The Trouble With… Writing a First Novel…

Written your first novel? Had a few rejections? Not sure what to do next? Need to read an article that just might motivate you?

A few years ago, I featured the very lovely Rosemary Dun on this very blog. Then, she was an unpublished author waiting for her ‘big break’ and now, it’s finally arrived… in the form of THE SAME PUBLISHERS WHO PUBLISH J.K. ROWLING!

But I’ll let her tell you all about all that…     

When Lola invited me to write for her blog I was delighted, and then I thought, crikey, where to start?

I could talk about my novel The Trouble With Love, tell you what it’s about, and how I wanted my characters – Polly and Spike and the others – to live and breathe and love. I could talk of the central romance, of the often hilarious trials of dating as a single parent, of mother/ daughter relationships, of the challenges of having a child who’s hard of hearing; I could talk of wanting to write about modern families – the melded, step, traditional, and single ones, or I could talk of second chances and the many troubles of love.

Instead, I’ve decided to talk about how I came to be in the pond (all will become clear . . .) and how Polly and Spike’s journey was woven into mine.

Polly first made an appearance in my life in a short story I wrote (she was younger then). I liked her, and she seemed to like me too, as she stayed around, in my head demanding for her story to be told – but bigger!

So began the first version of The Trouble With Love – featuring Polly and Spike. I loved the characters, thought the novel worked, and when finished, I sent it out to agents. The response was lukewarm, along the lines of, ‘You write well, we like Polly, but it doesn’t fit our list …’ And then I received one which said, ‘Enjoyed this in parts, you can write, but at the end I thought, so what?’

So what?

Hm. I could have given up, but I wasn’t going to. OK – those two words stung at the time, but this “So What?” agent did me a favour, because I reread the novel with fresh eyes and realised she was right: my characters hadn’t undergone sufficient change, things happened to them (they weren’t driving the plot), and at the end they were the same people as at the beginning (where was their emotional journey?) I could see what she meant, and could only agree with that So What?

I wasn’t about to give up on Polly, and she didn’t give up on me, as she kept jabbing away at my subconscious, jabbering away in my inner ear, demanding to be written.


No way was I going to give up. Not this close to achieving my dream of being a published novelist! Time for me to dig deeper.

I tried several new beginnings (but it was going nowhere), I attended creative writing master classes, read how to books, learned more and more about my craft and about the dramatic structure. Basically, I learned how to structure and plot by learning from those who’d gone before, and by actually writing my novel, and embracing what Anne Lamott calls that “shitty first draft”.

Not that it was plain sailing. In my personal life I had a marriage break-up to contend with, single motherhood to navigate, a demented parent to cope with and I became chronically ill. But I kept on writing, accepting that it would just take me longer than most; that my journey would have more twists and turns; that I would travel at a slower speed than some, but that if I kept going, I’d get there. Which I did!

Because – joyously –  the news arrived! A book contract with Sphere! With Sphere of Little, Brown – wow! The same publishers as JK Rowling and Val McDermid and so many other writers I admire.

At first I didn’t fully realise how big a deal this was. Then I told a friend about it, tempering my success by saying how I was a little fish in a big pond. ‘You idiot,’ she said. ‘You’re in the pond! You’re in the frickin’ pond!!!’

*For a limited period, grab a copy of The Trouble With Love for only 99p !



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Authors & Their Weird & Wonderful Writing Rituals…

Apparently Jane Austen played the piano before settling down to write and Charles Dickens wrote with a vase of fresh flowers on his desk. Indeed most writers I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to have some sort of daily ritual they undertake before settling down to the task of writing. I know I have. My particular brand of writer craziness involves a simple stage of procrastination and once I have read all my WhatsApp messages and straightened my braids for the fifteenth time, I finally sit down and write. A glass of water must be by my side (you know, because I’m trying to be healthy now) and there must be no sound around me. Of course, this routine flew out the window during my recent two and a half year trip to Atlanta where the noise around me in a glorious little Café was reminiscent of a club and a cup of peach green bubble tea sat obediently by my side. It was a ritual, nevertheless. Now back in England, I’m back on the water.

I was lucky enough to speak with five author chums about their writing rituals.

C.L Taylor

‘I light a rose scented candle, put on ski socks because I can’t write with cold feet and play whichever instrumental music/soundtrack that fits the mood of the book. I also ensure I have some water and some chewing gum to hand!’

Catherine Banner

‘I keep the proof copy of my book on my desk because sometimes it’s good to remind yourself that whatever problems you are trying to solve in your work are problems you have solved before…’

Julia Blues

‘I like colour on my fingernails. I will paint them random colours simply because I feel it colours the story with more emotion and character. Something about seeing my nails fly across the keyboard with flashes of colour gives me a sense of power, almost as if I’m a superhero of sorts sent to save these characters from some crazed nemesis.’


Alex Brown

‘I have to be wearing my lucky poncho, or it can be on my chair if the weather is warm. I then light a scented candle to match the season of the book. I then choose a selection of my beloved Northern Soul tracks to evoke the right mood and then I’m ready to write!’


Rosemary Dun

‘My writing happens upstairs in my version of Narnia. It’s where I go and visit different lands and fabulous/ naughty/mysterious beings having adventures. My door has a sign on it which says, Away with the fairies . . . Back soon.’
Catherine has a theory of why writers undergo such rituals when undertaking their literary endeavours: ‘There are so many things about the process of writing that we can’t control. Publication can by a large extent, be governed by lucky meetings, random salvages from the slush-pile which is where my own first book was discovered, collisions of stories and moments which might have been quite different another day, another time.  So many aspects of the process aren’t really in our hands so perhaps it’s natural to be a little superstitious about the ones that are…’

So, what are your writing rituals?

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Time to Kick Fear in the Rear End (Part 3)

If you’re still awake, here’s the last part of the FEAR trilogy…





A BIG birthday was coming up and I was determined to wake up in an exotic location on the big day. So I chose Goa in India. Before jumping on a plane to India, I’d noticed the rumours circulating at work of voluntary redundancies. By the time I returned from India, these rumours were now fact.

Voluntary redundancy would be offered to some members of staff.

Would I qualify?  And if I did, could I take the leap of faith and just leave?

When it’s your time, everything begins to happen.

I applied.

I was accepted.

I was out within four weeks.

That last day at a job I had enjoyed for thirteen years was filled with joy, so much joy.  I had craved this moment for so long having fantasised and re written the scenario in my mind on numerous occasions.  Now it was a reality. The adrenaline would sometimes subside, temporarily replaced with that feeling of ‘Oh my gosh, what have I done?’  Fear battling to break into the fortress of certainty.  But mostly, it felt ‘right’ and I could not wait for the next part of this adventure called life, to begin.

The only question on my lips; ‘Where to, now?’

For me, there would only ever been a choice between two US cities.  One of these was New York, the home of many a writer at some point in their career; from Maya Angelou to James Baldwin to Langston Hughes. So clearly, this was an obvious fantasy fuelled, first choice.  However, being a Londoner for most of my life meant having tired of the hustle of a fast paced city life. Therefore, Atlanta offered the bright lights, a small town feel and a lower cost of living. Then there’s the weather.  I’d heard about the sunshine appearing well into autumn plus its close proximity to Florida couldn’t hurt! Besides, I had already fallen in love with Atlanta way back in 2005, during which my heart and mind had already fixated on the certainty; ‘I’m gonna live here one day!’ I hadn’t even signed my first publishing deal then, but such was my self belief (a must for anyone embarking on becoming an author) I believed it would only be a matter of time.

People often ask; ‘Why America?’

The vastness of the country for one. I have been blessed to have previously traveled to various parts of America and was always amazed at the beauty and differences making up each state.  Snow in Colorado, sunshine in Florida. It is not a country without serious and catastrophic faults. The effects of slavery, systematic racism and military occupation abroad has dimmed my glamorous childlike belief systems regarding America.  And I am under no such childlike illusions. But, as I allowed myself to exclude the equations of politics, just for one moment – I experienced two things; beauty and peace. Whenever I truly allowed my eyes to drink in my surroundings, whether this be the Blue Ridge mountains of Georgia or an ancient African tribal dance practiced in New Orleans in remembrance of former slaves, I experienced something quite beautiful. When I truly allowed myself the opportunity to immerse myself in what I had been lacking in my former life, I found myself in a learning experience unable to be gleaned from books or Wikipedia.

As a result, my creativity has soared.

Apart from a brief period when my writing mojo decided to take a hike, my output is plentiful. Buoyed up by the sunshine, exotic birds and the urgency to write in a way I had always dreamed of – uninterrupted.


For now, I remain satisfied with my choice to stay put in Atlanta. I am in love with that ‘southern hospitality’ you hear so much about. It’s real.  The mere act of a stranger singing ‘good morning’ as I casually walk on by, is enough to warm my heart for the rest of the day and indeed, strengthen my need to stay.  I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to waking up some mornings cloaked in panic – but this is normal.  Fear will always have a way of trying to halt your dreams.  I acknowledge this, and move on (until the next bout).

I will not let fear win!

I can’t deny the gratefulness I feel when I wake up and the sun creeps through my window, running through every pore. A fresh scene involving my characters, percolating in my head ready to be tapped onto the keyboard and onto the screen. The joy is indescribable. Being a self confessed loner and extrovert works well for me. I write alone during the day and try to meet up with fellow writers and other ‘go it alone’ humans in the evenings.

Any regrets?  No. I am hopeful and prayerful that I am exactly where I am supposed to be and things can only get better. I once heard the saying; faith is like climbing an invisible staircase. It is, and I’m enjoying each and every step!


So fast forward to January 2017… to now… what’s happened?

I can honestly say I achieved my main goal and wrote about three novels in the process – one of which is Orphan Sisters and it’s out September 2017.  EEK!

More on that later…

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Time to Kick Fear in the Butt (or Bum) Part 2

What a treat- you get to read part 2 of the blog almost immediately (don’t get used to this!)

So here’s the blog post I wrote just weeks after embarking on my FEAR induced solo trip to the US in 2014. It’s a bit long so I have cut it into two bits…


Writers live two lives.

Or a thousand, depending on how many books they get to write.

The utopia when transported into another universe, country or time zone is quite unexplainable.  And to embody another human experience, the opposite of what you are used to can be a thoroughly additive emotion.

I understand this phenomena, because I breathe it. I crave it.

Writing was and is my dream job.

As a reclusive eleven year old, constructing numerous stories about teenagers engaged in ‘boy meet girl’ scenarios, I transported myself into a world where I made the rules (of course, boy and girl lived happily ever after.) But it wasn’t until after I completed a Degree and Masters that I decided to take writing much more seriously.  For years I’d write whilst holding down a full time job as a counsellor.  I enjoyed the interaction with clients and colleagues and occupying the privileged position of helping others- yet still felt the dull ache of remaining an unpublished writer.  As any author will tell you, writing for money is not the main motivator and working as a counsellor allowed me to indulge in my passion unpaid during evenings and weekends (even if this meant no time to actually get a life!).

Years passed before something amazing occurred.  An agent and publisher believed my work to be saleable.  Years of hard work and rejection had lead to a creation that would be read, enjoyed and scrutinized by others.  Of course, happiness and fear now intermingled, as a whole new life beckoned me from afar- one I had dreamt about for so very long.

So, six years flew by. My new identity- that of a published author, a writer- took a while for me to internalize. Whenever friends, family and acquaintances referred to me as a writer, I’d unconsciously turn my head to the side, just to see who they were referring to.

Who, me? A writer?

The glamorous book launches and spotting my book in stores are some of the main highlights of my life, so far.  My Day Job (which I still enjoyed) shrank down to four days a week and left ample time to increase my writing output.  Yet, the dream of one day giving it all up to write full time still lingered.  To experience the utopia of constructing and writing a novel uninterrupted by the nine to five and develop characters in a way, only writing every day could achieve.

Leave the job, said a voice.

The excuses were plentiful. Most alarming, the fact I had worked in a ‘proper job’ since the age of thirteen and couldn’t begin to imagine the prospect of life without a regular paycheque. Having long since subscribed to the mantra ‘live for the moment,’ I continued to do just that. Participating in a life I knew I was blessed to have, secure in the belief it just ‘wasn’t my time yet.’

You see, everything has its season and occurs, I believe, in God’s time and I remained confident that mine would arrive.

My moment, my time arrived at the beginning of 2014…

To be continued… (see what I did there?)


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It’s 2017… Time to Kick Fear in the Bum (or Butt) Part 1


…and welcome to 2017 AND my shiny new rejigged website. I hope you like it! It’s all rather efficient now and blog posts will be plentiful in the coming months- at least one a week… sometimes two.  This blog will be geared towards anyone in need of a bit of motivation, whether you want to be a writer or an astrophysicist (although I will be talking more about the writing process than astrophysics stuff because, well I know more about that!).

So,  (drum roll please) my FIRST blog post for 2017 will focus on Fear.

As a psychotherapist, I believe it’s good to talk. But don’t worry, I won’t be doing much of that today. I’d simply like to share a prelude to a piece I wrote way back in 2014 and a few months after embarking on my dream trip to Atlanta.

I had planned to stay in the USA for six months but ended up staying (on and off) for just over two years.  It was something I had wanted to do for a very long time, but had never found the ‘right time’. I can go on with the list of excuses, but it all came down to one word: Fear.

Neale Donald Walsch breaks this down as;






There just may be some of you grappling with that rather annoying emotion that is fear. You may have been thinking about taking a leap of faith with something; new job, travel, whatever- but fear keeps rearing its rather unattractive head.  So, as a new year begins, it’s easy to get caught up with the ‘Happy New You’ talk and why not? A new year does bring with it a sense of renewal, but so does a new week, a new day a new hour.

I’m not going to list any self help points (okay maybe in another post). But, during my next blog post I will share with you, some of my story in the hopes that it will inspire somebody out there to just go for it!

Remember: don’t let FEAR win!



Hello… again!

Hello Dear Readers,

My promises to update this blog regularly… OK, I’m not even going to insult your intelligence. In my defence (or defense depending on where you are reading this)  I have been writing… I’m also going to appear at a few events during the upcoming weeks (nice change of subject there).

The first is an author Chat arranged by the Women’s National Book Association- Atlanta Chapter!

A bit about this organisation: The Women’s National Book Association was established in 1917, before women in America even had the right to vote. WNBA is a national organization of women and men who work with and value books and exists to promote reading and to support the role of women in the community of the book.

So basically, you get to ask me anything. Well not ANYTHING, but stuff about publishing and writing and all that good stuff.     blah-blah-blah-300x225

Tickets are available right here…

I will post details of other upcoming events closer to the time, as in the day before. No, not really…





Georgia On My Mind…

Hello All!

So, I’ve been here for a year and a half now. And in keeping with feelings of sudden nostalgia, here’s something I wrote back in October 2015… four months in.

How time flies.


Georgia On My Mind…

Perhaps this was a pre midlife crisis.  
     Or maybe, it was merely time to un-play it safe, take a chance, pack a suitcase and leave the job I’d known for twelve years and jump on a plane headed to the United States.  
     Just like when I’d decided I wanted to finally write a book, I didn’t tell everyone of my plans.  Because, like the energy around me, I needed positive folk, those I knew would support my dream with a well meaning; ‘Go for it, Girl’ and not the carefully worded, ‘are you sure this is a good idea?’

I am a dichotomy of traits; outgoing go-getter /introverted planner.  

I was charting new territory having lived in England for most of my life, yet was no stranger to America. My first trip, aged nineteen involved working on an isolated summer camp in New Jersey with just an ounce of the confidence I now possessed.  This time, I was a fully grown woman stuck in a space that echoed with the chimes of, ‘the time is now!’
So I did it.
I leaped off the proverbial safety net and into to the uncharted waters of the freelance writer and into a country that spoke a different English from what I’d been used to.

The first two months were a haze of apartment hunting and poetry slams. Making new friends was not something I thought I’d be doing at this age, but clearly a necessity when exploring new surroundings.  The people I bumped paths with have been some of the nicest most welcoming I have ever met.  Consequently, it didn’t take long to feel at home and rather bloated (Atlanta is home of the fried chicken wing after all) as I ushered in this new experience. Of course, the daydreams I once harbored about this trip (when it was far from becoming a reality) differs slightly to what has transpired during my time in Atlanta. The daydream contained five main components;

1) I Will Write In Fashionable Cafes Surrounded By Other Writer Types

So far, the only coffee shop I have frequented is the mighty Starbucks, mainly because of its proximity to my home, crucial as I do not drive.  I once proudly vowed never to be a Starbucks type, preferring quaint family owned coffee houses with home baked cakes, but hey, needs must. I now even own a Starbucks card. Kill. Me. Now.

2) I Will Exercise (Almost) Daily

I am a woman of a certain age. I can no longer get away with a lack of regular exercise, as my lungs would attest after a short walk up a hill. The ‘but I do pilates once a week’ no longer cuts it. With a gym situated just a few yards from my front door, there are no excuses applicable.  Three months later, I have been in that gym once whilst the chicken wing consumption has risen astronomically along with my girth. I have blamed the hot weather for my lack of interest, but Fall is now upon us and I am ready.  I start today!

3) I WILL Maintain A healthy Eating Regime

Atlanta. Chicken wings. Please see above.

4) I Will Visit Vast Sections Of The American Countryside, For Inspiration

So far I have travelled to New Orleans, which was fantastic. But alas, this was to enjoy the annual Essence Festival, watch Mary J Blige, sample Louisiana’s finest cuisine and seek out a True Blood vampire.  I’m not sure how inspiring this all was, but I had a great time! I do plan to visit Savannah, South and North Carolina in the very near future, areas I am told are very scenic during Fall months.

5) I Will Write (Almost ) Every Day!

At the beginning of this trip, my writing mojo had left me, gone on a vacation and tossed me aside. Friends dispelled my fears with; ‘You’re in a new country, it takes a while to settle down.’  But as any writer will tell you, writing is  like breathing, therefore the absence of it made for an uncomfortable early experience.  
Now, I am almost four months in.  I am settled into my new home, the writing mojo has reappeared and I can end this article on a positive note.

I do however, remain addicted  to  chicken wings.

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(My Second & Last Post of 2015)


So, 2016 is almost upon us and I’m still thinking, ‘where did the time go?’

My time in  Atlanta has been full of writing, sunshine and… writing. After ‘landing’ here in the good ‘ole South’- I was in shock for about six months. But now, a year and a half later, I’m still rather coming to terms with with just… being here.

Tragedy has struck, surprises (not all nice) have come, yet through it all, my faith in God has remained and here I am.

Still here.

I feel so very blessed,

As with the writing- I have been partaking in that- a lot. And all will soon be revealed on that front.

Be patient, my luvvlies, be patient.

I have visited Savannah where I marveled at beautiful trees covered in Spanish moss (wondering how they got there) and visited the first African American Church;  Chicago (where I didn’t try a pizza); a little German-town in Georgia called Helen (where I stood beside windmills and a  Hansel and Gretel cottage);  LA where I cheered at my first Martin Luther King Day Parade and Austin where I witnessed a lady walk around the street with no top on (apparently this is legal in Austin).

My dream is to drive across the West Coast, but considering I don’t enjoy driving and have yet to master the ‘other side of the road’ lark, we’ll just have to leave that fantasy alone for now. I am of course taking applications for any willing drivers… (I will pay in cupcakes).

As you can tell, this is a quick post to remind you I am still alive…. and writing.

I wish you all a wonderful 2016 and may all your wacky, crazy dreams come true!


Lola J