Feminist – Word of the Year 2017

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If you thought you’d heard the last of Feminism in the 60s then have I got news for you. Merriam-Webster’s Words of the Year place the F word right on top of their top 10. Hmm … wonder if Feminism has soared as a result of that repugnant President who loves to grab em all by the pussy – you know what I’m talking about.

According to Merriam Webster, the word topped the searches in their online dictionary which means there has been a spike of interest in the word or the movement. The searches for the word correlate to various news reports and events.

Today’s definitions of feminism read: “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” and “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.”

 

 

Let’s not turn a deaf ear to the silence breakers

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After the #MeToo campaign what’s next? We need to have an all-inclusive conversation that’s not just about who has the loudest voice or the highest profile. It has to be a cultural shift from the grassroots to the upper echelons and it has to happen now.  Cue the next hashtag?

It was around three years ago over casual afternoon drinks with my husband, my sister-in-law and her husband, I got as close as I’d ever got to admit I’d been sexually assaulted. As the conversation skirted around the subject, I bottled up what I really wanted to spill out, even though the first of these assaults happened over 30 years ago. Why after so long was I still keeping quiet? The honest answer. I don’t know. I suppose I still felt, as I had then, a level of shame or a feeling I caused them in some way.  So instead, I said it was my belief that the majority of women had experienced some form of sexual assault. I will never forget my brother-in-law’s look of surprise. “Seriously? You think MOST women have experienced sexual assault? That’s a big call,” he said with eyebrows raised. I nodded, aware the idea seemed a bit ‘out there’ – a bit of an exaggeration to him. After all, he was one of the decent men out there. Of course, it sounded a bit out there. My sister-in-law took a quiet sip of her wine.

It seems absurd to say I had goosebumps when the #metoo campaign hit social media, but I felt goosebumps along with a giddy excitement – something big was happening. The Harvey Weinsteins of the world were finally going to be brought to account. Even though I had remained silent, it was the vindication of something I had long since felt. A deep knowing that women around the world were dealing with sexually abusive behaviour (silently) every single day.

I knew it because I had experienced it myself.  I was nothing special. I wasn’t irresistible, I wasn’t a celebrity. I was just an ordinary girl, growing up in the 80s an ordinary town in the northern hemisphere – and yet the number of ‘unwanted’ experiences I’d had before I was even 20 seemed incredible. I couldn’t be the only one.

With all the dirty washing that’s being aired right now, I actually wonder if the men who sexually assaulted (or harassed) me over the years are quivering in their boots right now, wondering if I am about to ‘out’ them. Has it even registered with them that what they did was wrong and they put me in an uncomfortable position that made me question everything about myself? Do they see themselves as different to the Harvey Weinstein’s of the world?

Well, relax, I’m not going to out every single one of you, however, I am going to list just a few incidents so you can see what an ‘ordinary’ girl generally has to deal with growing up.  I had written about these events in great detail more as a cathartic exercise, but I’ve paired them down to provide a quick overview.

Age: 15 (still a minor)
Who: A Family Member
Situation: Lured/Tricked upstairs (he said the TV didn’t work). Held down. Unwanted sexual advances. I was terrified. I found an anger I didn’t know I had and managed to extricate myself from the situation.
Did I tell anyone? Only my best friend, and then my mother two years later

Age: 15 (still a minor)
Who: Cross Country Coach
Situation: ‘Tricked’ (encouraged) into running a longer alternative route. The coach stopped part way through and because I didn’t know the route I had to stop too. It was then I was pinned against a tree while his hands groped my whole body. He said, “You know what’s going on, you know you want it.” Shock gave way to anger and I pushed him off and ran back to the club to pick my stuff up and caught the bus home.
Did I tell anyone? No

Age 16
Who: Male gym teacher at school
Situation: There were 2 situations 1 day apart with the same gym teacher. Inappropriate/suggestive comments about ‘sexy bodies’ though he addressed these directly to me by name in front of gym class. The next day there was inappropriate touching (he used his finger to caress my hand in lunch queue). Seems innocuous but both incidents embarrassed me and were confusing because they were in public (made worse because he was one of the ‘hot’ gym teachers so who would believe me or feel I had suffered from the attention? I felt humiliated and confused.
Did I tell anyone? No

Late 20s
Who: would rather not say
Situation: Hard to define as the situation was complex. I had gone to a hypnotherapist to help with smoking cessation (which worked I’m pleased to say). While under hypnosis I divulged information about the incident. At the end of the session, the hypnotist suggested I get in touch with a Rape Counsellor. It was the first time I had heard that word in relation to what had happened. I still can’t openly discuss to this day.
Did I tell anyone? My (long-suffering) best friend. My husband 16 years after the event

In my 40s
Who: A visiting senior colleague
Situation: Social situation after work – normally a relaxed, safe and fun environment. However, on this occasion, a visiting senior member of staff persisted with unwanted lurid sexual talk. Even as I changed the subject he would change it back being more and more suggestive  After returning from the toilet I picked up my drink to go and sit elsewhere.  Shortly afterwards I felt ill. I had the awareness to leave the social situation completely when I realised people, noise and light seemed far off in the distance. I felt like I was in slow motion under water.  My significant other found me on a traffic island on the ground, totally disorientated in the middle of a busy highway. I cried and vomited on and off for hours. I was convinced my drink had been spiked and I wished I’d been able to go somewhere to be tested. That aside, the disgusting conversation was bad enough. Nothing ‘happened’ to me as such but I felt violated just the same.
Did I tell anyone? Not on an official basis. The whole team had been drinking so it was going to be too difficult to prove (a) I wasn’t just drunk/ill through alcohol (b) against a senior member of the company after the event

So there you have it. Moments in time that happened to an ordinary girl, living an ordinary life through the 80s, 90s and beyond. Those events happened on both sides of the world (the UK and Australia). You can see that sexual abuse or sexual assault, however, you coin it, hasn’t diminished in our so-called enlightened society. It doesn’t diminish with age, your looks or your weight.

You notice I don’t mention unwanted attention from guys in street – the wolf whistles walking past a building site to the ‘brave’ guys who hang out of car windows to shout something obscene. Whatever. I don’t class the latter as sexual ‘assault’ or harassment as such though it’s certainly embarrassing and unwanted.

As a woman your threshold to withstand these acts increase and to a point it all seems normal. We as women have normalised this behaviour to cope with it and then we do our best to shrug it off.

Even now, with all I have read and learned, I wonder, were all these incidents I experienced really ‘sexual assault’ or ‘just’ sexual harassment?  I know 100% none of these acts were invited or welcome – but ‘assault?’ – it’s such an aggressive word. And therein another problem.

You can see how completely different in nature each of those occurrences were. They affected me in wildly different ways, from covering up, to be being less ‘friendly’, being embarrassed and confused, to stopping going out on my own completely. You might think some of them are ‘nothing’ to get worked up about.  And perhaps that’s part of the issue too. We don’t really know what our red line is meant to be.

Take former INXS band member Kirk Pengilly’s comments about “loving the 60s and 70s when life was so simple and you could slap a woman the butt and it was taken as a compliment, not sexual harassment”. OK, so the boundaries have changed – things that were cool in the 60s and 70s are not cool now (if you really believe women didn’t mind back then) they’re not now.

Defining sexual assault and sexual harassment

Sexual Assault: According to the NSW Justice Department, sexual assault occurs when a person is forced, coerced or tricked into sexual acts against their will or without their consent, or if a child or young person under 18 is exposed to sexual activities. (sexual acts being: forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape)

Sexual Harassment: (typically of a woman) in a workplace, or other professional or social situation, involving the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks. Sexual harassment is any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.

By those definitions the incidents I outlined above would be classed as sexual assault or sexual harassment. One thing in common with all of the incidents I’ve mentioned here is ‘power’. Each was in a position of power over me – whether it was someone I looked up to or was subordinate to in some way. Another thing in common being ‘consent’ – or lack of it. I was not enjoying or inviting this attention. It was being forced upon me regardless of my thoughts or wishes. The problem was, I was an outgoing, sociable type so when things began to happen to me I immediately blamed myself. I must be doing something to give men the wrong idea.  And now I know for sure I am not alone in these experiences.

So where are all the other ordinary, every day (silent) women? Are you reading this thinking ‘yes that all seems pretty familiar’? Have they been silently rejoicing for #metoo?

The aftermath of #metoo

So as we celebrate the voice the #metoo campaign gave to over a million women (myself included), it’s time to turn our attention to what comes next. While I’ve cheered my sisters on from the sidelines, admiring their bravery and to hell with the consequences, I do worry that this unique movement will suffer an ‘unforeseen’ setback to derail the amazing progress that’s been made or worse still just run out of steam like so many any other social media-driven campaigns. We can’t allow this movement to be derailed – so we need an action plan in the name of progress.  the hashtag ‘what next’ would be great – but it is so overused on Twitter. It still begs the question …

So what’s next?

  • extend the discussion around consent and what it means beyond sexual intercourse. The ‘cup of tea’ analogy is fantastic. Let’s build on that.
  • begin discussions at home about respect and equality. It starts at home and we as parents must take responsibility. It’s not just about teaching our boys that girls should be treated with respect, it’s about teaching each of our children that men and women are equal and should be treated with respect and kindness in equal measure. We have to show this in our own relationships with our significant other – children learn by example.
  • re-enforce that educational and cultural message in our schools. By coming down hard on incidents like ‘bra-pinging’ or ‘slut shaming’ and double standards between the sexes, children will soon learn that there is no room in a modern all-inclusive society for this sort of behaviour. School is also the place to re-enforce cultural expectations and eradicate sexist behaviour early on.
  • harness the potential of social media and the internet. I guess you could say let’s use its power for good not evil. The truly great thing about the internet/social media is the transparency it provides. It is possible for the many and the few to shine a light on wrongdoing, but it can also help educate and provide support, no matter who you are in society.
  • bring an end to society’s sycophantic sickness. This is probably one of the biggest afflictions in our society today. Until the likes of Trump, or the politicians, the A-List celebrity, or even Royalty are brought to account – we have a long way to go – on both sides of the #MeToo fence. Society needs to stop thinking celebrities, politicians and Royalty can do no wrong or that they are somehow untouchable. Trump’s rise to power has enraged women everywhere because of the way he has yielded his power. His ascent to the highest office despite those accusations has doubtless powered the #MeToo movement – in the US at least. So we need to go further and make sure no-one is above scrutiny.
  • find a way to define sexual assault and sexual harassment in the most simplistic terms so perpetrators can no longer hide behind blurred lines and victims know where they stand.
  • avoid a witch hunt. Let’s be careful here. Let’s not condemn every man/woman that looked at us in a way we don’t like. This will set awareness and education back in the dark ages and will stop the campaign/progress from being taken seriously. We want a fairer more open society, not a scared, paranoid society.
  • let’s not generalise. Sexual assault and harassment may be disproportionate with more men than women suffering, but men have reported sexual assault and same-sex sexual assault also exists. So let’s make sure #MeToo and #whatnext? are inclusive. Let’s talk about human beings and society rather than women versus men
  • stop with the excuses. Don’t tell me that men are now worried they can’t compliment a woman in case they get accused of sexual assault. There is a big difference, Unless you lack social awareness or emotional intelligence, you know the difference and you know there is a time and a place for your compliments. As mothers we must stop turning a blind eye to our children’s sexist behaviours – ‘boys will be boys’ is not helpful and at some point, boys have to be men. We must ensure our children do not grow up with a skewed sense of ‘entitlement’.  Remember Brock Turner?
  • build trust. The majority of women do not report assault (myself included) because they genuinely think ‘what’s the point?’ Some women are fearful of losing their own jobs, or not being believed. Alternatively, nothing will happen at all. Some women worry strangely enough, about the perpetrator losing their job or breaking up their family (particularly if they have been involved in a family setting). There are just too many variables about how any given situation could go. We need an open and transparent system that everyone can trust and framework for working together. We need to trust in what’s next.

eviemcraeAs 2017 comes to a close, I am sure there will be a million posts, hashtags and articles written on the subject of sexual abuse and sexual assault and this article will be consigned to the great computer ‘Trash’ icon in the sky. But before I sign off, indulge me for a moment longer. Just as the onset of the #MeToo campaign gave me goosebumps, so too did the latest front cover of Time magazine. Can you imagine the vindication I felt, even though I myself had never really been brave enough to break the silence? Can you imagine what that meant to a million of the silent?
So yes let’s celebrate the Silence Breakers but let’s not stop there. Let’s not turn a deaf ear to these voices when it all becomes old news. Because abuse never feels old.  Let’s be braver in those difficult conversations. Let’s not skirt around the subject and hide behind ‘other people’s experiences’ – because it’s happened to you. It’s happened to a woman you know. Let’s create real change and real social progress that’s inclusive, open and transparent. Let’s start now.

 

 

You want me to what my book? Market it? But I’m a writer…Help!

12644647_573459049472909_6388454191695536303_nSo your book is finally being published and you’re beside yourself with excitement. You’ve done it! You’ve achieved that lifelong dream! But guess what? That’s not the end of the hard work. Well – not unless you have secured a major publishing deal with one of the BIG FOUR.

Now you actually have to promote your book. I know it seems cruel to have to get your hands dirty in the murky world of marketing, but if you want anyone to read the fruits of your labour you’re going to have to spread the word.

Most people won’t have the budget necessary to engage a marketing or branding guru, so I’ll give you a few titbits of free advice about effective marketing tactics that may just help you boost your audience and help you create a buzz around your book.

FREE stuff you can do

My first piece of advice is what I tell all my clients, regardless of their product, business or service. If you don’t exist online – you don’t exist.

We live in a world where Google has become the background security check. If someone hears the name of a person, or a book or a company, generally the first thing they do is Google it to find out any available information. If they don’t find what they are looking for, they won’t search any further. You’ve already put your first barrier up to a possible sale and potential loyal customer.

Nowadays a simple WordPress site can provide an extremely professional shop front for your business. WordPress is a free and open source blogging tool and a content management system (CMS) and for the most part it’s excellent.  As far as I’m concerned this is a must have nowadays. When building an audience, your readers will want to know about you and the books you write and the website or WordPress platform is the ideal place for them to go. If you are not technically minded a WordPress site can seem rather daunting, but there are many simple themes and a plethora of teenagers out there only too willing to show off their skills. i won’t scare anyone by delving too deeply into this at the moment, but suffice to say I will cover this in greater detail in a subsequent post.

Social Media

As well as a website or WordPress platform you will need to ensure you are active on social media. Again, I only mention this because it’s FREE. My good friend and new author confessed she was a complete technophobe but she managed to navigate her way through the minor challenges and she was up and running with Twitter and Facebook in a matter of hours.  In the space of 24 hours she had over 100 Likes. Who knows where she’ll be in a few weeks when her book is out.

Brilliant. She exists as an author online now. But there’s more I can sneakily share with you – little learnings from the world of global product launching and brand building. If you are merrily posting on Facebook or Twitter, take a few moments to think about the quality of your posts. In the case of a a book launch it’s great to have little teasers from your book to give a flavour of what’s in store – but not too much. Apart from keeping some of your powder dry (and there may be some restrictions from your publisher), you have to remember how people read online. People scan, generally in an F shape and only small amounts. Indeed when I began to work more online on websites and social media I had to reverse all I had been taught about writing ‘the message’.

In addition to monitoring the length of post I would advise using Facebook and Twitter or whatever social interaction you use, to create what is affectionally known as, the  ‘Call to Action’. The Call to Action is very important in terms of selling or creating awareness. Think about what it is you actually want your reader to do? Just nod and move on? At that point you may have lost them. Perhaps you want them to buy your book? If this is the case, then add a link making it easy for the reader to find and buy your book. Normally a link to Amazon on your page will suffice. A good rule is to think about removing all possible barriers between you and the sale of your book. The more steps someone has to go to reach it, the more likely you are to lose them.

Depending on the genre of your book it may be useful to have a presence on Pinterest. Think about where your intended audience ‘meet’ online and go and pitch your stall there. For example, a community like Goodreads is a great place to get your book reviewed and exposed to potentially thousands of people. Be sure to research your target audience and then research where they discuss books such as yours.

Press Kits

I’ll write more about Press Kits in a later post but generally speaking here’s what you need to know. Press Kits are invaluable when your contacting people in the media for publicity or for sending out information in a hurry.  Your press kit may be requested by retailers, book bloggers, event planners, editors or anyone else who may be interested in you or your book. Include information as follows:

Author Bio and Contact Information

You should already have an author bio to hand. If not, start working on it now – published or not. You’ll need it for your blog or website, for guest posts or stories submitted to magazines. Your author bio should be about 200 words, and it should have things that make you sound interesting and professional. You should include your name, your place of birth or where you currently live, what you do (or used to do) for a living, what you’ve written, perhaps your education (if it’s relevant), quirky hobbies, or interesting travel experiences. Basically, anything that will make you stand out. If you’ve written non fiction, include something about what gives you the knowledge/credibility or experience to write the book.

Don’t forget to include your contact information, and your agent or other representatives if necessary.

A photograph

But not a cropped grainy shot with you in the background at your granny’s 80th birthday party. You should have hi-res (300 dpi) and lo-res (72 dpi) versions, 600 pixels wide at a minimum. Make sure that you provide horizontal options and vertical options, since different magazines and media have different layout preferences. Again, I won’t scare anyone by getting too technical here, but a well-lit digital photograph will do the job.

Press Release

A press release should focus on the unveiling of your new work. It should be brief and succinct; one page should do. Include information that is newsworthy about your book or about you as an author. If you have upcoming events, it might be a good idea to omit them from your press kit press release to keep the article timely a month or two down the road. There are a few tricks to writing a newsworthy press release over and above the release of your baby into the world. Drop me a line and I’ll share a few secrets.

Sample Author Q&A

Make a list of interview questions (and responses) about you and your book. This can include questions about your background, your inspiration for writing this book, your own favourite writers, future projects, etc. This section is particularly helpful for the interviewer and bloggers who want to help you promote your work, as it’s useful and ready content for them.

Specific Information on Your Book

So many books are published every week, every month, every year so you need to talk about what makes yours different. You can describe your book in terms of its unique features. Yes it’s special to you, but what makes it the ‘must read’ book for everyone else? Why did you write this book? Did you feel there was a gap in the market for this type of story? Does the book shed new light on a common issue? Is it a topic that a lot of people can easily relate to? As the author, do you have a unique background different from most other authors? You need to convince the person reading your press kit that your story is interesting enough for their audience.

  • Tip:Sometimes, when requesting your press kit, you may be asked to send in excerpts of your book as well. Ideally a few quotes or perhaps a sample chapter will do the trick. But remember, as I said before, to keep some of your powder dry.
  • You may also include things like:editorial reviews, testimonials, links to relevant media content like audio and video, any awards you’ve won, etc.

Remember, a press kit doesn’t have to be fancy

The people who are requesting it just want information that will help them. Keep it simple. If you’re putting one together for the first time, I’m sure you already have some of the materials needed. Start with the items you already have and then work on adding the others as you go along. You don’t want to create a press kit at the last minute because once something exists beyond your control it has a habit of popping up everywhere.

the above points are just a taste of what can be done to help promote your book. If you would like help in marketing your book, or would just like some further information, feel free to email me at info@eviemcrae.com or visit my other website create.eviemcrae.com

A Parent’s Guide to Coping with Autism

sarah ziegel, a practical guide, coping with Autism, AutismI’m working with an author who has written a practical guide for parents coping with a life-changing diagnosis of Autism. She is, in my humble opinion, an absolute Super Mum and an incredible role model. Being in the unique position of having all 4 boys diagnosed with Classic Autism (so not just somewhere on the Spectrum) she has refused to simply sit at home and ‘accept’ the status quo. She has spent years of her life tirelessly researching, studying and fighting for a quality of life for her beautiful boys and her family. A quality of life which was previously dismissed by the doctors. She has taken all those learning and turned them into a well-crafted book. I want to say she’s Autism’s answer to Erin Brockovich but she would probably either cringe or laugh and shake her head. Her pragmatism and her compassion shine through and I find myself drawn into her world. One of the things I particularly enjoy is the fact she isn’t all ‘Pollyanna’ about it all. She keeps it real which makes her instantly relatable.

As a writer myself, I am overjoyed to see her sheer bloody hard work come to fruition. She has put so much of herself into this project – and all for the greater good. Which is why clients like her are an absolute dream to work with. When a client is passionate about their project, it’s impossible not get swept up in it. But it’s more than that. Those of you familiar with my writing will know I’m all about the woman that saves herself – and I’m all about Transformation. When the odds are stacked against her, it’s resilience and strength of spirit that gets Sarah through. This lady has not only saved herself, but she’s taken her whole family with her and transformed all their lives for the better.

If you or someone you know has been touched by Autism, this is your essential guide. Believe me this book will become your bible and your best friend.

A Parent’s Guide to Coping with Autism by Sarah Ziegel

 

 

The joys of writing

eviemcraeIf you’ve ever heard the expression, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then you may also have heard the road to publishing is littered with rejections. Oh and mind you step over the would-be authors lying by the wayside pounding their fists while crying “Why? Why? Why?”

It’s been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster few weeks here at the desk. Let me walk you through it. My April started out great. I’ve studied my socks off getting to grips with what goes on in the publishing world. After studying “Inside Book Publishing”, an industry certificate with the Publishing Training Centre in London, I was delighted to receive a pass with Merit. Yay for me, I thought. Now I can take on the world. It didn’t take long for that happy bubble to burst. A few days later I received an email notification that I had not been shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Prize. Boo, sigh, doom, gloom, coffee, recriminations, resignation.

Then a few days later – OMG, could it be true? Hysterical shrieking ensues. Email just in, “thank you for sending us your sample chapters and pitch – we invite you to send us your full manuscript…blah blah…” Now for us writers, praying, begging day in and day out, hoping to catch the eye of an agent or publisher, this is the dream email. This is your six numbers on the lottery ticket – well 5 technically because they still haven’t committed to printing it – but still – breakthrough – they want to read it.

If I could post emoticons here it would read like one of those stick person flicker books. My husband is the sensible one and he began researching this ‘publisher’ just to check everything was as it should be. I messaged a fellow writer friend – more high pitched screams. You get the idea.

And then it started to fall apart. It soon became apparent that I had fallen hook, line and sinker for a (queue dramatic music) VANITY PUBLISHER! Except they were very clever. On their website they say they offer two publishing routes. (a) Traditional publishing and (b) shared costs. The alarm bells should have started ringing at that point, but I naively thought, oh well let’s see if they offer me a traditional option. Neither my husband nor I could find anyone on the internet who had a single good thing to say about these guys. The one writer who did actually get a contract out of them, ended up taking them to court. After extensive reading, it appears they are operating what is known in the industry as a ‘bait and switch’. So they lull in your eager to be published writer, they tell you they are interested in your work, you get all excited, you start dreaming of your name in Waterstones, you see yourself laughing and clinking glasses at your book launch, and then BAM, they hit you with the ‘cost’. The what sorry?

At this point I just want to paint the scene. Two hours previously I’d been screaming “Yays” and “Oh My Gods”, fast forward to tears. Real tears. And made up swear words. My husband did his best. He patted me from a safe distance and said, “You’ll get there… You know this is what it’s like being a writer…. This is your dream remember.” I think it was at this point I burst out laughing – yes while still crying. It was hysterically funny and not at all attractive. Yes this was my dream – and look at the state I was in. A blubbering mess of humiliation and self loathing. Part of me was annoyed at myself for missing the signs, and part of me felt humiliated that I dared to believe maybe my book was great after all and I just had to believe in myself.

I did, fleetingly, feel rather angry about the whole thing. It’s fine if you want to pay to have your book published. I get that. I just don’t want to go that route. But for a publisher to reel in wide-eyed hopefuls with the promise of a contract, and then to ask them for money, is downright cruel. ‘They’ would argue that they offer a service and their clients are happy (yes but for a fee). However, for the writers who have spent days honing their pitch and possibly years writing their book, they don’t want to be lured in with a sweet deal that turns sour!

So repeat after me. The one Golden Rule you should remember if you are interesting in being a published author (and I learned this from my recent course work). “In publishing, the money should flow TOWARD the author not away.”

I’m sharing all this because, believe it or not, a few good things came out of that rollercoaster few weeks. (a) The Inside Book Publishing course taught me not to be so snobbish about ebooks. It’s something I might consider, so the course has enlightened my thinking and broadened my horizons. Plus another qualification! Yay’s all round.

((b)The competition I entered – acht well – disappointing – but perhaps it just wasn’t the right competition, or the right time, or the right novel. Whatever the reason, the important thing was to get involved and put myself out there.

And finally (c), the dashed dream of a publishing contract. Well actually, the request for my full manuscript sent me into a bit of a frenzied “oh shit, it’s not quite as ready as I thought it was. I just need to spend a few more days on it.” So that tells me more work is required, so let’s get to it. That really is a positive as it means I will be ready when the real invitation comes my way.

I also learned something about myself. I really want this so much. But – not at any price. I think I’m idealistic like most writers. I want to write something I am proud of and something a publisher would be proud of, or something an agent wants to represent. I don’t want to pay and take the easy road. I want to take the hard road, to learn my craft and experience all the heartbroken tears, the rejection letters, the disappointments and the near misses. I really believe it will make me a better writer in the end. I experienced a glimmer of the joy I WILL feel when the right agent or publisher comes along. Just imagine how sweet it will taste when I succeed. That’s worth all of this!

Yes, I really am quite mad!

So you’re writing a novel. Where do you start?

admin-ajax 2People generally ask how one attempts to write a whole novel. Sure, it’s one word, followed by another, but which words? My professional experience taught me one thing about the writing process. There are two types of people when it comes to writing. Those who are terrified and intimidated by the blank page, and those who embrace the blank page.

To get off the starting blocks, do not be phased by that blank page or the blinking cursor on your screen. With new technology it’s so easy to change the first word on that blank page. So keep that in mind for starters. Change that first word ten times. It doesn’t matter. Just write it.

When I decided the creative life was for me, I read and read as much as I could. I’d watch podcasts by Paulo Cohello or listen to interviews with Stephen King. The one piece of advice that was repeated over and over again was simple. ‘Just keep writing, every single day’. How hard can it be to do something you love, every single day? That advice, combined with my ambition, my enthusiasm and some divine-inspired zone writing (you know the kind when you write like a maniac, the words come too fast for you to keep up, you just write – and when you finish you look at it and go – wow did I really just write that?). Yes I was hoping for many of those moments to write that book.

It turns out, there are many ways to write a novel. There are hundreds of articles out there on the best way to write a novel. Alas, divine-inspired writing zones don’t generally last the duration of the whole book. They are fleeting burst of a few lines that you may end up having to kill later on anyway.

Let me add to the myriad of articles out there on how to write a novel. Let me qualify that, I can’t tell you how, I can only share what I’ve learned for myself thus far. Perhaps a more accurate question is how do you write a book worthy of publishing. Hopefully that will be a post for another time. Meanwhile, back here in the heady days of the idea, the concept of writing a novel…

It may seem like an obvious thing to say, but you need to know the story you want to tell. I say this, purely because in my younger years I wrote poetry. Sometimes that poetry wrote itself. I never knew what was going to be channelled through my pen onto the page. I would often write until 2.00am or 3.00am in the morning, go to sleep, then get up the next morning and be amazed at the words I had coupled together. Writing a novel doesn’t seem to write itself. I’ve tried believe me – just sitting there waiting for the words to come. So, it’s best to have a vague idea of the story you wish to tell, or an idea regarding the message you are trying to communicate.

Once I have the stirrings of a book idea in my mind, I dedicate some time – not long perhaps a week – to the brainstorming phase. Throughout my years as a copywriter working on go-to-market campaigns, this was the crucial time when the team got together to kick the project off. ‘No idea is a bad idea’ during this phase. The brainstorming process allows you to work out elements of your story that you hadn’t even thought about – until now! As you progress and begin to increase your word count, you will find brainstorming to be an extremely useful technique to work out complexities or challenges that may otherwise halt your good work. After some solid brainstorming you are ready to develop your character, setting and plot outlines.

Character profiles/sketches can be so much fun to work with. Again it’s a case of brainstorming and writing down anything that comes to you. Let your imagination run wild. You may find a certain person that you know comes to mind as this character takes shape on the page in front of you. It’s surprising how shallow and one dimensional your characters can come across to the reader if you as the writer don’t really know your characters. Ensure you have given thought to aspects of their personality such as their conflicts and motivations, their looks, their temperament, little verbal ticks they may have and so on. I have created a mini questionnaire for myself when it comes to creating my characters. Completing it forces me to really identify who my characters are and how they relate to each other and the story itself. I’ll create an example of the type of questions you should ask yourself when creating these people who populate your book’s world and post to this forum in the coming weeks.

Once you have identified your characters, even very loosely, you can move on to your setting outline. The setting of your book may or may not be hugely important to the story – but you do need to consider setting. What year do your characters live in? Is it in the past or the future or present day? Which country do they live in? Is it a particular time of year? Does your character have a favourite place or a feared place? If it helps, take a look around you right now. What things do you observe about your own setting? Are there trees outside? How do you feel about the view from your window? This will help kick start the type of things you need to note about your character’s setting. Again, feel free to brainstorm and have fun with it.

By now, your plot outline should be percolating in your mind. You have the foundations in your characters and setting so now it’s time to weave in the story. I personally find planning and writing chapter outlines is a really useful way to identify very early on where the gaps are in your plot. If you’ve gone from A to C but not quite sure what B is yet, that’s fine – at least you’ve identified that you need to think about that part. There are lots of useful techniques on how to build your storyline which I’ll explain in a later post.

To get you started right now, however, think story goal. As I mentioned at the start of the article, it helps to understand what message you want to communicate or what story you are bursting to tell. This is is the central theme. Once you have established this, consider subplots which serve a function outside the realm of the main plot. Sub plots provide the opportunity to change the scene, tone or emotion at any given point in the story. Perhaps your character has an illness, or perhaps they are in crippling debt, but whatever the subplot is it should add something in terms of layering to your story and character. There are many points I could make about plot, but one important element that I would be remiss to leave out is, ensure your plot has some sort of tension. You need tension to keep your readers involved. I always think, if I’m bored reading back my writing, then my readers will be twice as board. Find the tension!

Once you have given due thought and attention to the points outlined above, it’s a good idea to consolidate everything with a summary – or chapter-by-chapter outline. In essence, your chapter outline details the opening scene of your book and moves forward scene by scene through the story until the end. From here you will identify gaps in the story line but there is no need to be overly concerned at this stage. For now it is good to have identified the strengths and weaknesses.

If you have completed all of this you will have the beginnings of a draft novel. This is a very simplistic view and only designed to get you thinking but hopefully it should help. Depending on the nature of your writing you may have to consider additional elements such as research which you will continually have to add to as your work progresses.

Finally I would like to end on some advice that I started with. Don’t underestimate the importance of writing every single day. With structure and goals written down this should be more achievable. Of course we all get off days where we write a few pages, only to shred them theatrically days later. It is far better to do this than not have anything to shred. For me, it’s about continuity. If I don’t write every day, I forget where I am in the character’s mind or the plot. I have to re-read all my writing from the start to jog my memory. Apart from anything else this becomes boring, and a huge waste of time. So keep writing every day – and enjoy!

News

News

It seems already that we have lost so many great talents in 2016 and it’s only just the end of February now. This month we said goodbye to three writers who will leave their mark on generations of readers to come.

Umberto Eco

January 5th 1932 – February 19th 2016
Milan – aged 84
Italian author of ‘The Name of the Rose

Harper Lee

April 28th 1926 – February 19th 2016
Monroeville, Alabama – aged 89
Authored the classic novel ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’

Margaret Forster

May 28th 1938 – February 8th 2016
London, England – aged 77
English novelist who wrote ‘Georgy Girl’

Coping with writer’s block

eviemcrae

Many years ago I wrote a poem about how it feels to sit in front of the blank page hoping to meet with the muse. Sometimes when the words don’t come you fear they may never come again. Thankfully there are also those magical times when the words are as impatient to be jotted down as a dog straining at the leash.

Writer’s block is feared and dreaded by many writers, but I have found some fun ways to nudge the creative engines back into life.

There are literally hundreds of little techniques I can share with you – but let’s start with this one. Play along with the ‘Write about what you know’ rule.

Anything and everything is worth writing about if the writer finds something engaging about the subject. Try these writing exercises based on first-hand observation:

I’ll start with my favourite one first as I rarely have to go beyond this one to get me going.

  1. Study a painting or a photograph and write a story about the subject, whether it’s a person, a place, or a thing, or a combination of two or all three.
  2. Take a look at titles of books you have on your bookshelf. Create a story based on one or more titles or one or the words that catch your eye in a title.
  3. Research historical figures on Wikipedia or in some other reference resource. Write about a fictional episode in their life — perhaps a chance meeting with another famous person (before or after they became famous) — or assign some invented secret to their life and write about it.
  4. Visit a historical location — a building, a site, a city — and write a factual account of its history or create a story in which it features, or one inspired by it. Or do the same for any structure or location, even if it’s brand new.
  5. Go to a public place and watch people (without, of course, making yourself obvious). Create backstories based on their appearance, their habits, and their communication styles. If you are a people watcher by nature you probably already subconsciously do this – you just haven’t committed it to paper yet.
  6. Visit a zoo or an aquarium, or even a pet store or a dog run at a park, and study the animals. Develop human characters based on their characteristics and interactions, and write about these people you’ve created.

If none of these inspire you here is something else to try. Give yourself one minute only for these exercises. You are going to write the first thing that comes into your head – even if they are just random words – those random words could be the trigger to something else that will have you writing until your ink runs dry!

Time yourself – you will be amazed that you want to keep going beyond the minute.

Start your one-minute story with

“I don’t know when …”

“I know …”

“I wanted to see …”

“I love …”

“I don’t remember …”

“If I could paint…”

Once you have completed one or more (it’s up to you) go back and read through what you have written. Is there anything in there that has form or the foundations of being something new?

Soon you’ll be saying “Writer’s block …pah … I never get writer’s block!”

Until next time.

Evie x

 

Please God – not another synopsis

eviemcrae.comWell it’s been an interesting week here at the desk.

JK Rowling (Twitter Queen) relayed a public service announcement about the Lucy Cavendish Prize. “A great opportunity for unpublished female writers resident in UK and Ireland,” she says. I decided, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Right? I’m an unpublished female writer, and at this point in time I’m living in the UK. My book is finished and I’m ready to roll.

eviemcrae.com

I read through the criteria for entry and was shocked to discover that a 10-page synopsis was permissible along with the usual first 50 pages of your novel.

To put this into perspective for you, I have read everything you can possibly read under the sun and on the internet about the perfect Synopsis. I thought I had studied my craft and got it down to a fine art.

But here’s the thing.  I managed the impossible. I distilled my 110,000 word novel down to 4 pages. Until I read, ‘Actually, if you can get your synopsis down to 2 pages that would be great. Thanks awfully.’ An image of the camel trying to pass through the eye of a needle came to mind at that point. But I did it. Then another agent said, ‘We require a 1-page synopsis or we don’t even look at you.’ OK well I guess I can do that. Do you see where I am going? The most challenging one I have had to write so far is the 300 words synopsis. In the name of all that is holy – how the hell do you distil countless layers, sub-plots, twists, fork in the road moments – oh and name 5 characters- into 300 words? Quite frankly I don’t know for sure, but I tried.

Fast forward a few months and here, in front of my eyes, the apparent luxury of 10 pages!!

Except it wasn’t a luxury was it? I pondered whether just to send my carefully crafted 4-pager, or 1-pager, but then I thought well if you’ve got 10 pages you may as well use it.

I’m here to tell you it’s much harder than it sounds.

Initially, I took the most exciting plot elements from each of the chapters and created some copy. But when I read it back it was SO BORING… this happened, then that happened, and then something else happened…Yawn. I was boring myself so I knew I had no chance holding the attention of the judges. I tried a few other approaches but nothing felt right.

So I realised I had to go back to basics. Forget the countless pages I had written in the past and begin with a fresh sheet of paper.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, try to keep these 3 key questions to the forefront of your mind:

  • Whose story is it? (i.e, who is your protagonist?)
  • What do they want and what stops them achieving it? (i.e, what is their conflict?)
  • How do they get it?

From here you can review and revise. Is your voice active? Is your pace dynamic? Does the writing style of your synopsis mirror the writing style in the novel?

It took me a good week to write a Synopsis I was happy with, and even now, I’m not sure the judges for the Lucy Cavendish Prize really want to read 10 full pages before launching into the novel, but now it’s a just a case of ‘wait and see.

I’ll be sure and get back to you in future posts on how to write a Synopsis. Perhaps I can spare you the countless hours I’ve put into the subject – unless you’re a bit of a sadist on that front.

Well – the entry is in. Wish me luck. Until next time

Evie x

How do YOU spell dilemma?

eviemcraeMy feathers were ruffled somewhat this afternoon. My husband asked, “How do you spell dilemma?”  Now I like to think ‘words’ are something I’m relatively good at. True, sometimes I have to write a word down to be sure, but generally speaking, I can spell.

I replied with confidence “D.I.L.E.M.N.A.”.

Oh, the glee on his face as he shook his head! “Nope, it’s D.I.L.E.M.M.A.”

I frowned and shook my head, “Nope, I’m pretty sure it’s D.I.L.E.M.N.A.” I was sure it was one of those weird spellings that had been drummed into me at school.

It turns out (annoyingly), he was right. I lost nearly a whole afternoon researching the elusive ‘dilemna’. I found out I am not the only person in the world to be taught to spell ‘dilemna’ with a silent ‘n’. In spite of his earlier smugness, even my husband confessed he thought he had been taught to spell it with a silent ‘n’ too. Chance are you were also taught to spell it with a silent ‘n’.

So how on earth did this spelling misdemeanour become so entrenched in our collective consciousness?

Initially, I put the ‘mm’ spelling down to American usage. Perhaps somehow this had crossed over into common usage and no-one had noticed. Nope! I realised as I researched further dilemma has NEVER been spelt with a silent ‘n’. There was no point in sticking to my guns. Clearly – shock, horror – I was wrong. I still can’t quite absorb the painful truth.

If we take a look at the etymology of dilemma we can see it first appeared around 1520, and came from Latin Antiquity.  Dilemma, from Greek dilemma “double proposition,” a technical term in rhetoric, from ‘di’  meaning “two” and ‘lemma’ meaning “premise, anything received or taken,” (from the root of lambanein “to take”). It should be used only of situations where someone is forced to choose between two alternatives, both being unfavourable.

So why have so many of us around the world been taught with a silent ‘n’? God only knows, but if you take a quick Google trip you will see there are actually discussion boards out there on the subject. Seriously! That said, no-one seems to have come up with a rational explanation. The silent ‘n’ alternative is never even offered up as nonstandard spelling in some reputable dictionaries. How can this be? Even trusty Grammar Girl doesn’t offer any explanation though the site does point to another point of reference World Wide Words which goes into detail about the errant spelling.  What I found most surprising that it’s not just the English or the Americans that have been spelling it wrong. In French it sometimes appears as dilemne instead of dilemme. Native French speakers say they, too, were taught the wrong form. It is frequent enough that it appears in lists of common spelling mistakes. In French, it’s said to be the consequence of a false comparison with indemne.

So a veritable word mystery no less. I’d love to know how you spell Dilemna, (yes OK squigly line I meant Dilemma). I’d also love to know your theories as to why so many of us were taught the wrong spelling!