Monday, 31 December 2012

My Writing Year in Review



I must say 2012 was a pretty good year for me as far as my writing is concerned. I finished the Eternal Hunger novella series and Hunger of the Wolf. I also wrote two other novellas and I started What Women Don't Want, which will hopefully be my first book for 2013.

This was also the year that I dived head-first into the world of self-publishing, and overall it's been a good experience. I still have a huge amount to learn about writing but I'm on my way and I'm thrilled to be starting a course in writing very soon which I hope will help me to develop further. You can only do so much on your own, and I'm at a point where I really need feedback from people whose professional judgement I trust.

My writing goals for 2013:

1. To read more. To be a good writer you need to read A LOT and I need to get stuck into my TBR list in a big way this year. I'm kicking the year off with A Tale of Two Cities to get myself in the frame of mind for quality writing. No offence to my fellow-indies but I downloaded a lot of sub-par books this year, most of which I didn't finish.

2. To expand my horizons beyond romance. Everything I've written so far has had romantic elements but I'd like to write something in a completely different genre. I have some ideas for a thriller and a fantasy, but at the moment they're just tiny seeds.

3. To forget all about sales and just focus on writing. I'd also like to engage more meaningfully with other writers and readers without having the goal of marketing my books always in the back of my mind. I figure if I write a good book it will eventually find its readership, and if it doesn't well at least I had fun writing it!

4. To write (or at least start) a full-length novel that I can submit to traditional publishers and have the patience to wait for responses.

5. To write more short stories. There's no better way to hone the craft in my opinion.

6. To spend less time cruising aimlessly around the net. This was a HUGE time waster for me in 2012 and I don't want to repeat the same mistake this year. On that note I'm getting off my computer right now.

What are your reading/writing goals for 2013?

My Reading Year in Review


I came across this end of year reading survey on someone's blog and decided to steal some of the questions for myself. 2012 has not been a good year for me as far as reading goes as I haven't done nearly as much as I'd normally do because I've been focused on writing instead. My hope for 2013 is that I can read a book (or more) a week, and finally start putting a dent in my TBR list.

1. Best Books You Read In 2012?

American Scoundrel by Thomas Keneally, Into the Forest by Jean Hegland, The Buccaneeers by Edith Wharton.

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver.

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2012?

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier was surprising because I loved it even more the second time around.

4. Book you recommended to people most in 2012?

Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler. I can't understand why this book has such a low ranking on Goodreads.

5. Best series you discovered wrote in 2012?

Why Eternal Hunger of course!

6. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2012?

Monica McInerney - a fellow Aussie I only recently read for the first time.

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?

Zazen by Vanessa Vselka. I'm still working my way through this one and I'm not sure how I feel about it.

8. Book You Read In 2012 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year:

None. There are too many other books that I haven't read yet to double back.

9. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2012?

Sole Possession by Bryn Donavon. The big, creepy haunted house is right up my alley.

10. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2012?

Into the Forest by Jean Hegland. This haunting story will stay with me for a long time.
  That's it for my blog for 2012. May the new year bring much happiness and good fortune to everyone, and heaps of great new books to read!

 
"Firework"
Do you ever feel like a plastic bag
Drifting through the wind wanting to start again?
Do you ever feel, feel so paper thin
Like a house of cards one blow from caving in?

Do you ever feel already buried deep six feet under?
Scream but no one seems to hear a thing
Do you know that there's still a chance for you
'Cause there's a spark in you?

You just gotta ignite the light and let it shine
Just own the night like the 4th of July

'Cause, baby, you're a firework
Come on, show 'em what you're worth
Make 'em go "Oh, oh, oh"
As you shoot across the sky-y-y

Baby, you're a firework
Come on, let your colours burst
Make 'em go "Oh, oh, oh"
You're gonna leave 'em all in awe, awe, awe

You don't have to feel like a wasted space
You're original, cannot be replaced
If you only knew what the future holds
After a hurricane comes a rainbow

Maybe you reason why all the doors are closed
So you could open one that leads you to the perfect road
Like a lightning bolt, your heart will glow
And when it's time you'll know

You just gotta ignite the light and let it shine
Just own the night like the 4th of July

'Cause, baby, you're a firework
Come on, show 'em what you're worth
Make 'em go "Oh, oh, oh"
As you shoot across the sky-y-y

Baby, you're a firework
Come on, let your colours burst
Make 'em go "Oh, oh, oh"
You're gonna leave 'em all in awe, awe, awe

Boom, boom, boom
Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon
It's always been inside of you, you, you
And now it's time to let it through-ough-ough

'Cause, baby, you're a firework
Come on, show 'em what you're worth
Make 'em go "Oh, oh, oh"
As you shoot across the sky-y-y

Baby, you're a firework
Come on, let your colours burst
Make 'em go "Oh, oh, oh"
You're gonna leave 'em all in awe, awe, awe

Boom, boom, boom
Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon
Boom, boom, boom
Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon

 


Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Colton Manor: Chapter One


 

Ursula St Clare put her paint brush down with a sigh. It was raining again. She could hear it pattering on the roof, faintly at first but growing louder. When she had opened the curtains that morning it was grey and overcast outside, but dry for a change. She’d hoped the rain would hold off so she could go for a walk along the cliff top in the afternoon. Her plan had been to find a path down to the beach where she could do some sketches, but it seemed the bad weather was setting in for the day.

She’d been at Colton Manor for almost a week and she had barely set foot outside during that time. Although it was summer it had rained every single day, and she hadn’t even seen the beach properly yet, apart from the glimpses she caught of it from the window. It looked windswept and freezing, not at all what she imagined it would be like when she and her friends had decided on a whim to rent Colton Manor for the summer holidays several months earlier.

The four of them had been on their way back from a friend from art school’s wedding when they’d stopped in the small coastal town of Paradise on the far north coast of New South Wales, Australia. After a hearty pub lunch the group had gone for a stroll down the main street and Rachel had seen the advertisement in the real estate window for a holiday rental. The house was an historic mansion and none of them had been able to believe how cheap the rent was. Ursula had gone inside to find out if it was a misprint, but the lady behind the desk assured her it was the correct figure.

“Tourism was a bit slow last year and the owner didn’t want the house sitting empty again so he dropped the price,” she said.

“It’s very cheap. Is it true he’s willing to rent it for the whole summer break?”

“Yes, the family have gone overseas and they don’t know when they’ll be back. You might be able to get it for longer if you’re interested.”

“Oh, I’m not really serious,” she replied, stepping back towards the door, “My friends and I couldn’t believe how cheap it was, and we were just curious”

“I see,” said the lady, pursing her lips. She was wearing old fashioned horn-rimmed glasses and her black hair was pulled back severely in a bun. Ursula guessed she was in her fifties. Her sharp nose and features reminded her of a bird.

“Sorry to waste your time.” She was about to step out the door when the lady got up from her desk and walked to the counter.

“Wait a minute, if you’re not in a hurry you can go and have a look at it anyway. I’ll give you the keys. It’s quite impressive and well worth a tour, even if you don’t want to rent it.”

Ursula hesitated. The offer was unusual, but there was no reason why they shouldn’t take a peek. They weren’t in a hurry to get back to the city, and normally she loved looking through old houses. It wasn’t every day an opportunity like this came along, but for some reason she felt no enthusiasm at the prospect. The woman seemed to sense her misgivings.

“At the very least I’ll be able to tell my client that someone viewed it, because we haven’t had any interest yet. You just have to leave some ID with me,” she pressed. “He gets a bit cross when I tell him no one has been through it, as if I’m not doing my job properly.” She laughed shrilly and Ursula noticed it had a hint of desperation to it. She felt sorry for the woman, and reluctantly she went outside to see if her friends were interested.

She had been hoping they’d say no, but Rachel, Dale and Connor jumped at the chance to see inside Colton Manor, and that was how she found herself navigating the winding road around the cliffs towards the huge house a short time later. The weather had been a little overcast when they stopped at Paradise for lunch, but as they made their way to the house it began to rain, and it got heavier as she struggled on the unfamiliar bends.

They’d rented a car for the trip, and Ursula wasn’t familiar with the location of the windshield wipers. When she tried to turn them on she switched on the left blinker instead, and she swore under her breath as they drove into a patch of fog. For a few seconds she couldn’t see a thing, and she was forced to swerve suddenly when a black car flew out of the mist directly towards them. The driver beeped the horn and gestured angrily, and Ursula realized she’d been on the wrong side of the road.

As soon as she could find a safe place on the shoulder of the road she pulled over and took some deep breaths. When she looked around at her friends they were all pale with shock.

“That was a close call,” said Dale, breaking the silence. “Do you want me to drive?”

“Yes, thanks,” replied Ursula, getting out of the car with trembling legs and taking his place in the passenger seat. No one said much as they drew nearer to the mansion, but their close encounter on the road was almost forgotten when they caught sight of the impressive house through the trees. The others began chattering excitedly, but Ursula was overcome with the same unsettled feeling she’d experienced in the real estate office. She told herself it was nerves from the near miss they’d just had, and she tried to join in with the conversation.

“Wow, it’s absolutely beautiful,” exclaimed Rachel, as they drove through the grand iron gates which were open, as if waiting for them, and past the manicured gardens that seemed to stretch on forever. Colton Manor was made of white stone, and although it couldn’t have been more than one hundred and fifty years old, it looked like a castle. “It’s hard to believe we could actually afford to stay here.”

 “Can you imagine the parties we could have?” said Connor. “We could invite everyone from college up for weekends. It would be awesome.” When they stepped through the double front doors into the foyer they were even more impressed. The house was fully restored but most of the original features had been preserved. All of the rooms combined old world charm with modern comforts in an understated way that didn’t detract from the feeling they’d been transported back in time to the mid-nineteenth century.

The misty location of the house had seemed romantic and charming on a winter’s day, and as they’d looked through the rooms and explored the grounds they’d indulged in collective daydreams about how nice it would be here in summer when they could swim on their own private beach and sip cocktails in the gazebo as the sun set.

They all had to submit paintings for a major class exhibition when they returned from summer holidays, and they agreed this would be the perfect place to get some work done. The plans, which had started out as a lark, became more serious as they drove home, and by the time she dropped Rachel and Connor off in front of their student share house the four of them had agreed to rent Colton Manor together for six weeks over summer.

As she was the only one with any spare cash, Ursula had offered to book the house and pay for it on the understanding the other three would pay her back as soon as they could. That had turned out to be her undoing and the reason she now found herself alone in a huge, chilly mansion on a windswept cliff top while nearly everyone else she knew was lapping up the sun. She now knew why the town had struggled to attract summer visitors the previous year; it was because they didn’t seem to have a summer at all.

The room on the second floor that she’d chosen for her studio was especially cold that morning and she couldn’t get the heating to work.  She pulled on the coat she’d brought with her just in case the evenings were chilly, but she’d never seriously expected to wear it. At the thought of the bikini and suntan lotion in her suitcase she gave a grim laugh.  These things would probably never see the light of day while she was here.

She’d been so looking forward to a fun, carefree holiday with her friends that she’d dyed her hair for the occasion. The pink and yellow stripes went perfectly with the vintage sundresses she’d picked up from the charity store, and although her parents told her disapprovingly that she looked like a typical art student, she was proud of her appearance. It annoyed her that no one would get to see these dresses now because she’d probably spend the entire holiday alone dressed in the oversized man’s shirt she always wore when she painted.

Her college friends had assured her that the seclusion would be brilliant for her work and that she’d be so inspired she wouldn’t have time to feel lonely, but in fact, the opposite was true. She’d been unable to focus enough to get any painting done, and the isolation was beginning to play tricks on her mind.

Just that night she’d woken with a start, thinking she heard a man calling to her in the darkness. She knew she had to be dreaming because it had sounded like he was right there in the room with her. She’d still turned on the light to look under the bed and inside the closet, feeling very silly as she did it, but needing to be sure. She hadn’t been able to get back to sleep after that, and now she was tired and unmotivated as she stared at the blank canvass in front of her.

“Hello, is there anyone home?” The voice floated up the stairs, just barely audible above the rain and distant crashing of waves on the rocks. Ursula jumped in shock at the unexpected sound.  Although she’d only been at Colton Manor a short time she’d become accustomed to the silence, and the intrusion seemed harsh and out of place.

She didn’t know anyone in the area, and she felt slightly apprehensive as she made her way downstairs. Through the glass door at the back of the house leading into the kitchen she could see a woman with springy blonde curls standing on the veranda. She was dressed casually in jeans, and in her hand she held a plate with a cake on it. She appeared to be around thirty.

“Hi, I hope you don’t mind me intruding like this.  I live around the point with my family. We’re your closest neighbours. When Yvette from the real estate agency told me you were out here on your own I thought I’d better come and introduce myself. I’m Bonnie Forbes.”

“Oh, thanks, that’s really nice of you. Please come in and I’ll make a fresh pot of coffee. I’m Ursula.” Bonnie hesitated as Ursula held the door open for her.

“Do you mind if we sit outside? The veranda is completely sheltered from the rain.”

“It’s a bit cold don’t you think? I can put the heater on in the kitchen and it will be nice and warm.”

“I’d really prefer to sit outside if that’s okay. Here, this is a welcome gift for you.” She held out the chocolate cake towards her.

“Okay, thanks” said Ursula as she took it. “You go ahead and I’ll be right out.” As she boiled the kettle and cut a piece of cake each, she contemplated the woman’s strange behaviour. The rain was setting in, and it would be very uncomfortable outside, but it was almost as if Bonnie didn’t want to come into the house. She seemed nice enough though, and Ursula could use the company. Grabbing a scarf someone had left in the hall closet she retrieved the tray from the kitchen and went outside to brave the elements. 

Bonnie had made herself comfortable at the table on the veranda and as they chatted amiably Ursula discovered that her neighbour was a school teacher with three young children. She and her husband had moved to the area five years earlier to escape the city grind.

“Please tell me the weather gets better than this. I really don’t want to spend my summer wearing a coat and scarf. My friends will be very glad they couldn’t make it if it rains the whole time I’m here.”

“What happened to your friends, if you don’t mind me asking? Yvette at the real estate agency said a group of you rented the house but the others had backed out after you’d paid. That seems a bit unfair.”

“Oh, it wasn’t their fault. My best friend Rachel was in an accident and she broke her leg. Her boyfriend obviously couldn’t come without her. The other person, Dale, well, he and I had a bit of a thing going but we split up not long ago. It would have been fine if the others had come, but we both agreed that just the two of us would have been a bit awkward.”

“And you couldn’t you find anyone else?”

“No, by the time all this happened everyone had made plans, so I had no choice but to come on my own.”

“How have you found it so far?”

“To be honest it’s a bit lonely, I’m used to being around people all the time, so it’s hard being by myself. I think I’ve started imagining things. I actually thought I heard someone calling me in the middle of the night last night.” She expected Bonnie to laugh, but instead she looked serious, and she didn’t say anything for a moment.

She cleared her throat and looked uncomfortable before she finally spoke. “I really don’t know how to put this, and I don’t want to scare you, but there are rumours about this house that you should know about.”

“What sort of rumours?” Ursula said, drawing in her breath.

“People say it’s haunted.”

 “Aren’t there rumours like that about all old houses? You don’t believe them do you?”  She tried to laugh the comment off, but Bonnie didn’t even crack a smile as she set her coffee mug down on the table.

 “I’m going to be honest with you, Ursula. This isn’t just a social visit. I came here to warn you about the house. The reason the rent is so cheap for the summer is because no one has been able to stay here for more than a week or two. They all leave in a big hurry because they’re scared away. There’s something about it that isn’t right. I felt it the first time I came here, and that’s why I refuse to set foot inside.  

For a moment Ursula didn’t know how to respond, but she remembered the feeling of foreboding she’d had about the house when the woman at the real estate offered to let them view it, and again when she’d seen it for the first time. She’d always been attuned to her sixth sense, but since she’d arrived at Colton Manor she’d tried to ignore the bad vibes the house seemed to give off. She usually took her intuitions very seriously, but she couldn’t afford to let herself get carried away when she was here for over a month on her own.

“Please tell me this is a joke.”

“I wish it was, but you can ask anyone in town. Yvette should never have rented the house to you, but she was under a lot of pressure from the owner to find a summer tenant. When I found out you were here on your own I had to let you know. If you want my advice I think you should just cut your losses and get out of here, go back to the city. It’s not safe for anyone, but especially a young woman by herself.”

“I can’t,” replied Ursula, her panic beginning to rise. “I’m in between houses at the moment and all my stuff is in storage. On top of that I have no money. Every cent I had went into the rent for this place. I can’t leave because I have nowhere to go.”

 “What about family or friends? Surely there’s someone you can stay with? I’d offer you a bed at our place, but with three kids there’s not much room to spare.”

“My parents live overseas, and most of my friends have gone away for the summer break.  There’s no one else I could impose on for that long. I know you meant well, Bonnie, but I wish you hadn’t said anything. Now you’ve really got me spooked.” Ursula glanced up at the window of her studio, and for a second she was positive she saw someone standing there looking down at them. She put her hand to her mouth. “God, now I’m even seeing people, I just thought there was someone looking out from that window.”

Bonnie glanced towards the window nervously. “I’m sorry. My husband told me not to say anything to you, and maybe he was right, but I just thought you should know. I feel awful now.”

“No one has ever actually been hurt by this ghost, have they?”

“Not that I know of. From what I’ve heard people just get very spooked and leave, but nothing has ever physically harmed them.”

“I think I can handle things that go bump in the night as long as they don’t hurt me. I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

Bonnie did not look very convinced as she stared at Ursula with a furrowed brow. Then her face brightened unexpectedly.

“Actually there is one possible solution. It won’t get you away from the house but it will mean you don’t have to be here on your own.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I have a friend who’s renovating his house and he’s been staying in a motel in town. He’s a science professor who doesn’t believe in ghosts. He’s always said he’d be glad to spend time in this house and prove all the gullible the people wrong. This is a chance for him to put his money where his mouth is. What do you think?”

Normally Ursula wouldn’t even have contemplated living alone with a total stranger, especially in such an isolated location, but she was desperate.

“Sounds great. When can he move in?”

Bonnie laughed. “Let’s not jump the gun. It might be a good idea if you meet him first. He’s very well-known in town and a perfect gentleman. You won’t have any trouble with him. Why don’t you come around to my place for afternoon tea and you can get to know him before you make up your mind.”

“Okay, I’ll be there. What time?”

“Oh, around three. Just turn right from the drive and follow the road right around the point. You can’t miss the house.’

“Thanks, Bonnie.” They talked for a little longer and after she’d waved her guest off fifteen minutes later Ursula tried hard to be brave as she turned back towards the house. Again, for just a split second she thought she saw someone at the upstairs window. The last thing in the world she wanted to do was go back inside after what Bonnie had told her, but the rain was coming down harder now and she had no choice.

Whatever this friend of Bonnie’s turned out to be like, she didn’t care. He could have two heads for all it mattered to her, just as long as he provided her with human company and helped to ward off the evil spirits that dwelled in Colton Manor. Bonnie had mentioned he was a science professor. In her mind she pictured a crusty old man who did not suffer fools gladly and would be quick to dismiss any fanciful notions she might have. That was exactly the kind of man she needed right now, and she couldn’t wait for the next few hours to pass so she could meet him, and hopefully convince him to move in with her.
Colton Manor is available for 0.99 on Amazon.

Friday, 14 December 2012

The Instant Gratification of Self Publishing


No one can deny that e-books have ushered in major changes in the publishing industry. Readers now literally have millions of books at their fingertips and the anticipation of buying a new book is becoming a thing of the past when it can be downloaded instantly.

There are obviously many benefits to this. It follows that if readers have access to more books they'll read more books too. The convenience of being able to buy books from the comfort of your own bed cannot be overestimated. Previous generations could only dream about such a thing, but for us it's a reality that we are beginning to take for granted.

With the benefits of instant communication there also come negatives, and one of the major drawbacks is the quality of books readers are consuming. I am truly shocked at some of the self-published books that receive such an enthusiatic following on sites like Goodreads. It's not that I'm a snob (which would be a little hypocritical considering I am a self-pubber), but there are books out there with dozens of five-star reviews that don't follow the principles of basic grammar or punctuation. It's incredibly depressing to witness the degeneration of literary standards that is happening with the self-publishing revolution, and in some ways I yearn for the old days of the literary gate-keepers.

In my opinion another effect of instantly available books is that readers seem less willing to take time for a story to develop. If it doesn't grab them straight away they are more likely to discard it and move onto something else because there are so many other books out there for them to download. The result is less thoughtful, subtle writing and more cliched fiction that appeals to readers but doesn't challenge them or help them to see the world in a different way.

Readers aren't the only ones who are disadvantaged by the runaway success of self-publishing. It's just so easy to publish a book these days that many writers are guilty of rushing into it and not spending the time polishing their book to the high standard that would have been required in the past to get the attention of a publisher. Now a book can be uploaded to Amazon just minutes after the final word has been typed.

I know what I'm talking about as I have succumbed to the instant gratification of self-publishing more than once, most recently with my novella Colton Manor. I initially made the decision to send it out to publishers but after less than two weeks of waiting I couldn't take it any longer and put it up on Amazon. In my defence the book took a long time to write, so it's not the first draft, but now that it's out there I can't help but wonder what a publisher would have made of it. Now I'll never know and I'm suffering from an acute case of self-publisher's remorse.

I hope that next time I write something I can resist the temptation to self-publish immediately and find the patience to wait it out for publishers (or beta-readers if I decide to self-publish again) to respond. The instant gratification of self-publishing is very addictive but authors need to keep their eyes on the bigger picture and focus on producing the best possible work they can in order to safeguard the literary standards we all hold dear.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Colton Manor: Prologue


 


       Anna could hear him bellowing her name as he stormed through the upstairs rooms, throwing open doors and knocking over furniture in his haste find her. Silently she opened the front door and walked down the steps to the circular drive. It was raining heavily, but she barely noticed the sting of the cold water as it dripped through her clothes, soaking her to the bone. She turned and looked back at the imposing white mansion at the same moment as a dark figure moved past the window in the upstairs library, briefly blotting out the candlelight. Soon he would finish his search for her up there and he would come back downstairs to find her. The rain would not stop him seeking her outside and there was nowhere left to hide.

It had been raining on the night she arrived at Colton Manor six months earlier with only a battered travelling case to her name. Dusk was falling as the carriage rounded the bend and she caught sight of the manor for the very first time. It was perched on the edge of a cliff with the ocean as its backdrop, creating a dramatic first impression. The manor was more like a castle than a house, and even shrouded in misty rain it was quite spectacular. Anna should have been thrilled with her grand new home which was so different from the world she had left behind. Instead she was overcome with a strong desire to turn and flee.

Putting her nerves down to excitement she had smiled at her new husband and linked her arm through his. She remembered how Edward had turned to look at her, but in place of the familiar warmth in his eyes she had grown to love, there was only coldness. It was as if the house had cast some kind of spell over him, and from that moment onwards he began to change. Gone was the charming, handsome man who had swept into her life like a prince from a fairy tale, stealing her heart and rescuing her from a life of drudgery as a kitchen maid. This man was jealous, sadistic and paranoid. He took great delight in terrorising her, and his cruelty had become more pronounced each day.

It began with pinches and name calling when she did something to displease him and then progressed to open-handed slaps that left marks which lingered on her flesh for hours. When he started using his fists, Anna found a way to block out the pain by retreating to a place deep inside where he could not reach her. In addition to the beatings he also liked to twist her fingers until she begged him to stop, and just two nights earlier he had held her face so close to the fire that her hair caught alight. He had laughed at her terror and done nothing to help her put out the flames.

For months Anna had continued to hope and pray that he would change back into the man she knew, but on that terrible night she’d finally been forced to face the truth. Her life with him had become unbearable, and his violence towards her would only get worse. She could not tolerate the thought of bringing a child into such a loveless, brutal marriage.

“Anna, where are you? You know you can’t hide from me forever. I’ll make you pay for this.” He was downstairs now, and it was only a matter of time till he threw open the heavy front doors and found her standing there in the rain. For the first time since she had arrived at Colton Manor she was not afraid of him. “What have you done with my money? I’ll wring your neck till you tell me where it is, woman.”

He had grown convinced over the past few months that she and the servants were conspiring to steal his money, and he’d gone to great lengths to hide his fortune. He’d dismissed every single member of the staff and taken to locking Anna is her room while he transferred his money from one hiding place to another. Sometimes it seemed there were other people in the house with him because she heard different voices, and they chanted strange words that filled her with dread. When he was alone he muttered to himself and paced the floor until Anna began to fear he had completely lost his mind. She spent these hours huddled in the corner of her room, listening intently for the sound of his footsteps on the stairs.

“I swear to God I’m going to kill you if you don’t come out right now and tell me where my money is,” he yelled again. He was very close to the front door now, and she did not have much time left. Without another glance at the house that had brought her so much misery she made her way to the edge of the gardens and then down the path towards the cliff. Only a short time ago these gardens had been manicured and beautiful, but like everything else at Colton Manor they were neglected, and the grass and tangled weeds were now almost up to her knees. It was a moonless night and she couldn’t see far in front of her, but the endless, rhythmic sound of the ocean drew her forward and gave her comfort. Its song was soothing and familiar, almost as if it was calling her home.

When she reached the cliff there was just enough light for her to make out the waves crashing onto the rocks below. Only the rain wet her cheeks as she contemplated what she was about to do. She was far beyond tears now. There really was no other way out for her. If she tried to leave him he would simply hunt her down and drag her back again, and her life would become even worse than it was. She had no money and no family to protect her. She was all alone in the world, and no one would miss her when she was gone. She had been foolish to believe that things could ever be any different for a poor woman like her, and she was about to pay the ultimate price for her foolishness.

He was on the path now, walking towards her, a bulky shape moving heavily in the darkness.

“Anna, I see you, don’t think you can get away from me, wench. There’s nowhere to run.” Anna turned around, and with slumped shoulders she walked obediently up the incline towards him. “You are a fool if you believe there is any escape for you.”

When she was several feet from the cliff she turned back again, and then suddenly she ran, pushing out with her foot as far as she could when she reached the edge of the cliff. For a second she seemed to hang in the air, suspended in mid-flight, and then she began her descent to the sharp rocks below.

The scream that tore from her throat was not one of fear, but rather of release as she let go of all the anguish and suffering she’d endured at the hands of the man who had vowed to honour and protect her. She felt no sadness or regret as her body sliced through the cold night air. For a few moments she had known what it felt like to fly, and it was exhilaration, not fear, that filled her heart even as she plummeted towards her death. At last she was free.
 
Colton Manor is available for 99 cents on Amazon.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Colton Manor: A Sneak Preview



Art student Ursula St Clare is less than thrilled when she is forced to spend her summer break alone in a chilly, isolated mansion perched on the edge of a cliff. Things go from bad to worse when a neighbour warns her that the house is haunted. Ursula has already sensed that something is not right at Colton Manor, and she makes the decision to sublet a room in the hope that some human company will help keep the ghosts at bay.

Scientist Damien Knight is a self-proclaimed sceptic when it comes to all things supernatural. He needs somewhere to stay while his home is being renovated, and Ursula finds herself instantly attracted to the older man. She entertains thoughts of a summer fling with her sexy new housemate, but it isn’t long before Damien starts acting very strangely and Ursula begins to fear for her safety.

Has she let a dangerous, unstable man into the house, or is it Colton Manor and its evil legacy which is causing him to behave so bizarrely? 

*Colton Manor is available through Amazon for $1.99.
 

Thursday, 29 November 2012

5 Reasons Why Flash Fiction Is Good For You


The other day I came across a magazine that accepts flash fiction of up to 800 words and it prompted me to try my hand at writing a really short story. Not only was the story fun to write, but it also made me realise just how helpful flash fiction can be in honing writing skills.

So here are five reasons why flash fiction is good for you:

1. It's actually very difficult to condense an entire story into 800 words. The story has to have a beginning, middle and end like any story, some descrption to set the tone and maybe even a little character development. It forces you to think very carefully about the structure of your story and this can only be beneficial.

2. When writing flash fiction you don't have the luxury of building a scene or using a lot of imagery. Every single word counts and there's no room for extraneous information that's not central to the plot. This forces you to trim back your writing to the bare bones and focus on individual words to a much greater degree than any other type of fiction writing. If you're anything like me you spend your time trying to bump your word count up as much as possible, so writing flash fiction will force you to approach writing in a very different way.

3. Because every single word counts in flash fiction the reader is aware that all information is meaningful. You need to lay down clues without making it too easy to guess the ending. I often get frustrated reading books that include a whole lot of pointless detail that does nothing to further the plot, or mysteries where no groundwork has been laid and the solution comes completely out of left field. Flash fiction can help authors produce much tighter, more logical writing.

4. Most flash fiction and many short stories have a similar structure to a joke and  the ending is like the punchline. In order to pull this off authors must be original and inventive.

5. Flash fiction is an ideal place to start for beginning writers who may feel daunted by writing longer stories. It allows you play around with your style an point of view while you are developing your own unique voice. For experienced writers it can be a great way to  hone skills and experiment between books. There is also a strong market online for this type of fiction, providing opportunities to reach more readers.

For all of these reasons I will continue to write flash fiction and maybe even post some of it on this blog!

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Snakes On My Brain: A True Story


I have a history with snakes. I'm not talking about the human variety that lurk in the grass, pretending to be your friend and then unleash their venom on you when you least expect it, although sadly, I do have a history with these types as well.

For the purposes of this blog post I'm referring to actual snakes, particulary the extremely poisonous ones that live in this wide brown land I call home. Did you know that 20 of the world's top 25 most dangerous snakes are native to Australia? This doesn't inspire much confidence in tourists to this country, but the reality is that many of my fellow Aussies never actually see a snake outside of a zoo or reptile park.

I'm not one of these lucky people. My first encounter with a snake took place when I was about four and I ran up the steps at the back of my parent's house to find a snake sunning itself on the back patio. This snake had to climb up at least 8 steps to get to the patio, instilling me with a deep fear of the lengths snakes will go to get to humans (rationally I know this isn't true, but irrationally I'm sure all snakes are out to get us). A neighbour came over and killed the snake with a shovel, and not long after that I had the worst nightmare of my childhood. It involved thousands of snakes of all different colours writhing over every surface in the house. My most vivid memory of the dream is opening up the drawer of my toy cupboard to find it full of snakes. I'm pretty sure this was my first official nighmare.

Snakes left me alone for a long time after this, despite the fact that I spent a lot of time with my sisters running barefoot through the bush. I was beginning to think I'd never had to worry about them again until my husband and I moved to a remote outback town to teach for three years, and suddenly the snakes were back with a vengance. I didn't actually see any with my own eyes for the first couple of years, but heard plenty of horror stories. Then one day I was returning back to school after lunch when a huge king brown slithered across the path directly in front of me. What was even more terrifying than seeing the snake was seeing where it came from: a clump of bushes in an area where children had been playing just minutes earlier.

Although I was scared, I didn't reach a point of abject terror until I moved into a flat the following year and a baby snake slithered across my husband's foot while he sat at a desk in our bedroom and then disappeared into a crack in the wall. That's right, there was a snake in our bedroom. My greatest concern was for our dog, Scooter, who loves to chase things and wouldn't have hesitated to go after one, with obviously terrible consequences. Within a couple of days both my husband and dog had packed up and left me to it, but thankfully I got a new job just a couple of weeks later and I was out of there too.

I thought I'd put the snakes behind me when we settled back in Sydney in the middle of a very built-up area, but fate it seems had other plans for me. A year after returning to Sydney we inherited a house in a very remote area, and snakes were back on the agenda. The fact that our house had been empty for nearly two years, during which time there was a severe mouse plague, didn't help things along. Neither did the fact that the grass was up to our knees when we moved in, but for a long time the God's smiled on us and there was nary a snake to be seen. At first I was terrified, and anyone who knows me can attest that I talked about snakes a lot, but when the yokels assured us there were no snakes around we grew complacent and let our dog wander freely through the bushes and long grass. That changed this week with two snake sightings within days of each other.

The first sighting was scary because it was very close to the house but the brown snake at least had the decency to remain hidden beneath long grass, and it quickly retreated when it realized I'd seen it. We decided then that the yokels were full of shit and the only way to protect our dog was to keep him inside and supervise him in the yard. (Actually I decided this and my husband thought I was overreacting. This from a man who screams like a girl at the sight of a tiny spider in the toilet!) Not ideal, but I felt that we would all be safe it we just followed these basic precautions. Imagine my abject horror when I walked down the hallway towards the back door today to see a big black snake INSIDE the house. Let me remind you that these snakes are DEADLY and we live 45minutes from a hospital.

It was like my worst nightmare coming to life. At first I thought it couldn't possibly be real, and that I must be hallucinating the whole thing. My second thought was for the dog and I was very relieved to see from where I was standing that he was asleep on the bed, oblivious to the intruder in our home. It was one of those moments in life when I had to make a split second decision about what to do. My first reaction was to scream but then I realized this would alert the dog and he'd come out of the bedroom and probably attack the snake. To avoid this scenario I had to kind of walk past the snake to the bedroom to lock him in. The snake at this point was freaking out and trying to get under the screen door but in its panic it couldn't fit. I was about to close the door leading into that area of the house so I could keep it enclosed in one area when it managed to squeeze its way out and went on its way. I won't bother telling you what my state of mind/behaviour was like in the minutes that followed.

When I finally regained my sanity the first question was: Where did it come from? Had it entered the house the same way, or was there another entry point? How long had it been inside for? The night before we'd heard a couple of noises while we were in bed, so had the snake been in the house all night? Was it locked in with the dog while we went out for five hours today, and was that why the dog was lying on the floor when I got home as if he was stalking something under the bed? The mind just boggles at the possibilities.

Anyway history is repeating itself as husband, dog and possibly me this time make a run for it to the city. The dog is the only one who will get to stay though as we have no choice but to come back for work. The plan is to clear up the yard and block all entry points to house so that unwelcome visitors can't get in. We're planning to start renovations soon and all the noise should drive them away, and hopefully keep them away forever. I really hope I've had my last encounter with these terrifying creatures because snakes are not one of the most potent symbols of evil for no reason.

Rationally snakes are very shy creatures and will only ever bite as a last resort. Everyone I've told a about my snake encouters has asked me if I killed them. Nooooooo. Most bites occur when people try to catch or kill snakes. Give them space and let them go on their way unharmed and they will gladly reciprocate.

The only positive I can draw from this situation is that I'll be able to use it in my writing if one of my characters ever has the misfortune to come across a snake in his/her house. *shudder*


Sunday, 18 November 2012

Almost at the end of my WIP



There's no other feeling in the world quite like finishing a book, especially if it's been living in your head for a long time. My current WIP is almost at the stage where I can start sending it out to publishers, and I'm so thrilled to wrap it up and move on.

Although it's only a 36,000 word novella, this has been one of the hardest things I've ever written. The story is a standard romantic suspense, and it's no different to anything I've written before, but for some reason it's taken me FOREVER to finish it.

There are several reasons for this, but I think the main one is that I started writing it for an anthology were the guidelines were very strict, and although the story has changed completely, just basing the original story on something that wasn't my own idea was difficult. I also took much more of a pantser approach because I really didn't know where the story was going for a very long time and had a bit of trouble deciding how to end it.

 The process wasn't as enjoyable as it has been with other things I've written and just writing a few paragraphs was exhausting. My WIP started to feel more like a whip at times! There's also a distinct possibility I'm suffering from burn-out because I've really thrown myself into writing over the last two years, almost to the point of being obssessive.  For all of the above reasons I avoided it as much as possible, but I wasn't able to move onto anything else until it was finished. Some people can't finish books once they start reading them, and I'm the same with books that I'm writing!

Looking back now that I've almost finished it, I can see how it reflects every other book I've written in different ways. I'm not sure if this means I'm becoming stale and recycling ideas, or if this is inevitable once you've written a few books. I can honeslty say I'm quite proud of it, but I do wonder if I've managed to pull the ending off successfully. Only time will tell.

I tossed up between self-publishing and sending out queries, and I decided to give the traditional route another go because I like getting feedback and having my books professionally edited, even if it means I lose some of the control over the end product. I'll probably send it out to my top three publishers during the week and then settle in for the agonising wait. I'd like to say I'm ready to move onto something completely new, but I have another half finished novella that I have to finish before I can turn over a completely fresh page, and then who knows what my twisted mind will come up with! Stay tuned.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Pros and Cons of Writing a Novella Series


It seems that many authors are dabbling in writing a series these days. This may have something to do with the changes in publishing which make it easier to get the first book in the series out there while the others are still being written. For authors the benefits are clear, but I've read some mixed comments about this from readers who it seems are getting a bit tired of the number of series on the market.

I've dabbled in writing a series with my paranormal romance Eternal Hunger which consists of five novellas ranging from 15,000 - 20,000 words. At the time it seemed like a great idea to write this story like this, but in hindsight I'm not sure I'd do it again. I actually enjoyed the process but the main reason I'm ambivalent about is that readers just aren't that into novellas. Despite predictions that attention spans are waning and ereadrers are better for reading shorter fiction, this hasn't been borne out by sales. Readers are still buying longer books, and it seems the longer the better. One constant criticism I've had of my own novellas and  which I've read in reviews for other authors is that they are too short.

Novellas and series are two separate subjects, but it seems many authors have had the same idea as me and decided to write a single novel in novella length installments, and that's what has prompted me to write this post. I'm surprised to see that some are even selling what basically amounts to a few chapters at the same price as a full-length novel. Not surprisingly many of the reviewers have commented that they feel cheated by this. I've tried to avoid this trap with my own series by pricing each novella at 99 cents and making the whole series in one volume just $2.99, meaning it's cheaper to buy it all in one hit. I've had much greater success with the single volume and I'm seriously considering taking the separate novellas off Amazon.

Anyway without further ado here are the pros and cons I discovered through my own experience of writing a novella series:

Pros

1.  Authors can begin making money as soon as the first novella is completed (if they choose to self-publish).

2. Selling the series in separate installments means there are more oppportunities for promotion. The first book can be given away for free, encouraging people to buy the rest of the series.

3. Each novella can have its own themes and ideas while still relating to the bigger story.

4.  It is challenging and fun to create a novella length story inside a larger story which could stand on its own (I don't think I quite succeeded with this but I tried!)

5. You can experiment with different covers and blurbs to see which ones work the best.

Cons

1. If you want to get published traditionally it's much harder to get publishers and agents to take a chance on a series.

2. Readers get really annoyed when they are just starting to get into a book and it ends, meaning they have to buy the next book.

3. If the first novella doesn't grab a reader they will not buy the next, but they probably would have continued reading a novel and given it more of a chance.

4. Many readers will be turned off by the fact that the book is part of a series and they will not buy it for this reason alone.

5. The first book in the series can be given away for free to promote the series, but it seems pointless to give any of the other books away for free if you want people to read them in the right order.

6. It can become very repetitive having to fill in the backstory for each novella.

Have you written a series and if so what was your experience like?

Saturday, 27 October 2012

If Your Life Was a Novel......


According to the theory of destiny our lives are already mapped out in front of us before we even draw our first breath. People who believe in fate often say that "everything happens for a reason" and that life is about learning lessons and evolving spiritually. When you look at it this way, you could also say that each life has certain themes that are central to it, and which are intrinsic to character development.

 If all of this is true the question has to be asked: Who wrote the story? The obvious answers are God or the higher self. The next question is what type of story is your life? Is it mainly farce, tragedy, comedy, drama, or a mixture of all of these? Is it well-written and coherent with great dialogue and an interesting mix of characters? Or does it meander all over the place with no coherent plot and unlikeable characters? We're all still WIPs, but can you see any particular themes emerging in your existence? What would a reviewer say if they read your life story up to this stage? Would they be enthralled and want to continue, or would they be bored and uninspired?

Why not write your own review of your own unfinished life story to give you an idea if it is on the right track and if you like the direction it's heading in? Obviously you can't go back and rewrite any of it (if only!) but it's never too late to make changes that will lead to a happy ending (ie. a fulfilled and satisfying life.)

Here's my blurb from my own review of Francene Carroll: A Life In Progress

In many ways a conventional story, Francene Carroll does have enough surprising twists and turns to keep it interesting. The overall plot is confused and at times I really wonder where the story is going, but there are also hints of potential yet to be fulfilled. This is what compells me to keep reading even when the main character frustrates and infuriates me with her self-pity, indecision and lack of self-esteem. I really hope she manages to overcome her demons and follow her dreams.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Are You a Plotter, Pantser or Plantser?


Are you the type of writer who likes to have everything planned out in great detail before you set pen to paper and begin writing your novel or story? Do you create detailed character profiles and plot diagrams for every twist and turn well before you have composed the first sentence? Do you already know in advance what your themes are and how your characters will develop over the course of the book? If you answered yes to these questions then you, my friend, are a planner.

 
On the other hand if you start writing with no clear idea of where your story is going, who your characters are or even what the story it is about then you fall into the category of pantser. You thrive on uncertainty and see writing as a journey which is as exciting for you as it is for the reader. You delight in coming up with connections and ideas on the run and you give your unconscious a lot of leeway to create.
 
 
These are the two extremes of the writing world, but my guess is that most writers probably fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, making them plantsers. I'm definitely in the plantser category because I begin with a basic outline for each chapter and an overall idea I want to express, but I don't fill in the details till I actually start writing. Once I begin writing the story and characters change a great deal from my original plan. I believe in giving the unconscious room to play and for me the most satisfying part of writing is seeing connections I hadn't even realised were there, and the plot twists I didn't consider when planning, but which suddenly seem ideal. In a sense, writing is a lot like reading, and if your story doesn't entertain and thrill you as you're composing it, then chances are it won't thrill anyone else either.

I love the term plantser because it really captures the organic process of writing. Just like a plant a story has to begin with a seed planted in the fertile soil of the imagination, and as it begins to grow the roots develop to hold the story together and keep it anchored. Above the soil is the story itself, growing and blossoming in beautiful and often unexpected ways.


Everyone has their own approach to their craft and you have to go with what works for you, but I believe plantsers manage to avoid the pitfalls that come with being a planner or a panser. Planners risk overthinking things and losing spontaneity. Pantsers on the other hand often find that they start out with great enthusiasm but then come to a grinding halt because they don't know how to finish the story. Their characters can come across as superficial because they haven't spent enough time thinking about the motivations and how they will develop. I know this from experience because I have taken a pantser approach with my current WIP and I've found it far more difficult than my previous books. It's not approach I'll be taking again in a hurry.

I've discovered I'm a plantser through and through because this approach combines the best of both worlds. It provides a solid grounding to build on while also allowing the imagination to run free and do its magic. Who could ask for more than this?

What type of writer are you?

Friday, 12 October 2012

The Sound & Fury of Australian Politics

"It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
  William Shakespeare, Macbeth


I wonder what Shakespeare would make of the current state of politics? As a keen observor of humanity and its foibles he probably wouldn't be surprised at the greed, self-interest and hypocrisy that now dominate the political landscape, but I do believe even he would be shocked at just how juvenile and ridiculous political debate has become.

Scenes in Australian parliament this week demonstrate this point. Discussion has now been reduced to slanging matches over the misogyny of the leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott. Recognising that Abbott has a major problem appealing to women voters, Labor has gone all-out with their campaign to portray him as a male-chauvinist pig with attitudes right out of the stone-age.

I have absolutely no doubt there's more than a grain of truth in these accusations, and misogyny is alive in both parliament and wider society. Julia Gillard has been subjected to crude personal attacks and name-calling that male politicians have never had to endure and I  must admitt did get some satisfaction watching her make Abbott squirm.  However, I also believe that this focus on gender and sexism is abeing used by both parties to distract attention from the real issues about the economy and the fact that neither of them can put forward a platform that people will actually support. Rather than acknowledge this, they have to focus on these issues, and that's why parliament has degenerated into childish insults and point-scoring. This article sums it up better than I can.

Those who lauded Gillard for standing up to the bullies have totally missed the point. This article portrays her speech as a "triumph of feminism." Is it also a triumph of feminism to force single parent families onto the dole when the last child turns eight, effectively cutting the income of the most disadvanged families in society, the majority of which are headed by women? There was nothing remotely spontaneous or 'real' about her speech. Every move is carefully orchestrated to hit Abbott in his weak spot with voters and to distract attention away from her support for Peter Slipper, and other important questions. The whole debate is calculated. Gillard is an extremely ruthless politician who will say or do anything to survive, and to see her as some kind of "every woman" finally standing up for herself is ridiculous.

It's not just parliament that has degenerated markedly over the past few years. The media plays a huge role in blowing controversies way out of proportion, and causing people to focus on what is basically a whole lot of hot air while the country goes to hell in a handbasket. I can't believe the number of news reports I've read recently where they quote from Twitter and Facebook. Journalists have taken to scanning through social media sites to find the most offensive comments which they then use to stir up a hornet's nest. I really do despair at the state of the media, politics and society in general, and it can't be denied that all three are in a state of decay.