Ducie’s Diary: November 2023
Well, that’s another November done with and my working year is effectively over. I traditionally take December off to concentrate on friends, family – and me, because, if you can’t please yourself at my age, when can you? I probably say this every year (and I know it’s a feature of getting older that time seems to speed up) but I can hardly believe it’s nearly a year since I sat down to start editing novel number seven, drafted in November last year and published last month. It’s been a weird old year and I’ve not been concentrating on my writing as much as I might have been, to be honest. When we get to January, I’ll present my annual review of this year’s achievements and what I hope to do during 2024. But before I hit the kitchen and pull out the recipes for mincemeat and chocolate truffles, how about one final round-up of how things have gone in the past four weeks?
Writing This Month
November is always a busy month writing-wise. Regular readers (and the writers among you) will probably know of the phenomenon known as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) where thousands of writers across the world simultaneously challenge themselves to write 50,000 words in just 30 days (and for the mathematically challenged among you, that’s 1667 words per day). The idea is to harness creativity while temporarily shutting down the editorial side of our brain which stops us from writing by saying “that’s not right”; “that’s rubbish” or words to that effect. I’ve completed the challenge ten years in a row so far and the longer it goes on, the more I want to maintain my unbroken record. I had a very busy first half of the month and reached day 15 more than 10,000 words shy of where I should have been. However, the last week has been much more productive and I have now passed the 40K mark, after which it should be a relatively gentle canter down the slope to the finishing line. So I’m going to cautiously predict I will be adding an eleventh leaf to the laurel crown at some point between now and Thursday evening.
Some years, the writing flows easily and I end up with a full draft of the latest novel by 30th November. This year has been much harder. I’ve written the first few chapters of not one, but two novels (number four in the Coombesford Chronicles series of cosy mysteries and number four in the Jones Sisters series of thrillers). I’ve also written character studies for a couple of murder victims and several suspects. In the process, I’ve proved yet again that we writers do not control our characters. Rather it’s the other way around. I wrote a back story last week for a middle aged man I was adamant was a real wrong ‘un. But in the course of ten pages of questions, he managed to convince me he was a really nice guy – good to his family, kind to animals and certainly not the sort of person who could ever consider committing a murder. Of course, he could be lying to me! Watch this space.
Sales and Marketing
The publication of the paperback version of Calamity at Coombesford Church was a bit of an anticlimax, coming some weeks after the online party for the ebook. I had a fairly low key launch during a charity event here in Chudleigh. Nevertheless, I sold a pleasing number of books, and many of my regular readers, who were unable to make it, have ordered copies anyway. Plus I have other sales opportunities coming up in the next couple of weeks.
I’m delighted the effect of the stacked promotions I ran in October are still being seen across the whole of the Coombesford Chronicles series, especially with the page reads within Kindle Unlimited. So another shout out for David Gaughran and his Starting from Zero training course (free online) which helped me refine my launch strategy.
A reminder that the three Jones Sisters thrillers are available to buy as an electronic box set (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) at a knockdown price of £1.77 or $2.99 (or to download for free if you are a member of Kindle Unlimited). Ignore the fact that the box set only has one review. Check out Counterfeit! (97 reviews/ratings and 4.2/5 average); Deception! (39 reviews/ratings and 4.7/5 average) and Corruption! (21 reviews/ratings and 4.8/5 average) to see what my readers think of this series. (Figures based on UK site.)
Out and About
I managed a couple of personal trips this month: one with Michael to revisit Summer Lodge in Somerset, including a l-o-n-g walk (well, long for us anyway) where the sighting of a single animal in the far distance just about justified the claim by the the property we were exploring to be a deer park; and the other a visit to my youngest sister for a visit to Birmingham (which looks very different from when I used to cross the city every day to go to school, more than fifty years ago) and a wonderful evening spent watch The Nutcracker. My first ballet for a while, but certainly not my last.
But most of the month, when not writing, I’ve been talking about my books and other writerly activities. My takeover of the Cozy Mystery Party Facebook Group on 1st November was a real blast. The two hours went by in a flash, and I didn’t even notice it was after midnight, so involved was I in discussions on the place of food and recipes in cozy crime; and an exchange of photos of everyone’s fur babies. (And I can report there were more dog people than cat people – but only just).
A couple of days later, I joined Jonathan Posner and Angela Wooldridge in a tiny basement studio in Exeter for the Thursday Book Club on Phonic FM. My first live local radio for a while, but it was quite easy to get back into the swing of things. You can hear that programme here.
And then, the following day, my latest novel came under the spotlight courtesy of the South Hams Authors’ Network. You can read that here.
My last event of November will be this very evening when I will be doing a Facebook live interview on the UK Crime Book Club group. It’s a huge group, full of folks who love crime fiction, so I’m really looking forward to introducing Coombesford and its residents to them. If you are around, it goes out at 7pm GMT.
I’ve already mentioned I will be taking December off, but there are a couple of Christmas markets I just couldn’t resist. I’ll be joining other members of the South Hams Authors’ Network at the Buckfast Abbey Christmas Market from 30th November to 2nd December. We’ll be in a gazebo, outside, in December, in Devon. What can possibly go wrong? (Hot water bottle and blankets already on my packing list!)
Then on 7th December, one of my favourite events: the Chudleigh Christmas Fayre and Lights Switch-On. This time, I’ll be nice and warm in the Town Hall. It’s always a wonderful evening and a chance to catch up with old friends. If you are in the area, do come along – we are open from 5pm to 8pm and the parade and lights switch-on starts at 6pm.
And that will definitely be it for the year.
Some Writerly Opportunities
For those of you who are writers, especially those who write short stories, a note that the Exeter Writers Short Story Competition opens its doors for submissions from this Friday, 1st December. Now in its 15th year, the competition has a massive £1350 in prizes, including a first prize of £700. The closing date is 29th February, but that time will go very quickly, so get planning, writing, or polishing that story now. Full details on the Exeter Writers’ website over the next few days.
The sixth annual Women in Publishing Summit will take place from 6th to 9th March 2024. I’ll be speaking for the third year running about business skills for writers, this time looking at the important topic of cash flow. If you want to take part in a lively, fun, but incredibly useful event to take your writing career further, then check out the schedule here. And there is an early bird deal running on the ticket price at the moment. Check it out here. [For transparency, this is an affiliate link, but it will cost you nothing extra to use it and I only recommend it because I believe passionately that the Women in Publishing community has changed my writing life.]
And for those of you who enjoy appearing on the radio, or fancy giving it a go for the first time, check out Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester FM. She is running her annual 3 Minute Santa feature on 16th December and is looking for festive flash fiction which can be told in just 180 seconds. Plus she has slots as usual, on her What Are You Reading feature. Check out her Facebook page for details and get recording.
What Have I Been Reading Lately?
Last month’s Book Club read was The Man I Think I Know by Mike Gayle. I have had this fellow-Brummie and journalist-turned-novelist on my To Be Read list for a long time, but he never quite made it to the top. Until now. And I am so glad I finally got to read one of his books. This one is a quirky, feel-good story about two former school friends, both high flyers in their year, who meet up two decades later when life has not been kind to either of them. One is suffering from Acquired Brain Injury after an unprovoked assault; and the other is a recovering alcoholic who has lost his job, his benefits and his girlfriend. Feel-good story, I hear you say. It doesn’t sound like it. And no, I would admit it doesn’t sound like a bundle of laughs. But trust me. It’s a funny, heart-warming book that I thoroughly enjoyed and that will certainly have me going back for more by this author. Here’s my review:
Two young men with the best of starts in life and promising futures ahead of them. For different reasons, life does not go as expected. When they meet again a couple of decades later, neither is in a good place. An unlikely friendship develops and as they gradually help each other, they help themselves as well. A beautifully written story that kept me smiling throughout, and cheering both protagonists right to the end.
Like many authors, I frequently get asked to read new releases by other members of the writing community. If I enjoy them, I will post a review. This month, I’ve read three very different ones and can recommend all of them.
Millie’s Escape is the fourth part in Marcia Clayton’s Hartford Manor series set in rural Victorian Devon. Characters from the earlier books continue their stories, but we meet a new branch of the family in the form of thirteen year old Millie and her brother Jonathan who, after a terrible tragedy, begin a perilous journey in the depths of winter. Clayton combines enchanting storytelling with meticulous research, resulting in a most enjoyable read for lovers of historical fiction.
Promises, by Eileen Joyce Donovan, is another historical novel featuring children, although set decades later, during WWII. Lizzie and Colin take a risk-filled journey across the Atlantic on the promise of a better, safer life. But they quickly find that promises, like pie-crusts, can be easily broken. This book is aimed at middle grade children, but I enjoyed it as an adult and found the extensively-researched historical detail fascinating.
Murder at Arrow Pass is a contemporary crime novel from Anne Shillolo. In the second of her Elk Ridge Murder Mysteries, the bodies begin to stack up and Hilary Cosgrain and her already stretched team find themselves fighting both the weather and the criminals. And it’s going to get worse before it gets better! Highly recommended for lovers of cozy crime.
I promised last month that I would say more about this year’s Booker Shortlist and whether I managed to pick the winner. Well, all I can say is , for me, it was a most uninspiring selection. I finished one, which I thought was okay but nothing special; I started three more that I couldn’t even motivate myself to finish; and at that point I gave up and didn’t even attempt the last two. I know I struggle with more obscure literary novels (and am always yearning to get back to my To Be Read list of genre fiction) but I found this year really not worth the effort. I don’t think I’ll bother next year. My love affair with literary awards is over. I’ve got the latest offerings from Damien Boyd, Angela Marsons and M W Craven to read next. Happy reading, everyone.