in the niche that you want to find a blog post for. You may find some inspiration in what others have been achieving. There is nothing stopping you contacting someone to ask for more information, or even an interview for your blog if you wish. Most people like the idea of some self-promotion.
Are there any authors who have books coming out linked to the topic you blog about? Reach out to them and see if they would like to promote their book on your blog. You can email an interview if you prefer not to interview in person. This can also be a great way to network.
Answer a question. This could be a question asked in a forum, a question that you have been asked, or even a question that you, yourself have asked in the past. If it is your own question, then research the answer and give the best two or three replies. Chances are that someone has answered it, somewhere.
Write a book review. Is there a book that you have found really helpful, or that you enjoyed reading? Let others know your thoughts.
Write about something controversial. Put forward your arguments, or even debate the rights and wrongs of the situation. However, be prepared that you may get some attention over this, possibly even the wrong kind of attention. It’s a good way to get yourself noticed, though!
Write about a problem you are having. Explain how you solved it, including the steps you took to get there. It may strike a chord with other people.
These are just seven ideas for how to find a blog post to write when you feel as though you have written it all before. Hopefully you have found something there that will work for you.
How do you come up with new blog posts to write? Do you have periods of time where you find it difficult? Share your tips below.
My blog has changed its theme. I really liked the old Dynablue theme, but I felt it was time for a change for three reasons:
I was looking for something more clean and up to date. I felt that the old blue theme was looking a bit dated. I needed a change
Websites have moved on quite a bit since I set up Creative Writer and I Needed to move on too
I was bored!
Changing the theme is reasonably easy in WordPress; you just find a theme you would like to use, check it out as a sample, then click and use. Some of themes can be customised to suit your tastes as needed.
I have had a guest blog post accepted at the Oxford English Dictionary website on the language in Jane Austen adaptions. I really enjoyed writing the blog post although it did require checking out some adaptions of some of Jane Austen’s books – a real hardship!
It’s one of the first times that I’ve got my own byline – usually I write for someone else. It never normally bothers me, but it’s hard to point your mum at something and say, ‘I wrote that’ when it has someone else’s name at the bottom of it.
I enjoyed writing the blog post and I hope it leads to more. In this instance, I was approached with an idea and it was one that I was happy to write about. What questions should you ask if you are approached with a request to write a guest blog post?
1. Can I have the website address please?
It’s a good idea to check out the blog that you are being asked to write for. Look at the style – does it fit in well with your writing? Is it a blog that you would like to write for? Do the blog subjects fit in well with the kind of thing you like to write? Make sure that it is something that you would be comfortable writing about.
2. How many words are you looking for?
It’s good to know how much you are expected to write.
3. When is the deadline?
You also need to know how long you have to write it.
4. What is your budget?
The subject of money needs to come up at some point. They may ask your rates. At this point, you can ask their budget and see if they match. You also need to ask whom copyright will reside with and make sure that you are comfortable with the answer. Finally do they pay on acceptance of the blog post or do they pay when it is published? There can be a big difference.
5. Can I promote my blog post on social media?
The answer most likely is ‘yes’ but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Once you are happy with the answers to these (and any other questions you may have) then you can go ahead, research and write your blog post.
DO turn it in on time – or slightly ahead of time if you can.
DO accept any suggestions or revisions gracefully. I found that the revisions suggested improved my piece, but they were not so many that they completely changed it. The editor may suggest a new title or the piece may look different on publication, but at the end of the day, it is their blog and they know their style best. If you really disagree with something, then you can perhaps say something, politely but it is usually the Editor’s final decision.
DO let friends and family know when it is up and encourage them to go and read it and comment!
So on that note, please do go and check out my guest blog post on Jane Austen and feel free to start a conversation! Thank you.