Preparing for lift-off – Launching Taming Tom Jones

It has been a long time coming, but finally on Friday 2 October, my novel Taming Tom Jones will be launch into the world! Hurrah! Incidentally, it’s available for pre-order, and will magically appear on your kindles on Friday if you buy it now. Hint, hint. Ha ha!
Amazon.co.uTTJ Coverk
Amazon.com
Smashwords
Right, having got that out of the way, let’s talk about launches. I’ve published a fair few books because, apart from my women’s fiction, I’ve written a lot of readers for people learning to speak English. The experience of launching these books has always been a bit of anti-climax. Almost inevitably publication day has been marked by the arrival of a box of books on my doorstep, and this has been the first I’ve known about them being available to the public. Not that I’m knocking receiving a box of gleaming, newly-printed books with my name on the cover – that has always been a delicious treat.

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However, it’s hardly a red carpet premiere is it? So when my last novel A Nightingale in Winter was due to be published in July, I wanted to celebrate properly. I love writing language readers, and I’m very proud that one of them – Kilimanjaro – has just won a Language Learner Literature Award. But by their nature, language readers demand restricted vocabulary and grammar, and when I write my women’s fiction, I revel in the freedom of being able to write what I want to write in the way I want to write it. So I organised a get together with friends. Sadly though, publication of A Nightingale in Winter was delayed by several weeks due to cover issues, so my friends and I just went out for a drink on what was to have been publication day. We has a good time anyway, but by the time the book was published on 24 August, the summer holidays were in full flow, and people weren’t so available. So apart from raising a glass of wine with my partner, that book’s launch into the world went sort of unmarked too.

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So this time, encouraged by my publishers Crooked Cat Publishing, and all the other lovely Crooked Cat authors, I’m going to try something different – an online launch party. It’s on Friday 2 October 1.30pm – 7.30pm GMT, and you’re all welcome to attend. There will be fun and games as well as tasters of the book, and PRIZES.

ONLINE PARTY INVITATION

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​As well as that, if you’re a writer or a would-be writer, I’m going to be putting my creative writing tutor hat on between 4pm and 5pm to answer any writing-related questions you may have.

Click on your party invitation and then click JOIN to reserve your slot.

Here’s a bit about Taming Tom Jones:

​Jen’s partner Michael has never been in a relationship for more than four years, so with their fourth anniversary coming up, she’s getting understandably nervous. Especially as she’s just discovered she’s pregnant, and she knows Michael doesn’t want any more children other than Kyle, his teenage son.

Jen means to tell Michael about the baby right away, but then he comes home on a brand new motorbike, having traded in his sensible car, and the moment is lost. Is Michael having an early mid-life crisis?

Jen decides to do some detective work about Michael’s exes in an effort to save their relationship, and embarks on a journey that will take her as far afield as North Norfolk and Cuba. But she has no idea of the can of worms she’s about to open.

Why do all Michael’s relationships break up? And what’s the big secret he’s hiding?

I hope to see you on Friday 2 October between 1.30pm – 7.30pm GMT. Tell your friends!

ONLINE PARTY INVITATION

A Thank You to the Heart Breakers. Ps, I used you in my book. Revenge? Me? Would I? Er…

I’m very excited today because my novel Taming Tom Jones is available to pre-order! You can get by clicking HERE, and it will appear as if by magic on your Kindle on October 2nd, which is publication day. If you haven’t got a Kindle, then please ask your Kindle-owning friends to download it, because if enough people buy the e-book, my wonderful publishers Crooked Cat Publishing will produce it as a paperback.
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Okay, enough pleading! Why should you buy it? Why should you frankly even give a fig about my book when there are all those others out there, lining the shelves, both physical and digital? Well, I suffered to write this book. Just for you. Okay, that’s not strictly true. I suffered and I learnt, but I’ve got to be honest, at the time I wasn’t thinking about you curled up on your sofa reading about it all. I was too busy living it. Which doesn’t mean that Taming Tom Jones is autobiographical at all. I’ve just drawn on the feelings I experienced at the time. Let me explain…

When I was younger, before I met the amazing man I’ve been with now for ten happy years, I had an unfortunate habit to fall for men who were commitment phobics or serial monogamists. They were all charming, attractive, funny, practically helpful, but only for a certain amount of time; then they scarpered and moved on to the next woman they’d got lined up. I’ve no idea why I was drawn to the type – maybe it’s to do with my relationship with my father or something deep like that, but I certainly don’t think I’m alone in this tendency. Women everywhere fall for charismatic, illusive types, deluding themselves that they will be the one to change them. That’s certainly what I believed with Rob the joiner, Chris the plumber, Paul the musician…

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Er.. hmm, maybe I’ll stop there, to avoid getting a reputation. Gosh, I certainly went for the practical types, didn’t I? All those talents. To a man, these guys showed their feelings by doing things for me – making shelves, repairing fireplaces, singing me songs, instead of telling me how they felt. And just as soon as they felt in the least bit moved to actually putting anything into words, they were off to pastures new.

So what, you may ask, has all this to do with Taming Tom Jones? Well, Michael is my heroine Jen’s partner – the man she adores, and the man yes, you’ve guessed it, she fears is about to move on to someone new. He’s never stayed in a relationship for more than four years, and their four year anniversary is fast approaching. And she’s got some news for him which he might not like…

Jen goes to some extreme lengths to try to save their relationship, which is more than I did. I wish I’d had her nerve when I was on the receiving end of all those rejections. I sobbed and languished and got mopped up by the friends I was fortunate enough to have; friends, incidentally, who are nothing like Jen’s best friends – Marcia, a spiky school friend who believes in tough love and saying it how it is, and Hannah, Jen’s almost mother-in-law from a previous relationship. Marcia and Hannah aid and abet Jen as she embarks on a quest which takes her as far afield as North Norfolk and Cuba to investigate Michael’s past relationships. If she can find out why they failed, maybe she can stop the same thing happening to them?

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But is it ever a good idea to track down your partner’s exes? And why do all Michael’s relationships break up? What’s the big secret he’s hiding?

Pre-order Taming Tom Jones now to find out!
Amazon.co.uk
Amazon.com
Smashwords

And here’s your invitation to the online launch party – do join us! The more the merrier!
JOIN THE FUN-FILLED ONLINE LAUNCH PARTY FOR TAMING TOM JONES – 2 OCTOBER!

Cheers! And Rob, Chris, Paul and all the others… I suppose I should say thank you. Without you, here might be no book!

Margaret X

Helping With Writer’s Block

I was in the newspaper last Saturday – here’s the piece that appeared. It’s the story of how I wrote my forthcoming novel, A Nightingale in Winter, which languished in an attic for sixteen years. I’m putting my experience of overcoming writer’s block to good use in a face-to-face course soon, and in the future I intend to make this into an e-course. If this is something that interests you, sign up to my mailing list or email me at margaretkjohnsonauthor@gmail.com for more information.
————————————————————————————————————————————–Norwich author to use her own experience to help others with writer’s block

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To help writers find their flow, Margaret Johnson has launched the Fiction Writing – Moving Forward course, which will run for ten weeks starting in September.It comes on the back of her own experience after her latest novel, A Nightingale in Winter, was left languishing in her attic for 16 years before she finally decided to put the finishing touches to it.

The course is aimed at those who have an idea for a story or novel but don’t know how to get started, or for those who have already made a start but are now feeling stuck.

Mrs Johnson said: “It took me two years to write the book on top of having a job at a college in Nottingham. I did a great deal of research for it, including going to the Imperial War Museum in London to read original diaries and letters.

“I ended up writing two versions of the story and thoroughly confused myself.

“But with increased experience, I could see exactly what I needed to change to make it work.

“I did not decide to try and publish it until 16 years later – but happily it was quickly accepted by Omnific Publishing.

“I know all about the fears and doubts that can plague aspiring writers and always try to include an element of writing confidence building in the creative writing courses.”

The course will help students to work on their plot and story outline, decide on their story theme, heighten conflict to add interest, decide on the best ending for their story and more.

Mrs Johnson also writes contemporary women’s fiction and fiction for people who are learning to speak English.

Fiction Writing – Moving Forward, will run for ten weeks from 7pm to 9pm, from September 17 at Oak Grove Chapel, Catton Grove Road, Norwich.

To book your place email Mrs Johnson at margaretkjohnsonauthor@gmail.com.

A Nightingale in Winter will be published in paperback and e-book form by Omnific Publishing on August 24 and is available to pre-order on Amazon now.

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Fiction Writing Lessons

My students move me; they really do. And inspire me. At every new class they arrive, feeling nervous and uncertain about what to expect, and by the end of the first lesson they’ve written something amazing and shared it with the group. I love that; that I’ve been instrumental in some small way in helping them to expand their comfort zones and to discover the joy of expressing themselves through the written word.
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On the surface, my students may seem to have many different motivations for enrolling on a writing class. Obviously lots have always wanted to write and just want to increase their skills and knowledge, but there are others who also want to use writing to help get over a past trauma, or to look for escape from illness – either their own or a loved one’s, or to pass on the experience of their lives to posterity. Some find writing an isolated business and want to meet like-minded people, and others are challenging themselves to do something different – something they find a bit scary.

So, what with age and sex differences thrown into the mix, my students are a pretty varied bunch. But as they work on their writing together, they quickly form strong bonds and any differences are swept aside. And I love that. In fact this type of situation – where a group of disparate people comes together and bonds due to a common cause – was the inspiration for both my novels The Goddess Workshop and The Dare Club. But if I ever wanted to write a third novel in the series called The Writing Class, I’d have to invent some conflict to make the novel interesting!

When I finished art college ages ago, some of my friends went into teaching art and rarely picked up a paint brush again. It was as if the act of instruction drained the creativity out of them so they had nothing left for their own work. It was something I was a bit wary of myself when I decided to launch my courses, because I knew I definitely didn’t want to give up writing. But I needn’t have worried. As I’ve worked out writing exercises to help students learn, I’ve gained greater clarity myself. For example, a lesson I taught about theme in stories really made me pinpoint those themes in my own books. How surprised I was to find that two of my novels – The Goddess Workshop, about a group of women attempting to become more sensual, and A Nightingale in Winter, (to be published on 7 July by Omnific Publishing) a story about a volunteer nurse in the First World War, share the same theme! It’s there too with the character of Michael in my novel Taming Tom Jones, which has recently been accepted by the wonderful Crooked Cat Publishing. How different these books are to each other on the face of it And yet the theme of You can’t move forward in your life and really fulfil your potential until you’ve dealt with the issues of your past”  runs through them all like the lettering in a stick of rock.

At the moment I’m eagerly waiting for a first sight of the book covers for A Nightingale in Winter andTaming Tom Jones. But here’s a photo I had taken for Nightingale which expresses the feel of the book, together with the cover of The Goddess Workshop. You can see how different they are on the face of it. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find the similarities.

A bit like my students!

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What will the cover of Taming Tom Jones be like? I can’t wait to find out!!!
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A Writer’s Toolbox – The Art of Selective Vision

When I am not writing, I don’t feel like myself. I am fidgety and restless, aware that now I have the time to do all the sensible stuff that has been neglected while I’ve been writing my novel – housework, the redecoration of the house, and of course, marketing my books. There’s no excuse not to do any of these things now – after long months slaving over a keyboard, I’m finally free!

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Except that I still don’t have much enthusiasm for any of those tasks. I go through the motions, being a good grown up girl and doing what is expected of me, while not really feeling like me at all. I much prefer the me who’s immersed in writing a novel, hearing my characters speak to each other inside my head, my imagination busy at work planning what will happen next, making links and thinking of clues to leave for the reader. In this world I develop selective vision, and don’t see the places in my home that need cleaning or redecorating.

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Not that it’s all plain sailing while I’m writing. Inevitably, there comes a time where I start to doubt the quality of what I’m producing. Is it as good as my last book? Is it too different to my last book? Are the characters really coming to life? Is what I’ve written in fact, just a pile of poo? Once I start to get self-conscious, my confidence wavers. Rosalind Brackenbury likened this to the experience of looking in the mirror when you’re just about to go out and deciding you don’t like the way you look. You have to go out anyway if you don’t want to miss the bus or the start of the play.

To keep going with my writing, I have to try to ignore feelings of doubt and self-consciousness when they arrive. Sometimes it helps not to write the novel in its sequential order, but to focus on the parts that really grip and obsess me. I identify these by splurging them all out onto index cards, which act as touch stones to take me through to the end of the novel. And I always know the ending of the book – it’s there all the time like a light at the end of a tunnel I’m mining my way through. Some writers don’t need to be able to see this light, but they’re braver souls than me. I’m afraid of the dark.

Speaking of the dark, tomorrow evening I’m going to a highly scary Halloween event called PrimEvil. There will be hosts of actors in hideous costumes lurking in mazes, the sound of chain saws and screams. And it will be dark. Very dark. The friends I’m going with will have to be my touch stones to get me through; the pub at the end of the evening my light at the end of the tunnel. Actually, housework and redecorating suddenly don’t seem so bad after all…

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The Whydunnit – Making Thrillers Thrilling

I have a thriller novel growing in my head. It’s at the very early stages, and I don’t know as yet exactly which direction it’s going to go in. I do know my two main characters, and I also know what brings them together. But I need to learn more about the genre before I even think of making a start.

As a first step I attended a very stimulating thriller writing master class the other weekend, run by the writer Henry Sutton. It was part of a weeklong crime writing festival in my home city of Norwich, called Noirwich, which also included some great guest speakers.

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In the master class, Henry put us on the spot about the books we were planning, giving us feedback that allowed us to really pin our ideas down. He was wonderfully ruthless – not allowing any of us to get away with being woolly.

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He also told us that a thriller should be a Why done it rather than a Who done it. I found that very interesting, because the best fictional villains for me are those you really get to know and understand. This is what I’ve tried to do with my character Leo in my novel A Nightingale In Winter, which should hopefully be making an appearance before too long. One novel I read recently featured a hit man who was just a cold killing machine, and he was an unbelievable character as a result.

Other things I learnt on the master class include:

  • A thriller has to start with a character wanting something desperately.
  • Something, or someone is in the way or out to stop them.
  • The clock is ticking.
  • There is a lot at stake.
  • Unlike as is often the case in detective fiction, the crime in a thriller has not yet taken place at the start of the book.
  • Thrillers should be emotional (this really appeals to me!)

Ways of increasing the level of suspense are to:

  • Switch the point of view to start a new chapter, so that the reader is left in suspense about what is happening to the character in the previous chapter.
  • Keep asking questions but don’t answer them.
  • Make the book turn a corner by introducing another plot strand or another character who disrupts everything.
  • Wrong-foot the reader – allowing them to think they are being taken in a certain direction then making it turn out completely differently to how they expect.

Many of these things apply to all griping fiction writing of course, but the difference with writing a thriller is that the conflict or issues the characters face should be life threatening.

Henry told us that the crime writer Jim Thompson said that there is only one thriller plot – “things are not what they seem.”

Another part of my research into the thriller genre has of course, been to read lots of thrillers. Henry recommended many authors, including Val McDermid, and in particular, A Mermaid Singing. I couldn’t get that book, so I read another one of hers – I was interested by it, but a little disappointed, I have to admit. It seemed to me that she had built one of her main characters very carefully and then made her act completely out of character at the end. It frustrated me. But this is all part of the learning process, isn’t it? Finding out what satisfies you, what intrigues you and what makes you want to keep on reading.

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Judging by the reviews this novel has, I’m not alone in my opinions about it. But readers are so disappointed that it’s clear Val’s books are usually lots better than this, so I shall persist and read more of them. Incidentally, before the master class, I got one of Henry’s books out of the library, wanting to familiarize myself with the way he writes. I couldn’t finish it – not because it was badly written or the characters acted out of character – but because it was about a struggling writer, and the issues he was grappling with were all so depressingly familiar!

What thrillers do you recommend? Why did you particularly enjoy them? I’d love to know!

To Pen-name or Not to Pen- name? That is the question.

I have just published a new novel – a romance called Secret Millionaire. It’s different to my other books because while they contain romances, so far they have been about more than that – about relationships, friendships, and the growth of self-confidence born out of facing the challenges of life. So because I wanted to distinguish between these two areas of writing, I decided to use a pen name for the book, and chose the name Kitty Alexander. (Kitty was the name I would have used for my son had he been a girl, and Alexander – no reason, it just sounded right).

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Having a pen name means I will have to publicize the book under the name of Kitty Alexander to avoid confusion. It makes sense to have a separate author page on Facebook for my Kitty books, and a separate Twitter account. (This is somewhat alarming, since when I’m absorbed in my writing, I forget to tweet for weeks at a time already). But perhaps Kitty will be different. Maybe Kitty will be media savvy and enthusiastic, tweeting in an entertaining way that draws new fans to follow her.

In fact, perhaps it doesn’t need to stop there – perhaps Kitty can be my alter ego. Maybe I can re-invent myself through her. The world is my oyster! Hopefully, Kitty will come to have the kind of lifestyle that includes impulsive mini breaks to Cannes and champagne suppers.

Here’s the photo I plan to use for Kitty. It is me, but a different me! I think it will suit her fine. I think she – sorry, I – look like a romantic novelist in this image. What do you think? (Please don’t say it looks as if I’ve been cuddling chickens).

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Tomorrow though,  I’m going to a master class on thriller writing. I booked onto it because I like to take course now and then to give me a shot in the arm, and the course is all about keeping suspense going and writing twists in the tail, which are very useful things to know about for any kind of writing. I do have a germ of an idea for a thriller though … Oh no; does that mean I might need a third identity in the future?!

In the meantime, here’s the link to my Kitty Alexander Facebook page, and here’s the link to Kitty on Twitter. Please Like me so I don’t look as lonely as I do now! I’ll be eternally grateful to you, and I’ve posted a very fine photograph of a sunrise on there. Here’s a sneak peak. I took it the other morning, and it’s the view from my bedroom window. What a start to the day!

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Margaret / Kitty X