A Lesson on Self-doubt

I learned an important lesson last month. I decided I wanted to enter some short story competitions again, something I haven’t done in a while. One of the ones I looked at was asking for short stories and poems on the theme ‘dusk.’ Now, I’m not always very good at coming with a story on a particular theme. I wracked my brains on this one, but what actually came into my head was a narrative poem. I don’t as a rule write poetry, and I’m not too good at it. However, I thought if I wrote this poem it might clear my head for another idea, or a story might come out of it. So I did. And I thought it was okay. Maybe I would enter it after all. I put it aside to think about, and then decided it was rubbish. So I did nothing with it.

Then, the other day, I was scrolling through my notes and came across it. And it was actually pretty good! The only problem was, the deadline had passed just the day before. If I’d entered it, I probably wouldn’t have won anything. But I definitely won’t now! I wouldn’t have lost anything by trying. So that reminded me once again not to give in to the self doubt that is part of a writer’s life. Just send your work out. You never know.

The above post is an excerpt from the December edition of my newsletter. While it’s more for fans of my work than for new writers, whom I try to cater for on this blog, I am taking it in the slightly new direction of being a lot more open and honest about the ups and downs of my writing life. So if you enjoyed this post and think such experiences could help you, then do sign up for my monthly newsletter on the pop up form or the contact page.

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What Makes a Real Writer?

‘I’d love to write a book if I had time’ is one of those comments that writers get regularly, and never fails to make them resolve to kill that person off in their next story. Once I even had someone tell me that, although now they did have the time to write, they just didn’t need the money anymore. I resisted telling them that that’s like someone who once appeared in their school nativity play saying they didn’t pursue their acting career because the fame would be inconvenient. So, can anyone who has the time write? What makes a real writer?

You all know what this first point is going to be. A real writer writes. They don’t have a choice. That’s whether they have the time or not. Because we can’t imagine not writing.

Of course, some writers come to it later in life, when they retire perhaps. And they do have time. But they still have to sit down and actually write something. They choose to do that with their spare time because that’s what they really want to do. Most people who say they would love to write a book if they had time will not do so, even when they do. Even if you sent them on a writer’s retreat for a month. That’s because writing is hard. It’s a lot harder than you know until you try. Which brings me to the next point. Yes, there is a next point. There any many quotes out there that say if you write then you’re a writer and that’s it. I disagree. I think there’s a little more to it…

Real writers finish. The hard part about writing is not starting a book. It’s finishing it. I remember when I began my first novel, I got to 13,000 words and thought I’d written half a book. I then looked up how many thousand words a novel normally is and realised I’d actually written less than a quarter. It can be a slow process and there is always a slump in the middle. The bit when you’re not sure if you can do this. Where you’re convinced the whole thing is the biggest load of drivel ever written. When you’re not sure where to go from here. Non writers drop their work at this point. Real writers work through it.

A real writer wants their work to be the best it can be. That means redrafting, rewriting and revising until your sick of it. It means editing until commas appear before your eyes when you shut them. It even means paying someone else to edit it if you’re struggling yourself. A real writer knows that the first version is only the beginning.

A real writer learns from other writers. That means reading. A lot. A writer never stops learning how to be better. Stephen King says that if you don’t have the time to read then neither do you have the time or the tools to write. And it’s true. So, if a writer is a reader, does that mean that a reader is also a writer? Often, yes. A love of words and books is usually manifest both ways. I was once told on a short story course that anyone who reads can write. But reading on its own isn’t enough. So if you read a lot and think you might like to write a book, make sure you are willing to do all the other things listed in this post too. Writing, real writing, is about perseverance.

Finally, a real writer shares their work. A friend recently expressed to me how brave she thought I had to be to send my work out. And it does take courage. But as I told my friend, no work of art is complete unless it has an audience. A beautiful picture that spends its life facing the wall is unfulfilled. There may be many examples of lyrical prose or heart wrenching stories in someone’s old exercise books, but they are never going to impact the world from there. And that’s what art should do. It should make the world a slightly different place to what it was without it. But it can only do that through its audience. And a writer can only get the true perspective of their work when it’s out in the world, standing on its own. That perspective is essential to improving as a writer. So if you have exercise books or a computer stuffed with stories that have never seen the light of day, take the final step to becoming a real writer and send them out into the world.

I hope this post has helped you realise that you are a real writer. And if it hasn’t, at least you know never to say to one that you would love to write a book if you had the time.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton- Book Review

Normally I try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, but in this case I find it impossible to fully express how I feel about this book without mentioning the ending. So if you haven’t read The Miniaturist yet and don’t want to know what happens then go away, read it and come back.

Let’s start with the things I really liked. The characters were compelling, flawed and real. The prose is beautiful. Jessie Burton has a gift of describing everyday things in a way that transforms them into something extraordinary. I think it is this quality that gives the entire story a feeling of surrealism. It does also mean that it starts off slightly slowly, but my advice is just to sit back and enjoy the language. The story soon speeds up.

So, what is the story? Nella, a nineteen year old bride, arrives at her new husband’s house in Amsterdam to take up residence. He is not there to greet her, instead she is met by his formidable sister, Marin, and the servants, Cornelia and Otto. It is not a warm welcome, nor does she get one from her husband, Johannes, once he returns. She is left to occupy her room and bed in solitary splendour. The only real attention Johannes pays her is when he presents her with her wedding gift- a cabinet containing a replica of the house. Nella does not like it, but after an argument with Marin she orders from a miniaturist several pieces of furniture for it that Marin will not provide her with in real life. The miniaturist duly sends these pieces, but also some others, which are strangely accurate. The rest of the story follows Nella in her new life and family, each major event finding an echo in the miniaturist’s exquisite work.

There are several twists in the story, but I can’t say any of them took me by surprise. It’s easy enough to guess that Johannes’s indifference to his bride arises from a preference for men. Also the hints dropped about Marin’s pregnancy are quite obvious. Although, I admit I didn’t guess the father! I don’t know if we are meant to guess these things or not, but it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story. But there are some things that did…

I don’t want to be overly critical here. It was a really, really good book. But the prologue- why, oh why are authors still writing them? This one gives away the end at the beginning. It’s clear that Johannes has died, and the moment we find out he’s homosexual it’s not a far stretch to the assumption that he’s been caught and executed for it. Also, the prologue is set during his funeral, complete with coffin. But, during his execution, we are told that they are not going to bring the body back up (the method of execution was drowning) and that therefore there will be no funeral/burial. So I don’t understand what this scene is doing there? The fact that Marin isn’t there is also a dead giveaway (sorry, couldn’t resist!). I can’t help feeling that Jessie Burton has underestimated her audience.

The ending itself has no closure. Nella never gets to meet the miniaturist. Many questions go unanswered. I was left feeling unsatisfied. However, the world of The Miniaturist and the atmosphere created by it has remained with me, perhaps partly because of that. But it was the quality of the writing, rather than the story, which truly gripped me.

What did you think of The Miniaturist? Please post a comment and let me know!

How Do You Know Which Writing Methods are Right For You?

There are many different ways to write. There are plotters and pantsers, writers who type straight off, writers who do it all by hand first. Writers who don’t look back until the first draft is finished, writers who perfect each section as they go. How do you know which methods are right for you?

Part of it has to be trial and error. So don’t be afraid to try different methods. I always used to type everything straight away. Then I had a great idea for a story as I was about to climb into the bath. I didn’t dare take my tablet in with me, so I took a notebook. And I found the whole thing flowed better and I was less caught up in things like punctuation. Now I usually write my words out on paper first. So just because you’ve been using one method for ages doesn’t mean another won’t work as well or better. So give it a go.

Another help to deciding what methods will work for you is self knowledge. I’m a pantser for two reasons. Firstly, because I know making detailed lists and character studies would bore me and keep me away from the actual writing. Secondly, I know that part of the fun of writing for me is to find these things out as I go along. I like to get to know my characters gradually, in the same way that the reader will. And the scenes that are unplanned, that arise out of my subconscious, are always my favourites.

Having said all that, some methods will depend on what you’re writing. My last manuscript jumped back and forth between past and present, and the timing was quite complicated as it had to align with some real historical events. So I made myself a timeline, something I would never ordinarily do. One of my future projects will need each chapter to be (roughly) outlined to make it dovetail together properly. But for my current project I just know basically what I want to happen, and there’s a few scenes in my head, otherwise I’m just going for it.

You also need to recognise that in this case there is no wrong or right way to do it. All writers are different. The oddest method I’ve ever heard was Lin Anderson’s. She starts with one scene, always a crime scene. When she starts she has no idea how it will end. And she just writes a chapter at a time, only starting the next one when the previous is polished and ready. I’ve never heard of any writer doing it that way before, but clearly it works for her as she has had multiple works published. So don’t be afraid to come up with your own, unique method.

Do you have any interesting writing methods? I’d love to hear them! Feel free to leave a comment.

Lost and Found, by Julia Blake- Book Review

Lost and Found starts off like a lighthearted romance. There’s the usual love at first sight, crackling sexual tension and unhappy misunderstandings. To be honest, this isn’t really my thing, but it was extremely well done and I enjoyed it much more than I would have expected.

Luke and Arianna are instantly likeable and I was rooting for them from the start. Also, there was some description, but not too much, and the places really came alive. Where the book really got going for me though was after the kidnapping. From then on it was one thrill after another and I loved it. I especially want to read more about Isabella! I hope that’s what the author has in store for us in the sequel.

All in all it was excellent read, with the slower pace of the beginning gradually building to a proper page turner that I finished in a few hours. I even got teary-eyed at the end. There’s something in this book for most people, whether you’re a lover of romance, action, or a little bit of both. I highly recommend picking it up.

Get Lost and Found here.

Danube Defiance- Book Review

Book Description:

DANUBE DEFIANCE, by novelist JANE GOLDEN, is an enthralling mystery about an art heist involving ancient icon art. Travel with super sleuth, Jeni, as she ventures through the antique markets in New Orleans’ French Quarter and across the ocean to Eastern Europe’s bustling city of Bucharest and the Romanian countryside. Jeni stumbles upon one clue that leads to others. Something doesn’t add up, and she gathers a few friends… an antiquities expert, a journalist, and a dashing New Orleans shopkeeper. Together, they follow a river of clues and dead bodies. But will the thieves get them first?

Review:

I’d mainly label this book as a cosy mystery, but in reality it’s a mix of things. It does have the slower pace of the cosy mystery, on the other hand there is none of the traditional list of suspects or plot twists that you would expect from that genre. It’s more of a thriller, but written in the style of a cosy mystery. I must admit to finding the solution slightly unfulfilling. But then again I often do.

The characters were believable and endearing and the writer clearly knows what she’s talking about. I would guess that perhaps she once filled the same role that Jeni, the main character in the book, occupies. I’d recommend it to fans of the fictional detectives Agatha Raisin and Daisy Dalrymple, who share the characteristics of achieving results by a mixture of luck and tenacious curiosity. Jeni very much falls into this category.

Also, if you like reading about other countries but dislike dry travel guides, this is a great way to learn about another culture without even thinking about it. It reminded me of Mary Stewart in that respect. The descriptions of Romania did slow the story down, but I enjoyed them nevertheless. All in all, it was a light but highly enjoyable read.

Rating- ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Find it on Amazon. About the Author: Jane Golden, author of SECRETS IN THE VINES and DANUBE DEFIANCE, was born with an inherent sense of adventure. The Biloxi, Mississippi native gives new meaning to tripping abroad. Experiencing international travel for the first time in her early teens, the brief jaunt stuck with her. She knew in her heart that the day-long excursion to a Mexican border town was the beginning of a lifetime of exotic journeys,which later included trips to Chile, Malawi, Costa Rica, the Caribbean, Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Jordan, and Europe.

After practicing law for many years, she was unexpectedly thrust into the role of a diplomat wife in Eastern Europe. Much of the background material in SECRETS IN THE VINES and DANUBE DEFIANCE is borrowed from personal travel experiences, including humorous insights and unique perspectives gained upon arrival in Bucharest. Jane’s profound insights into the Romanian culture are eye-opening in both books, igniting the curiosity of the reader while providing non-stop entertainment. 

What I Learned from my Book Launch

Last week I launched my first independently published book, a collection of 12 short stories with diary extracts, taking you on my journey from unpublished writer to debut novelist. As you will have gathered from this masterly description, although it was my first self published book, it was not my first published book. My teen novel, Victoria’s Victorian Victory, was released last year by Rainy Day Reads Publishing. The thing with this, though, is that they launched the book. I let everyone know on social media, but that was the end of my role really. With my new book, is was all down to me. Perhaps because of that, I staged a rather elaborate launch across all of my platforms. Some things I got very right, some things I got a little wrong. As you know, I always like to share my experiences so other writers can use them. So here’s what I learned:


You will have to give away quite a few paperbacks.

I staged paperback as well as eBook giveaways across all of my social media sites. I also sent one out to each of my market research team. Doing so created a buzz on the day, with lots of people entering the competitions. Over 4000 people saw my post on twitter alone. Having said that, many of these will be giveaway accounts. It’s a good idea to exclude these if you want someone to win the book who really wants it. If you’re not bothered about that and just want the publicity then it’s a great tool.

Sending out paperbacks also keeps the momentum going. As everyone starts to receive their free paperbacks they will likely post about it on their social media for you. They may also give you a great review.


Make sure you get the book absolutely right.

If you’re going to make a big fuss on your launch day, you need to make sure the book is worth fussing over. People will be quick to spot all hype with no substance. Make sure the eBook and paperback are both the best you can make them. It’s a good idea to get a proof of the paperback sent to you beforehand to check if you can. This really pays off though. I’ve had a lot of great comments on the quality of my paperback in particular.


Have some advance reviews to share. This tells people, not only that your book is now available to buy, but why they should buy it. I only had a couple, and I shared them the day after the launch, but they made a big difference.


Use videos to get more views. People on social media like videos. They are more personal, they get to see and hear you, and they still have a certain novelty about them. The two videos I posted to Instagram, one telling everyone what was happening, the other doing a short reading from the new book, got more interaction than any of the other things I posted that day. I also did a Facebook live session. I’ll be honest, not many people tuned in for that and it was slightly off-putting. I think I did it too early in the day. However, I needn’t have worried- lots of people have watched it on playback. However, next time I do a live video I may try it on Instagram. Instagram sends out a notification to all your followers that you are live. So we will see if that works better.


Don’t expect huge sales straight away. Unless you’re spending a lot of money on advertising, these things take time. They build like a snowball. For now, lots of people on social media are hearing how great my new book is. Some bought it straight away. More will follow. Interestingly, I’ve also seen an increase of sales for my novel. I guess if people like one book then they are more likely to buy the other.


As always, I hope you find that helpful, and please feel free to add your experiences in the comments.

Age of the Ashers- Book Review

I don’t really know where to start with this review, except to say that I loved it. It’s one of those rare books where my tea grew cold, dinner boiled over and dirty dishes piled up in the sink until I’d finished reading it.

The core concept is familiar, though none the worse for that. A seemingly normal teen discovers she has special powers and is the only one who can change the course of history. But the setting really is unique- a fantasy land in which all the Ancient Greek myths, creatures and gods are actually real, the knowledge of which is suppressed by the country’s secretive government.

I also loved the idea of making Chloe a twin, and of the two I actually liked Damien the best. I don’t want to give too much away, but I think he had an interesting mental journey. While Chloe has no idea she’s special at first, Damien does know, deep down, but rejects it. I connected with his story most. Or maybe I just have a bit of a crush on him…

I must just mention the cleverest thing about this book. I love a moment when everything comes together and you think ‘how did I not see that before?’ Well, there is such a moment when Chloe finds out what her power is. Or there was for me anyway.

The ending to this book in NOT satisfying. Picture this- me, perched precariously on the edge of the bed, nails bitten to the quick, eyes dry and sore with staring so hard, screaming ‘noooo, that can’t be the last page,’ before frantically checking when the next in the series is due out. So I’m just warning you, you won’t be able to stop at this one.

You can find the book on Amazon.

New Book Cover Reveal!

If you follow this blog or my social media, you’re probably aware that I’ll be releasing my very own short story collection in October. So obviously I’ve been working very hard getting it right for you, and the cover is finally ready for the big reveal! (Though newsletter subscribers have already seen it…) Anyway, here it is:

And the back:

There’s all sorts of great giveaways, readings and events planned for release day, so make sure you’re following me on Instagram and/or Twitter (username for both is @abiwriting), or signed up to my newsletter, so as not to miss out!

What To Do Before You Publish Your Book

There’s nothing that feels flatter than sending your hard work out into the world, only to realise that your audience is either indifferent, or worse, nonexistent. The problem is, many authors make the mistake of thinking that it’s enough to develop a small social media following and then do one or two posts about their book release immediately before or during publication. But in fact, only a very small percentage of your social media followers will rush out and buy your book. There are just so many authors out there, only a millionaire could buy every book advertised on their social media the moment it’s released. So you need to build excitement for your book and show people why they need to read it. Here’s a few suggestions on how to do this:

1) Grow an email list. Please, if you’re releasing books that are barely making a ripple in the sea of social media, put your pen down and create a smaller pond. Yes, it takes time away from writing. You may have to release your book a few months later. But it’s worth it. People on your email list are far more likely to buy your book than people on your social media.

2) Get your audience involved. Ask your email list and/or social media to help you name a character, choose a title, or critique a blurb. Readers will enjoy a book they feel they’ve had a part in making so much more.

3) Release regular updates. As parts of your book become finalised, such as the cover, keep your audience informed of its progress. This not only keeps everyone updated and creates anticipation, it gives people multiple opportunities to see that you have a book coming out.

4) Get advance reviews. I really regret not doing this for Victoria’s Victorian Victory. I meant to, just a weird combination of circumstances meant I couldn’t. But what that means is you have to wait for reviews until after your release day. Which means you can’t tell everyone what great things others are saying about the book to build excitement on the release day itself. And those who do buy your book that day will likely take a week or two to read and review it. By that time, most people have forgotten about your book release. Harsh, but true.

5) Do a blog tour. This is something I did do. Ask a few bloggers you know to host you on their sites. I had five or six guest blog posts lined up, and the lovely ladies who published them for me kindly staggered them to go out every two days leading up to my book release. It got me a lot of great exposure.

6) Send out a press release. It doesn’t cost anything to email a press release to your local paper, but it may result in some great free advertising if they take up the story. And if they don’t, what have you lost?

I hope those are some helpful suggestions. Remember, releasing a book is a big, exciting thing. Treat every book you publish as special. Make a fuss. Because if you don’t, no one else will.