The two cheetahs exploded with speed and our jeep chased after them. Moments later the mother stalked back, a gazelle dangling from her mouth, its lifeless body smaller in death than in its last race for survival only seconds ago. Partway through their meal the younger cheetah raises a blood stained face and sniffs the air. She creeps forward, and runs. I watch her make a second kill. The two cheetahs tear up the body as we look on.

Cheetah kill

Two lions lie exhausted beside a strip of water just a few feet from our vehicle. The female stretches and with a look at her mate strolls a few steps along the shore. He follows. She lies down and he covers her. It’s all over in seconds and they collapse apart. They will start again – every fifteen minutes for a week, night and day, over 600 times. By the end of the week, lionesses from the pride  bring them food – they are both too exhausted to hunt.

Procreation in the wild

Two week old cheetah cubs climb on top of their mum, babboons squabble and blue monkeys groom each other; a million wildebeest roam the Serengeti, pelicans flare into the air and flamingoes back off in fright as hyenas play in the water; hippoes wallow in shallow pools with their young, birds with startling colours and stranger names flash past or sit on the necks of larger animals, vultures tear at abandoned carcases. It is the birthing season and the  young are everywhere: zebras, elephants, lion cubs, jackals, gazelles, wildebeest, warthogs, hippoes, babboons, leopards – and every parent protecting or feeding their little ones.

Cheetah baby

Savagery, beauty, destruction and love all on display during  our Tanzanian safari. The booms and calls of animals in the night, the smells of flowers and dung, the chomping of buffalo around our tent, the spectrum of breeds grazing together in a muddle of herds: zebras, gazelles, wildebeest,  buffalo, ostriches and hyenas, a lone elephant presiding.

Beauty:

Beauty

And the beast:

Vulture in the Serengeti

Vulture in the Serengeti

All of this in scenery that takes your breath away. The scrub of the Serengeti yes, but before that the drama of a rift valley, the cascading sides of a crater formed by a volcano collapsing upon itself, the green of Masai meadows, the lushness of forest and then the dryness of trees destroyed by elephants, the neat ranks of coffee plantations and scarlet of the bougainvillea. Memories that will stay with us forever.

Masai village

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500 Words a Day Challenge

I was thoroughly disheartened when the BWA Publishing Programme collapsed (was it a scam or just incompetence – will we ever know?) and I stopped writing for a while. Thankfully I have started again and am drafting the second volume of The Dragonlite Legacy.

Previously I was in the habit of writing regularly; now I have to re-establish that rhythm and it’s a challenge. So when Jeff Goins’ threw down the gauntlet by suggesting we aspiring authors write 500 words a day during the month of January I decided to have a go.

In parallel I plan to work on the search for an agent or publisher for the first book. Sadly the two things don’t mesh well.  The work needed for the latter seems to come from the ‘getting bored senseless’ side of my brain rather than the creative one.

It amazes me that authors find the time and energy to cope with finding a publisher/self publishing, creating a social media platform, living their daily lives and writing. Is there any time left for normal human relationships I ask myself.

Over January we shall see. Will the 500 a day target survive, will I ever send out a successful query, or will the dog, cats and my husband give up on all attempts to communicate with me and leave the family home?

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New Adult Fiction Category – The Next Big Thing or a Marketing Ploy?

At the recent Brit Writers’ Awards dinner I had the chance to meet a wide range of creative people. The excellent meal could only take second place to a feast of writing talent that found its expression in songs, scripts, poetry, and works of non-fiction and fiction. The awards are all about encouraging and helping such talent, at whatever age, on its journey towards publication, whether this is by traditional routes, such as agents and publishers, or by more modern methods such as e-publishing.

In all cases it is essential to know your market and so when there is talk of a new target market we writers tend to prick up our ears and, shortly afterwards, our pens.

As we all discover in the struggle for publication, knowing your market in the literary world means identifying category (Young Adult or Middle Grade, for example) and genre (Romance, Fantasy, etc.). Hence the excitement and controversy surrounding the introduction of a new category in the world of fiction, called New Adult or NA.  Referred to by some as ‘the next big thing’ it is rejected by others as a shallow marketing ploy.

The category was first suggested by St Martin’s Press in 2009 and thought to be stimulated by the number of adults reading teen fiction. SMP described it as:

“…fiction similar to YA that can be published and marketed as adult – a sort of an ‘older YA’ or new adult.”

The editors were interested in the coming-of-age that happens from about 19 to 26 years old. This is a time when we have more experience and insight than teenagers (who tend to live in the present) but are still trying to see where we fit in the world and how we will cope when separated from family and institutions like school and college that have so far protected us. It is a time of making decisions about relationships and commitment, about sexuality, about economic survival, and about what we want to be in life.

Not only editors were in favour of the new category. Novelists too had complained about publishers forcing them to scale the age of their main characters up or down to fit with existing categories, even though such a shift meant a complete change to the story.

However, the idea was not met with universal approval. Some said it was confusing and not a viable market, others felt it would be restrictive. Still others challenged whether it could address universal themes.

So was it just a marketing gimmick and what has happened in the three years since SNP’s proposal?

  • Firstly, understanding of the target market for this category has broadened and we now see references to a range of ages from 14 up as far as 41. It seems we all want to stay younger longer!
  • The take-up by authors has been most significant in the self-publishing arena.
  • Ebook buyers are driving the growth. This is no surprise as bookstores in America shelf by category and are uncomfortable with books which do not fit neatly into Adult or Young Adult.
  • Despite this, during the summer of 2012 a significant number of self-published authors who described their work as ‘new adult’ were snatched up by mainstream publishers.
  • Not everyone is convinced and some still perceive NA as a pseudo-category

As for me, I am delighted to discover this new category. Far from being restrictive, it enables authors to develop new themes that address the transition from teenager to adult, a time of high emotions and difficult decisions that have a significant impact on our future lives.

Mind you, I would be supportive since my own fantasy novel falls neatly into the NA category. I have to say though that I hate the name. It’s not only confusing (try looking it up on a search engine) but sounds too similar to Young Adult.

Yet I think it is here to stay. I feel a sense of excitement among young novelists, agents and readers when they talk about NA and something tells me this is a trend that will just keep on growing.

How about you? Would you write an NA book or as a reader would you buy one?

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Five Key Motivators to Help or Hinder Your Writing

There are some lucky authors who have the ability to write copiously, producing book after book to deadline. However, for many of us, transforming the concepts and ideas in our heads into prose presents a mind wrenching challenge. Strangely enough the drivers that can help us are also the ones that can hinder. Do you recognize any of these and if so are you using them to help you write or is it these very same drivers that block your words?

Please People

The need to please other people. Not so good when you want your husband, mother, sister, friends, agent, publisher and critics to like you and like your book.  Particularly difficult for erotic fiction I would guess  (not my mother!) but good when it makes you think about your genre and what attracts your readers.

Be Strong

The need to pull your socks up, be a man (woman in my case) etc. Quite useful this one when it comes to coping with rejection letters and ploughing on despite them. Not so good when you are struggling to balance life with your writing and could do with asking for someone’s help.

Be Perfect

The need to do everything perfectly. This one’s a killer for me. I think it stopped me writing for years because I would have to produce the greatest novel ever! Only by allowing myself to write for enjoyment, and make mistakes on the way, did I manage to start my book. Now I use this driver to propel me through the editing process.

Hurry Up

The need to do everything quickly and on time. Always a great motivator in my case whether studying or at work – nothing like a deadline to focus the mind. But it proves a problem when I rush around so much I don’t stop to take in my surroundings and gain inspiration from them. This driver can make you do too much too fast so that you land up doing it all badly.

Try Hard

The need to make an effort. The problem is that trying to do something can be a block to actually doing it and this one can hit badly when you sit down in front of that blank piece of paper.

There we have it – five motivators that drive us to achieve or drive us to despair. Next time you put pen to paper, don’t feel you have to try hard to quickly write the perfect sentence which will delight your publisher and show how competent you are – or you could land up writing nothing. Instead, take a deep breath, shrug your shoulders and dive straight in.

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Winter Cover

During the summer months we let out our holiday cottages. The French call them gites and they face a swimming pool where children splash happily and adults snooze in the sun.

Summer's version!

But now that autumn’s  here and the avenue  is lined with leaves we are faced with the annual challenge of dragging over the winter cover – a great rubbery beast measuring 10m x 5m.This has in the past been met with fiasco.

The first year my husband thought he could tether it to the surrounding fence with those elastic cords you use to hold down debris in the wheel barrow.  The first windy day it transformed itself into a parachute and was ready to float off, fence attached.

Year 2 we enlisted friends and tried to drag it lengthways from one end of the pool to the other. With a sense of inevitability we watched it sink under water, pulling us with it.

Now of course we’re dab hands at it – yanking it across sideways and tethering it to rods in the concrete. So today we fished out seven crayfish before we began, hefted the summer cover out of the way and spread it out confidently on the paving stones. How come by the time we finished the men, though exhausted, were dry while we women looked like we’d been competing in a wet T shirt contest?

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The Mysterious Art of Pace

Travelling back from the UK, I indulged in my usual practice to help make the journey bearable – burying my head in a book. Like most writers, I love reading and not just books from my cherished fantasy genre. In fact I’ve recently been engrossed by thrillers penned by American authors, but they have started me thinking yet again about the thorny question of pace.

What was noticeable about all of these books was a common structure of short chapters, each of which ended on a cliff hanger with the hero or heroine in dire circumstances from which it seemed impossible to escape. Now, I love the rattling pace and excitement this gives to the book but after a few reads by the same author the formulaic approach intruded and marred my satisfaction with both book and writer. The worst instance was one where the final sentence in each chapter seemed to have been added as an afterthought (a famous author but perhaps over- prodded by a demanding editor?) and had no relation to what transpired either in the next chapter or further along in the book.

At the other extreme, I recall the requirement in my student days to read copious volumes of Proust. The pace was so slow it astonished me that anyone ever survived reading the first couple of books. Yet, as I drowned myself in the words, I was lulled into the beauty and gentleness of their rhythm and wanted to read on forever.

So how to manage the pace of my own writing? Fantasy needs excitement and adventure but it cannot depend on that alone. There must be time to create a world outside our own, a culture that has its own laws, and characters who grow within and through their adventures. Does each genre have its own pace related demands or difficulities? I would be really interested in how other authors solve the issue of pace within their writing and how much the challenges of the genre influence your approach.

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Back to Blogging

After a challenging year, where life took over, I am resolved to start blogging again.

We have just returned form an exhausting visit to the UK. Following my father-in-law’s death we were faced with getting the house ready for sale. We arrived in a damp and chilly England to find the boiler had broken down and couldn’t be mended for a couple of days. After a quick visit to Argos to buy a blow-up bed (the real ones had already gone) and a kettle, we stacked up with paint and over the next three days:

  • decorated four rooms, (kitchen and sitting room included)
  • hired an estate agent
  • had an energy survey done
  • changed the locks
  • arranged a gardener
  • bought an electric heater
  • returned said electric heater when it didn’t work and bought another
  • gave clothes and cultery to a charity and 4 huge black bags of hospital materials to the pharmacy
  • made numerous recycling disposals
  • got the boiler mended (!)
  • and even managed various family visits, several Indian meals and a meeting to discuss The Dragonlite Legacy.

Phew!

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