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Joanne Phillips

A Writers Journey

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MA Creative Writing

That ‘What’s Next?’ Feeling

So, I’m nearing the launch of Murder at the Maples, the culmination of months and months of hard work and focused effort. Time to take a break, perhaps – time to sit back and have a bit of a breather.

Ha! Fat chance. Just because one book is about to be completed – released into the wilderness to survive on its own – the work doesn’t stop. Of course, there’s marketing to be done, press releases to write, promotional events to organise – Murder at the Maples won’t exactly be on its own, it will need a helping hand to find readers. But what about writing? Is finishing one book the ideal time to start on another?

Actually, I’m already missing writing. I finished MatM back in July and it’s been all production stuff since then. I’m itching to get my brain back into creative gear again. And I do have a few projects up my sleeve …

First and foremost is the novel I’m writing for my Masters. This, I can reveal today, is called ‘Ely Birch’. It’s the story of a commercial artist who is jealous of his talented wife, and I have written precisely zero words. Well, I have an outline, and I’ve had a meeting with my tutor who thinks it’s a good outline. And I have to have at least 4 chapters written by the beginning of January, ready for ‘workshopping’.

My other project is ‘Keeping Sam’, and this is very close to my heart. Keeping Sam was the second novel I wrote, after Can’t Live Without was completed, and it’s about a woman who is forced to challenge her parents for guardianship of her own son. Keeping Sam is about the rights of grandparents, and the consequences of decisions people make under duress. I love the characters, but the plot needs some work, so this is my other project for the winter. I’m hoping, if progress goes well, to release Keeping Sam by Christmas, but it may be early next year instead.

So, how about you? Do you finish one project and then launch headlong into the next? Or do you prefer to have a break and wind down a little in between? The truth is, even if I didn’t have these various projects to complete, I’d probably be looking for one. I just can’t seem to stop working!

The Butterfly Storm Blog Tour – Finding the Confidence to Write

Today I am truly delighted to welcome Kate Frost to the blog, on the first stop of her tour to celebrate the release of her debut novel The Butterfly Storm. I just have to say – what a beautiful cover!

The Butterfly Storm Cover Small

I first met Kate via the blogosphere when we were introduced by the lovely Debbie Young who thought we might have a lot in common. We do! But more on that later. First I’d like to hand you over to Kate for her really touching and insightful guest post: Finding the Confidence to Write

“When Jo invited me to write a guest post as part of my blog tour she left it up to me to decide on the subject. My initial thoughts were to write about what I had gained from the Creative Writing MA I studied a few years ago that was instrumental in me writing my debut novel, The Butterfly Storm. That subject also tied in neatly with the fact that Jo’s currently working towards a MA too. I then started thinking about why it’s taken me nine years to get to this point of publishing my novel. I began working on The Butterfly Storm in 2004 at the start of the MA at Bath Spa University and finished it by 2006. It’s been on quite a journey since then via agents and publishers before being confined to the depths of my computer. And do you know what’s stopped me from self-publishing it before now? Confidence. Or lack of it.

I have a tendency to lack confidence in myself and my abilities but I haven’t always done. I was quietly confident as a child – creative, always writing stories and plays and performing them along with a friend to our mums and long-suffering brothers. I know what triggered the loss of my childhood confidence; not the actual diagnosis of hyperthyroidism when I was 13 (never a good time to have a hormone imbalance condition) but the impact that the ups and downs of the condition had on me both physically and emotionally. At senior school I was quiet and rarely spoke up in class even when I knew the answer. Drama helped a great deal with that, bringing me out of my shell and enabling me to perform on stage in front of hundreds of people. Three years studying for a BA Hons Drama at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth cemented my new found confidence but it was when I started to write again after university that my confidence began to crumble. It wasn’t because I just got rejections, although as with any writer I got my fair share. I had articles and short stories published in a variety of magazines including New Welsh Review, The London Magazine and QWF. My lack of confidence was because I questioned myself as I’m sure every writer does at one time or another. Am I good enough? Can I actually write? Will anyone want to even buy or read what I’ve written?

I can pinpoint three things that have over the years built up my confidence and enabled me to be assured when I say that I’m a writer. The first was when I was one of the winners of author Kate Mosse’s Baton Stories competition, which she ran in the lead up to the release of her bestselling novel, Labyrinth. The second was studying for the MA and being a part of a wonderful group of writers. The third, and possibly the most important, has been something I’ve simply had to do off my own back and that’s been to believe in myself. That belief has come from incredibly supportive husband and parents, a fantastic network of writing friends both online and in real life and the fact that I’ve written a novel that I’m proud of.

Lack of confidence comes with the territory of writing but there are ways of combating it. It doesn’t mean you have to do a MA. Of course I would wholeheartedly urge anyone who gets the chance to study creative writing whether at undergraduate or postgraduate level to go for it but there are lots of other ways to boost your writerly confidence: an evening class at your local college; a writers’ group; an online writing course; a writing retreat in the UK or abroad; or by buddying up with a writing friend to support each other through all the disappointments and successes. The internet is a fantastic tool for connecting with other writers from around the world and if I’m ever feeling down or lacking in confidence I know there’s a group of lovely writers and bloggers out there that I can turn to. I’ve also saved the emails from the agents that read The Butterfly Storm and who said such lovely things about it but ultimately turned it down because they didn’t feel 100% confident it would make money. I have a beautiful hardback notebook on my bedside table where I’ve handwritten passages of my stories and novels that I’m most proud of along with comments from readers of my short stories that have made me smile. We all need a confidence boost at times and little things like that can reaffirm that you’re on the right track. It can be a long and challenging road from that initial moment of inspiration to publication but I’ve found that the writing community is incredibly supportive and that’s something that each and everyone of us can be proud of.

I am a writer and as of Wednesday 12th June I officially became a published author too.”

Kate Frost Head Shot
Kate Frost has wanted to write since she was seven. Over the years she’s had short stories and articles published in  various magazines including The London Magazine and New Welsh Review. She has a MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University and The Butterfly Storm is her first novel. She lives in the UK with her husband and their dog.

Buy the book! (I have, and I can’t wait to read it.) Click this link to go to the Amazon store in your country.

Competition time!!!

Kate is running a fab competition for the duration of her tour – anyone who buys The Butterfly Storm between Friday 14th and Friday 28th June and emails her the amazon receipt will be put into a prize draw to win one of two £5/$5 amazon vouchers.

Here are the rest of Kate’s Blog Tour stops:

Mon 17th: Interview on Alana Terry’s blog http://alanaterry.blogspot.co.uk/
Wed 19th: Guest post (character interview) Maryann Miller’s It’s Not All Gravy blog http://its-not-all-gravy.blogspot.co.uk/
Fri 21st: Guest post Laurey Buckland’s blog http://laureybuckland.blogspot.co.uk/
Mon 24th: Interview on Elaine Jeremiah’s blog http://elainejeremiah.co.uk/
Tues 25th: Guest post Raewyn Hewitt’s blog http://raewynhewitt.wordpress.com/
Wed 26th: Interview/guest post (not sure exactly what yet) Jade Reyner’s blog http://jadereyner.com/
Thurs 27th: Guest post on Estelle Wilkinson’s blog http://estellewilkinson.wordpress.com/
Fri 28th: Interview on Beach Bound Books http://www.beachboundbooks.com/

I just want to wish Kate the best of luck with her blog tour and the launch of her book. Kate and I both suffer from thyroid problems, and I know exactly how hard it is to work on an intense project like writing and publishing a book when you’re well, let alone when you’re not. Kate’s worked incredibly hard to get this far, and I hope you’ll help me support her during this exciting time. Okay, over to you – Kate’s looking forward to answering your comments.

A Call For Beta Readers

This weekend we’re very lucky to have my friend and fellow MA student, Ele-Beth Little on the blog. Ele is looking for beta readers for her debut novel – which you can read more about below. In our workshopping group last term we were all blown away by Ele’s creativity and talent, and I hope Ele has lots of interest – beta reading is both exciting and hugely rewarding. So, over to you, Ele …
Ele
Thank you Jo, for letting me thieve some of your web space to do a call out for beta readers. Fingers crossed.

I’m currently working on a novel called ‘The Fox’, which focuses on Terri, whose search for a sense of family after an unsettled upbringing leads her to an alternative music scene and the arms of a mysterious loner known as … you guessed it… the ‘fox’.

In a beta reader I’m generally looking for someone with experience of reading fiction with a gothic edge, or an openness to it. Also, if you have an interest in psychology, philosophy or alternative subcultures this may be well suited to you, as good portion of the novel is dedicated to exploring the pro’s and cons of non-monogamous relationships.

In saying that, I do want to keep the philosophising at bay as to not weigh down the plot. So if you’re considering reading this, it’s important to know that my main challenge is to ensure that my character remains pro-active.

Excerpt:

Terri put down the bag of shopping and perched on the bed, her knees tucked up and her toes digging in to the colourful crochet blanket that Steve had obviously found in a charity shop. The bus itself was lined inside with cedar wood, a burner built in to the kitchenette. Out of the window she could see the tall trees that encircled his field, which homed a few wild looking ponies and was littered with mounds of rusted car parts.

“Don’t knock it. I like my life being predictable. I’ve gotten used to it”. As he opened the door of the wood-burner he gave a self-satisfied smirk.

“Even going to town stresses me at the minute. Brew?” He was wearing all black. Black jeans, black fleece. And his hair now reached his shoulders, in loose brown curls.

“Please” The heat had surged out of the burner but Terri could still feel a chill from behind her. The wind rattled the bus windows, and it felt penetrable.

Steve had begun to decorate his new fragile nest of a home; she noticed he’d tacked up that worn postcard of TS Elliot he took everywhere. He’d been hooked on ‘The Wasteland’ as a teenager, but as far as she knew never read any other poetry. And there was also a large poster of an owl which looked down on them from a height in judgement. It was far neater here than the ramshackle room he’d rented before, the ‘filth den’ they’d nicknamed it, a crash pad for Steve and his drunk mates.

“Check this, you even tidied up your laundry. Expecting company?” She wanted him to know she’d noticed. There was no one else to notice. She heard him grunt to himself at the remark as he picked up the bag of shopping she’d brought him and rooted through it.

“Nope, there’s only you who’d be mad enough to come to this charming shit hole. Ahh Yorkshire tea, we’re going up in the world”

Her broken brother. He was good at surviving. She rubbed her cold hands and snuck her sleeves down over them, hoping he wouldn’t notice”.

***

Feel free to contact me on: wintermuse @ gmail (dot) com

Also I have a blog which documents my writing progress ie tantrums here: http://bloodberries.wordpress.com/ if you want to get a feel for my voice.

So what do you think, guys? Ele will be around all weekend for you to ask any questions, and do get in touch with her if you’d like to be part of the journey for an exciting new talent.

M is for Masters Study

Welcome to another week of the A to Z Challenge – we’re nearly halfway through! Today’s letter is M, and the topic is Masters Study.

I’m currently working towards an MA in Creative Writing with the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). For our final project, and worth 60 credits, we have to write a novel. Well, duh! That’s only to be expected. As someone with two novels under her belt, and another on the way, writing to length isn’t an untried skill. But the question of what to write has weighed heavy on my mind.

When I applied for the MA, Can’t Live Without had only just been published. I had no idea if anyone would read it, I only knew I wanted to study creative writing and improve as a writer as much as possible over the coming years. I imagined I’d write something ‘literary’ for my project, maybe try out some different styles and voices along the way. For last month’s Writing Workshop module, I submitted four – yes, four – first chapters of books I’d started. Most of the other students in my group had already decided on, and started, their final project novels, and continued to submit chapters for workshopping. My first chapters became a bit of a joke: they said I was really good at first chapters – especially first lines – but at some point they’d also like to see a chapter 2!

Then came the point where I really had to decide which book I was going to focus on and commit. But what to do? I began the MA with the intention of pushing myself, of exploring what I was capable of as a writer. But now, with two women’s fiction novels published and a cosy mystery on the way, would it be wise for me to spend the best part of two years working on something that will probably be a complete departure and not appeal to the readership I’ll have spent years building?

I’ve really struggled with this decision, getting the advice of trusted writing friends and my course tutor. I did a kind of ‘self-coaching’ session, weighing up all the pros and cons. And, finally, I’ve come to this conclusion:

I am going to write something different for my Masters. It won’t be women’s fiction primarily, and it may or may not appeal to existing readers. At this point in time I don’t know what it will turn out to be genre-wise – I’m just going to write it and see. And I’m going to enjoy the process, and learn as much as I can. Choosing to study at this level is expensive and a big commitment – there’s no point doing it at all unless you can extract as much as possible from the process. So I’ve decided to take a risk or two. Who knows what will happen!

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