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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.

Why we don’t need to tag authors in bad reviews of their books

Our ability to rate and review almost anything is a mixed blessing. It’s a godsend for the consumer when booking a hotel or investing in an expensive product. Feedback from customers can encourage better standards of service. It can also be irrevocably damaging for small businesses or lesser-known artists if they get hit by trolls.

Criticism is a legitimate activity, but there’s little doubt that the hit-and-run nature of online reviewing has caused a spike in uncivil and toxic behaviour. All too often, individuals on social media are treated as if they were faceless corporations, immune to pain. Their attempts to establish boundaries are met with contempt. Suck it up, snowflake. If you can’t take critique, you shouldn’t put yourself out there.

This was evident from the vitriolic abuse YA author Angie Thomas received when she requested, as other authors have done, that book bloggers desist from the practice of tagging her in on social media when they post a negative review of her book. She was not in any way suggesting they shouldn’t write or share the bad reviews, just that she preferred not to have her attention drawn to them.

I dipped into the ensuing controversy. Some fans saw it as her rudely shutting them out. Others blamed writers’ fragile egos. Some pointed out that nothing receives universal acclaim and that even the most revered classics have their haters, so no author should expect anything different.

I think we already knew that.

It would be hard not to be aware that readers respond differently, and often with fierce passion, to fictional narratives. One of the joys of sharing our literary experiences is the debate and the discussion of ideas that a story can generate. Spaces abound for readers to exchange opinions, whether in literature classes, book clubs, blogs, or review sites such as Goodreads and Amazon.

It is vital for freedom of expression and society’s cultural health that fans and critics have a platform for open dialogue around works of art. Those of us who decide to publish our books have to accept that the way readers interpret and judge them is not something we can or should control.

Nevertheless, many creative professionals are sensitive souls. We pour our hearts and souls into our stories. We love our characters as if they were real. We go through anxiety, depression and self-doubt. We do our best to grow that much-prized thick skin, yet we remain vulnerable.

The fact is some of us need to protect our mental health through self-care. So we look for the things we can control. That could be a decision not to read negative reviews at all. (After all, we’re not obliged to.) Or we might pick our timing carefully. I read reviews, but I have a rule that I never check them late at night or if I’m not feeling strong enough to deal with what I might find.

If someone tags me into their scathing one-star review, it pops up in my social media notifications and inbox. That makes it hard for me to control when and if I see it, without disengaging completely from my online world. It’s a bit like approaching someone at a party and listing their flaws in an aggressive voice, demanding that they listen and react.

Of course, people are free to do it if they must. There’s no law against tagging someone in a tweet. But it makes me wonder why anyone thinks their unkind opinion of a fictional work is so valuable and so important that it has to be heard by the author, when she respectfully asked them not to communicate with her in that way?

The review could be shared in numerous other places where the author is at liberty to find it if she wishes. And she doesn’t owe anyone an explanation or defence of her novel, especially if the critic is hostile or abusive.

It’s been argued that writers should listen to their worst critics on the grounds that it improves their writing. I’m not sure many one-star reviews were composed with the intention of helping the author, but in theory there could be a nugget of insight contained within. But that is a choice each writer must make for themselves.

I don’t gain much from knowing someone hated my story or characters. Not least because it’s inevitable that somebody will, just as there are people who dislike apples or dogs. It’s not in itself an indication that anything needs to be changed.

When I need writing advice, I’d rather get feedback that is specific and objective from someone whose opinion I respect. Luckily there is no shortage of editors and beta readers who can give my work the honest appraisal it deserves.