Diary of a Mad Writer: Weeks 4 and 5: MELTING MOMENTS

Wow. What a fortnight I’ve had here in Mad Writer Land…

First, you can subscribe to my newsletter and receive an exclusive novella BUTTERFLY absolutely free. I signed up to a Mailchimp account, free for your first 2000 subscribers, and discovered how to use the Insert Link and Add Media features. I used Diana Marinova’s ‘How to Use Mailchimp to Auto-Send a Free Ebook to Your New Newsletter Subscribers‘, and Jonathan Blundell’s ‘Adding a PDF to WordPress,’ to accomplish this, then I added a Subscribe to my Newsletter page both on my blog and on my Author Website: heidicbooks. I spent the past two weeks busily writing BUTTERFLY, a 25,000 word PDF version of a DI Jesse Rider case from before the time he met Hunter Cade, the main protagonist in AFFLICTION and THE OBSIDIAN. Writing 5,000 words a day when you have three kids who love to argue and it’s the summer holidays, has made me realise that cloning might not be such a touchy topic.

Second, and certainly one of the highlights of my fortnight, I was author-interviewed for the wonderful Lisa Haselton’s Reviews and Interviews. You can read my interview here, and check out her other author interviews and book reviews. Thank you again, Lisa.

On top of all that I decided to change the covers of my first two published novels, venture into the audiobook market (and managed to net myself a fantastic narrator), and received a positive response from an agent who loved Hunter as a character and would like to consider my standalone romantic thriller DON’T FORGET ME. So I’m having to put poor Hunter up on the shelf for the next few months to get the new book to a submittable standard.

Phew! When I began Diary of a Mad Writer I thought I was going to struggle to find things to write about. I suppose it’s a good example of how accountability can help you to achieve more. Because I needed things to say – I set out to do more, so I would have more to say. I know this article has seemed a bit me-ey, and I apologise, it isn’t how I like to roll, but I hope it demonstrates the way that even the most introverted  writer with next to no budget for their author-entrepreneur business, can make a good go of things. If I can do it, so can you. I got close to having a few melting moments this fortnight, but the positive more than outweighed the negative.


Filed under Book Promotion, Diary of a Mad Writer, Motivation, The Business of Books, The Writing Process, Writing and family life

Diary of a Mad Writer: Weeks 2 and 3: IT PAYS TO TAKE AFFIRMATIVE ACTION

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Working like a dog… never understood that. My dog doesn’t do much more than sleep or mooch about the house, although here she is checking out my sales stats. She isn’t impressed.

In an attempt to satisfy my grumpy border collie, I’ve had a busy two weeks. (She has been for a very long walk which has made her a little less grumpy, for the moment at least). As you can see above her picture, you can now subscribe to my newsletter. I’m busy writing a free book I can give away to new subscribers, a DI Jesse Rider novella. More work on top of an already busy schedule, but I’m not a mad writer for nothing. The more works-in-progress I have piling up, the happier I am.  I’m certainly not suffering from writer’s block which made me ponder whether writer’s block actually exists, or is it an easy excuse for (please don’t get mad) lazy writers?

Years ago I went through a phase when I considered myself to be an arid desert when it came to ideas. Nothing was growing. It was sand as far as you could see. Each oasis turned out to be a mirage and there were very few of those. In desperation I signed up to a writing course with The Writers Bureau. I didn’t actually complete the course, (I’m now an English graduate, always wanted to say that), but what I learned during my short time taking part gave my muse a kick up the arse. When I looked out at that rolling expanse of golden sand, I saw a small sapling. That sapling was my first Hunter Cade novel which has now grown into a mature tree and triggered new trees to grow. What I’m trying to say is, I thought I had writer’s block. I may well have had writer’s block, but by learning ways to force inspiration, I have never suffered with it since.

This is where the title for this post comes into it. It pays to take affirmative action. If you aren’t getting any ideas, find a way to make the ideas come to you: pick up a book in a genre you might not normally read; watch a great box set (you can’t go wrong with Hannibal); grab a sheet of paper and get started on a mind map or a cluster map, start with a single idea (and I sometimes use a novel I’ve enjoyed and feel inspired by, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl for example) and begin branching off topics until you have a premise you can work with. Take affirmative action. The floodgates will open and you may just find yourself inundated with book ideas.

That cluster map with Gone Girl in the center of it gave me three standalone romantic thrillers to work on, one of them I am actively writing as part of my Diary work. I have gone so far as to buy the 3 covers, very inexpensively. I use The Book Cover Designer (http://thebookcoverdesigner.com), especially bettibup33, and I have also used Melody Simmons pre-made covers (http://ebookindiecovers.com).

As well as hitting word count targets, I have been taking part in the Self-publishing Success Summit hosted by Chandler Bolt (http://selfpublishingsuccesssummit.com). With presentations from experts such as Joanna Penn and Daniel Decker, (http://www.thecreativepenn.com and http://www.danieldecker.net respectively), it has been a bottomless well of information. Okay, it does have a bottom, but I’m trying not to think about that because I’ve been having so much fun, knowing it’s going to come to an end is too much for me to cope with. I bought a book right before I signed up to the Summit from author Nick Stephenson (http://nickstephensonbooks.com). Supercharge your Kindle Sales:(http://www.amazon.co.uk/Supercharge-Your-Kindle-Sales-Strategies-ebook/dp/B00MMQN0VG) and was overwhelmed by the response I got by implementing just one of his strategy ideas. I was extremely excited to learn he was also going to be a guest speaker.

Finally, I  contacted a few blogs in the hopes I could take part in an author interview.  I was blown away to receive a response from Lisa Haselton (http://lisahaseltonsreviewsandinterviews.blogspot.co.uk). This is my first author interview, it should be up in August or maybe September. You should check out her existing author interviews because they’re great. I always find it fascinating to get inside the head of writers, to find out what makes them tick and what they’re working on now. Thank you Lisa for giving me this opportunity.

So you see, having a can-do attitude, and actually implementing it by getting out there and not being afraid to be rejected, has positive results. This has been a good two weeks for me, and I hope for you too. I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to  so leave a comment or email me. Or, if you really really want to, subscribe to my newsletter 🙂


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Diary of a Mad Writer: Week 1: FIRST DRAFT NERVES

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I want to share my favourite writing related quote. If you’re a writer, particularly a fiction author, you’ve probably already heard it. It’s from Stephen King: ‘Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work,’ (https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/156272-amateurs-sit-and-wait-for-inspiration-the-rest-of-us). He also said: ‘Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones,‘ (http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/s/stephen_king.html). I agree with Stephen King on both points. Inspiration is a fickle master (or mistress), one who comes and goes as he (or she) pleases and doesn’t always give up the goods. When I was writing my debut novel AFFLICTION, I would quite often sit down at the computer at 9 a.m, after the school run, and I wouldn’t have a clue where to start. Two full length novels and a novella later, I’m still doing the same thing. I’m sat here now, writing this blog post (firstly, because I really, really want to, I’m a writer after all. But secondly) because I don’t have a clue where to start. I’m at chapter five. I’ve managed to hit my daily word count target. I have more than a general sense of the story, and where it is headed. But as for how I’m going to open chapter five, or what’s going into it, I’m as lost as a blind rat on a ship she can’t remember getting on to. I have to force myself to get inspired, and I do that in a number of ways. Music is one. I have a playlist, a sort of soundtrack for whatever book I’m working on at a given time, and when I’m working on a first draft I often listen to several songs over and over again. I’m not particularly into music; songs I like generally spark an image or a feeling in me I can use to get the ball rolling. Presently, I’m listening to Milky Chance, Stolen Dance (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iX-QaNzd-0Y), and Vance Joy, Riptide (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJ_1HMAGb4k) My list ALWAYS includes U2’s With or Without You (my all time favourite tune) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmSdTa9kaiQ, and Hoobastank’s Inside of You (which is a rare ten out of ten too) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcSZ7deAHbw . When I want to get away from the computer I’ll walk my dog Nimue, a double-merle border collie who’s partially sighted and very active. I more than often leave the house with no idea what’s going to happen to my characters next, only to arrive back home with a clear plan of the following chapter at least. Walking and listening to music are my two top ways to force inspiration to cough up, with ironing and washing up close behind. So, yes, we do plonk our butts down and work whether inspired or not, but we also have our ways of whipping Inspiration into shape. I’d love to hear about other ways to get the ideas flowing. King’s second quote, about all books having lessons to teach us, particularly the bad ones, applies to the books we are writing, (not only the ones we are reading). It isn’t for me to say which category my novels fall into, certainly I’m never going to be one hundred percent happy with anything I write, but certainly, my first drafts are always rubbish. I used to scrap… a lot. Now I don’t. Those awful manuscripts, they can teach me a great deal, like how to commit to a story, how to fill up holes in plot points you could drive a bus through, how to sharpen my vocabulary and swap weak words for strong ones. Inevitably, I am always happier with my subsequent drafts and all because I stuck with it. Talking about books that can teach you a thing or two, this week  I invested in a non-fiction book: Supercharge Your Kindle Sales, by Nick Stephenson (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Supercharge-Your-Kindle-Sales-Strategies-ebook/dp/B00MMQN0VG). I have next to no budget either for marketing, or book covers etc, but this was money well spent (and it was inexpensive, less than a cup of coffee from Costa). I have implemented ONE of the points  – Keyword Strategy – and have already seen my sales increase. Finally, I subscribe to Joanna Penn’s (The Creative Penn, http://www.thecreativepenn.com) newsletter and learned about the Self-Publishing Success Summit, July 12th – 23rd. I’ve checked out the schedule and there are some great talks lined up. I’ve got my ticket, it’s free as long as you listen live or within 72 hours. http://selfpublishingsuccesssummit.com. Happy writing

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THE OBSIDIAN… and why I cried when I let this book go

Hunter Cade Mystery: Book 2

Hunter Cade Mystery: Book 2

After nine months of excruciatingly hard work, the new novel has finally passed out of my hands, and is making it in the big wide world all by itself. I find releasing a book a moment that comes with mixed emotions. Elation, excitement, anticipation, anxiety and most of all sadness. I’ve reached the end of a long, emotional journey with friends I bonded with along the way. The relationship a reader forms with the characters they read about, or a writer forms with those they create, is every bit as real as the relationships we forge whilst dealing with living, breathing people.

Rachel Nuwer’s article: The Psychology of Character Bonding: Why We Feel a Real Connection to Actors (http://www.thecredits.org/2013/07/the-psychology-of-character-bonding-why-we-feel-a-real-connection-to-actors) explains the phenomenon of bonding with fictional characters brilliantly, it’s well worth a read, and had me going Ah, yes. Now I understand. Basically, readers, and writers, invest a great deal of emotion (and time) in reading a novel (or watching a film) in the same way we invest emotional energy and time in cultivating friendships. Empathy and Sympathy – emotions we experience daily in our real lives – Nuwer tells us, are key to the way we respond to fictional characters.

Howard Sklar, from the University of Helsinki, (http://blogs.helsinki.fi/hes-eng/volumes/volume-5/believable-fictions-on-the-nature-of-emotional-responses-to-fictional-characters-howard-sklar/) attempted to show that despite there being differences in how readers respond to real-life people versus how they respond to fictional characters, the psychology of both shares important similarities. I use reader and writer interchangeably, although the experience may very well be more intense for the creator of a work. As a voracious reader too, I know certain characters, Will Trent created by Karin Slaughter for example, resonate with me beyond any of the books I’ve read with them in, but my own characters – Hunter, Jesse, Toby K – they’re like my children (and I have several real ones so I know what I’m talking about). I am responsible for them and their journeys and when a leg of their journey comes to a close, it’s like a chapter in my own life has ended and of course that sense of loss, of grieving for something I have lost, affects me when I scan the last few words for typos or bad spelling, and flip the last page over onto the pile. It rushes out of me, that sense that THIS IS OVER.

When I sit down to start a book, I have already spent several months – if not years – with the characters I am going to write about bobbing around inside my head. I have laughed with them, cried with them, worked out how to make their lives harder, before trying to make it better. They have grown into fully fledged beings in their own rights and, although I know they aren’t real, for all intents and purposes, to me, they are. When I reached the end of The Obsidian, just as I had done when I reached the end of the first novel Affliction, I felt an overwhelming sense of loss, as if a good friend – or friends – had passed on. Even the bad guys I grieve for, it is common in my household for someone to laugh about how I can’t let my bad guys go. People say writing is a lonely endeavor – and for the most part, it is – but in some ways it isn’t. I’ve made lots of friends and I can’t wait to experience the next leg of their journey with them – and hopefully, with you.

If you’d like to meet Hunter Cade and Jesse Rider, check out AFFLICTION from Amazon, and the latest Hunter Cade Mystery THE OBSIDIAN, is also out now. http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=heidi+cieciura

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With guest author Atlanta Jackson

When one thinks of, say, Harrods, they have a specific brand and image in mind. Surely writers can’t also have a brand?

This isn’t true. Think of Alan Sugar or Steve Jobs – I’m sure you have ideas about them. Entrepreneurs also need a brand. To brand your novel or series or you as a writer means to give the audience an Idea of what they can expect. Think about how you are representing yourself, or your writing: the cover design, title, series title, shops or sites you sell in or on, everything you do and say. All these factors influence the way the audience thinks about you and your books; your brand lets them know what to expect when they pick up one of your novels.

Nina Amir on The Book Designer (http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2014/07/6-branding-tips-for-writers-and-authors/) agrees that authors need to brand and insists it is something that should be included in early success planning. The article, entitled 6 Branding Tips for Writers and Authors, is well worth a read.

Independent Publishers – do they really need to keep accounts?

The second a self-published author makes a penny from the sale of one of their books it is considered income by the HMRC. Thus it is vital current, up-to-date and accurate accounts are kept. It’s not as difficult as it sounds. A simple cash-flow table could suffice. You may find it can also help you with budgeting.

A simple example:                                        Jan        Feb       Mar

Cash flow in: Royalties                                 £100      £50       £125

Cash flow out: Book Covers                                        £50

(UK): If you earn less than £81,000 (at time of writing), you can enter your details on a cash basis (this includes payment from cheques, EFT etc, not just cash), making filling out the tax return so much less complicated. Sorry, don’t know the details of tax returns for other countries.

How can I motivate myself?

To motivate yourself, remember what you are working towards. This could be anything from simply finishing a single novel and seeing your hard work published, to being a bestselling author. Anything worth doing takes time and energy; writing a novel takes determination, commitment and can sometimes seem like the toughest thing in the world. Seeing your book out there for readers to enjoy far outweighs any discomfort if only you can stay positive and get it done.

Do I need an ITIN number. I’ve heard it’s complicated to get one?

Good news. Things have got simpler. You no longer need an ITIN or EIN number if you want to stop/reduce Withholding Tax (provided your country has a tax treaty with the US). Update the tax information on KDP or Createspace. You are now asked to provide a non-U.S identification number which (for the UK) can be your National Insurance Number or your UTR (Unique Tax Payers Reference number). Have just filled the form in myself and can’t believe how easy it is, when I was expecting trips to London and lots of waiting.

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Mmm… Chocolate Brownies

Yummy, Scrummy, Gooey and Chocolatey

Yummy, Scrummy, Gooey and Chocolatey

Having my birthday in the same week as World Book Day and being named after a pretty famous novel really makes me feel like books are in my blood. Lots for me to celebrate this week so a cake is in order. Books AND cake, Mmm…thought I’d share my favourite chocolate brownie recipe. It’s gooey, indulgent, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love them. They’re good for lunchboxes and keeping you going during mammoth writing sessions.


400g butter

700g dark chocolate (doesn’t have to be 70+% cocoa content, I use inexpensive dark choc from Aldi, 89p for 200g)

6 eggs

500g dark brown sugar

100g self raising flour

32cm x 22cm brownie tin, lined with greaseproof paper


Heat oven to 190 degrees centigrade/Gas mark 5.

Fill a large saucepan with water and put on hob to heat. Break chocolate into a metal bowl, add the butter and melt over the water which should be on a low heat.

Whisk the eggs in a different bowl until pale and fluffy (but not stiff). Add the sugar and whisk until mixture thickens. Gently fold in the melted butter and choc mix, then sieve in the flour. Fold until mixture is smooth.

Pour brownie mix into tin and bake for about 25 minutes. You want to take it out the oven when a crust has formed over the top. The secret is not to overcook it.

Tip out and cool. They might still be wobbly, that’s good, that’s what you want. I refrigerate. They’re even better the next day.

You can half the ingredients, but quite frankly, why would you want too?

Add vanilla, mini marshmallows, chocolate chips or anything else that takes your fancy




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Butternut Squash Risotto

Juggling writing with family life can be hard. Easy, healthy, cost effective family meals can help

Juggling writing with family life can be hard. Easy, healthy, cost effective family meals can help

This tasty Butternut Squash Risotto is a favourite of mine

Cheap, easier than I imagined to make and tested on picky kids, it leaves more time to write with less guilt. Would also make a great Valentine dinner starter

Serves 4 and takes about 45 minutes

Small butternut squash, chopped into medium cubes

Medium onion, diced

2 Cloves of garlic, crushed

A splash of olive oil

Parsley, fresh or dried

8 oz (about a medium sized drinking glass full) Arborio rice

1 pint Vegetable Stock

Medium sized tub of Creme Fraiche (low fat works well)

Decent amount of Parmesan (I use Grana Padano), grated

In a large pan sweat the onion, crushed garlic and butternut squash with the olive oil for around five minutes. Stir in the rice, add all the vegetable stock, bring to the boil and then simmer gently (I use a lid on my pan) until all the stock is absorbed by the rice and the rice is cooked (stir occasionally). Add more water if needed. Season with salt, pepper, add the parsley. Right at the end, mix through the creme fraiche and the grated Parmesan or grana padano. Warm and then serve. A side salad and crusty baguette would make great accompaniments.

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Sometimes, thinking positively is the hardest thing in the world to do.

I approached the New Year with a mind full of the best intentions. I was going to continue my lifelong dream of being a published author by putting everything I had into writing and editing the next two or three installments in my Hunter Cade series, plus I was going to develop a new series. I was going to dive into a fitness plan that was not only  going to see me eating more healthily and losing the three stone I managed to put on whilst getting my BA (Hons) in English, but was also going to increase my barely existent self-esteem levels immeasurably. I was going to become the person I always thought I could be, now that I had overcome a mountain full of challenges.

Then January first came.

I felt awful.

I’ve had an ankle injury that wasn’t improving and was making any kind of exercise painful and so therefore, I told myself, I had to wait to start the fitness program I had been so excited to get going in December. I sat down to continue the novel I had begun before the Christmas break and found it impossible to muster up any enthusiasm for it. I love the story. I loved the story. Something wasn’t sitting right in me. What was wrong? I knew it wasn’t bad, so then it must be me. My connection with everything I wanted to achieve this year had somehow been broken between cooking the turkey and listening to the fireworks going off on New Year’s eve. Was I suffering from the January blues? Or did I just not have what it took to take control of my life and make the improvements I wanted to make?

This is the part when I should be telling you how I overcame my dip in motivation, how I became inspired again, or discovered something that put me back on a motivational track. I can’t. I haven’t. I didn’t. As I’m writing this I still can’t grasp the thread of positivity I need to be certain I can achieve my goals for 2015, but I did make a small breakthrough. I realised that good or bad, I was a writer, and the best way to deal with my slump was to write. I had my ankle checked out and I’m fine to exercise so first thing next week I’m adding that to my schedule, I’ve already gone through magazines and cookbooks and found some great, healthy recipes. The work in progress: I’ve learned writing isn’t magical, not on the surface. It’s hard work. It takes commitment and determination and quite often inspiration is a flighty bird you have to actively go out there and catch. You catch it by working. Then the magic creeps in.

I don’t know how this year is going to end, none of us do. But I do know I can control how I let my lack of positivity affect me. So as soon as I’ve finished here I’m going to head straight back to the draft which knocked my confidence, and I’m going to work on it. Taking some inspiration from Hunter Cade, I can control what I do just like I can control who I am.  The January blues, or just a knock in confidence, either way I’m going to continue striving to achieve my goals, battling through the fug until I find the magic.

There. I feel more positive already.

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You build your house just to knock it down and rebuild it again, bigger and better

You build your house just to knock it down and rebuild it again, bigger and better

You’ve finished your rough draft. It might be 20,000 words, it might be 50,000 words, it might have taken you four weeks, might have taken you months, it makes you want to lament the loss of your lifelong dream to become a writer because it’s awful. So far away from the sparkly, polished prose of your favourite authors; a primitive ancestor who shouldn’t see the light of day. No fear. Don’t bin it, don’t stuff it in a dusty drawer, almost every author who has ever existed has at some time been in the same situation. The difference: they rewrite.

‘Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten,’ said Micheal Crichton. Louis Sacher says he did not become a good writer until he learned how to rewrite (both these inspirational quotes about rewriting plus more can be found here: http://www.brainyquote.com). Be prepared to work, be prepared to bare your soul, be prepared to be baptised by fire. Be prepared for the rewrite. This is where you build your house, only to knock it down, just to rebuild it again. Sounds crazy? It is. And it isn’t.

I find that after completing the rough draft, I  have connected with my book. I expect to have the foundation of the story, a skeleton which now needs to be fleshed out. Think of the rewrite as putting the internal organs in place, the lungs, the liver, the heart particularly; the aim is to identify the heartbeat of your book, the rhythm of the narrative, the arcs and peaks of the developing plot lines: beginning, middle and end find their places in the sequence of things. At this stage I don’t worry too much about grammar and punctuation, vocabulary and technique, I try to get it right as much as I can during every draft, but it isn’t my main concern when I’m rewriting; more important to know what I want to say and find the best way to say it.

The rewrite is about fleshing out what has already been written, changing and improving along the way. I always begin by asking myself: What can I do to make the book better? I write a list, it will be different for each project because each book needs different things, but the basics are the same: conflict, jeopardy, character development, extra research, what needs to be removed, what needs to be changed and/or developed…Then I go through the list making the necessary adjustments. The purpose of this stage is to have a solid story foundation – is the pace right? Is the narrative engaging? Would I be better starting with Chapter 3 rather than Chapter 1? Should I cut out a particular character altogether because they aren’t bringing anything to the table? What is it I really want to say (or more likely, what is it my hero/bad guy really wants to say?). It’s a matter of sensing what needs to be strengthened, removed, altered, and having the motivation, determination and commitment to address the issues.

Check out this article by Matt Salesses for some great advice: http://necessaryfiction.com/writerinres/AMonthofRevision and remember, it may seem like a lot of unnecessary work, writing, rewriting, etc. But the more drafts you work on, the better your story will become. I know my writing will never be perfect, but it is something I am happy to put my name too, and that is surely the best outcome.

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