Book Review: Write Smart, Write Happy by Cheryl St. John

I love creating worlds, developing characters and plotting their stories but I struggle with the art of writing and getting the images in my mind written in a coherent, enjoyable way. Part of this is the crippling self-doubt which I have talked about lots on here and some of it is the fact I haven’t got a clue what I am doing. To combat this I am reading around the subject. Thank you to F+W Media and NetGalley for giving me the copy in exchange to an honest review.

Title: Write Smart, Write Happy – how to become a more productive, resilient and successful writer

Author: Cheryl St. John

Publisher: F+W Media, Writer’s Digest Books

Blurb

Vanquish Your Writing Doubts & Obstacles

Writing is a vulnerable occupation; it is both personal and intimate. The act of writing, cycles of revision, and the confusing publishing industry can shatter a writer’s confidence, leaving you feeling like an imposter, overcome with rejection. Survival–and success–requires commitment, honesty, courage, resilience, sacrifice, and miles and miles of heart.

You have everything you need as a writer–it lies within, in the form of consistency and self-confidence. With Write Smart, Write Happy, best-selling author Cheryl St. John will help you unlock your skills, guiding you to overcome every hesitation, obstacle,  form of writer’s block, and procrastination habit you have. Within these pages, you’ll learn to:

Organize your writing life by using a planner, scheduling your yearly goals, and acknowledging career plans.Sharpen your saw by recharging your creativity, developing positive motivation, and creating healthy writing habits.Affirm your beliefs by overcoming self-doubt, learning to use affirmations, and altering your thinking.Conquer remaining fears by releasing tendencies towards perfectionism and establishing strategies for habitual success.Written with a no-nonsense attitude, St. John’s “advice from the trenches” will help you take an introspective look at your own writing habits and life. Through examples and inspiration from writers who struggled with–and overcame–rejection and reservations, discover the path towards writing smarter and happier today.

My Thoughts

This is an encouraging book which helps put writing worries in perspective with advice that can be used in all aspects of life. Cheryl St. John has written over 40 books for Harlequin and Silhouette so has a wealth of information to share including organising your time and work. She is an advocate for planners and gives detailed examples of her own schedule. This is helpful but for someone as disorganised as me it was overwhelming and left me feeling daunted at the challenge ahead, despite her empathising everyone works differently. I nearly stopped reading but am glad I continued because the advice on self-doubt and the chapters beyond came into their own when I hit a writing slump. It is full of quotes to remind you about the realities of writing, positivity, affirmation, tips to help you deal with disappointment, failure, social media and pressures of being a writer. The focus is on traditional publishing so it discusses dealing with editors and deadlines. She backs up all her advice with her own experiences. One of the main messages, like many of these books, is just sit down and write.

Would I recommend?

 If you are struggling with the stress of all aspects of writing, editing and publishing or crippling self-doubt this may be the book to read. It has tips I use regularly and is aimed at writers at all stages of their career.

 

Happy reading and writing

 

Meet the Author: Kiltie Jackson

Last year I read the debut novel A Rock’n’Roll Lovestyle which was on my top reads of 2017.  As Valentine’s day approaches and love is in the air, I am pleased to meet the author Kiltie Jackson.

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Rock’n’Roll Lovestyle Blurb

A Rock ‘n’ Roll Lovestyle is a 21st-century love story.

The leading lady is independent, feisty and takes no nonsense from anyone. These traits, however, do not stop her from being a kind, caring and funny person.
The leading man is trying to deal with living a life in the public spotlight and
highlights how society today puts celebrities upon pedestals
where we then try our damnedest to knock them off. 

Readers of Jill Mansell, Karen Swan and Tilly Bagshawe would most likely
find ‘A Rock ‘n’ Roll Lovestyle’ to be to their liking.

Where did you get the idea for this book?

I first began writing A Rock ‘n’ Roll Lovestyle over ten years ago. I got to the end
of chapter seventeen and decided that it wasn’t coming out of my fingers as I
was seeing it in my head. When I read it back, it felt stilted and forced. So it was
shelved until January 2017 when I blew the cobwebs off and tried again. This makes
it very difficult for me to remember how it was conceived. It may have been a
dream – I have a few future book plots which have been born this way – it may
have been a song or a book or a celebrity story that just so happened to be on the
news at the time. Possibly, it was a combination of all these things.

Did any of your inspiration for this book originate in your
real-life experiences?

I grew up surrounded by music. My mum loves her music and always had the radio
or the record player on as I was growing up. This led to me gravitating towards
musical people in my teenage years. I then moved to London and discovered the glam-rock scene. It was a musical arena where every second person was a wannabe rock star. I had friends who were established musicians or actors and friends who were desperate to be discovered. I gained extensive insight into the world of showbiz through these associations. I’ve also spent a large part of my working life in offices so writing that part of the story was quite easy. I think I can honestly say, however, that I have never been in the presence of a gun-toting Italian. Although, I have known many Italians so maybe they just carried smaller, less noticeable, models.

What traits do you share with your main character(s)?

We’re all Aston Villa fans. Sukie and I also share a definite love of Salzburg, Austria and
The Sound of Music. We dislike being in the limelight and having our photograph taken.
Pete and I agree that the promotion aspect of writing is difficult. He would be happy to do the song-writing for others to perform, I would be happy do the writing and let someone else do the donkey work of promoting it. I also adore cats – I have five, two of which are black rescue babies although they are not called Tony or Adam.

Why did you set so much of your book in Salzburg?

I chose Salzburg as the primary setting because I love this city and I can’t recall
ever reading a book which is set there. I have visited this stunning location several
times and I believe this knowledge helped me to describe it with both love and realism.
I once read that when an author chooses their location for a book, they need to
ensure it is a place they can live with, in their head, for at least six months.
Salzburg was in mine for ten years and I was still very sad to say goodbye to it
when A Rock ‘n’ Roll Lovestyle was completed.

What made you decide to self-publish?

The decision to self-publish was not taken lightly. My priority was always to
get the story written but the thought was stuck in the back of my mind on what
to do next. When I read Christie Barlow’s story of how she realised her ambition
to become an author, and that she had self-published her first novel, it gave me
hope that there was an alternative to relying on another person making a decision
on my life. I could control the path my future would take. In our lives, other
people make the big decisions on our behalf – do we meet their requirements
to be given a driving license, a job, or a mortgage? Sometimes the ‘yes’ or ‘no’
answer can depend on the mood that ‘other person’ is in that day.
So I decided that the only person involved in this choice would be me!
Also, I’m not getting any younger; I don’t have the time to wait for the right person to
be in the right mood to finally decide they like what I write. When one considers how
many rejections J K Rowling had before she got her publishing deal,
one can’t help but wonder how many people are kicking themselves over the
opportunity they missed because the wrong person read her manuscript.
Living in the age of digital technology, authors now have more options and
choice in how their careers unfurl.

Did you do all the self-publishing yourself?

Yes, I did. In the early days, I looked at the options for self-publishing and saw there
were companies who, for a fee, were prepared to hold your hand every step of the
way. I, however, wasn’t happy about paying for a service I could, to some large
extent, do myself. So I read a lot of stuff on the internet and I learnt how to set up a
website (quite an achievement for someone not at all tech-savvy), I studied what
common mistakes novice writers can make and how to transpose my work into other
digital-friendly formats. I also read other self-published books and realised that a
professional editor is a must-have! The work of a professional graphic designer is
also worth the money if you want a book cover that will compete with the others on
the shelf beside it. John Hudspith was my editor and Henry Hyde was my cover
designer – they both gave this novice writer a lot of help and support and showed
incredible patience when I asked some very silly questions.
I also joined several book groups on Facebook and found two whose members were
particularly supportive and helpful – The NotRights Book Group and
The Fiction Café Book &Writers Group. These groups have many excellent members
who were very generous in sharing their knowledge and expertise of the writing world.
It was through one of these groups that I was most fortunate to meet Pam Howes – an
extremely kind, full-time, best-selling author who gave me so much support,
encouragement and guidance. Pam started her career on the self-publishing path
and has never looked back.

Do you have another project in the works?

Yes, I do. I have already started book number two.
The main characters are Danny Delaney, a thirty-nine-year old Marketing Supervisor who works in London and the leading lady is Elsa Clairmont, who had a
supporting role in ‘A Rock ‘n’ Roll Lovestyle’. In ‘Places’ she gets to tell her own story.
Without giving too much of the plot away, I can say that both Danny and Elsa die,
in unrelated incidents, within the first four chapters!

What is your favourite book?

I have a quite a few favourites books but the two which are stand out are ‘The Wolf and the Dove’ by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss and ‘The Marigold Chain’ by Stella Riley. Both of these books are historical romances – the former being set in 1066 and the second in 1665-66. I read both of these when I was very young (Wolf and Dove when I was 12!) and both stories have always stayed in my heart. I really couldn’t say why although I think the fact that the heroines of both are feisty young women who know their own minds and fight against the male dominance of their societies may have something to do with it. I’ve always been quite independent, a bit rebellious, and I probably identified with their battles to some degree.

Who is your favourite author?

I read several different genres and have a favourite for each one. If I was stuck in a dungeon, however, and could only have the works of one, then it would be Susanna Gregory. She writes historical thrillers which are excellent but quite detailed. I know that I skip some of the detail when reading because I’m anxious to find out what happens next so I would relish the opportunity to re-read her books more slowly and take them in more fully.

Is your writing influenced by the books you have read?

I think it has to be. There are books which I’ve read where I feel I could never produce anything so good and others where I have felt I could do better. I like books with a bit of depth and a few layers to them and so I find myself writing in a similar manner. Books which focus predominately on one or two characters bore me unless they have been exceptionally well written and the subject matter is sensitive or intense.

Where is your favourite place to read or write?

My favourite reading place is anywhere! If I can read a book, then it’s my favourite location at that time. Since I began writing, reading time has been seriously curtailed so any opportunity to do so is grabbed with both hands and I don’t care where it is.
My favourite place to write is my study at home. For a long time this room was a bit of a tip and Mr Mogs had his television & Xbox set up in it. When it became clear that sitting at the dining room table was causing me back pain, the study was gutted, tidied up and turned into my little haven of peace. Mr Mogs is now barred!

When did you begin writing and how did being published come about?

I have always written on some level since I was a child. In my twenties I went through a phase of writing poetry and song lyrics. The decision to write ‘A Rock ‘n’ Roll Lovestyle’ was made in November 2016. Or, if I am being precise, the decision to finish it was made in November 2016, as I had started writing it eleven years prior to that but hadn’t thought of doing anything with it.

Being self-published, I didn’t have the highs and lows that come with submitting to traditional publishing houses and dealing with the lows of rejection or the highs of acceptance. As I was writing my debut novel, I really dithered over which route I was going to take with it. When I discussed it with my mum, she was very keen for me to self-publish. I suspect that this may be so she could actually see my work in print. I’m not a young author and my mum doesn’t have good health so the two combined meant that there could have been a chance of her not being around to see me published if I had gone the traditional route.

What made you choose the genre you write in?

I think the genres kind of choose the author. The stories come into our heads and we just have to write them down. Despite the myriad genres that I read, I’m really a romantic at heart so I suppose it was natural that I would veer in that direction. I don’t like the idea, however, that authors should be pigeon-holed as we grow by trying different writing styles and alternative genres. I have stories waiting to be written that fall outside of the standard romance genre and I am looking forward the challenges they will bring me.

 

Author Bio

Meet the Author: Kiltie Jackson
Kiltie Jackson

Kiltie grew up in Scotland, Glasgow to be precise.
A very unique city with a very unique way of looking at life. When she was old enough to do so, she moved to London and then, after several years of obtaining interesting experiences -which are finding their way into her writing – she moved up to the Midlands. She currently lives in Staffordshire with five cats and one husband. The cats kindly allow her and her husband to share their house on the condition they keeps paying the mortgage!
Her little home is known as Moggy Towers, even though despite having plenty of moggies, there are no towers! She loves reading, watching movies, and visiting old castles. She really dislikes going to the gym! Her biggest desire is that one day she can give up the day job and write her stories for a living. Kiltie first began writing ‘A Rock ‘n’ Roll Lovestyle’ over ten years ago. The project was shelved on Chapter Seventeen as she felt the story wasn’t flowing as she would like it to. In her own words “The images in my head would not come out of my fingers!” Fast forward to November 2016 when, having finished reading Lizzie’s Christmas Escape by Christie Barlow, she read more about the author and was inspired with how Christie herself came to be a best-selling author. In that thunderbolt moment, Kiltie knew – with a deep certainty- that she needed to reacquaint herself with ‘A Rock ‘n’ Roll Lovestyle’ and begin writing again. She did this in January 2017 and found the words flowed faster than she could type them. Finally, the time was right for her to write her novel. Her determination to finish what she had started all those years ago was absolute and the first draft was completed on Sunday 16th April 2017. Since beginning to write again, the ideas have not stopped flowing.
She has begun typing up her second book, ‘Of All the Unlikely Places’, and book three (not yet titled) has been worked out and is waiting in the wings for its turn in the spotlight. She currently has a further ten plots and ideas stored in her file (it’s costing a
fortune in USB drives as each story has its own memory stick!) and the ideas still keep on coming. She now lives her life around the following three quotes:
“I love having weird dreams, they’re great fodder for book plots!”
“Why wait for your ship to come in when you can swim out to meet it?”
“Old enough to know better, young enough not to care!”

You can read more about Kiltie Jackson on her website www.kiltiejackson.com,
follow her Facebook page www.facebook.com/kiltiejackson or email on
kiltiejackson@gmail.com

 

Thank you, Kiltie Jackson for visiting the blog!

Happy reading

 

Book Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

I was instantly attracted to The Hazel Wood by its dark foreboding cover and intriguing blurb so was pleased when I was given an advanced copy to review by NetGalley and the publishers Penguin Random House UK.

The Hazel Wood cover

 Title    The Hazel Wood

Author  Melissa Albert

Publisher Penguin Random House UK Children’s Penguin

Blurb

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the strange bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate – the Hazel Wood – Alice learns how bad her luck can really get. Her mother is stolen away – by a figure who claims to come from the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: STAY AWAY FROM THE HAZEL WOOD. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began . . .

My Thoughts

Fairy Tales have always intrigued me. Not your saccharine sweet Disney versions but the dark, complex tales passed down the generations by the spoken word before they were captured in print by Perrault and The Grimm Brothers when they provided entertainment lessons for the community.

The Hazel Wood has the elements of these original stories which create a unique dark YA novel. It has all parts of a book  I tend to fall hopelessly in love with – mystery, secrets, dusty bookshops and a book central to the plot with a twist of magic. It may not have grabbed me as much as I hoped (my expectations were maybe too high) but I enjoyed this well written, quirky novel. It was easy to fall into the adventure with Alice as she followed clues with the aid of Finch, a huge fan of her Grandmothers works to search for her mother. Alice’s nomadic childhood has been blighted by a string of bad luck which has made her have an extremely close relationship with her mum, Ella and it is this bond that holds the plot together. Alice is not the most pleasant character with a tendency for uncontrollable anger leading me to question her actions at times but they are in keeping with her personality. There are many unique characters dotted throughout the story, linked together by the fairy tales written by her grandmother.  It is surreal read especially part two which I found reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland.

Would I recommend?

I enjoyed it so would recommend it to those who love Caraval by Stephanie Garber or darker YA tales.

Food Glorious Food and Books

I don’t know about you but when I am reading my brain makes connections between characters and objects that are impossible to break. For example, bumble bee tights will always be associated with Louisa Clarke, red shoes are Dorothy’s unless they are ballet slippers and then they belong to Hans Christian Andersen’s ballerina. Sometime it is places, the Yorkshire Moors will always conjure up images from The Bronte sisters but most of all it is food.

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Food plays a large part of my bookworm life. Not only are there cookery sections on shelves to tempt me, fiction is littered with references to it. It is a dieter’s nightmare. No one writes about being ecstatic over a carrot  except Eric Carles in The Hungry Caterpillar but he was excited to eat everything. While reading, my taste buds tingle, my mouth salivates and my stomach grumbles along with the characters until my will power shatters. I have been known to eat cheese on toast, bacon butties and cake at midnight purely because of a book I was reading. I am glad I live in a tiny village with no open takeaways otherwise I will be eating chips too. It adds a whole new dimension to the eating and reading experience. To feel the velvety texture and warmth as chocolate melts in your mouth at the same time as your current heroine is divine. Or to rip into a freshly baked loaf while indulging into the adventures of Polly Waterford in the Little beach Street Bakery . Some authors are more responsible for my unhealthy eating habits than others and have perfected the art of food descriptions to a tee. Eating is a multi-sensory experience and talented authors capture that so turn the pages into a scene from Nigella Lawson cookery programme. They make me taste, feel and smell the food. No wonder I find my diet impossible to stick to.

Sometimes it makes me more adventurous,  to try something new.  I remember as a teenager fantasizing about Twinkies (I tried them last year and sorry they weren’t as nice as I imagined) and being fascinated by fried chicken, cornbread and potato salad that would always be taken to barbeques on 4th July, especially in Nora Roberts books. While I can leave the chicken and cornbread potato salad has become one of my must-haves in the summer now. Every Autumn I buy a pumpkin insistent this will be the year I find a pumpkin pie recipe that lives up to the mind-blowing experience described in many books.

Fried breakfasts in cafes always remind me of Diana in The Discovery of Witches where she is served mounds of it after a rowing session. Pouring loose leaf tea from a pot reminds me of Marthe in the same series. Jelly Tots will be forever linked to Lily from Sunflowers in February and although hot chocolate is a favourite of many,  it will always associated with Taryn Leigh’s description in Perfect Imperfections. The way she makes it is heaven. Baking occurs in many books for its relaxing properties and business opportunities and I am always grateful to kind authors who supply recipes in the final pages. I have not made many but there is a sense of comfort knowing if I want to I can indulge, just like character x on page 45.

 

The Joy of Baking

 

Authors and books that tingle the taste buds

  • Flavours of Love by Dorothy Koomson
  • Chocolat by Joanne Harris
  • The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
  • Jenny Colgan – all of her books. Visits to the traditional sweet shop visits will always be connected to Rosie’s Hopkins’ Sweet Shop of Dreams.
  • Isabella May tempted me with cake in Oh What a Pavlova and now she is delving into the world of cocktails with The Cocktail Bar which is out this month. I need to stock up on the Blue Curacao.
  • Valley of Secrets by Charmian Hussey for its tempting Cornish apple turnovers
  • Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland – chips at Whitby are bliss.
  • Roald Dahl – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Definitely not The Twits nor George’s Marvellous Medicine.

When I think of my own WIP, food connections are lacking unless you count the warm spicy Parkin baked for Amber’s dragon hunting adventures or Mrs M’s cookies left on the side as a treat. No one would suddenly crave rabbit stew or fried Ellfaenian grubs so maybe in my next project,  food should play a central part. Researching woud be fun.

What food do you connect with characters? Does the mention of food enhance your experience of the book?

Happy reading!

 

 

Reading update: Jan 2018

 

Welcome to February

A new month and a step closer to Spring. I love winter for the excuse of snuggling under the duvet with a good book but I long for sunshine and cheery flowers now. Rather than weekly updates on the books I am reading, I have decided to do monthly ones – hopefully, they will be easier to keep track of and more time to focus on writing.

Last books I read in January

Life got in the way of updating last week but I finished reading:

Books on my February TBR list

These are the books I would like to read this month

  • Write a Novel in 30 Days by Megg Geri – I am excited to read this. I will update progress on my Instagram account.
  • Still Me by JoJo Moyes – how can I not read this when it called to me from the bookshelf while shopping? Some books are irresistible and the library list is too long. I have missed Louisa Clarke.
  • The Truth of Ella Black by Emily Barr
  • Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
  • Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick – the illustrations are outstanding.
  • Catch up on books to review for upcoming blog tours on Duvet Dwellers Books

And finish Jennifer Gilmour’s Clipped Wings

It will a busy month.

What are you reading this month?