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Archive for January, 2014

Downton Abbey Promo Poster

Downton Abbey Promo Poster

I just saw a promo for Downton Abbey. I was so angry at the end of last year when they killed another one of the main characters (for those who haven’t watched it yet, I won’t say who.) I went to bed fuming and thought I wasn’t going to watch it again and woke up still fuming the next day. But I’m afraid I’ve just been reeled in.

It looks very much like they’ve done a rejig and have returned to what made it such a lovely show to watch in the first place so… I’m going to give it a go – I just so love the manners and the era and the costumes. I don’t care so much for Mary – she is rather hard to like, which I think is quite by design – but I do like Enid and all the wonderful servants who really make the show (not to mention Hugh Bonneville – just a wonderful patriarch. He’s come a long way from the bumbling character he played in Notting Hill.)

So, Downton Abbey, I’m going to watch you again for a little while – but you better make it good!

It’s true what they say – what a difference a day makes. Except, I’d change that to say, What a difference a year makes.

I’ve read a bunch of blogs reflecting on the last year: reflecting on what they’d learned; looking at whether predictions they’d made about themselves, friends, family, their aspirations, their jobs, the world in general had come true; whether they’d reached personal or work goals or both; if things were better, worse, middling than they were at the start of last year. All the sorts of things that people making resolutions look at, but also things that people who have a goal of some sort make for themselves – the reflections on that at the end a kind of scorecard to let them figure out if they’ve won some, lost some, come even.

Triple Caramel Chunk - too yummy for words.

Triple Caramel Chunk – too yummy for words.

Now I’m not usually the kind of gal who makes resolutions – for me, they never really stick and are usually about things we have no control over whatsoever (will win Tattslotto this year) or that aren’t going to happen because we won’t make the change that will count (I want to lose 10 kg – right after I finish this Ben&Jerry’s Triple-Caramel-Chunk.)

But many people have already written blogs about this, so I won’t go on about it any further here and besides, that’s not what this blog is about.

In reading these blogs of people reflecting (something I try not to do too much of, because I do have a bit of an anal personality and I will do the whole loss and gains thing, always concentrating far too much on the losses than the gains) it made me think about the last year and the changes that have happened in my life.

On the surface, nothing much has changed.

My Happy Family

My Happy Family

I’m happily married with two gorgeous boys, one of who has ADHD and a Sensory Integration Disorder. This means there is a lot always going on there to make certain he has what he needs to make sense of his world and move forward in it in a positive way. The downs often outweigh the ups, so there is a constant struggle to try to even this out and find the best course ahead. Of course, in all of this, his brother can get lost, so I need to make certain the younger one gets plenty of my focus too – so it can be quite a juggling act, especially given my husband has a pretty full on job and so it is often just me a lot of the time. Nothing changed there.

I still work at the YMCA as a swimming teacher and customer service officer with a little bit of admin thrown in – something I enjoy, is ideal with hours for my family and have done for ten years. Nothing changed there.

I have a very close supportive relationship with my family and have a lot to do with them – there’s always family catch ups and birthdays and celebrations which is lovely. Nothing changed there.

I am a member of 2 writing groups, which I love, because it gives me much needed time out a couple of times a month. I’ve also made some really lovely friends in these groups, not to mention friends from outside writing who also provide much needed sources of support and time out. Nothing changed there.

I am still a member of RWA and do volunteer work for them in being a contest manager and competition judge. No. hold up. A little change here. Actually, a big one really. I am now on the Committee as Competition Coordinator – so a lot more work, but learning a lot too and gaining some more great friends and experiences, so the extra time suck is okay. A bit of a change there.

I am still a writer spending any moment I can in writing and learning about writing (hence why my desk looks like this…

My desk. Laptop usually sits in the middle.

My desk. Laptop usually sits in the middle.

while trying to get published (sound of a car screeching.) No. Hold up right there.

BIG CHANGE!!!!

And this is where that ‘What a difference a year makes’ thing comes into it – and where the reflection thing comes in, so hang in there. I am getting to my point in my own Billy Connelly kind of way.

So…

This time last year I was at a workshop with my friend, Chris Bell at Penguin Australia, listening to Alli Watts and Anne Gracie and Fiona McIntosh talk about popular fiction, the publisher’s approach and the writer’s approach. Carol George was there too, letting people know about the new digital enterprise Penguin had started which she was running with Sarah Fairhall. This was very interesting to me because I’d pitched to Carol at the RWA conference the previous August and she had asked to speak to me during the day about my work (I was also scheduled to pitch something to her too). I thought she was just going to let me down gently with a face-to-face ‘no’ – which she did. But that wasn’t all she wanted.

She wanted to speak with me about my writing. They loved my writing style and would be very interested in publishing my work if only I had something with a stronger romantic thread. They liked all the plot and character work I’d done on the one I’d pitched to her and they’d had lots of discussions about it, but the relationship between my protagonists was not ‘grown’ on the page. We did not spend time with them as they fell in love, she said. Did I have anything like that I could pitch to her?

I put aside my disappointment and focused on the possibilities ahead of me as I’d been doing for years and pitched her the paranormal I had just finished, even though it wasn’t quite ready to be sent out yet. She was interested, very interested, as long as the relationship grew on the page (this made me think and alarms and bells went off in my head later to be followed by a big lightbulb moment that had me trashing a bunch of chapters and rewriting a large chunk – but that is a blog for another time.) Then she asked me if I wrote anything else.

Now, if I’d been the same writer I’d been even a year before, one who was less likely to grab at chances, I might have answered differently. But I’d made a rare resolution the year before – this year was going to be the year of competitions and building networks and trying to extend myself past what I was comfortable with, and given I hadn’t made that resolution until February, I was still in the ‘go get ‘em’ year.

And so I said, ‘I also have written romantic suspense’ even though as far as everyone had been telling me for years, romantic suspense was a hard sell (I’d experienced this myself over and over and so believed the sentiment wholeheartedly.) And this is where things changed for me.

Carol, who had been very interested in everything I’d had to say and encouraging and lovely, sat up, a big spark in her eye and said, ‘Romantic suspense? Really? We are very interested in romantic suspense. Do you have something you could pitch to me?’

For a moment my brain spun. I knew I did, but I hadn’t worked on any of them for at least 3 years, the last one, my favourite, having been dropped after too many times being told it wouldn’t sell because not only was it a romantic suspense, but the hero was a rock star. But, instead of saying, ‘no’, I grabbed a hold of my ‘go get ‘em’ self and pitched (probably the worst pitch I’ve ever done) that very novel.

My first published novel

My first published novel

And she liked it.

And, two months later, after I’d spent a month and a bit fixing it up and sending it in to them, I got ‘The Call’ – they wanted to publish Killing Me Softly (for my call story: http://www.leislleighton.com/?p=152

Since then, I’ve contracted another novel to them, (the paranormal I’d pitched at that same meeting – Dark Moon, due out in March this year) got myself an agent, (the lovely Alex Adsett) thrown myself into the world of social media, learned to deal with the ups and downs of reviews (much like contest results, mostly good with a few not so great – but you can’t please everyone!) and have endeavoured to blog more regularly with mixed success (there are only so many hours in my day and I do need to sleep.) There have been huge learning curves in regards to me learning about the publishing process – the first edits, second edits, copy edits and proof edits – how best (or better – I don’t claim to be any good at this yet, but I’m getting better) to approach the publicity thing – tour blogs, getting more reviews, give aways and any articles that you can drum up for yourself. I’ve learned from the amazing books and blogs of Kristen Lamb how to better structure my social media and how to build a platform by connecting with people on a personal level rather than trying to sell to them (a really useful and far more fun way of approaching this whole thing in my opinion.) I’ve met tonnes of new people and connected more effectively with ones I already know through all of this which has been fantastic. I’m still like a newborn though, whose brain can only take on so much at once but who will keep on learning and learning, because that’s what newborns do.

And that’s pretty much what I’ve got out of this year. So much the same, but so much different and all because I said ‘yes’ when I would normally have said ‘no’ because I was determined to do better at this writing thing I’m driven to do. And if I have a resolution from all of this reflecting on the past year, it’s that it’s the little things, those small changes you don’t see coming, that matter and that I will keep trying to do better. Not just because this is good for my writing, but because it’s good for myself, and my family. I will try to balance things as I’ve always done, but I will try to do it with more balance for myself, because one thing I’ve learned from this last year (among everything else that is!) – when I am happier with my own reflection, then everything else is better too. And I’m not talking about the outside appearance – something aging and time is always changing for both better and worse – but the person staring out of those greenish-grey eyes. The person who for so many years put everything else before her own desires and left them for last and decided a couple of years ago ‘no more’.

Some people might call that selfishness. I call it forward thinking. I mean – look what I did this last year! Who knows what I can do in the future? I don’t – but I sure as hell am interested in finding out.

Aren’t you?

 

 

I am going to try a new thing. It may happen every week, it may not. It completely depends on if I’m inspired by someone else’s post enough to repost it here.

And today, I’m inspired.

The person who has inspired me is Kristen Lamb. Kristen often inspires me with her take on social media for writers and also her take on writing. I find her advice very sensible and no nonsense and easy to follow. And today she’s inspired me by suggesting writers learn to quit.

I know. Sounds crazy huh? But please believe me, it’s not. I can’t explain it better than Kristen, so read her blog and see for yourself.

http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2014/01/07/want-more-writing-success-learn-to-be-a-quitter

Without thinking about it, I learned to quit ages ago in regards to my writing. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t quit writing. That would have been stupid. But I did quit the project I was working on and began working on something else. I did this after the first rejection I got. I didn’t do it because it was the smart thing to do (although in retrospect, it probably was smart.) I did it out of ignorance. I did it because an editor kindly sent me a letter stating my manuscript wasn’t right for them and stated why and what I needed to work on. Sure, it stung a bit – she didn’t like my baby. But I had been an actress and so was used to getting rejected for less. So I picked myself up and rather than working again on something I’d been told needed a lot of work to fix, I quit writing it and turned to something else. And I did this over and over as the years went by and I learned so much from writing fresh. I learned all about what it really took to write a novel and that what I thought was editing  wasn’t really editing at all – it was just fiddling. I learned about my craft, about plot and character and conflict and pacing. I learned terms like POV (point of view) and ‘show don’t tell’ and GMC (goals, motivation and conflict) and I learned to apply them in the new works I was working on. I tried out different genres. I tried shorter stories and longer ones. I tried writing in third person, first person, narrator, and a mix of these. I quit and I started again and I learned to understand what I was trying to accomplish in telling a good, riveting story with real characters that readers could get involved in.

And I got published last year with my romantic suspense story, Killing Me Softly, KillingMeSoftly_coverand am going to get published again this year with the first in a paranormal series, Dark Moon (see what I said about trying different genres?) And I don’t think I would have got to this point if I hadn’t quit those first tragic attempts at writing because what I learned from quitting is when not to quit.

I’m not finished learning. I don’t think anyone ever is. And nowadays, I quit in different ways. I quit extraneous characters that I thought were hugely inportant but end up just dragging the story. I quit holding onto certain scenes that I once thought were incredibly important but cut into the pace. I quit sub plots that don’t add to the whole.

None of this is easy, especially when my inner, thin-skinned writer self kicks and screams and sobs and cries because of the loss of those precious words. But Kristen is right. Quitting is important. Letting go is important. Until Kristen said it, I never thought about it in such simple, but essential terms.

So, her post is my inspirational post for the week. It inspired me to write this, to share a little bit more of my journey with you.

Quitting is good – when it’s the right kind of quitting. So, go quit today and then charge on doing something else and learn all you can from the experience. I guarantee you’ll get something really important out of it. You might not see it today, but you will see it eventually, just like I saw it today when I read Kristen’s blog.

I have a few traditions I start the New Year with. One of them is to start the New Year writing. Regardless of what we’re doing, when I get home, after I get the boys in bed, I sit down and write a little. It doesn’t have to be much – a few paragraphs is fine. But I have to ‘write the New Year in’. I need to start the New Year as I intend to continue doing throughout the year – making sure my writing is part of my life.

The other tradition is my breakfast. I ate left over wine trifle for breakfast this morning – all that custard and jelly and jam sponge and heaps of peaches and strawberries. Yum Yum! I wish I had a picture to show you how delicious it looked in the bowl last night when I made it – but now it just looks like a mess – the yummiest mess.

It’s a bit of a thing I always do when I make wine trifle – I have some for breakfast the next morning. My husband thought it was disgusting for a while, but he now has a bowl with me and thinks it’s the best.

I often make wine trifle for whatever party we’re going to on NYE, so it’s become a bit of a New Year’s Day tradition to start the day off with wine trifle. What are your New Year’s Day traditions? Do you start off eating something you know you shouldn’t? Do you have resolutions you’re trying to follow? I’d love to hear about them.

I’d also like to wish everyone a happy, healthy and safe 2014 filled with family, friends, fun, laughter, aspirations and successes.

Romance Writers of Australia