Calling all Women’s Fiction Lovers! Complete the Survey and Win!

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Hello to all you women’s fiction lovers out there! I’m carrying out a survey to get your valuable views on what makes a women’s fiction novel the best ever experience for you.

I don’t know if you’re like me, but sometimes I find it difficult to find books I really want to read. Maybe that’s partly why I write what I do – because these are the type of books that really grab me. My fantasy reads that transport me to an entirely different world; one where I’m completely hooked on the characters and what’s happening to them.

 For me, romance on its own isn’t enough.

If there’s a romance in a story, that’s fine, and if I care about the characters I’ll root for them. But on its own? No, it doesn’t do it for me. (I realise I might be in the minority, as romance novels sell like proverbial hot cakes).

I want something more than that though.

I want to read about women who are overcoming challenges of all kinds, not just the romantic kind. Women who are rebuilding their lives or challenging themselves, or dealing with complicated issues. About secrets and how they can eat away at relationships or self-esteem like a cancer. And personally, I’m quite happy to accept events that might not happen in real life if the author helps me to believe in them. Magic, I suppose.

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The compulsion factor

So, right now I’m on a quest to find out more about what other women’s fiction fans want from women’s fiction. I want to see whether I can find people like me, which would be very nice, but also to find other books and authors who can stir and move me, and make me read hungrily into the night. So, I’ve put together a short survey on Women’s Fiction, and, to entice you to spend a few minutes answering my questions, I’m offering a £20/$20 Amazon voucher to one lucky respondent.

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Click image to give your valuable opinion and to be entered into a draw to win a £20/$20 Amazon Gift Card.

So, what are you waiting for? if you enjoy reading good women’s fiction, let me know what matters to you and where and how you enjoy reading by clicking on the link. Oh, and if you have a fantasy place to read, I want to hear about that too!

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Where’s your fantasy place to read? Tell us!

Thanks so much. I can’t wait to read your answers.

Bye for now.

Margaret 

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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The Art of Writing Language Readers

I’m going to dedicate this blog post to all teachers and learners of English around the world! I have written over 20 fiction readers since the year 2000. These have been published by Cambridge University Press and Cengage Learning. Twenty readers in 15 years may sound like a lot, but some of them are very short – only 5,000 words long. My women’s fiction is 90,000 words long!
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I love writing language readers. Telling an exciting story when you can only choose from a list of 200 words (for a starter level reader) is a real challenge. How do I do it? Well, I have to let the words on the list suggest the story. If I didn’t do that, if I decided I had to write a story about a dangerous crocodile when I wasn’t allowed to use the word crocodile – or bite, teeth, dangerous or any other words related to crocodiles – I think I’d go mad.
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But let me give you an example of how I work on a language reader, especially a lower level one aimed at beginners. Take for example, my story Gone! which was published by Cambridge University Press in 2009. On the list of words I was able to use were the words CAMERA, BIRTHDAY, FRIEND and COMPUTER. This gave me the idea of a boy, Tom. It’s his birthday, but his family and friends are all too busy to help him celebrate, so he’s feeling SAD (also on the list). He finds a camera, and discovers that it has magic powers. Tom decides to use the camera to help him to force his friends and family to do what he wants them to do. It doesn’t end well…
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With a higher level book, it’s easier of course. My Intermediate Level story Kilimanjaro is currently short-listed to receive a Language Learner Literature Award – yippee!The judges said of it: “Good storyline and characterization. People are set against each other, the elements, and their own personal challenges as they struggle to reach the top. The simple, descriptive language and illustrations supporting the text will keep the reader turning the pages to find out what happens next.”

I hope the readers who are voting at the moment agree! I certainly enjoyed writing it very much, and with the longer list of words and a greater freedom with grammar, I was really able to express what I wanted to in the story.

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Kilimanjaro is published by Cengage Learning in their series called Page Turners, and that’s what I tried to do with the book – to make it really exciting so you wanted to know what happened next. Will the group all make it to the top of Africa’s highest mountain?So, over to you! If you’re learning to speak English, do you read readers like mine? And if you do, have you found they help your learning? And if you’re a teacher, do you use readers as part of your lessons? I hope you do, because that way I’ll get to write more of them!

In reading about blogging lately, I came across a useful article called 40 instant business blog post ideas and thought it would be fun to insert my own name into the title of one or two of them. Here’s the first. It was great fun to write! I hope you enjoy reading it.

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At first glance, Margaret K Johnson may seem to be quite a complicated, hard-to-pin down mix. She is confident and determined enough to have had a go – three times – at stand-up comedy, and loves teaching, since it allows her to share her passions and to enable others to pursue theirs. But put her in a room where lots of people are talking together, even if it’s a group of her own friends, and she can clam up.

This could partly be due to the writerly practice of people watching, and it is quite probable that Margaret is, in fact, squirreling away nuggets of conversation and observational detail for her books. However, this could also be a simplistic view of the author’s behaviour. Those who have known Margaret K Johnson intimately for a number of years, will be aware of several key reasons for her lack of confidence in social situations, and these have little or nothing to do with her being unfriendly, distant, disinterested, self-absorbed or even downright boring as might appear to be the first impression.

The truth is, Margaret K Johnson has always been shy, and the possession of an overly strict father and a relentlessly teasing brother did little to remedy this situation. Given the additional fact that her mother saw fit to perm the author’s hair in the summer holidays preceding her commencement at senior school, thereby giving her new peers and teachers the impression of Margaret being somewhat poodle-like, it is not surprising that this situation continued into her teens.

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Unfortunately, just as Margaret was finally beginning to settle into senior school and had made managed to make a small group of friends who were prepared to ignore her hairstyle, the decision was made to transfer her to a different class. Although this was because Margaret was doing well academically, it was impossible for her to see this as a reward for making good progress at school. The daunting prospect of having to make new friends all over again, when everyone else had already established their friendship groups, left the author emotionally scarred, even before the unfortunate incident when she mistakenly used the word “pheasant” instead of “peasant” to describe Joan of Arc’s upbringing during a talk to the whole class.

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It is true that Margaret K Johnson ought to be able to move on from these events, and that there is no longer any reason for them to be a part of the fabric of her begin. The author is aware of that she finally needs to address these issues. But in the mean time, should you be due to spend time with Margaret K Johnson, you can take charge of the situation by following these 5 simple steps.

This blog is moving! To read the rest, including the 5 vital steps, please go to:

http://www.margaretkjohnson.co.uk/blog/5-simple-steps-to-take-charge-of-margaret-k-Johnson

Thank you!

Margaret x

 

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