Well, here we are again, a little over a year since I last blogged. Every now and then in the last several months, I contemplated taking my blog down altogether. Various things stopped me – inertia, other preoccupations and, occasionally, somebody from across the world stumbling across an old post and making comment. So more than a year after my last post, those words are still… live.
Long-time readers may remember, I published Singled Out in February 2015 and began writing Novel Number Two five months later. It was a faltering and ultimately false start. Life intervened over the next three years or so. Work kept me busier than I’d anticipated, then my mother fell terminally ill and needed all the care I could give. What came next, the clearing-out of her lifetime of paperwork, passions and possessions, was time-consuming and emotionally exhausting. By then I needed life to give me a boost. It chose to deliver a disruptive payload of gallstones instead, and surgery and hospital stays effectively wrote off the next few months.
But since then, things have picked up quite a bit, it’s fair to say. Life is good and positive again, in many ways. One outcome of this is that I’m at last making time to get back into this funny business of… writing stories.
I write all the time. A self-employed marketer and copywriter for 20 years, I know I’m privileged to be one of lucky ones who is paid for their words. Those commercial writings, these days mostly for corporate blogs, event promotions and websites, have kept me in paper and ink and I’m not in the least ungrateful. But as I’m in a position to scale back a bit on the jobbing copywriting now, I want to reconnect with the joy of fiction and get started (again… again… again…) on Novel Number Two.
As a result of that faltering early start, I have seven short chapters, about 7,000 words. But they’re in not-bad shape – for a first draft. I have a whole, entire story outline too – and now I’ve read it through, I realise… I still like it. The theme is very in vogue and the story has legs.
So I’m going back in and alongside this endeavour, I’m turning this blog around and setting it back on its original track as A Writer’s Notepad.
My original writerly posts have been knocking around for upwards of six or seven years and they’re buried at the bottom of a deep blogging black hole. I reckon there’s life in a few of those old dogs, so I’ll be updating and reposting the odd one as well as penning a few fresh words too, on the second-time-around experience. I venture most of those early posts weren’t seen by more than a handful of people anyway.
Welcome to Part Two of my journey through a few of the places which have special meaning for me. Here’s Part One if you missed it, in which I picked out a few places from my childhood and career. In this second geographically inclined post I’ve focussed places which have connections from a relationship or social perspective. This was meant to be just one post, but the more I thought about it, the more places I found.
Beer, Devon, UK
One place that is all about quaint streets and sumptuous scenery is the pretty village of Beer in Devon. Here I took my first grown-up holiday with a steady boyfriend (who, a few years later, was to become my husband). We paid a thrifty £10 for a week’s hire of a static caravan with no umm… facilities (for these we had to stumble down the hill to a communal toilet/shower block – not much fun in the dead of night). So small was this caravan that we had to fold the bed away every morning (and whenever we wanted to take a photograph that our parents might see). We fed a very hungry electricity meter with absurd amounts of coin and charcoaled the rear-end of a chicken in an oven the size of a matchbox. We walked a few miles of the Jurassic coastline each day, found delightful pubs to sit outside, ate our fill of crab sandwiches and cream teas, and had the best time.
My husband is now my ex-husband, but we are fortunate to remain good friends. The village of Beer is intimately entwined in my mind with simpler times, and an enduring connection, which is very important to me. I’ve been back once or twice – it seems hardly to have changed, and that is much to its credit.
I’ve loved every minute I’ve spent in Turkey; I’ve never had a bad holiday there. It’s a beautiful country and a wonderful place to relax and revive. On my first trip, I spent a week in the hectic port town of Kusadasi, but thereafter I picked small towns and villages along the Lycian coast and Gulf of Fethiye, and around the Bodrum and Bozburun Peninsulas. I also took a couple of week-long gulet cruises, which cannot be beaten for away-from-it-all bliss.
I set ‘Singled Out’ in a fictional village – it’s a fusion of several of the places in which I’ve stayed. I had this idea that I wanted the story to immerse the reader in the setting – make them feel as if they were on the holiday themselves – and to do that, I drew on all my recollections of those earlier holidays. In 2013, I made a special trip back to Turkey for research purposes, to update and refresh my memories and gather some specific sensory data to ground my story. I visited the ancient city of Ephesus, just as my characters do, and I took a day-trip on a gulet; not the same as a week drifting the sea with no shoes on and nights lying under the stars, but not bad, given the time constraints.
‘Singled Out’ was, I now realise, my practise novel. It explores the dark side of the kind of holiday where not everyone is who they seem. I think I’ve made a decent fist of it, but now, when I dip into its pages, I can see the journey I’ve been on and the things I’ve learned in its shortcomings. A few agents expressed initial interest, but it never made the cut, so I self-published in 2015. Readers have so far been extremely kind in their feedback. You can check it out here, if you feel so inclined.
Sanibel Island, Florida, USA
In January 2015, after having prevaricated, pushing back on her generous invitations for three years, I went to Florida to visit my cousin Martha. The reason for my prevarication was my grossly overweight state and the simple fact that I couldn’t face the discomfort of a nine-hour transatlantic flight and all the other fun-and-games of a transit into the USA. As it turned out, and entirely to my expectation, the journey was a gruelling one. I was at my very heaviest (it would be nine months before I began to get to grips with my healthy/weight-lossy project). But I’m so very glad I bit-the-bullet and overruled my fears.
Martha was a New Yorker, lately moved to Connecticut. On retirement, like others with sufficient funds for a holiday home, she began to fly south, to Fort Myers, Florida, for the winter. There she made a beautiful second home to which she welcomed a seemingly endless succession of guests. My visit began a day late (I wasn’t joking about the gruelling journey), but it was sunshine and smiles from the moment I arrived. Martha was the most wonderful, thoughtful and generous host.
One of her favourite places was Sanibel Island, and she treated me to a day trip. We crossed the endless road-bridge and drove on down to JN ‘Ding Darling’ Nature Reserve, where I got a little too close for comfort to a basking alligator. We dined on fresh seafood at Traders Gulf Coast Grill and Gifts (yes, and Gifts – those American’s never miss a retail opportunity).
Then we mooched around taking photographs in the botanical gardens and on the beach at Sanibel Moorings and stopped by the lighthouse before heading home. It was a special day, as everywhere we stopped was either a favourite place for Martha, or it harked back to holidays of her youth.
My lovely, wonderful cousin was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer just six months after my visit. She died in September 2016. I can never express how glad I am that I made that trip when I did, and was able to spend such special time with my ‘sister of the heart’.
Home, Greater London, UK
Talking of hearts, home is where the heart is, so they say. Cliches notwithstanding, I love my home. It’s just an ordinary suburban house in a quiet street, with a small courtyard garden. As well as being my home, it’s my workplace – and it’s my sanctuary.
Over the years I’ve renovated and redecorated, so now the whole place reflects my personal style. It’s calm, neutral (too neutral for some) and uncluttered. It’s geared around my needs and activities too. I have a room set aside for my Pilates and exercise equipment, and another which is my workplace and writing space.
I like things just-so (call me obsessive if you will), and nothing pleases me more than to arrive home after a busy day with a client or up in London, to leave the world on the other side of my front door, and sink into my comfy curly-uppy chair in front of the TV.
I have a personalised relaxation recording prepared by a hypnotherapist a few years ago. In it, she urges me to picture the safest, most relaxing place I’ve ever been. For ages, I would try to picture lovely beaches where I’d been on holiday – they’re relaxing, after all, aren’t they? But it was when I realised that the place where I feel safest and most relaxed was my own home, that I began to use this recording most effectively. I would lie on my sofa, or recline on a chair in my garden, and I wouldn’t have to imagine myself anywhere, because I was already in my safest, most relaxing place.
Autumn is already turning into a fruitful time for me.
Autumn is my favourite time of year. I love the turn of the season, the explosion of colours and smells; I love that transitional blend of chill mornings and still warm, sunny afternoons. I love to see banks of blackberries ripening in the park. I love it when #Strictly starts up again on the telly.
One month into a(nother) healthy eating/exercise campaign and already a notable few pounds less lumbersome, a simple commitment to an early morning walk (weather permitting – I’m not yet a friend of Parkas and Pakamacs) has begun to embed itself into my routine, sending oxygen to all the parts that need waking up as the day begins.
So it is that for the last few weeks I’ve been feeling increasingly fruitful where I have for months been feeling, well, a bit… stale.
My fruitful phase got off to a good start in early September when I retreated with the folks of Circle of Missé in France, spending six intensive days working on the structure for Novel Number Two. It took me a little over 4 days to nail it – that’s what happens when you push everything else aside and make the story your priority. Wayne and Aaron at Circle of Missé know just how to create the perfect environment for writerly focus. In a sublime setting, and with the opportunity to socialise with other writers and enjoy amazing meals every evening, it’s somehow easier to dedicate yourself to the writing – or the thinking and planning of the writing – throughout the day.
I came home with a roadmap and some very positive feedback on my ideas. Now I’m back on my horse, and back to that bare-minimum 500-words-a-week commitment – the one that should see me in perpetual motion (ideally a great deal faster than 500 words a week) through my first draft.
On Saturday night, autumn brought yet more writerly stimulus – courtesy of my local library service, who have organised a month long festival of literature, arts and music in my borough, called Culture Bite. That’s already amazing, when so many other library services are in decline. Even more amazing, no less than three exceptional new authors came to talk about their debut psychological novels. Clare Mackintosh, with her Sunday Times/Richard & Judy triumph,I Let You Go, which begins with a tragic accident; Rebecca Whitney with The Liar’s Chair, a dark tale of a toxic marriage; and Renee Knight with Disclaimer, about a woman who finds her own darkest secret within the pages of of a novel. These are the kind of books I love to read, and the kind of books I aspire to write. All three writers were so generous of their time, their enthusiasm and – when they learned I had written and self-published my first – their warm encouragement and support. Thank you – all of you – for a fabulous evening, and for sharing your insights and experiences so openly.
I ‘boosted’ a post on Facebook, essentially an advert for Singled Out. Here’s how I got on.
I haven’t done much advertising/promotion of Singled Out, outside this blog and a few Tweets. I have neither the time, nor the dedication to go about this task with the sort of commitment one needs to apply if one wants sales in the thousands. Besides, as we hear everywhere, the best way to promote a first book… is to write a second. And that’s just what I’ve at last started to do.
But I was persuaded to try out a boosted post on Facebook, mainly on the basis that it didn’t involve any effort at all. I was a few copies short of my first notable sales milestone – 100 copies – and I simply thought, ‘it’s worth a punt’. A friend (thank you, Suzanne) showed me how it worked, and it took about 10 minutes to set up the post and pick my target group. Facebook steps you through the process, nice and simple.
As it’s a story set on a holiday, it seemed worthwhile to target people setting off on, or even already on, their holidays. A #nobrainer one might say.
I decided on a very modest budget, £10.00, and ran the ad over 6 days. This was my criteria:
Target group: Women in the UK aged between 35-60
Stated interests: fiction, suspense novels, single person, Turkey, travel
Placement: Desktop and Mobile news feed
Across the 6 days, this post was boosted to 2,297 women in the target group. There were 63 engagements. That means 63 people either liked my page, commented on the advert, or – best of all – clicked through to the Amazon page. My stats tell me that 51 people clicked through to the page. That means my cost per result was £0.16.
During those 6 days, I made 6 sales, and a further sale the day after – a total of 7 sales attributed to this promotion. Yes, I know, It’s small potatoes, compared to some lucky/successful/hard-working authors, but together with a few sales earlier in the month, it served to make August my most successful month for sales since March, the month after Singled Out was launched.
So… the 7 sales I can directly attribute to the Facebook post more than covered that £10 investment. Happy days. But the significant thing that post did, was to take me over 100 sales. That doesn’t mean much in the big wide world, but it was important to me, and definitely worth the punt.
In the interests of full disclosure, I tried a second Facebook boost immediately the first ended. I used the same advert and selected different criteria. I ran for 6 days again, but I invested a budget of just £5.00 this time, half the original budget. My target group was male rather than female, and I was more restrictive with my stated interests. I know… I shouldn’t have adjusted two criteria at once, but I did.
Target group: Men in the UK aged between 35 and 60
Stated interests: suspense novels, psychological novel, single person, Turkey
Placement: Desktop and Mobile news feed
This time I was less successful. With a tighter focus, the available audience was smaller, a total of 858 people reached, from which there were 12 engagements – 3 likes and 9 website clicks. And one sale – which was very gratifying! Facebook tells me my cost per result (ie, engagement) was £0.42.
Of 2297 women, 51 clicked the website – that’s 1 in every 45, or just under 2% – that’s not bad for a ‘cold’ contact. What’s better though, is that of those 51 women, 13% made a purchase.
Of 863 men, 9 clicked the website – that’s one in every 95, or half as many as the women’s group. But that 1 sale is, technically speaking, 10% of the click-through traffic to the website.
I messed around with my keywords, but that was in an attempt to be more targeted with the men. It didn’t pay off.
I can’t say I’m surprised that women engaged more enthusiastically with my post than men. That would be for any number of reasons that I can guess at. But I can’t really speculate without generalising horribly, and I don’t want to do that.
This was just a trial. The numbers were all very small and my investment was tiny – but I didn’t feel that was inappropriate, given my relatively modest sales to date. I would try another Facebook advert in future – the results justify tweaking those keywords, investing again, trying a broader geographic spread, and so on. But I can’t exactly see Facebook shooting my sales into the stratosphere.
If you’re a self-published author who’s been thinking of trying Facebook adverts, I hope this has been useful.
And if you’re one of the lovely ladies who clicked on that link and have found your way to my blog… let me extend you a big, warm welcome. 🙂
I’m more of a planner, than a pantser, which means I can’t get very far into a new novel without putting a bit of flesh on the bones of my scraps of story outline. Those three or four pages need to evolve into a chapter-by-chapter summary before I begin to feel even a little bit comfortable about where things are going.
I’m not obsessive about it. I won’t end up with 10,000 words, perhaps 3,000 all told, in table format, so I can juggle the chapters around. (And no… so far, for those who are interested in this kind of thing – no Scrivener, just MSWord.) I write a few lines about what happens in each chapter, plus – and this is very important – a note of qualification; an answer to the question… what is this chapter doing in the story? That means either (i) how is the chapter moving the story forward, or (ii) what is it telling the reader about a key character. If it doesn’t do one or the other, it has no business being in the story.
So planning has taken up what time I allocated this week, and I’m satisfied that things are taking shape. I’m about half way through, and I’m pretty sure i know where the rest is going – that’s for next week. When I’m done, I can pick my way forward through the chapters, knowing what I need to write.
Do things change as I go along? You bet they do. Things I think will work, don’t. Things I’ve forgotten, emerge. Characters evolve in ways I hadn’t anticipated. New ideas arrive. So I’m certain I’ll be re-engineering my chapter-by-chapter as I go along. That’s a given. But wherever it goes, I have to begin with a plan.
Planning aside, I’m determined to keep up with my minimum 500-word commitment (I can’t allow myself fail after just 2 weeks). So Saturday saw me out in the garden with my laptop, bashing my way to 800 words. Hardly a stellar performance, but the plan came first this week; that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.
Oh… and one other thing – a happy motivational moment. Singled Out hit that magic 100 sold copies milestone this week. It got there with the aid of a promoted post on Facebook of which, more later, once the promo is over and I know whether or not I broke even or got ahead by a few quid. Still… One. Hundred. Sold. Copies. Break even or not, it was worth it.
I’m a minnow in an ocean of self-publishing fish, but I confess, I feel chuffed. It’s a start. Onward and upward.
Are you off to Turkey for your summer holiday this year? Then you’re in for a treat. With the holiday season fast upon us, I thought I’d explain why I set my novel in Turkey, and share a few of my impressions of this amazing, exotic country.
Regular readers of this blog will know that Singled Out is set on a singles holiday on Turkey’s Lycian coastline. It’s a place to which I’ve returned many times over the years for my summer holidays. Having decided to set the tale on a singles holiday, the location options for which I could capitalise on my own experiences narrowed: The Greek islands Crete or Kalymnos, or the Turkish coastline. All have the climate, the heritage and the beaches. But Turkey had the edge for me, with its exotic blend of east and west, mystical and commercial. Turkey has an elemental essence that’s hard to describe. It won my heart the very first time I visited.
I remember a friend first going to Turkey for a summer holiday in the mid 1980’s and commenting that it was beautiful but raw; that the power went off all the time and you couldn’t get hot water for more than an hour or so a day. As for air conditioning – no hotel possessed such a luxury! In those days, Turkey was still experimenting with the holiday tourist trade and to be fair, the holiday companies were treading carefully too.
But with enterprise and commercial endeavour in their DNA, the Turkish people recognised and grasped an opportunity and set about developing their spectacular Mediterranean and Aegean coastlines into holiday destinations with added natural and historic value. Late to the party, they noted the mistakes that had been made along the Spanish coastline, today overwhelmed with tower block hotels and stripped of much of its original beauty. Laws were passed limiting hotels to four storeys high – a masterful decision which doubtless had as much to do with the fact the holiday coastline is a region accustomed to mild earthquakes, as it had with aesthetics. Good governance ensured growth was gradual and not at the expense of natural beauty and heritage, and infrastructure kept pace.
My first visit to Turkey was in 1994, on a two-centre singles holiday. I spent a week in what was then the small town of Kuşadasi, and a week in a more rural area. Two hotels; the first, Villa Konak – still operating in a Kuşadasi backstreet (bigger than it was) – originally a coaching inn; the other a more traditional villa style hotel bedecked with purple bougainvillea set around a welcoming swimming pool. Today Kuşadasi is a sizable and thriving town. It boasts a walled Byzantine castle and its port is large enough to cope with frequent visits from cruise ships. Just a few miles from Ephesus, it’s the perfect place for the day visitors to dock, nip on a coach to one of the most spectacular ancient sites in the world, pick up a leather jacket in the market, sample some apple tea and be back on-board in time for dinner. That’s one way to do it, I guess.
Like other larger towns – Bodrum and Marmaris for example – Kuşadasi has warmly embraced the youth holiday culture based around all-night clubs and bars. That’s ok if you like that sort of thing, but it’s turned Kusadasi into the sort of place I personally, as a moochy 50-something looking for peace and tranquillity, wouldn’t look to stay in today. But that’s not to decry the town, which, like the other bigger destinations, has carved its own profitable path with its eyes wide open.
After that, I stuck to smaller towns and villages, of which there are still very many lovely ones, along the craggy Lycian coastline. I remember places, but not years: Torba and Türkbükü on the Bodrum Peninsula; the exquisite Bordubet – technically by Marmaris but in truth, in the blissful middle of nowhere at all; Hisarönü above Ölüdeniz (when it was still a quirky hillside village); and a favourite, to which I returned more than once – the pretty town of Turunç, close (but not too close) by Marmaris. In 2013 after a break of several years, I went again to Turkey to gather photos and sensory impressions for Singled Out, and I stayed in a hotel on Şövalye, a tiny harbour island with no cars, a few hundred yards off Fethiye by ferry boat.
But if you really want to get away from everything, you need to clamber aboard a gulet. Just as I described them in my story, these are twin or three-masted wooden sailing boats which serve anything from a half-dozen to 20 or so guests on day trips or, as I preferred, week-long get-away-from-it-all journeys around the craggy coastline. In truth, they run on engines for much of the time, but will put up the sails when the wind justifies it. In a week’s trip, there’s a single overnight stay in port somewhere, so the gulet can re-stock. Otherwise fresh food is prepared on-board or on the beach, or occasionally in hideaway locantas. You won’t need shoes or anything very much, except an appreciation of the beauty of an ancient coastline, a sky full of stars, the gentle slapping of water against hull and the bliss of having nothing to do and nowhere to go. Occasionally during the day, there will be other gulets around, but the week-long cruise affords the crew enough time to get away from the day boats, and when they do, it is paradise.
Pine forested peninsulas, shady inlets, peaceful coves, rocky outcrops, hidden beaches – this is the stuff of the Turkey I love. I know, I haven’t even scratched the surface – I’m ashamed to admit I’ve not yet visited Istanbul or travelled further east than Fethiye. Mea culpa. I’m a boutique hotel girl, not a backpacker.
But I can’t end this post without reference to the country’s ancient history. The coastline is crammed with evidence of Turkey’s commercial and religious heritage and the ebb and flow of empires, but I want specifically to raise a flag for Ephesus. I know it’s a tourist money-spinner. In the twenty years between my first and second visits, I noticed the explosion of ‘retail opportunities’ around the entrances. But even that’s not a criticism. The little avenue of shops is hardly overwhelming – and useful if you’ve forgotten your water, sunglasses or sunhat, all essentials when rambling about the ruins. I walked Ephesus and took hundreds of photos to jog my memory for writing the chapter in Singled Out where my characters visit this remarkable site. It’s sensitively preserved – there is much to see, most of it right up-close-and-personal. In its Roman heyday, Ephesus was a thriving port, though the landscape has since shifted, putting some 5 miles between the ruins and the sea. There are amphitheatres (yes, two), avenues to wander, carvings and mosaics to admire and the magnificent Celsus Library. If you can bear a few hours away from the beach, this, of all of Turkey’s magnificent man-made and natural sights, is right at the top of the list of places you need to see.
A word now, on something that makes any visit to Turkey particularly special; it’s the hospitality. Whether hotelier, restaurateur, bar owner, shopkeeper, carpet-seller, or gulet captain – you will enjoy warmth, friendly hospitality and service of the highest order. The Turks who work the tourist coastline understand the business they’re in. Make no mistake, there’ll be hard-selling and up-selling aplenty, but it will be executed in such a cordial and charming manner, you’ll hardly realise it’s happening! It’s all part of the experience and the pleasure.
And one last thing… of course I would say this, wouldn’t I? If you should happen to be visiting Turkey this year for your holidays, why not take a copy of Singled Out to the beach with you. 😉
Every now and again, something, or someone, comes along and makes the sun shine a little brighter.
I don’t know Marcus Case, author of “The Bomb Makers” – at least, I didn’t until he commented on my recent Guest Author post on Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog that he was reading my novel, Singled Out. I always hold my breath when someone sticks their head over the parapet and admits to having picked up a copy of Singled Out on the strength of a blog post or a recommendation by someone else. Sales are still only in double figures (I’m close to that third figure, very close…) and every single reader – and their opinion and feedback – matters. I don’t know if that will ever change, but my guess is that sales would have to be deep into five or maybe even six figures before it does. Optimism, eh?
There’s always the possibility when someone fesses up to reading your novel, that they find as they dig into it that it’s not to their taste. What happens then? You might get negative feedback of course, but equally likely is that they’d just go quiet and you’d have to forget you ever heard from them in the first place. For as long as I hold my breath waiting on a reader’s opinion, there’s fear niggling away at the back of my mind. Will they like the story, or not? Will they get it? Will they want to tell me what they thought, either way, or will they evaporate into the ether leaving me with just one conclusion – that they hated it. Or perhaps worse, that they were indifferent to it.
This week I was lucky. My wait was short. Marcus Case ploughed through Singled Out in just a few days.
I only mention this as he has been generous enough to write the kind of 5-star review that stops an author in their tracks and then upload it to Amazon UK and USA and Goodreads. In his review, he makes some observations that no one else has yet made. They caused me to look at my story differently. I was struck by what he said, not just because he said a lot of very nice things; but because of what made me realise about my own writing.
This review made me walk a little taller. And it teased that still small dream, that one day those sales figures might, perhaps, possibly climb into that far distant five or six figure universe. Maybe.
So thank you, Marcus Case, for your review, and for making the sun shine a little brighter for me yesterday. Thank you indeed.