Cultivating thankfulness

My daughter took this picture to help me celebrate!

In honour of Thanksgiving, I have decided to blog about thankfulness. For those of you who have followed my blog for a while, you will know that I did a series on thankfulness a while ago so I was going to choose my favourite post from that. However, I have just been writing about new ways to connect with God for a piece in January’s Premier Christianity magazine, and I have talked about cultivating thankfulness in that – so have decided to take my own advice! In that article,  one of my suggestions is to list things to be thankful to God for each day, so here are mine (actually for the month of November, as Thanksgiving falls towards the end of it). I am thankful for:

The ongoing health and wellbeing of my beautiful family – they are such fun to be around.

The chance to do a job I love but still be around most of the time for my children.

Completing my first month in a new role at Premier Christianity – the first that has lured be back into an office for over 18 years!

Not just one but two books published this month! I know I’ve spoken rather a lot about Taking Off the Mask, but the new one, Cover to Cover: 1, 2 & 3 John: Walking in the truth can be purchased here.

An incredible set of friends, many of whom celebrated with me at my first official book launch.

A wonderful, supportive church family, who responded so well to Steve and I sharing from the heart this month.

An amazing first musical evening at my daughter’s new secondary school – the talent was incredible.

 

Thanking God for ALL experiences

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A reflection and response…

As we looked at previously, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 talks about the fact that we need to learn to ‘give thanks in all circumstances’. Certainly the apostle Paul was a great example of this, praising God even while in chains. However, when we think about thanksgiving we don’t often turn to those situations that we find difficult or painful. And yet that is precisely the place God wants us to get to – being able to love and thank Him whatever is going on around (and to) us.

I find the hymn I’ve put below interesting because it does just that. Rather than only focusing on thanking God for the good times the writer has juxtaposed the positive with the negative: pleasant weather – and life experiences – with stormy, comfort with pain, roses with thorns.

Think back: how often have you thanked God for the difficulties in your life, as well as the easy times?

Read through this hymn, really reflecting on the individual images it contains. Try and place yourself in the hymn, and make yourself the protagonist. For example, what memories do you want to bring up and remember? What tears that you thought were now forgotten have brimmed up again? What storms have you weathered? When did you feel His comfort amongst the despair? What requests are you glad He denied? In what ways have you felt His hope?

Thanks to God for my Redeemer,

Thanks for all Thou dost provide!

Thanks for times now but a memory,

Thanks for Jesus by my side!

Thanks for pleasant, balmy springtime,

Thanks for dark and stormy fall!

Thanks for tears by now forgotten,

Thanks for peace within my soul!

Thanks for prayers that Thou hast answered,

Thanks for what Thou dost deny!

Thanks for storms that I have weathered,

Thanks for all Thou dost supply!

Thanks for pain, and thanks for pleasure,

Thanks for comfort in despair!

Thanks for grace that none can measure,

Thanks for love beyond compare!

Thanks for roses by the wayside,

Thanks for thorns their stems contain!

Thanks for home and thanks for fireside,

Thanks for hope, that sweet refrain!

Thanks for joy and thanks for sorrow,

Thanks for heav’nly peace with Thee!

Thanks for hope in the tomorrow,

Thanks through all eternity!

(Written in 1891 by August Ludvig Storm, of the Swedish Salvation Army. Translated in 1931 by Carl E. Backstrom and set to music by Swedish composer Johannes Alfred Hultman.)

Take some time to ask God to reveal to you experiences that are still locked away that you’ve never thanked Him for precisely because they were difficult. Ask for His revelation about them, so that you can see them through His eyes. Wait, seek His wisdom and then speak out a prayer of thanks, acknowledging the part they have played in shaping you. If there is pain or hurt that needs dealing with sit before your Father and ask Him to pour His healing balm on you, opening yourself up to His love and care.

You might like to try writing or drawing a juxtaposing poem or image yourself, picking up on both the good and not so easy things you want to thank God for. Keep whatever you create near you for the rest of the week so that you can use it as a starting point for reflective prayer.

Author interview: Claire Wong

Claire Wong photo
I am delighted to share part one of an interview with Claire, author of
The Runaway. She gives us an insight into writing poetry and novels, as well as how she fits writing into her everyday life. One of her poems can be found at the end, which is a wonderful added bonus!

Have you always been a writer?

I think so. I remember writing my first poem when I was five. It was based on the Nativity story: two children woke up one night to hear shepherds out in the street. Curious about the commotion, they decided to sneak out and follow them, and ended up coming to a stable where they saw something very unexpected!

 

Which writers influenced you as a child? And who influences you now? Who do you enjoy reading purely for pleasure too…

As a child I loved books set in other worlds, so Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Brian Jacques were all favourites of mine. As a teenager I enjoyed the dark comedy of Lemony Snicket and classics like Jane Austen. These days, my biggest influences are contemporary writers like Niall Williams and Susan Fletcher, but I still think of C.S. Lewis when I want to say something meaningful in an accessible way.

I enjoy reading books that don’t quite fit the main genres. They’re a risk, because you don’t know exactly what to expect if it isn’t a romance or a thriller or a historical mystery, but you stumble across some wonderful gems along the way.

You fit writing around a day job – how do you find the time, and is there a particular spot you like to write in?

At the moment, I’m in the office Monday to Thursday, and then Friday is my writing day. I think knowing I have a limited amount of time to write helps me be disciplined about making the most of it. I set up a workstation in the dining room, because it has a good-sized table and lots of natural light.

You write poetry – what prompted you to write The Runaway, your first novel?

I’ve been writing novels and short stories for a long time, but it’s taken me a while to finish one I was happy to see published. I suspect The Runaway ended up being that one because it contained a message and a story I felt compelled to tell.

I find poems easier to craft and hone quickly, in part simply because they are shorter and you can see where work is needed. I needed to give myself a lot more time to edit The Runaway before I showed it to anyone. I learned a lot from that process, which I’ll be able to apply to future novels!

Is there a big difference in the way you approached writing the book as opposed to your usual method for writing poetry?

You know, I’m surprised by the number of similarities! It began with an idea I felt I had to articulate – in this case the effects of a person leaving or being left behind, and the amazing extent of what’s possible when you choose to see the best in someone. I started scribbling in a notebook until it was full and then typed up those words so that I could rework them. One big difference was the sheer number of different voices I needed to develop for The Runaway – a poem usually only has one voice, but there was a whole cast of characters to grow here and I didn’t want them to all sound the same as each other!

Cannon's Mouth magazine coverWhat was the first piece of work you had published and how did that happen?

Back in 2013, I had a pair of poems published in a magazine called The Cannon’s Mouth. They were about how different people process loss and hope, and the way faith fits with those things. I’d decided to risk sending some of my work off to poetry magazines that year, which was a scary thing to do, but I’m pleased to say it paid off!

Claire will be sharing more about her book The Runaway in part two of this interview. For now, let me leave you with one of her poems, ‘Adrift’.

Set adrift in the dark
when the last blaze of evening colour
turns quiet on the waters
all her safety net routines in that sky furnace

how many meetings of the board
and quantifiable philosophies
did it take to rationalise the need
for that stealthy trip to shore?

They loosed the ropes
murmuring agreements and best interests
pushed this little boat to the tides
and she awoke to no landmarks
but blue horizons all around

and soon
she knows
She’ll be dancing on the waters

waves teem with songs like you’ve never heard
to be adrift in arms that catch you each time
is to be secure in the storm
so that not knowing is its own kind of certainty

direction comes in its own time
with a breath to the sails
though we’ve lost much that seemed precious
nothing’s lost in this place

 

How I found my voice

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Today I am delighted to welcome James Prescott to my blog. I have known James for quite a while; we conversed on social media for months before discovering that we live in the same town! We are also both part of the Association of Christian Writers, which provides great support.

 I was privileged to be a part of James’ book launch group and can honestly say I have found his new book invaluable; challenging yet full of grace. So many of the lessons God had been teaching him were ones that He had been speaking to me about too, so the book resonated with me a lot. So I was keen to get James to write a guest blog for me. Here he describes the process of writing his book, and how it helped him to find his voice…

For most writers, the writing of their first book is the culmination of them finding their voice. It comes at the end of that process. But for me, it was completely the opposite.

My first trade book Mosaic Of Grace: God’s Beautiful Reshaping Of Our Broken Lives was published in February. But the first draft was written in the summer of 2013. At that point I’d been writing for a long time – but I’d still not found my own unique creative voice. The idea for a book about grace had come along in the previous nine months, from reading, reflecting, listening to sermons and talking with friends.

In the process I realised there was a message about grace that hadn’t been shared. A new perspective that needed to be given voice. I’d written two e-books by then, so was ready to explore writing a book.

Starting the journey
I had no idea about how to plan, structure or write a book. I had no idea about the publishing world whatsoever. I wrote the book, not expecting it to ever be published. I had no reputation, no following and had no chance of a book contract. Self-publishing wasn’t an option financially. So I was writing merely for myself.

By complete chance, I connected with a book editor on social media. They offered to read my book, initially offering advice. This quickly evolved into them editing the whole book. They’d do private edits on their own time, then we’d do Skype calls working through the text together, editing, rewriting, improving.

Learning along the way
Because it was a very rough draft, with no plan, and I’d got no experience, the book needed a lot of work. There were a lot of rewrites and additions to be made. There were large sections to take out. And this all took time.

Even during this process, I had no idea if or how the book would be published. It was still just an idea, a promise, a dream. But the book was taking shape. And, in the meantime, I was getting a masterclass in how to write a book, and indeed, on writing itself, from my editor.

It took time, but, by mid 2016, we had a final draft to work from. And we were talking about her small publishing company putting the book out.

Finally, this thing was going to happen. And, ironically, I was still learning about grace. The truth of the book was being exposed to me all the time. I began seeing it in every area of my life. I came up with ideas for coaching, for other books, all of which began, in some way, with the simple idea that we’re enough, we belong, we’re loved. We’re accepted as we are, for who we are, not for what we do, what we own, our relationship status or social status.

Taking time out
It soon became clear that writing the book was just the beginning of the process. In 2014, about eight months after I wrote the first draft, I got to a point where I needed a break. My blogging had lost focus, direction and joy. I couldn’t go on. So I stopped public writing. I decided I would simply write privately, for myself, every day – for as long as it took. As long as it took to find my voice, to connect again with my true creative spirit.

It was liberating. I felt alive for the first time. And it was the most creative, fresh period of my life. New material and ideas were pouring out of me. It took time to get there, but, once I did, it was like a new spring of water bursting out of the ground…you couldn’t stop it.

And the irony I didn’t see at the time, was that it was by returning to myself, to my true self – the self which grace said was enough – that I found my voice.

I had written this book, and lived it, and, in the process, had found my authentic, honest writing voice. Grace had literally brought me (in particular my creative side) to life.

An increase of momentum
I wrote a short e-book, which is currently available on my blog for free, about this season of my creative journey, and some lessons I learned. This really launched my blog, and my subscriber list and following grew. Suddenly, I had people interested in my work, people who might buy a book I wrote. And I still had the book I was working on, which I really wanted to share with people.

Grace had helped me find my voice.

Mosaic Of Grace New Cover Black EdgeMeasuring success
When Mosaic Of Grace was finally published earlier this year, there was, naturally, a focus on numbers, on sales, on marketing and promoting the book and its ideas. But when I got people’s e-mails and messages with stories about how the book had changed their lives, how it had been healing and life-giving to them that reminded me again of where this all began. With grace. Those stories mattered, and still matter, way more than the sales figures.

The book’s success wasn’t dependent on sales figures – with just one message like that, I knew all those years of work were worth it.

From start to finish, this book, and everything about it – the writing, editing, publishing, promotion – had all been a process, teaching me about grace. It was a process that changed me, before it changed anyone else. A process that helped me find my voice.

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James Prescott is a writer, blogger, podcaster, writing coach and bestselling author of Mosaic Of Grace: God’s Beautiful Reshaping Of Our Broken Lives, available on Amazon here. He hosts the weekly ‘Poema Podcast’, and you can read his blog, get free e-books and find out more about his books and coaching at www.jamesprescott.co.uk. You can find him on Facebook and also follow him on Twitter & Instagram.

Book news

me-with-contractI have interrupted my usual weekly devotional to bring you two pieces of exciting news! I can now officially share with you that my book, Taking off the mask: learning to live authentically, will be published in November by Authentic Media. This is the book I have had on my heart to write for a few years now. It starts with my own personal story (which I posted here recently), but then looks at the insights God has been teaching me over the last 12 years or so about why we seem to hide our real selves from those around us. I have learned a huge amount, about myself and others, and hope that it will be a blessing to all of you. I will of course keep you updated on any exclusive book-related news (including the finalised title, as it is a working one for now) in the coming months.

insightintoburnoutAs well as receiving my signed contract for Taking off the mask back, February has also seen the release of my latest co-written book for CWR’s Insight series: Insight into Burnout. Stress leading to burnout is sadly so rife in today’s busy and demanding culture, and this book takes a look at the reasons behind that, what it does to us physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually, as well as offering effective ways of overcoming and/or avoiding burnout. We look at how to get more balance in our lives as we seek to serve God and those around us too. To purchase a copy, please click here (it is currently on sale!).

Reflections on writing a series

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The two Claires finally meeting!

Having connected with the author, C.F.Dunn, through the Association of Christian Writers’ Facebook page, and then interviewed her for magazine articles, it was a joy to be able to celebrate the final book – and meet Claire face to face finally (see photo)! I asked her to write a guest blog about her own reflections on coming to the end of writing a series…

mortal-fire-smallI can’t say I knew what I was doing when I started writing my debut novel – Mortal Fire – although I felt compelled to write for a reason I did not yet understand. Nor did I know where the journey would take me. For the first few years I struggled with how I could justify spending all that time writing when I could be doing something more, well, obviously Goddriven, I suppose. After all, working at school with our inspirational special needs students was both a vocation and an immense blessing. However, write I felt I must, and so I ploughed on.

For a good while after my first book was published I didn’t feel like a writer. It must be a fluke, a kindness on the part of my wonderful editor, Tony Collins. It was only when the third book – Rope of Sand – was released that I began to think, ‘Golly, this is real,’ and after book five that I said, ‘I am an author!’

Now that The Secret of the Journal series has ended, one of the questions I’m most frequently asked is: how do you set about bidding farewell to a series after hundreds of thousands of words have been lavished on building characters and story lines, setting scenes and constructing dialogue? Well, first of all, by the time you get to the final book, you know your characters – good and bad – and have come to love, respect and cherish them. They might have been a construct of the imagination at the beginning, but by the end they have taken on a life of their own.

If you have been successful in drawing multi-faceted people, they interact with other characters in the series as naturally as you would in real life. Sure, you place them in danger or put them into artificial situations – that is, after all, part of the art of drama – but their reactions should be as natural as if they lived and breathed off the page as well as on it. So, how hard is it to say goodbye?

9780745868773By the time you reach that magic final book – Fearful Symmetry in my case – the world you have created is part of the beating heart within you: you live and breathe it day in, day out over years. As a result, finishing it – wrapping it all up and concluding it – might potentially be traumatic. Yes, it has been a major part of your life and you’ve cried with them, sweated and suffered with them; but does any part of you die with them when you write The End?

Not a bit of it. You gave them life and you’ve set them free in the imaginations of your readers and there your character friends will flourish for as long as the words can be read.

And long before you finish writing that final book, new voices have slipped into your consciousness – beguiling, persistent – and you find yourself constructing a new universe and fresh situations into which you can release them to begin their own journey, and the foundations of a new series are lain.

No longer do I feel all at sea, but understand the greater truth behind that compulsion to write. That understanding has developed and grown along with the series. As I set out on the next journey with my new characters, I know where I’m going and where I want to be and – most important of all – why.

cf-dunn-picC.F. Dunn is the author of The Secret of the Journal series, published by Lion Fiction. The fifth and final book in the series – Fearful Symmetry – has been recently published. An educator at heart, she and her husband founded a school in Kent for children with dyslexia, autism, and anxiety. Returning to her roots as a historian, C.F. Dunn is currently working on the first book in a new historical series set in 15th-century England – a period of complex personalities and turmoil at the heart of the realm, where the king wore an uneasy crown.

The history in the mystery

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I am delighted to be a part of Fiona’s blog tour as The Kill Fee, her second book in the Poppy Denby Investigates series, is released. I am partway through the book currently – and am absolutely hooked (as I was with the previous title). Fiona is an incredible writer; she really sets the scene and historical background to her work and also paints her characters and storyline vividly and imaginatively. The pace is just right – as a reader you are swept along, immersed in the story, eager to find out how the mystery will be solved. Fiona explains below the way that she ensures the history of the period is as accurate as possible in her books during the writing process:

The Poppy Denby Investigates books are murder mysteries set in the early 1920s. The Jazz Files takes place in June 1920 and The Kill Fee, October of the same year. Each book has a particular historical backdrop and also a backstory, set a few years earlier. So I have to ensure I get two different sets of historical ‘facts’ correct in each book. How do I do it?

Firstly, it is impossible to ensure that every single thing is 100% right. That being said, I try my utmost to do so and would estimate that about 90% of it is as right as I can get it, 5% has been deliberately ‘tweaked’ to fit in with the story (I always point it out in the historical notes) and the final 5% will be mistakes I was not aware of – I apologise in advance for my inevitable fallibility. I try to deal in historical authenticity rather than complete accuracy – it’s a novel, not a history text book – and aim to create an authentic feel for the period rather than giving the reader a checklist of exactly what happened where and when.

As I also write for stage and screen, my writing is very visual. One reviewer said she could almost ‘see’ the story as if it were being acted out on stage. Just as I would create the mis en scene by selecting representative costumes, props, music and actions to evoke a sense of the period, I do the same in my novels. Before I even start writing – and certainly during the process– I absorb myself in the music, fashion, art, architecture, cuisine, cinema and theatre of the period. There are lots of collections online, plus books to read and museum exhibits to visit. I even made an outfit from an original 1920s pattern for my first Poppy Denby photo shoot!

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The 1920s pattern Fiona used as inspiration for her own outfit.

In terms of the historical backdrop of the suffragettes (book 1) and the Russian Revolution (book 2) I took a more ‘academic’ approach. I have a degree in history (simply a BA, but it is enough to ground me in the techniques of historical research). Before I start writing the story I spend around four months reading the key texts of the period. I prepare for writing in the same way I used to prepare for my university exams – sketching timelines and flow charts and trying to reach an understanding of the broad historical, political, social and economic backdrop, rather than memorising ‘details’. The details can, and are, easily added later. But I do not start writing until I have a feel of what it might have been like to live in that period – I try to read diaries, biographies and novels written at the time – as well as how the period ‘fits’ into history.

But then I stop, switch brains, and start to focus on the story, the characters and the mystery. That for me is the most important part. The history is certainly the skeleton of my books, but the muscles, the flesh and the beating heart are Poppy, her friends and their adventures. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have writing – and researching – them.

For more on the social, historical and cultural background of the books – as well as flapulous fashion and music – visit www.poppydenby.com

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Fiona in her own ‘flapulous’ creation!

 

 

Joining a writing group

Writing-Group

Last month I spotted a message on a local Facebook forum page, asking local writers if they would be interested in joining a new writers’ group. Both myself and a friend found the invite at the same time, and answered positively. So, a few weeks ago, we went to our first evening together. I was apprehensive – glad my friend was also there, but concerned I did not know the person running the group – or anyone else that could be there. My writing is so open and honest, and blatantly about my life and faith, that I wasn’t sure how it (or I) would sit in such a group.

I soon learned that my fears were unfounded. While it did make me feel really vulnerable, and it is going to take me a while to get used to reading my own writing out to others, the host was charming, laidback and very welcoming. She also kept a tight ship regarding ensuring we had time to write. I will definitely be going back, and will also share on here some of the tips that I learn and exercises that we do in the hopes that it will spark some ideas in you too.

That night we were each given an envelope with five words cut out of magazines in them. We then had 15 minutes to write either a story or five stand-alone paragraphs that included one of the words. Yes that’s three minutes per paragraph! I literally stopped typing the final one as the timer went off to say time was up. I froze: I simply wasn’t sure I could share what I had written without editing it first. I didn’t even have time to go back and read through it! But share it I did – and I’m going to go one step further here and let you read it too.

The exercise certainly pushed me, and it was interesting to see how different our approaches to it were (mine was still very much involving my everyday life and family). If you are looking for inspiration for ways to get writing – or want to do some completely different writing to your usual – why not try the exercise yourself? While the time limit did feel constraining, there was a freedom (and necessity) to write about whatever first popped into my head. I’m going to complete the exercise with my daughter sometime as I think it will be a really fun thing to do with her…

Home. That place of safety – and of comfort. The noise can be deafening, the squabbles annoying, but the joy – and the love – exuberant and rejuvenating. Home. The place I always long to be if I am away from it for too long. Home.

 

The delight of watching the children’s pure pleasure as they ran about the field, throwing themselves down and ragging together in the long grass. The discovery of new paths through the wood, their occulation of leaves and undergrowth as they explored a different area. The high point: when they both ‘fought’ to hug me and the three of us turned into one great mass of arms and legs, hysterically laughing as we fell into the grass. . .

 

The smell is excruciating, the acrid air intoxicating – not in a good way! Rammed up against a man’s already sweaty armpit, I sigh as we pull into yet another station and another body squashes into the already unhealthily crowded space…
No I do not miss commuting . . .

 

I loved those weekends before kids, when as four couples we would escape to a B&B or cottage regularly at weekends. The days were for exploring – the evenings for hilarity. The latter usually involved murder mysteries, and inventive and almost certainly hysterical costumes. Why are my costumes more likely to be pirate or star war based today?! 😉

 

I live with gadget man. Pretty much every second of every day he is glued to something. I do think it is a sign of the times – we don’t do well without our smart phones and laptops today do we – but he definitely overloads on technology daily. Our son seemed to develop the same love as soon as he could crawl. Rather than moving towards a toy and sitting quietly to play with it, as his sister had done, he always managed to find his way to some gadget or other, or the power lead attached to it, and then began to pull it apart. Obviously he was a genius and was simply learning how it worked…

The Jazz Files

 

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I was delighted to be asked to be a part of  Fiona Veitch Smith’s blog tour for her latest book, The Jazz Files, and agreed to post up my interview with her again. Here it is in its entirety – long but fascinating 😉

Congratulations on an intriguing, fast-moving novel. This is the first book in a series – could you explain how your publishing deal came about?

I hope you’ve got a cup of tea in hand, this is a bit of a long story … I was hired by Monarch (Lion Hudson) around four years ago to ghostwrite a biography. They took me on because a few years before that I submitted a non-fiction idea to them which they turned down. Although they didn’t want the book, they liked my writing style and kept me in mind for the ghostwriting project. However, after nine months working on it I came to the conclusion that the man who the book was about had made up much of his story. I told Monarch and they cancelled the contract.

Lion Hudson – and, in particular, Tony Collins, one of the commissioning editors there – felt awful that the contract was cancelled and asked if I had anything else they could look at because they really wanted to work with me. The only other thing I had in the pipeline at the time was a historical novel set in the 1st century against the background of the early church. At the time the Lion Fiction imprint was being launched and they asked to look at it.

It took them eighteen months – and two rewrites from me – to decide that although they liked the book, they felt it was too ‘Christian’ for their market. Again they asked me if I had anything else. Well I didn’t; nothing written anyway. But I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth so I started mulling over some new ideas.

My research of what Lion Fiction was already publishing told me that crime mystery series were something they were interested in. So I came up with the idea of a reporter sleuth set in the 1920s and submitted the idea to them. They liked the idea and the outline but weren’t prepared to go to contract without seeing the whole book.

So I had to write it. It took me six months. I submitted it – plus some ideas for the rest of the series – and they finally offered me a contract. Phew! So the moral of the story is … don’t give up. These things can take a looooooong time to come to fruition. I’m so grateful they stuck with me and I thank Tony Collins for believing in me as a writer for so many years.

Do you have all the ideas for the whole series already set out, or is it an evolving process?

It’s an evolving process. I deliberately started the series in 1920 so I had ten years for my heroine to have adventures before it became a series set in the 1930s – whether she, the publisher or I are game for another decade, is a decision for the future. However, I had it in mind from the beginning to set the book against real historical events as they unfold through the decade. Which events still have to be decided, but I do have a basic structure in mind.

About halfway through writing the first book I knew that I wanted to set the next one – which has now been written – against the diaspora of White Russian refugees in the wake of the Russian Revolution. I know too where the third book will be set and am starting my background reading on that now. I have an inkling of Book 4, but have not made any firm decisions yet. The story and background of Book 2 were decided because one of the characters of Book 1 was a Russian and it gave me scope to delve a bit more into his back story. Also, I found a faux Fabergé Egg in a charity shop, which gave me the idea for the main plotline.

The same with Book 3 – it’s linked to the back story of another character. So a tip for writers considering writing series: have a broad dramatis personae of colourful characters. They may only play a bit part in the first book but could be developed down the line.

The Suffragette movement is still at the forefront of your characters’ minds. Your main character, Poppy, is one of the young women who were forging their own careers in traditionally male-dominated worlds. Why did you choose to set the series in that era?

After my first self-published novel, The Peace Garden, I discovered I was attracted to the mystery genre. The book started as a literary novel but soon drifted towards mystery. And as I have a degree in history and I love reading historical mysteries, it seemed to be a natural fit. But why the 1920s? Well I originally conceived of it set in 1912. The day before I received the rejection for my 1st century historical and the request for another proposal, I had been to visit the grave of the suffragette Emily Wilding Davison in Morpeth. It was the centenary of her death and I had just used her as an example of women acting out their faith (she was a Christian) in a talk I gave to my church’s women’s ministry. The pastor’s wife suggested we visit Emily’s grave and lay flowers. There is a picture of me at her grave on www.poppydenby.com under the ‘Suffragette’ link.

The next day I received news that Lion had rejected my 1st century novel. I was naturally very upset after all the work I’d put into it, but heartened that they wanted more. As I was praying and asking God to guide me as to what to write next, my eye was drawn to a book on my bookshelf called Unshackled by Christabel Pankhurst. It’s a first-hand account of the women’s suffrage movement.

It suddenly dawned on me that I should write about a suffragette reporter sleuth. (Why a reporter? Well I was formerly a journalist … but that’s another story). So I started planning the novel. However, the period just didn’t seem to fit. The clothes were boring, the music was boring and frankly, my character might have been feisty but she was downright dowdy. I felt the same writing her as I did playing Sheila Birling in an am-dram production of An Inspector Calls. But what I wanted to feel was like I felt when I played the delightful Maisie in Ken Russell’s The Boyfriend (a high school production – pic again on www.poppydenby.com). I had also just started learning to play jazz clarinet and was listening to music from the 1920s. I began to conceive of shifting my story to the 1920s and having my main character an inheritor of the legacy of the Suffragettes.

Just like Poppy I worked as a journalist in the 1990s and inherited the freedoms won by the brave women of the 1960s and 70s. Once I made this shift I immediately felt an emotional connection with the character and the period. And the rest, as they say, is history.

How did you research the historical content of your novel? 

I read a number of non-fiction books about the period, which are listed at the back of The Jazz Files and also on the www.poppydenby.com website. In addition to this I went down to London for a few days and walked up and down Fleet Street and King’s Road – key locations in the novel – to get a feel for the place and travelled the same routes that Poppy would travel on bus and train. I spent two days in the British Library reading newspapers from 1920 – particularly the Daily Mail and The Times. Some of the news stories that appear in the book were genuine articles from the time. I also went to the Suffragette exhibition and fashion exhibition at the London Museum. Some of the outfits that Poppy and Delilah wear in The Jazz Files were exact replicas of outfits I saw there. In addition I researched what was playing on the theatre scene in 1920 as well as cinema and music. The songs played in chapter 3 of the book were all actually played in 1920. These are small details that most people won’t notice but it gives me great pleasure to get these things right. I also like to think it adds a touch of authenticity that readers will feel if not know.

Fiona in her 1920s guise 🙂

You write in various genres, including children’s books, stage plays and screenplays. Where do you get your inspiration for each genre, and do you find writing for one of them easier than the others?

I didn’t set out to write for all genre and media. I set out to be a full-time writer and simply pursued whatever opportunities came my way. I would push at a door to see how far it would open and if it stopped, try another. The net result is that I am published and produced across the media but with varying success in each. I am first and foremost a storyteller. I come up with story ideas and then see which media would be the best vehicle to tell that story. So I rarely look at a genre then come up with an idea; it works the other way. Occasionally though I will be commissioned to write something for a specific medium and then I delve into my ideas bank and see which story would best suit the technicalities of the medium. Some stories are more visual (film) others require immediacy and audience interaction (stage) still others are simple stories with deeper truths (children) then others more epic with extensive back story (novel). Short stories and poems are better suited to a single image or concept. I wrote a poem this morning about an ageing apple tree. The concept would have been overstretched if I’d tried to write it into a film or novel. It could have been a children’s story, however, but I wanted to get across a deep spiritual truth which required the reader to have a bit of life experience to relate to – so a poem for adults it became. Each medium has its strengths and weakness. It’s like trying to choose your favourite child. At the moment though I am focusing on writing picture books for children with SPCK and novels with Lion Fiction.

For all those aspiring writers out there: how do you manage your time between being a lecturer in writing and writing itself? Are you working towards writing full-time or do you feel you have the balance as you want it?

I started lecturing by accident. A friend’s husband died suddenly and she asked me to take over her adult ed writing class. I’d never taught before, but I felt unable to say no. It turned out to be a very fulfilling experience. It also provided income to buy me time to write. Since then, now 11 years ago, I have continued to teach and lecture part time. I now lecture at two universities but I wouldn’t say it’s my day job – I only lecture a day or two a week between September and April. My day job is still writing. I think I’m beginning to find the balance. A couple of years ago I said yes to taking on more lecturing work because I needed the money but then my writing suffered. In the last two years I have tried to keep April to August completely free to write. It’s tough, because I only get paid for what’s called ‘contact time’ and I end up living off my credit card for a couple of months every year. Should other writers do it? That’s up to you. I gave up a full-time, well-paid job as a journalist to pursue creative writing, but my family’s income took a massive hit as a result. It’s not for everyone. I make sure I take on enough paid work to keep the wolf from the door. And that’s the reality for most writers. Very few people manage to do it full time without an additional income stream.

You also speak at conferences and offer creative writing workshops for both children and adults alike. Would you say that writers need to learn to diversify, or have those other avenues simply developed naturally for you?

I do that because a) I enjoy it; b) I have a natural gift for public speaking and teaching; and c) it helps to pay the bills (although some of the appearances barely pay enough to cover expenses – if anything at all!). This is something that suits me and my skill-set, but will not necessarily suit everyone. Yes it has increased my profile and hence gives me and my books a bit of a ‘platform’ but that’s not the primary reason I do it. I would advise writers to connect with their audiences in whatever way suits their personality and skill-set. But readers do like to meet authors ‘in the flesh’.

In 2011 you started your own ‘indie’ publishing company. How did that come about, and what was behind the decision to fold it in 2015? 

Crafty Publishing was started when my husband was made redundant (and then got a bit of spare cash when he got a new job fairly quickly). I had written a series of children’s books called the Young David Books, which I had unsuccessfully tried to get published. After they went down so well at my church my husband and I decided to use some of his redundancy money to self-publish. It was hard work but ultimately a successful little enterprise. Within four years of self-publishing we were approached by three different publishers to buy us out – two in the UK and one in America. By this time we felt we had plateaued with the books and couldn’t take them to the next level. We decided to sell the books to SPCK who are doing a brilliant job with them now and are getting them the international distribution that we were unable to do.

As things were going so well with my own books I thought I would try to give some other writers a chance – as I know how hard it is to get published – and also to try a different genre. I brought out my own adult novel and then signed another writer. We had four other writers in the pipeline (one children and three adult) when we decided to stop publishing earlier this year. The reasons were financial. My children’s books were the only things that made any money (not much, but we were approaching break-even point) yet we struggled to find sufficient distribution for the adult books to make it a viable commercial concern. We were at the point where we would have to have started siphoning off our family’s savings to fund it and we weren’t prepared to do that. So sadly, particularly for the authors involved, we had to call it a day.

You have quite a presence online: an old website, your new author website, a Poppy Denby website plus your Crafty Writers website. How do you have time to keep all the content refreshed? What advice would you give to writers wanting to make more of a presence online?

The truth is I don’t. My many websites reflect different aspects of my career over a 12-year period. One of the sites was more active when I was making my living primarily as a freelance feature writer, journalist and blogger. Another when I was earning more from giving writing advice and freelance editing and copywriting. As my career has developed so my web presence has changed. The problem is the sites are linked in to other sites and it is not that easy to take them down. As my writing career is becoming more streamlined into me being a novelist with Lion Fiction and a children’s writer with SPCK I am trying to streamline my online presence – but this takes time. So my advice: don’t take on more than you can chew!

It’s the same with social media: I am on Linked In, Goodreads, Twitter and FB but really only focus on Twitter and FB. They suit me and my relational personality more. I might give Goodreads another go but there are only a few hours in the day that I can (or should!) devote to social media. I would advise writers trying to build their online presence to choose one or two outlets and do them well. That being said, these days, having an online presence and being active in social media is one of the things publishers take into consideration when deciding whether or not to take your book. So do it, but do it wisely (ain’t hindsight a wonderful thing?).

What now for Poppy Denby and future writing projects?

I’m very excited that Poppy 2 has now been sent off to my publisher. I will be focusing mainly on lecturing over the Autumn plus promoting The Jazz Files. In between I will start research for Poppy 3. In the New Year I am looking forward to working on a new children’s series with SPCK. Beyond that, I’m very tempted to start pitching Poppy Denby Investigates as a television series. I would like to do the adaptation myself. A girl can dream, can’t she? And sometimes, just sometimes, those dreams come true.

You can buy a copy of The Jazz Files here.

COV_Front_JazzFiles

 

Author interview with Fiona Veitch Smith: part 2

In the second instalment of my interview with Fiona Veitch Smith, she provides more detail about what a writer’s life is like for her…

Fiona in her 1920s guise :)

Fiona in her 1920s guise 🙂

You write in various genres, including children’s books, stage plays and screenplays. Where do you get your inspiration for each genre, and do you find writing for one of them easier than the others?

I didn’t set out to write for all genre and media. I set out to be a full-time writer and simply pursued whatever opportunities came my way. I would push at a door to see how far it would open and if it stopped, try another. The net result is that I am published and produced across the media but with varying success in each. I am first and foremost a storyteller. I come up with story ideas and then see which media would be the best vehicle to tell that story. So I rarely look at a genre then come up with an idea; it works the other way. Occasionally though I will be commissioned to write something for a specific medium and then I delve into my ideas bank and see which story would best suit the technicalities of the medium. Some stories are more visual (film) others require immediacy and audience interaction (stage) still others are simple stories with deeper truths (children) then others more epic with extensive back story (novel). Short stories and poems are better suited to a single image or concept. I wrote a poem this morning about an ageing apple tree. The concept would have been overstretched if I’d tried to write it into a film or novel. It could have been a children’s story, however, but I wanted to get across a deep spiritual truth which required the reader to have a bit of life experience to relate to – so a poem for adults it became. Each medium has its strengths and weakness. It’s like trying to choose your favourite child. At the moment though I am focusing on writing picture books for children with SPCK and novels with Lion Fiction.

For all those aspiring writers out there: how do you manage your time between being a lecturer in writing and writing itself? Are you working towards writing full-time or do you feel you have the balance as you want it?

I started lecturing by accident. A friend’s husband died suddenly and she asked me to take over her adult ed writing class. I’d never taught before, but I felt unable to say no. It turned out to be a very fulfilling experience. It also provided income to buy me time to write. Since then, now 11 years ago, I have continued to teach and lecture part time. I now lecture at two universities but I wouldn’t say it’s my day job – I only lecture a day or two a week between September and April. My day job is still writing. I think I’m beginning to find the balance. A couple of years ago I said yes to taking on more lecturing work because I needed the money but then my writing suffered. In the last two years I have tried to keep April to August completely free to write. It’s tough, because I only get paid for what’s called ‘contact time’ and I end up living off my credit card for a couple of months every year. Should other writers do it? That’s up to you. I gave up a full-time, well-paid job as a journalist to pursue creative writing, but my family’s income took a massive hit as a result. It’s not for everyone. I make sure I take on enough paid work to keep the wolf from the door. And that’s the reality for most writers. Very few people manage to do it full time without an additional income stream.

You also speak at conferences and offer creative writing workshops for both children and adults alike. Would you say that writers need to learn to diversify, or have those other avenues simply developed naturally for you?

I do that because a) I enjoy it; b) I have a natural gift for public speaking and teaching; and c) it helps to pay the bills (although some of the appearances barely pay enough to cover expenses – if anything at all!). This is something that suits me and my skill-set, but will not necessarily suit everyone. Yes it has increased my profile and hence gives me and my books a bit of a ‘platform’ but that’s not the primary reason I do it. I would advise writers to connect with their audiences in whatever way suits their personality and skill-set. But readers do like to meet authors ‘in the flesh’.

In 2011 you started your own ‘indie’ publishing company. How did that come about, and what was behind the decision to fold it in 2015?

Crafty Publishing was started when my husband was made redundant (and then got a bit of spare cash when he got a new job fairly quickly). I had written a series of children’s books called the Young David Books, which I had unsuccessfully tried to get published. After they went down so well at my church my husband and I decided to use some of his redundancy money to self-publish. It was hard work but ultimately a successful little enterprise. Within four years of self-publishing we were approached by three different publishers to buy us out – two in the UK and one in America. By this time we felt we had plateaued with the books and couldn’t take them to the next level. We decided to sell the books to SPCK who are doing a brilliant job with them now and are getting them the international distribution that we were unable to do.

As things were going so well with my own books I thought I would try to give some other writers a chance – as I know how hard it is to get published – and also to try a different genre. I brought out my own adult novel and then signed another writer. We had four other writers in the pipeline (one children and three adult) when we decided to stop publishing earlier this year. The reasons were financial. My children’s books were the only things that made any money (not much, but we were approaching break-even point) yet we struggled to find sufficient distribution for the adult books to make it a viable commercial concern. We were at the point where we would have to have started siphoning off our family’s savings to fund it and we weren’t prepared to do that. So sadly, particularly for the authors involved, we had to call it a day.

You have quite a presence online: an old website, your new author website, a Poppy Denby website plus your Crafty Writers website. How do you have time to keep all the content refreshed? What advice would you give to writers wanting to make more of a presence online?

The truth is I don’t. My many websites reflect different aspects of my career over a 12-year period. One of the sites was more active when I was making my living primarily as a freelance feature writer, journalist and blogger. Another when I was earning more from giving writing advice and freelance editing and copywriting. As my career has developed so my web presence has changed. The problem is the sites are linked in to other sites and it is not that easy to take them down. As my writing career is becoming more streamlined into me being a novelist with Lion Fiction and a children’s writer with SPCK I am trying to streamline my online presence – but this takes time. So my advice: don’t take on more than you can chew!

It’s the same with social media: I am on Linked In, Goodreads, Twitter and FB but really only focus on Twitter and FB. They suit me and my relational personality more. I might give Goodreads another go but there are only a few hours in the day that I can (or should!) devote to social media. I would advise writers trying to build their online presence to choose one or two outlets and do them well. That being said, these days, having an online presence and being active in social media is one of the things publishers take into consideration when deciding whether or not to take your book. So do it, but do it wisely (ain’t hindsight a wonderful thing?).

What now for Poppy Denby and future writing projects?

I’m very excited that Poppy 2 has now been sent off to my publisher. I will be focusing mainly on lecturing over the Autumn plus promoting The Jazz Files. In between I will start research for Poppy 3. In the New Year I am looking forward to working on a new children’s series with SPCK. Beyond that, I’m very tempted to start pitching Poppy Denby Investigates as a television series. I would like to do the adaptation myself. A girl can dream, can’t she? And sometimes, just sometimes, those dreams come true.

To purchase The Jazz Files, please click here.