A writer’s diet

People are always shocked when I tell them that I don’t read for pleasure any longer. I simply don’t have the time. I have two young children and when they’re out of the house, I write.

That’s not to say I don’t read, but the books I read are associated with what I am writing – biographies and autobiographies of the real people in my novels. And i do enjoy them. But it has been a while since I have read a work of fiction for pleasure.
A small collection of books I have had to devour
in order to write my novels.
For a long time this concerned me because before I had children, I read all the time. I would consume two novels a week. As I saw it, reading and writing went hand in hand. For an author to remain creative, their imagination must be fed. I believed all authors should be nourished by a colourful buffet of fiction and non-fiction, meaning my current diet is severely lacking. Click here for Jenni Curry’s take on this dilemma.
How's your literary diet?
However, my publisher recently eased my mind. She told me that many authors refuse to read while they’re writing, fearful they might unconsciously steal another writer’s ideas and images. They prefer to keep temptation well out of reach.

I don’t think I’m one of those writers and probably, once my children are older and I have more time to myself, I will begin reading for pleasure again. But until then I am on a strict diet...

Weird & wacky research

As an author of historical fiction I am frequently diverted down surprising and unusual roads in my pursuit of historical accuracy.

Below are the top five topics I’ve found myself researching in recent weeks.

  1. The treatment of bovine mastitis in Puritan New England. Rubbing peppermint oil on the udder eased the cow’s discomfort.
  2. Stage coach travel to and from London in the early 19th century. Expensive, slow and arduous. Click here if you’d like to learn more on this topic. It’s quite fascinating! 
  3. The dome of St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Architect Sir Christopher Wren conceived the dome, while Sir James Thornhill painted the inside of the structure. It features eight scenes from the life of St Paul.
  4. The funeral of Baroness Thatcher. It lasted three hours and I watched every minute on YouTube.
  5. The letter writing habits of Caribbean pirates in 1715. Those that were literate did correspond with loved ones at home. However, the chances of the letter ever reaching its destination were slim.

Starting your novel

I've been procrastinating since Christmas. Starting work on my fourth novel has been difficult. At first, I used the school holidays as an excuse. Since the kids began back at school, I've been telling myself that I haven't progressed enough with the research.

The truth is, I've been frightened. What if a publisher doesn't want it? What if I spend twelve to eighteen months of my life writing this book and nobody reads it? What if it isn't a success?

There's simply no certainty in writing a book.

Was Edmund Hillary certain he would reach the summit of Mount Everest when he took the first step in 1953?

Then I asked myself, what's the worst thing that can happen? A publisher might not buy it. My manuscript may never see the light of day. This isn't such a catastrophe in the big scheme of things. At least I'm certain I'll not get frost bite.

Nevertheless, it's nerve wracking starting out, putting the first word on the page. It's a leap of faith. But it's a leap I'm proud to say I've now taken.

How did I overcome my fear and begin writing?       

There's a story in me that needs to be written. I really had no choice.

HERE are some great pointers about staying positive and focussed when you're writing a novel.

My journey into books and reading

When were you first bitten by the book bug?

Unlike most authors I didn’t grow up surrounded by books. As a child I was neither encouraged nor discouraged to read. Books just weren’t something my family discussed. I can’t remember my parents reading anything apart from newspapers and magazines.

Like all children I brought home my first readers from school in kindergarten. They featured Pam, Sam and Digger. I can’t recall bringing home any books after kindergarten. My brother began reading me the books of Dr Seuss, but I didn’t like them. I didn’t appreciate the magic of Dr Seuss until I was older.
I find myself wondering how I learned to read.

When I was seven or eight years old my mother began sending me to the corner shop every afternoon with fifty cents. My task was to purchase The Daily Mirror. This was back in the days when newspapers had a morning and an afternoon edition. 

I took to scanning the front page as I walked back up the hill to my home. Initially I just examined the images. Soon I began reading the articles. I’d lean on a fence or sit on a neighbour’s wall eating the Freckles I had bought with the change while I read the stories and the cartoons.

While Pam, Sam and Digger had taught me the basics, it was on these walks home that I learned to read proficiently.
With knowledge comes power. I wanted to read more. I began on the Trixie Belden mysteries - a series of children’s books about a girl detective. These books were recommended by my school librarian. I was hooked. Hungry for more, I quickly moved on to the Agatha Christie mysteries. My mother had recently seen an advertisement in a magazine and as a result purchased the entire collection. They were hardcover and the dust jackets featured images such as a dagger, a vial of poison or a smoking pistol, sensational images that appealed to my ten-year-old self.
Now there was no stopping me. In final year at school, when I was seventeen, I received an award for being the student that had borrowed the most books from the school library.

Now, as a parent, I encourage my kids to read and I read to them every day. I want to nurture their love of stories as much as possible. I’m not going to leave it to chance .

If you’re interested in what’s best for kids to read, as I am, check out this article that covers both sides of the debate.

Terrible Titles

I’ve been tagged by my friend and fellow writer, Rebecca James, to join in the Terrible Titles Blog Hop.

Here’s how it works:

Authors scroll through their current manuscript and let their cursor fall on random places. Those words or phrases become the alternate, terrible title for their novel. I’m scrolling through my latest manuscript, currently titled Hummingbirds. But after this, perhaps that title will change!

I’ve discovered some doozies hidden among the pages...

1. Tarnished Vase
2. Break Her
3. Fifty Hogsheads of Sugar
4. Troublesome Old Fart
5. The Most Profitable Brothel on the Island
6. Raw Iron and Earth
7. Gnarled Potatoes
8. Liberal Views

My personal favourite is Fifty Hogsheads of Sugar. The casual, not-too-attentive book browser might mistake it for Fifty Shades of Grey. It would fly off the shelves!

One of my favourite real-life bizarre titles is on a book by my author friend Mark Dapin - Fridge Magnets Are Bastards.

Captain Trimmer's self-published book won an award for
Oddest Title Of The Year in 1992, and went into second edition!
Malcolm Bradbury attracted attention
with this wonderful title.