Category Archives: Wordsmithery

Quotes from Einstein to Apply to Writing/Life

einstein quotes

I love Einstein – I even have a (smelly) rubber mask of his in a cupboard should I feel the need to dress up as him. This  list of quotes starts with my favourite ever from him but all can be applied to writing and life. Pure genius.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

“Paper is to write things down that we need to remember. Our brains are used to think.”

“The important thing is not to stop questioning… Never lose a holy curiosity.”

“The most precious things in life are not those you get for money.”

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

A Letter About Love from John Steinbeck to His Son

John SteinbeckJohn Steinbeck is one of my favourite authors – East of Eden one of my favourite books ever. It’s set in Salem which came in useful yesterday evening when, following a post on Facebook of Brits trying to name US States and my acknowledgement that I would be rubbish at said task, a friend of mine helpfully pointed me at a game which would teach me the States and their locations. After a couple of hours and managing to name them all in less than five minutes I moved onto learning all of the States’ capitals. I cracked that one too, eventually, and had to find my own ways of remembering each – the capital of Oregon, for example, is Salem and it was that literary link that helped me recall that particular capital having never been there or even that close (although Nevada’s reasonably nearby, I know now, and I have been there on several occasions to the hell they call Las Vegas. Not a fan. Send me to Montana any day).

At Write Club tonight Mike brought along a new and wonderful idea – a quiz based on short excerpts from his favourite reads. A brilliant and fun idea that we all thoroughly enjoyed so much that it’s on the agenda for the Christmas party in a couple of weeks and each of us will bring five (only five!) from some of our favourites. One of Mike’s was:

“He could not explain to his friends the coolness that had come into his relationship with Mrs Morales, since he was the owner of only one house; nor could he, in courtesy to Mrs Morales, describe his own pleasure at that coolness.”

From John Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat, a novel I have not read but is available for, a frankly outrageous, £6.99 on Kindle.

A little earlier in the day I had seen on Facebook a letter from John Steinbeck to his son, advising him in the small matter of love. It’s a letter I have read, even posted before on a previous blog, and here it is again as it truly is a thing of beauty:

New York
November 10, 1958

Dear Thom:

We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.

First — if you are in love — that’s a good thing — that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.

Second — There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you — of kindness and consideration and respect — not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.

You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply — of course it isn’t puppy love.

But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it — and that I can tell you.

Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.

The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.

If you love someone — there is no possible harm in saying so — only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.

Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.

It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another — but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.

Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I’m glad you have it.

We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.

And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.

Love,

Fa

riding a tiger book cover

My Cover Story

I was recently asked to write a guest blog post for The Writer’s Guide to e-Publishing website about how I created the covers for my books and used them to create a brand – which as you can imagine I was delighted to do. You can read an excerpt below, and see the full post here.

Every author’s story is different, but here’s how my covers came about. I’d written nearly three novels (that is, two were complete and one was in progress) when I decided to independently publish. I’ll not go into much detail about how I made that decision as it’s a complex one for any writer to make, even now, but I will say it was based on professional feedback on the quality of my manuscripts, my observations of the publishing market at the time and a desire to take control of my own destiny. I also decided to publish a volume of short stories as a ‘taster’ of my writing. So I had four books to take to market.

I gave myself a six-month window to hire editors (and go through the various editing processes and finish writing the third novel) and cover designers, research and plan routes to market and devise an initial launch plan. I wanted to go to market with print (both paperback and hard cover) and digital (to as many stores as possible) as I felt this was important to reach the widest market available – and build a scalable platform should the books take off (here’s hoping!). I’ve always seen this as a long game and this was my strategy for writing as much as publishing. I don’t write to genre – I write books that I hope tell new stories in new ways, and I decided this was an important part of the way that I branded them. And publishing them in all formats added to the challenge (for an ebook you need one image that works as a thumbnail, for print books you need to start thinking about spines and back covers and flaps). READ MORE

New Interview, Giveaways and Featured Author of the Month at Simple Taste for Reading

TSBMI’m delighted to say that my favourite book blog, A Simple Taste for Reading, is featuring little old me as their author of the month – what an honour 🙂 There will be a number of giveaways and there is a short interview with me too as well as a review of my debut novel, Thirty Seconds Before Midnight. You can find the blog here, like their Facebook page here and here’s the interview with Sierra:

Tell us a little about yourself:

Helen: I’m British born and bred and reside near the coast in the South of England where the seagulls take their responsibility for my wake up call very seriously. I have penchants for tortoises, flamingos, hats and fizzy wine. I am addicted to Scrabble.

Sierra: When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?

Helen: I’ve written for as long as I can remember but it’s not until I passed through the gateway of being thirty years old that I stopped destroying my work through sheer embarrassment. I finished my first book around three years ago and have written two more since and this year I think I’m going to write another two. Let’s see how that goes ;-)

Sierra: Tell us a little bit about your first book, ‘Thirty Seconds Before Midnight’.

Helen:’Thirty Seconds Before Midnight’ is a contemporary retelling of the Greek myth, Orpheus and Eurydice – a story that has haunted me since childhood. It’s quirky and involves sex and drugs and rock ‘n roll, pantheism and evolution and is set in the Sussex countryside. The main narrator is a giant land tortoise called Herbert.

Sierra: How did you choose the genre you write in?

Helen: I’ve been a voracious bibliophile since my mother taught me to read when I was three. I do read genre fiction but I prefer ‘break out books’ that are difficult to classify, that cover new ground, combine and defy genres. I think that’s partly what I set out to do with Thirty Seconds Before Midnight. It’s difficult to classify it – it’s based on a Greek tragedy – but readers report it makes them laugh as much as they cry. And it’s pretty unpredictable. One of the greatest compliments I have received (I think!) is that it’s unique. It’s certainly unconventional.

Sierra: What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write?

Helen: Gosh this is a hard one. I’d written the book to halfway twice before I discovered Herbert. It’s his voice that makes this book tick I think. As a human, he’d be rather pompous and obnoxious, but because he’s a tortoise it’s perhaps more endearing, and a little funny. So I really liked being him. But his best friend Digby has a scene where he reports back on an evening’s activities – that bit’s more like a play and Digby acts out the humans’ drama and that was a lot of fun to write. Part two of the book is epistolary – in letters – and that let a couple of the human characters in, let the readers hear their voices direct. And then there’s the pivotal Hades scene – I wrote that in a 5am – 12pm jet lagged writing binge having been on holiday for a fortnight in Thailand and lying on a sunbed thinking about it for days. Can I say all of it really?!

Sierra: Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?

Helen: So this question’s a little like when people ask me who I base my characters on… Writing’s a little bit like a jigsaw or a patchwork quilt. Or perhaps a writer’s a bit like a magpie. I’ve never been a rock star, a model, a tortoise or a zoo-keeper… but there are bits of me in Stella and Hannah although they seem quite different, and bits of people I know and imagine. Bestwood is very loosely based on an alternative reality of a country estate close to where I live. It’s a combination I guess, but this book, compared to some of my others, probably is more imagination.

Sierra: Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?

Helen: So many… As I said, I am a massive reader – I run a book club where I live and we’ve read 52 books in four years. I’ve probably read five or ten times that in the same time. My all time writing heroes would be something like: Gerald Durrell, Douglas Adams, Douglas Coupland, John Fowles, Margaret Atwood… really there are too many. I just read ‘The Extinction Club’ by Jeffrey Moore which completely blew my mind.

Sierra: Do you ever experience writers block?

Helen: No. I am a firm believer in sitting at the desk and getting the words down. I don’t believe in writer’s block. I know, through experience, how easy it is to procrastinate – empty the dishwasher, look at Facebook, make a phone call – there are thousands, millions of things to do but write but if you want to be a writer you must write. The muse doesn’t come to you, but it’s nice if they find you working. Someone else famous said that, apologies I can’t remember who. There are a tonne of quotes about inspiration and stuff. Someone at my Pilates class tonight said for a moment what an easy, lovely lifestyle being a writer must be but when they thought about it for a moment they took it back instantly. Writing is hard graft. There are days when the words come easy and some where you pull them out like blood from a stone. The key thing about writing, and this is expounded by writers everywhere, is the rewriting. But getting the first drafts down is essential. Polishing comes next and it’s no less essential. More so perhaps. It is a craft. Imagine making a wooden sculpture.

Sierra: Is there an author that you would really like to meet?

Helen: I had a dream that I met Margaret Atwood the other day! I would love to meet her. I was asking her about the ribbons she apparently wraps around her new manuscripts when she pulls her editorial team together to review a new book!

Sierra: Will you have a new book coming out soon? If so, can you tell us about it?

Helen: Yes I have two – ‘Rich in Small Things’ tells the story of a hedge-funds trader Melissa who loses her job and gets into a whole lot of trouble over poker and ends up driving to Mongolia. ‘Riding a Tiger’ is the story of a super yacht hijacked by Somali pirates.

Sierra: If you could go back and do it all over again, is there any aspect of your first novel or getting it published that you would change?

Helen: Like many writers, I am sure, this has been a long journey for me. Like many writers I tried the traditional publishing route and queried agents, received form rejections by the shed-load and so on. But it was the agents who were encouraging, that requested my manuscript and gave me very positive feedback that gave me the confidence in my writing. The publishing market has been disrupted in an unimaginable way in recent years thanks to technology and that has made things more challenging but also opened up opportunities that were inconceivable five or ten years ago. People can buy a hard cover or paper back copy of my book online and it will be printed for them and on their doorstep in a matter of days. They can buy it instantly on their ereader. It’s an intensely, incredibly chaotic and competitive time but what I really like about it is that the gatekeeper is becoming the readers. Yes, I have to worry (or enjoy) the process of acquiring editorial services, creating covers, formatting layout, managing all of my own sales and marketing effort – but actually I am thriving on this. The writing is the most important part of it all, of course, but, personally, I am enjoying having this much control over the process.

Sierra: Do you have any advise to give to aspiring writers?

Helen: Just write. First and foremost, write, write and write again. If you don’t have the appetite, or know-how to independently publish (I’ve worked in sales and marketing in IT for years so little of the logistics of self or independently publishing bothers me but not everyone wants to do it all) there are plenty of people out there to help you. This is the age of the internet.

Sierra: Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?

Helen: I love talking to people about writing and reading – not just my own, so please do tell me what you think, what you like, what you don’t – please look me up at helenjbeal.com

Author Interview with Melissa “Missy” Frye

tortTwo interviews in two days – not a bad start! Please see an excerpt from my chat with Missy below, and find the full interview here:

Interview:

MF: Your website says you write contemporary commercial literary fiction which doesn’t fit into any recognizable genre. Does this create problems in marketing your work? If so, how do you overcome the obstacles?
HJB: I would agree that it is more challenging marketing work that isn’t easily classifiable as a thriller or a romance for example – but these difficulties are offset for me by the pleasure of writing something that isn’t formulaic, of trying to be innovative. Literary fiction is a genre in its own right – perhaps the melting pot of everything that isn’t thriller, romance, YA, sci-fi, fantasy, crime, historical etc and I preface the description with contemporary, as my stories are set in the present time, and commercial because sometimes we think of literary fiction as being quite high-brow and full of words that leave the reader reaching for a dictionary. I try to write with an energy that will engage the reader and keep them moving through the book – I don’t want them to feel bogged down in flowery descriptions, philosophising and obscure vocabulary. So I search for my readers in a number of ways: firstly, there are lot of book-lovers out there who do read voraciously and have an appetite to read something different from what they have read before – who are looking for quirky surprises. Secondly, I look for themes in my books – for instance, Thirty Seconds Before Midnight is a retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth which happens to have a giant land tortoise as a key narrator. His name is Herbert and he has a presence on Facebook – and it turns out there are a lot of tortoise lovers and, indeed, tortoises on Facebook. Herbert has a lot of friends and the book has received some great reviews as a consequence. Equally, I market to people who are interested in the Greek myths and fairy tales and the retelling of them. Herbert will also be starting a blog series soon where he interviews other animal characters from other novels for adults. He also blogs on my website you see!

llamaMF: You say your are “particularly fond of llamas and tortoises.” What makes them so special to you? Are there any other bits of trivia you’d like to share about yourself?
HJB: I’m not quite sure where my love of llamas came from – I’d like to have a couple of them in the garden one day. One of my best ever memories was the gift I gave to my father on his 70th birthday – he, my mother, my boyfriend and I took a llama each for a walk one crisp December morning a couple of years ago in Ashdown Forest in Sussex. It was a wonderful, unforgettable experience – so funny, and each of the llamas had a very distinct character – mine was quite lazy – he always wanted to be at the back of the line, my Dad’s would eat ANYTHING it could… I’ve attached a picture of mine taken on the day for your viewing pleasure! Tortoises I’ve loved a long time and treated myself to a pair – Apollo and Artemis – for my birthday a few years ago. They are currently hibernating in a fridge in Dorset with Cosy Tortoises as I’ve been away a lot this winter and was concerned I wouldn’t be able to check up on them properly myself. I miss them but they’ll be back in a month or so. I’ve been to see giant tortoises in the Galapagos and the Seychelles, and have just returned from Africa where I went to see a colony on Prison Island in Zanzibar that were a present from the Seychelles. Sadly they have to live in a fenced up compound because people keep trying to steal them. Tortoises seem so wise, and actually they are surprisingly clever – and also quite fast at times too! They are very curious creatures and will always come to see what I am doing when I am near them. And they love baths! The other bit of trivia would be a total addiction to Scrabble and also Words with Friends on the iPhone. I seem to have about ten games on the go at any one time and get a rush of pleasure when I play a new word for the first time, or one of my favourites like ‘yurt’ or ‘gnu’. My favourite word ever is ‘kerfuffle’ but that’s nearly impossible to play in Scrabble due to the dearth of f’s.

My First Author Interview

playing scrabbleMy first interview as an author was published today on the Worthing Book Network. Here follows an extract and you can read the whole thing here. It was great fun to do and fabulous to talk about my passion for reading and words.

“To answer your first question – like most writers, my desire to write is founded in my love of reading. I am told I was picking up books at the age of one, albeit upside-down, and my mother taught me to read when I was three, partly, I suspect, in order to achieve a quieter life. Since then I have been voracious and eclectic in my reading habits. Incidentally, I now read very well upside-down – it can be useful in restaurants and occasionally on the wrong side of a desk at work.

I find joy in words and there is a sublime deliciousness in discovering a new, spectacular story. I’m reading The Night Circus at the moment and before I was even a third of the way through I wanted to read it again already! It’s a story about worthy adversaries – one of my favourite films is The Thomas Crowne Affair (I prefer the Rene Russo version) and I love this theme. It’s also magical fantastical.

I’ve tinkered about with words for as long as I can remember, but it was attending a creative writing course at West Dean College that really turned the wheels on my authorial ambitions.”