Jennifer Gilby Roberts

Women's Fiction/Chick Lit Author

How Does Jane Austen Get Away With It?

PridePrejudice423x630I was re-reading Pride & Prejudice on holiday and there was one thing that really struck me.  Austen wrote very differently to how writers are advised to write today.

We hear a lot of ‘show, don’t tell.’  Basically, this means you don’t say someone was angry, you have them banging things or swearing or whatever to show that they are angry.  You also write out dialogue and scenes rather than summarising them, unless you need to cover repetitive actions or a big period of time like ‘He appeared every Tuesday for the next month.’  Also, we’re told not to use ‘cried,’ ‘shouted,’ ‘agreed’ etc. but just to use ‘said.’  The theory is that readers just gloss over it and so it doesn’t interrupt conversations for them.  One article I read compared it to a punctuation mark.  I take the point, although I don’t think it should be a strict rule.

Austen breaks all of these rules and probably quite a few more.  If she sent her book to an agent today, they’d class it as a first draft and reject it.  Yet her books remain popular with readers.

So, what does that mean?  Is the writing just not as important as the characters and plot?  I know I’ve read fanfiction stories where the writing quality has been poor, but the story has kept me reading.  Can great writers break the rules?  Shakespeare certainly got away with it – the man used to make up his own words all the time.  Or has she built up such a reputation over the previous decades that people just automatically think Austen=good?  And hey, what writer wouldn’t like one of those?

I have to say, I’m not sure I will read it a third time.  I will continue to watch the BBC adaptation (the Colin Firth one), which is excellent.  [The Keira Knightley one, however, is not.  You just can’t cram the book into a film.  Plus, they Americanized a thoroughly English book and it really didn’t work.  And the Bennetts’ situation was represented all wrong.  Can you tell I didn’t like it?]  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it’s better than the book.  It’s not often that happens.  The only other time it’s happened to me was with The Jane Austen Book Club, although frankly I didn’t think the film was that good either.  Perhaps I will try re-reading Emma, on which I basedThe Dr Pepper Prophecies and see if I have the same feelings towards that.

Are you an Austen fan?  What do you think makes her books so popular?  Do you find her style a problem?

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Writing books and playing tennis

Parallels between tennis players and writers: very apt since Wimbledon is happening right now.

Tim Vicary ~ Author

Every summer I swear I will waste no time watching Wimbledon, and end up glued to it. What is the connection, if any, between the activity of an independent author trying to write a novel, and tennis player trying to win a championship?

The difference between writers and tennis players are obvious. The tennis player is an athlete, supremely fit, sprinting around the court in the sunshine while the seat pours off him and his muscles ache with fatigue. The author sits like a slob at his desk, staring at a blank screen and typing for hours until his muscles are so stiff  he can hardly hobble to the bathroom for a pee.

And yet perhaps there are a few similarities, after all. Firstly, both authors and tennis players are self-created. Tennis is an individual sport, just like writing. No one asks us to do this, we choose it for…

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Sunlounger 2 Chick Lit Short Story Competition!

Writing an entry now. Will you?

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New Author Interview on Dreaming With Open Eyes

This was written for Dreaming With Open Eyes.  See the last question for hints about my next project!

To begin with, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I’m English. I was born and raised where Surrey meets Greater London, and went to school nearby, but I now live about 250 miles north in North Yorkshire.

I did a degree from home with the Open University, rather than going away, but physics turns out not to be that useful in writing chick lit or looking after a toddler. Who’d have guessed? Frankly, as a self-published author, the most useful subject to study would have been marketing.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I don’t know that I did. I just wrote. I knew I wanted to write a novel someday, and I did that at 20 with The Dr Pepper Prophecies, but it was a personal challenge rather than a career choice. This was long before the e-reader, when self-publishing was very expensive.

Having been given a Kindle by my husband (despite much resistance on my part), I discovered you could publish on Amazon and put up TDPP on a bit of a whim. Before I knew it, I was a fully-fledged self-publisher.

What is your writing style like?

The Dr Pepper Prophecies is very Sophie Kinsella-like, but as I go on my style is developing. Like her, I write as my main character, in the first person and present tense. My grammar checkers scream at me for sentences that are fragments, or that start with ‘And’ and ‘But’. The thing is, when you’re writing in this style, you have to write as your character would speak. And very few people use perfect grammar.

You’ve published 2 novels and 2 short stories so far. Are they all stand alone novels are do readers have to read them in any special order?

Wedding Hells is a prequel to The Dr Pepper Prophecies. After Wimbledon, Flights of Nancy and my new book Early Daze are stand-alone.

You’ve just published a new novella, which is called Early Daze. What is it about, and what inspired you to write it?

Early Daze is about Jess, whose life is turned upside down when her baby arrives three months early. The book follows her first few months as a mother, while her baby is in the hospital.

I did the best kind of research for this: I lived through it. My daughter was born in Jan 2012, two days shy of the end of my second trimester. Jess’ daughter, Samantha, is based closely on her. The Facebook posts Jess writes to update friends and family are adapted from the actual ones I wrote, and I also used the diary I kept. Can’t get more authentic than that! Jess and her relationships, however, are fictional. It’s not a memoir – my life is too dull for that!

Who designs your book covers? They are lovely!

They were done by JelenaM at 99 Designs. On that site, you run a competition among designers. I did that for The Dr Pepper Prophecies and then commissioned the ones for After Wimbledon and Wedding Hells privately. The cover for Flights of Nancy I did myself in the same style (I bought the pictures – I’ve no skill in that area!).

For Early Daze, I wanted something a bit different as it’s women’s fiction rather than chick lit. I’ve done my own cover with a stock photo, but I may well get one custom made later on.

Do you think that the cover plays an important part in the buying process?

Everything I’ve read says it does. I know I pick up books based on whether I like it. You really only have your cover and title to attract a browser.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Well, I have a toddler, so I don’t have a lot of time. I do Zumba classes, and I like walking. I read some (not nearly enough). We’ve just bought a new house, so there’s a lot of work to do there.

I do amateur dramatics and operatics with local societies, although not every show because they take up a lot of time. I like playing characters that are slightly evil or mad, because they’re more fun. I keep thinking I should write a book about an am dram group, but I’m afraid some people I know might creep into the characters. That’s never a good plan.

Do you ever experience a writer’s block?

All the time. Having one right now. It’s a miracle I ever write anything.

What is next for you? Are you currently working on a new novel?

I’m working – slowly – on a sort-of-sequel to The Dr Pepper Prophecies, only this time I’m writing about Mel’s sister, Brittany. I did think about a straight sequel, and I knew what would happen to Mel next, but I was having trouble making it work as a novel. This book will catch up with her, while letting me explore another character.

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My Life as a Writer

This was written as a guest post for Chick Lit vs Fantasy

Why I Became A Writer

It wasn’t really a decision.  I wrote stories as a kid, just because it was fun.  As a teenager, I belonged to a fan forum for the TV show Farscape and a number of us wrote stories.  Partly because we wanted to and partly because we were interested in one of the minor characters and there wasn’t that much fanfiction about him.  We turned into a mini writers’ group, all encouraging each other.  That’s when I wrote my first stuff that was actually worth reading.

Writing an original novel was on my long-term to-do list, as it is for a lot of people.  At 20, taking some time out after finishing school, I decided I was going to do it.  So I did.  That was The Dr Pepper Prophecies.  Five years later (on another gap year), I wrote After Wimbledon.  At 30, I discovered I could publish to Kindle and suddenly I was an author.

What I Like About It

There are two kinds of really great times to be a writer.  One is when someone else tells you that they loved your work.  The second – just as important – is when you read back something you wrote ages ago and think, ‘This is good.  I’m proud I wrote this.’

As a stay-at-home mum, it’s great to have a job that’s completely flexible, although I could use a few more hours in the day!  Trying to fit in all the writing, editing and marketing necessary to be successful is very difficult.  There’s so much I would like to do that I just don’t have time for.

What I Dislike

Getting bad reviews is never fun.  It’s impossible to write a book that everyone will like, so you have to accept that some will come.  Most of them are fair, but occasionally you get someone who wants to hurt.  Sometimes they succeed.

With each book – no matter how many good reviews your previous ones have got – you live in fear that no one will like it.  You have to keep letting your babies go and hope they find a place in the world.

Overall

Having your work out there is very cool and I think it’s fantastic that anyone can publish these days.  Plenty of great work gets turned down by traditional publishers because it’s a bit different, or because they just can’t afford to take a chance on an unknown author.  Now you can publish your work yourself, for free if you like (although most writers fork out money for things like professional cover design), and find your audience.  There’s one out there for everything, although it may be small.

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Best of This Blog (So Far!)

I can’t believe I’ve been blogging almost 7 months!  With that in mind, I thought I’d do a recap of some of the best posts on this blog, in case you missed them:

Most Popular Posts (that are still relevant)

Posts About The Dr Pepper Prophecies

Posts About After Wimbledon

Posts About Writing

Author Interviews

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Not-Good-Enough-Itus

I did an interview – yet to be posted – where I was asked how being published changed things for me as a writer.  I answered that it increases the pressure on you.

First, people who like your work want you to write more.  And quickly, because they can read a novel much, much quicker than you can write and edit it.  If you don’t have unlimited time (who does?), this piles the pressure on.  How do you fit in writing time for the next book when marketing the current ones takes up so much time? (And you have no idea how much is involved if you haven’t self-published yourself.  Seriously, it’s a full time job by itself.)  When I wrote The Dr Pepper Prophecies and After Wimbledon, I basically had nothing else to do.  For TDPP I was studying in France: taking classes in the morning and writing in the afternoons and evenings.  For AW, I was travelling around Australia and spent a lot of time writing in my bunk.  Now I have a home, a husband and a child to look after.  Oh, and did I mention we’re buying a house and preparing ours for sale?  I want to write more.  I have plenty of ideas, just not the time or energy to get them down on paper.

Second comes the not-good-enough-itus.  The thing is, people actually pay to read my work.  And it’s read by people who don’t know me, will probably never know me, and have no incentive to sugar-coat their opinions.  It’s no fun being told that your work is crap.  Or having it returned.  Publishing anything is scary.

Now, you’re probably thinking that having two, generally well-received, novels completed would take away that fear.  Not a bit of it.  People keep saying scary things like ‘you’re only as good as your next book’.  And bear in mind, I wrote TDPP and AW a long time ago.  The first draft of TDPP is over a decade old.  AW’s is five now.  When I published TDPP – largely on a whim – I hadn’t written any fiction in years.  What if I’ve lost my writing ability?  What if I’ve changed too much in the interim to be able to repeat my success?

My current project is also a bit of a deviation from my novels.  As I wrote before, I’m using my experience as the mother of a premature baby in a story.  It’s something I felt I needed to write, but it’s not classic chick lit fare.  In fact, I’m classing it as women’s fiction.  It’s not a comedy, although I’ve tried to keep it light.  Will anybody actually want to read it?  Or will everyone decide that my new work just doesn’t live up to their expectations and ignore me from here on out?

Apparently, Stephen King threw the first part of Carrie in the bin and it was only rescued by his wife.  They say writers just can’t judge their own work.  The trouble is, nothing you write will appeal to everyone, so even a few outside opinions aren’t enough to bank on.  What I really need to do is get everyone in the world to read my new work and see what the majority think.  But then there would be no one left to buy it.  Hmmm, tricky…

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Writing Chick Lit

I was rather tickled to come across a link to a two-day course on how to write a chick lit novel.  Sadly it was in Sydney and, as much as I’d love to go back there, there is no chance I’m taking a toddler on a 24 hour plane journey.  It was enough of a trial just by myself.

Anyway, it turns out that you can also buy books on the subject:

The Chick Lit Cookbook: A Guide to Writing Your Novel in 30 Minutes a Day by Alicia de los Reyes

See Jane Write: A Girl’s Guide to Writing Chick Lit by Sarah Mlynowski and Farrin Jacobs

Will Write for Shoes: How to Write a Chick Lit Novel by Cathy Yardley

The Girl’s Guide to Writing Chick Lit by Sarah Mlynowski and Farrin Jacobs

If you are considering writing chick lit, my advice would be to:

* Read (duh)
Particularly the most successful authors, so that you understand what your audience expects.

* Write whatever you want to write
The important thing is to get going, not to worry about what will sell.  Think about that when you’ve proved to yourself that you can complete a novel (or a novella, or a short story – whatever you’re aiming at).

* Don’t obsess about being original
Again, the important thing is to start.  If you convince yourself that you need to redefine the genre on your first go, the chances are you’ll never begin, let alone finish.  It is perfectly okay to start with something in the style of your favourite author.  I wrote The Dr Pepper Prophecies very much in the Sophie Kinsella style, but as I write more I’m starting to find my own.

* “Don’t get it right, get it written”
Advice I received on a writing course, which I have found extremely valuable.  Don’t try to find the perfect words, the perfect opening scene… the perfect anything in fact.  Do a rough draft.  Once you have the whole thing down on paper, then start trying to make it perfect.  (NB be aware that it never will be – and that’s okay).

Anyone else want to share their tips?

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How I Got Started Writing: The Fanfiction Route

I did an interview recently where I was asked about how I got started writing and I said I began writing fanfiction.  This is fiction based on someone else’s work – TV shows, films, book, comics… anything really.  You take the established characters and/or settings and make up your own stories about them.  It’s a really great way to get into writing fiction, for several reasons:

1. You Don’t Have to Do Everything
If you struggle with creating characters or settings, you can borrow existing ones while you work on your ability to plot, write dialogue, describe scenes etc.

2. People Already Care About the Characters
Half the battle is getting readers to care about the world you’ve created.  With fanfiction, they already do.

3. There’s Plenty of Feedback Available
If you are writing in a ‘world’ that’s active (i.e. a book or show that’s popular right now), you can find a lot of other people who are reading fanfics based in it.  I’ve found those on fanfiction.net fabulous at leaving reviews and encouraging each other to keep going with their stories.

4. There’s No Minimum Length
Not only are there no official limits, but, with the settings and characters already established in readers’ minds, there is much more scope for short ‘drabbles’.  Some collections of these are extremely popular.  So if all you can manage right now is the odd 100 words, there’s an audience for that.

Bialar-CraisI actually began by joining a forum.  I got very into a TV show called Farscape, in particular a supporting character by the name of Captain Bialar Crais (for purely artistic reasons, of course ;-)).  I can’t honestly remember how I came to join, but I’m glad I did.  There I met a group of wonderful women, many of whom are still friends today.  I even went out to stay with one in the US (exactly the way you’re not supposed to do with people you meet on the internet).

Many of us wrote stories.  We posted them in the forum and encouraged each other, especially when writer’s block came to call.  Some of them turned into series – in fact one particular series stretched to several novels’ worth of story.  The author later had it bound into a book, in the days before CreateSpace when that meant considerable expense.  She is now a professional writer.

My first fic must have been a few thousand words long.  It was mostly dialogue, with a dramatic plot and not much else to recommend it.  If I read it now, I’m sure I would cringe.  But it was a start.  My fellow forumites found nice things to say about it and so I kept writing.  And got better.

That kind of community is invaluable in encouraging a writer who is still finding their feet.  Your work does not need to be polished to find fans.  I’ve followed stories which were very far from perfect, but still caught my interest.  As long as you have something to offer, you can find some fans to support you while you become a better writer.  And you will, as long as you keep writing.

If you would like to write, but are having trouble getting started, I recommend that you try fanfiction.  Pick a world you love and write something.  Then post it for other fans to read.  Then write another.  Some writers have accidentally written novels just working chapter by chapter.  Some have even written epics…

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What I’m Working On Now

At the beginning of December, I decided to try and write 1,000 words every day for a month.  I managed it up until Christmas and then things went downhill, but nevertheless my current draft has reached 36,000 words!  I think this work will be a novella rather than a novel, probably around half the length of The Dr Pepper Prophecies and After Wimbledon.  So hopefully I will finish the first draft this month, although a lot of time will be taken up getting our house ready to sell.

So what have I been writing about?  Well, it’s a somewhat more serious piece – I may have to class it as women’s fiction rather than chick lit – and based partly on my own experience.  In January 2012 I became a mother for the first time, to a baby girl who wasn’t due until April.  Cue three months in hospital for her and a whole new world for me.  When I was thinking about what to write next, it kept coming to me that I should write about that.

It may not be my most popular work – although I’ll still endeavour to leave you feeling good – but I want to get it out there.  I’m tempted to liken it to Marian Keyes’ Rachel’s Holiday, in which she used her own experience as an alcoholic to help “normal” people understand what it’s like to be an addict.  I’m reading it at the moment and it’s certainly an education, as well as very enjoyable.  I’d like this work to give people an insight into what it’s like to have a premature baby.  Because – without wishing to scare anyone – it might just happen to someone you know.

Ffion and Tristan Christmas 2013

In case it does: my daughter is now two and, despite being born three months early, there is nothing wrong with her at all (that’s chocolate round her mouth).  And she is by no means exceptional in this.

Here she is at Christmas with her little cousin T, who she was not at all sure about sitting next to.  Very difficult to take a photo of them together, because she kept moving away and when she did he fell over!

To get emailed when I release this work, sign up for my mailing list.

 

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