Thursday, 23 May 2019

Looking For Beta Readers

   Yep! It's not something I'd usually do, but after completing 'Hlífrún' (my Camp NaNo) project, I decided that I'd really like to put it out into the world. But, given how I've written it, I'd like some outside opinions, first. And so I'm calling upon those of you who haven't read The Zi'veyn to take a peek at it. (If you have read The Zi'veyn, feel free to apply anyway, because if I don't get enough interest, I'll need you!)

   Why so specific? Well, even though I wrote it as a stand-alone, it does fall between books 2 & 3 of The Devoted trilogy (hence why people who have only read The Zi'veyn, book 1, can still apply), and because I know all the details that are going on behind it all, it's difficult to gauge myself whether or not it can stand on its own. So I need people who are unfamiliar with the trilogy to take a look.
   The book is only 150 pages (formatted, not A4), and is made up of a number of short stories that tell a single over-arcing story.

   The job is simple: apply via the simple, non-invasive Google form on my author website (where you can find more info on the book itself), then, if you're chosen, I'll send you either a PDF of the book or a paperback copy (which you can, of course, keep), and then you read it over the course of 30 days (it would reasonably take about a week) and then answer this question when you've finished: while reading, did you feel like you needed more information, or wanted it? Were you lost, or were you curious?
   That's it!

If you're interested in getting an exclusive sneak-peek on some of my work,
head over to my author webpage and have a look at the book details & application form.
It's open worldwide until June 14th.

Monday, 29 April 2019

I Wrote a Book In 3.5 Weeks

   Yup, you read that right. It's true that it's not one of my 600-page monsters, but to get it done not only under a year, but under a month, and done well, shows that I've been doing something wrong.
   It's true that I let Camp NaNoWriMo take over my life from the moment I rose (I would usually spend my mornings doing other things like Etsy work or research or other fun things before my workout, then work on book stuff from midday to 11pm), but it also gave me the best opportunity to experiment with writing - from the creative to the technical.
   When I work on my trilogy, I tend to pace myself. But I also tend to try to get it down perfectly on the first draft, which leads to a lot of time spent staring out of the window thinking, then daydreaming. There's nothing at all wrong with taking a moment to think, but when all you have to work with for the contents of a whole chapter is 3 paragraphs written in the master book plan, you're hobbling yourself.
   "Get the words down - they don't have to be good, just get them down." This is the premise of NaNo. And I have issue with it. It sounds like you can just bullshit your way through; write utter drivel and call it a success. That's just wasted time, in my eyes. And while I still hold true to that angle, I did gradually realise what it actually meant: do your best, but don't fret. Because, despite my best efforts over the years, even I learned long ago that your first draft of everything is going to suck. That's why you redraft.

   This was probably the most valuable opportunity of my NaNo experience. I found a way to write quickly, albeit with personal pressure, but also well. I would draft out each chapter in note form - no prose, just 'and then and then and then'. That meant that, instead of it taking me 3 days to write 10 pages, I got their every detail noted down in about 3 hours, and then I could go back to the start and turn it into prose. I could get 10 pages done in literally half the time. And it all flowed really well, and I was more comfortable with what I was writing.
   No, I never really did shake my compulsive edit-as-I-write habits. They died down for a while, but if I wasn't happy with a paragraph or so in the prose phase, I would work at it until it was fixed. And if I wasn't happy with a whole chapter (or in this case each chapter is its own short story, contributing to the overall tale), I would read it back through and adjust it where it needed it.
   And yet, I still got a 150 page book down in 3.5 weeks, even with a slow start.

   The second most valuable opportunity NaNo provided was that in which I could put all I'd learned from The Art of Storytelling to work. He'd held a lesson on short stories, and certainly every word of that was ringing in my head all month.
• short stories are the best opportunity to experiment with voices
• they're the best opportunity to experiment with ideas that might not work with a full book
• they're a great opportunity to meet characters
• they could spark a story of their own
• the best short stories are the final chapters of books you didn't write (given how my short stories all came together to tell a single over-arcing story, this didn't apply)
• they're stories that can take you to another world and still be home in time for tea.
• in a book, lots of things have to happen; in a short story, only one thing does. And it doesn't have to be big.

   It was all a bit of a stress, but I'm so happy I did it. It was a personal project, a story I really wanted to know - not to share, or anything like that; it was for my benefit, and I knew it would help the planning for the last book in the trilogy. While my books focus on humans, this project was from the wildlings' perspective - the creatures that live in forests, all inspired by Scandinavian folklore - and focused on how they handled a certain even that spans from the end of book 2 and into a good chunk of book 3. I've been able to flesh them out more, as well as their queen, and when they come to having their moment of glory in the third book, I now have a much better idea of how that will go.
   I wasn't going to bother writing it at all, I preferred to just work on the third book, but I knew that if I didn't do it before I started writing book 3, it wouldn't be done at all. And when I was alerted to the existence of Camp NaNoWriMo by Gamer Mum Chronicles (I had thought it was NaNo in November and that was all), I figured I was in the best position to try. What was one month? If I didn't finish by the end of April, so be it. I would at least have a better idea even if I only got as far as planning out the sequence of events.
   I took 2 weeks to plan it before Camp started, and I got to work on April 1st. My word count goal (having never tracked words before) was 15,000. I adjusted it to 20,000 on the 13th when it was clear I was going to smash it too soon. Then I hit that 20,000 word count goal two days later.
   I finished writing the whole thing on the 24th with a word count, somehow, of 38,815. I've already been back over it making edits to words left in bold that needed revisiting. But I finished that on the 27th, and now I'm just sitting on it before redrafting it, which I'm going to do in May.

   May is going to be a busy month, but it should be my last busy writing month before I finally get back into a consistent flow. In January, I finished writing book 2 and then started redrafting it. I was then accepted to work on a book of short stories with Frenone, which I worked on between my redrafting. In February I started a writing course, and worked on those short stories. I finished redrafting at the beginning of March, and finished the final story for Frenone's book, and then immediately got to planning out the third book, as well as making adjustments to The Zi'veyn's book cover and starting work on the second's. Two weeks later I decided to embark on the above Camp NaNo project and put two weeks aside for planning that out instead, and then on April 1st I moved on to writing it, which I finished on the 24th and then edited for the following 3 days. For the next 4, I'm working on book covers again.
   May's work is going to consist of redrafting these short stories, because I'm very proud of them, and then I might decide to publish them, which means I'll need beta readers to tell me if it works. I wanted it to be enjoyed by people who haven't read The Zi'veyn or any of The Devoted trilogy, so I left a lot of details out (not difficult, given the perspective of the book), but I also want it to be enjoyed by those who have. I'm also going to be revising the first 5 chapters of The Zi'veyn before submitting them to literary agencies following feedback I've received, and also work on finalising the plan for book 3 (which was in a near-complete state in March, and why I decided I could afford to set it aside for NaNo), and then I'm also going to finish working on the cover for book 2. It's going to be a long month.
   Fortunately, the first week of May is going to be a much-needed and much-anticipated break. Unsurprisingly, I have some typing-related injuries, so I'll be glad to rest that up.
   But more on all that later...

   My hope is to start writing book 3 in June. Then, finally, I'll be back into a regular flow with my to-do list all checked off. I also won't feel like I have to write as fast as I did this past month, so hopefully these hand/elbow/shoulder injuries won't reappear too quickly. I might also consider enforcing a day off. But...what would I do?! The thought is, genuinely, kind of scary to be honest.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Neil Gaiman's 'The Art of Storytelling' Masterclass Course Review

   I used to be quite an arrogant writer. Not in the sense that I was boastful or believed my work to be amazing, but rather in the sense that I thought all I needed was time and practise. I thought there was nothing I could be taught, so I never wanted to waste my time on writing courses because I believed I already knew all there was to know and that I didn't need the training - especially when an average writer's workshop cost £400+ online and even more in person. Why would I spend money to be taught things I'd already learned?
   Well, when I was about 21, I realised that it wasn't arrogance. It was fear. I was afraid of taking a writing course and being told I was doing everything wrong. I was afraid that everything I'd already spent 9 years learning and practising was wrong. And I didn't have £400 to spend on a writing course.
   So, I ended up floating around with that insecurity sitting right upon my shoulder, and it got worse when I sent my first submission to agents and publishers - my 23rd finished story - only for it to be rejected. I gave up writing, then, for about 6 months. It was only an insatiable passion that drew me back, and I decided then that I wanted to learn after all, regardless of the fear.  But I still had no money, and whenever I looked at the courses they were always technical - how to plan, learning genre, even learning how to use punctuation. There was little storytelling in it, it was just technical writing that, in some cases, even featured classes in the curriculum for journalism and things like that. It just seemed either too vague or filled with things I genuinely could already do.

   Well, I continued to write and to submit over the 7 years that followed that realisation because I refused to let it cripple me, and I knew I'd gradually learn as I continued to write and continued to read others' work. But money never changed - I had a good year in my Etsy shop at Christmas in 2017 when I probably could have afforded one, but my husband and I had a £500 wedding (no, there are no zeros missing) the following spring and had to set aside for a honeymoon (which we're having later this year). But even then, I'd not found any courses that appealed to me.

   But, a month after being approved to write for Frenone's tarot story book this year, which itself was a massive achievement, I saw mention of a class taught by Neil Gaiman on Masterclass called 'The Art of Storytelling' for £85. My heart leapt into my throat.
   I'd never heard of Masterclass before so I did some digging to make sure it was legit before giving it any serious consideration, but it all checked out.
   Put simply, it was an online school taught by masters in their fields; classes without fees, aside from the one-off payment of £85 which gives you eternal access to the class for the rest of time (unless you choose to pay the yearly £170 subscription fee to get access to all the various creative classes on Masterclass for the duration of the subscription). There are no deadlines, no feedback, and no certificate of completion. All you get out of it is the knowledge, and exercises to help you apply it - in this case, writing exercises.
   But, at the end of the day, it's the knowledge you want. Unless you're a doctor or a specialist, a certificate is an affectation. And it's Neil Gaiman, someone who knows what he's talking about as both a madly successful writer who works in both fiction and fantasy, and as a professor of creative arts at Bard College, New York. Even without feedback, I trust his word and his teaching over some nameless professor with a certificate on the wall and who may well be biased to one genre or another.
   I think I gave it about an hour's thought. But it was already late in the evening, so even with my decision made and my husband urging me to go for it, I still didn't sign up until the next day.
   Then, on February 1st, I dipped into our savings, paid the fee, and began.

Picture admittedly taken on April 18th for the purpose of this post, hence the green beyond and full notebook.

The Course's Structure
   The course consists of 18 classes (and 1 introduction), all of which involve a video of 8 to 28 minutes in length, and a worksheet. The videos are filmed beautifully for Masterclass as though it's a one-on-one lesson. Neil Gaiman sits in a chair in a lovely library and talks to you with a lovely, soothing, writerly voice second only to David Attenborough. He gives you his thoughts on the subjects, which he laid out himself, and talks about how he does things, how other writers he knows do things, how you shouldn't do things, and he's extremely honest and open about it and his experiences, complete with anecdotes.
   He talks sometimes about how frustrating writing can be when the words just won't come out, he talks about the difficulties in planning, and the beauty of it, the joy of worldbuilding and about characters 'talking to you', and that you should listen to them, even have a conversation with them sometimes if you're stuck and see what they say back. It sounds crazy to people who don't write, and even a few writers might scoff at that, but it works. Characters take on a life of their own if you've made them correctly.
   After the video comes the worksheet, which summarises the video and also imparts more wisdom and knowledge, as well as reading suggestions (both stories and technical), and then goes on to offer two types of activities - 'writing exercises' to be done right then, and 'for your novel' exercises so that you can apply what you've learned that day to whatever project you're personally working on. Some classes will have multiple of each, others will have just one; some will take a long time, others won't. But there are no deadlines - you can take as long as you'd like to complete it, and revisit it as many times as you'd like.
   There is a student hub wherein you can find help and feedback from other students on the course, because you submit nothing to be reviewed by Neil or by anyone at Masterclass. It just doesn't work that way, which, I think, is its only failing - you can't know for sure if you've really understood. But if you did submit, it would be a lot more work on their part (because, no doubt, it wouldn't go straight to Mr Gaiman), and that would certainly jack up the price and put the knowledge from the whole course out of reach.

What Are The Lessons?
   There is a list of the lessons on the sign-up page so you can see what you're getting into before paying, but, put simply, these lessons don't cover punctuation, paragraphing or any technical writing stuff like that. It's about storytelling. It doesn't focus on genre, either, so it's all perfectly viable to every fiction writer of every kind. It's all about how to tell a good story, in writing - including comics.
   There is only one lesson on comics, but it's the longest at 28 minutes. I admit, I have no interest in comics - I don't read them, or even watch movies about them (and yes, I am aware that there are more comic book genres than 'superheroes'). They're just not my thing, and I find them difficult to appreciate. I have the Avatar: The Last Airbender library editions, but I get through that 250 page thing in about half an hour. I just don't know how to read them, and I know that it's lost on me. But, having paid for the course, I decided to watch the video in case there was a relevant pearl of wisdom, then I read the worksheet (though I admit I skipped the writing exercise this one time). There was nothing in there for me, but I did glean some kind of appreciation for the complexities of writing comics. I never thought it was similar to writing a book in the slightest, but even so, there's more to it than I thought.

   The most valuable lessons, for me, were the final few: 'Responsibilities As A Writer', which started with an anecdote that I found, frankly, terrifying, and drove home the point I'd already surmised for myself, and 'Writer's Rules', which covered a little bit of how to submit to publishers and agents, and about striking a balance between humility and the arrogance of a 7-year old to ensure that, when a rejection comes through, you don't roll over and die with it but instead accept that it wasn't perfect while being stubborn enough to keep going and write something that they can't possibly reject. These were all things I needed help on, and while I still feel I need more, I'm a bit more confident with it now.
   The 'Short Stories' lesson, too, was both valuable and pertinent, because I'd never had to write them before this year with the tarot book. And since then, I've suddenly developed an interest in them because I've learned how to write them. Or the theory of it, anyway. 'They're a whole other beast', another writer told me while discussing the tarot book. The lesson came a little late, since I'd already written and submitted one of my two stories to Frenone by that time, but the second - longer and more important, since it accompanies the image of the front cover and summarises the entire tarot deck - benefitted from the lesson hugely. If I'm asked to rewrite the first, I'll be happy to, because I think I could do a much better job now.

How Did I Follow It?
   The classes seem short, but don't be fooled. They're immensely informative. You could technically do them in any order, but some of the writing exercises refer back to previous lessons, and I was doing them chronologically anyway.
   I would do two lessons a week, watching the video first, then reading through the worksheet until I reached a writing exercise which I would then do in a designated notebook, and then continue reading the worksheet until I got to the end, stopping at writing exercises along the way and making note of 'For Your Novel' sections along the way. Then I turned to a fresh page and made notes from the worksheet (and the video sometimes, if there was something in there that I wanted and wasn't quoted). Oh, and the video player has subtitles, so you don't have to miss anything.
   I always left a few days between lessons, and listened to the video again the following day to recap. This changed towards the end when the lessons became less practical and turned towards editing advice and things like that (yes, there's even a class on editing your novel), at which point I did the final three lessons in one day, but I truly feel I absorbed everything given, and making notes helped to ensure that went in. And, if not, I can recap over every single bit of it whenever I need to. One of the few benefits of a video-teacher rather than a human.

   No one is above this class. It's as cheap as rather expensive chips, amazing value, taught by a master who knows his trade and how to teach, and has zero time constraints. I knocked it out comfortably in 7 weeks. I could have done it in 10 days if I'd worked morning and afternoon, but I didn't want to rush. The longest any class took me was 4 hours (lesson 8, 'Story Case Study 'March Tale''), but I was king of distracted that day.
   No, you may not have even £85 lying around, but if you write fiction of any kind, I urge you to consider this class. I was smiling when I finished the last one (and crying a little bit, 'cause I'm cool) and while I was already doing so much of this before the class, all I could think was "I gained so much from this."

Personal Note
   Above all, while I learned a lot, there was one thing I took away from it that I was shocked by: I'm not doing anything wrong at all. There was nothing at all he said that came as a revelation - but there were suggestions on how I could take what I was already doing and make it better. And that means that the nagging insecurity has vanished in a puff of smoke, after I've spent 7 years trying to beat it down with a mallet every time I mention my writing and try to put it in front of someone, knowing I'll never get anywhere otherwise.
   I am now a lot more confident in my skill, and I've learned enough that I think, most crucially, I might be able to approach literary agents and publishers with the information they want. When they ask for my influences, they're not asking "what's in your bookcase?" They're asking "what's in your heart?" And now, I can tell them. And I can write a logline, I can write a more concise synopsis, I can also tell them that, now, I have taken a writing class and I am prepared to learn and to grow.
   I still doubt they'll take my manuscript, but at least I'll know how to approach them now. And I know every writer would feel the same after taking this class.

This post has not been sponsored, endorsed, encouraged or any of the like by anyone tagged, linked or mentioned in this post. I discovered the course on my own, bought it on my own, and took it on my own. All opinions are my own, photographs are my own, and screenshots were taken on my own.
I just really, really think you need to know about it.

Monday, 22 April 2019

Download The Zi'veyn For Free!

It's been a long time - since I last posted and was able to run a promotion like this - but from today until the 26th of April, you can download The Zi'veyn for free on Kindle & the Kindle app! It's available across all Amazon & Kindle stores, just click one of the links below or search 'The Zi'veyn' on your preferred site!

UK   •   Netherlands   •   US   •   Canada

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Sleep. The Best Thing You Did All Night.

   There's always something to do. It could be fun, it could be dull, it could be urgent, or the deadline could be entirely imagined. And yet, if we miss it, it's going to be the worst thing in the world. It's ridiculous, really. And it leads to cutting so many corners, and, worse still, those corners are always the things that matter. Like skipping a proper warm-up or cool-down post-workout, or arriving late to parent-teacher night, or dragging your dog around the park as quickly as you can (I maintain, if you have to find time to give your dog a walk, you shouldn't have a dog). And, worst of all: sleep.
   Staying up late to hit your deadlines and then rising early to get a head-start. Fine, if there's a dissertation hand-in that needs to be met in a week's time. But if this is basically your life, something has to give. And if sleep is the corner you're cutting, the thing that buckles will be your sanity.

Why is sleep so important to your health?
   During sleep, lots of body functions are turned down so that other functions that run in the background while you're awake can do their job more efficiently. Like your computer trying to run updates and things like that during your inactive hours. These are things like repair - your body rebuilds its cells and starts to work on healing injuries or illnesses while you sleep. This isn't limited to exercise, it's your body's basic daily wear and tear - but it does, of course, increase in necessity if you're active. To repair your body properly, it chooses to run these 'programs' while you're not moving around and directing energy elsewhere, and as a result it makes other things less sensitive - like touch, hearing, smell and sight - and also reduces your metabolism because you're not eating. If you start to wake in the night from small noises, your body isn't working properly, quite probably because you've ruined your sleep-cycle with late nights and early rising. This can also contribute heavily towards general bad moods and depression.
   This entire system is managed by chemical changes in your body, the simplest and most relevant of which is the balance between serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin levels increase with exposure to natural light, ie morning time, and kicks your metabolism, mood and nervous system into drive, while melatonin increases when serotonin eases off, and kicks your healing, rejuvenation and natural detoxing systems into drive, which are running on low-power in the background during the day. This is generally why you feel like you've 'reset' the next day if you felt ill or sore the day before. It's also responsible for your circadian rhythm - your body clock, essentially.
   The balance between these two incredibly important chemicals is skewed when our busy days come into play. We rise early with an alarm clock, before our bodies are ready, and often while it's still dark, and we stay up late, using computers, tablets and phones - sending artificial light into our eyes and confusing the release of melatonin - before sleeping for 6 hours.

It's not just a matter of sleep time, but sleep quality.
   If you're in bed at 10 and rise at 6, you probably count that as 8 hours of sleep, right? Well, no. Not if you're waking up every hour or two. If you keep waking, your body can't keep up its nighttime engines. You won't heal, rejuvenate, recover or rest if you're still using your conscious mind, your sight, your hearing, etc. And just the act of waking these systems up will trigger others to follow by default. It takes time to shut them back down and start the others back up. This is more damaging than 6 hours of restful sleep.

   So what can you do? Especially if you're the kind of person who does wake every hour? Well, it's actually quite simple. You need to hold yourself accountable.
   Setting up a simple night-time ritual will help to turn off your over-active mind, aid the release of the right chemicals through relaxation and association, and ease you into sleep, giving you a better 6 hours if that's really all you can spare. You may even find that new nighttime habits gets you to bed a little earlier as a cosy little side-effect.

1. Limit artificial light
This means phones, tablets, computers - electronics, basically. Stop using them 2 hours before bed and read a book instead, go for an evening walk, draw a picture. Do something that doesn't have you staring into a screen, that disconnects you from social media and the anxieties that come with it - whether you notice them or not - and relax.

2. Consider your environment
Cool down. Cooling the air and letting in a fresh flow will help you to fall asleep. The body usually responds better to cooler temperatures. It sucks trying to sleep in the summer, but winter is oh so cosy. So, crack open a window, opt for lighter/low-tog sheets - Julian Charles has a good variety of togs - don't fear the monsters under the bed and stick a foot out, and consider sleeping nude beneath the sheets.

3. Stretch and breathe
A few yoga stretches with some deep breaths before bed helps to calm and slow the mind. If you do this after shutting off your devices, it gives you something to take your mind off of the 'boredom' that comes with having turned your phone off. There's more to life than your phone, social media and work. Take time for you.

4. Don't exercise in the evening
On the other hand, don't take the yoga too far. Consider dinner time the cut-off point for proper exercise, like a dance class, workout or run. You need the fuel to recover from it, anyway.
   When serotonin eases off and melatonin rises, your ability to handle higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) is reduced, and continues to reduce the later it gets. You know how nightmares always seem so scary when you're a kid, but when you think back in the day, they seem silly? Or how niggly things that don't bother you so much in the day suddenly grow into monsters at night? It's because your brain can't handle the stress. This isn't just mental stress, but physical, too. This means that higher levels of cortisol at night also inhibit sleep quality, and if you're trying to lose weight, get fit or build muscle, then having a poor night's sleep after an evening workout is only going to inhibit your results, too.

5. Get some blackout curtains
They're a thicker curtain, or another set of curtains hooked behind your regular ones. They add an extra layer to block out the light, which will aid your melatonin levels at night. This is the best option if you hate wearing sleep masks. I certainly do.

6. Get outside during the day
Melatonin levels improve at night if you got lots of sun during the day. This means getting outside. The exercise and change of scenery will do your general mood wonders, too.

7. Have a warm drink before bed
Warm milk doesn't actually contribute to a good night's sleep. The levels of melatonin and tryptophan in a glass of warm milk are far too low to make a difference. Instead, it's the act of having that warm drink and the relaxation that goes with it that helps to prepare the body for sleep. But it is still high in fats and protein, which the body puts to use at night to repair the body.

Do you already have a night-time ritual that helps you get to sleep? 
For me it's simple: turn off devices, have a stretch, then clamber in bed and read a book for an hour, with a cup of sleepy tea. I'm loving Bird & Blend's 'Dozy Girl' right now.
If I fall asleep with a cup half-full, then I fall asleep with a cup half-full.

Disclaimer: this is a collaborative post. All research was my own.

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Lately [Bypassing The Frets]

   It's been quiet on the blog this year. As always with me, I try to do too much, and something always goes on the backburner. It's usually the blog.
   January was spent finishing the second book of The Devoted trilogy, February was spent editing it, writing the short stories for Project Tarot and following The Art of Storytelling course, and March has been split in many directions: completing the course, planning out the third book, planning out the story I intend to write for Camp NaNoWriMo (which begins tomorrow), injecting life into my Instagram account and trying to make it work for my writing, trying so hard to bring my Etsy shop back from its own ashes after a disastrous Christmas and a first quarter so dead that I considered packing it in all together if not for the fact that it is my sole income, pouring a lot of hope and dedication into my current workout plan and final stages of my calorie experiment, and fretting over Brexit and what it will mean for my Dutch husband and I.
   So, though a lot has been going on, I've had nothing to say. It's been the busiest and, so far, most emotional month, and while I used to blog about every single little thing on my mind, I didn't want to waste a post talking about my feelings when they all stem merely from hopes and worries, with little solid foundation. If I was worried about something inevitable, something actually happening, fine. But it's all based on nothing but conjecture. I'm an unreasonably pessimistic person for someone chasing a life-long dream of a creative career.

   And, given that I no longer switch my workout up every single month, there's not much to check in with on that front, either. Especially right now, because I really want to get a well-rounded picture before I present anything.

   I'm not really sure why I'm writing this post, to be honest, but I'll focus on the positives.

Author Instagram Adventures
   Disregrading the approval of Article 15 & 17, I've got a lot of hope for my Instagram account. After stumbling across Wildmind Creative while setting up my author website (which still feels so ridiculous to have), I read up on their free advice for optimising an Instagram account to promote your book. I doubted it would work, since Instagram's audience have the shortest attention span, but actually, it's a lot easier and more enjoyable than I'd thought. Reviewing books relevant to your own work, posting pictures of inspirational people or places, text images of writer or book quotes, with every 4th image related to your own work. Taking good photos is the tricky thing, but I'm muddling through, and having found #FantasyWIP[Month] has also given me daily prompts. I'm not posting daily, of course - I've got too much on my plate right now to come up with pleasing pictures every single day - I'm aiming for every 3-4, but it's helping to fill the gaps when it's time to post and I have nothing to say. I'm hoping to do it a little more often in the near future, but all my pictures are from adventures in forests and my feed would look rather green and rather forestry-commissiony. So I'm spreading them out and holding them back.
   I also read about optimising my twitter and how to use hashtags.
   Alllll of this has resulted in a huge boost for my social media. I'm not spamming "bye my buk lol" but rather actually posting content, and I'm getting likes, follows, retweets and even interactions from other writers and book lovers. I'm so excited! I feel like there are actually people listening to me now!
   I've also learned that your follow count on Instagram is extremely fickle; I can gain 5 followers in a day and then lose 4 of them two days later. So I'm not taking that to heart. As long as I post content that is relevant and enjoyable, that's fine with me. If people come and go, they come and go. Numbers mean nothing if only 20% of them are actually listening, and I never follow someone to get a follow back.

Camp NaNoWriMo
   I'm also feeling really positive about Camp NaNoWriMo. I have given myself a 15,000 word count goal. I don't know how doable that is - I have never kept track of my word count, and I guess that shows - but it boils down to 500 words a day, which is about a page. In which case I ought to be able to manage that, because I average 11 pages a week when I'm being lazy, distracted or struggling. We will see.
   The story is actually a window into the wildlings between books 2 and 3. There's an event in the second book and I wanted to see how the wildlings would handle it, and as those wildlings are made up of a combination of my own creatures and creatures from Scandinavian folklore, I wanted to look closer at them in general. They have a much bigger part in the third book, so if I have a better idea of them, they will get their chance to shine.
   I've no idea what I'm going to do with the story. I like to think I could self-publish it if it's any good, and I'm trying to write it as a stand-alone, but I don't know how well that will work. I'd have to give it to someone who hasn't read The Zi'veyn and find out from them if it seems confusing at all. If it does, publishing isn't an option.
   But the point of my writing it is twofold: establish the wildlings in my own mind in preparation for the final book of the trilogy, and to put into action the things I learned from Neil Gaiman's 'The Art of Storytelling' - which I do intend to review, now that I've finished it.
   Also, how's that for a place-holder cover image? It's made up of a photograph I took in Sonsbeek in 2012, and another I took in the dark ages of the mid 00's. It's awful. But better that than a blank space. If I were to publish it, the cover, and the title, would improve, I promise.

Better late than never

   Though Etsy is flopping severely and we are incredibly skint, we have paid off the honeymoon and we're all set to go in May. I'm so excited. It's a year after the wedding, so it's more like a 1 year wedding anniversary, but we don't really mind at all. The place should be worth it - I would hope so, at least, having saved up for a year! It's cost three times as much as the wedding! Though, granted, the wedding cost £500...and we loved it.

   I also blame my friend Rini for this, but I've developed a rapid obsession with the Moomins. I didn't realise how little I'd seen when I was young, but I bought the first season on DVD and watched it cover to cover in one day. I actually planned to work on my book plan while watching it, but that didn't happen. I was riveted. Snufkin is my favourite <3 which is ironic, given how down to earth he is. I'm in the clouds all the time. But, perhaps I'm just seeing similarities between him and my own husband. Except my husband doesn't have a green hat, live in a tent or play the harmonica.
   I should get him a harmonica.
Side note: there's a man that walks his dog in the field behind our house, and he bought a harmonica just over a year ago. He plays it while he walks. He was not good initially, but we've heard him improve. He's enviable now, it's genuinely a pleasure to hear him out there.
   Especially when compared to the idiot man who stands outside our house at 6-7am every day, shouting at the top of his lungs and clapping as loud as he can to get his dog's attention. If he doesn't trust his dog, he should get an extendable leash. I am this close *pinches fingers* to calling him out on it. He's oblivious to his surroundings. It's a residential area. Taking three steps over the threshold into the park doesn't suddenly muffle voices!!

   The weather has been rather nice lately, too...

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

A Guide to Creating a Small Home Gym

   I was speaking to my cousin recently - who is currently training for the BDFPA 2019 Home Nations Championships in Glasgow April 6th - and she brought up how hard it is to find the motivation to train at home. Personally, it's not something I suffer with. Being a full-time carer for my mum (Multiple Sclerosis) means that I am always at home. Gyms have never been an option for me. I've never been in one. Instead, I gradually built up my own home gym. I started working out with DVDs and basic dumbbells. Then I gave kettlebells a go, starting off with a cheap set of 3 for £25, which I have since built up, and then, last year, turned at last to barbells in order to try to shift my mindset away from results in the mirror and onto results in my abilities. I fell in love, then. And all my workouts take place in my living room, with kit hidden behind the sofa. You'd never know it for looking.
   But part of that lack of motivation to work out at home can stem from space. Some people need designated areas for certain things, like an office for work, or an art room for painting. Me, I can sculpt, paint and write pretty much anywhere. So I haven't suffered from the need to designate a space for my workouts, either. But, if you just can't do that, take a look at the below article for tips on working out at home, and creating your own gym-space at home.


   Creating your very own home gym can be intimidating, but it’s actually easier than it sounds. There has always been a debate about which is the better choice: working out at a commercial gym or at home. The answer depends on your personal goals and preferences. Working out at home allows you to move at your own pace and free from feeling self-conscious. You can also make as much noise as you want, and use gym equipment without worrying about other people waiting for you. If those reasons persuade you to build your own home gym, here’s everything you’ll probably need:

A clear and well-thought-out objective

   Your gym’s layout and all the equipment in it depends on the type of workouts you will be doing regularly. Is your goal to create a space for Pilates and yoga or do you want a workout area that is essentially for one person? Your fitness objectives will determine the type of home gym you build.

   You need to make sure that you choose the right equipment, too. There are many cheap products out there, but compromising on quality might put you at risk. Some faulty gym equipment could break while you’re in the middle of a workout, which will not only lead to injury; it will also cost you more money in the long run. Life Hacker suggests you start with at least three dumbbells that you think you will use the most often. Adjustable dumbbells are ideal as they allow you to add plates with the click of a switch. Good yoga mats, stability balls, resistance bands, and a jump rope are good investments as you can perform multiple exercises without using up much space. Also, getting a good quality elliptical trainer takes up less room than a treadmill. We’ve already discussed on A Blackbird’s Epiphany the benefits of elliptical machines, and talked about how it’s a low-impact exercise machine. Perfect for those with joint problems.

A room with optimal conditions for fitness

   A home gym with integrated smart technology will allow you to control the temperature in it, which can enhance your workout. Shape explains that you burn more calories during hot-weather workouts, which means if you have a way to control the heating in your home gym, you can increase the temperature so that you sweat more. The heating controls that are featured on Screwfix, show how a room’s temperature can be controlled using a connected device. These devices can be adjusted using your smartphone, allowing you to change the temperature without having to stop your workout.

A home gym in the garden

   A good place to have your home gym is in a separate location in the garden, such as a converted shed or a conservatory. The benefits of this are that you can build a space specifically for working out. If you drop a heavy weight it won’t matter as much, and you also won't disturb the rest of the people you live with at home. The Telegraph suggests that the perfect home, should reflect your personal style as this can help you condition your mind to workout and continue moving through your sessions. If you’re someone who loves the outdoors then working in a dedicated space in the garden could help motivate you. On a nice day you can take your equipment outside and workout in the garden.
   Your garden doesn’t need to be complex, or filled with different bits of equipment. Often the most effective workouts are the most basic. A home gym should be convenient, as this will motivate you to exercise more. The more you use it the more you can expand your gym to include different equipment. You can even be more experimental than your local gym and maybe invest in something like a mini trampoline (for tips on how to use this checkout our article ‘How To Use A Rebounder Effectively’). The choice is yours, so create the gym that suits you.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Camp NaNoWriMo

  Having met a few writers and wonderful people over the course of this still very young tarot art & short story book project, I also heard about Camp NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month, while national to the US, has become international in recent years. I've never participated - it falls in November, and for the last 8 years, November has been *filled* with Etsy shop work to the ends that I can't even write my own novel, let alone embark upon a new writing project or attempt to start and finish a novel of 50,000 words in a month. That remains the case.
   However, Camp NaNoWriMo falls in April and July, are much smaller, and, while they can be used for starting and finishing new projects, they're often used to just lay out the details for their November projects.
   I won't be doing that, though. I'm opting for a whole story.

   I heard about this very early this month, but because the plan for the third and final book of my trilogy, I disregarded it.
   But, I knew there were a couple of short stories I wanted to write - both to submit to competitions - and one of them tied in quite tightly to the trilogy (though could still be written as a stand-alone). So tightly, in fact, that knowing what happened in it would only help in writing the third. And as it tied into an existing piece, I already had a pretty solid foundation.

   I've spent the past 5 days working on planning, laying out the details and seeing if it could just about work out. I'm not sure it will reach the length I'd like, nor if it will read as much of a stand-alone after all, but I can say this: I really, really want to write it.
   I'm going to give it the whole of April. I have a lot of ideas for it, and I have a very workable plan - so workable that I could start right now, but I won't - and I'm very excited. And, since it ties into the trilogy, it doesn't feel like a separate project or a waste of time, just an indulgence, really.
   I would rather write the next book, but I also want to write this, and I know that, if I leave it until the trilogy is finished, it won't actually ever get written. I'll have moved on and the matter I'm writing about will have been resolved. I won't have any incentive to backtrack. Not only that, but the work I would (and already have) put in to it, even if I kept the story private and never let anyone read it, it would enrich the world I've created so much and give me much more to draw upon and put into this last book, when the elements are supposed to truly come into their own.
   Yes, I'm being cryptic again, what a surprise.

   The idea of NaNoWriMo and its spring & summer camps is that you set a month of your free time aside to just write. You probably won't finish by the end of the month, but that's fine - it takes 21 days to make something a habit, and if you've spent a month writing and you're still enjoying it, you just keep doing it! All NaNoWriMo is is an incentive to get you to start, fall into a writing routine or revisit an old hobby. I've never needed that, since I've been writing non-stop since I was 12 - the only time I fell out of the habit was after my first rejection, which led to 6 months of neglect before I recovered, and even then it was my insatiable passion that drew me back (I'd not heard of NaNoWriMo back then).
   I'm hoping to get it finished in a month - my target is well below 50,000 words - but if I don't manage, I'll probably just keep going until I do. It won't take me anywhere near as long as a trilogy book.

Friday, 8 March 2019

Illustration Experiment

   With a new book on the horizon, I've been thinking more and more about digital art. That, and this tarot book. That's also spurred my interest, I'll admit.
   The trouble is, while I love the swoosh of a pen over a tablet, I much prefer working with pencils - I love the mess, the texture, and the hand-eye coordination is much simpler. But I hate colouring with them. Instead, I love colouring on tablets. The thing is, you rarely see the two combined, and my twitter feed is full of digital artists with nary a pencil in sight. So, naturally, the thought of combining the two comforts just doesn't seem acceptable because I'm constantly comparing myself to them.
   Well, I recently decided, when drawing the skogsrå from my short story, October's Blood, that I would just try it. I had nothing to lose, especially since it was Saturday night and I had 2 hours before my husband and I put on a movie (The Terminal, that week). And I was shocked by how quickly I made progress, and how well it came out. So much so that, when Faebelina announced a new twitter drawing event - #OCGardenParty - I thought I would have a go. I'd been following these kinds of things for a while now but never felt my work was worthy of being submitted. But, because I was drawing with pencils and not inking the lines, I realised that it couldn't really be compared to other people's since it was kind of a different style altogether.
   So, I went ahead (cheekily using characters from my book). I got the pencil lines down in about 3 hours, with shading, and the colouring took about 4. And I realised a few things when breaking the mould:
1. By keeping the pencil lines and pencil shading in, I immediately eradicate any possibility of realism, which is a trap I constantly fall into. Instead, it's become a little more stylised, but not in any forced kind of way. It's something that, with practise, I could really hone and turn into something wonderful.
2. With the gritty texture of the pencil lines, I can also get away with doing less. It looks more detailed than it actually is, and much less smooth and flat, which had always bothered me.
3. Even if I'm working with pencils, because I'm scanning it in to colour it, I can still resize and rotate things. There's nothing worse than spending 2+ hours on a pencil drawing and then realising that one of the figures is wonky, or too large. Both were the case below. Rathen was tilting to one side, and Aria was too far forwards. She would have come up to Rathen's shoulder. She's eight. And a small eight, at that.

   For only my second attempt, I'm pretty pleased. No, it's not perfect, but it's presentable. There are so many drawings I've done digitally that I've never shown, and more still that I've never completed. But with just 7 hours of work - a weekend, if taken easily - I've made something I'm really, really happy with, and was brave enough to show in a thread that I knew much better artists would both see and participate in.
   I also got around the problem of backgrounds with a green square :B It makes a shocking difference.

Aria has dragged Rathen along, and insisted that he bring flowers for the hostess.
She's also hoping for strawberry tarts.
Don't tease her about her 'antlers' - she wants people to think she 'belongs'.
Rathen, sadly, made little effort aside from actually attending. He looks so uncomfortable...

Edit: I wrote a little snippet to accompany it! Read it on my website!

Thursday, 7 March 2019

World Book Day 2019 Giveaway

   Yes, it's that time of year. In the UK, anyway. I'm not so sure we can call it 'World' Book Day when it's only happening in the UK.
   It was originally created by Vicente Clavel Andrés in honour of Miguel de Cervantes, falling first on October 7th, the birth date of the Spanish writer, and then moved to April 23rd, the date of his death. In 1995 this became the official date, as it was also the anniversary of the deaths of many prominent writers, Shakespeare included.
   Then the UK decided to move it to March 7th so that it wouldn't clash with Easter or St George's Day. On April 23rd, however, the UK holds World Book Night. Again, in the UK.
   I shall keep my opinions on the matter to myself.

   Either way, this gives me two opportunities to promote my writing, and promote it, I will. But, because I can only hold a free Kindle book promo once every 3 months for each title, I have only one book to promote, and I'd rather keep that for the true World Book Day in April. Next year will be easier, as the second book of the trilogy will be out, too, so I can rotate!

   For now, though, I'm holding a giveaway across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to win an exclusive (ie PoD) hardback, signed copy of The Zi'veyn! Two winners will be picked from across all three platforms. Enter one, two or all three. They will all count!

Otherwise, The Zi'veyn is only £1.99 on Kindle, or free on Kindle Unlimited, and you can already read chapters 1-5 for free right here!

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

It's Been a Literary Few Months

   It's been a quiet year so far on the blog. My last post, Project Tarot, probably gives some insight, but I have been absolutely and utterly consumed with work these past 2 months aside from that.
   Early January, I was accepted onto the project immediately to write 2 short stories for Frenone's book of tarot cards - which provide the story motive - and to help compile a list of suitable mythical creatures for those cards - which provide the story's subject. Eventually assigned to writing a story for one card at one page, and for the cover image at three pages (!!!) I have been working on them solidly.
   But I also finished writing the second book of my trilogy early January, too, and for the past six weeks have put all else on hold and have absorbed myself in reading and editing.
   I always redraft a chapter after I write one, fixing what doesn't work, improving diction (word choice and use) and syntax (the sentence structure), shortening unnecessary drivel, and so on before moving on and writing the next chapter. When I've finished the book, however, I go back to the start and read through and edit the whole thing from cover to cover, and in order to make sure that the whole book makes sense, that things aren't accidentally repeated, that the passage of time is properly conveyed and that I've answered all the question I needed to, I have to chain myself to it. It's the only way to spot the problems - though that doesn't mean I'll get them all.
   So for the past 6 weeks I have spent several hours every day reading, editing, cutting and pasting, deleting, staring and chin-tapping. I finally finished editing the second book last weekend, and, if I'm's not bad at all. I didn't need to edit as much as I thought I did - though there were a few chapters that needed a complete overhaul.
   I also did some work adjusting the original book cover and I'm so happy with the result!

   In between my writing and editing, however, I also enrolled into an online writing class - or, rather, storytelling class. I spotted a sponsored post on Facebook from Neil Gaiman talking about his 'The Art of Storytelling' class on Masterclass, a platform I'd never heard of before. But I clicked it immediately - the title and the teacher suggested that it was going to be more than just a creative writing class - and investigated the website, online reviews and so on.
   I signed up the next day for a measly £85.
   Because of my editing, I've only managed to spare the time for one class a week, usually on a Saturday, which involves about 20 minutes of watching a video of Mr Gaiman telling me so many wonderful things, and then 15 minutes reading through a PDF summary, and then between 30 and 90 minutes of a writing exercise.
   I've done only 9 lessons (out of 19), and a few have left me in tears because, so far (with the exception of technical work on short stories, which I had never tried to write before last month), everything else he's taught me, I've already been doing. But I was unaware I was doing it.
   An example: Gaiman talks about sources of inspiration, and that most young/new writers will just list off other writers who do similar things. And, while that's not wrong, it's not honest. His wife is a musician, and so she lists off other musicians. He said it took her a long time to realise that novelist Judy Blume had always been a big source of inspiration for her. And just as Neil Gaiman will list off other writers, he doesn't often talk about musician Lou Reed, whose honesty in songs showed him that he could be honest in his art, too, and that he was and is a massive influence, because, as he said, 'words in songs matter, because you don't get many of them. You have to make them count.'
   I can list off Sapkowski, Eddings, Tolkien - and I always did when submitting to literary agents. But only upon watching that video did I realise that, actually, they don't inspire me that much. Not actively. I just enjoy reading them the most. No, my inspiration comes from a passion for anthropology, for nature and natural sciences, from folklore, from Lindsey Stirling and Two Steps From Hell, from archaeology and  history. These are the things that shape my stories.
   When that was drummed in, I realised that, actually, while I've been doing it right (ie not trying to copy other writers), I've been presenting myself all wrong. The inspiration was there, my own individual influences, but I never noticed them even while I applied them. And just listing off other writers doesn't do anything for publishers or literary agents because all it shows them are your reading habits. It doesn't show them who you are or what you write. They don't want to know what's in your bookcase, they want to know what's in your heart.
   This has been the case with every lesson so far, and while I've not necessarily learned anything I can apply to my work (please don't think that I'm boasting!) I have learned that, if I were to resubmit my work to agents, I might actually have a better chance because I'll be giving them the insight into me and my work that they actually want, not what I think they want.

   I also finally got my eyes tested. Staring at screens as rigidly as I have been has left me with gradually increasing eye strain, and my husband suggested a while ago that I get them checked. I refused, adamant that I was fine. Well, I finally got around to it last month, and while my eyes are in perfect health, there is a weakness in my left eye, and my mid-range isn't great - mid-range being computer-distance. So they recommended concentration glasses to wear whenever I'm using something at that range for more than 20 minutes, and since I got them, I've definitely noticed that my eyes shake less, my vision doesn't blur as much and I've not gotten any headaches at all.

   I admit, I've always wanted glasses, but not if I didn't need them. I was never going to buy clear glass lenses just as an affectation. But the fact that I have some now for computer work, well, that's kind of cool. And I won't need them all the time, because when I actually write, I only tend to look at the screen for five minutes before staring out of the window at the trees outside in thought, or looking up to the TV if my husband is playing a game.

   So it's been a heavily literary two months, and now that I've finished the concentration-editing (all that's left is formatting, spell check, word alterations and replacements) I'm moving on to the book cover. That's still going to take a lot of time, but it is what it is, and I'm going to study The Art of Storytelling more closely. I don't want to do a lesson every day because nothing will sink in, but two a week should be good. I usually listen to the lesson again at some point a few days after the first watch to recap, refresh and really let it sink in. It seems to work for me.
   I plan to resubmit The Zi'veyn in May, so I'm hoping to have the course finished by then so that I can apply as much to my presentation as possible, and be able to say that I've done it (they want to know about courses, too). With 10 lessons left, I can be done in 5 weeks, by the end of April. That can work.

   I've been planning the third book in between all this work, of course, and I think I could be ready to start writing it in a few weeks. I've been planning on paper, so I have to get all my notes typed up and arranged, but the plan is coming together quite well. I wanted the second book to feel different to the first, but I'm not sure that it did. The third book, however, should be quite different.
   I'll update again when I actually make a start - and when book covers are done!

Monday, 4 March 2019

March & April: Kettlercise & Core de Force

   March, and so ends 4 months of strength training (3 months of this, and 1 month of this). As usual, I'm sad to see the back of it - especially knowing that there are 2 months of cardio and HIIT ahead of me which...just...doesn't bear thinking about...
   I've mentioned time and time again about a calorie experiment I'm doing - for which I'm hoping to finally talk about with solid figures in two months' time - and now I'm moving into the final stage. If it's going to work, now is the time I'll know.
   I've been trying to shift stubborn fat for years now - and I've done well, dropping from a (UK) size 16 to a size 8 - and while I've turned my attention over the past 12 months towards muscle-building instead, which has been infinitely more enjoyable and subsequently both easier to stick to and more rewarding, my shame and hate over squidgy arms and tummy has gone nowhere.
   Part of what has made strength and muscle building so much better for me, personally, is that I'm not running on steam. After hovering around 1350 calories a day for a few years and seeing zero change in my body, I gave up and finally dared to eat more. I was at my wit's end. I raised it to 1600, and, to balance it, in March last year I decided to turn towards lifting heavy weights so that the excess calories (and the fat I was terrified of gaining back) would be put to use repairing my body. And it has done exactly that. For the past month I've been eating 2100 calories a day, I feel so energetic and happy (despite a few loathsome trouble zones) and I'm still a size 8.

   But, while the first stage of this experiment involved increasing my daily calorie intake by 100 every 4 weeks (from 1600 to 2100), my body has given me the sign I've been waiting for that it's time to move on to the second stage.
   And that involves calorie cutting, and cardio. Turning away from resistance training - and the need for higher calories along with it - and towards cardio and HIIT instead with fewer calories.
   But I'm not talking about 1350 a day. I'm talking about 1700, 50 either side. This gives me an effective and safe calorie deficit (my calorie experiment has yielded my maintenance calorie level), which grows a little broader when coupled with high-intensity workouts (I'm opting for a rotation between Core de Force and Kettlercise, both of which have proven to be the most personally effective cardio & HIIT workouts I've ever seen). The original plan was to use just Core de Force for a month, but I really want this to work, so I've doubled the time and added Kettlercise in to stretch it out and make it more bearable. We all need change.

   So, for the next two months, I will have my fingers and toes tightly crossed, very sweaty kit, and hopefully only a vaguely rumbling but flattening tummy.
   Whether it works or not, I'll blog this whole 7-month experiment when it's finished in May.
   I'm terrified of failure. It feels like, if this doesn't work, nothing will.

   I have 8x 20-40 minute Core de Force videos, and 8x 20-30 minute Kettlercise workouts. I'm considering adding a little extra Core de Force on after Kettlercise, but I shouldn't have to repeat any full workouts for a month.
   Kickboxing and kettlebell workouts are some of the best fat-burning workouts you can do because they are total-body workouts that involve a lot of power driven out from your muscles. Aerobics, dance, things like that don't recruit as much power though they still burn fat, but because of this, muscle mass can be lost. I've worked my ass off to build my ass up, and I have no intention of letting it go. I want to lose fat, not weight. This doesn't mean that kettlebell and kickboxing workouts build muscle, at least not to the extent that a barbell circuit would, but it does mean that what muscle you have built up will still be put to explosive use, which in turn means it won't be lost, and that you'll burn more calories.
   This is because muscle is calorifically expensive, and that also means that if you don't use muscle, you lose it. Your body sees no reason to carry it around any more. This in turn means that you need to eat less - which is also the root of the 'muscle turns into fat' myth. If you don't use your muscle, you lose it; if you don't reduce the amount you eat along with that loss, the excess that would have gone on to feeding and maintaining the muscle will be stored as fat instead.

   After that little science lesson, loooook, I have a new kettlebell! This gorgeous and motivational kettlebell is cast iron (heavy and compact, which means it's a space-saver) and 10kg, so it should be pretty effective. I've had my eye on it for months, but Kettleboobs sell out pretty quick, so I had been watching their website since early December for the 10kg of this beauty to come back. I finally got it mid-February.

   I'll update in April, once I'm about half way through. Scientifically speaking, there's no reason this shouldn't work. But I'm extremely dubious. You only get out of it what you put in, so I also know that, if I fail, it's my fault.
   And I'll just have to make do with the skin I'm in.
   And, if I'm honest, upon typing that line, it struck me that my skin really isn't so body can do pretty amazing things. And I am currently the healthiest I have ever been in my life.

Monday, 18 February 2019

The Best Advice For Any Aspiring Writer

   Simply write.

   Does that sound unhelpful? I thought it would.
   Ever since I published, an increasing number of writers are approaching me and asking me for tips on writing books. But they're not asking "how do I get better at dialogue?" Or "do you have any writing exercise tips?" No, they ask "How do I be a writer?" And that question isn't asking what you think it is. If someone wants to be a writer, they would have started writing, automatically, without giving it a thought. They would have pen and paper, they would have their laptop, and they would be getting their ideas down. Instead, this question is asking "how do I write a book that I can sell, and sell quickly?" They're trying to bypass the learning, perhaps because they're impatient for results, or because they're under the illusion that the first book published is the first book period, or because they're older people who assume that they already have the experience from life, or because they have a great idea.

   Well, having been asked this question 10+ times already, I sat down and gave it some thought, and put together another article on my author website: I Want To Be A Writer - Where Do I Start?
   In this article I touch on the actual intention behind the question, explain the need to write, to practice, and just why it's so important to write, write, write, even though, odds are, your first 5 stories are going to be terrible. And why that's absolutely okay.
   If you're a new writer and find yourself wondering where famous, successful or even just vaguely published writers started, read this, because it's the honest truth for all of us. I've been fortunate enough to speak to other authors, big and small, and they have all said the same - to me, and in interviews with magazines. No one is above it - it's a learning process. I said it before on twitter regarding my attempt to draw:

   This applies to pretty much every art. It's not a computer input job or engineering project. Text books offer little to nothing in terms of individual help, only guidance. Why? Because there is no right or wrong way when it comes to art. Not for the finished thing. The only 'wrong' is outlook: expecting to succeed right off the bat, and bypassing the learning. Because, in art, 'learning' is what gives you your edge, your artistic identity - your 'voice'.

If something is worth having, it doesn't come easily. You have to hone your craft.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Project Tarot

   I guess that's a terrible code name, because it's not a code name at all.
   I spoke recently about exciting news, but that I didn't want to share it yet because I have a tendency to jinx things. I still could, but I'm too excited, so I'm going to chance it, especially since I'm probably one of the last people involved to actually announce it. That, and contracts and deposits have now been completed.

   One of my favourite artists, Frenone, announced in early January that she was looking for writers to contribute to a book she was planning. Having created playing cards for her Patreon before, she decided to turn her hand towards tarot cards, and because her fans wanted it, she's making a companion book. Not about tarot or tarot reading, though. There's a whole other level to this thing.
   Her playing cards had been designed with World of Warcraft characters, and in a similar vein, her tarot cards will feature illustrations of women inspired by creatures and beings of mythology and folklore. The book will contain around 22 short stories, contributed by 12 writers, that revolve around the creatures and incorporate the meanings of the cards.
   It was the day after my birthday when I saw it, and I spent an hour debating whether or not to apply. I was intimidated, because I've been a fan of hers for a few years, and I was frightened because, self published or not, I've never put my work out there in that sort of way before. And, most of all, I was put off by the use of Discord because it implied social interaction, which makes me very nervous. But I decided, having just turned 28, that it was time I put more effort into my career as a writer and start taking myself seriously.
   So I applied that same afternoon before I could talk myself out of it. I sent her the first few chapters of The Zi'veyn, and a few rough and unpolished short stories I'd written as an exercise while first planning my trilogy as a means to 1) recollect my skills after so long spent planning; 2) get to know my world a little better; 3) establish some history for the characters I felt least confident about writing. Which means she's actually the first person to have ever read them. Not even my husband has seen them.

   Well...despite 50+ applications, I was accepted immediately. I didn't even hit the slush pile.
   The boost that fact has given to my ever-shaking writing confidence is immense. I might actually be kind of okay at it...
   The Discord group was live and everyone who applied was given an invite, as those who didn't get through the selection process were still welcome as contributors to the conversations with ideas and their own knowledge. So, with the Discord live and people milling about, I threw myself right in before I could chicken out. I was the second person to introduce myself, and I have since made a few like-minded writer friends, given out a few free copies of The Zi'veyn for feedback, and been given the first 5 chapters of another's book, which I genuinely enjoyed reading and am now waiting on the rest once he's satisfied with its state. Because editing cannot be rushed.

Art © Frenone
   Once all the applications were whittled down after the closing date and the remaining writers selected, we were given choices of cards, and whether we would contribute one or two 1-page stories or 1-page poems, though with no guarantees of getting the cards we wanted. I selected a few, the most dominant of which was the Hermit card.
   But I was given an extra opportunity: to be one of three creature consultants. Myself and two others were tasked with researching creatures from myth and folklore and presenting them for the different cards, making sure that their natures worked with the cards' meanings. It was so hard, and we researched into cultures all over the world to ensure the greatest diversity, and all learned a lot from one another. I went a bit too far, though, and put so much of my heart into it that I started losing sleep, dreaming about creatures and tarot cards, and waking up stressed. I also point out that I knew nothing about tarot cards until last month. Now I think I could probably read them with some kind of confidence. But that task is now more or less done, creatures have been assigned to cards, and cards have been assigned to writers.
   And as one more piece of incredible news: while I only received one card to write for (the Hermit, which one of my creatures, the askafroa, was assigned to), I was also given the task of writing the story to accompany the front cover image, a Valkyrie, which has been allocated 3 pages rather than 1.

   Frenone has already begun work on the cards, and has already shown us a sneaky WIP of the Empress card. But it's exclusive to us and her Patreon page, so far, so it's not my place to share. But I can tell you: oh it's so good. The Hermit card isn't scheduled for work until June, and the front cover (which will also be printed on the tarot card box) in November, so I have nothing at all to share for quite some time.
   But I have already written the story for the Hermit card, as my deposit fee has been paid, and I've submitted it. The contract states two waves of edits, so I'm fully anticipating at least one rework, but she has read it, and while she's promised me feedback next week.
   I hope I can ultimately give her a piece that she loves.
   The second story, though, is intimidating, because she gave me an idea she had, and while I'm not obligated to follow it, I have to because I love it. But the pressure on this story is real. 3 pages, cover image, her favourite creature, her story idea. Yikes. I've never written to order before. Ever.
   But I am so ready to give it all I have, and I've really thrown myself deep into the research despite my own work on the second book of The Devoted trilogy.

   The artwork is set to be finished by the end of the year, and the cards and book will be available first through a Kickstarter campaign before being available publicly (assuming it's fully-funded). I will, of course, announce it here when it's live.

   In other news...

   In line with trying to take myself more seriously, and knowing that my name and my writing will be put in front of more people, I've also started making an author website. I'd wanted to do it before, but it just feels so...wrong. I'm a nobody, and no one is going to visit it. But I figured I needed some kind of portal or platform where I could gather up all my work and put news if I ever had any, and, if nothing else, I wanted to make sure didn't go to someone else with the same name. The same, I shamefully admit, applies to my new facebook author fanpage, which I feel so ridiculous about that I'm not even going to link it.
   It's still a major sense of imposter syndrome, and I still feel ridiculous with the thought of the website alone, and want to shrink and hide somewhere when I see it, but I am ultimately glad I have it. But I only plan on updating it when I have something more tangible than this post to announce. So, probably not until I have permission to show the Hermit card's work, if not until the Kickstarter itself is live this winter.

   Oh, also, when I searched my name on Google to see just what would pop up, I found a knowledge panel of myself!! There are two, which is annoying, but since these knowledge panels are generated based on demand and stats, not made by any users, it seems that Google has decided I'm someone of some kind of importance. That's...weird, and kind of wonderful...