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Posts from the ‘Learning From’ Category

Learning from: Margaret Thatcher

“What is success? I think it is a mixture if having a flair for the thing you are doing; knowing that it is not enough, that you have got to have a sense of hard work and a certain sense of purpose.”

Per Margaret Thatcher

I was nine when Margaret Thatcher became Primeminister. I was eleven when she led the country into the Falklands war. In otherwords, in my formative years, when I was beginning to learn that I would have a choice when I grew up about what I did, a woman was in charge. At that time and ever since it has never entered my head that a woman could not achieve whatever she wished to do career wise because all you had to do was look at Margaret. Whether you agree with her politics or not and whatever your view of the social and economic consequences of her time in power, I doubt anyone could disagree that she left a powerful legacy to women in the form of the example of her determination and success.
Thank you Margaret. RIP.


Guest Blogger: Alison Morton author of Inceptio

Today I am glad to welcome Alison Morton to talk about how she succeeded in publishing her first novel and what success means to her. Alison's alias is of course 'The Hand of Philofaxy.'

First of all, thank you so much, Helen, for inviting me on to your blog to talk about the process behind writing INCEPTIO, the first in the series of alternate history thrillers.

Is writing fiction something you have always wanted to do or is it a recent thing?
I’d played with words much of my life – playwright (aged 7), article writer, local magazine editor, translator and dissertation writer. But I came to novel writing in reaction to a particularly dire film; the cinematography was good, but the plot dire and narration jerky.
‘I could do better that that,’ I whispered in the darkened cinema.
‘So why don’t you?’ came my other half’s reply.
Ninety days later, I’d completed the first draft of INCEPTIO.

What happened next?
I didn’t have a clue what to do with my 96,000 words. I’d been so desperate to get the story down, to see if I could do it, that I hadn’t planned anything after the words THE END. Luckily, a business friend who was writing a historic novel – a shock to me – took me along to her novel writing group and encouraged me to join the Romantic Novelists’ Association that had a scheme for fostering new writers. I realised then that I knew nothing about the book world and publishing.

Clearly, I had to educate myself, so I sat down and worked out carefully how to go about this; I didn’t want to waste my time or money. I read, asked questions, researched and joined online forums, then chose and attended conferences and courses that would benefit me most. I set up my blog on World Book Day in 2010 to keep a note of my experiences and discoveries, and networked like mad.

Rejection dejection
Of course, I made the classic mistake of sending INCEPTIO off to literary agents too soon, and received rejection after rejection. Despondent at first, I ‘gathered up my grit’ and sent the manuscript off to a renowned publishing consultant for answers. I’d made the classic mistakes: overwriting, not nailing my story as either a romance or a thriller, but most of all, muddled voice. Voice is how the book sounds to the reader; the words used must be right for the type of story and the tone consistent. Consequence – restructure, rewrite large chunks and polish, polish, polish. Shortly after this, I acquired a mentor and gathered together a group of fairly critical beta/test readers who gave me terrific feedback.

Now I started receiving some encouraging replies, including full manuscript requests, even from a US agent! I had replies like ‘If it was a straight thriller, I’d take it on’ and ‘Your writing is excellent, but it wouldn’t fit our list.’ At last I knew my writing was publishable. But I had reached a brick wall.

Taking control
Apart from a recession not being the best time to bring out a book, the traditional route of finding a literary agent who then secures a deal with a publisher has become very, very hard. Although looking out for the next big thing, agents are tending to stick to sure things rather than interesting things with no track record. Many publishers, especially the big beasts, will not look at direct approaches from the public. It’s all about time, money and cost benefit analysis.

But the revolution of ebooks and Print On Demand technology had changed the publishing landscape. Individual authors could have their books printed as and when needed and upload them to the Internet themselves. Publishing services companies who took no rights, but provided modular services – sometimes packaged together – on a paying basis like any other professional service were emerging. Authors could now choose. Authors now had power and control.

I was (am!) passionate about my alternate history stories so I decided to self-publish with a bought-in publishing services package from SilverWood Books. They have done all the things a traditional publisher would do – editing, registrations, typesetting, design, book jacket, proofing, etc. Their beautiful cover for INCEPTIO recently won a cover design competition. I’ve had hours of support, starter packs of promotional materials, marketing guidance – lots of individual help and fast responses. I’ve found it a fantastic way as a new writer to enter the market.

So what’s INCEPTIO about?
New York – present day, alternate reality. Karen Brown, angry and frightened after surviving a kidnap attempt, has a harsh choice – being eliminated by government enforcer Jeffery Renschman or fleeing to the mysterious Roma Nova, her dead mother’s homeland in Europe. Founded sixteen centuries ago by Roman exiles and ruled by women, Roma Nova gives Karen safety, a ready-made family and a new career. But a shocking discovery about her new lover, the fascinating but arrogant special forces officer Conrad Tellus who rescued her in America, isolates her.

Renschman reaches into her new home and nearly kills her. Recovering, she is desperate to find out why he is hunting her so viciously. Unable to rely on anybody else, she undergoes intensive training, develops fighting skills and becomes an undercover cop. But crazy with bitterness at his past failures, Renschman sets a trap for her, knowing she has no choice but to spring it…

What are you working on now?
The next one in the series, PERFIDITAS (Betrayal). I’ve drafted and self-edited it, but I haven’t looked at it for several months as I’ve been concentrating on getting INCEPTIO published. As with any series, we meet some familiar characters as well as new ones, but as in INCEPTIO, there’s a lot of trouble and danger.

And how do I define success?
When I’m walking up a red carpet to the première of the film!
More seriously, this is a complex question. At first, it’s wonderful to get your story published, full stop. To hold the book in your hand, to click and download the ebook with your name on is heady stuff!

I think the thing is to set modest goals and then revise them, hopefully upward. It can be books sold, positive reviews, guest post invitations, press coverage, however you like to express it. I have some numbers I would like to achieve, but it’s early days. Perhaps you’ll let me come back and update you…

INCEPTIO is available from:
Amazon UK []
Amazon US []
Waterstones: []

You can read more about Alison, Romans, alternate history and writing here:
Twitter: @alison_morton


Learning From: Sam Mussabini

This is the third post about characters from the Film Chariots of Fire. You can also read about Eric Lidell and Harold Abrahams

Sam Mussabini was the professional coach hired by Harold Abrahams to help him win the 1924 Olympic 100 yard dash. In an age of amateurism he was banned from watching his protegé from the stadium. In the film Abrahams hired him a hotel room from where he could see the flag being raised and hear the anthem played. We see him watching the Union Jack rise then punching his fist through his straw boater in celebration. ( In reality there was no medal ceremony at those games and Harold Abrahams received his medals through the post and was charged an excess postage charge on them!)

Sam is maybe my favourite character because he was a King Maker. It is not that he was without his own sporting talents  having been a professional sprinter and excellent billards player himself. Rather, he realised that his talents lay in making other people better than he was. When I was thinking about writing this blog I read a fair bit of material about how to make money from your blog, how to get in the Top 10 Blog List, how to use a blog to raise your personal platform. I don’t  think any of those things are wrong. But I was not comfortable following suggestions to make them my priority goal.

My aim of this blog is to help people to walk their daily and artistic life with confidence and competence. If as a result you overtake me on the path, then I will have succeeded.

Looking at the life of Scipio Africanus ‘Sam’ Mussabini ( isn’t that a great name?) gives me some good tips: Read more

Learning from: Elizabeth Gilbert

Have you every had a day when you thought you were deluded to believe you had a single creative bone in your body?
Or a day when your creativity hit the heights of wonderment and you feared you would never get back there?
Have you ever felt fear about your creativity?

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray Love (and who might have inspired the title of this blog a little!) has a fascinating theory to alleviate your pains. It involves bullfighting, Greek philosophy and talking to empty corners of a room.
Watch and see what you think.

Learning From: Harold Abrahams.

Following on from my post about Eric Liddel , I have been thinking about Harold Abrahams, the intense, Jewish sprinter from Chariots of Fire who was portrayed as being rather prickly, moody and haunted by his experience of discrimination. The Screenplay shows him desperate to win the 100 yard sprint  but obviously anxious that his dream would  be taken away from him by Eric Liddell. In fact Eric Liddell did  not run that event at the Paris Olympics and Abrahams achieved his dream. As I looked into the real story more I found a few lessons I could draw from Harold Abraham’s life:

Read more

Learning from: Eric Liddell

Chariots of Fire is a film I can watch over and over, maybe because parts of it were filmed at my school and my Cambridge college, giving me a special affinity with it. Given my familiarity with it I was a little surprised when on our last watching my husband announced, just as Eric Liddell, winner of the  1924 Olympic gold medal for the 400 meters was completing his last dramatic run along a beach, ” He died of AIDS a couple years after that.”

“What? No he didn’t. He went to China to be a missionary. And AIDS wasn’t even around in 1926.”

“No.” Husband said, “The Actor, Ian Charleston. He died.”

 This might well have inspired a post about how a certain member of our household is incapable of suspending disbelief and just enjoying the film, for goodness sake, but as a successful marriage depends on a wife planning to use creative methods to quell her irritation from time to time, I will not go there


But it did get me thinking: What happened to the Chariots of Fire Characters and what can we learn about success from their life stories? This post, focusing on Eric Liddell, is the first in a short Chariots of Fire Series  ( The next will be in three weeks time in my next Succeed post).  Read more

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