Looking at the world through a clearer lens...

Eyedrops – my life for the next six weeks

I woke up yesterday morning and could see.

No, not a divine miracle, but a result of expert surgery and it’s only one eye so far. The other one will be sorted out in a fortnight’s time. (Update 10 October: Second eye done and all is fabulous.)

I’ve lived in a blurry world of deep myopia since I was seven; sometimes assisted by glasses, other times by contact lenses, but always worried about losing one or the other and dropping back into that blurry world. Short sight has been part of me over many decades. I’m vain enough to whip off my glasses for photos, especially for that vital author mug shot, but otherwise my 180 degree vision has mostly been only partly usable.

Now it’s all going to change and so will part of my identity. It’ll be strange not scrabbling almost instinctively for my glasses first thing in the morning. Practically, I will join the rest of my cohort and need reading glasses for close work as I requested long sight over medium range for my new implanted lenses. I live in rural France and here you can’t survive without some form of personal transport, i.e. a car. But I will regain my confidence to  drive at night again. Actually, I’ve hardly driven for a few weeks now because of the evil cataract that’s been growing in my defenceless left eye.

Currently, I’m typing this one-eyed and wearing my husband’s spare reading glasses, but I will be getting my own after the second eye operation. I can then do that ‘looking over the top of my reading glasses’ thing that I make the older Aurelia do in my Roma Nova books when she wants to remonstrate with somebody. I’m looking forward to the dramatic gesture of sweeping my reading glasses off with a sigh and staring coldly/pityingly/compassionately at some unfortunate.

The first one that says ‘Arrrh’ gets it!

It’s been a year of operations for me: skin cancer last December, realignment of foot bones in March and these two eye operations. The French health service has been superlative and the follow-up and ancillary care unrivalled. We live in a medical desert when it comes to specialists – this is the downside of rural France – but are lucky to have a good local health centre with GPs and nurse practitioners. However, good hospitals are an easy hour’s travel away so it works out in the end.

A bonus has been the fascinating conversations in the anaesthetists’ bay, operating theatres and the post-op recovery rooms about vocabulary, holidays in England, chatting in German with an anaesthetist from Alsace whose husband was an English teacher, giggling over sounds we find difficult to pronounce in each others’ languages. Oh, and you always get cake afterwards…

But there’s a dark side to my year of operations

Cramming all these procedures into less than ten months was not my favoured plan. The cancer was the urgent one, of course, and had to be done ASAP, but the others could have been sorted out at a more leisurely pace. It was Brexit.

There, I’ve said it. The Withdrawal Agreement (WA) has been fiddling about in the UK parliament for ever and older French resident British citizens didn’t know from one month to another whether their healthcare would still be covered by the EU reciprocal reimbursement system. As I now receive a UK state pension based on national insurance contributions I’ve paid throughout my working life in the UK, my healthcare is delivered by the French system and the cost reimbursed to them by the UK. This system is EU-wide, but would end for British citizens on Brexit. The draft WA made provision for this to continue for existing residents, but it became obvious the agreement wasn’t going anywhere.

Then came the threat of no-deal exit in March 2019 with much anxiety especially among the more elderly pensioners who had lost 20% of their income since 2016 due to the falling pound. Many of us with appropriate knowledge and experience spent hours talking and reassuring them, but couldn’t offer them any hard information. Neither could the embassy here, let alone the UK government.

So on a personal level I planned to get everything at least started by March which would qualify under the continuation scheme. My second eye operation and follow-up will just about be done before 31 October which looks as if it will be a no-deal Brexit. I received a letter yesterday from the UK saying healthcare would be extended for another six months, albeit with a convoluted mechanism. Not very comforting for an elderly acquaintance of ours with a husband suffering from terminal cancer, or for people needing ongoing dialysis or diabetic or hypertension medication.

Luckily, the French government stepped up in February with up to two years’ no-deal post-Brexit cover. But the UK has let its elderly EU27 residents down badly. In France, EU27 residents receive healthcare on the same basis that French citizens do; the social security generally reimburses 65-70%. You need a top-up insurance for the balance unless your income is below the mininum wage or it’s a life and death condition which is paid for by the French state.

For the UK, which pays our social security portion, British pensioners in the EU27 are a cheap date. And it seems we’re being stood up.

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, is now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

The on/off thing of book worlds

If I had a euro/dollar/pound for every time a review for one of my books has begun with ‘I don’t normally read this type of book, but…’ or ‘I only read this because a friend said I must read it…‘ and ended with a 5-star super-enthusiastic review, I’d be able to drink champagne every day.

Perhaps the sales info on the retailer pages is giving out the wrong message. Perhaps my covers aren’t conveying the story inside. No, I’m 100% sure it’s not that second one after Jessica Bell’s inspired new images for 2019!

Or perhaps it’s something else entirely…

Every book has its own world whether it’s outer space, inner space, a run-down housing estate, ancient Rome, eighteenth century high seas, a dilapidated Scottish castle or the local supermarket. Some of us even speculate in an alternative timeline. The author builds these worlds in her/his mind then opens the doors to that world and beckons the reader to enter.

But how attractive or repellent is that world to a reader?
I don’t mean whether it’s full of flowers, light and love or a gritty, dangerous and desperate place, but how much curiosity it arouses before the reader even turns the first page. Is its premise likely to stir something in a reader? Is it something they might well have been curious about? Does it resonate ages old mystery or a shared universal theme?

Same old, same old vs. something entirely different, possible scary or disturbing?
We all love comfort books, especially when we’re feeling down, the weather is atrocious or something upsetting in our lives has left us shattered. And comfort can be a Regency romance, a wartime saga or a bloody psychological thriller – everybody’s different. But sometimes we find ourselves reading the same type of book/same setting/same basic story. Quietly, very quietly dissatisfaction murmurs in the background, then grows into boredom.

How often have you heard or read, ‘I knew how it would end within the first twenty pages‘ or ‘Nobody seems to write good books now’? You know the feeling yourself that when you go back to read an old favourite, it isn’t as good as you remember…

Of course, nobody is asking readers to read what they dislike, but it’s worth reading something different, even a galaxy away from your reading comfort zone, to find out whether you might make a new and exciting discovery.

‘I don’t read scifi or funny futuristic stuff.’
Yet Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments are fascinating millions who are entranced by the dystopian world of Gilead at the hard end of speculative fiction. Her world is horrifying, yet so relatable and full of characters we know: vulnerable, determined, embarrassed, afraid, resistant, ideological, anxious, accommodating, surviving. Scifi is always a trip of the imagination, but the best stories explore the human dilemmas, the characters’ reactions to them and to that world, and their consequent actions.

Written to market
If a writer is under contract to write a book in a certain setting, then the publishing house has probably carried out intensive market research or has wide experience of what sells. That book world is set and is often a purely commercial choice. Second World War has been very popular recently; readers of one 1940s book will graduate easily to another. If written on a popular trend, then that book world is well-established but could be viewed as predictable.

Independent thought
But if you write in a niche or outside the standard environments of popular books, be prepared to work harder at projecting the attractiveness of your world. How is it different from the one in the average thriller or romance? Does it go beyond the usual alien/vampire/werewolf story? Is it set in a era not the Tudors nor the Second World War? Is it in a country not usually written about?

Good writing technique – a vivid narrative with a purposeful story, no info-dumping and above all well-formed multi-faceted characters – will carry a book world through to the reader hopefully to the extent they will be so absorbed by it that they will clamour for more.

But the key thing to remember is that just as writers are all different, readers are all different. Some will ‘get’ your world, others will walk away unmoved. We cannot all like all the same things – that would make us a very dull society. As writers, we should write to grab the reader by our scintillating and fascinating book worlds. As readers, we should venture out down new roads, even if there are hidden bends, We might end up somewhere truly wonderful.

Photo by Sara Hammarbäck

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, is now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

How to write a book review – please do!

Authors love reviews – this is not a secret!

But after you’ve closed a book, why should you bother to write one? How do you do it? And who can write a review? What’s considered a ‘good’ review?

Whoa! Let’s take a step back…

Why write a book review?
Analysing and expressing your thoughts about a book you’ve read can help you understand it better and thus enrich your reading experience. Additionally, and more practically, book reviews are crucial in helping other readers understand what a particular book is about and whether they should invest time in reading it. An honest and well-written book review can also help your favourite authors. Reviews not only provide valuable feedback for the author – or at the very least, some much-needed praise and/or positive critique – they also boost visibility of books on sites like Amazon, helping more people find (and purchase) the books that you love and want to recommend to others.

Some tips…

  • Before writing, consider who the review is for: online retailer e.g. Amazon, magazine/newspaper article (what readership?), book site e.g. Goodreads, your own blog, serious review journal, e.g. London Review of Books, genre review site/magazine e.g. Discovering Diamonds Reviews, HNS Historical Reviews or Mystery People magazine.
  • Consider the style, tone and length of review appropriate for the publication while not sacrificing your own.
  • Do not be intimidated into thinking your review must be erudite or cover several pages. Some of the best reviews can be only three lines long.
  • Key guideline: it’s about the book, and not you.

A few general guidelines

  • Make notes. By the time you have finished the book, you’re bound to have forgotten things you wanted to include in the review. The physical action of writing helps commit those points to memory.
  • Read the whole book unless it is so dire you can’t bear it. But be prepared to say why if asked.
  • Any review that you write should be constructive, whether it’s positive or critical.
  • Engage your readers immediately in your review – use the first sentence to state your overall opinion.
  • Strive to be kind in your brutal honesty. Avoid being hurtful in your constructive criticism – authors are people too!

Nitty gritty

  • Mention the main theme, genre, whether it’s part of a series, or a debut.
  • Does it fit into genre conventions or not? Does that make it a better’/more interesting or engaging book?
  • Does the book give you a sense of the place it’s set?
  • What is the author’s ‘voice’ like?
  • Mention the plot, character development and the writing style
  • Is the dialogue lively or dull, correct for the period/setting?

Your reactions

  • Other readers don’t want to hear just the facts. They also want to know what you think about the book, and how it made you feel! Did you like the story? Hate it? Why? Explain your feelings towards the book as best you can. What particularly excited you? What made you want to throw the book away (If you did)?
  • What do you think the author did well? What do you think the author could have done better?
  • Be authentic. Your followers/readers want to hear what you think of the book, and in your own voice.

Extras

  • Include comments on any artwork or graphics included, extra materials (like a reading guide, map, family chart, glossary, etc.), whether there are any incorrect facts. (Check very carefully before you do!)
  • DO NOT include half the plot, or heaven forbid, the whole plot, or spoilers in your review (No one enjoys spoilers and it’s mean).

Watch your formatting

While most book review sites and retailer sites such as Amazon prefer you write in a simple format, you can make it readable and enjoyable by other readers with these guidelines:

  • Avoid writing just one big block of text. Space out your paragraphs so your review is easily readable.
  • Don’t use ALL CAPS ever in a review.
  • Don’t use punctuation excessively, such as using multiple exclamation points or question marks.
  • Proofread your review for grammar, spelling mistakes, typos, etc. before sending it in or publishing it. A simple typo or error in your book review might discredit your review in the eyes of readers.

These are just a few guidelines – you do not need to do all of this, but hopefully, they may help to encourage you to leave a review after you’ve finished reading that book on your bedside table.

Happy reviewing!

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, will be out on 12 September 2019.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Inspired or over-imaginative? On the Alliance of Independent Authors podcast

Absolutely thrilled to be invited on to the Alliance podcast, hosted by Howard Lovy. And even more so as it features ‘inspirational authors’ Not quite sure I’m inspirational, but that’s enough imposter syndrome. 😉

Like many people, I always take a (mental) deep breath before an audio interview as you can’t see who is going to be listening at the other end, both interviewer and the wider audience  – they won’t be able to see your smile, whether nervous or confident. Audio only gives a stronger, less attenuated signal and is standard for interviews over the internet on systems such as Skype. I usually ask the host to switch on their video a few minutes to chat beforehand so I can visualise them as the interview progresses. Then we’re back to audio only.

Howard has created a very smooth yet snappy podcast from all my mumblings and highlighted a couple of quotes:

On Creating Alternate History

“Every book has its own world and you have to create that with detail, but not drop it in in great lumps. You’ve got to get your characters completely integrated into the world and drip drop information in. But you have to make it plausible, credible and consistent.”

On Bringing Roman Times Forward

“You can’t have kick-ass feisty women who are heroines doing stuff in the ancient Roman world. So it basically had to come forward to the modern world. And to get it forward, we had to have a Roman society that had survived.”

And here’s the podcast!

 

If you enjoyed it, do feel free to tweet!

Alliance of Independent Authors /
The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi, “ally with an i”) is a professional membership organization fostering ethics and excellence in self-publishing.

ALLi  is a diverse, supportive and friendly community of thousands of authors, collaborating with other author organizations and service partners.

In addition to an active, engaged, and growing membership, alongside with a healthy social media presence, ALLi has credibility and influence in the publishing and self-publishing industries with its founder-director, the award-winning novelist and poet Orna Ross, repeatedly named one of the “Top 100 people in publishing.” (The Bookseller)

As the only non-profit representing independent authors globally, with members on all seven continents, the association has become the most trusted voice in self-publishing. And its outreach education programs and campaigns ensure its impact is felt beyond its membership designations and borders, influencing the wider author community at every level.

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, will be out on 12 September 2019.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

The tyranny of word count?

Does your writing heart shrivel when you read on Facebook something along the lines of ‘Giving myself extra chocolate because I wrote 5,000 words today’? And it’s only 3pm… Praise piles on from others with the ‘Wow’ icon splattered everywhere. Then one or two brave souls, possibly including you, confess apologetically they’ve ‘only’ written 500.

Only?  What’s wrong with that?

Of course, 500 words are a lot fewer than 5000 words, but why should anyone apologise for writing any amount on any specific day?

Undoubtedly, there are other people who won’t post at all in response because they feel truly embarrassed. Perhaps they weren’t able to get beyond a double-spaced page that day.

Don’t get me wrong. I admire such a high output but posting about it may seem a tad triumphalist and have the unintended consequence of agonising and demoralising people who are blocked, write slowly, or who don’t write every day.  These could be writers just starting out, who’ve suffered multiple rejections of their work, were dropped by their publishers, or who for any number of reasons just don’t produce a lot, or write fast, possibly both. Or Real Life may be intervening…

Does a high word count mean high productivity, let alone high quality?

Writing fast may not be a guarantee of anything. Even taking into account it was probably for the first draft which is always a bit rough and ready, those 5,000 words may be complete rubbish. Writing that much and that quickly only proves the person can type fast.

It’s a pity some parts of the writing community are so obsessed with churning out words every single day, day after day – and tons of them. If you have a contract and you’re under deadline, I’d suggest the work schedule wasn’t too well planned in the first place. But measuring yourself as a writer by the number of words you write per day isn’t necessarily the best way.

Serious face of a cat

Serious face

Non-writing as part of the book process

Experienced authors know how important revision and editing are to a finished work. At that stage, it’s not about how much you get done but about what you get done, how you re-shape your work  A revised paragraph could involve few words but make a huge difference.

And let’s consider our old friend research; not the research you do before you type Chapter 1, but the checking facts and dates, products and weather that arise as you go along. I’ve spent half a day tracking down details of arable crops grown in Roman times and that changes significantly over all 1229 years!

Revision is also about introducing layers, honing dialogue, deepening character traits or motivations. You may only write fifty new words that day, but they could make a substantial impact on the overall narrative.

The positives of counting your words

When I’m deeply into my writing I do track my progress with word counts, but in a general way. My goal is 500-1,000 words a day. Some days I reach nearly 2,000, but usually it’s around 800-1,000. I have a back problem that prevents me sitting down for hours. I’m also a mental fidget. When writing that first draft, noting how many words you’ve written can be very encouraging. A little preen does nobody any harm, but obsessing can be bad for your mental health. It can also result in bad habits.

You won’t, I’m sure do any of these:

  • Write over complicated and rambling sentences just because they entail more words.
  • Use two words in description or scene setting when one will do.
  • Pad dialogue with eight lines of speech when two would do.
  • Introduce a scene that doesn’t take the story forward or develop the character

Would you?

Staying regular

Writing every day should not feel like a compulsion. You are allowed to have a normal life, or at least a semblance of it. But if you dread sitting at the desk every morning and are scared to write the first word, you may not be in the right job. Yes, writing is a job as well as a creative art.

Logging word count gives you something to look back on when you think you can’t get going; it reminds you that you have written something on a regular basis, even if it’s for three evenings a week only after the children’s bedtime.

Regular writing is like regular exercise, the more you do it the fitter you get and the less strenuous it becomes. I don’t use the word ‘easy’ as creative writing isn’t, although it’s extremely satisfying.

Regular writing will become habit-forming and your productivity will increase. I’ve noticed this every time I’ve finished marketing a book and I get back to serious writing. Noting words written can act as a springboard to get into the regular writing mode. As you see the total mounting up, you realise you might not be such a bad writer after all.

Don’t make it a tyranny, and don’t compare yourself to others; they may actually be telling fibs.

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, will be out on 12 September 2019.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.