Monday, 12 February 2018

The Writing Life: Progress report!

I'm about to break a personal record: longest time without blogging!

On the other hand, I've never written so much in my life. I've got a steady stream of work from AbcMallorca magazine, which challenges me on a daily basis to write on a variety of subjects.

Last week I wrote about construction companies, architects, yoga retreats, restaurants and everything in between. Although fiction remains my primary passion, I definitely get a lot of satisfaction from writing articles. I feel I'm getting better at it too. When I think of my early travel articles, I used to take so painfully long over them. It wasn't very lucrative. Nowadays, my words flow much more quickly and coherently. It just shows that it's all about practice. If you put the hours in, you'll get better, whatever the discipline.

I think most people will agree that crossing things off their To Do list gives them a little rush of pleasure. It does for me. With my journalism work, I'm completing tasks every day. Writing a novel is different. It's definitely a marathon, and rather than hoping to cross the whole thing off soon, you've got to appreciate the effort of completing each kilometre, each chapter written. As planned, I did finish a draft of my new novel by Christmas.The trouble is, after writing it, I had to read it. 

I went through the whole draft on the plane over to the States. It had some good bits, but on the whole I wasn't convinced it was a good enough story. I've since killed off a couple of character, given one a new name and identity, and another a new job. 

Although I'm calling it Draft 2, it's closer to a new draft altogether. My new deadline is mid May. I'd like to say I'm leaping out of bed at the crack of dawn each day to get it done, but that would be a lie. I'm just scheduling the fiction in around the journalism during normal working hours. I'm not speeding ahead, but I think I'll get it done if I write a bit each day.

I'm really enjoying using Google calendar.  I find it really useful to organise and balance my time. Balance, that's the key. There's two big chunks in my week blocked out for yoga now. If it's in my calendar then I've just got to do it. Perhaps that's the only reason I haven't been blogging; because I haven't blocked out the time for it. We'll see, Google calendar is great, but it's not magic... or is it?

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Happy New Year: Bomb Cyclones and Latin Families

I'm back from the States where I spent New Year with 17 assorted family members on my husband's side from Colombia and Ecuador, and one Italian. Funny how much you suddenly have in common with a fellow European when you find yourself in a different continent surrounded by a majority from another continent. The Italian and I, both partnered with Latin Americans, shared our observations on the cultural differences and nature of Latin families.

On this particular trip, what I noticed most acutely is that my Latin American family don't appear to eat any vegetables. Making a salad felt like a rebellious act. At one point, half a pepper was served between eight of us. Luckily six weren't interested, leaving me a decent taste. Half a life-time of living abroad has changed my own Latin husband's eating habits, and fortunately he doesn't see eating vegetables as a penance.

As for New Year traditions, the jolly Colombians and Ecuadorians, have a lot in common with my Spanish compatriots. They all eat 12 grapes at midnight and wear specific coloured pants. In Spain, fire is a common ingredient in festivities, and so too is it in Ecuador. Just after midnight, the family set alight an effigy of the 'año viejo'  (the old year) dressed in pyjamas. Not in the living room as photo might suggest, but in a fire pit outside the house we were renting.  

At this point I should mention our trip coincided with the bomb cyclone on the east coast, which has nothing to do with a bomb, and everything to do with freezing cold temperatures. We huddled around the burning 'old year' in -6 degrees.

Next step: Jump over fire! (By this point, we had, of course, already run around the house with our suitcases to ensure we would travel in 2018!)

Far too high, I thought about the loaded fire pit, plus my dress is synthetic and probably highly flammable. My doubts were forced aside as I was swept up by my husband and his cousin and carried over the fire, flames licking at my derriere. Mad! You're all mad! I cried, while congratulating myself on marrying into a family with spark.

I'm back home now and after two disturbed nights due to jet lag, I finally managed to get up at a decent hour this morning. I'm back in my office, back to normal temperatures. Yesterday, I overheard a builder saying: It's so cold! I almost laughed in his face. Cold he might have been, but not cold enough to put him off drinking his coffee outside on the cafe's terrace.

Cold is -6 degrees, and -10, and everything after that. The icy air felt like daggers in the US - but thankfully our stay was made significantly warmer thanks to the big jovial Latin family reunion! 

Check out Emily's latest book The Hen Party 

Friday, 15 December 2017

Writing Life: The Long Haul

I've finished my 'discovery draft' of novel number five. That's a fancy name for draft one and sums up my latest approach. I've been waking up and writing whatever I felt needed to be written, without thinking too hard about what I'm doing, where I'm going or who the characters are.

As a result, the draft is probably appallingly, shockingly rough. I haven't read it back yet. Now that I've got something down on paper I can really build on it. I have a stronger sense of how the characters need to be developed, and as I was reaching the very end, I had an idea for another possible twist.

My Mum has a sign on her wall that reads 'BEGIN ANYWHERE'. Beginning a project can be tough if you're striving for perfection on the first go. Give yourself a break if that's you. I just strove to complete the first stage; one of very many.

I find my writing life has less highs and lows these days. I'm in this for the long haul so there's no need to put unnecessary pressure on myself. Sometimes I fancy a bit of drama - it would be nice to have a huge spike in sales and a runaway bestseller - but this would require some dedicated marketing, and that's something I'm saving for next year.

In April 2018 I'll be relaunching three of my books and later on in the year releasing two more. The new covers for Spray Painted Bananas (The Temp) and #PleaseRetweet are looking brilliant. They're bold and bright and capture the style I always wanted for my author brand. 

In the New Year, I'll be updating my website and will review what to do with my blog. I've had some long quiet intervals so thanks for popping by  - for more regular updates and pictures of life in Mallorcahead over to my Facebook Author page!


Sunday, 19 November 2017

Adapting a Lifelong Dream

This is one of my longest breaks between blog posts during my nine years of blogging. For some weeks now I've been feeling reluctant to dish out another opinion when the online world seems so saturated with them. Even Twitter, which forced people to be concise, has upped its word count from 140 to 280.

Not wanting to bore you with unenlightened views about things I'm no expert in, I took to doodling with sharpie pens instead. My new hobby explains my latest blog header which I fear makes me look like a kids' author! (I'll bash out another one more in keeping with my novels at some point.)

Although I haven't been blogging, I do write every day. The dream of making a living from writing did quietly come true thanks in part to being a big fish (published, bilingual author) in a small pond (Mallorca). I'm currently working on a What's On guide for abcMallorca, which hopefully means I'll stop staring blankly at people when they ask me for recommendations on what to do on the island! 

The title of the blog refers to my childhood dream of becoming a published author with an agent and a traditional publisher. To cut a long story short, I did get all that and at the time it was so thrilling. Yet, as I explained in my interview with Paul Teague of Self-Publishing Journeys podcast, in the end this dream really was a huge disappointment that has taken me a while to come to terms with.  

I was so eager to be published that I accepted not being paid any money for the books upfront. I assumed I'd make money because such a big company was bound to sell thousands. But the big publisher did minimal marketing and low royalties meant that two years of work for two books barely earned me enough to pay a month's rent.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results... So this summer I published The Hen Party under my own brand Little Cactus. To date the book has sold more in three months than my traditionally published books did in a year. 

The experience proved to me what I could achieve if I invested time and money into not only creating a good book, but into advertising and promotion. A number of local publications featured the The Hen Party and although it's difficult to get reviews, the ones so far have been very positive. I have to thank all my readers who trust I can write and couldn't care less who publishes my books!

Knowing I could succeed independently made me desperate to recuperate my rights for my other novels, The Temp and #PleaseRetweet, and relaunch them with better covers, and in the case of The Temp, with the original title Spray Painted Bananas, which was so successful on Wattpad.  

For a time it looked like the publisher weren't going to give me my rights back. As long as the books made 100 pounds a year they could keep them. Rarely have I felt so furious. I would find myself awake in the early hours composing angry emails. How dare they prevent me from earning a living from books that I had worked so hard on?

That rage has since passed. I said what needed to be said. Next April, I'll get my rights back for both novels and I will release them with new branding and covers that more faithfully reflect my style of writing and myself as an author.

It has been a period of limbo... but I'm finally coming out the other side. I could write a letter to my younger self advising her not to be blinded by the traditional dream, but in the end I know I would do it all again, because my dream was so strong.  

If I don't make The Sunday Times Bestseller list, win a literary award, or have my books in Waterstones, then so be it. What matters to me now has become quite simple. I want to write great books which satisfy my readers, earn a decent wage for my work and enjoy the creative process from beginning to end. 


Monday, 9 October 2017

Cool Creatives - because caring for the planet doesn't have to be boring!

Saving the Planet is one of those things on the To Do list that you would happily clean the toilet to avoid. Or the oven. No one wants to clean the oven.  

It's too hard. Like tax returns. Or in my case, shortening a pair of trousers. At least with the trousers I could get them done for me. Cleaning the planet however, requires the cooperation of billions of people. As that's far too hard, it's tempting not bother to trying at all.  

For some, the word 'environmentally friendly' evokes boredom. For others, guilt. That's why I love it when I see people making their lives more eco by having fun and doing stuff they love.

Instead of feeling weighed down by the mission, we should take a leaf out of their book and embrace the challenge to live a more planet-friendly life by being more creative and innovative - or at least supporting the people who are.

These are just a few fabulous people I came across on Instagram who inspire me to think outside of the box:

1. Zero Waste Daniel - a fashion brand which makes all its clothes from 100% scrap material. It has a shop in NYC where you can pick the fabrics and they make it for you there and then.  Check out their amazing clever!

Shopping in charity shops is also a great form of recycling. I used to be put off by the old clothes smell but the good news is you can wash them! ;) 

Try to get natural fibres if you can. The issue I've read about is that synthetic fibres release microplastic when they're washed - I still think recycling has got to better than not recycling though!

2. Kittie Kipper is an eco artist who repurposes ghosts nets and marine debris from the waters of the world. 

Isn't this rug gorgeous?

3. Knopfdesigns is a designer who turns chipped and unloved vintage plates into ceramic jewellery. They're beautiful and affordable and will make great presents. I must remember to check her site out ahead of Christmas!

4. Piera Lizzeri Upholstery - my childhood friend is inspiring when it comes to making and mending. Seeing what she can do, makes me look at old furniture and wonder about their true potential! 

Okay, so upcycling old chairs and sewing scraps of fabric together aren't going to set back global warming tomorrow... but isn't the idea of supporting an ethical, caring industry and owning original pieces that have been salvaged from landfill appealing?

Ever since I read the Greenpeace post 'there's no such thing as away' it gives me pause for thought when I chuck something in the bin.  I'm far from living a perfect eco-friendly lifestyle but I quite fancy living a life which exercises my creativity for the benefit of this beautiful planet. 


My latest book The Hen Party has a little eco twist too...but it's still fun and at just £2.99 for the ebook won't make you feel guilty either! 

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Oh, you stupid pointless plastic spoon!

I've opened a new anonymous facebook account from which to run my facebook author page. It means I can still enjoy the safe supportive atmosphere of my page but can avoid being bombarded by news and opinions on my personal page.  

My motivation is a desire for freedom. Freedom from all those emotional reactions that inevitably arise whenever I scroll through my feed.

For instance, it's been hard to avoid reading bitter comments about Catalonia. But what's the point of poking the wound by reading about it all the time?  

"It will all come to pass," my  (Catalan and Spanish) father says, sounding more like the Bible than a whatsapp text message.

Two weeks on and I'm doing well in my quieter, happier world. I'm calm. I'm accepting the world as it it. But then a friend takes me for an ice cream and it begins... the first stirring of emotion as she decides to try different flavours and for each flavour the woman serving has to give her a new little plastic spoon.   

It is as it is, I think, as the spoons mount on the counter. At least I can avoid more unnecessary plastic use by being decisive about my choice. I ask for an almond cone.

The woman serves up it up and before I can say anything, she reaches for a spoon and plunges it into my ice cream.

"I don't need it!" I say, but of course it's too late. She takes the spoon out to throw it away. One second of use and that spoon will now last on the planet a few hundred years. "Oh you're going to throw it away now?" I say helplessly. "I was trying not to use so much plastic."

My friend has finally decided on her flavour.

"You don't need to give her a spoon," I say, "she already has three!"

The woman smiles and says she won't. She probably thinks I'm a bore. But after she dishes up the ice cream she reaches for the spoon because it's so automatic. She stops herself just in time but it fills me with gloom thinking how many she must pointlessly dole out each day.

"If only other people were as environmentally conscious as you," the woman says brightly.

It strikes me as such a stupid thing to say. She's not giving people a chance! She's the one automatically reaching for spoons even though people have been successfully eating ice cream from a cone without the need for plastic for over a hundred years!

Later, as I sit on the beach, trying to listen to my friend, my mind keeps wandering to that spoon. Though there are far worse things happening in the world, many that I would have read about during the day had I been on facebook, it was that little pointless plastic spoon that made me lose my inner calm.

Perhaps because it was so simple to solve and yet wouldn't be solved. Perhaps because it was a crime against nature and nature doesn't have a religious or political agenda. It's easier to be on the side of nature than all these megalomaniacs running the world...  

Clearly it's impossible to shut ourselves off from everything that upsets us. But we do have  a choice in how we deal with it. I'm not going to let that spoon ruin the rest of my week - but I would be pleased if anyone reading this made a point of shouting out 'no thank you' to the ice cream server lunging to give you a pointless spoon!!

Related post: 6 Beauty Spots in Mallorca and 1 Ugly Problem

Friday, 15 September 2017

Life-changing Pot (not THAT kind)

The journalist leans forward, intrigued. "So how did your pot painting career begin?"

"Quite unexpectedly," I reply, smiling as if it were the first time I've told the story. "My neighbour was moving out and gifted me this large terracotta pot... normally I love terracotta but this one was a very faded and lifeless colour."

(Please note: the photo is deceptive because here it has just been washed and is wet!)

I tell her how the previous week I'd bought red spray paint to give new life to an old metal herb dispenser.

"So you see I had this dull terracotta pot and this can of bright red spray paint in the house... and I thought why not spray paint the pot?"

The journalist's eyes narrows as she tries to anticipate the rest of the story. After all, I'm a famous sharpie artist not a spray painter. But the spray painting does play a key part.

"My original plan was to paint the pot red on the top and red at the bottom, a white middle, and a sleek red line running through it... I thought the white would cover any small smears of red that had run beneath the line, but instead it just turned pink."

"You should have sanded off the excess paint," she blurts out.

I smile patiently.  "Yes... but if it had worked out perfectly I wouldn't have decided to blow caution to the wind and use my sharpie pens."

I then tell her what I've already told all the other magazines reporters. I tell her about the pure joy I felt once I started drawing.

"I'd been feeling really irritated that day, but as soon as I started doodling on that pot all my worries faded away and I felt so happy. I felt like I wanted to do this for the rest of my life."

Behind us, I'm aware of the photographer taking snaps of me and feel a little self-conscious. It's funny, because I always thought I'd be famous for writing, not painting pots.

"You say doodling..." she says, raising her eyebrow, wanting more.

"It's free hand.. I make it up as I go along. In fact, doodling is something I've always done to  relax..."

....CUT!!! That was just a daydream!
But seriously, do you like my pot? I'll sell it to the highest bidder! Do you want me to paint you one? I had so much fun doing it I want to do more and mooooooooore!

Can you tell I've gone completely potty?!

(I'll be posting pics on Instagram...)


And for my non-pot career! I hope you enjoy my latest novel The Hen Party!