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Publication day: The Beauty of Broken Things

And here it is… the novel I began in October 2015 is finally released today to coincide with World Mental Health Day.

This isn’t the first novel I’ve written which focuses on mental health. It’s been a recurring theme in my writing, usually from a personal perspective. This time, however, I’ve addressed the question of what happens when two people who both have mental health conditions meet and fall in love. What might be the tensions and problems in their relationship? And how might their friends and family feel about them getting involved with another vulnerable soul?

The main characters, Kerry and Alex, presented themselves to me almost immediately. I knew at once there was great passion and chemistry between them, as well as significant barriers to them being together. I also knew they were older than the norm for romantic fiction, and that they would meet as volunteers in a charity shop while both were unemployed and financially struggling.

What I couldn’t see at all was how the narrative would play out. The only way to find out was to start writing scenes and see where it went. Along the way a host of other characters joined in, each with their own desires and conflicts and reasons for volunteering in the shop. You can read a synopsis here.

My main aim was to tell Kerry and Alex’s story as authentically as possible. I wanted to convey the hell of living with severe anxiety or depression, especially with regards to stigma and the difficulty of finding employment. I didn’t want to depict an unrealistic scenario where the characters emerge from a couple of therapy sessions with their self-worth issues miraculously fixed.

At the same time, I didn’t want to dismiss the possibility of hope and healing either. Most of all I wanted to show the inner strength to navigate life that people with mental health conditions can develop, as well as a heightened sense of empathy.

The Beauty of Broken Things is available on Amazon in paperback or as an e-book.

I hope you enjoy the story and would be really grateful if you were able to leave a review.

Thank you.

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A cover story: developing the design for my book

Book front cover 4-8-18One of the most exciting aspects of being a self-published author is having control over the design, branding and marketing of your book. I’d been looking forward to the cover design for ages, but before I got started I spent some time browsing around Waterstones to get a feel for trends. I also read a lot of information about self-published book covers.

While there was disagreement over what made a good cover, one piece of advice was consistent: that the book should fit in with what is expected of its genre. This, I imagine, is why authors and publishers often fall out over covers, because the author is committed to their artistic vision of their story, while the publisher and bookseller want to position it visually in the marketplace so that the right readers are drawn to it.

My novel sits broadly within the contemporary women’s fiction genre, since it’s written in an accessible style with a central female character who is dealing with relationships and other relatable women’s issues. However, it’s also gritty in parts. My two middle-aged characters are facing unemployment, poverty and mental ill-health. It’s set in a charity shop in Manchester, so not the most obviously glamorous location. If my choice of fonts and images on the cover were to suggest a sexy romance or high heels and shopping, it would no doubt come as a massive disappointment to the reader who downloaded it to their Kindle to take on holiday.

I needed a design that would give a prospective buyer a reasonable indication of what kind of book it was, and that felt right for the tone and mood of the story. I also wanted it to be eye-catching and have artistic merit.

My initial idea was inspired by a friend’s comment on my title, The Beauty of Broken Things. She said it reminded her of Kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with powdered gold or silver. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.

It suited the core message of my book, which is that people who have suffered adversity or struggled with their mental health can also possess amazing strength and beauty of character, not just in spite of their difficulties or imperfections, but as a result of them.

As I was searching through stock photo libraries for Kintsugi images, I came across other art forms that incorporated the concept of brokenness, including the mosaics designed by Antoni Gaudi at Parc Guell in Barcelona, which use the Trencadis technique of creating stunning new patterns out of waste pieces of ceramics. At once I was sure their rich intense colours would make for a striking book cover, as well as being thematically representative.

Book cover 4-8-18.jpgMy husband came up with the idea of cutting out the spaces within the mosaic for the title text, and I immediately loved it. Once we’d sourced the perfect image he got started on the artwork. We also bought a license to use the font, because once I’d seen it I knew I wasn’t going to be happy with any other.

Although Tony isn’t a graphic designer by profession, he produces a variety of marketing materials for his own business and he is a natural artist, so I was confident he’d do a good job. His attention to detail was great, right down to using Photoshop to line the edges of the cut-out areas with the same cement that was used in the mosaic.  I am delighted with the results, and hope my readers will be too.

Of course there can be pitfalls when embarking on a creative project with a partner or friend. Most self-publishing experts advise against using a non-professional to do your cover. All I can say is that in my case, it was the right choice for me. I found it easier to communicate what I wanted and to be assertive about what wasn’t working than I would have done with a stranger. Another benefit was that Tony had read the whole book, while cover designers typically rely on a synopsis or extract.

One of the many advantages of self-publishing is that a cover can easily be changed if it’s not working, or can be tested against a new version to measure performance.  I’d be sorry to say goodbye to the mosaic though, as I love its colourful jumbled beauty. Hopefully I’ll visit Barcelona one day and see the real thing.

The Beauty of Broken Things will be published on 10th October 2018, which is World Mental Health Day.

Image: Sandra Veronica/Shutterstock.com

 

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My novel, The Beauty of Broken Things, to be published on World Mental Health Day

I am thrilled to announce that my novel The Beauty of Broken Things will be available on Amazon from 10 October 2018, which is also World Mental Health Day.

The novel is a contemporary love story and an exploration of how our mental health influences our lives, work and relationships. Its two protagonists are middle-aged, unemployed, and struggling with anxiety and depression. They meet as volunteers sorting through second hand goods in a charity shop in Manchester.

I first developed the idea for the book in October 2015, so it will have been a three-year process from start to finish. Although the story is fictional, it’s strongly informed by my own experience of mental health conditions.

The manuscript is close to finished now. It’s already been through several developmental edits and I’m awaiting further feedback on the revised version from a relative who is a published author. After that it will be ready for the final copy-editing and proofreading stages.

In the meantime I’m reading as much as I can about the self-publishing process. There really is so much help and advice out there. I’d like to mention one book in particular, Firefly Magic by Lauren Sapala, which radically differs from others in its genre. Lauren goes right to the heart of why so many creative people feel strong resistance to promoting their work, and she gently helps us to shift our perspective until the prospect is more exciting than daunting. I recommend it to anyone who hates the idea of “selling.”

I also went to the Self-Publishing Conference in Leicester last month, which was a fantastic experience. All the presentations on topics including cover design, marketing and print-on-demand were very informative and the whole atmosphere was so supportive and inspiring for independent authors.

At the conference I was lucky to meet Aki Schiltz, director of The Literary Consultancy. I approached them earlier in the year for a full report on my novel, which I found very useful and motivating. I felt that the editor I was assigned, Thalia Suzuma, really understood and appreciated the story and characters, and she gave me some great suggestions for improvement. The Literary Consultancy have also kindly provided me with further advice on self-publishing.

The next big thing once the manuscript is finished will be the cover design. All the marketing and advertising I plan to do relies on having strong visual branding in place, so this will be a crucial element to get right. I have some ideas already but will write more on this in another post.

Today marks the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Week. One of the most powerful ways we can help to promote understanding of our own mental health and that of others is through sharing stories. I hope my novel will contribute to this.

The most important thing I learned from self-publishing

Next week marks six months since I launched my novel about love and mental health, The Beauty of Broken Things. To date I’ve sold over 1,000 copies. I don’t know how this compares to other first-time authors, but I’m thrilled to have reached so many readers already.

I’m not here to advise anyone else on their writing career, but self-publishing was right for my circumstances and one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. Being an indie author put me in control of my book, massively increased my confidence and pushed me to develop new skills in editing, formatting, marketing and design.

The most important thing I learned, however, wasn’t how to produce or sell my novel. I came to appreciate that the real reason I wrote a novel was to connect with others, which is why the reviews below mean so much more to me than any conventional definition of success.

“I am immensely grateful to have read this book because it at least reminded me that I am not alone. I identified with and recognised so much. The novel helped me articulate things which I have kept private and muddled. Simply to know my own life is not so different after all from millions of others has helped.”

“So relatable and true. I suffer with anxiety and depression myself and it captured me from the beginning.”

“I think readers living with mental health problems themselves will get a lot out of this book – it’s not often we see ourselves so accurately and sensitively represented.”

“I volunteer in a charity shop and also have mental health issues and the whole thing was so accurate. Right down to all the details of what goes on in a charity shop, the characters dealing with their problems and how life isn’t all honey and roses, be it externally or internally. I think this book can really help people with mental health issues to realise they are not alone.”

“So close to home for me location wise and mental health wise. Reading this has made me feel less alone.”

The idea of enabling a person I’ve never met to recognise themselves in my story, to help someone with mental health problems feel less alone in the world, is as powerful as magic. It’s more precious than gold. It’s why I’m so glad I chose to share my work and so eternally grateful to everyone who encouraged me to do so.

I’m not ashamed to admit I was wounded by my attempts to follow the traditional publishing route. Published writers urged me to keep going despite the rejections, insisting my determination would pay off in the end. Maybe that would have been the case; I’ll never know. I do know that talented artists fall by the wayside all the time, because it’s just too depressing, too soul-crushing to carry on when you’re constantly told your voice is not worthy of being heard.

As well as submitting to agents, I entered a lot of contests. Again, sensitive creative people often struggle with the cycle of hope and disappointment, the process of enduring hurtful critiques, of editing your stories until your fingers bleed and still never making the longlist. It’s easy to conclude that other writers are better than you, leaving you washed up as a failure.

In the arts the narrative seems to be that we have to fail multiple times before we can succeed. I wonder why this doesn’t apply to other professions. Of course, you might fail at being a doctor, but it’s not a prerequisite to becoming one. A medical student receives training and mentorship. They practise and make mistakes and develop skills. It’s called learning. Wouldn’t it be helpful if we centred our conversations on learning instead of failing?

As for other books being better than mine, so what? It’s true some authors are gifted with exceptional imagination and flair for language. Like most people, I have plenty of flaws and much scope to improve. But once you reach a certain level of technical competence, I don’t think it’s about being good or bad any more. It’s about achieving connection with the reader.

A story doesn’t win a contest because it’s the best entry. It wins because the judge loved it. Because it resonated in her soul. And isn’t that love, that connection what we’re ultimately seeking? If so, then a simple thank you note from a reader can be as meaningful, as profoundly life-changing as any prize or award.

The Beauty of Broken Things is available in paperback or Kindle (currently on sale for 99p).