Operation Author – 365 steps to succeed as an author

raggyprojects cr Amy MorseThis week’s guest post comes from author Amy Morse, and offers a day-by-day, step-by-step guide to attaining your literary goals in 2014.

The New Year is a time for reflecting on the highs and the lows of the past year and a time for looking forward and making plans.

At the start of last year, I set myself the goal, a resolution if you like, to do something creative every day. But as with any goal, it needed to be more specific.

I was writing a book at the time so I chose the theme of books. On 31st December I completed my 365 day art project – ProjectBook365

Part of taking on a project like this is that you need to share it with others, if you don’t, there is no accountability, except to yourself, and that’s not enough to stay motivated.  I started a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ProjectBook365) for the project and it’s amazing how encouraging it is getting likes and comments on your work, it kept me going.

Far from it being a relief to finally finish the project, it spurred me on to start the next one.

The Bronze Box coverI achieved a couple of milestones while doing the project. The first was publishing my debut novel, The Bronze Box. Another was being a NaNoWriMo winner.

Writing a book is only part of the life of being an Author. Marketing your work should take up a significant part of your time if you stand any chance of making any money from writing.

It’s often the bit that writers really struggle with. They’ll say; ‘I’m rubbish at selling myself’ – the very phrase seems somehow cheap and seedy. But it’s not about selling yourself, it’s about sharing what you’re passionate about – in my case: telling a good story.

I have a book to sell, and I’m working on another, so the logical next step is to make marketing my work and building my platform as a writer a daily habit. If I can help other writers to set daily goals and get into good habits – Bonus!

Marketing The Bronze Box cr Amy Morse

This is the overall aim on the project that I’ve started in 2014: Operation Author – 365 actions to succeed as an author.

Setting a daily goal may seem a bit ambitious, but if you link your daily activities to a theme, you establish a direction and then it’s just about one small action after another.

Collage made up of book scraps cr Amy MorseIf one small thing at a time appeals to you here’s how to kick off a 365 project

Step 1: Decide on your overall aim – keep it fairly loose so that you allow scope for creativity and variety

Step 2: Decide on a day when you’ll start – a milestone date is motivating, i.e.: 1st January or your birthday, for example. But it really doesn’t matter, as long as you start the countdown and keep a note

Step 3: Tell people – The moment you share something with someone it becomes accountable, otherwise it’s only ever something that will float around in your head. Decide on an appropriate medium to make your project public i.e.: Facebook, Blogging, Pinterest etc.

This communication channel is fundamental to the project.  The mission for a project like this is ultimately to raise your profile but it’s also about creating a narrative that people will identify with and to inject some personality into your work.

Step 4: Go for it! On day one, a good place to start is to mind map and list a few initial ideas so you don’t run out of steam early on.

I pledge to complete a blog post weekly and hope that others will be motivated and inspired by my actions to come up with their own ways to move forward – in 365 simple steps.

Author Amy MorseAuthor bio

Amy Morse is a writer, artist, enterprise coach and entrepreneur, who describes herself as “Business trainer by day, performer of random acts of creativity by night and fun-loving Bristolian at weekends. Finding inspiration in the everyday, creating something from nothing and enabling others to do the same.”

She is the author of The Bronze Box (writing as Amy C Fitzjohn), and is currently writing the follow up, Solomon’s Secrets – read a preview here. Find out more  about Amy at www.ideaism.blogspot.co.uk.


Remember Me To The Bees – Singing For Seals

Singing For Seals cr Louise BoulterThe third story in my short story collection Remember Me To The Bees is Singing For Seals. I wrote it to explore how a child might react to a traumatic experience. After a few re-writes the point of view shifted from the daughter to the father, Damien, who is trying to fix his family after a miscarriage has torn it apart.

By focusing on the father’s promise to his daughter and his determination to win back her trust, this becomes a far more hopeful and less bleak story than it might have been.

The artwork is by Louise Boulter.

A short excerpt from Singing for Seals

It roared before us, the colour of slate with streaks of violent green, waves like huge animals leaping to smash themselves against the glassy black rocks. The air rang with pellets of water and the storm whipped around us, pulling at Carrie’s skirt and dragging Aylene’s tired curls free from her tur- quoise headscarf.
“Where are the seals?” Carrie asked, “I can’t see them.”

“Maybe they’re sheltering in a cave.” I wished I hadn’t made yet another stupid promise.

“But you said! You told me I would see them!” Carrie scowled. The disappointment was as vivid on her face as it had been after the night of bloodied sheets, when I’d sat her down and explained that the baby was no longer coming. She’d wanted to know what had gone wrong, why she wasn’t going to be a big sister after all. There was nothing I could say to that; I just hugged her and promised that everything would be better soon.

But I’d lied. Months passed and Aylene was still the frozen stranger she’d become when the baby died inside her.

“You said the seals would be here!”

“We have to sing to them,” I said desperately. “They’ll like that, they’ll swim to shore to listen. Let’s sing ‘All Things Bright And Beautiful’ good and loud. I know you learnt it at school.”

We shouted the words into the churning air, and after a few moments even Aylene joined in with the chorus.

Then I heard it: a frail, screeching cry that cut through the storm like a distress signal.
“Hush a moment. What’s that sound?”

Aylene’s hands closed tightly over Carrie’s shoulders, and I looked at her pinched face, eyes half-closed against the rain as she listened.

“Is it seals?” Carrie asked, excitement bringing her to the tips of her welly boots.

“I’m not sure.” I glanced down the rocks to a dark hole; a cave. “It came from over there. Stay here with your mum, I’m going to see.”

Seals cr Judy Darley

Midweek writing prompt – the gift

Elephant cr Judy DarleyI encountered this little fella tucked between some stones in a wall at a stately home in Cornwall. It made me laugh, and point it out to the people I was with, then leave it in its cubbyhole for other visitors to discover.

And it made me wonder who had made it there, then left it for someone to find. Had they tucked it in there with a particular recipient in mind?

It reminded me of To Kill A Mockingbird, and how Scout and her brother Jem find gifts hidden in the knothole of a tree, and how the discovery of the source of those presents changes everything.

What might your character find or hide in an unlikely place, and why? What could the consequences be?

As always, if you write something prompted by this image, I’d love to know. Just send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com. You could end up published on SkyLightRain.com!

Book review – Blonde Roots by Bernardine Evaristo

Blonde Roots coverIn this ambitious reimagining of the history of slavery, Bernardine Evaristo has meticulously turned every detail of the world as we know it inside out.

In transforming white people into wiggers enslaved by the blaks she has done far more than show us the impact slavery had on an entire race of people – she has made us feel what they felt, see their surroundings through their eyes, feel their sense of inferiority foisted upon them by generations of being told that they were weaker, less intelligent, less capable of emotion, simply less than mankind.

Blonde Roots‘ narrator is Doris, a “yellow-headed stalk of a girl” stolen from her life in England at the age of ten while playing hide and seek with her sisters. Through flashbacks interwoven with scenes of her life as sugar baron Bwana’s top slave, Bernardine illustrates a rich, glorious world where the blaks are in charge, where plump flesh is desirable and slimness considered ugly, where topless fashions are the norm, where every mouthful of food is spiced and Brussel sprouts and cabbages are considered exotic. Continue reading

Remember Me The Bees – The Big Clean

The Big Clean cr Louise Boulter

The second story in my debut short story collection Remember Me To the Bees is The Big Clean. An earlier version was published by The View From Here literary magazine. The artwork is by Louise Boulter.

I’ve always been interested in the way different people’s minds work, and at what point those differences become defined as madness. This story takes the point of view of a small boy who is witnessing his mother’s latest ‘episode’ and worrying about how his dad will react when he gets home.

In an homage to earlier tales of women’s madness, such as the outstanding The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the story also contains echoes of the understated sexism of yesteryear.

A short excerpt from The Big Clean

Mum’s gone mad again. That’s why I’m sitting in the tree house. It’s just a few planks of wood nailed together, but it feels safe up here. When the wind blows the branches creak and I imagine I’m on a boat sailing far away. We had an astronomy lesson at Scouts today, so I can use my telescope to navigate by the stars.

Dad’s not home yet, but when he gets back from work I know he’s going to go mad too, not in a crazy way, like Mum, but in a shouty, angry way.

He hates it when Mum gets like this. I wouldn’t mind her madness so much if it wasn’t for the way it makes Dad so cross. Sometimes when she’s mad Mum’s magic to be around. The usual rules disappear and life becomes a game. I never quite know what to expect. Right now though, she’s busy digging up the garden and filling the house with soil. She’s doing it ever so thoroughly, sprinkling a fine layer of earth over every single thing and making the whole house smells damp and dusky, like a cellar. She calls it “the big clean”.

When I walked into the kitchen earlier, she told me to be careful not to get dirty footprints on her nice clean floor, so I tiptoed across the soil to the counter and tried to open the biscuit tin without tipping any of the chocolate-brown mud off. I couldn’t do it though, and half of it fell on the floor in a heap, but Mum just smiled brightly, passed me a custard cream and layered the earth back on top of the tin.

Photo illustration of short story The Big Clean

Midweek writing prompt – eavesdropper

There are few sights more enticing to a writer than a duo deep in conversation. Whether they’re discussing a scandal, triumph or trauma, sidling close enough to listen in is almost irresistible.

None converation cr Judy Darley

Of course, the sight of a pair who are most definitely not in conversation is equally intriguing. Have they fallen out, or are they about to? If you look closely, you’ll notice that the figure in yellow seems to be on the phone. Could that be the cause of the distance between them?

And if so, is it because of who is on the phone with the figure in yellow, or simply due to the phone being allowed to interrupt what should be a tranquil stroll for two?

What do you think?

If you write something prompted by this image, I’d love to know. Just send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com. You could end up published on SkyLightRain.com!

Poetry review – The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy

The World's Wife coverI was given this beautiful book for Christmas, requested by me after I heard a Guardian podcast of our lady laureate reading several of the pieces contained within The World’s Wife. While presented in the form of poems, these are very much tales, each one telling the story of the wife of a notable man and giving her personal twist on his deeds, and in many cases, misfortunes.

You don’t need to get all the references to enjoy this feisty, humorous and occasionally contemplative collection, but it does add to the words on the page. In many, Duffy follows up on a known piece of mythology, effectively giving us a glimpse of what happens after the curtain’s close.

The wife of King Midas sees the glimmer of a pear in her husband’s palm, and ends up sleeping with a chair to the door – terrified he’ll touch her as she sleeps and transform her to gold too. Continue reading

Remember Me The Bees – Never Seen The Sea

Never Seen The Sea cr Louise BoulterEver wondered where a writer gets their ideas from? It’s something I’m often asked about, so over the next 20 weeks I thought I’d offer you a bit of an insight.

As you may know, the official launch of my short story collection, Remember Me To The Bees, is going to happen in March, and over the coming weeks, I’ll introduce each of the 20 short stories in turn, let you know the inspiration behind them and share a short extract to hopefully whet your appetite.

The first story in the collection is Never Seen The Sea, which tells the story of Sally, who, funnily enough, has never seen the sea. The original seed of it was me trying to imagine how the sea would look to someone who’d never laid eyes on it before, and then I started thinking of the reasons someone might never have had the opportunity to see it for themselves. Living on a tiny island like Britain, it’s a difficult thing to grasp!

I also wanted to think about how not having experienced a thing most people take for granted might colour an individual’s personality – how it might set them apart.

An earlier version of Never Seen The Sea was published in The Love of Looking, an anthology from Scopophilia Publishing, and led directly to me being offered the chance to have my debut collection published.

In case you were wondering, the artwork is by Louise Boulter.

A short excerpt from Never Seen The Sea

Gusts of air buffeted the Fiat as they raced along the motorway. Sally fought the urge to open the window and hang her head out, mouth agape. She’d never felt anything like it before, this sense of wild abandon. No one knew where she was, not even her mother, no one but this man, Paul, this almost stranger, driving the car and her towards the sea.

“So, you’ve never been there?” He’d been disbelieving at first, half watching the road and half gazing at her in what she supposed was amazement. “Not even as a small child?”

“Never,” she said defiantly, for the first time feeling the power in that statement. Rather than flushing with shame, as she usually did when the topic came up, she felt the novelty of her innocence, saw the way he stared into her, a girl who needed educating. She saw the yearning in his cloudy blue eyes when he contemplated being the one to reveal it to her, as though he was showing her the world.

Tintagel beach1

Midweek writing prompt – view from the tower

Broadway Tower cr Judy DarleyI took this photo while visiting Broadway Tower in the Cotswold’s on a freezing day last February. It’s set at one of the highest points of the area – 1024 feet above sea level.

I love the way you can see get a sense of the location just from the stone work framing the shot, and the extensive views over the surrounding countryside.

The tower was created by 18th Century landscape designer, Capability Brown with the help of architect James Wyatt, and became a weekend getaway for the likes of William Morris, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones. During the two world wars, the tower was used by Royal Observer Corps as a vantage point from which to track planes passing over England.

It’s this odd mix that has me intrigued, so that residents of the tower may have used the views for inspiration, or for defence. I can imagine peering through the large circular windows and spying on enemy approaches, or, equally, spotting Rossetti romancing one of his latest conquests amid the deer and hares in the overgrown grasses below.

As a further point of interest, in William Morris’ day, the tower boasted a bathtub at its very top – open to the elements with only the crenellated battlements for shelter. I can just picture the pre-Raphaelite artists cavorting up there, almost in the clouds…

If you write something prompted by this image, I’d love to know. Just send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com. You could end up published on SkyLightRain.com!

Remember Me To The Bees update

Remember Me To The Bees coverA few of you have been asking for updates on my debut short story collection Remember Me To The Bees. Thanks for your interest!

Well, the book exists, which is really exciting! The official launch (more details to follow) will be in March this year, and it will be widely available from that point.

The book contains twenty of my short stories, each accompanied by artwork from the talented Louise Boulter, who also designed the gorgeous cover.

Author Tania Hershman has written a lovely foreword for the book, which made me quite blush! Rather marvellously, she says : “The title is, in fact, very apt: bees may be diminutive (relative to us, at least) but they possess power not only to inflict pain but also to give us the gift of intense sweetness. To my mind, as a reader, painful sweetness is a wonderful way to define the best of short stories, a honeyed sting that this excellent collection most certainly delivers.”

Yeeps! No wonder I blushed.

The back cover copy states:

“The twenty stories in Judy Darley’s debut collection cover the moments that make us the people we are, where actions are taken and sights seen that will change the protagonists’ lives forever – with sometimes startling consequences.

From the small boy grappling with fears both real and imaginary to the married woman being ardently pursued by a man who seems able to read her deepest thoughts, we catch our breath as Judy’s characters make emotional as well as physical journeys, twisting and turning to the very end.”

Over the next few weeks you will see copies of Remember Me To The Bees popping up in independent bookshops and art galleries across Bristol and beyond as well as appearing on sites such as Tangent Books’ online bookshop. Go on, buy a copy, and make a writer very happy!