In just five days, it will be launched into the world. My first venture into crime fiction. Fortunately, it has some wonderful people to help my baby emerge from the womb.
No, I didn’t mean Nathalie and Asaf. They carry the story through from start to finish. But I’m talking about the lovely, real people who have helped in many ways, and to whom I will always be grateful.
People like Melina Kantor and Shoshana Raun, whose prompts and other writing suggestions helped to craft the plot much more than I’d expected. Joan Livingston, who read and commented on my draft, and also wrote the cover line and the brilliant foreword. And Stephanie and Laurence Patterson of darkstroke books whose editing and cover design were magnificent.
Also to all those who have opened up (or will open up) their blogs for me:
You can come to the Facebook Launch on Monday. Click now and press Going. There will be information about the book in text, photos and music, and plenty of interaction.
You can come to the joint online launch event called Ladies Who Launch, where three darkstroke authors will introduce our new books with readings and answer questions. It’s on 6th May. Click now to secure your free ticket.
I’m delighted to welcome Alison Knight to the blog today. Alison is an author, a creative writing teacher, an editor and much more. Here’s her story.
WHAT MY PARENTS TAUGHT ME
They say that our early years influence our adult beliefs. I’m grateful that an important lesson I learned from my parents was that I could achieve anything in my life, so long as I was prepared to work for it. Some things would come easy, others would take a lot of hard work. But the belief that it was possible was the important thing.
That belief has helped me throughout my life and continues to do so. I instilled it in my children and grandchildren. It has helped me create a good life in which I am happy and fulfilled. It hasn’t always been easy, but believing it helped me to keep going in the darkest of times.
I BELIEVED I WOULD BE A WRITER
I always wanted to be a writer, but it wasn’t something careers advisors would encourage for a girl from a working class background in London in the 1970s. So I took a business and secretarial course and embarked on a career as a legal executive. I got married, had children, and got bogged down by the everyday pressures of family, mortgage payments and work. I still dreamed of writing though, and took evening classes, joined writing groups and kept trying to write the perfect novel.
LEARNING MY CRAFT
I’d decided at age twenty-five that I would be published by the time I was thirty. I now wonder whether some omnipotent spirit had been listening at the time and decided I needed to learn some hard lessons first. Either that, or said spirit had misheard me, because it actually took me thirty years to get my first book into print!
When I kept getting rejections, I realised I needed to learn more about the craft of writing. In my forties, I went to university for the first time. I was a part-time student. My children were still at home and I was still working full-time. It was a struggle, but I loved it and I learned an enormous amount about both myself and the craft of writing. At the age of fifty-four, I had a first class degree and an MA in Creative Writing and within a year I got my first three book deal.
THE BOOK I WAS BORN TO WRITE
Even though I had many disappointments along the way, I couldn’t give up. I knew that there was one story that I simply had to write – about what happened to my family in the late 1960s. It was a tragedy that affected so many, but I knew that I was the only one who could tell it. I see my years of struggle and study, and my first three books as my apprenticeship. They helped me to gain confidence as a writer, to find my voice so that I could write the book I was born to write.
Writing MINE, my family’s story, took years. I wrote it, sent it out, got rejected, rewrote it, and sent it out again. I had so many rejections. I couldn’t give up but I didn’t know what to do next.
ENCOURAGEMENT FROM AN UNEXPECTED SOURCE
By some quirk of fate, I ended up working alongside a woman called Bryony Evens who had once worked for an agent. Her claim to fame was that she picked up Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone from a slush pile and persuaded her boss to represent JK Rowling. If you want to hear her talking about it on YouTube, see this link. Her belief in that story changed the world!
Bryony was one of the first people to read my manuscript of MINE. She gave me some valuable advice and told me it was a good book. Given her history, I was very happy to believe her! It still took several years to get the final version of MINE published, but her encouragement – added to the beliefs that my parents instilled in me – kept me going.
MY STORY IS TOLD
In 2020, Darkstroke Books published MINE on what would have been my mother’s 90th birthday. After a lifetime of striving for this moment, it finally happened. I had believed I could do it. I needed to do it. I wanted the world to see what I saw, to know the people I knew. I believe I have done them justice. I believe they would be proud of me.
BUT WHAT NEXT?
That belief that I could do anything so long as I am prepared to work for it has kept me strong in many dark times and enabled me to achieve so much in my life. I now believe that I’m not destined to be sitting on my laurels in the next phase of my life because I have a lot more stories to tell. They may not be as personal or as powerful as the events depicted in MINE, but rather they are stories that explore the human condition in all its glory. I want to make people laugh and cry, to challenge the reader to put themselves in my characters’ shoes. My next book, THE LEGACY, was inspired by a scene in MINE and explores how two people respond to an unexpected inheritance. Is it a blessing or a curse? It will be published by Darkstroke Books on 4th May 2021 if you’d like to find out!
Thank you, Miriam, for letting me talk about my belief here. As you said in your recent post, belief can give you confidence, which is a powerful tool that helps us in so many ways.
ALISON KNIGHT, AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY
Alison has been a legal executive, a registered childminder, a professional fund-raiser and a teacher. She has travelled the world – from spending a year as an exchange student in the US in the 1970s and trekking the Great Wall of China to celebrate her fortieth year and lots of other interesting places in between.
In her mid-forties Alison went to university part-time and gained a first-class degree in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and an MA in the same subject from Oxford Brookes University, both while still working full-time. Her first book was published a year after she completed her master’s degree.
Her first novel with Darkstroke Books, Mine, is a domestic drama set in 1960s London based on real events in her family. She is the only person who can tell this particular story. Exploring themes of class, ambition and sexual politics, Mine shows how ordinary people can make choices that lead them into extraordinary situations.
Her next book, The Legacy, is a drama set in 1960s London, exploring how we don’t always get what we want and how we shouldn’t count our chickens before they’re hatched.
Alison teaches creative and life-writing, runs workshops and retreats with Imagine Creative Writing Workshops as well as working as a freelance editor. She is a member of the Society of Authors and the Romantic Novelists’ Association. She lives in Somerset, within sight of Glastonbury Tor.
Today, 23rd March, is a day for going out and for celebrating coming out.
I, together with the rest of the citizens of this country (hopefully) will be going out to vote. It’s only a year since we last voted and we all hope the next government will last for longer. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that the election results will give a better advantage to any party.
Today is also an anniversary. Twelve years ago, I began this blog, tentatively, anonymously, scared to own up to having social anxiety, even though I knew it was obvious. Optimistcally, I called the blog and myself “An’ de walls came tumblin’ down.” They haven’t tumbled, but they have some large chinks.
Nevertheless, a lot has happened in that time. It could all be summed up in the words “I came out.” It’s made a big difference to me that I can write about having social anxiety and give presentations about it, even though it’s still hard to talk about.
Where were you, twelve years ago? Have you changed over the years?
Today, I’m delighted that author Paula R. C. Readman has come to visit. Her story is one of perseverence against all odds. I am in awe.
The power to be able to change the direction of your life has always been strong in me. I guess it started in school after reading Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem The Brook. The poem spoke to me about the certainty of changes as the brook makes its journey down the valley as it heads towards the river. The line that’s repeated throughout the poem is ‘Men may come and men may go, but I shall go on forever.’
To me, the poem talks about the driving force of the brook to remain on course with its aim to reach the river, its final destination, no matter what obstacles stand in its way. Like the brook, we all have to deal with barriers that stop us from following our dreams. Mine was the lack of a good education and my dyslexia. I was diagnosed in my junior school but it wasn’t followed up in my senior school. Thus I was labelled slow of learning, which I found very frustrating.
I’ve always had a deep love of books and spent my teenage years at the weekends in a library near to where I lived. I would spend all day reading books on different subjects until closing time. With the help of a librarian assistant who filled in a form for me I was able to take books home to read during the week until my next visit.
At sixteen while travelling to work, I would read novels on the bus. Whenever I got stuck on a word I couldn’t pronounce I would look it up in a small dictionary I carried, to know what the meaning was, so I could try to understand the context in which it was being used. I knew my lack of an education was holding me back, plus I felt deeply embarrassed, too. Being titled slow of learning at school haunted me while I sought work and limited my expectations of life.
By the time I was in my thirties, life had thrown me a few spanners and stopped me from following my dream to be an artist. I failed to get into college, unable to pass the English entry exam to do an art course. Art was the only subject I managed to shine in at school. I loved drawing. My parents’ marriage had broken up when I was in my teens, so they weren’t very encouraging. On the whole I was expected to be self-sufficient, so I became my own driving force wanting to better myself.
I worked mainly in low paying jobs, so money has always been tight for me. My first marriage broke down and I was left supporting myself and a young son while paying off a mortgage and loans. This didn’t leave me much time to think about my dream of being an artist. It was only when I met my second husband, Russell, that I could once again follow my creative heart.
One day at work with my fortieth birthday looming, I decided to become a writer instead of being an artist, to tackle my fear of writing head on. I decided if third world children could learn from books then so could I.
I set myself a challenge to have something published by the time I hit fifty. First I started with non-fiction and wrote several articles connected to my family history. Then I wrote a short story which I showed my work colleague, Lisa Moulds. She told me she wanted to know more about the character. This led me to write a novel.
The novel suffered thirty-five rejections so I set it aside, deciding I needed to work on my writing skills. So for years, I focused on writing short stories and tried to get published that way. I felt I needed to build a body of published work. I wrote a second novel and tried to get that one published too, but once again, more rejections. Slowly, my short stories were beginning to be published which helped build my confidence. Then in 2012, I won the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival & Writing Magazine Short Crime Story competition. My winning story Roofscapes became my inspiration for my third novel. This suffered thirty-seven rejections but I wasn’t willing to give up. With the help of an online friend, Kim Martins, I spent eight months working with her and learnt how to edit. I submitted it to Darkstroke who accepted it. In 2020 I had three books published, and this year I’m pleased to be able to say the first novel I wrote has been accepted for publication. I guess the power of belief is still flowing strong in me.
Paula R. C. Readman is married, has a son and lives in Essex, England, with two cats. After leaving school with no qualifications, she spent her working life mainly in low paying jobs. In 1998, with no understanding of English grammar, she decided to beat her dyslexia, by setting herself a challenge to become a published author. She taught herself ‘How to Write’ from books her husband purchased from eBay. After making the 250th purchase, Russell told her ‘Just get on with the writing.’ Since 2010 she has mainly been published in anthologies in Britain, Australia and America and won several writing competitions. In 2020 she had her first crime novella The Funeral Birds published by Demain Publishing, a single collection of short stories Days Pass Like A Shadow published by Bridge House Publishing. Her first crime novel Stone Angels was published by Darkstroke, who will now be publishing Seeking the Dark, May 2021.
Next week’s post in this series will be from… me. I want to show you that belief doesn’t have to be connected to writing! These posts don’t even have to be about true stories, although next week’s will be.
If you want to take part, do let me know via Contact above or social media.
Here to start this new series is friend and fellow author: Val Penny. Welcome back to the blog, Val. Where are you taking this theme?
I had always wanted to write a novel, and indeed had written a story for my little sister when we were both small children. I still have that book.
However, as I grew up and started work, I spent my time writing opinions and documents to the extent that any ideas of writing fiction had to be put to one side. Interestingly, though, life does not travel in a straight line and after I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I took early retirement.
I was lucky, the disease was diagnosed early, my husband was able to attend every chemotherapy appointment with me and a local charity provided drivers to take me to each of my daily radiotherapy appointments. However, the treatment left me exhausted and unable to undertake any of my interests or hobbies. Also, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but day-time television programmes leave a lot to be desired! I was tired, but not too tired to complain.
My husband bought me lots of novels and I read voraciously. Then I started a blog to allow me to review the books I read: www.bookreviewstoday.com but even that didn’t hold my interest.
Eventually, my husband said to me, “If you know so much about what makes a good book, why don’t you write one?”
I doubted that I had the talent or the energy to complete a novel, but my husband encouraged me. He believed in me. He still does and he made me believe in myself. When I sent off my manuscript to two different publishers and was accepted by both, his belief and mine seemed justified.
Without my husband setting me the challenge and having the belief in me to write a book, I never would have done it. Now I have five published novels and a nonfiction book under my belt. If you enjoy crime fiction, read The Edinburgh Crime Mysteries published by darkstroke.
Ah, where would we be without our other halves!
About Val Penny
Val Penny’s crime novels, Hunter’s Chase, Hunter’s Revenge, Hunter’s Force,Hunter’s Blood and Hunter’s Secret form the bestselling series The Edinburgh Crime Mysteries. They are set in Edinburgh, Scotland, published by darkstroke Her first non-fiction book Let’s Get Published is also available now and she has most recently contributed her short story, Cats and Dogs to a charity anthology, Dark Scotland.
Val is an American author living in SW Scotland with her husband and two cats.
GREEN. If that were the solution to a cryptic crossword clue, what might the clue be? Answer: a new genre.
As it happens, a new genre (for me) is exactly what my latest novel is written in. It’s a murder mystery, called Style and the Solitary. Set in my adopted city of Jerusalem, it begins with a murder and a suspect – a suspect who is unable to defend himself. Fortunately, there’s someone who believes in his innocence.
Style and the Solitary will be published by Darkstroke on 26th April, 2021.
GREEN is also the dominant colour in the gorgeous new cover.
Is there anything you want to say about the colour green, or anything else for that matter? You’re welcome to comment below.
No doubt, I’ll be writing more about this novel in the coming weeks. Topics will include Jerusalem, NaNoWriMo, friendship and maybe even social anxiety.
In the meantime, Cultivating a Fuji, my uplit novel set in Bournemouth (UK) and Japan has been rereleased and is available on Amazon.
For a short while, the paperback on Amazon UK is only at this link.
My husband and I are lucky to have been on some amazing trips around the world. One of them took place seven years ago in Japan. In three action-packed weeks, we toured a country that is like no other – modern yet traditional, beautiful and quaint.
We dressed in traditional clothes and consumed local food and drink.
But we remained most definite outsiders. In three weeks, we couldn’t possibly begin to know what it’s like to live in this weird and wonderful land. And it’s only as an outsider that I’m able to write about Japan.
Fortunately, Martin, the main character in my novel: Cultivating a Fuji, also visits Japan as an outsider. Unfortunately, he has lived his whole life as an outsider, starting at school where he was ostracised and bullied.
When Martin is sent to represent his company in Japan, nobody believes he can succeed. He surprises everyone, including himself, but that’s only the beginning.
Edition 2 of Cultivating a Fuji will be released on 22nd February 2021. You can pre-order it now from Amazon at mybook.to/CultivatingAFuji.
Not a lot, so don’t buy it if you’ve read it. I’ve made minor improvements to the text. And I’ve changed the very beginning and the very end.
The beginning is important because the first sentence needs to make an impression, but the story remains the same.
The ending is now the one I really wanted for the first edition, before I allowed myself to be persuaded by a suggestion from an author I admire. Instead of explaining why my ending worked better, or simply ignoring the suggestion, I persuaded myself that she knew better.
So, for me, this novel has been a lesson in trusting myself as an author. It’s important to listen to what readers have to say, but ultimately the decision must remain with the author.
Fortunately, this novel has been enjoyed by many and I hope it continues to satisfy readers and make them reflect.
It’s been a while since I wrote my Word Tips for Authors. However, I recently thought of a new one:
When you’ve finished editing a manuscript using Track Changes as described in Tip 6, you need to accept all changes and turn off Track Changes in order to continue with publication. My advice is to read the whole manuscript again at this point.
Why? Because sometimes things aren’t what they seem. I’ve noticed several mistakes in novels that I believe arose because the manuscript wasn’t read at this stage. For example, sometimes there are words that shouldn’t be there, like:
At the back of the bus was a the girl.
Probably, ‘a’ was changed to ‘the’ or vice versa and it wasn’t clear, while Track Changes was on, that the change wasn’t made correctly.