Shameless plug alert… A Kiss and a Promise – OUT NOW!

Hey everyone

Just a quick post to tell you that the new anthology from Smoking Pen Press, A Kiss and a Promise, is now available to download from Amazon!

AKissAndAPromise

Featuring my paranormal romance story Made to be Broken, the ebook version is just £3.05 with the paperback to follow in October. Here’s the blurb to whet your appetite:

The six romances included in this anthology have quirky characters, or quirky locations, or quirky situations.  You’ll find a ghost and a new homeowner, a spaceship captain and her cartographer, a window designer and high school beau, a banker and a baker, two vampire hunters, and some supernatural beings.  You’ll find yourself in two different restaurants, and on another planet. You’ll find deception, intrigue, and old memories.  You’ll find Happily-Ever-Afters, and you’ll find Happy-for-Nows.
But most of all, you’ll find true romance.  You’ll find kisses, and you’ll find promises.

Vampire hunters? Romance? How can you resist??? Download the anthology here and don’t forget to leave a review on Amazon and Goodreads (authors love reviews!) and share, share, share with your family and friends.

Thanks all!

)o(  Love and Light  )o(

(Image and blurb text courtesy of Smoking Pen Press)

A Facebook experiment, news from America and OMG my novel’s nearly finished

Belated Beltane greetings!

Lots of things to write about but first things first, I’m pleased to share the news that my paranormal romance short story ‘Made To Be Broken’ has been chosen for publication in an upcoming anthology from Smoking Pen Press, to be entitled ‘A Kiss and a Promise’. It’s my first publication outside of the UK and I look forwards to seeing it in print and begging you all to buy it. But just to show it’s not all acceptances and jazz hands, I failed to place either of my stories submitted to the Leicester Writes Short Story competition, and I haven’t heard a sausage from Writing Magazine on my submission to their Dialogue Only competition, so I ‘m guessing that’s a no. I entered a story to their Other Worlds competition for speculative fiction which closes this month, so I’ll have to wait a month or two to hear back (or not) on that one. On the bright side I have at least three new short stories which I can now look to improve and market elsewhere, so fingers crossed I can find them a home (it took me two attempts before ‘Made To Be Broken’ was accepted: moral of the story, never give up).

Since releasing ‘The Case of Blue Ben‘ a few months ago and witnessing a steady if modest stream of downloads, I was tempted by the evil blue ‘Book to sign up to an ad campaign to promote my Riley Pope stuff.

If you’ve never used Facebook adverts before, it goes like this: you plug in your target audience demographic and then you tell Facebook what reach you’d like to see, and the price goes up in increments. Poor indie author that I am, I chose the cheapest option which was £14.00 ex VAT for a 24 hour campaign which would reach about 1,500 people. This is what I got for my 1,400 pennies:

2,003 people reached.

80 post likes / loves / wows.

13 shares.

11 new followers on my Facebook page.

1 helpful pedant correcting my grammar.

Which translated into a total of 37 downloads across the four titles. Bearing in mind that the Pope books are free, the whole thing cost me about 45p per download. However, I have no new reviews so I still don’t know what people think of them, good, bad or otherwise.

In summary, I have 11 new followers and got my work under the noses of 2,000 people, so that ain’t so bad. Oh, and I learned that writing ‘part-eaten corpses’ in an intentionally short and punchy advertorial should be the far wordier ‘partially eaten corpses’.

I hope that as he took the time to comment on my advert, he also took a minute to support an indie author and download my books. I look forwards to reading his 1 star reviews!

In other news, I’ve been binge-watching lots of great TV, so here are some recommendations: Travellers Season 1 and 2 (Netflix), River (Netflix), Line of Duty Seasons 1 -3 (Netflix), American Horror Story Seasons 1 – 6 (Netflix). I’ve never been a tele snob – TV is story and stories are escapism, something we all need more of in a world that gets scarier by the day.

Bookwise I’ve also been bingeing. First on my old Bill Bryson books, since I felt like I needed a giggle, and also on the brilliant Ben Garston books by James Bennett (if you like Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden and Mike Carey’s Felix Castor then you’re going to love Ben Garston). I’m about to start Fated, the first Alex Verus novel by Benedict Jacka. I know I’m quite late to this particular party but every time I read a new urban fantasy novel, I can’t help comparing my own work to theirs, and then I decide that my WIP is atrocious and will never be published when it has to compete with all these other amazing authors and I might as well quit. Hence I’ve (wrongly) been avoiding them, and thus missing out on all these wonderful stories.

Speaking of the WIP it is ohmygodohmygodohmygod so close to being finished that it’s making me feel a little sick every time I sit down to do some editing. I’m currently 14,000 words from the end. The novel I have written and rewritten six or seven times over almost ten years is about to be completed and sent out into the world for inspection. It’s not so much the fear of rejection making me ill, it’s the idea of spending ten years of my life on a thing that might never be published. On the flipside, I am sooooooooooo looking forwards to starting something new. It’s the second installment in the series, provisionally titled ‘Open Wounds’ and it’s all planned out and waiting to be written. The only nagging doubt I have is whether I should be writing the second in a series if there’s no guarantee of the first being published? Honestly, I don’t know, but it’s there in my head and is screaming to be written, so either way it’s going down on paper. Or on screen. Whatever.

So here ends my update. I’m off to write a story where the lead hunts pedants and chokes them on pages from her dictionary.

Ta-ra!

Download books 1 – 4 in the Riley Pope Case Files from Smashwords today (and don’t forget to leave me a review!)

Full of something but definitely not stories

Greetings, fellow blog folk.

I’m writing this post from my sick bed (ie. duvet on the sofa in front of the footie). Once again, I’ve gone and contracted the winter lurgy (in spring), and I’m currently drowning in tissues full of…

Anyway.

What I am not currently full of is stories, which is seriously frustrating because I need to write three in the next two weeks to meet a competition deadline.

No pressure.

Which is probably the issue.

But anyway, to get things moving I’ve been up to the study and grabbed this little beauty:

(Yes, that’s Welford curled up in the background, keeping me company / pinching all the leg room, and oh look! A tissue!)

I opened the book at random and came to the following exercise (easier to photograph than explain since I’m typing this on my phone – I’m not being lazy, honest!):

So I’m going to give it a go and see what I end up with, and if I’m feeling brave then I’ll post the results – whatever they may be 🤣

Just a quick shameless plug for The Case of Blue Ben, the 4th instalment in the Riley Pope Case Files, which came out last week and can be downloaded for free (along with the first three books in brand new revised editions) from Smashwords in epub or mobi format now.

Later 🤘

New release: The Case of Blue Ben (Riley Pope Book 4)

Just a quick update on the next Riley Pope installment…… (drum roll please)…..

DA DAAAAAAA!!!

4-blue-ben
Click me to download for free!

Here it is, available to download for free from Smashwords (or if you’re feeling extra generous and want to pay for it, 99p from Amazon), The Case of Blue Ben.

Mercators are solitary creatures, as a rule: the trading of cryptids is a competitive business – not to mention illegal – and single-minded ruthlessness doesn’t translate to a healthy social circle. So when a group of mercators convene in a London hotel, it sets off alarm bells, especially for cryptozoologist Riley Pope, who’d like nothing more than to put the mercators out of business for good… and settle an old score into the bargain.

But Riley’s employers seem reluctant to act, and it’s only with the unexpected help of Mo Liffey, the Firm’s resident sorceress, that Riley convinces them they need her on the case. Mo’s help doesn’t come for free though… 

Zealous in her quest to discover what the band of mercators are up to, Riley targets a face from her past with disastrous – and possibly life-changing – consequences. Faced with the option of admitting her failure or swallowing her pride, Riley asks for help from an unlikely source, and together they close in on the mercator’s prized purchase… only for Mo to call her debt in. And you don’t say no to the Queen of the Fae.

Twitter, I take it all back! You have made me a very happy woman!

Has your favourite author changed from ten years ago? asked Goodreads yesterday on Twitter.

Nope, I replied, still @KelleyArmstrong.

And about my day I went.

Some time (and a trip to the pub) later, I returned home to find the little blue light on my phone was flashing: somebody had liked my Tweet, it seemed…

Screenshot_20170823-003923

Cue much screaming and dancing round the lounge. I’m still smiling now!

X

Am I on a train or in the Tri Cities?

I’ve just had a pretty mad weekend of reading – it’s rare that I have (or find) the time to spend an entire day reading, but yesterday, apart from a bit of housework, I essentially sat on my arse and power read.

First, I finished the second half of the Mercy Thompson book, Blood Bound. Then I started The Girl on the Train… and by midnight I’d finished it.

Like I say, it’s rare for me to spend so long immersed in a book, so I wasn’t expecting to feel the way I did this morning, which was weirdly disconnected and just not ‘with it’.

I can’t put it down to anything obvious. I don’t feel ill and there’s nothing beyond the usual on my mind, I’m not drunk and I’ve never taken anything stronger than a paracetamol in my life, so I can only put this weird disconnected feeling down to the fact that I spent a good eight hours emersed in the worlds of Patricia Briggs’ Tri Cities werewolves and then Paula Hawkins’ screwed-up trio of Rachel, Megs and Anna.

Does anyone else suffer this or is it just me? What can we call it? A book hangover?

Anyway, I did something unusual and reviewed both books on Goodreads (check out my feed to see what I thought, and don’t forget to follow me!). I don’t normally leave reviews because I tend to forget half the good stuff but always remember the bad, so for my next book I’ve decided to make notes as I go along and see what I end up with, because I’m sad like that.

Writing-wise, I’ve just written a 7500 word paranormal romance (it wasn’t meant to be a PR but the story just took me in that direction) so I’ll get it polished then see if I can place it somewhere. The WIP is still being pulled into shape and I’m picking up the 4th Riley Pope tomorrow. I have 9 days to go in the day job before I have a fortnight off and two blissful weeks of solid writing, which can’t come soon enough. I’ve also swallowed my nerves and booked the tickets for the Bridge House author event. I’ve no idea what to expect but I guess I’ll worry (excessively) about that in December!

(And don’t forget, my urban fantasy series The Riley Pope Case Files is free to download from Smashwords and ebook stockists everywhere!)

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Walking to Whitby, submission success and an urban fantasy series that I really should’ve read a long time ago

I did it!

I completed my Walk to Whitby! Well actually, I did it a month ago but thought I should mention it here since the last update I provided stopped at Day 12 and you may or may not have been wondering if I’d been figuratively mown down somewhere on the M1 motorway. Final total raised was £205 which is far more than I ever expected to raise for this very worthwhile cause. It’s time we kicked cancer’s arse for good, don’t you think?

In other news, I received a lovely email the other day. ‘Your submission has been successful’ said the title. Woo hoo! My short story A Very Unseelie Act will be included in Gliterary Tales and published by Bridge House Publishing this November. It’s been a few years since my last published story (Night Shift – you can read it online here) so it was very nice to be able to jump up from my chair and do the happy dance again (writers, you know the one I’m talking about). The story is in epistolary format and is written as an email exchange between a disgruntled fairy and a totally inept customer service department, of which we’ve all had experience at some time or other.  I wrote the story about four years ago and initially submitted it to a Writing Magazine competition, for which it was shortlisted. It then sat around on my hard drive until I saw the call for submissions from Bridge House Publishing for stories with glitter or sparkle. I’ve since had an email inviting me and a plus one to Bridge House’s annual celebration event in December, which I’m umming and ahing over but probably shouldn’t be because I know authors should never turn down an opportunity to network.

Buuuuuut…

Firstly, I’ve never been to one of these events before so I’m not really sure what to expect. I’m a total introvert and not very sociable, so the mention of ‘author speed dating’ had me coming out in a cold sweat. That alone is not a reason to avoid it though, and nor would the hubster (or my inner writer) let me. Secondly and more importantly, the event is in London (why does EVERYTHING have to be in London?) and it also falls on the day of my Nan’s 90th birthday party. The train isn’t an option as I don’t live anywhere near a station, so a simple train journey for most would actually be a taxi-train-tube-tube-train-taxi journey. So how much is this going to cost me three weeks before Christmas, when money will already be tight??? It means we’re going to have to drive from Leicester to London and back, on a Saturday a few weeks before Christmas. The event is 2pm-5pm, and the birthday party starts at 7pm. Even if I leave early, I’m still not guaranteed to get back on time. In light of my first point I feel like I’m making excuses, but I only have one Nan and she’s only going to be 90 once so there’s no competition. I’m still not sure what to do, so I might reserve the tickets and then just figure it out nearer the time.

Gah. There are worse problems to have, right?

And finally, on the book front, I’ve just read Lee Child’s Persuader (his seventh – I think – Jack Reacher) and also Patricia Briggs’ Moon Called, her first book in the Mercy Thompson series. Lee Child aside (Persuader, I felt, was probably the best Jack Reacher I’ve read in terms of plot and overall writing), I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get round to reading Patricia Briggs considering my love of urban fantasy and all things vampire, witch and werewolf. Saying that, I can’t help but compare it to Bitten, Kelley Armstrong’s first book in the Otherworld series, and in terms of the plot I found it a bit thin and a whole lot confusing when it all came to a head. Otherwise, I really enjoyed her style and I like the character of Mercy – she’s not some cliched femme fatale kick-ass in leather (which is what put me off Kim Harrison’s books) but an average girl who lives in a trailer, works as a mechanic and just happens to possess the ability to shift into a coyote. I like the coyote twist and how Briggs has woven it into the general werewolf pack concept, and I’m looking forward to reading more Mercy Thompson (which I intend to do when I get home with book two in the series.) Oh, and Cainsville #4 has just come out in paperback in the UK this week, so that will no doubt be winging its way to me from Amazon some time in the not-too-distant future.

As for the WIP, I’m still plugging away at it and pleased with how it’s going. It’s still following the general plotline but with lots of new or revised scenes. I’m also working on the fourth Riley Pope and another long-short story about a vampire hunter on a mission to flush out a strigoi-trafficking dhampir. Also in the pipeline is a short story in the form of a memoir that I intend to submit to Writing Magazine for an upcoming comp. I imagine that’s going to take me about 5 minutes to write, and 5 days to get over, but then there’s always chocolate!

Have a blessed Lammas all

X

lammas

 

Shane Ritchie, Reader’s Neck and the usefulness of other author’s reviews

Hello! I’m still here. Working hard on the perpetual WIP (I was struggling with the sheer length of it, and so was Word, so I’m now using Scrivener – not sure now how I ever managed without it!). Two short stories currently in for submission, pending a decision some time after June, and plotting the next Riley Pope tale, ‘The Case of Blue Ben’. Waaaaaaay behind on my Goodreads Reading Challenge so in a frantic effort to catch up I’ve developed Reader’s Neck – don’t know if that’s an actual medical complaint but it should be because it bloody well hurts. I’m currently alternating between Kelley Armstrong’s Cainsville series and Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books. I’m not exactly a fan of this genre of fiction, but I got into the Jack Reacher series after reading a Lee Child interview in Writing Magazine, an excerpt of which can be found here.  The particular paragraph that resonated was this one:

• How do you feel about breaking writing rules?
In general writers, especially beginner writers, are very nervous and insecure. People have a clear idea of what they want to do and there are rules that aren’t rules – they’re just advice, and sometimes bad advice. Showing not telling is one face of bad advice. There is no reason why you can’t tell something in a plain, declarative style. Classic post-war thriller writers just sat down and told a story, and the idea that you should not is very twisted and forces people to pass on information in a very weird way. My main point is always to avoid advice. Books only work if they are vivid and organic and have one imagination in charge.

Always avoid advice?! Unpublished writers are bombarded with advice, and a lot of it is useful and we couldn’t do without it. There’s also advice that’s confusing, conflicting, biased, or just plain unhelpful. Also, if we’re to avoid advice, then do we avoid Mr Child’s advice to avoid advice???

But anyway, I picked up a few Jack Reacher’s on my charity shop rounds and have been steadily collecting them ever since. I’ve struggled with a few – I’d advise anyone to give ‘Nothing To Lose’ a very wide berth – but mostly I’ve enjoyed them, mainly because of the simple, pared-back way in which Lee Child writes; he can conjure the most vivid scene using four or five carefully chosen words, whereas another author (me, for example) might use a paragraph to say the same thing. I’m currently reading ‘The Visitor’ and enjoying it very muchly – I’m pretty sure I’ve figured out who the killer is already but I don’t know how she’s doing it, other than by hypnosis. I’ll add this to my notes on ‘interesting ways to kill people’, just as I added superglue to my list of ‘interesting ways to subdue folk’. I’m pretty sure my PC must be flagged to every law enforcement agency in the country by now.

On the subject of Cainsville, I’m also very much enjoying it. It is, of course, written by my favourite author, so go figure. It wasn’t until I finished #3 in the series and read a few reviews on Goodreads that something was pointed out to me, and verified by a lot of other readers – that love triangles occur in pretty much every Kelley Armstrong series. I hadn’t noticed this myself, but there is certainly a love triangle in Cainsville with Eden/Olivia, Gabriel/Gwynn and Ricky/Arawn, and then there’s the love triangle between Nadia, Jack and the guy whose name I forget in the Nadia Stafford series, and then there’s a potential love triangle issue waiting in the wings in the Rockton series between Casey, Eric and her ex-lover who she left behind when she went into hiding, and may reappear in the third installment to shake things up. The only love triangle I recall in the Otherworld series was in Bitten, when Elena was still living with (Philip?) whilst still in love with Clay and was caught between the two. I haven’t read any of her YA stuff so I can’t personally comment, but I’m led to believe there are more… you guessed it…. love triangles.

Apparently this is something of an overused plot device in YA, but it’s probably overused because it’s popular with teens and tweens. Furthermore I am in NOOOOO position to be criticising anyone, and certainly not the good lady herself. I was more interested in reader’s reactions to the use of a love triangle in urban fantasy – and the overwhelming majority were tired of seeing this and wanted something different. It also chimed with something I’d read the previous week about relationships in TV serial dramas – Shane Ritchie pointed out that it had taken over a year for Kat and Alfie to have their first kiss, yet nowadays, TV is all about instant gratification, and drawn-out will-they/ won’t-they scenarios are few and far between.

I don’t currently have a love triangle in my WIP – there is a love interest that kindles during the novel, but also complications that would make a relationship difficult. As it’s currently written, there’s a kiss between the two about 3/4 of the way through the book, just before the beginning of the climax where the protag. and love interest/hero are torn apart on separate quests. On the back of the advice I read from other urban fantasy readers (and also, who’d have thunk it, Shane Ritchie!) I will now remove that kiss and follow the Kat and Alfie formula instead – gaining myself a subplot for the next few books that could go all manner of interesting ways.

And speaking of TV, two points to mention:

  1. The hubster and I have been binging on The Man in The High Castle and I can highly recommend it. Nazis, kempeitai, alternative history… and now something very ‘Fringe’ is going on! TV GOLD!
  2. Well…. I can’t say. Due to the TV channel wanting to be all secretive, I’ve had to remove what point 2 said…. but all will become clear eventually.

A final note about the Riley Pope series – they’re all now FREE on Smashwords, and always will be. The reason? Well, because they’re not traditionally published, and whilst they’ve been properly proofread by myself, they haven’t been under the eyes of an editor or anyone else with a professional eye, like traditionally published books are, so viewing this from the eyes of the reader, I decided it would only be right to now offer them for free.

So that’s it folks. Don’t forget to add me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Smashwords – hell, I’m like dog s**t!

Until next time

X

Antisocial media

I saw an advert / call for submissions from a traditional publisher recently, requiring the author to submit a detailed marketing plan with their manuscript.

Really???

Now I get that authors are expected to take a more active role in promoting their work than in previous decades, but unless you hail from a background in sales or marketing and have any knowledge of the publishing industry then where do you start? They might as well have printed ‘Beg, little author, beg!’ right? Well, quite frankly, f*** you Mr Publisher! Without us you’d be out of business. No wonder that more and more authors are turning to self-publishing, even the ones who’ve been traditionally published historically. If we have to do all the work ourselves then where’s the sense in wasting time seeking representation?

OK, so I know there are numerous advantages to having a publisher and many probably don’t require the aforementioned marketing plan – I don’t mean to tar them all with the same grouchy brush.

But.

We authors are, on the whole, inherently solitary creatures. We’re never more content than when we’re locked away, engrossed in our imaginary worlds and conversing with characters that live in our heads. Creating is the fun part of writing. None of us set out to write a novel with the thought of ‘Oh gee, I just can’t wait to market this’ in mind.

As I said in previous posts, it was always my intention to self-publish The Riley Pope Case Files, so promoting them myself was part of the package. I didn’t (and still don’t) expect to make a fortune from the venture. Aside from telling family and friends, my promotional work has solely taken place via social media – my dedicated author page on Facebook, my Twitter account, my Pinterest feed where oodles of gothic loveliness abounds, and Goodreads.

As I made the (sadly wrong) decision to subscribe to KDP Select, I am tied in to selling the first three books via Amazon exclusively, for a period of 3 months. It offers higher royalties in Japan, Brazil and Mexico, (none of which I’ve sold a single book to) and India (total sales: one), and allows you to earn via the Select Global Fund which calculates royalties based on the number of pages read via Kindle Unlimited (these take 3 months to show, so I don’t know what I’ve earned yet – probably a pittance). You also get access to promotions, either Kindle Countdown deals or a Free Book promotion which allows you to offer your book for free for up to 5 days.

I went with the Free Book promotion for all three books. The Case of Walutahanga sold well in this period, reaching No.16 in the Urban Fantasy Top 100 Free chart. As soon as the promotion was over, sales didn’t so much dwindle as dry up completely. The Case of Ahuizotl and The Case of the Brollachan had more modest sales during the Free Book period, and likewise went down to zilch post-promotion. As I write this, my Kindle Unlimited page reads are showing at 659.

I can attribute most of the sales to promotion via social media. On the days that I advertised, sales went up, so it definitely helps. On the flipside, I’m now pretty bored with repeating myself via updates and tweets and creative little JPEGs of book quotes, so I’m damned sure the rest of my audience is. As part of my sales drive I joined up to groups on Facebook and followed other folk on Twitter who either wrote or read urban fantasy, or had a keen interest in cryptozoology. A couple even followed me back, which was nice, but now both my Twitter and Facebook feeds are full of other people promoting their ebooks! Good for them! But am I paying them any attention?

Well… no.

The thing is, I don’t respond well to adverts, TV, online or otherwise. I know what I like and if I want it then I’ll actively seek it out. I don’t like being bombarded with commercials and little flashing GIFs, advising that I NEED to get this or that I MUST own that, hence I find myself cringing every time I post an ad, imagining all of those people going ‘God, not HER again! Sod off!’

It doesn’t help that I’m not very happy with the price that I’ve had to set the books at: Amazon won’t let me sell below 99p, which some might find pretty steep for a 9,000 word short story. The answer is to find other platforms to sell on for a lower price BUT – I’m now tied in to bloody Amazon until mid-March!

Gah!

The most consistent feedback I’ve had concerns print books and whether The Riley Pope Case Files are available in print. Sadly, they’re not long enough to print via CreateSpace. The plan is to release an anthology of Books 1 to 10 (when they’re written) in print, which won’t be for a year or two. I have seen a lot of other authors admitting their print sales are much, much higher than their ebooks, which doesn’t surprise me in the least. I personally own two Kindles and can’t remember the last time I used either. It’s not that I have anything against ebooks, but I just love print books more. I like to line them up on my bookshelves, I like the feel of a book in my hand and the smell when they’re new.

That’s right. I sniff books. Don’t you?

Liar. 😉

X

 

Three things to do over Christmas that’ll freak out your family

I recently watched the last ever episode of Banshee. For those who haven’t seen it, WHY NOT? I challenge you to watch the first episode and not be hooked by the time ten minutes is up.

As the final episode drew to a close and all of the characters I’d grown to know and love went their separate ways, not a happy ever after but a happy-ish for now, I found myself in tears and wondered WHY I was in tears! Nobody had died (well a lot of folk had, but not anyone I cared about). The fact is I’d come to feel close to the characters, to care about their lives and what happened to them afterwards. Except I wouldn’t know, because this was the end, and how daft does THAT sound when they’re only actors playing roles on the screen?

It got me to thinking just why I cared so much. The lead is an ex-con thief who assumes the ID of a murdered sheriff and goes on a quest to win back the love of his life, who’s now happily married to the mayor (but just happens to be an ex-thief herself, and the daughter of a mob boss who they lied to and swindled). On the surface there doesn’t seem much to root for – but, from the outset, we see our shady lead put himself in harm’s way to save a total stranger’s life. And he keeps on doing it, and keeps on doing it, and other shady characters join the party, and the plot keeps twisting and turning and thickening, and suddenly, just like the book you can’t put down, you’ve lost a whole day in your eagerness to find out what happens.

The strap line for Banshee is’small town, big secrets’, but even though it is a small town, it’s peopled with extraordinary characters. I know that in my current (never-ending) WIP, I’ve been guilty of not getting to know my characters well enough, and now am playing (soul-destroying) catch-up. So, to get to know my cast better,  I’ve come up with a trio of exercises aimed at really getting into their heads, discovering secrets even I didn’t know about, and finding out what their lives were like before they stepped into the pages of my novel. Feel free to try them out, or share them, but please keep a struggling author in biscuits and link back to my site- every little helps!

Exercise 1 – Correspond with your characters!

Everyone has secrets, even the people who live in your head! So why not invite them to spill a few? Write them a letter and let them respond, or, if you’re not entirely comfortable posting letters to imaginary people, then set up an email account for them. If you’re finding it difficult to switch between author and character then try corresponding as author at your desk, and replying as character in a coffee shop / on the commute / in your PJs from the sofa (you could go as far as dressing up as them if that helps!).

So what is the point of this exercise, other than freaking out your partner / parents / dog when they wander in and find you in full period costume, writing to a fictional entity?

Well, that depends entirely on what you want to know. I tried this exercise out with the antagonist of my current WIP, keeping the following questions in mind:

  • Why are you determined to kill my hero (you numpty)?
  • Why did you end up so bloody evil?
  • What drove you to do what you have done / are threatening to do?
  • What’s your motivation and is it rational?
  • What is your background?
  • Are you really all that bad or is there a chance of redemption for you?

I really have written the entire first / second / ninetieth draft of my WIP without knowing any of this important (imperative) information. No one is ever as simple as good guy / bad guy, though. Round out your characters by asking them to tell you a little more about themselves, and you might be surprised by the answers!

Exercise 2 – The Job Interview!

This can work for any character: protagonist, antagonist or secondary character.

Firstly, decide which position you are interviewing for. Secondly, write a brief job spec. For example: ‘Aspiring author seeks heroine for gritty urban fantasy debut. Must be industrious, tenacious and have a few skeletons in the closet. Supernatural qualities desirable, etc etc.”

Write up your own list of questions or pick from the selection below, then put on your best suit and tie and prepare to interview your candidates!

  • Name, age, sex, where do you hail from (these are mostly always essential)
  • List your strengths and weaknesses
  • Where do you see yourself five years from now?
  • Why should I consider hiring you for this position?
  • What motivates you?
  • Are you a team player or more of a lone wolf?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What have you learned from your mistakes?

Or how about some more outlandish enquiries?

  • You win a million quid on the lottery: what would you do with it?
  • What do you think about when you’re alone in the car?
  • What were you like in high school?
  • How would you convince someone to do something they didn’t want to do?
  • You’ve been given a giraffe. You can’t sell it or give it away. What would you do with the giraffe?

What will you learn from doing this? Well, assuming you have a great plot and your protagonist is now up the tree, you’ll know exactly how he or she is going to react when you start throwing rocks at them, and how they might intend to get themselves down.

Exercise 3 – Let’s go shopping!

This is another time-consuming exercise, so make sure you have at least a few hours spare.

We challenge our characters with endless choices: the choices they make decide the route the story takes, but they also say a lot about the character.

Decide which character you’re going to get to know, then head off to your nearest town centre / supermarket / mall and take them shopping!

You can, if you wish, grab a basket or trolley and physically collect all the items that your character would buy. It does mean, eventually, you’ll have to put them back though. Or buy them. Or dump the trolley or basket in the shop for someone else to clear up, but even if your character would do this, I don’t recommend or condone it!

The easiest method is to browse as your character would browse. Would they go for the Heinz baked beans or the Tesco Value option? Would they eat baked beans? And what about alcohol? Are they a drinker or do they avoid it, and if they avoid it then do they have a reason, perhaps one that they’re hiding?

Champagne or Lambrini? Have they ever had champagne? How about fashion? Are they more of an All Saints or a Matalan girl? Do they even follow fashion or are they more of an alternative type? How about thrift shops? Do they rely on them to make ends meet, or would they rather walk around naked than wear other people’s cast-offs?

Hopefully, by the end of your shopping trip, you’ll have learned a little more about your character’s likes and dislikes, background, attitude, strengths and flaws (and hopefully you haven’t been arrested, or disowned by your partner / mother / best friend for acting like a weirdo – because they know we are anyway, right?)

If you try out any of these exercises, enjoy! I’d love to hear how you get on!

Blessed Winter Solstice to you all, happy holidays, and don’t forget to check out The Riley Pope Case Files, just 99p each from Amazon now!