The book club

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My ears were burning last Tuesday evening. By all accounts, a bunch of women were sitting in someone’s front room, eating cheese carrot sticks, drinking wine and talking about me.

More specifically, they were talking about my book, Six Months to Get a Life. My baby was the book of the month at the Chelsea Court book club.

Unfortunately, the book group meeting clashed with my eldest son’s birthday. After studying my conscience, tossing a coin and even trying to convince my son that he was actually born in August, I eventually gave in to my paternal instincts and reluctantly sent my apologies to the book group organiser.

Instead of a trip to the south coast to talk about the book, my extended family and I toddled off to a lovely steakhouse in Wimbledon.

I spent the first part of the evening trying not to think about the book group meeting. The literary ramblings refused to be shut out altogether though. At one point, I literally closed my eyes and envisaged the conversation taking place somewhere on the south coast.

‘The standard of writing’s appalling,’ Hilda might have muttered as she bit into her fifteenth cheese straw.

‘Yes, and the language is so vulgar,’ Olive agreed as she topped her glass up.

‘It’s worse than Jeffrey Archer,’ chimed in Lucinda from the kitchen doorway. ‘Pass me an olive, Olive.’

An impromptu chorus of happy birthday brought me back to my immediate surroundings with a jolt. Judging by his face whilst he was being serenaded, it rapidly became the birthday boy’s turn to imagine he was somewhere else. Anywhere else rather than being embarrassed by his overly affectionate family.

eldest embarrassed

As our family celebration continued, I managed to banish thoughts of the book group from my mind. My extended family and, more importantly, my son, had a lovely evening.

It was only when I woke up the next morning that I once again remembered the book group.

The organiser had promised to let me know what her band of friends made of my book. I checked my emails and was pleased to discoverer that she had emailed me late the previous evening once the group had gone their separate ways.

As I read the email, I gradually began to relax. By the time I had got to her goodbyes, I was positively beaming. The feedback was really positive. Hilda, Olive, Lucinda and their friends had thoroughly enjoyed the book.

In particular, they had enjoyed reading about divorce from a man’s point of view. They found the relationship between Graham and his sons to be real and evolving. They enjoyed the banter between father and sons too. The group could all apparently imagine seeing the book adapted for television as a mini-series . Two of them apparently took it away on holiday with them (to Eastbourne, or am I prematurely ageing the Chelsea Court book group?) and said it was perfect holiday reading.

The book group did comment that it would have been useful if I’d have published a set of book club questions to accompany the book. I will certainly look into this, as another group will be discussing Six Months to Get a Life in the coming few weeks.

One of the girls in the group apparently thought it was a shame that I hadn’t gone into more detail about the sex (obviously more of a Benidorm girl). I am currently writing my second book, Six Lies. I might try being a bit more explicit in that one, but I’m not sure it’s me.

I love receiving feedback on my work. I have received some good coverage on other people’s blogs during the past week or two. There are more reviews scheduled to be released next week.

What next for the book? Six Months to get a Life isn’t exactly setting the bestseller lists alight yet. I am still looking for that spark of magic that will propel me onto the radar of readers across the land. It will be featured on a couple more blogs over the next few weeks. There are some other significant conversations taking place too that might help. More of that in the next few weeks.

Have a great week.

I quit my job today!

champagne bottle

This week is a momentous week. I have officially handed in my notice. I have quit my job.

I leave on 30th April.

I will be saying goodbye to lots of fantastic work colleagues, all of whom care passionately about their work and the good that it brings to others.

I will also be saying cheerio to a regular salary, good banter at the water cooler, regular supplies of cake and paid annual leave too. Gulp.

And all because I want to be a full-time author.

I want to spend my days inventing and crafting stories. Having written my debut novel, Six Months to Get a Life, I now know that being an author is my passion of choice. It’s what I want to do. It’s what I want to be known for.

I have learnt something about myself over the past few years. When I respect myself, all is well in my world. I feel confident to face life’s challenges. I feel ten feet tall. I am proud that I have taken the decision to give writing a real chance.

But quitting my job is a huge financial gamble. I am a predominantly single dad and have a mortgage to pay. This will be the first time in my adult life that I haven’t brought home a regular salary. Some people may call me selfish for putting my family’s financial future at risk for the sake of a dream. They may be right.

Before writing my resignation letter, I took a long, hard look at my two boys. What would the impact of my decision be on them? They may have less fancy holidays in the future, but they will have a newly energised dad. And one who will be there to see them off to school and to welcome them home in the evenings. On balance, I am confident that I am making the right decision.

If it doesn’t work out, I can always get another job. Even in that case, when I look at myself in the mirror as I am shaving on the morning that I start my new job, I will nod to myself and be satisfied that at least I gave my dream every chance of succeeding.

Talking of resignation letters, I thought it would be fun to reproduce the resignation letter that Graham Hope, the protagonist in Six Months to Get a Life, writes to his employers. My own letter may differ slightly from the below, but one thing’s for certain, it won’t be dull!

“Hello soon-to-be-ex-colleagues,

After ten years of paper-shuffling, I am putting the world of logistics behind me and moving on to bigger and better things.  I can honestly say that I can’t wait to go, and if any of you lot had any balls, you would jump too before you are pushed. 

I will not miss being required to spend half my life thinking about blue skies or what is outside a box.  I am sick of cheap tea bags and can’t face another stale egg mayo sandwich.  Away-days are tedious beyond belief and appraisals aren’t worth the paper they are written on.  I won’t miss pretending not to notice Daniel’s tongue hanging out whenever Sarah walks in to the office.  I didn’t miss Sarah snogging Dean the post-room apprentice at last year’s Christmas party.

I will, however, miss Sheena from accounts.  I will miss being paid whilst spending the whole of the first half of 2012 searching online for Olympic tickets – I got loads in the end.  I will miss inserting rude words into lengthy performance reports just to see if anyone actually reads them.  After ten years of doing this, I can categorically say that they don’t.  Basically, I will miss the money. I am not sure I have earned it but it has come in useful.

Don’t bother writing a card or having a collection. I never put a penny into your birthday, wedding or new baby cards so I wouldn’t want you to have to feel you should contribute to a leaving card for me.  Actually, Danny boy, I hope you don’t mind but when your birthday collection came round a couple of months ago I was a bit skint at the time so I took a couple of quid out and paid for my lunch with it. 

Love and kisses.

Graham”

(Extract from ‘Six Months to Get a Life

The Last Rose: Wendy Clarke

My blog is all about writers and their journeys to becoming published authors. Normally I talk about my personal journey, but this week I am excited to introduce you to a different story. The story of a friend and fellow author I met via the internet’s thriving author community.

Wendy Clarke writes a great romance tale. Her first book, Room in Your Heart, is a collection of captivating stories that cannot fail to make you smile. In the interview below, Wendy tells me not only about her author journey but also about her latest projects.

If you have got a question you would like to put to Wendy, feel free to post it. I know that Wendy will be checking in here from time to time to respond.

Wendy Clarke      My interview with Wendy Clarke

Ben) So that we can get to know you a bit before we start, I’m going to fire a few quick-fire questions at you. Starting with your favourite author?

Wendy) Ann Weisgarber

Ben) Your favourite film?

Wendy) Life is Beautiful

Ben) Your favourite food

Wendy) Chilli con carne

Ben) Your favourite tipple?

Wendy) Red wine

Ben) You are a romance writer. What’s the most romantic place you have ever visited?

Wendy) Venice… oh, and the little Greek taverna on the island of Samos where my husband proposed to me.

Ben) And what’s your ambition as an author?

Wendy) To see my novel published and on bookshelves.

Your writing

Ben) Seeing your novel on bookshelves is my ambition too. Is your novel your latest project?

Wendy) I have got a few projects on the go. I have just finished putting together my second collection of short stories called ‘The Last Rose’. The theme is family and friendship and all the stories in it have previously been published in national magazines.

The Last Rose cover

Alongside this, I have been finishing my latest serial for The People’s Friend and have recently started writing my first novel.

Ben) You write lovely, atmospheric short stories. What are your top three tips for people who want to write short stories?

Wendy) 1. If you want to write for a magazine, make sure you read the guidelines carefully. 2. Try to think outside the box a little – editors are inundated with submissions so make yours stand out by being a little different. 3. Check your story has a strong ending. I’d also like to add another one: write from the heart – if you don’t love your story, nobody else will!

Ben) That’s a theme in my advice too. If you aren’t happy with what you are producing, then no one else will be happy when they read it. What, for you, are the essential elements of a great romantic tale?

Wendy) Your reader has to like and sympathise with your main character. Their emotions also need to be believable. Look deep inside yourself for memories of your own of love and loss and use these to make your characters’ emotions come alive. A great romance doesn’t necessarily have to end happily but there should always be hope or a sense of moving on.

Ben) What’s the nicest compliment you have been paid on work you have published?

Wendy) People have said some wonderful things in their reviews for Room in Your Heart but I think the greatest compliment was when my friend told me that my stories made her cry.

Your writing journey

Ben) What made you start writing?

Wendy) I started writing three years ago when the private school I was teaching in closed down and I was made redundant. I felt anchorless and had no idea what I wanted to do.

I was very lucky in that I had recently got married and my husband was very supportive, telling me that I should take my time to think about the future. It was my brother who suggested that I enrol in the online creative writing course he’d just completed – after all, I had been an English teacher. So I did.

Little did I know how much I would enjoy it – so much so, that I did a second course and when it had ended, I felt bereft! My tutor suggested I try writing for magazines and, with nothing to lose, I thought I’d have a go. I was very lucky to have stories accepted quite quickly and now I have sold over a hundred!

Liking a challenge, I then decided to try my hand at writing a serial. This was more difficult as I had to show the editors at The People’s Friend a synopsis first which meant I had to plan the whole thing out – something I’m not very good at! Luckily they liked the idea and I found the longer length fun to write. I have now written a second one for them.

Since then, I have joined the Romantic Novelist Association’s New Writers’ Scheme as I am in the early stages of writing my first romantic novel… so the journey is still continuing.

Ben) Other than the decision to write full-time, what was the most important decision you took in your writing journey?

Wendy) It may well be the decision to write the novel… but whether that decision will turn out good or bad is yet to be seen.

Ben) I’m sure it will be good! Can we get a sneak preview?

Wendy) I don’t want to jinx it by giving it away. Let’s just say, it involves two sisters, a beautiful Greek island and a mystery… oh and of course there’ll be romance in there too!

Connecting with Wendy

I hope you have enjoyed hearing from Wendy. I certainly did. If you would like to connect with Wendy directly, she has a great  blog, or you can find her on twitter @WendyClarke99 or on Facebook.

The Last Rose is available to buy on Amazon. The stories in this collection explore the intricate family relationships of thirteen ordinary people. In them, we discover the sorrow, love and joy that is shared… but not always spoken.

A tribute to Monday Blogs

I am at the stage in my writing journey now where I don’t mind making a confession. Because I had never bought a book as a result of reading someone’s blog, at the start of my author journey I didn’t see the point of writing a blog.

Yes, I was that selfish and short-sighted.

But gradually, as I read others’ blogs, I realised that I must have been missing something. Everyone else seemed to be doing it, so I thought I had better join the club. I started this blog last spring.

I am now officially enlightened.

Thinking up interesting and informative topics to blog about can be a challenge, but I no longer question the value that blogging adds, particularly for fledgling authors.

I have sold some books based on my utterings here. I’m glad not everyone is like me! But that isn’t why I am a convert to blogging.

I have learnt so much by joining the author blogging community. I have met lots of really insightful and helpful people through this blog. But just posting blogs yourself is such a small part of the story.

I have learnt even more from engaging with fellow authors via their own blogs.

I am in awe of the community spirit demonstrated every week by authors re-tweeting other authors’ blog posts – a process made so much easier by using the #Mondayblogs hashtag set up by author Rachel Thompson.

I would almost go as far as to say I love Mondays. Not quite, but almost.

As importantly as gathering more exposure for your own blog, you cannot fail to learn something through a quick scan of #MondayBlogs.

I have learnt so many valuable lessons – about writing, networking, book marketing and the author life. I have ‘met’ so many interesting people.

Within the last few weeks, I have read ‘5 steps to writing a best-selling novel’, ‘Ten top tips to get your book onto the bestsellers list’, ‘Fourteen ways to boost your book’s sales’ and ‘53 ways to make your fortune out of writing’.

I am now off to make my fortune. I will be writing to you from Barbados next Monday.