Is your novel literary? Shame on you

image116So you took the leap.  You stood on the edge of the precipice and decided to write a novel.

It was going to be marvellous.  It was going to be a million-dollar idea.  You had decided to turn your back on the publishing houses and throw yourself into the world of indie publishing.  You were going to do this thing.  You got this….

But then something went wrong.  Blame that dodgy literature degree, that Creative Writing course, blame your mother if you have to.  Thing is, the more you write the novel, the more you realise that you have committed the cardinal sin of Indie Publishing.  You have written that most odd of all oddities – the wild and genreless, the …. literary novel.

Horror of horrors and shame on you.

The folly of Writing a literary novel

Did you not pay attention to all those podcasts?  Did you deign to completely ignore all the advice of those generous kindle bestsellers who warned you that the only way to make tuppence on Kindle was to throw your lot in with the scifi/ dystopian/ thriller/ romance crew?  What gave you the right to think that you could waste your time with something that NOBODY will ever even find on Amazon, let alone tell their friends about it?

Well all I can say is that you knew the facts and you went and did it anyway.

Accept the consequences.  Even if your novel will blow Hemingway out of the water, you, my friend, have chosen a near impossible task.  You will flounder around searching for your ‘readers’.  Perhaps you might strike lucky on Goodreads.  If your heroine is plucky fifteen year old girl then you might get some traction in the YA market.  That’s if you can drag them away from their fan-fiction and snap-chatting.

I wish you luck my intrepid friend.  Many have tried and many have been very, very disappointed.  But I admire your courage, your brave willingness to give it your best shot.

Why we should admire self-publishers of literary fiction

You are one of those brave pioneers who has ‘written from the heart’.  You are the writer who turned their back on the well-trodden genre path and is willing to forge their way through the wilderness.  You are a leader, a revolutionary, and I salute you.

And I am right there beside you.  I too read the books.  I knew the facts – genre novels have greater visibility and more established reader forums.  Literary novels are a hard sell.  They don’t quite fit.  They are the geeky, unpopular gang in Indie Publishing World.  But we couldn’t help ourselves could we?

We sat down to write and these are the words that came to us.  We tried to bend it to the ‘market’.  Hell, we even tried making one of our characters a vampire shapeshifter in Chapter Two, only to abandon them into a magical realism interlude in the inner epilogue at the start of the Verse part of the novel.  We really wanted to make our novels fit the mould.  But we couldn’t.

Good luck to us literary fiction writers.  We should just go gung-ho and give it our best shots.  What was the saying ” Aim for the stars and you may not reach them, but you will fly higher than if you had never aimed at all.”

So let’s take the leap.  Let’s throw ourselves into the abyss.  And let’s support each other while we do it.  Together.

Have you written a literary novel?  Are you thinking of self-publishing?  Tell us about your novel in the comments below.  Here is your chance.



A month of writing without a plan: update

writing quote

So, yes I have not been blogging, and no, I have not been lolling around eating doorsteps and rovers looking like a dying duck in a thunderstorm.  That was the week before last for your information.  That’s right – the week when I only wrote a pilfering 9400 words for the whole week.  That was The Week of Life, and I am afraid that writing had to take a back burner for the while.

However, this week I determined to get back on course.  I had already conceded that I might not be able to complete the novel in the 28 day time frame (which incidentally ran out… TODAY!).  But still, I make the rules on this one, so I gave myself an extra week which takes the challenge to this Thursday.  By then, I wanted to have finished my first draft OR completed at least 28 sessions of 3000 words per session.

I am happy to report that despite no plan and no postits being harmed in the writing of the novel, I have now reached 68 500 words.  You read that right folks.  That’s more than a NaNoWriMo novel.  In a month, with a week off for bad behaviour, I have managed to write all those words and find myself approaching the final furlong of my story.

I am not there yet but it has been a blast of a writing experience.

Here are 5 things I have learned writing a novel in a month:

1:  It is okay to take a day off:  Yes writing is a habit, but so is smoking.  You can take a day off without having to abandon the dream altogether.  It is possible to get back on the writing wagon.  A day off is not a failure my friend.  It just means that on that particular day, something else was more important than your writing. And THAT IS OKAY.  Promise!

2:  Having a plan is one way but it is not the only way:  I worried about writing myself into dead ends with this novel.  Hell, 28 days ago I did not even know what story I would be telling.  I have learned to trust myself and my story to show me the way.  If I come to a dead end then I will extricate myself from it in the second draft.  It is just a story.  A dead end is an opportunity to create a new opening.  That’s it – not a biggie.

3:  A strict timeframe is a great motivator:  Look, I confess that I like a deadline ina  sadistic kind of way.  Not only do I enjoy a deadline, I take great relish in beating those deadlines.  This would be fabulous in Corporateland but unfortunately it means I do put myself under some pressure, even though I make my own deadlines.  But having a deadline – it helps.  It keeps you on task and gives you just the right frisson of pressure to keep putting words on the page.

4: It won’t be perfect but it will be something:  This is a first draft, a pile of words.  It can be honed and polished and tweaked and pulled later.  You are creating raw material.  Don’t worry that it is not great.  Take heed from the writers who warn us that the first draft will be doo-doo.  This is just for you, nobody else needs to ever read this one.  It is your baby and you can love it even though it is a bit odd-looking, and takes after your great uncle Jimmy who ended up in the nuthouse.

5: Have fun with it:  The worse that can happen is that you lose a month of writing and bit of memory on your laptop.  Big deal.  Think of it as an experiment in writing and nothing else.  If it works then you have anew model for writing your first draft.  If it doesn’t then you just lost a month but you probably would have spent that month procrastinating anyways so you are still way ahead of the game.  Win. Win.

Hope that cheers you on.  I will bring you a report from the finishing line before Easter if it all pans out how I hope.  Fingers crossed loves!

Inspiration for booklovers

Indulge me here, if you will, whilst I wax lyrical about my love of old books. I imagine, if you are a writer or a reader, that you too might confess to a love of opening up a leather-bound edition and seeing the old typeface emerging from the thick cream pages.  Do you too get a little frisson of excitement when, on the odd occasion, you stumble across an old book which has got its own little community of paper coloured bugs the size of a full stop?  Do you, like me, envy those creatures their god-given right to dwell in those pages and feast upon the dust of the words?

I like to stroke the spines of books which have the remnant of gold leaf pushed into the indented seams.  I especially adore books which, in their original unread state, were sold with the reams still bound so their first readers had the unadulterated joy of taking a blade to the edges to release the stories within.

It is in service of this passion that I share today’s video inspiration.  A short film about a Canadian bookbinder.  It is beautiful and inspiring.  I hope you enjoy it too….

Endangered Speechies: B

endangered speechiesThose of you who joined me last Tuesday will have no doubt been waiting, with bated breath I hope, for this week’s Endangered Speechies.  For new friends and casual visitors, Endangered Speechies are ickle bits of slang that have been lost in the fount of time.  I found them in the yummiest old book, tucked away in the Misc. section at  my favourite second-hand bookstore.  So I’m sharing them.  With you.  Just because.

Today’s Endangered Speechies are coming to you from the letter B

1: Baby Blimp: this is apparently an old American slang for a fat girl.  What I find most amusing about this book is the rather obvious political incorrectness of it all.  I am not sure that these days you could even publish a dictionary which had a listing for ‘fat girl’.  It might be more ‘overweight’, or weight challenged.  Anyway in 1955, it was perfectly reasonable apparently to use the terms ‘fat’ and ‘girl’ in explanation.  There you go – stuff changes!

example: Tess was not slim.  Billy whispered that his sister was a baby blimp, and his friends snickered.

2. Ballyhoo: Noisy and vulgar publicity.  Which is an absolutely fabulous word to resurrect in the age of social media and Youtube celebrity.

example: The Kardashians created some ballyhoo prior to the publication of their latest shoe range.

3: Battle Bowler: Tin helmet, made popular during WWI.  Love this, especially seeing as my latest novel is set post WWI.  Wonder if I could sneak it in there.  Not sure how to use this in an example, though…

4: Bean-Feast: A workmen’s collective day’s excursion, generally organised annually by the employer.  Do such things still happen or is it now a case of a work do with a free bar from the boss.  Would we all now feel cheated if our boss only treated us to beans.  Possibly… yes!

example: The Bean-feast this year was to be a bbq on the beach.  There would be a bouncy castle for the parents and a free bar fort he kids.

5: Barmy on the Crumpet: crazy, foolish to the point of mental deficiency.  This is the kind of classic slang that I love.  Everything about it.  And, in my eyes, any phrase that uses the word ‘crumpet’ has to be w inner.

example: Delilah stripped naked and danced in the fountain. “She’s barmy on the crumpet,” whispered one of her spectators before joining the round of applause.

6: Belly Timber: Food.  Apparently even in 1855 this was an obsolete phrase.  No idea why.  It has a rather wonderful piratical quality.  Could be a great name for a cafe r restaurant.

example:  Her stomach rumbled.  She needed belly timber and she needed it fast.

7: Bible-backed:  Round shouldered.  There is something rather comforting about this.  Perhaps a more modern equivalent would be ‘laptop-lurched’, or ‘cellphone-crouched’???

example.  Helena sat, bible-backed and tear-stained, waiting for him to call.

8: Blue Funk: A state of extreme fear.  Everything about this phrase is utterly wonderful.  It’s like the name of a really cool band, or some kind of dystopian party drug??

example: The phone rang again and her blue funk descended upon her.  WOuld it be the same silent caller?


So there you go my lovelies.  B to the B, and all that.  These are pretty cool ones today.  Prizes for the best examples posted in the comments.  What is your favourite Endangered Speechies?  Let me know and I could include them in future posts!!


Inspiration for Writers

Seeing as it is Wednesday, I thought we all deserved a little bit of inspiration to get us through the week.  In the name of this blog and in humble service to all my gorgeous readers, I slavishly committed my evening to trawling for some scriberly inspiration on Vimeo.

I found lots, you will be pleased to hear.  So I am drip-feeding it to you.

And here is the first gem:


Endangered Speechies #1

endangered speechiesToday is Tuesday.  Tuesday is a difficult day.  Tuesday is the day that lacks an identity.  Or at least, it did until now.  Because I have decided to do my first ‘regular’ feature.  It will be a Tuesday thing.  I have decided.  And it will be a thing of fun for all the world to look forward to with bated breath.  Tuesday will now be Endangered Speechies day.  Every week…. right here.

What’s an Endangered Speechie?

Great question and I am so glad you asked.  An Endangered Speechie – ES for short – is, quite simply, a slang phrase or word usage that is no longer used in everyday parlance.  I discovered an outrageously fun Dictionary of Slang in my second hand book store.  Published in 1955 by ‘English Universities Press in the City of London’.  By Mr William Freeman.  I am not sure if Mr Freeman is still walking these earthly planes but wherever he is, I salute you Willy.  These things are priceless.

Today’s Endangered Speechies come to you from the Letter A

1. Abso – blooming-lutely:  Absolutely, entirely.  Love this.  Use it myself but I may have adapted the blooming part a bit, modernised it shall we say!

example: “She abso-blooming-lutely loved her new Moleskine.”

2. Adam and Eve on a raft:  Which is eggs on toast to you or I.

example:  “For breakfast, Bill often enjoyed Adam and Eve on a raft.”

3. Accounts for the milk in the coconut: Explains the reason.  Never quite sure about phrases using coconuts.  Are they politically correct or do they infer some kind of horrid slavery heritage.  Please advise…

example: “It was only reading the diary of her lover that accounted for the milk in the coconut.”

4. Addle-pated:  Foolish, with a muddled mind.  Because apparently an addled egg is one abandoned by the hen before hatching is completed.  So there you go.

example:  She had written 4000 words today and was now distinctly addle-pated.”

5. All of a doodah: In a state of bewilderment and confusion, overwrought.

example:  “After she had read her words for the day, she was all in a doodah”

6. All mops and brooms: semi-intoxicated.

example: “One whiff of the sherry and Auntie Wyn was all mops and brooms.”

7. Apple Pie Order: perfect order or condition

example: “This second print edition of the classic ‘Selkie’ by renowned and much critically acclaimed author, Juliette Nolan, is sold in apple pie order.” !!!!!

8. Aunt’s Sisters : Ancestors

example: “Amongst her Aunt’s Sisters, she could count two scientists, one writer, and a lunatic.”


So there is your treat for today.  The first of this brand new series, brought to you every Tuesday here at Radio SPC.

Any examples of sentences using the above phrases will earn you 25000 points and put you in the draw to win.  Enter the competition in the comments below.  Remember though it’s not the winning, it’s the taking part that counts.


Word count for today:  2800.  Not great but not bad either.  So-so.




The Ecstasy of the First Draft

the soul quoteI am now entering into the second week of my month long experiment.  This is the second quarter.  The enthusiasm of the starting whistle has faded and the end is not in sight.  This morning I found myself waning.

I blame Anne Lamott.  Yesterday, after my writing was done for the day, I kicked back into lazy town and read ‘Bird By Bird’ from cover to cover.  I would like to be able to tell you that by the end I was inspired, uplifted.  I would love to report that no sooner had I finished it than I grabbed my pen and whizzed off another 1000 words.

Actually, by the end of the book, I was feeling altogether depressed.  It is probably not fair that I blame Anne Lamott.  In fact, she seems like an all-round cool kind of gal.  I loved her.  And she shares a huge amount of wisdom in there.  Acres of it in fact.  For this reason alone I think that every writer must read it.

I was depressed rather because I realized how woefully lacking in confidence I am.  Confidence…. and experience.  I mean I should have both by my age.  I should be flipping through my Rolodex, and texting my agent, without even batting an eyelid.  But I am not.  And there is one simple reason for this.  I have spent the whole of my adult life running from the fact that the only real dream I have is to be a writer.

Why having one dream is rather difficult

Having only one dream is a terrible thing, I have concluded.  It means that I must face the fact that even if/when this whole thing fails miserably, it is all I have.  There are no reserve dreams in there.  Those were the ones I invested my 20s and 30s in.  Now I am down to the bottom of my Pandora Box of Dreaming.  If this one goes, the whole thing is coming down, baby.

So today found me in my writing spot, relishing my ‘process’.  Because this is all I have right now.  If I can focus only on the joy of this creative journey then perhaps, if disappointment follows, I will find some comfort in the fact that I loved the writing.  Forget outcomes.  Focus only on the process.

And that means that right now, I am reminding myself of the above quote by Dickinson.  I am standing ajar, ready to welcome in the ecstatic experience.  I am feeling joy when new characters introduce themselves and show me just how they can weave their strand through my story.  I am smiling softly when the narrative beckons to ‘shift perspective, zoom in on her now.’

This morning I am grateful that people like Anne Lamott are out there to remind us that really, when all is said and done, you’ve just got to love the writing and that is the reward.  If you dream of being a writer, then you should theoretically dread “The End”.  If you are a writer, you should crave the second quarter when you and your characters dig in together and they start to trust you just a little with some of their secrets and their darker thoughts.

I am a writer.  You are a writer.  We know this because the nature of our ecstatic experience lies in the formation of the sentence, not in the full stop at the end.

Today, relish the spaces between your words.  Leave your soul ajar my friend.  Leave your soul ajar.

With love x

PS  Wordcount today, in case you are interested…. 3100.  I thank yer…..

Book Marketing and the strange case of Ishiguro’s balloons

bookstore windowThere is cause for celebration at my local bookstore.  For the first time in a decade, Kazuo Ishiguro has released a new book.

From the blurb it seems to offer a mythical tale full of wonder and giants.  The cover is beautiful – a deep matt navy, rich as a midnight sky with a sacred tree winding its way from the rich soil of a perfectly fonted title.  The Buried Giant, it announces. By Kazuo Ishiguro – in gold lettering.  Gold lettering.  This is an important book, it calls to us.  It is simple but magical.  It will change you, shake the roots of your very existence.  It is a book to be talked about.

Imagine my surprise then when I entered the store and saw this:

ishiguros balloonsNot only are they balloons.  They are special Ishiguro balloons.  Regard how they match the colour of the cover.  Behold how they are emblazoned with the same minimal illustration.  Which is both marvelous and fabulous, whilst at the same time, deeply disturbing.

Is this what book marketing has come to?  Gone are the days when it was a discrete bookmark, or a tasteful postcard (though these were placed at BOTH counters!).  Now, to sell books, really good books, apparently we must also have balloons.

I am troubled by this.  Quite deeply.  Not only because I loathe balloons with all their squeaky- rubbery-tight-skinned-spitefulness, but also because I am not sure where the publishing world can go after this.

Is this what it has come to for those Luddites of the literary world – those authors who like me, want to write that most unsellable of things –  the epitome of genreless – literary fiction?  Must Indie publishers hoping to get their literary works noticed now offer such things to entice readers away from the safety of Paranormal-urban-fantasy-thrilleromance Genre Fiction?

If so, then here are my suggestions for

5 Inappropriate Marketing Ideas for Literary Fiction

1. Lollipops ; especially if you are selling something that is dangerously racy or perhaps touches on the subjects of child abuse, family trauma, or pedophilia.  Got to find a way to sweeten those topics for the punters, folks.

2. Beer Can holders:  You know those things made of strange, unnatural fabric that keep cans cold.  I thought that any novel that touched upon alcoholism – perfect.  Alternatively if your novel is set in a hot climate – this is good to go for you.

3. Big Hands:  Like they wave at games and other such sporting events.  If you got a jaunty little logo, people who buy the book could be given “a big hand” get it.  I mean it’s hilarious, right.  Challenging for page turning however.

4: Steak Knives:  I mean who doesn’t need more steak knives?  These babies have been the solid stuff of marketing strategies for years.  Why, I ask you, has it taken publishing so long to catch up?  So, ‘buy this novel and get a free set of steak knives’.  It’s just got a ring to it….

5: Sun Visors:  I am sure that most literary fiction readers are possibly low in their quota of free sun visors.  I might be wrong, but what better than the new Amis novel having a Go Amis Go baseball cap, or  The Liz Gilbert Visor.  It makes sense.  Literary Fiction readers don’t go out in the sun very often after all.  We need to protect our paper-like pale complexions.  Plus, how jaunty would that be?

I mean these are just some initial suggestions that I am throwing out there.  I am sure you have some of your own, so be a sport and pop them in the comments.  If we get enough of them we can bundle them up into an eBook called “Crazy Marketing Ideas for Indie Authors ”  or , if we want to go a little Seth Godin/ Malcolm Gladwell, my title vote goes with “Ishiguro’s Balloons”, just for its outstanding SEO potential alone.

Oh, and word count for the day? 

Another 3000.  Thanks for asking.

See you tomorrow, now back to your writing, You!  Yes – You!!!

Why every writer loves a library

novel choices

After a shaky start to my writing day, I was ready for a break this afternoon.  Where better than the library for a chance to indulge myself in fantasies that one day, my novel might find a home on those shelves.

What writer does not love a library?  Upon every shelf is another idea for your next novel.  Need to do some research – forget Wikipedia, get thyself to the library my friend.  And it’s all free.  Free, I say.  With book prices here in New Zealand through the roof, it makes more than sense to avail yourself of this most lovely of all public services.

Before I talk you through my haul, I should just mention my word count.  For those of you who are following my Month of Pantsting challenge with bated breath.

Today’s Word Count:  3200

Total Word count since the challenge began: 14 750

Which is, you know, not too bad for five days work.  I have noticed that I am taking a slowly, slowly approach.  Tackling it Pomodoro style, I suppose.  You know, the Pomodoro method where you set a timer for 25 minutes and then write solidly for that time with a five minute break at the end?  Only I don’t have a timer, I have my stomach which is kind enough to rumble loudly at about the right interval level!

Any way, my writing was done, the rain had put a mocker on my beach walk plan, so library it was.

Today’s haul:

As you can see from the above photo, I always like to issue far more novels than is humanly possible to read in the time given.

The Novel Choices:

  1.  This is Life by Dan Rhodes:  I was attracted by the cover because I am a sucker for whimsical little watercolours of cityscapes.  Not a book I had heard of but the blurb promises a rip-rollicking tale set in Paris with a rather charming sounding cast of characters.  Could be fun.
  2. The Light Behind the Window by Lucinda Riley.  This is the first of the two novels by Riley that I picked up today.  I adore novels that slip between the past and the present.  This is such a novel, the past being 1943 Occupied France.  It is described as a ‘breathtaking and intense story of love, war, and, above all, forgiveness.  Sounds good. (Note that this is called The Lavender Garden on US Amazon – go figure!)
  3. The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley.  Another ‘time slip’ novel where the past weaves into the present.    This one encompasses India and a remote estate in England.  I just finished writing a novel set in Raj India, so this could be a nice way to revive my passion for that manuscript.  Dark secrets and  a family’s past – all the ingredients of a good read, I hope.
  4. The Collector of Lost Things by Jeremy Page.  Gorgeous cover which reminded me of my novel vision board.  The Year is 1845 and a young researcher is sent to the Arctic to find the remains of the Great Auk.  It’s a love story and a quest ‘whose protagonists are driven by obsession, love, and ghosts.  I have a passion for ghost stories so this looks like it could be very good.
  5. The Sealed Letter by Emma Donaghue.  Haven’t read anything by her but hear lots of grand things so this is the first of two novels by her to read.  This is set in Victorian times which is just about my favourite literary period.  It’s about affairs and marriage culminating in a courtroom drama.  The blurb reminds me of  Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace by Kate Summerscale, which I read, and loved, last month.
  6. Frog Music by Emma Donaghue. San Francisco 1876.  Smallpox, Chinatown and exotic dancing.  Sounds like a fabulous mix for a novel.  Inspired by true events which makes it all the more beguiling.
  7. The Son by Philipp Meyer.  Bit of a wildcard choice.  Sweeping western epic which is not normally my bag but I seem to remember reading a good review of it about a year ago so, if I have the time, why not give it a chance.  It’s got over 100 reviews on Amazon and 4 stars so it must be quite good!

Research for my novel:

research for my novelMy novel is set on a remote Scottish Island so it made sense to get a few visual books to get the literary juices going.  These three are full of sweeping photographs and will I am sure prove really useful for helping to bring a more enhanced sense of place to my writing.

Fairy Tales:

myths and legends booksI have always had a weakness for fairy tales and my novel draws upon myths and legends so I thought it would be nice to reconnect with some old, and new, favourites.

Virago is hands down the best source of fairy tales in the modern canon so I was delighted to see The Virago Book of Erotic Myths and Legends by Shahrukh Husain.  Soon I might talk a little about my brief foray into the murky world of erotica writing but suffice to say that I rather enjoy reading something saucy but WELL WRITTEN.  This looks to deliver on both fronts.

I also picked up The Maid of the North – Feminist Folk Tales From Around the World by Ethel Johnston Phelps.  A real mix of stories here and I love getting ideas and inspiration for my next novel, or the one after that.  I am entertaining the idea of writing my own volume of fairy tales so this might give me some inspiration to try some short fiction once this novel is done.

Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales.  Picked this up but when I came home, I realise that I already have one of her fairy tale book.  Absolutely in awe of everything this woman ever wrote.  Love love love Carter.  Nights at the Circus is my hands-down favourite book.  Inspirational writing guaranteed.

Mermaids – an anthology by Steve Dobell.  Illustrated collection of verse and prose.  My novel is not about Mermaids per se, but I am fascinated by these creatures of myth (or are they????)  The cover is beautiful and this will be a lovely little book to dip into for some mermaid love.

Writing Craft

the craft of writing

Two books to keep me on the straight and narrow with my writing:

  1. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.  It’s a writing classic.  You can’t read a writing blog without coming across this one somewhere.  Time I found out what she has to say.
  2. How not to write a novel by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark.  This looks like its a fun read because I confess to finding some writing books just a little bit dry and , dare I say it, boring.  I will review this later on once I have read it.

So there you have it.  Not a bad haul, eh?  I will review some of these if I enjoy them.  If not, then I won’t – it’s really that simple.  And hopefully, I have inspired some of you to get yourself down to the library for a literary feast.

What are you reading at the moment?  Care to share, I would love to hear.

And all of the titles that appear in red are linked to the Amazon store.  Not affiliate links, just for your own reference, okay?

See you tomorrow xxx