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When did social media stop being social?

I love this post so much! Social media is changing so much, so fast and we’re caught between keeping up and needing to keep a safe space to be genuinely social!

Slouching towards Thatcham

Is social media still truly ‘social’?

Does anyone remember when social media was shiny and new? When we were discovering new friends on MySpace? When we all migrated en masse to Facebook so we could ‘poke’ all our existing friends? When Twitter was the new kid on the block?

Those were heady days: days of discovery and possibility, when new friendships were born and relationships forged. Yes, they were fun and frivolous but they also opened new, exciting windows on our world. YouTube democratised entertainment media, creating a host of new stars. Twitter brought us breaking global news – the Hudson river plane crash, Arab Spring – before traditional news outlets were even able to mobilise.

And those days weren’t so long ago. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter were founded in 2004, 2005 and 2006 respectively. Pinterest only celebrated its fifth birthday earlier this year, while Instagram doesn’t turn five until October…

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Shifting Gear

gearsI wear several hats; writer, mother, political campaigner. There are others, but right now those three are the most important in my life. Juggling those hats is quite a circus act. Whenever I switch from one to another, it’s rather like changing gears. It takes a little time to adjust, sometimes hours. Not that it takes me hours to change gear when driving, that would be worrying.

It’s especially difficult going from one of my child-free guises to mother mode. I have two boys, aged six and three. They are pretty full on, as most small children are. So walking into a room, fresh from a morning immersed in the Echoes universe, to be hit full force by two bundles of chaos, both pretending to be groaning, shambling zombies, intent upon biting me, requires a bit of an adjustment.

I’m gradually learning to embrace the noise and mayhem that accompanies my children, though I wish someone had better prepared me for it. I always knew that parenting would be challenging, but it’s the relentlessness of it that I was ill prepared for. Once I realised that writing was my calling and that it was what I was going to strive to earn a living doing, it became apparent that I would need support to make it happen.

Fortunately my family have been nothing but supportive, and I have lots of help with the kids. When the house goes quiet, it’s time for me to turn my attention away from jig saw puzzles, Lego and Harry Potter, just some of the current favourites, and towards shifters, demons and beautiful fae.

Again, there is that period of adjustment. There is the requirement to check up on my social media accounts, respond to emails, and do any ad hoc tasks connected with my work. I have to get these things out of the way before I can tune in to writing, or editing. My mind requires retuning, like an analogue radio.

should be writingI don’t always manage to be very efficient at this stage! Certain websites are very distracting and I am prone to procrastination. I can often be found chuntering to myself that I really should be shutting down my web browser now…. twenty minutes later I’m still “just checking Facebook”.

What doesn’t help is that most of my campaigning goes on online too, so there is always the temptation to delve into that world with my time. An extra few groups, forums and instant messages need to be checked or sent, which turns into getting engrossed in a debate.

But usually, once I’ve got a few things out of the way and am settled down into calm, creative mode, I’m away. Once I’m in my writing world, its very difficult for me to tear myself away. I’ve been working out how many words an hour I need to type in order to meet my deadlines, and how many hours per week. It’s no mean feet. As a self-publishing author, my deadlines are self-imposed. But I think it’s important for me personally, to have those targets and to do my best to meet them.

It’s especially important right now, because I’m preparing to run a crowdfunder to pay for getting Tides of Spring finished and published. So I have tasks to complete on a timeline in order for it to all run smoothly. I have my editor booked already, even though I have only just finished the first draft, because great editors tend to be booked up for months. So I know that my revisions need to be done by a certain date, and the crowdfunder needs to complete before my editor finishes the job, so that I can pay her!

I’ve never worked like this before, not since I was studying for my degree anyway, and had assignment deadlines. So it’s an exciting development. This new sense of professionalism is driving me forward in a new way and I’m optimistic that this marks a new chapter in my career.

I really look forward to sharing Tides of Spring with so many readers who I know are looking forward to the next instalment in the Echoes of the Past saga. My crowdfunder needs to be a success in order for me to get this book out to people, so I urge readers and supporters to subscribe to my mailing list and keep an eye on the blog and social media for announcements. More will be revealed very soon!

Thanks for reading and supporting me on this journey.


Series and Psychopaths—The Author Sadist & Why Audiences LOVE the Pain

A great insight.

Kristen Lamb's Blog

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 9.18.35 AM Mads Mikkelsen in “Hannibal”

Hubby and I are now careening through Hannibal, which is some of the most amazing writing I’ve ever seen. I would have never believed any actor could even rival Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, but…? Mads Mikkelsen might actually be better. I don’t know if I have ever felt so conflicted about a character. Hannibal is a stone-cold killer, but then I catch myself rooting for him?

Wait…no, he’s the BAD GUY. Right?

I’m so confused *head desk*

Yet, this series is such a prime example of why series are superlative storytelling. Instead of containing a character like Lecter to 90-120 minutes, we now have what no movie can offer…TIME. This allows for a layering, a depth, an exploration we always craved, even if we weren’t entirely aware of it at the time.

I find it harder to make snap judgements (like I do…

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There Are No Coincidences

iStock_000016905197SmallHappy Monday, folks. I wanted to kick start today by writing a little bit about the research and development process that has been such a huge part of writing Echoes of the Past. I have turned up some really fascinating facts and stumbled upon some rather striking coincidences. But as the title above suggests, perhaps there are no coincidences. Is it fate?

Echoes is not set in any particular year, I have deliberately kept it vague, but the entirety of Seeds of Autumn is a countdown to an epic event and the phases of the moon are significant, so I did use a real lunar calendar for a previous year to refer to in order to keep the dates and moon phases in sync. Long after the main events of the entire series were loosely plotted and in fact after I had completed Seeds of Autumn, I discovered that the day after the last day in that book in the year that I was using as a reference was a blue moon. One definition of a blue moon is the third full moon in a season that contains four full moons, which is relatively unusual as most seasons only contain three. For those who haven’t yet read the book, the main characters call themselves The Blue Moon. The enormity of this struck me and I couldn’t ignore it, so there is a reference to it in the second book, Ghosts of Winter (coming soon).

Photo by Sebastian Dario, courtesy of Creative Commons

Photo by Sebastian Dario, courtesy of Creative Commons

The series features animism and deities from various pantheons, so I do a lot of research into the world’s mythologies and do a lot of investigation to find fitting character names. The second rather large coincidence that I stumbled upon was also related to the Blue Moon. Echoes is set in the fictional city of Caerton. I can’t actually claim credit for this name, as a dear friend came up with it and gave me permission to use it. It’s origins are Welsh, the word caer means castle or fortress and the history of the city is richly detailed from the very first caer built in its location, which may or may not be in or close to Wales 😉

Now, the Roman pantheon features in the series, with one deity in particular as a rival to their Greek counterpart and so I sometimes find myself translating things into Latin. One of these translations was The Blue Moon. Google Translate gave me a couple of options, but one of them leapt out at me: Caeruleum Lunulam. I was stunned at the appearance of caer, the etymology is utterly unrelated but the coincidence was enormous. Readers will have to wait until book three to be rewarded with this particular morsel.

Two huge coincidences, or perhaps fate. Either way, too significant to ignore.

I love hearing from you, what curious coincidences have you stumbled upon? If you’re a writer or artist, how have you incorporated those into your work?


Work-In-Progress Blog Challenge

I’ve been nominated by the ever-lovely Willow C. Winsham to complete the WIP Blog Challenge. Willow is a friend of mine from (shock horror) real life, who is currently writing her debut series of novels, entitled The Virginia Dewhurst Trilogy. I gather it is a hard sci-fi series set in the post-apocalyptic near-future and features alien robots who take over the earth…. no wait, that’s not right… Run over to Willow’s blog and check out her fantastic writing and historical research into witchcraft and other such fascinating topics: http://winsham.blogspot.co.uk/

Work-in-Progress Blog ChallengeHere are the rules:
Provide the link back to the post by the person who nominated you (see above).
Write a little about your work-in-progress.
Give the first sentences of the first three chapters of your current WIP.
Nominate four other writers for the challenge.

My WIP is the urban fantasy series Echoes of the Past. Book one, Seeds of Autumn, is available now on Kindle and in print from FeedARead (links on right). The series follows Ariana, a feisty young woman with special shape-shifting abilities as she battles dangerous demons, deceitful shifters and her own inner-beast. The series is set in the fictional city of Caerton, which is almost as real to me now after working on this project for so many years, as some of the places I have called home.

The second book, Ghosts of Winter, is very close to completion, having been through several sets of revisions already and cover art about to be undertaken but still technically a WIP (I can’t seem to stop tinkering!). But for extra fun and games, I’ve decided to do this challenge twice, because the third book is well under way (nearly 50,000 words!) and has almost all of my excitement at present.

Let’s start with Ghosts.

Chapter One (technically a prologue):

Eyes strode into the shop.

Chapter Two:

Stalker looked around at her pack mates, three savage-looking shifters in their Agrius forms, seven feet tall and covered in thick fur of varying hues.

Chapter Three:

Eyes checked every room in the little house, there wasn’t much to see.

Wohoo! So, there you have it. Could there be some point of view shifting in this book? I’ll leave that thought with you.

A quick note for the glossary: Agrius refers to the beast-like form that my shifters can take. It is their most savage form, fantastic for combat, not so hot at light conversation. The name comes from the Greek myth of Agrius and Oreius, in which a woman is cursed by Aphrodite to mate with a bear. The result is the twins Agrius and Oreius who are half man and half bear. In the myth, Artemis despises the woman and her offspring, finding them offensive and the twins shun the gods. In the end, Ares and Hermes turn the twins into a vulture and an eagle owl. What that may imply for Caerton’s shifters, who believe they were created by Artemis, I will leave to you to ponder.

Okay, so for the bonus round, here are the opening sentences from the first three chapters of book three, which has a title but I’m not revealing it yet. I might give out a prize for the closest guess.

Chapter One (also a prologue):

She pulled her long, blond hair back and tied it in a sloppy pony tail.

Chapter Two:

Stalker watched him sleeping.

Chapter Three:

‘Welcome to the Danegeld.’

I debated what to put for the last quote as the first sentence of chapter three is currently a bit of a spoiler. So this little morsel of dialogue is actually the last sentence of chapter two, but hey, it’s a WIP, so it’s subject to change anyway.

So, I know that the prologue is pretty much DEAD these days, but I like them. They are a fun way for me to sneak an alternative viewpoint into my books, to give the reader additional information and lay breadcrumbs for the big overall story arc of the series. The prologue for book three came to me while working in a coffee shop one, rare, child-free morning and it was an absolute epiphany. I had been struggling with how to start the book, when I went into my notes about what the core plot of the series and that book in particular was it suddenly became clear to me how it must start. I am thoroughly anticipating the shock when people read it for the first time, I can’t wait!

So that’s it for now. All that remains is for me to nominate four more writers for the challenge.

Janna Kaixer at http://jkaixer.wordpress.com/ an exciting up and coming writer whose work I cannot wait to read.

D. M. Cain at http://www.dmcain.co.uk/ author of the Light and Shadow Chronicles.

Carol Phipps at http://www.niarg.com/ lovely fantasy author and Tweeter-extraordinaire.

Paul Cude at http://www.thesoberhockeyplayer.co.uk/ author of the Bentwhistle the Dragon series.


One Lovely Blog

I am really grateful to have been nominated to participate in One Lovely Blog by the ever-insightful Willow at http://winsham.blogspot.co.uk/

Lovelyblog

The rules are as follows. Link back to the blog of the person who nominated you, share 7 facts about yourself, and nominate up to 15 blogs that you particularly like, or fewer if you can’t think of 15. If I’ve nominated your blog, please don’t feel obliged to take part if you don’t want to, but if you do, thank you!

Okay, so 7 fun facts about me so that my readers can get to know me a little better.

1. I spend time contemplating how I would survive the zombie apocalypse. Yep, I’m one of those nerds. I have my secure location picked out, should my home fall. It’s a nearby store with no windows, a single set of automatic doors out front and an outdoor area surrounded by a very high fence. Provided it doesn’t get damaged during the looting phase, it will make a great base for quite a few people, we could even grow food in the outdoor space. I have a bat’leth to use as a weapon, it has sharp points for piercing zombie skulls and blades for decapitation. It’s the perfect weapon 😉 I just need a stockpile of tinned goods and I’m ready.

Hulk2. I used to love rollercoasters and thrill rides, but no longer enjoy the more extreme ones that much. I don’t know if it’s old age (ha!) or becoming a mother, but the fear overwhelms the thrill for me these days. I still enjoy rollercoasters that I know and love, like Nemesis at Alton Towers, but am reluctant to try newer, more intense ones. I sat out The Hulk at Universal Islands of Adventure two years ago and watching it, frankly, made me feel ill.

3. I’m an introverted Highly Sensitive Person. This makes it difficult for me to make friends and get close to people. It also means I have quite a volatile temper at times, when I react strongly to things that upset me. I’ve learned how to protect and nurture myself over the years and do try hard to step away from situations that are causing me stress, so I have a lengthy “blocked” list on Facebook 😉

4. Due to number 3 above, I am also a terrible salesperson! So perhaps entering the world of self-publishing was not the most obvious choice. I can natter on social media, but am terrible at approaching strangers to pitch my work, so this route actually made more sense than trying to sell myself to an agent or publisher. Before becoming a mother and then a writer, I had a string of awful jobs in service and sales. It took me a while, including several months as a charity fundraiser, to accept that it really wasn’t my “thing”. Never again!

5. I’m a passionate advocate of rights in childbirth. After a traumatic first birth, during which I was bullied and my consent violated, I became a campaigner for better maternity services. It was a heck of a journey, I learned a lot about different aspects of birth and found myself volunteering on a helpdesk and facilitating support groups. I still keep a finger in that world, but my focus has shifted onto my own career after a healing second birth.

6. I pick up song lyrics ridiculously easily! I generally only need to hear a song a few times to have most of the lyrics memorised and once they’re in there I tend to remember them indefinitely. So far. Except under stress. Don’t put me on the spot and ask me to sing for other people, not on my own. I love being in a choir, but solo singing gives me terrible stage fright.

big read7. This is a terrible admission for a writer, but I’m not actually a big reader! I did used to be, when I was a child and teenager I would devour books constantly and had a large library of beloved books. But I have so little free time now, with two small, home educated kids and a series of books to write, that I tend to choose to zone out in front of the TV during my downtime, rather than tax my brain with a book. But if I get into a book I will grab every instant to read until I finish. I recently read the Hunger Games trilogy (I know, late to the party, see above!) back to back in just over a week, which is fast for me. Next is the rather ambitious project of completing the BBC Big Read 100 most popular books list. I’ve only read about 20 of the titles on the list at some point in my life, so it’s a big project!

So that’s it for me. Now I am supposed to nominate some fellow bloggers…..

Kristen Lamb at We Are Not Alone: http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/ I always read Kristen’s blogs with interest and am a fan of her book, Rise of the Machines – Human Authors in a Digital World. 

Sarah Watkins at And Then I Read a Book: http://andthenireadabook.blogspot.co.uk/ Sarah’s reviews are always thoughtful and insightful.

Marcey Kennedy, writer and editor whose writing tips I always eagerly lap up! http://marcykennedy.com/

Sarah at Pyjama School: http://pyjamaschool.co.uk/ lovely home education blog, packed with ideas and inspiration.


Tides

blue moonI had a realisation today, so please indulge me in this short post about how I write.

I am currently drafting the third book of Echoes of the Past, entitled Tides of Spring. About two weeks ago I wrote a pivotal moment in the series, a game changer and key bit of character development for one of my protagonists. It was very emotional to write and I very much hope that my readers feel moved by it too. After writing this, and other previous “big” moments in the series, I was emotionally and mentally exhausted and have hardly been able to write a word since.

Today I realised that I tend to work in tides, high and low. I’ll be extremely prolific for a couple of weeks, churning out 20,000 words or more but then I need a rest, sometimes just a few days but after a significant emotional expenditure like this one I sometimes need a few weeks.

The second element of this realisation was that I noticed it was a new moon yesterday, and a solar eclipse early this morning (I missed seeing it but woke to a notification about it on my phone). This means that I wrote the epic chapter around the full moon. It got me thinking and looking back at these tides and I do believe they are connected to the phases of the moon, which is somewhat fitting as my series is so intimately connected with our silver satellite and the goddesses associates with it. During the waxing moon, as it moves from new to full, I am motivated and prolific. During a waning moon, as it moves from full to new again, I sometimes have a lull in output. This isn’t strictly true all of the time, if I am on a roll then a prolific period can last several weeks or a month or more. The waning moon seems to slow me down only when I reach a super dramatic moment in the series and need that emotional breather afterwards.

People have long connected behaviour with the moon, usually the full moon, which is credited with inducing erratic and even crazed behaviour in people, hence the terms “lunacy” and “lunatic”. Many also believe the moon influences birth, though I can’t say this has been my experience. I wonder what more subtle influences it may have? Does it effect our motivation? Energy levels? Moods? Do those who follow a fitness regime struggle to meet their goals at certain times of the month? Then there are other celestial events, such as eclipses, solstices and equinoxes, and of course a blue moon*. I know that for a week or so around each equinox I feel very unsettled and emotional.

*A blue moon is the third full moon in a season that has four full moons. Seasons normally only have three full moons.

I would love to hear from you. Have you ever noticed any of these influences in your life?


Girls, Boys and Those Who Have Yet To Make Up Their Minds….

I woke up this morning and went to check on what I had missed on the internet overnight. A big job that must be completed every morning before I even get out of bed. It’s my way of reorienting myself with the world. An article from The Guardian popped up that I was compelled to read, as it was on a subject that I feel very strongly about: the segregation of children by gender.

girl-or-boy-toyThe article talks about the dramatic change that has come about over the last thirty years or so, in how toys are marketed to children (and their parents). I can remember when I was little that most toys came in bright, non-gendered colours. Most of my favourites were bright red. There was no great compulsion for manufacturers to make two of everything, one pink and one blue, like there is today.

This bizarre marketing practice doesn’t appear to be fuelled by demand. When left to their own devices, children will happily play with toys of any colour. That much is evident to any parent who practices anything resembling open gendered parenting. I have always tried to do this. Baby toys, clothes and bedding that we bought for our children were all gender neutral and any soft blue things that we were given by well-meaning friends or relatives after their births were discretely balanced out with a multitude of other options. As they grow and make their own preferences known, nothing is off limits based on gender. My five year old’s favourite colour is pink and although he has a keen interest in DC superheroes, his favourite character is BatGIRL, rather than any of the obvious male heroes. In the Lego Movie, his favourite character was Unikitty BECAUSE she was mostly pink.

I found myself doing something unexpected the other day, however, when the two of us sat at the laptop together picking out headphones for him to listen to music and audiobooks with. He wanted pink ones and while I was very keen to buy him the ones he wanted, whatever their colour, I could not bring myself to buy the ones he picked out. Not because of their colour, but because the only available options were pink or blue. I couldn’t, in good conscience, support the company that would produce such limited and gender-specific options. I looked instead for a different brand that offered more choice, with the intention of buying a pink set, but was met with “out of stock” at every turn. In the end I bought him green frog-themed ones from a retailer only offering gender neutral options.

Of course, retailers claim that they are trying to meet demand and I’m sure many of them believe it. They see girls queuing up to buy princess costumes and boys clamouring over action figures and draw the conclusions that support their practice, when it is their own aggressive marketing that creates this epidemic in the first place. Parents don’t help the situation if they have bought into “pinkification” too. To any parents reading who may be concerned about how their children are likely to turn out: let me assure you, boys who play dress up will still have their penises at the end of the day and girls who want to climb trees will almost certainly still get married and have babies.

retro lego ad 1Marketers also claim that it has always been this way, but as I have already mentioned, this is not true. Going back to the 1970s and 80s we see very different marketing strategies, ones that did not limit a toy’s market to only half of all children.

Although we have seen great progress towards gender equality in the last few decades, we risk seeing all of it undone with these marketing practices. As the article mentions, there has been a drop in the number of women enrolling on engineering courses in the UK, now at only 8% of the total number of students. How can this be? The obvious answer is that girls are, from a very young age, being brainwashed to believe that they should only be interested in hairdressing and dolls, pink and princesses. That they should hone their skills in home making and confine themselves to that role, and await their prince charming. Is this 2014 or 1814?!

Boys are targeted too, with bullying being a serious risk for any boy who dares defy social norms. My eldest wants to be a palaeontologist when he grows up, but only wants to work one day a week, the other six he intends to spend at home with his kids. I hope he retains this wish and gets it. What a lucky future partner he may have 😉

When it comes to my writing, I like to write strong female protagonists. The main character in my series, Echoes of the Past, is an independent and feisty young martial arts expert. She undergoes a transformation in the first book and gains the ability to turn into a seven foot tall slobbering kill beast covered in thick fur. I have to admit, I have my wobbles about the marketability of the concept. Our society seems to be fine with the idea of male protagonists who have monstrous forms and who get into vicious fights, but our female leads, even in the action and horror genres, seem to need to retain their sex appeal by wearing black leather and fighting gracefully. I hope that by bucking the trend I am offering readers something different, something they have been waiting for.

As for those headphones, I might just tweet or email the manufacturer and tell them exactly why I chose another brand.


Myth-Busting—The Real Difference Between Introverts & Extroverts & Meet the Ambivert

I’ve always considered myself an introvert, despite the crazy hair and performing arts as a kid. Kristen Lamb talks about the ambivert and it rings beautiful bells to me.

Kristen Lamb's Blog

Actual photo of Kristen in high school (Image via Flikr Creative Commons wwarby) Actual photo of Kristen in high school (Image via Flikr Creative Commons wwarby)

I made it home on Monday afternoon from presenting at the Tuscon Book Festival, one of the largest book festivals in the world. To meet me at the conference, one would never suspect I’m actually an introvert. Yet, even after two days of sleep, I’m shaking from fatigue. This morning I had to get Hubby to bring The Spawn to school because I simply don’t have enough energy to be safe on the road. I spent all of it at the conference giving (what I hoped) were unforgettable presentations.

Many believe the extrovert is the ideal speaker, yet introverts have a way of channeling energy from themselves to others. When people leave my sessions, they often feel supercharged, like they can take over the world. I love that. It’s what I’m going for…but this comes at a…

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