Welcome to my happy place…

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Ever since I can remember, writing and reading have been my happy places. They are where I go when, if you’ll excuse the vernacular, Shit Gets Too Real in real life. Now, before everyone gets out their tiny violins, can I just make clear that, actually, for most of the time, my life is exactly where I want it to be, and that I need to take this opportunity to, er, I believe the expression is ‘check my privilege.’ So, all that said, privileges checked, let’s talk about why writing.

Writing has allowed me to make sense of things when I need to. And that’s not to say that, when stuff happens, I write about that stuff. Far from it, in fact. The first long story I can remember writing was a Dungeons and Dragons Cartoon fanfic at around aged 9, and that was pretty far removed from my life as a nine year old. But it did allow me to explore family, relationships, crushes and stuff that I needed to think about in a completely different fantasy setting.

Fast forward a bit, with diaries, love letters, truly terrible poetry, GCSE and A Level English and more fanfiction over the years and you get to me, aged seventeen and a bit, deciding to write 72,000 words of Quantum Leap fanfiction in the eight or so weeks after I finished my A-Levels. Yup…some kids went on holiday. I wrote a novel (albeit a fanfiction one) in my downtime, cried down the phone to my (ex) boyfriend when I’d lost around 5k of it on the floppy disc I’d saved it on (honestly, the bloke deserves a medal for even picking up the phone that night, especially since we’d split up!), and then passing it on to a very understanding ex-editor friend of my Dad’s to read through. Fortunately, Vicky was tolerant and kind about having to read through pages of the stuff, and gave me my first editorial feedback, which really made my summer. In fact, twenty three years on, she gets a copy of my manuscripts to read when they’re at the editing stage, because she’s been such a help and a great friend. And then Dean Stockwell signed the manuscript that summer and I was over the moon!

Writing has always been with me; a silent friend when I needed it, an indulgence, an exploration, and a true, voluptuous pleasure. Up until five years ago, it was nearly exclusively fanfiction and a bit of journalism, and fanfiction was where I learned so much of my craft. For years I wrote alongside my dear friend Lynn in the D&DC and Top Gear universes, and she and I bounced ideas off each other, edited, critiqued, fed back and wrote some Really Good Stuff. Lynn took apart an OK story for me, and with her feedback I turned it into one of the best pieces of writing I’d ever done (‘Drowning’, by fayzalmoonbeam on A03, if you’re interested). I still love the story, and there’s no way it would have been as good as it was if she hadn’t been the ultimate critical friend.

Screen Shot 2018-08-16 at 20.38.07.pngAnd I still go back to fanfiction, even with two novels published, one more on the way and another few more in various stages of writing. Because writing is the way I can make sense of what I see, how I feel, and the effect it has on me. I fell in love with Mulder and Scully for a long time during the 1990s (in retrospect, Scully the most!) and used writing to make sense of that. In fact, I realised only recently that there’s a recurring theme in my novels that I hadn’t even noticed until I got to book 3, which is obviously me trying to make sense of something deep within myself. Parental loss, of one sort or another, is up there as one of my key fears, and it’s worked its way into two (perhaps three) novels before I twigged what was happening. And I’m lucky that I have both my parents very much alive and well!

But it’s about words, really. Reading words, writing words, using words to create pictures in my mind that I want to see, and that readers, hopefully, will want to see, too. And often these pictures come from the way I imagine the stories in my head to look. You see, I love stories, narratives, tales, in whatever form they come. Be it Shakespeare or Statham, film, drama, poetry, novel, short story, I love tales in the telling. And I imagine in very cinematic terms! I see scenes playing out in my head as I’m thinking about the story, and then I’m itching to get to the computer and get them down on the ‘page’. That’s why I write out of sequence, too; I see scenes fairly randomly, and I have to write them as I see them, and stitch them together later. At the moment, I’m listening to a song and imagining a man on a train with a broken heart, being taken far away from the woman he’s disappointed and angered, and wondering just how the hell he’s going to make it up to her. The song? This one…

Words have been my friend in the light and the darkness. In fact, it was writing ‘The Second Chance Tea Shop’ that stopped me from sliding into PND after baby number two. Those wee hours of the night, with a hungry baby feeding, and the endless hours of the day with a three year old and a six month old and me in the house were made more bearable if I told a story to myself. The story became my debut novel. And no, please no tiny violins. As I said, I’m lucky to have a good life and a wonderful network of friends and family around me, so I was not in isolation. But writing was there when I needed refuge from the nth terrible nappy, the lack of sleep and the fact that for a long time I couldn’t actually get off the floor without pushing off with both hands (what can I say, I have no core muscles!). Words helped me, in a very abstract way, to make sense of my own life, to silence that voice in my head that told me how badly I was doing at motherhood and life in general, and also to escape from the trickier bits of it and walk in someone else’s shoes when I needed to. And I hope that’s what my books do for you, as readers, too.

I have made myself laugh, cry and get a bit hot and bothered with my own writing, and I’ve learned so much from the sheer, joyous process of it over the years. So my advice? Write. Everywhere. All the time. As much as possible. See it as the guilty pleasure that it is for me, and, who knows, you might even like it!

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Boheme in Weston

A fantastic performance, which evoked Paris in the wintertime beautifully, despite the tropical temperatures!

Kate Eastment, Soprano

Weston-super-Mare was the setting for tonight’s La Boheme with Bath Opera, in the lovely Blakehay Theatre. It was a very warm welcome for both cast and audience on this gorgeous summer’s evening. Thanks for having us!

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I’ll be running through my dreams…

So, it’s time to come clean. I’ve turned into one of THEM. The ones you see sweating their backsides off on the pavement. The ones who look as though they’re about to die as they pound the street three times a week. The ones who take every opportunity they can to evangelise about the life changing power of putting one foot in front of the other at a speed that’s (mostly) quicker than walking.

I am now a jogger. I hesitate to say runner, since my mile time is pathetic at the moment, but it’s definitely going down. So, I hear no-one ask, how the hell did this happen?

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Well, four months ago I needed something to zone out my brain. For a number of reasons, including an encroaching exam season at work, a novel deadline and lots of stuff I won’t go into here, I needed to be able to switch the f*@k off for a bit, regularly. It was either that or spend my working at home days eating toast and contemplating my navel. Add to that a stone put on since Christmas, and I was in pretty poor physical and mental shape. I was in serious danger of sliding downhill mentally on my arse, if that makes sense, and for half an hour, three times a week, I figured I could crack on and drag that same arse outside, with a view to making said arse smaller, and helping out my head, before that disappeared up my arse, too!

So, I started the ZenLabs Couch to 5K program. Now, I’ve got history with the C25K. I’ve usually got to week 5 or so and either got pregnant or the weather’s got too cold and I’ve wussed out of finishing it. Not this time. No chance of more babies, and the weather’s been pretty good, so I had neither of the usual excuses to stop. But I didn’t go shouting about it here on the blog when I started, as I’m actually the queen of self sabotage, and I knew that if I started writing about it, I’d pack it in quicker than a bottle of Cava on a Saturday night. So, despite extolling the benefits of the C25K in person to any poor sod who happened to ask me about it (and quite a few who didn’t – sorry, lovely friends and family!), I kept schtum on here.

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However, now is the time to start shouting. As of today, I can now actually run/shamble 5k. But surely that was the whole point? I hear no-one ask. Well, of course, but, I knew there was no way I was going to get to that marker in a mere eight weeks. I mean, let’s face it, I’m at least three stone overweight, rather greedy, love my Co-op dry Cava and when I started I was running about an eighteen minute mile, so 5K in the half an hour that the C25K app suggests was never going to happen. But, and here’s the insightful bit…I knew that 5K in eight weeks was never going to be A Thing for me. My goal, like so many others who do the C25K program, was to be able to jog without stopping for the full thirty minutes. For me, it was never about the actual distance; it was about being able to put one foot in front of the other for the full time and achieve it, regardless of the distance. So, by the final week of the program, I was running just over 3k (about two miles), and, you know what? 3K was OK.

So when I ‘graduated’ the C25K, I had two choices; continue to run for 30 minutes for a few weeks and see if I got faster, or, increase the time I was running for, and see if that was enough to increase my mileage. Oh, incidentally, apologies for switching up the units in this post – I tend to think of whole runs in KM in terms of distance, and MPH  in terms of speed (I’m a child of the 80s, what can I tell you?!). Anyway, I decided that I’d soon get bored of keeping up the 5K final run, so I downloaded…you guessed it…the C210K!

This is the sister app from Zenlabs, and you can actually start on week 9, as a ‘graduate’ of the 5K program, so that’s what I did. And guess what? It was just the psychological kick I needed. The intervals are back (for example, the first couple of week 9 runs are 10 minutes running, one minute walking, repeated four times), as a way of increasing endurance. And it works. Completely. I ran for forty minutes, with four one minute walk intervals. And I’ve done it twice so far. I mean, f@!k me…forty minutes! Me…

Screen Shot 2018-07-30 at 18.07.14And today I ran 5K. Now, did I mention that I am SLOW? My 5K time was forty five minutes, which is about 3.5MPH, I think. But you know what? That doesn’t matter. I did it. For the first time. And I’m not dead. Not even remotely. It’s taken about fourteen weeks, but I’ve actually got there. And while I’m pretty sure, to date, I’ve lost no weight (did I mention…greedy), I feel SO MUCH BETTER. When I started this jogging malarkey, I had to come back and have a little lie down after each session (not kidding). Now, I can come home, dash around the house and then engage properly with my children. In fourteen weeks. I call that an effing miracle, myself.

I know that I will never be a ‘runner’ – one of those lycra clad lovelies who bounces along the pavement at a speed that would put a March Hare to shame, but I’m a proud shambler, and I have the C25K to thank. Oh, and Bryony Gordon, of course, whose brilliant book Eat, Drink Run kept me on track as I was making the transition between ‘OMG I’m going to DIE’ and ‘Ooh, this feels GOOD!’. Well worth a read, whether you’re a runner or not, and not just because she loves a Star Wars t-shirt, like me.

So, what I have I learned? What are my top tips?

  1. If you’re ample of bosom, like me, get a VERY GOOD sports bra. Not only will it stop your boobs from bouncing around and distracting the motorists who pass you, but you can put your phone in your cleavage while you’re running. Saves using one of those silly arm band things.
  2. A good C25K app is your friend. The Zenlabs one literally just talks to you to tell you whether to run or walk, which suited me as I couldn’t be doing with someone chatting to me all the way round (headspace, and all that). But if you like the company, there are plenty out there who will have natter while you run.
  3. Listen to music only when you’ve found your pace. I couldn’t run and listen for the first six weeks of the program as, quelle surprise, I sped up and slowed down, depending on what I was listening to. Put it back on when you’re confident you won’t do this (the Zenlabs  C25K app runs in the background and breaks in over your music so you know when to run/walk, but only if you keep it up on your phone’s screen, so be careful. The 10K app is lockable, and works better for this).
  4. Don’t worry if you can’t breathe properly for four weeks. I only really learned to breathe in week 5. Before that, I felt like I was on sixty a day. Which I wasn’t. It hurts, but you’ll get through it.
  5. Trainers are good, but don’t get too hung up on which pair at this stage. I’m only now thinking I should get some decent ones, and I’ve run in all three manky pairs.
  6. Try not to carry anything except your housekey in a pocket. Honestly, it’ll mess with your elbows.
  7. Ibuprofen gel is your friend. Buy lots for your knees. Apply before and after.
  8. STRETCH. Before and after. Or your knees will kill you.
  9. Don’t worry about what anyone thinks when they see you. I was once put off, many years ago, by some twat shouting ‘I can see your cellulite!’ as I panted past him. Had I been able to speak at the time, I’d have shouted back about not being able to even see his tiny c*ck, but as it was I was struggling to breathe. And I didn’t think about it until WAY afterwards, as with all the best comebacks.
  10. Realise that, by taking this on, it’s a reward, not a punishment. You might even find yourself looking forward to the next run. This mindset is particularly useful in the early stages when you think you’re going to have a heart attack.

So there you go. I’m out of the running closet and proud. Here’s to reaching that 10K marker, however long it takes me!

I’m off to drink some Cava now…

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My new psychological thriller, THE FAKE DATE…!!

This is a glorious cover for Lynda Stacey’s fourth novel – looking forward to seeing it on my Kindle in September!

Lynda Stacey Author

It really doesn’t feel that long since I announced that I’d won the Choc Lit Search for a Star competition, and now here I am announcing BOOK 4…. I have no idea how that happened, except for the fact that I love writing, I love it when readers enjoy my books and leave the most amazing reviews. So today, I’m absolutely delighted to reveal the cover of it, my new psychological thriller, THE FAKE DATE..!

The Fake Date

And of course, it’s now available for pre-order on https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07FM915Q2/

Release date: 18th September 2018

THE FAKE DATE

Nine hours and eleven minutes…

That’s how long it’s been since Ella Hope was beaten to within an inch of life and left for dead.

She lies, unable to move and praying for somebody to find her, as she counts down the minutes and wonders who could have hated her so much to have hurt her so…

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This Cider House Rules: An Interview With Martin Thatcher.

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Apple blossom at the Keenan house

First of all, apologies for the radio silence these past few weeks- I’ve been up to my ears in book 3, working on the manuscript ready to send to my agent, as well as the usual work, life and child related stuff, and one or two other unexpecteds that threw my groove a bit. However, I’ve now had book 3 back and I’m ready to embark on some edits. Before I do, I thought I’d write about the lovely interview I did this week.

Those of you who have been following my progress as a writer, and in fact, anyone who has read the first two Little Somerby novels, will know that I set the stories in a fictional Somerset village which looks a lot like the parish where live. I love to write about real places, as there are so many beautiful locations in Somerset to include. One of the most prominent landmarks in the novels is my version of a large cider farm, Carter’s Cider, the geography of which which was inspired pretty directly by the Thatchers Cider site in Sandford (no, Hot Fuzz fans, not that Sandford, that was actually Wells, a bit further down the road, but they do have their similarities!).

I know the site quite well, since I grew up virtually next door, and so it seemed the perfect place to include in the novels. And you all know just how much I love the oak vats :). So, when I was given the opportunity to interview Martin Thatcher, the current Managing Director of Thatchers Cider, I jumped at the chance. It was great to pick his brains for some technical information for book 3, but also to ask some questions to someone who has spent a lifetime involved in the cider business; someone who, if you like, really does have it running through his veins. So, on a beautiful sunny day in Sandford, I took a stroll up the road from my parents’ place to the offices of the multinational cider company with a local pedigree, Thatchers Cider….

 

This Cider House Rules: An Interview With Martin Thatcher.

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Photo courtesy of Thatchers Cider

The main office of Thatchers Cider is a cool, welcoming place, and as I walk through the doors I can’t help but notice the mix of contemporary oak and glass with the old stone building, and how perhaps that blend is a metaphor for the business itself. Thatchers, after all, was established in 1904, and is now in its fourth generation. The business has grown and expanded exponentially over the years, and now exports to Australia and the United States, among other countries. But is it still the family firm it once was? I am looking forward to finding out.

I am greeted with a friendly smile by the receptionist, and in a short time I come face to face with the current Managing Director, Martin Thatcher. I’m pleased to get a warm welcome from him and his assistant (after all, I’ve made no secret of the fact I’ve written what is now a trilogy of books where his manor is quite a central focus, albeit in a fictional sense, and up until now I’ve had no idea what he thinks about my use of the cider farm in fiction!). We sit in a quiet, bright and airy office and I breathe a sigh of relief.

There is so much I want to ask, and I’m very aware that I only have an hour or so to do it, so we get straight to it. After an explanation of the role and process that a taster has,  (the heroine of my current WIP is an expert taster, and I needed to know what that would involve), and some conversation about the role of the Cider Maker, we move on to the experience of running the business itself.

The Business, and the Buzz Words

Alongside the more technical questions I ask, (is blending and tasting the same thing? No, they’re different jobs), it is lovely to get Martin’s perspective on what it’s like to be at the head of  the business. That balance between local responsibility, staying true to the founding principles while also moving forward, is something that is clearly very important to him. I am particularly struck by something he says about the inevitable jargon and administration that comes with running a successful multinational enterprise. You might think that someone who oversees such a complex business might be caught up with the current buzz words and management speak, but not from what I can gather. As a lover of words and a hater of business-speak myself, it is refreshing to hear his disdain for the use of the word ‘resources’ instead of people. This view is  also particularly evident from the large proportion of his staff who live locally (nearly a fifth). Quite an impressive statistic, considering the rise in rural house prices these days!

History versus progress?

Of course, I am also interested to know what it is like to work in a business where, inevitably, one eye is on the future while the other is mindful of the fourth generation heritage. How do you balance the responsibility to the past with a vision for the future? The answer, it seems, is to take a practical approach. While the big picture might be balancing the scales between history and hereafter, the day to day involves not getting too caught up with the corporate desires for reporting ad nauseam. Martin claims an interest only in reports that will take the business forward (what will happen is more important than what has happened, unless you can learn from it). That’s something that was clear from the outset – balance is key, just like making the best cider!

A family affair

One of the things that really strikes me is just how much a family business Thatchers really is. When asked what it’s like to work with close family, Martin, with a wry smile, reminds me that I have written about the relationship between a driven son and a cantankerous father (Matthew and Jack Carter do have some, er, interesting conversations in the first two Little Somerby novels!). In reality, he says, working with the family is something they’re all very used to, and though they might have different ideas about how to get somewhere, the ultimate destination for the business is something they tend to agree on. To be honest, I don’t think Thatchers would have seen the success it has if that wasn’t the case! While conflict is good for fiction, it wouldn’t be quite so helpful in the real world. And it seems the next generation is waiting in the wings, too. One of the interesting things Martin says is that the current generation will be judged on the actions of of the previous one, and he’s determined to pass the business on in the best form he can to his children. I think that’s a lovely sentiment!

Best experiences

When asked what the high points are of his role, he is equally candid and impassioned; walking early on a Spring morning among the dew soaked trees of Myrtle Farm’s orchards, watching the sun rise over the vale, is an experience that would make anyone’s heart beat faster, and may have been used to capture the hearts and minds of certain suppliers of the Thatchers products over the years, too! It certainly sounds like something out of a romance novel! In fact, I might well develop that scenario in one of my own at some point…

There is also something to be said, he admits, about the scent of pressing apples, that emanates from the Thatchers site in the early autumn, and is high up on his list of the best things about being a cider maker. Having spent many Septembers in the village myself, I can definitely concur. The scent hangs in the air like Somerset’s own perfume. That aroma has definitely made it into a novel…The Second Chance Tea Shop, in fact!

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The ‘magical’ cider vats, from the 2015 open day

The magic of the vats

It’s no secret that I was inspired to write the first of my Little Somerby novels by a very specific memory that was triggered while I was on maternity leave with my second child. I’ve written about it before, but it became important when I realised it was a jumping off point for writing a whole novel. My experience of seeing the vats for the first time as a dreamy seventeen year old, and that sense of them just singing with stories and tales was something that stayed with me for a long time, and even now sends a shiver down my spine. Somehow, when I first encountered them, it was as if, when I put my hand on the side of one of them I could just feel the magic; as if they were talking to me. If you don’t believe me, go on a tour and feel it for yourself.

The huge oak cider vats are part of the iconography of the cider business, and it seems that they haven’t just inspired me, but many, many people, including Martin himself, who refers to what happens in the vat barn as ‘magic’. At the moment, visitors to the site only get to see the vats if they’re on a tour (a pity – I was dying to ask if I could take a quick look while I was there, but didn’t quite have the nerve!). There’s no doubting the mystique that they hold – you might even say they have a mythical status in the Thatchers story. They are a true icon of the business, and it’s safe to say that their future is assured with the plans that are afoot to showcase and preserve them for the generations that follow. Soon, I am told, they will be housed in a more modern building that will ensure they continue to work their magic for years to come.

Fiction versus reality

And so I finally ask the question I’ve been most nervous about; how does the Managing Director of Thatchers Cider feel about the fact I’ve put his site into a work of fiction? Am I just about to be given my marching orders? Well, it is with some relief I can reveal that Martin is pretty OK with it, and might even just be a little bit flattered.  I think it helps that his wife has read The Second Chance Tea Shop and apparently liked it, despite one or two coincidences that made me giggle when I found them out! He himself claims to have read about half the novel, which is not a bad endorsement, considering he’s not exactly the target audience! So it seems I’m safe to keep referencing the notable landmarks of Thatchers in the name of bringing to life Carter’s, and might even be allowed on site in 2019 to sell some copies of the novels on the next Thatchers open day (watch this space…). I do feel genuinely pleased that he’s taken the fictionalising of his firm so well, since I’ve had so much fun (and quite a bit of success) from writing it into my love stories.

So all in all, it was great to be able to sit down with Martin Thatcher and ask some questions, and it has definitely given me not just the information I needed for book 3, but also satisfied my curiosity about what it’s like to be at the head of such a successful business. And the only question I didn’t dare ask? What happened to the apostrophe in the company name? (But perhaps that’s for another time!).

My thanks to Martin for his time, and also to Angie Meek for arranging the interview, and Kelli Coxhead for setting up the connection – you’ll all get a shout out in book 3’s acknowledgements in 2019!

 

Want to buy the novels? Here are the links!

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Google Play: http://bit.ly/2ly3YQC

 

 

 

 

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Amazon: http://amzn.to/2xIJPzk

Kobo: goo.gl/1R79Qf

iBooks: https://apple.co/2kmYNUf

Google Play:

 

 

 

Hello, I’m Listening

A great post from lovely Lisa Hill about the psychology of romance writing, and many other things to give you hope on a rainy Tuesday afternoon :).

Lisa Hill

I feel a cloud has lifted for me recently. I wonder if it’s a dark cloud which has  darkened my mind for over two years, perhaps from when Dad was terminally diagnosed in the beginning of 2016. I’m not entirely sure but as we move into Spring (and, my, hasn’t it been a long winter?), a time of new beginnings, new life, fresh buds, that I am beginning to blossom myself.

At the end of last year, I didn’t feel in a very good place. The fact is 2017 should have been a good year, one of the best in fact, as after almost a decade of working towards it, I was finally published. Alas, the sheer excitement was short lived. Not long after I was published, I was offered representation by someone (who will remain anonymous) who advised me to turn down a second contract offered by my, then…

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Bookends and Cold Turkey

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So this week is half term week, and I’m supposed to be stepping away from the computer, remembering I have a family and spending some time with The Husband and The Sprogs. As you can see, that’s going well! I’m generally not very good at Cold Turkey, whether that’s biscuits, booze or books…

In all seriousness, this is something I really need to do for a few days. The thing about being in the thick of a first draft, though, is that you end up feeling a bit like Odysseus facing the Sirens. The call of the characters is so strong, that it’s all I can do to step away and ignore them. In fact, I’ve been sneakily adding some bits and pieces to the story since the kids have been in bed (small sprog crashed out on the sofa, and big sprog has just headed upstairs, so I feel less guilty about it, and The Husband has been plugged into the PS4 for an hour or two now), and now that dinner’s in the oven I can add a little more. I guess I’m so used to being a writing ninja that it’s a hard habit to break!

Something I am trying to do now I’m on the home stretch of the first draft is to bookend the chapters. As you know if you’ve ever read any of my blog posts about my so-called process, I write everything out of sequence and then stitch it together usually after there’s about 50k in place. I work to a maximum word limit these days of 100k, so once it’s about half done, I can usually get things in a rough order. For this current novel, I’ve also been writing in plotlines, as there are three distinct strands to follow, all concerning different characters (some are familiar characters, and some are brand new ones). This stranding has made putting things together a bit easier, and working out where the ‘beats’ of this story should fall easier, too.

But the bookending is something a little different. I tend to write myself into scenes by using dialogue. I hear characters so clearly in my head that I like to start every scene at first draft stage with some sort of conversation, but of course that wouldn’t work structurally for a whole novel – it would get awfully repetitive! So what I tend to do at this stage, when I’m about 60-70k in and stuff is vaguely in the right order, is to write the openings and endings to the scenes I’ve already written. These are my bookends, and it’s where I can set the dialogue into its context. Of course, I’m aware all the time of the dreaded ‘information dump’, which I’m trying not to do, as with the novels I write, it generally is all about characters driving the action, rather than plot, and I don’t want to slow the pace. Probably, a lot of what I add now will come back out again later, but there does need to be an element of scene setting to frame all the conversation! But the bookending process is a useful one, mainly to set characters in their environment and give the reader some context and when and where stuff is taking place. I wish I could drop a quick example in, but I don’t want to give anything away just yet about book 3’s plot and characters! Let’s just say that I think, if you liked the first two books, you’ll find a lot to like in this one, too :).