Tag Archives: novel

What a year!

It’s been a funny old year. I last posted on 1st January and my aim for 2018 was to waste less time on social media (which I achieved) so that I’d have more time for the important things. And that kind of worked.

There were some pretty huge distractions going on for most of the year. Things that sucked up a huge amount of time, money and energy and my health and personal objectives took a hit. I’ll spare you the details but as a result I will be very glad to see the back of 2018.

However, it was also a year when great things happened.

I continued writing features and websites and took on some part time work for a charity which I love.

I’ve long dreamed of setting up a reading group at the local primary school but was never very sure there would be much take up for it. How wrong I was. The club has been running for three terms now and it is oversubscribed going into 2019 with a waiting list for the following term.

We’ve read three brilliant books: The Last Wild by Piers Torday, Dream Snatcher by Abi Elphinstone and Flight by Vanessa Harbour and I’m looking forward to introducing the children to the quirky world of beetles in M G Leonard’s book Beetle Boy in January.

I’ve also redrafted my novel twice and am getting closer to the moment where I will feel happy to start subbing it out to agents. Still a few months of editing and tweaking to go but the end is in sight.

And the best bit? I entered it into the Bath Children’s Novel Award in December and out of nearly 800 entries mine was one of the longlisted books.

Right now as I’m writing this, one of the junior judges could be reading my novel as part of the shortlisting process.

It’s an awesome feeling to think that the story I’ve laboured over is being read by its intended audience and I can’t wait for the 15th of January when the shortlist will be announced.

Even if I don’t make it on it, I’m still super proud of the achievement and feel even more enthused to get it finished and out into the big wide world.

So as I bid farewell to 2018 I am looking forward to carrying on with all my projects during 2019 and hoping to nudge the book a bit further towards publication.

Happy New Year!

How I wrote my first published novel – Emily Barr

Emily Barr author
Emily Barr author

I met Emily at a Faber author chat last year and she was incredibly helpful and with lots of good advice for us writers wading through our first drafts. I will always remember her saying to me: “Just remember that the first draft is the worst state that your novel will ever be in,” which I found to be a really useful way of looking at it.

Shortly after, I ready Emily’s book, The Sleeper. If you want an example of how to build up tension and suspense in the first half of a novel this is a brilliant example of how it should be done (I’ve popped a link to this book at the bottom of the post if you’d like to read more).

She’s written many novels now and made the leap into YA too. Here are her thoughts on writing that first novel.

How long had you wanted to write a novel for before you began?

I think I’d always wanted to write a novel! My dad is an academic, and I remember his books (about film) appearing in the house from time to time, so as a very young child I knew that writing books was something people did. As a teenager I was a voracious reader and longed to write a book but was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to because it felt impossible to keep so much in my head at once.
The book Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood somehow changed my perspective. I wanted to write a book just like it. I was so inspired that I made copious notes for a book that would no doubt have been a pale imitation. It gave me an extra determination, but it was still about a decade before I seriously started writing a novel.

 What stopped you from writing a novel?

For a few years I worked at the Guardian, and everyone wanted to write a novel. I thought I couldn’t really do it, that it was just a dream everyone had. I was always thinking about novels, but I never really got very far because I didn’t have the confidence, and also, until I started writing my first book I didn’t have a story I was burning to tell.

 What was your first published novel?


Is this the first novel you wrote?

Yes it is. It’s not the first novel I started, but it’s the first one I finished.

How did you write it?

I’d been travelling for a year, and I’d started Backpack while I was away. So at that point I had the huge luxury of time and absolutely no commitments whatsoever, beyond a fortnightly travel column I was writing. When I got back with a load of scrawled notes, it was a bit of a crash down to earth, as I had to work (mainly doing freelance journalism) and pay bills and things. However, I carried on writing. I was lucky enough to get an agent at an early stage, and he helped me immensely. I did lots and lots of drafts of the first 20k words, and worked hard on a synopsis, and my agent, Jonny Geller, got me a deal with Headline on the basis of that (which is something far less likely to happen these days than it was back then, in 2000). So I had to write the other 80k words very quickly, under immense pressure, following my own synopsis. It was intense.

And what was the most difficult part about writing it?

As above, it was was knowing that I had to write the other 80k words in a matter of months, when the longest thing I’d written before that was a 2,000 word article. I had no idea whether I could do it or not, but I had to either way, so I did.

How did you overcome that?

Just by writing through all the horror and terror.

How did you find your agent? Was that an easy process?

It was. A Guardian colleague put me in touch with Jonny Geller. He took me on. I was extremely lucky (and times were different). I’m still with Curtis Brown to this day.

Once you had an agent/publisher what did you learn through the editing process?

That when you think the book’s finished, the editing process has barely begun. You have to be incredibly unprecious to get through it all.

  What advice would you give to any aspiring novelist?

Just keep writing. In my experience, everyone gets stuck at about 30,000 words. There’s only one way through that, and that’s to keep writing. If you give up, actually no one but you will really care (harsh but true). If you write the book, people are going to read it and enjoy it. So do it.


Emily Barr is the author of The One Memory of Flora Banks and The Truth and Lies of Ella Black, both YA books published by Penguin Random House. She has also written 12 novels for adults and a novella for the Quick Reads series. She lives in Cornwall with her partner, their children, and two guinea pigs, and spends a lot of time looking out of the window at the rain, planning the next ‘research trip’.



How I wrote my first published novel – Barbara Copperthwaite

Barbara Copperthwaite author
Barbara Copperthwaite author

This month’s author chat is with a psychological thriller writer who started off self-publishing before she got a publishing contract based on the success of her novels.

I particularly loved what she had to say about first drafts – it resonated with me and I can tick off every one of the items she mentioned! In fact I might just print out her final comments and stick them somewhere to keep reminding me that all the problems in my draft are fixable.

I hope her story and advice give you a bit of encouragement to carry on whatever draft you’re on.

How long had you wanted to write for before you began?

I’d spent almost twenty years working as a journalist, so had always earned a living through my writing. But it didn’t enter my head to try to write a book until I got an idea that simply wouldn’t go away.

Over a period of about two years, it developed into a storyline, but I didn’t honestly think I’d ever get round to writing a book as I was too busy in my job until one weekend I bought a laptop, and started writing my book during snatched lunchbreaks, and on my commute on the train. It still wasn’t about writing a book, though, it was more about doing something I loved, and that stubborn idea for a book seemed as good a thing as any to work on.

Within six months, though, I’d written enough to know I really wanted to finish the story. I still didn’t know if I could, as I’d never produced such a large body of work before, but the desire to type The End became all-consuming

What was your first published novel? 

The novel I had been working on during lunch breaks and on my commute started to become more and more important to me. Eventually, it became my first published novel, Invisible,  which became a bestselling psychological thriller in the UK and US.

Writing it had been hard work, but so much fun. First, I’d written a very simple outline of the plot. I’d also picked the title early on – choosing  Invisible because it helped consolidate in my own head what the theme of the book would be:  the twisted journey of a woman who starts out feeling ignored and unnoticed in her own marriage and friendships, and later becomes one of the most hated women in Britain. She is the invisible victim of a series of horrific crimes; someone everyone sees but no one cares about.

After eighteen long months, I finally finished it. It had gone through various drafts and revisions. After years of being able to write features that were published in national magazines unchanged, it was a culture shock to suddenly have to go over and over and over (and over) my work to get it right. I didn’t bother with writing forums. I know this may draw shocked gasps, but I was so certain of my idea that, right or wrong, I felt other people’s input would simply confuse me.

Then I contacted agent after agent. Though rejected by them all, the vast majority went to the trouble of saying they had enjoyed Invisible; that it was well-written, different, imaginative…it just didn’t fit in with what they were looking for at that time. I could have got hung up on the rejection but instead I took it as a great sign. The experts liked it, I liked it – if I published, hopefully others would like it…

I’d read about self-publishing from magazine articles. I chose Amazon as it cost nothing and has global reach. My partner is a professional artist, and I’d spent years working on magazine covers, so together we created the striking image for the book’s jacket.

Invisible wasn’t an overnight success, but after a few months it hit the charts. I built on its success by writing a second novel, Flowers For The Dead. This second psychological thriller was also a genre bestseller here and in the US.

How did you find your agent? Was that an easy process?

The success of my self-published novels had been noticed by a publisher, Bookouture. They expressed interest in seeing the next manuscript I completed. When my third novel was finished, I sent it to them and a few other publishers, and a handful of agents.

Several got back to me. But I loved Bookouture’s innovative, modern approach and its friendly persona. I’d read and enjoyed a lot of their authors’ works, and knew it was where I wanted to be.

At the same time that I signed with them, I was taken on by my agent, Jane Gregory, of Gregory and Co. Jane has an incredible reputation, particularly in the crime genre, as she helped found Harrogate Crime Writing Festival, and represents the likes of Sarah Hilary, Belinda Bauer, and Val McDermid. As soon as I met Jane, we clicked.

Once you had an agent/publisher what did you learn through the editing process?

I had employed an editor for my previous books, so I’d already learned an awful lot about pacing, structure, characterization, etc. But my new editor at Bookouture, Keshini Naidoo, is brilliant. It’s so important to have a good relationship, and trust your editor, so the two of you can work together to make the book even better. She’s always so upbeat, positive and energized that her suggestions never feel like criticisms.

What advice would you give to any aspiring novelist?

The thing I probably hear most when people are writing their first book is that they get disheartened because it’s a mess, so they give up. Or they spend ages going back over that beginning, rewriting it, honing it, but never doing anything else.

My advice? Don’t worry about editing as you go, just push forward and get the plot down.

The first draft will be a mess. There will be bits that make no sense, characters who change name halfway through because you decided you didn’t like their original moniker (or forgot it), and plot holes big enough to drive a bus through. That can all be fixed – but at least you will have a story entire to fix. If you keep polishing those first few chapters you’re unlikely to ever get to the end of your book.


USA Today bestseller Barbara Copperthwaite is the author of psychological thrillers INVISIBLE, FLOWERS FOR THE DEAD, and THE DARKEST LIES. Her latest book, HER LAST SECRET, was published on 13th October.

With over twenty years’ experience as a national newspaper and magazine journalist, she’s interviewed the real victims of crime – and also those who have carried them out. That’s why her novels are dark, realistic and tackle not just the crime but its repercussions.
When not writing feverishly, she is often found hiding behind a camera, taking wildlife photographs.

To find out more about Barbara visit

Facebook: www.facebook.com/AuthorBarbaraCopperthwaite

Twitter: @BCopperthwait

Website: www.barbaracopperthwaite.com

How I wrote my first published novel – Anna Jacobs

Anna Jacobs author
Anna Jacobs author

I’m in awe of this month’s author, Anna Jacobs. She writes novels, a mixture of historical sagas and modern day family/relationship stories,  with the same frequency that some of us have holidays. She’s the fourth most borrowed author of adult fiction from UK libraries and next month, her 80th novel is published. I’m so pleased that out of her busy writing schedule, she took some time out to answer some questions on how she got started and what she’s learned along the way.

How long had you wanted to write for before you began?

I’d been wanting to write ‘stories’ since I was 10 years old and wanting to write proper novels since I was 20.

What stopped you from writing a novel?

Life! Finishing my first degree, starting work, falling in love, getting married, having two kids, moving round England and later emigrating to Australia. I wrote a lot of bits and pieces of stories during the truly wanting to write years after I was 20.

Instead, what I wrote and got published were French textbooks. As a teacher I found the books we were given to read with teenage boys impossible, so I wrote my own. I had nine French textbooks published before I turned seriously to writing.

What was your first published novel?

Persons of Rank – a regency romance in the style of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer whose best novels are, I believe, better than Austen’s. In a sense Heyer taught me to write because I was copying her style. After a while I developed my own style, but I’m still grateful for the things I learned from her books and her wonderful characterisation.

Is this the first novel you wrote?

No – the sixth. It’s the first novel I wrote in one fell swoop though, during long service leave, three months’ holiday given to Australians for working ten years for the government. I entered Persons of Rank into a big Australian writing competition, and came second out of over 800 entrants, winning $10,000 and publication.

How did you write it?

I had tried various ways of writing and had found by then that I can’t plan a novel. Once I start writing, the story unfolds bit by bit inside my head, like a TV serial really. I only know the background and setup scenario when I start a book.

I write organically and the characters carry me through. They know better than me what works.

I did a lot of drafts in those days. I’d read one or two how-to books, attended some talks at conferences, but mostly I practised by doing it ie writing stories. It’s how sports people train, after all. They do it until they’ve developed their skills. Thank goodness I didn’t go on a university creative writing course! I was able to develop my own style freely, and I wanted to write popular fiction not literary novels.

What was the most difficult part about writing Persons of Rank?

There wasn’t a difficult part to this sixth story which sang to me all the way through. For the first five novels though, there were indeed difficulties, as I learned my craft. Middles sagged, endings weren’t good enough and tension wasn’t gripping enough. Rewriting helped, and rewriting after some time had passed helped some more. But with Persons of Rank, it flowed smoothly from start to finish.

How did you overcome your earlier difficulties?

Practice makes perfect. They used to say when I started learning that writing half a million to a million words was necessary to become a good writer. I still believe, for most people, that’s true.  I wrote, and wrote, spending every spare minute on my passion for writing. I was working full-time and raising teenage children so started getting up at four in the morning to get in a couple of hours’ writing before work. I had become very addicted to story-telling by writing novels by then.

Once you had an agent/publisher, what did you learn through the editing process?

Not a lot technically. I learned a lot more from readers writing to me about what they liked and didn’t like in my stories. I learned most from my first proper editor, which happened with my second book, which was taken up by Hodder & Stoughton.

What advice would you give to any aspiring novelist?

First, read a lot, write a lot, read a lot more. You can learn so much from other writers about what works and doesn’t work when story-telling. If you don’t like reading you’re at a big disadvantage trying to become a novelist. Oh, and don’t read ancient authors like Dickens. His style wouldn’t work today.

Then, write a whole novel, polish it as much as you can then set it aside. Write another whole novel, repeat the polishing and set that aside. Then go back to your first novel and you’ll see how to improve it.  Well, you will if you’ve been reading a lot as well as writing.

I know you can self-publish these days but one novel doesn’t usually teach a writer enough, so hold back till you’ve learned your craft.


Anna Jacobs is the author of 80 novels and is addicted to storytelling. She grew up in Lancashire, emigrated to Australia in the 1970s and writes stories set in both countries. She loves to return to England regularly to visit her family and soak up the history. She has two grownup daughters and a grandson, and lives with her husband near Perth and the Swan Valley, a tourist/winegrowing area. She’s addicted to reading as well as writing, so her house is crammed with thousands of books. Her website contains a lot of information, including list of books and which series each belongs to, plus first chapters to read: www.annajacobs.com

Anna’s books are available on Amazon. Links to her three latest paperbacks published last month are below.

Anna’s 80th novel, Saffron Lane, the third in the Peppercorn series, is published on 21 September 2017 and can be pre-ordered using the link below.

Next month’s interview is with author Clare Swatman. Clare’s debut novel, Before you Go, was bought at auction by Pan Macmillan in a two book deal and it has been translated into 21 languages.

Enter #WriteNowLive 2017


Penguin Random House staff at Write Now London

Penguin Random House is running its hugely popular Write Now event again this year. In case you missed it, this is an opportunity for writers from under-represented communities to submit an idea and up to a thousand words of a novel or a non-fiction book to win a place on one of three insight days to be held in London, Bristol and Newcastle. From there ten writers will be chosen for a year long mentoring programme.

I entered this last year and was one of fifty chosen out of 1,100 to attend the London event. It was a great experience and a huge boost to my confidence and I made friends with other writers who I’m still in touch with today.  Although I wasn’t one of the ones chosen for the mentoring programme in the end, I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to attend.

If you’re not sure whether to enter or not, I would say just do it. Write up your idea in the most concise way that you can, focusing on what’s original about your story.

Prepare your submission thoroughly.  Check it for typos and stray adverbs. Ask someone else to read it through.

It is up to you to determine if you are from an under-represented group. Typically you could be from BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) or LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer) communities or a writer with a disability or from a socio-economically marginalised community. You will need to explain what group you belong to as part of your application.

The deadline is 16th July 2017.

You can read the full details here on the Penguin Random House website. Make sure you read the terms and conditions fully.

Good luck.

Finishing a novel’s first draft

The moment finally arrived.  One that, for so long, I thought I would never achieve and which all of my thoughts have been focused on.  The typing of two small words:  “The End”.

I’ve dreamt about this moment in the same way that I sometimes day dream about winning the lottery.  Something that deep down I never really believed  would happen.  I don’t actually buy a lottery ticket so the odds on that one happening were nil but for a long time that’s how I felt about the first draft.  It was something that I wanted but I wasn’t actually sitting down and writing it.  And not surprisingly that’s an important part of getting a first draft completed.  Bum on chair and fingers on keyboard (or pen on notebook).  So this year I changed that and I set myself the goal of writing the first draft before the end of December  2016.

So here I am. I thought when I actually got here I would be wild with joy and excitement but it was a strangely muted affair.  I sat, waiting for the fanfare of trumpets in my head but it felt more like shock.  Yes there was a warm sense of achievement  spreading through my body but there was a mixture of emotions and that surprised me.

Relief.  Disbelief. Surprise.  Joy.  Fear.  I can compare it to climbing a mountain.  A really big mountain.  You’ve been staring up at the summit for weeks and edging closer day by day.  It consumes your thoughts.  You doubt whether you have the strength to get there.  You doubt whether you will find the right route.  There are days when the weather is bad, your mood is wrong and you just don’t want to do it but you do.  And then finally you’re there.  You look down at how far you’ve come, marveling at how all those days of  toil have added up into this big single achievement and you feel humbled that you have done something you’ve never done before.  and yet, as you blink, you realise what was obvious all along.  This isn’t the summit at all.  This is just the first ascent to a landing stage and that the rest of the mountain towers above still.

However don’t let that put you off.  It’s a very important stage to reach and you’ll never reach the summit if you don’t get the first draft down.  It’s a moment to be proud of; to have a rest and take stock.  And then get going again.

Which is what I’m about to do this week.  I’m going to plough on into the second draft which requires an awful lot of work.  But as the talented novelist Emily Barr said to me recently in an author chat: “The first draft is the worst your novel is going to be.”

How great is that?  From here on I’m going to be improving the novel that I’ve written.  And although there are many more months ahead of revising, rewriting and redrafting – hopefully they will all be taking me a few steps closer to that magical summit.

#Writenowlive Experience

The biggest question when I got up on Saturday morning for the Penguin Random House Write Now event was whether to wear my hat or take my umbrella.  Everything else was organised the night before – from the printouts of my submission, an up to date synopsis (when I submitted back in August it was too early in my first draft to be completely sure of all the details) to the clothes I was going to wear.  In the end, with rain coursing down the street, I took both.

Receiving the email to say I was one of the 50 who had been selected from over 1,100 applications was an emotional moment.  My fiction writing is something I do quietly in the sidelines of my life and so to get an endorsement from a publisher is huge.  Truly.  And as the day of Write Now loomed, the excitement grew.

So, if you’re wondering what it’s all about and what happens – read on.

Penguin Random House, along with supporting charities, is trying to address the issue that the publishing industry does not reflect the society that we live in.  The Write Now project aims to remove some of the barriers for underrepresented communities (Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups; people with disabilities or people from a socio-economically marginalised background).

It’s doing this through a series of insight days in London (which took place this weekend), Birmingham and Manchester to which 50 people will be invited to each one.  From here, ten will be chosen for a year long mentoring programme.  Heady stuff!

The insight day is amazing.  It runs at a fast and frenetic pace with three set sessions, a one-to-one with an editor to discuss your work, lots of opportunity to network and of course a Penguin goody bag.

I met authors, a (very lovely) agent*, and a range of people from Penguin, from the Managing Director of Ebury Publishing, to the contracts negotiators, to the marketing and PR staff and so on and learnt about the life of a Penguin author.  That bit might not help me to become a published author but it sure as hell made me want to be one, one day.

Next we broke out into two groups – one for adult and one for children’s publishing.  This was more hands on finding out about the route to publication with the opportunity to ask lots of questions.

And then finally a brainstorming session discussing the barriers to publication and what can be done about it.  Our table talked a lot about education – how expensive it is to learn the craft whether that’s going the university route or using one of the many courses that are available.  And while my tongue in cheek suggestion to replace Great British Bake Off with a novel writing reality show won’t see light of day then a series of web based video masterclasses and insights and teaching would be great.

Finally, probably the most important bit of the day – the editorial one-to-one.  This is a valuable opportunity to get some feedback on the work you submit – and hear a few compliments too (which is always nice).

I’ve come away with a few pointers to think about when I’m redrafting which I can already see will improve my story so I’m feeling inspired to finish the first draft over the next few weeks and then get stuck into the second one.

If you’re thinking of applying – do!  Cast aside any doubts that you might not be good enough.  If you don’t try, how will you know?  The mentoring prize at the end is fantastic, but this day alone is a huge gift.

For further information see the Write Now website and follow #writenowlive on twitter.  Good luck.

If you want to ask me any questions – drop me a note below or send me a tweet @journalistfran

* That’s not me being sycophantic.  But an observation.  I think agents get a bad press as being the people who reject nearly everything that is sent to them.  And statistically they do.  So I thought it was important to mention it.  But it has to be said, everyone was lovely – it’s a really friendly day.