Monday, October 20, 2014

The Business of Cards

I did a post just over a year ago about making business cards for Orla's Code, or, The I.T. Girl, as it was then. Without an eye for design I really struggled with a few attempts at this. Recently I came back to the exercise for the updated Orla's Code. Again, I played around with a few formats. I even went fancy with Vista, putting the book cover on one side and the cover again on the other side, but as a water-colour behind the information. It looked nice online but when I received the cards, the information printed over the water-colour was just hard to read. 

Again, companies that produce cards: please let us print samples of different designs. Fifty cards that all have the same fatal space aren't that much help to me.

So I went back to and after more experiments, I went back to the advice given on the previous post above and would now like to add this bit of advice to the list: if like me you don't have a flair for layout then just make sure everything is even. With the blurb I went to quite a bit of trouble to write something that fitted perfectly on the card so that every piece of information is separated by exactly one line. I also tried to keep the width of the writing consistent and I think this adds to the sense of symmetry. So that's all I got - keep it symmetrical!  Oh, and simple. I tried varying the font, I tried making my website information a different colour/size so that it would stand out. I found it hard to tell looking at it online but when I held these cards in my hands, I could just see the design looked odd - amateur.

Here's the final result. On the upside, after all this messing, producing cards for Beverly is going to be quick!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Beverly, Draft 3

And now, draft 3 of Beverly is finished! The last few weeks have gone quite smoothly overall with lots of editing and re-reading and a little research. Sending it to friends to proof-read draws a real line under the work and stops me from tweaking here and there. I'll be going back to polish off a final draft in December, with my fresh perspective plus friends' feedback.

In the meantime, I can't promise to leave it alone entirely. I'll be thinking about the synopsis and blurb and already I find myself saving draft text messages with thoughts. 

For now, here's the first draft of the blurb. Please don't judge a book by it's initial blurb! This is just a starting point. As with Orla's Code, I'll probably change it about a million times before I'm happy.

Beverly has made her life manageable. Her best friend and flatmate, Ella, answers the phone, answers the door and introduces Beverly at parties. She could be jealous of Ella's gregarious charm and the spotlight she lives under, except her long-term boyfriend Roland provides romance and security and means she never has to face the dating scene. She works from home and only 
corresponds by email because she has a bad stutter.

We join Beverly's story six months after Roland has broken it off. Ella has been her rock more than ever but on this regular Sunday morning, as they dissect the night before, Ella confesses that Roland has asked her on a date and she intends to say yes. Beverly is ready to end their friendship. But shortly after, she is faced with a bigger dilemma: she has to do a presentation at Work or lose her job. Now she needs Ella's help more than ever...

Thoughts and comments are of course welcome.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Back Stories: Beverly, Roland and Ella

I have finished draft 2 of my short novel Beverly and now have a checklist of things I want to fix and enhance for draft 3 which I hope to have ready for my proof-readers - er, I mean my friends, in a few months time. Exciting! For me.

We join Beverly's story as she and Ella - her old friend and flatmate - have a falling out that threatens to end their friendship. A deal is struck over their crisis but as the story unfolds, resentments come to light and Beverly faces the unknown, watching her carefully structured life unravel in every way.

The three main characters meet in college and though there are flashbacks to this time, the story is set in present day. I have written the below biographies to share more of these characters with you, since posting character descriptions back in March. Most of the information here will not be in the book as it's irrelevant to the story but back stories help grow characters in the mind of the writer, so I thought it would be fun to share them.


Beverly went to a large school in a small town. Her parents were religious and older than the other children's parents. They had a quiet house and Beverly found school overwhelming; All the noise and talking, she felt rushed and preferred to play by herself. But her parents and teachers were concerned and so she made an effort to be amongst other children on the playground. Her first memory of stuttering was asking to go to the toilet during class. She remembers the other children's curious eyes and a worried look on her teacher's face that pushed her glasses down her nose. Beverly felt ashamed but she pretended she didn't mind. She did well academically and tried to keep her parents from worrying or praying more! She didn't believe in God, and even young, she was surprised by faith.

Luckily, Beverly thought, she never had to change schools and be the new girl. She was part of the old gang in her school, as new children joined. Never confrontational but sometimes sarcastic and funny behind a teacher's back, Beverly was accepted, a bit like a pet, to be looked after. Finally she found a way to express herself, online, as gaming communities and chat rooms were growing. She became drawn to coding sites where she could compete on programming problems and convinced her parents to get her a computer.

School discos were a particular hell for Beverly who would try to fit in by hovering around a group of girls she knew. Until she discovered how easy it was to entice boys - not the gorgeous looking boys but the ones to the side, like her. Words were not needed - only a look that held an offer. Though she enjoyed the moments of relief in french kissing, she never had an actual boyfriend.

Instead, she dreamed of leaving home, creating her own, independent life without having to perform or pretend. Going to college was the first step. And there she met Roland and Ella.


When Ella was a little girl she went to a talent school during the holidays and danced on stage. She loved making people smile and she loved to be charming. It made her feel kind and good. She grew up with three older brothers and played with their cars and soldiers and later with their games console. She discovered coding through a games community and when she worked on coding problems, found it made her forget about other things so afterwards she would have a feeling of peace. Being behind a computer became her quiet time which was a relief from her otherwise fast-paced, sociable life.

Ella fell in love when she was 15. She was taller than most of the boys in her class, including her boyfriend. People made funny comments about it and she wasn't sure if it bothered her. But she really liked him and forgot about it after a while. They lasted a year. Ella would say he was jealous and cramped her style. But really she fancied Ron, who had joined her school mid-year. He was funny and became popular quickly. When he asked her to go for a walk after school and then asked her in the park if she wanted to go out, she thought her life was falling into place. They hung out with their friends and went to the cinema. But he was mean to her in private. She thought he misunderstood her so she tried to be more sensitive. But when they became sexual he said things to put her down - like that she was self-centred and if she had short hair she would look like a boy. She watched a TV programme about abusive relationships and realised this was a bit like that. So she tried to help him to see what he was like so that he could be happier but instead she became more miserable. Ron broke up with her just before the end of school dance. She saw it as her failing for a while but over time, her mind kept presenting the facts in new ways until she realised it wasn't her fault. She decided to keep things casual from then on and only date the less serious types. As a determined party girl, before college she bought new clothes and got highlights in her hair. She wanted to be a glamorous computer programmer. That would be her thing. 


Roland is from Amsterdam. Like Ella, he has three older brothers, with a 7 year gap between him and the second youngest, Eric who was the rebel of the family, skipping school and getting involved in drugs. When Roland saw him high he would think Eric was the same but different and it would upset him. There were bad fights at home. Eric talked about making documentaries but as Roland grew he began to hate Eric's carelessness with his own life and the pain he caused. Instead he looked up to the two older boys - the twins - and tried to be included with them, acting older than his years. When Eric died in a motorbike accident, Roland went to live with the twins for a time, while his parents tried to reconstruct a healthy living environment for him. Later on, Roland's father, Peiter, told Roland that he had been like Eric when he was young. His father, Roland's grandfather had died a soldier on duty and a psychologist told Peiter he was acting out as a result of not having a father - to express the pain of missing his father. After that, Peiter took an interest in psychology and that became his profession. Peiter said he should have been able to save Eric. Like his dad, Roland also has an analytical brain and likes solving problems. He applied his to computers.

Roland was an earnest student who kept an amicable distance from his class mates and was a bit too intense for girls. As a good looking boy he was able to take their interest for granted and unfairly belittled their attention, but he had a crush on one of the twins' girlfriends and eventually dated her younger sister, Tabatha, who was 2 years his senior. They had an on again - off again relationship. Both cheated on the other and Roland was torn between a restlessness and a desire for security. Tabatha broke up with him when she finished school. Roland's parents decided the best thing for him would be to start somewhere new and he was sent to live with his uncle in London. There he went to college and met Beverly and Ella.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

What Can Be

A great thing about writing and having work published is getting to be a part of literary magazines. Each one has its own view on what makes literature interesting and how it should be presented. There's always a buzz around each magazine because everyone involved is in it for the love of words. I was really excited last year to have my poem What Can Be become a runner-up in the Thynks Healing Poems competition! Now it is part of the Thynks anthology Little Book of Healing and I have just bought my copy from Amazon here.

Thynks is relatively new and already publishing a broad scope of prose and poetry, with a focus on compassion and healing. Check out their website  for other anthologies and information.

Also, click here to see my poem, What Can Be.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour

Thanks to Lisa Goll for inviting me to take part in this Writing Process Blog Tour. You can read her post here.

What am I working on?

I am currently writing a novel called Beverly, about two best friends who live together in London. One needs a favour from the other and in return she is asked to give something up. The exchange of favours changes their dynamic and a theme running through the story is how hidden parts of our character can surprise us in extreme circumstances and a question is whether or not friendship can last forever. But it’s beginning to develop as a love story too as one of the subplots is becoming more dominant.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’m not sure what genre I fit into - women's fiction / commercial fiction - but I am attracted to original stories. For example, my first book, Orla’s Code, is about a woman who works in I.T. Mostly set in her workplace, we see the I.T. world through the eyes of a female programmer and I think it might be the first of its kind! Beverly is also original in a certain way but I don’t want to give away what that is yet.

Why do I write what I do?

I think the desire to write about a subject that hasn't yet been written about is what drives me. I am a software programmer so Orla’s Code was close to my own experiences. The plot formed without my trying to think about it and that’s when I caught the bug. But before Orla’s Code and again, before Beverly, I didn't think I would write – until the plot came to me and then there was no escape!

Unlike a lot of writers, I didn't write when I was young or even dream of writing. In fact I hated essay time in school! However I did a creative writing course many years ago just to try something new and although that still didn't spark any writing ambition, I remembered how much I enjoyed it and thought every now and then that I'd like to try writing again in earnest. Finally the idea for Orla's Code came and suddenly I had to get it out of my system.

So basically sabotage is what makes me write.

How does my writing process work?

Working full-time, I have to fit writing around my schedule. I tend to try to save a weekend day or at least a morning for writing. I also do a bit of editing on the week evenings if I’m not too tired. During the week, usually on my work commute, I make notes and try to resolve issues in my head. Actually something that worked very well for me in the late stages of Orla’s Code was printing out a chapter each week, editing it on the way to work, then typing up the changes at the weekend and printing out the next chapter. 

I took last week off work to concentrate on writing and actually was surprised at how demotivated I was. With all the free time I found myself restless and distracted. I am beginning to wonder if the slow pace of dipping into what I am writing every now and then actually suits me better - I like leaving sections for a while and then coming back to them with fresh eyes. So maybe I don't want to give up the day job after all. This is a surprise to me!

One of the things that distracted me last week - thankfully - was answering these questions. So I would now like to introduce the three people I am passing the baton to....

Matt Bone lives and writes in Bath, UK, where he is steadily working through the city's supply of caffeine. He has degrees in both Astrophysics and English Literature, supporting his ambition to be entirely unemployable. His debut novel is Endless, the first in the Crescent fantasy series. His website can be found at

Melissa Pearl was born in Auckland, New Zealand, but has spent much of her life abroad, living in countries such as Jordan, Cyprus and Pakistan... not to mention a nine month road trip around North America with her husband. "Best. Year. Ever!!" She now lives in China with her husband and two sons. She is a trained elementary teacher, but writing is her passion. Since becoming a full time mother she has had the opportunity to pursue this dream and her debut novel hit the internet in November 2011. Since then she has continued to produce a steady stream of books. Recently she signed with Evatopia Press and her first Evatopia book came out in February 2014 - True Colors, The Masks Series #1. She is very excited to be trying out new things this year while continuing to publish under her own name as well. She has six books planned for 2014 and is excited about writing each and every one of them.

"I am passionate about writing. It stirs a fire in my soul that I never knew I had. I want to be the best writer I can possibly be and transport my readers into another world where they can laugh, cry and fall in love."

Dave Higgins has worked in law and IT for both public and private sector organisations. When not pursuing these hobbies, he writes poetry and speculative fiction.
He was born in Wiltshire, England. Raised by a librarian, he started reading shortly after birth and has not stopped since. He currently lives in Bristol with his wife, Nicola, his cats, Jasper and Una, and many shelves of books.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Full-Time Writer

I have discovered something shocking. I don't think I would like to be a full-time writer. I have always assumed that's what I would do, if my job wasn't in the way. But I took this week off work to write and I'm going a little stir crazy. I'm also watching a lot of daytime T.V. and I've washed nearly every stitch of clothing that I own - I'm actually quite excited about that. I'm also writing a blog post as part of a blog tour - my turn is next Monday. And now I'm writing this post. 

In between all that I am progressing with Beverly, and I'm quite happy with it and really enjoying it. But, I am not utilising this time the way I thought I would. When I have an evening here and a morning there to write I actually make much more use out of it. Could it be, feeling my time is limited helps me to focus?

Maybe it's down to the nature of how I write. I do short sections and then I like to leave them for a while before coming back to them. If dipping in and out is my natural pace then perhaps I would never be suited to full-time writing.

And another thing: I would like to do a bit more marketing for Orla's Code except I have been putting it to one side in order to progress with Beverly. I could have gone away this week or visited home. Why am I in such a rush? Of course there's the desire to complete the novel but I don't have an agent imposing deadlines. I can set my own targets. 

On the other hand, maybe I'm just suffering from a lack of discipline. I hear writers talking about it all the time and I'm like: I don't suffer from that. But that's because I don't usually have enough time to write. Maybe I just have to do what everyone does: turn off the T.V., log out and get on with it!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Awesome Indie Approved!

How do you like my shiny new badge? Orla's Code has been awarded a place on the Awesome Indies list of quality independent fiction! Awesome Indies is a critically acclaimed site that reviews and showcases excellent Indie fiction. What a great idea, to help readers in their search for quality independent books. Their mission is "to identify and honour independently published books that meet the same standard as books published by major mainstream publishers and their imprints." I'm feeling proud that Orla's Code has been placed among them.

Here is their 5 star review of Orla's Code. And if you're taking a look around, why not check out
their many categories including genre fiction, literary, YA, experimental, and contemporary fiction, including Orla's Code.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Character Building

I have finished the first draft of Beverly and while I feel I know the characters instinctively, they have not been more than an outline, a bit like clothes pegs, holding up the plot. A few months ago I went to a talk with Eleanor Catton who spoke about her characters having star signs in her novel The Luminaries. I thought this would be a good exercise while fleshing out my characters. Then I thought of some other character definitions to work with. 

Here are the three main characters: Beverly, Ella and Roland, described through popular templates.

Star Signs

The Crab
Beverly - Cancer

A predisposition towards shyness means the Cancerian tends to internalise emotion, but their desire usually centres around security and love. While known for being passionate and loyal, the 'moon-child' is also known for her moodiness and jealously. When hurt she tends to shut people out but can also strike back with venom.

Ella - Aries
The Ram

A real Aries - Ella is enthusiastic, spontaneous, competitive and a natural leader. Pace of life tends to be hustle and bustle with a positive attitude. Meanwhile, others can be overwhelmed by the Aries, experiencing their self-centred or overbearing side. They are also known to be trusting and have faith in people which can lead to their getting hurt.

Roland - Taurus

The Bull
A calm exterior with good self-possession while deep desires remain hidden. The Taurus can be easily charming but doesn't let people in more than he wants. Creature comforts, security and balance in life are real motivators. Determined and reliable, the Taurus tends to think deeply before making a decision and thus can find change stressful. They are also known for their stubbornness and insecurity.

The Colour Code

"The Color Code Personality Profile also known as The Color Code or The People Code, created by Dr. Taylor Hartman, divides personalities into four colors: Red(motivated by power), Blue (motivated by intimacy), White (motivated by peace), and Yellow (motivated by fun)."

If you have ever worked for a multinational corporation then you have probably been assessed in this manner. It is really helpful to managers with no natural people skills ... if only they could put stamps on us ... Anyway here's how I think the three would measure up:

Beverly - White
Thoughtful, perceptive, a good listener. Private, comfort seeking. Avoids conflict.

Ella - Yellow
Charming, highly sociable, wants to reach her potential and help others. Can be self-centered. May go outside the rules.

Roland - Red
Determined, focused, reliable. Can be dominating, can be stubborn and calculating.

Pop Culture


Likes electro-pop and techno. Anything with a strong beat, including music with native rhythms like Ladysmith Black Mobaza. Finds drums soothing, earthly - stirring. She doesn't really like dancing but Ella can sometimes get her up on the dance floor after a few drinks. Movies: Forest Gump, Big Fish, rom-coms - anything comforting and sentimental is an outlet for her. She mostly reads fantasy and Sci-Fi - she likes to read about worlds other than her own.


Likes any music that she can dance to. Movies: Donnie Darko, Seven, The Princess Bride - Dark thrillers and broad comedy. Hates rom-coms - thinks they stereotype her as a single thirty-something and feed on female insecurities. Reads autobiographies of people who inspire her.


Doesn't really get music. He hates dancing. He used to pretend he liked music when he was young but decided this was a bit silly when he was about sixteen and thought that it was better to just be himself. Movies: he identifies with stories where a person changes their circumstances: The Shawshank Redemption, The Godfather, Kane and Abel. He reads biographies about interesting people.

Facebook Pages

I don't think I'll actually create these, but here's what they would look like:

As a shy person, Beverly has a small number of friends on Facebook: school friends that she grew up with, some college mates and a handful of people from her adult life. She never accepts requests from people she doesn't know or like - and she does not mind if people think she is being rude - Ella points it out but Beverly shrugs and says something, like, It is of no consequence. Her activity is mostly music related: when she goes to gigs, she uploads photos and links to the band's Facebook page. She experiments with baking and puts her recipes on Facebook. 

Holiday photos, selfies, shares jokes, joins communities, debates with people online. 'Likes' articles so they'll be linked to her Facebook page. Where other people feel uncomfortable with their private life being exposed, Ella loves sharing things about herself.

The bare minimum. Doesn't have a photo up. Likes to stay connected with his two older brothers in The Netherlands who both have families. He has set up a Facebook account for his parents but they never go online.

On to Siblings

Beverly is an only child. It might have been the chaos in school in contrast to the quiet of home that planted a sense of being an outsider in Beverly. Her older parents used to pray for her self-confidence to improve.

Ella has three older brothers who she always tried to play with. They were into gaming and gadgets and she followed. A little tomboy who turned herself into a glamorous swan but who still likes to show sh
e can hold her own with the boys.

Roland also has three older brothers. But since the second youngest, Theo, is the black sheep of the family getting in trouble through drugs and general recklessness, Roland feels like Theo is the youngest. He always aspired to be accepted by his older brothers, the twins, who did take him under their wing.

Politics and Papers

Beverly is left wing. She feels the suffering of others and rejects Ella's point of view as being ruthless and weakly thought out. She would love to work with a charity and sometimes day-dreams about it. The only paper she reads is The Guardian online. She thinks magazines are a waste of time and finds herself getting depressed about her looks whenever she picks up one of Ella's magazines.

Ella is a pure capitalist. She believes in the power of the individual to better themselves and that a good life is available to everyone if they work hard. She believes Beverly is overly sympathetic for the sake of political correctness and her ideas unrealistic. She reads gossip magazines and is addicted to rolling news. She also reads the Daily Mail which Beverly throws out whenever she finds. Ella likes the hit of sensationalist journalism but takes and leaves the opinions as she likes.

Roland believes generally in a welfare state like The Netherlands model, in contrast with the corrupt version of capitalism he sees in other western countries. But he also thinks the Dutch system is taken advantage of. He is more interested in finance than in politics. He reads The Financial Times - he likes feeling he needs to, and The Guardian. Occasionally he reads De Telegraaf to keep up with what is going on at home.

What is their deepest desire?

Beverly: Security, stability, to be loved
Ella: To be the best she can be. To lead by example
Roland: To be successful in life, marriage, and finances

What is their worst fear?

Beverly : Speaking in public
Ella : Not reaching her potential
Roland : Not succeeding in life

First Memories

A roundabout in the school playground. It's Beverly's turn. Momentum has picked up and the kids just have to tap the frame to keep it spinning around. Beverly is trying to say Stop but the wind is whipping the word out of her mouth, so only st-st can be heard. It is a moment of delight.

She remembers the squeaking of her arm-bands in the swimming pool and echoing shouts. Her legs are kicking below her but there's no ground. She has a moment of panic as she slips down in the rubber ring around her waist, but then realises what floating is as she bobs in the water.

His family are all sitting in the living room with rugs around everyone because the electricity has gone out. He is in between his brothers, under one rug on the couch. Everyone is laughing at his dad, wagging his dog slippers. Roland is frightened by the candle light dancing up the walls.

How do you develop your characters? Do you have a method? Do you let them develop organically? It is at times like this I wish I could sketch. These people are living inside my head and they keep telling me about themselves. It's a bit like having ghosts.

Click on images for source.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Orla's Code in Readers' Choice Award!

I am excited and feel honoured that Orla's Code has been nominated for a Readers' Choice Award! 

Big Al's Books and Pals - recently selected as the Best Review Site
by Indies Unlimited - receives thousands of books for review and nominates what they consider exceptional writing each year, in 13 categories.

The voting has already begun so if you would like to vote for Orla's Code in the Chick-lit/Women's Fiction category then click on the badge and follow the steps. Your vote also entitles you to an entry in Big Al's Giveaway!

You can find Big Al's Books and Pals' 5-star review of Orla's Code here

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Rolling News

I am chuffed at having my poem Rolling News included in Forward Poetry's National Poetry Competition Collection! 

ForwardPoetry run anthologies and competitions regularly and were winners of the Best of Britain Undiscovered Poetry Award 2012, by The Great Exhibition.

I have republished Rolling News here on my blog: Check it out. Now I realise I actually have a few poems inspired by T.V. Hmmm, what does that say about me? Check out My Couch Says and Sitcom Drops.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Goodreads Giveaway!

I am excited to announce that Orla's Code is being given away for free!

Sign up to get your paperback copy, courtesy of a Goodreads Giveway!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Plot Holes and Thinking Sideways

I had a situation once, writing Orla's Code, where I realised a number of events could vary in sequence. In other words, A could cause B but also, if I introduce C earlier, then B could actually be the cause of A. There were knock on effects too, which could also happen in varying order and I tried to figure out what was the best sequence of events to make the most of each one. It all got confusing and blurry. So, I tried a Lateral Thinking technique that seemed familiar from the 90s.

I wrote down all the events on paper. Then I tore the paper into squares, with one event on each square. I placed the squares face down on the floor and mixed them up. Then I randomly placed them in a line. Then I turned the line over to see what sequence of events had been produced. As it happens the first sequence worked, making everything fall into place. It was a useful process to create a plot when my brain was too tired and I was too close to the problem to come up with one.

Now writing my second novel, I'm determined to be better organised with outline. Although today I find myself taking to my extra large notepad to do some brain-storming which will involve drawing circles and arrows as I try to work out what happens next... 

Here are some ideas from fellow writers when I asked what their fall-back techniques were:

Write several versions, then get a friend to read them.
Start at the end and work back to the beginning.

Write an arc for every chapter, then write the climax for each section.

How do you plot your novels? How do you work out those sticky issues?...