“It’s the quiet ones you need to watch…”

It’s the quiet ones you need to watch…”

When I wrote Little Gidding Girl, the world was a different place. We’d only just got broadband internet, and compared to dial-up (remember that and shudder) it was lightning fast. Each member of my family owned a mobile phone but smartphones were not yet on the market. We all had a computer but mine was deliberately not connected to the internet; if I wished to go online I had to wait till the computer in my husband’s study downstairs was free. Looking back, I can see how many hours I spend a day just noodling around online and not being productive at all. I wrote six novels like that, without being distracted by googling goats or otters or weird symptoms.

Another thing that has changed is the way that female main characters are portrayed. There’s been a significant rise in the feisty, fiery, sassy, outspoken and kick-ass heroine; they existed before, obviously, but it would seem that writing women has become a problematic matter if they are anything less than the template that various tropes and memes depict. Isobel from Away With The Fairies and Chloe from Square Peg both have qualities of that template; they’re women who are generally confident of who they are and of their own value. It’s the shaking of that confidence that provides some of the tension and the driving force behind their stories. Jenny from The Bet falls fairly and squarely into the strong woman camp but she is also venial and exploitative and selfish; she qualifies more as a villain than a heroine, but it’s not these qualities of self-belief and self confidence that make her so. Rather it’s her lack of ability to see others (especially the hero Antony Ashurst who definitely qualifies as a quiet one…) as people rather than things, that twists her into an outwardly attractive character whose heart is pretty nasty all round.

I wrote Little Gidding Girl immediately after all three books mentioned and Verity, the main character, could not be more different. She has little confidence and her self-esteem has all but vanished, but to my mind, she more than qualifies as strong. She endures without crumbling a variety of life situations her adult life brings to her: a dead-end job with a bullying boss, a set of parents who abrogate their responsibilities to run away from debt and failure, an unplanned pregnancy that scuppers her and her husband’s plans for joint careers in teaching, and the passing of a grandfather who was mentor and rock to her during a critical phase in her younger life. But though she does not crumble, she does not thrive either. She goes inward, thinking the things that Isobel or Chloe would have said, loudly and with utter confidence. Her rebellion towards her hectoring boss Juliet is silent and unspoken; her acquiescence to her old school friend Carla is only nominal and superficial.

Yet for all this passivity, she’s not actually passive at all. Under the surface, deep currents are stirring and rising, becoming steadily more inexorable as a better equilibrium is sought for her life. I can’t help thinking that many of us will find this both restful and exciting, because we’re constantly exhorted that if we don’t grasp our futures with both hands, nothing will ever come to us. It’s exhausting, that sort of philosophy, and it’s infiltrated everything in the years since I wrote the book. It’s the complete opposite of the idea that what is meant to happen will happen without us needing to lift a finger. I believe the truth is somewhere in the middle, but at the moment, the pendulum has swung so far in one direction that many of us feel worn out and defeated by the demands on our time, intelligence and interests. It’s no longer enough to simply enjoy a hobby like knitting, or jam making or even writing or painting; we are badgered to make it pay, make it into a business or high art. Sometimes I think this may be the dark root of why I have found writing so hard in recent years, this constant internal and external pressure to be the best, to sell the most, to be (I have begun to hate both word and concept) professional about it all.

It’s when the quiet ones rise up and stand firm that the world will quake, because in my estimation, there are more of the quiet ones than there are of the other sort. The quiet ones are the ones who conform to every request from employers who have leaped into the gap made by the Dunning-Kruger effect, until one day, enough is enough and they say NO, and walk away or resist. When the quiet ones find their voices, the mouse will roar and the lions will cower.

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Ringing Some Changes

Ringing Some Changes

Sometimes I hate trying to think of titles for blog posts. After more than a thousand, it gets hard not to repeat myself, and to be honest, this one is just a sort of round up of my own news. Possibly a tad tedious, but maybe not.

First bit of news is good(ish). After over six years of some pretty extreme symptoms, finally it feels as if there might be an end in sight for my hideous menopause. One of the worst was something that for many women is a mere inconvenience: hot flushes. For me, they became life-threatening. Not in themselves, though at times I did wonder whether spontaneous human combustion might be more than a myth, but rather because they were so extreme and so frequent life became almost unendurable. Drama queen you might think. I wish. At their very worst, they came at a frequency of up to 20 PER HOUR. You read that right. They were of an intensity that made my skin feel as if it were burning; the moment before it happened, it made me feel sick, as if I had stepped off a precipice. That feeling you get when you bite into a proper chilli pepper? Imagine that over every inch of your body. It meant that for about a year, I slept in perhaps 20 minute bursts if I were lucky. To say it was hell is an understatement. Given the way my GP surgery has treated me, I did not seek medical help; the idea of even speaking to one of the doctors here reduced me to a shaking, weeping wreck. So I endured. I tried many, many things to no real effect. I considered filling my pockets with rocks and walking into a river or the sea; lack of local rocks, lack of a shoreline or a river deep enough and close enough for me to get to are probably the only things that stopped me. But slowly the situation began to improve. I still get hot flushes you could power a small town from; I still get woken two or three times a night. But the intensity has reduced and the frequency too. Recently I experienced three or four days in a row where no flushes occurred during the hours of daylight. I have hope that I might have survived.

For anyone reading and thinking, “pshaw, what a fuss she makes!” and feeling smug that because they do yoga/sports/are vegan/insert reason it won’t or didn’t affect them, let me say this: it’s luck of the draw, not virtue, that means some women have a bad time and others don’t. I may write more on the topic another time.

Second bit of good news: I did a new edition of Away With The Fairies in paperback. The original edition was done via Lulu who don’t offer a matte option for covers; I’ve not been happy with their services for some time, for other reasons. One is the sheer glacial slowness of their reporting of sales. So I’d redone Strangers and Pilgrims a couple of years ago, and now Fairies. I’m pleased with the new edition; I wish I’d had the energy to do it sooner.

Third bit of good news: I sent the latest short story collection to some beta readers, and those who have had a chance to read and report back have been not only very helpful but also very encouraging. It would seem that contrary to how I feel about my abilities, I can still write. I’m waiting on the feedback of the others, then I’ll set about some edits and on with the process of getting them out. Unlikely to be before Christmas but given how small fry like me get drowned out in the big noise of promotions for key periods for sales, trying to launch a book for Christmas or summer holidays is folly.

Fourth bit of good news: for the period that begins at Samhain (Halloween/All Saints/All Souls) both Away With The Fairies and Strangers and Pilgrims will be on offer at £1.99 or local equivalent, and my short novella The Hedgeway will be on flash sale for 99p for the three days of Samhain itself. Billed as “a chilling tale for Samhain” it’s the perfect read as the nights draw in and the clocks go back (it’s a spooky story but it’s more unsettling than terrifying). For a scarier read, perhaps try The Moth’s Kiss (a collection of ten short stories, perfect for the season). I’m considering whether to also make that 99p for the Kindle version for the same period.

Which brings me to point five, which is the not so good stuff. If you are an author, especially an independent author, you’ll have spotted that it’s much harder to sell books now than it was a few years ago; virtually all the indy authors I know have seen a steady slide of lower and lower sales, with the occasional blip when a new book is launched. It’s depressing as hell. Lowering prices seems to be a way of potentially enticing a reader to take a punt on a book, but how low can you go before you are not meeting even basic costs? Lots of authors still tout the route of give a book away free (especially in a series) but there’s evidence that this tactic that worked a few years ago, is now bringing in very diminished returns. Readers have quite literally MILLIONS of books to choose from, and many pride themselves on never actually buying one. Again, depressing. Some respond by writing and publishing much faster, so that there’s always something new to tempt readers with; the risk is that you can potentially rush things and lose both quality and originality in the process. This year I have published one novel and two collections of poetry; I’ve finished writing a novel that I’m sitting on for a while. My mental health in particular means that even getting books out from my extensive “back catalogue” of books on my hard drive has become the equivalent of climbing Snowden or Scafell Pike (not Everest or K2): difficult, dangerous, and while not impossible, will take much preparation and training.

Sixth point: mental health. The current deep dark valley sometimes feels like the valley of death itself. Everything is such an effort and I find most things are not worth the effort involved. If you’ve never felt the tentacles of depression, you probably might find it hard to believe quite how debilitating depression is. You cant just cheer up, make an effort to focus only on the good things (and every other cliché people suggest). I feel paralysed by it. So the projects I would like to work on gather dust (real or virtual) and I stand in danger of slipping away as an author and poet because I cannot compete in the bright, immediate, throwaway world out there that is the world of books.

So, a mixed bag, really. I’ve put the good stuff first and in the spirit of making a proper shit sandwich (a fabulous term, that you can probably work out) I’m going to end on a good bit too. I’ve always found that autumn is the best time for my own creativity; I’ve never felt much like joining the whole NaNoWriMo that goes on in November. But what I am going to try to do is to focus on short fiction; I began a collection of short stories, each based on a famous perfume. They’re good fun to write and it indulges my love of fragrance. I have also several sets of Storyworld Cards as story prompts and I’ve got plenty of journals to dedicate to them. So even if I can’t come up with a new novel that grabs me by the throat, I can spend time honing my skills in short fiction.

I might even share some here…

Cover Story (the art of book covers from an author without much of a clue)

Cover Story

(the art of book covers from an author without much of a clue)

A recent review of Little Gidding Girl mentioned the image on the cover, querying why the figure is fairly slender when the statue mentioned in the book is of a goddess figurine with generous curves. I confess that when I was trying to find a concept for the cover art of this book I was all at sea. I don’t understand cover design, or why it’s quite so important, because for me, the vast majority of the covers I see are a big turn off. They make me feel manipulated, the way almost all advertisements do. That might well be just me, though. I am told that because most people are highly visual, the cover art is vital to grabbing the attention of potential readers and getting them to take notice, read the blurb and buy. Many authors redo covers, finding a new theme or concept to tie together books in a series or to standardise a brand. I have no idea whether it works, or whether it would work for mine or not, and don’t have enough energy to give thought to it. Finding the right ideas for a cover has been the bane of my existence.

For Little Gidding Girl, I combined two ideas from the story and from my vague blatherings and a photo of my own, Annette composed the art. The background shows a rustic door or gate in a wall, behind which you can see what may be roses or may be apples and may be both; the door we never opened into a rose garden is drawn from the poetry that runs through the book, but apple trees fill the garden of the main character Verity. The goddess figurine unites two strands within the story: Verity’s grandfather had been an archaeologist of some note, and the figurine was acquired by Nick’s aunt, who was a buyer of antiques and antiquities. Yet finding the correct image wasn’t easy. There are pitfalls and prat-falls abounding when it comes to acquiring and using photographs of actual antiquities and art. The image is actually from a pendant I bought last year, rummaged from a bargain bucket in a shop in Glastonbury and digitally altered somewhat (the thing itself is a bit over an inch long). I would have preferred a more fecund set of curves, but since fat is OUT in terms of the way our culture seems to lean, I settled for this relatively slender and youthful form. Together the image is striking and intriguing and also, unlike anything else I’ve seen.

When it comes down to it, I find myself baffled by the fashions in book covers in the time I have been self-publishing. Not just independent books but traditionally published ones all seem to follow trends until you can almost always guess the nature of a book by its cover; in the wake of (cough) Fifty Shades (cough) every volume of erotic fiction sported certain instantly recognisable clues to its contents. Often highly symbolic in theme (fruit, masks, whips, dark colours etc) the covers gave a sense of what lay within in a codified manner. I sometimes toy with the idea of producing a cover with that type of symbolic images for, let’s say, The Bet, and see what happens. Probably a swathe of disappointed readers for though that novel contains a lot of sex, pretty much all of it is off-camera.

Each genre has a well-established set of codes for cover art, because it’s a way of subliminally attracting readers in the same way the Also Bought suggestions online also do. Books that straddle genres (like mine) or defy classification (again, like mine) can’t easily take advantage of this visual shorthand. I’ve thought occasionally about new covers for some books. The Bet is my own favourite book (yeah, I am that vain) but I don’t think its cover is right. The current cover suggests a gothic horror and while in a strange way it does trespass into that territory, it doesn’t fit at all. The folks who have read it have generally raved about it, but when it comes to finding it a well-fitting niche, there doesn’t seem to be one and I am reluctant to proceed any further with the sequel (written but needing a good proofread and a cover) until I have cracked that conundrum. What I’d like is to find the right themes for the covers of both The Bet and the first sequel (currently entitled One Immortal Diamond) and when OID is ready to roll, relaunch The Bet with a new cover that prefigures the cover for OID.

The other problem with going back and redoing covers is that it takes away energy from writing and releasing new books. I’m working on very restricted energy anyway, so the chances are very small of coming up with new covers for all that need them. I think I’d rather use what creative forces I can muster to actually get on with writing and while my health remains impaired, I apologise for my lack of alacrity in getting new books out there. People say the best way to sell more books is to write more but I am far from sure that’s true. But having managed to write (longhand) some short stories recently, and observed that I felt mentally and spiritually a LOT better for doing so, I am starting to think that if writing is my way through the inner horrors, then I must just write and stop worrying whether the current covers of my books are “good enough”.

Going live…

Going live…

Little Gidding Girl is in the process of publishing. The UK link for the ebook has gone live here. The paperback link is here (they will be joined up at some point)

The Launch party on FB is here.

I shall be sharing more blog posts over the coming weeks about the themes and so on of the book (and some guest posts too) but this is just the heads up to the readers of this blog who are interested.

I’ll add links as the day goes on.

US version here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07315QQ5N

German version here: https://www.amazon.de/dp/B07315QQ5N

Canada here: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B07315QQ5N

Australian here: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B07315QQ5N

India: https://www.amazon.in/dp/B07315QQ5N

France: https://www.amazon.fr/dp/B07315QQ5N

Netherlands: https://www.amazon.nl/dp/B07315QQ5N

Other stores (Japan, Spain, Mexico) please use the links above and alter the dot whatever in the URL to whatever suffix is needed. So far I haven’t sold anything in those countries’s stores so do surprise me if you use them!

Little Gidding Girl launching at the Summer Solstice

Little Gidding Girl launching at the Summer Solstice

After much work and heart-searching, I decided that I’d choose a date for the launch of Little Gidding Girl, and since the story starts at the Autumn Equinox, the launch is going to be midsummer, around the Summer Solstice. I’ll be blogging more about the significance of the equinoxes and solstices but there’s good but hidden reasons why these dates are important.

The paperback is out already, giving those who prefer paper to digital a chance to get a copy in advance of the launch of the ebook, because a paperback has to find its way via whatever postal system is in place and can take days or even weeks to arrive.

I’ll be sharing various blog posts over the coming weeks, but this is the blurb:

“At seventeen, Verity lost the future she’d craved when Nick, her enigmatic and troubled poet boyfriend, drowned at sea. At thirty-five, in a safe, humdrum and uninspired life, she finds that snatches of the life she didn’t have begin to force their way into her real life. This other life, more vivid and demanding than her actual life, begins to gather a terrible momentum as she starts to understand that her un-lived life was not the poetic dream she had imagined it might be. Doubting her own sanity as her other life comes crashing down around her in a series of disasters, Verity is forced to re-examine her past, realign her present and somehow reclaim a future where both her own early creative promise and her family can exist and flourish together. Exploring the nature of time itself, the possibilities of parallel universes and the poetic expressions of both, Verity searches to understand why and how Nick really died and what her own lives, lived and un-lived, might truly mean.”

‘From the unknown spaces between what is, was, and will be, messages and sendings break through into Verity’s life: are they nightmares of a parallel reality or projections from a love that has flown? Vivienne Tuffnell keeps us guessing with utmost artistry as we trace the interweaving way-marks in pursuit of the truth. Little Gidding Girl kept me enthralled until the very end.’ – Caitlín Matthews, author of Singing the Soul Back Home, and Diary of a Soul Doctor

The UK link is here for the paperback:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Little-Gidding-Girl-Vivienne-Tuffnell/dp/154460016X/

I’ve set up a cyber party on Facebook here:

https://www.facebook.com/events/134936727080106/

 

A cyber party involves discussions, pictures, music, laughs and chats and is a chance for people to show support and encouragement while not having to have a physical party. That way people from all around the world can attend, in their pjs if they wish! There’s no pressure to buy, just to have a bit of fun.

That said, I DO want folks to buy. That’s part of being an author: you want folks to buy your books.

I can’t emphasise enough also how vital early reviews are to the visibility of a new book.  I hate asking and I don’t want to be that annoying author who pesters, but it does make a difference. Nor do reviews have to be complicated or long, just as long as there’s no spoilers. I’ve read reviews over the years (of many books) where the reviewer is basically doing a book report the way they did for books at school; that usually means they contain content that can spoil the book for others.

So if you’re on Facebook, do invite yourself along (I can only invite a certain number) or you can always sign up on my Amazon page to be notified when new books are available.  Or you can simply wait for another blog, announcing the birth of a new book.

It’s exciting but also terrifying.

What to do while you’re waiting for the postman…

What to do while you’re waiting for the postman…

About ten days ago, I wrestled my way through the long-put-off edits for Little Gidding Girl, excising any direct quotes from T.S. Eliot and adding in numbers for footnotes so that the discarded lines could be referenced by readers should they choose to do so. Then I did yet another read-through for typos and stuff of that ilk, before uploading the completed text to Createspace. After the usual twelve or so hours wait, I got the notification that I could now order proofs.

Said proof copies are due to arrive by the 2nd of June. All of a sudden, it looks like this book might actually be happening after all.

Truth is, I’m unprepared. My brain seems to have gone into a state of acute fogginess, and my psyche has become frozen and unable to respond. Everything feels like it’s been slowed down; holding a conversation feels like I’m talking on a satellite phone to someone half a world away. There’s a delay between hearing and understanding, and another delay between understanding and replying.

I know that by this stage in the game other (successful) writers have their strategies for launch day in place. Blogs have been written, giveaways organised, tweets scheduled, FB party invites sent out, interviews conducted and your Street Team are all ready with their pom-poms and chants. Me, I’ve done nothing.

This is the first full-length piece of fiction to be released since Square Peg was published in April 2013. Four years is a long time. Yes, I managed to get The Hedgeway out in the October of 2014, and I’ve got the book of essays out and two books of poetry. But I’m a novelist who hasn’t released any novels for four years and I worry that the momentum I’d built has long since dissipated and readers have found other authors to enjoy.

I’m not even sure what LGG could be classified as. Broadly speaking it fits into “Women’s Fiction” but only because the main character is female. It’s not a romance, though love is involved. It’s not a mystery, though mystery is involved too. It’s not paranormal, though elements of it veer into that area. It’s not magical realism, or fantasy or coming-of-age, though again, it has aspects of all of them. No wonder my unlamented agent never managed to place it with publishers; there’s not a single nice easy label to slap on it and shove it out into the world. I’d call it literary fiction but there’s a pretentiousness that many associate with that genre that I’d rather avoid.

So despite a lot of head-scratching and cogitating, I can’t find any niche where it’d gain any sort of prominence amid the countless thousands of books released every week. It may be doomed to sink under the weight of those thousands and of my incompetence.

You may already have read the blurb, here or elsewhere, but here it is again:

At seventeen, Verity lost the future she’d craved when Nick, her enigmatic and troubled poet boyfriend, drowned at sea. At thirty-five, in a safe, humdrum and uninspired life, she finds that snatches of the life she didn’t have begin to force their way into her real life. This other life, more vivid and demanding than her actual life, begins to gather a terrible momentum as she starts to understand that her un-lived life was not the poetic dream she had imagined it might be. Doubting her own sanity as her other life comes crashing down around her in a series of disasters, Verity is forced to re-examine her past, realign her present and somehow reclaim a future where both her own early creative promise and her family can exist and flourish together. Exploring the nature of time itself, the possibilities of parallel universes and the poetic expressions of both, Verity searches to understand why and how Nick really died and what her own lives, lived and un-lived, might truly mean.

It’s a book that I think might well strike a chord or two with many women, but if you’re expecting a kick-ass heroine like Chloe or Isobel, you might get a surprise. Verity is quiet, but they say it’s the quiet ones you want to watch. She thinks things she never says, and she lives under daily bullying without apparent complaint; she puts others before herself and she lives a half life that many women might really relate to.

So what am I doing while I wait for the proof copies to wing their way across the Atlantic? Not a lot. I can’t set a date for a launch party until I’ve seen those copies are what I want them to be. I’ve had too many false starts with this book to want to risk that. What I would like, though, is for friends here and on social media, if they have read and liked my books, to consider potentially hosting a blog for me, or doing an interview (especially after they’ve read the book) asking questions about the book and its themes, over the next few months. People have said that the majority if a book’s sales come in the first weeks, and that might well be the case, but I am hoping that enough folks have been waiting impatiently for this one for some sales to be guaranteed at least. The staggered approach means that more exposure is likely to happen once the initial surge (please!) has begun to ebb.

I’m terrified, to be honest. What if no one likes it? What if no reviews happen? Away With The Fairies finally made it to the magic 50 reviews a few months back after being out for six years, but realistically speaking, I think that getting lots of reviews in the first few weeks might well carry more weight in the mysterious algorithms.

And there’s a shockingly large amount of me in this book, too, so it’s a risk, sending it out into the world, because not only are some of my own poems included in the book, but some of my own, secret, never-spoken-about, history is too. I’ve not mentioned this aspect because, well, because it is secret and private. It’s entirely fiction, yet in many important ways, it’s not at all. I’d tell you more but then I’d have to kill you… (that’s a joke, by the way)

So while I wait for that familiar brown parcel, I ought to get my thinking cap on and write some more blog posts, for here and for others who might be so gracious as to host them. I seem to have mislaid that thinking cap, so perhaps a scarf might do.

U is for Utopia

U is for Utopia

I’m coming rapidly to the end of this run-through the alphabet and some of the last letters are somewhat problematic. I considered Useless (that’s how I feel a lot of the time) and also Unknowing (the older I get, the more I know I don’t know) but settled on Utopia, because there’s so much Dystopia-stuff around.

The person who coined the term (it actually means No Place) was Sir Thomas More in his fictional piece of the same name. Curiously enough, he was inspired by Plato’s writings on Atlantis. I’d urge you to read more about both works, because More’s ideas of Utopian society included such things as slavery, severe punishments for pre-marital sex, and communal living. The book addressed issues of its day and the blue-print for a utopian society he depicts is anathema to what I consider a perfect world.

We use the word Utopia to mean a perfect society but when it comes down to it, the origin of the name tells us everything. It is No Place. It cannot be. To be the ideal living conditions for one segment of society, it does so at the expense of others. For many, our current society is Utopia as it stands; this is why, in the run up to a General Election in the UK, those at the top of the ladder will fight tooth and bloody nail to keep things as they are, because that suits them very well indeed, thank you very much. To create a society where every member is valued and has a basic and decent standard of living is impossible in a culture that is essentially venial and selfish, where the rich wish to get richer and richer at the expense of the poor, where luxuries beyond imagining become common-place for the lucky few, and people starve and freeze on the streets.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utopia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantis