Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Lessons from Anna Browne: Write the book YOU want to write

I hesitated about whether to post this or not. But having spoken to so many writers during this year, both through WriteFoxy and via Twitter, I think this is something that could help fellow writers to follow their hearts...

I had the initial idea for A Parcel for Anna Browne about four years ago. Like many ideas it sat sparkling away on the sidelines of the books I was writing, trying to distract me when I had deadlines and waking me up in the middle of the night to whisper in my ear. I loved the idea. I even wrote the first chapter to see what it might look like. But I didn't propose it to my agent or publisher for one simple reason: I didn't think I could write it yet.

Writing is about taking risks when you're facing The Fear.

You would think, after writing six Sunday Times Bestselling novels that have sold almost 1 million copies worldwide (eek!) I would be completely confident in my writing. This couldn't be further from the truth! Every year I ask myself if I'm up to the challenge of writing another book and telling the story I'm dreaming of in the way I want to tell it.

What I found really comforting is that when I spoke to my writer friends it turns out that all of them regularly do battle with what has become commonly known as The Fear. Writers I admire, whose words flow onto the page beautifully, who tell stories that amaze, thrill and inspire me, have all at some time during the writing process of their incredible books doubted their ability to do their idea justice. What made the difference between those ideas remaining in the wings and being brought onto the page wasn't confidence, but courage.

So, after four years of hesitation, I decided to go for it.

Writing A Parcel for Anna Browne has been one of the scariest and most exciting experiences of my writing career - and I am so proud of the result. Writing the book has taught me to follow my gut instinct and tell the stories I'm dreaming of telling. Where I've felt my vocabulary is lacking, or encountered obstacles I'm not sure how to overcome, I've held on to the inescapable feeling that Anna's story is one I want to write.

So, this is what I've learned: if the idea has come to you, then you have everything you need to tell it. All you need is the courage to begin.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Oh wow - welcome to the world, Anna Browne!

So, I finally have a cover for my seventh book, A Parcel for Anna Browne. And I'm thrilled with it! Ahem... drumroll, please... TA-DAAAAAAH!
What I'm so happy about is that my book getting its cover is one step closer to it being shared with the world. And that makes me happy because this is a story I have wanted to tell for several years. Moving to my new publisher, Pan Macmillan felt like the right time to write Anna Browne's story - and I'm really proud of the book. I firmly believe it's my best yet and I can't wait to share it with everyone! Exciting times, lovelies! xx

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Writer Spotlight - Matt Dunn

On Coffee and Roses I like to bring you news of exciting authors who are either waiting to be published or published and worth checking out. This week, I have a real treat: welcoming one of my favourite authors, MATT DUNN, back for a chat.

Everyone should have a Matt Dunn shelf in their bookcase (or virtually on their e-reader). Quite simply, Matt is one of our funniest, most enjoyable romantic-comedy novelists, author of eight cracking novels including the much-loved A Day At The Office and his latest, What Might Have Been. So sit back, relax and enjoy this cracking interview with the man himself!

What interests you as a writer?

Relationships, primarily. And the words ‘what’ and ‘if’.

What inspired your latest book, What Might Have Been?

It’s a love triangle, and *shameful face* I was involved in one once. When I found out she had a(nother) boyfriend, even though I was crazy about her, I did what I thought was the decent thing and walked away. And a part of me (the novelist part of me, if my lovely wife is reading this) has always wondered (hypothetically, sweetheart, honest!) what might have been if I hadn’t.

Do you believe in love at first sight? Oh yes. At least, ever since I first laid eyes on Halle Berry.

Who would play Evan and Sarah in the film version of What Might Have Been?

Whoever the director wants to cast - I’ll be too busy choosing which Ferrari to buy myself with the option money. Seriously, I never picture actors/celebs when I write my characters – I try to make them normal, relatable people, and I know that my readers have their own (and sometimes, very different) ideas of who the main protagonists ‘are’ – as will the director - so I wouldn’t even want to suggest anyone. Though obviously if I’m on a percentage of box office receipts, I’d have to say Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. Ferraris are expensive to run.

What do you love about writing romantic comedy?

The romance, and, er, the comedy. There’s something about crafting a good one-liner, or creating a funny scene, or writing about the awkwardness of relationships and the incompatibility of the sexes that’s hard to beat. And true love NEVER goes smoothly, of course, so there’s a lot of material out there.

Have you ever encountered prejudice being a male writer in what is often (wrongly) assumed to be a “female genre”?

Not at all, and in fact, I’ve been told by a few of my female readers that they like the male point-of-view I bring to the genre. In a crowded industry where it’s hard to stand out whatever you’re writing, I think it’s actually an advantage to be in the minority. Besides, there are a lot of male writers (Mike Gayle, David Nicholls, Jon Rance, Neal Doran, Nick Spalding, Graeme Simsion etc.) writing romantic comedy nowadays, so we’re not such a minority anymore!

Which part of the writing and publishing process do you like best?

When the royalties come in! Apart from that, I actually quite like the editing. For me, that’s where a book really comes together – especially when you can rework a scene and make it funnier, or give it some extra poignancy. Though there’s a downside to that too – there’s an old maxim that says something like ‘you never actually finish writing a book, you just decide to stop working on it’ – and usually that’s not our decision, but down to publishing deadlines (or to put it another way, our editors shouting ‘where’s the book?’ at us). If we didn’t have them, I’d still probably be tinkering with my first novel, not writing my ninth!

And which is the worst?

Sitting alone in front of your laptop, trembling softly, staring desperately at the ominously terrifying desolation of the blank page in front of you, while trying to ignore the deadline looming ominously into view...

If the X-Factor voiceover guy was to announce you, what would he say?

I don’t watch the X-Factor, but my twitter bio (I’m @mattdunnwrites) says something along the lines of ‘award-losing rom-com novelist’. That’ll probably still be the case when they’re writing my obituary, so I’ll go with that.

What are you working on now - and what would your dream writing project be?

I’m working on two things at the moment: One (which is my dream writing project) is the screenplay for my second novel, The Ex-Boyfriend’s Handbook, which I’m collaborating on with a real director (i.e. he’s already made several proper films which have been shown in cinemas and everything, and with the likes of Keira Nightly (sorry – Freudian slip – I meant Knightley) in them). I’m also writing my ninth novel - it’s called Home, and it’s about someone returning home to the jaded seaside town he spent the first eighteen years of his life desperate to escape from.

Thanks so much to Matt for popping back to Coffee and Roses! For a limited time, Matt's brilliant book, A Day At The Office, is only £1 on Kindle. You can read his guest post for Coffee and Roses about the book HERE.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

It's P-Day! I'll Take New York heads out into the world...


I'll Take New York is published TODAY - and I'm over the moon to share my sixth book with you!

You can buy your sparkly paperback, ebook and audio editions from: Waterstones
The Book Depository

It's the story of Brooklyn bookshop owner Bea James and Manhattan psychiatrist Jake Steinmann, who meet at an engagement party as the only two singles and swear a Pact to avoid relationships for ever. Instead, they share their love of the City That Never Sleeps with each other, swapping their favourite places in New York as their friendship grows.

But will the magic of New York City weaken their resolve...?

If you've read my first novel, Fairytale of New York, there will be some familiar faces to welcome back: Rosie, Marnie, Ed, Celia, Stewart and Zac are all here, playing their part in Bea and Jake's tale. It's my way of writing an 'almost-sequel' - letting you know what happens to the original cast of characters without breaking anyone up (or killing anyone off!) Also, if you loved my second novel, Welcome to My World, you'll meet Harri again and find out what happened next for her! I love the idea that old friends are popping up to join the party and I hope you like discovering their new stories in I'll Take New York!

It's a very strange feeling for me this year as I'll Take New York hits the shelves. This is my last book for Avon (HarperCollins) and it feels like the end of an era. It's partly why I wanted to return to New York and revisit the Kowalski's gang from my first novel, a kind of full-circle journey that represents the last six years of my life. During that time everything in my life has changed...

I was discovered on at the end of 2008 and signed a three-book deal with Avon in 2009, followed by another three-book deal in 2010. I've become a Sunday Times Bestseller five times over! My books have gone around the world, to date being bestsellers in four countries and translated into seven languages. My total sales number just below three-quarters of a million books worldwide - which is absolutely amazing! I got engaged in 2011, married Bob in 2012 and we welcomed our gorgeous daughter, Florence Wren, into the world this year. In September last year I finally achieved my dream and became a full-time published author after writing with the day job for five years. And next year, I move to embark a whole new chapter of my writing adventure with PanMacmillan...

Most importantly, more than five people in the world have read (and are reading!) my stories - something I secretly dreamed of from being very little. I never thought I would be able to say that, so having readers around the world is the biggest dream come true for me. If you've read my books, thank you. You're amazing. If you've yet to read my books, I hope you enjoy my stories.

So much has changed, so much awaits - so, as I celebrate my sixth novel heading out into the big, wide world today, I'm so utterly grateful for everything that has happened. I really hope I'll Take New York is a fitting tribute to everyone who has been involved, from my lovely Twitter and Facebook followers who had so much fun suggesting things for the book, to my fantastic agent Hannah Ferguson, who has been the biggest, brightest supporter of my work for years, to the lovelies at Avon and my editor, Katy Loftus - who is an absolute sweetheart and a dream to work with - and to everyone who picks up a sparkly paperback, nestles my book in their e-reader library or snuggles up with the audiobook.

So, Happy P-Day, I'll Take New York!

Friday, October 31, 2014

A Special Treat for Halloween...

I wanted to bring you an extra-special treat for Halloween, so I am delighted to welcome a very special guest onto this week's vlog: the incredible A. G. SMITH. I'm a massive fan of his horror-fantasy and ghost stories and I wanted to share his chilling work with you...

As a confirmed wuss (Bob will tell you I even have trouble watching Scooby Doo because the ghosts and monsters scare me), I have to say that A.G. Smith's work terrifies me, but the quality of his writing, together with the horrifically chilling mental images he conjures in your mind are too good to miss. This week, I went to hear him read the full story that the excerpt below is taken from and it was soooo scary!

Watch the vlog if you daaaaaaare and then read on below for a brilliant interview with the man himself - including his recipe for a truly terrifying tale...

Have your nerves recovered? Read my interview with the amazing A. G. SMITH...

What do you love about writing horror and fantasy stories?

I remember watching some archive interviews with horror legends like Boris Karloff, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and it struck me that whenever they were asked about their work in horror films, all of them were very dismissive of that term, preferring to call their films fantasy movies. That has always stayed in my mind whenever I work on a new horror story. My aim is never to upset the reader. I don't think I am the kind of writer who could write extremely gory or horrible passages. I much prefer restraint and I think that suggestion is far more powerful and frightening. I am keen to ensure that the stories have a fantastical element to them, but leave you with just enough plausibility to make you think this might actually happen to you. The same is true in my Harvester of the Now trilogy. I love fantasy fiction, but I was very keen to ensure that my stories had one foot firmly placed in reality. I think that helps the reader to identify with the main characters. I also wanted to create a hero who was deeply flawed and just as capable of running off in a panic than he was of standing his ground to fight. It just felt more realistic. We all hope we'll be heroes when the time comes, but none of us know how we'll react until we are tested by something unexpected.

Which authors have inspired you?

Authors who inspired me to start writing include my childhood hero, Robin Jarvis. I grew up reading his Deptford Mice books, and I have kept reading his novels throughout my life. I'm so pleased that he is still writing and I encourage as many people as I can to read his books. His latest trilogy is the brilliant Dancing Jax. One of the best and most original fantasy novels to have emerged for years. He has such a grasp of language and he creates living nightmares that you can see climbing out of the pages as you read. Just incredible.

As a horror fan I love the work of M.R James, truly the master of the ghost story. Robert Aickman, whose 'strange stories' are so brilliantly unsettling and H.P Lovecraft who blurred the lines between science fiction and horror so intelligently. Conversely, I also love the travel writing of Mark Wallington. I think Mark is the most hilarious and original voice in non-fiction, his books are laugh-out-loud funny and I never miss a new one.

On a far more personal note, authors who inspire me not only because they are brilliant writers but also because they are so encouraging to new writers like myself include the fabulous Miranda Dickinson - a fantastic writer and a true champion of the work of others. Miranda's kindness and encouragement means the world to me and many others. Also, the wonderful Ian Thornton, whose The Great and Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms is easily the best book I've read so far in 2014. Incredible writing, which is more than worthy of numerous awards for literature. Ian is also a true gentleman who continues to selflessly help other new writers like myself.

Hats off to you all!

What are the ingredients of a really scary story?

First, take a tablespoon of scene-setting. Not too much, just brief descriptions of the main players and the location. I tend to do this by having a principal character who bookends every single one of my horror stories. He is the Librarian at Weeping Bank Library. He is never named but it is assumed that he is a gentleman approaching retirement who has spent his lifetime collecting these eerie tales. He sets the scene, and also provides a sense of comfort and humour to lull the reader in before the scares really begin. At the end he will usually return and give you a 'possible' explanation for what has happened.

Then, add a sprinkling of unease. Just the occasional word or phrase that will let your reader know that there is something happening on the periphery, but make it clear that it will soon draw closer.

Next, I bring it to the boil with the first true scare (if I'm reading the story to an audience, this will be the point where we take a half-time break.) The moment has to be truly terrifying, almost to the point where you want to close the book and look away.

Then I will just let it simmer for a few more pages, allowing time for the main characters to calm down and seek shelter or reassurance from other characters in the story before finally bringing the whole thing up to temperature again with a final terrifying sequence that has to stay with the reader long after they close the book.

Serve with a glass of port to calm the nerves!

Have you ever spooked yourself writing your stories?

I certainly have. If I'm not frightened or worried about my characters then the story just isn't working. In the case of The Hay Man (the story I’m reading in the vlog), there are two key scenes that trouble me. The first is a very brief diary entry where you realise that the 'thing' has been standing in the wardrobe of the main character (Larissa) and silently watching her sleeping at night. The second moment is the ending, which always leaves me cold and sad when I read it to an audience. I can't possibly spoil it here though...

Tell us about what you're working on now.

I have just finished editing a new ghost story, which I will premiere for my family on Christmas Eve and that will become the story I take out to read to audiences next autumn. I am editing the second volume of my Harvester of the Now trilogy and also working on a brand new novel, called Maris Reever, which crosses over between horror and fantasy and takes the reader on a dark and dangerous journey in the company of characters they are not going to feel all that comfortable with. After Christmas I shall begin work on a new Tale from Weeping Bank Library and this one will see the Librarian take more of a central role in events, something which I have never allowed to happen before.

Thanks to A. G. Smith for a brilliantly spooky story and cracking interview! You can find out more about his work at his website, and follow him @harvesterOTnow on Twitter.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Writer Spotlight - Dan Holloway

On Coffee and Roses I like to bring you news of exciting authors who are either waiting to be published or published and worth checking out.

This week, I have great pleasure in welcoming the fantastic author, poet and performer DAN HOLLOWAY into the Coffee and Roses Writer Spotlight...

When did you first decide that you wanted to write?

I don't know that I ever decided to be a writer. It was one of those things that always seemed to be taken for granted. My parents bought me an old wooden school desk as my third birthday and I'd sit at it late into the night scribbling nonsense, And when I was six my mum told me one evening that a gypsy had stopped her in the street, telling her that she had a son and he would grow up to make his fortune with pen and ink. I still haven't made my fortune!

What interests you as a writer?

I am fascinated by outsiders: people who find it hard to define themselves by terms that society understands and go about life by their own rules. It's a way of exploring all the things I wish I could be if only I had the courage.

Do you have a typical writing day? If not, when is the best time to write for you?

Absolutely not. My very best writing time is as early as it gets in the morning - I've always been a lark. By the time it gets to 8 o'clock or so, I've pretty much had it for the day. That said, I do love sitting outside on a busy pavement, leaning against a wall with a coffee on a sunny day, tapping away while the world goes by.

Which authors inspire you and why?

So many - I hate when those Facebook "10 writers who've left their mark on you" memes go round - how could I keep it down to 10? So how do I answer this in a sensible length? OK - Haruki Murakami has perfected the art of using the fantastical to represent a deep truth; Thomas Harris never uses a spare word; Elfriede Jelinek gets deeper inside relationships than you could imagine; Milan Kundera makes me see the world in different ways; Katelan Foisy breaks my heart; Adelle Stripe and Banana Yoshimoto make the everyday lyrical and beautiful.

Tell me about your latest book.

No Exit, released in May, is a big departure from my recent literary novels and poetry collections. It's a novelette, part of the Singles collection from the amazing Pankhearst group who publish the darkest Fem Noir. It's going to be the start of what I hope will be a long-running series about Petrichor, a group of outsiders who inhabit the doorways and rooftops and tunnels of Oxford - not to mention the corner of cyberspace. In No Exit, two women who have never met and know nothing about each other are about to commit a murder together, and we go back in time to discover what brought them to this point.

What are the best things about being a writer?

The thought that, one day, you might make a difference, even if only to one person; that one night someone might be alone and at the end of the line and your words might be the hand held out that brings them back from the edge.

And the worst?

Never quite being able to write the things you want to. So many people say they never self-censor. By and large they are people with very vanilla imaginations. Readers still find it too hard to separate the author as person from the things they write, so there inevitably comes a time when you pull a punch, and that hits you right in the gut because you know you are letting your readers down. It's something I battle with every book. No Exit is the darkest thing I've written. It goes places a lot of people never go but there are still things left unsaid, emotions I haven't let the characters explore.

What are you working on now?

Crush is the second Petrichor book. It centres on Keph, whose middle class comfortable life is turned on its head when she finds herself on the wrong bus home, witnesses a horrific act of cruelty and flips, battering the two teenage boys responsible to death, having just seconds to make a decision that will change her life - to run.

Do you have a dream project you would love to write?

I'm as much a performance poet as a prose writer - I've been taking shows to festivals and fringes for five years now, and have worked with some amazing people. I think my dream would be to put on a show with Patti Smith and Amanda Palmer.

What are your top three tips for aspiring writers?

I've just written a book, Self-Publish With Integrity, that aims to guide writers through the labyrinth of choices that face them. The real question I try to get them to answer is a simple one – know exactly what they want from their writing, in ultra-specific terms. That's the only way to be sure you don't get sidetracked.

More specifically writing-y advice – know exactly what the writers you admire do. And then do something different.

And devote ten times longer than you think you need to learning to write dialogue.

Anything else you’d like to say?

Go to a live literary night. Perform your work there. And, of course, thank you!

Thanks to Dan for a cracking interview! You can find out more about Dan and his books at his website and follow him on Twitter @agnieszkasshoes. Also check out his fantastic novel, Songs from the Other Side of the Wall.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Writer Spotlight - Jessica Thompson

On Coffee and Roses I like to bring you news of exciting authors who are either waiting to be published or published and worth checking out.

This week, I have great pleasure in welcoming the very wonderful JESSICA THOMPSON into the Coffee and Roses Writer Spotlight...

When did you first decide that you wanted to write?

I don't remember making a specific decision... I loved books as a child and wrote a lot in my spare time. My dad and I used to make up a lot of silly rhymes in the car on long journeys, and so I grew to love the magic and playfulness of language quite early on. I wrote a lot of poems and stories in my teens as a way to express all that angst! I knew when I was about 14 that I wanted to write for a career so I eventually pursued journalism while writing creatively in my spare time. My first novel, This is a Love Story, was written while I was a reporter based in London.

What interests you as a writer?

I love novels that revolve around characters that express ideas and concepts I can relate to in some way. I don't always need (or want) a big, complex plot, or even a happy ending, but anything that takes an interesting view on life's events and really touches me will always capture my attention. I'm no book snob. I read everything, from old classics to contemporary fiction. I love it all!

Do you have a typical writing day? If not, when is the best time to write for you?

I like to write in blocks of several hours. I don't like writing for half an hour, or an hour here or there because I always get wrapped up in what I'm doing and don't want to tear myself away! I'm useless in the mornings so afternoons and evenings are better for me. I like to lose myself in the writing process, so I can't have the washing up waiting to be done or anything like that, I like to be able to focus entirely on what I am doing.

Which authors inspire you and why?

Jojo Moyes because her characterization is perfect, and I've loved every book of hers I've ever read. Lionel Shriver because she wrote We Need to Talk About Kevin so powerfully that I had to stop reading it at one point because I was so freaked out! I think an author who makes you feel something so strongly has a very special talent indeed. I also adore Jeanette Winterson – Why be Happy When You Could Be Normal made me cry several times, it was stunning. I could list many more, but those are some standout examples for me.

Tell me about your latest book.

My third novel, Paper Swans, is out now. It's about a subject very close to my heart that affects so many people, and I think I had to write this book. I'm so excited for it to come out, but the usual nerves are kicking in as well!

What are the best things about being a writer?

I think it's that wonderful feeling when you have worked on your plot for a while, and then you can finally start to write it. It's such an exciting time, and when the characters start to come to life in my mind there really is no better feeling! Hearing from readers always makes my day too. I feel so privileged that these people have not only read my books, but also took the time to let me know what they thought... That's wonderful for me.

And the worst?

I think moments, or sometimes even prolonged periods of self-doubt are the worst. I always tend to feel a bit worried about whether or not I even like a book I've written while I'm editing it! This is because I am so caught up in it that I can't see the wood for the trees. Usually some time away from the script enables me to look at my work from a better perspective, and feel confident and excited again. It can be a bit of a mindset that you have to work hard to get out of, but it can be overcome.

What are you working on now?

I am about to start writing Book Four. I'm just refining the last few plot details and then I can start. I am ridiculously excited!

Do you have a dream project you would love to write?

Hmm... There isn't anything specific in terms of a plot that I consider to be a 'dream plot' that I'm aching to write. I do think that it's good to see each up and coming book you are working on as the 'dream project' though. You need to be positive and confident when you start, and know you can achieve what you set out to do and I think that's a good sentiment when writing a book. If you don't feel very passionate about it, then maybe the plot isn't the right one for you to be writing at this stage.

What are your top three tips for aspiring writers?

1) Read, read, read! In my opinion it's vital to read the work of other writers as much as you can, and try not to stick to one genre or period. Be open minded, and take inspiration from everything you can... Creativity is everywhere.

2) But be careful when you are writing your own book... I tend to read a lot when I am editing or having some time out from writing, however I find it difficult to read other people's work when I am drafting my own. It's good to make sure you are being true to your style, and keeping your head as clutter-free as possible. I know this won't be the case for everyone, but it's definitely best for me!

3) Don't panic. If you are struggling with a plot, a particular chapter or even a sentence, the worst thing to do is panic. Be kind to yourself, and give yourself the space and time you need to work out the problem and deal with it in the best way possible.

Anything else you’d like to say?

Thank you so much for your support, and thank you for having me!

Thank you so much to Jessica for braving the Coffee and Roses Writer Spotlight!

Paper Swans is a fantastic novel - warm-hearted, funny and poignant, with two lead characters you can't help but fall in love with. It will leave you with a huge smile and a firm belief in the power of love. I loved the book!

You can follow Jessica on her blog, on Twitter @Jthompsonauthor and on Facebook.
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