Category: General

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The Liebster Award: Bloggers Encouraging Bloggers

I’ve been nominated for the Liebster Award by David Rawlings, an Australian Christian fiction author. David was a finalist in the 2016 Genesis Award for his contemporary novel, The God of Reality TV, and he’s a semi-finalist this year in the Short Novel category.

The Liebster Award

This is how the Liebster Award works: it is an award given by bloggers to fellow bloggers and aimed to encourage writers. The rules for the Liebster Award are as follows:

  • Thank the person who has nominated you for the award and link to their blog
  • Write some random facts about yourself
  • Answer the 11 questions the person has asked you
  • Nominate up to 11 people for the award (comment on their blog to let them know)
  • Ask the people you have nominated 11 questions

I’m not exactly a new blogger, but this is a new(ish) website, and I haven’t participated before. So that counts, right?

First of All …

Thanks to David! (Click here to head over to his blog and subscribe.)

Some random facts about me:

  • I was born in Wales, and my name is Welsh. It means “valued by the Lord”, which I think is pretty cool!
  • I live in New Zealand, which makes me a Kiwi. As an aside, a Kiwi is a flightless bird, not a fruit. Though they’re both brown and furry.
  • I lived on London for ten years, so my accent is a mix of Kiwi and London.
  • “Iola” isn’t pronounced “eye-ola”, despite the spelling. The “I” sound is more like the “I” in Ian, which means it’s “ee-ola”. But most Kiwis say it “yo-la”.
  • Which is why I used to get called Yoda in high school. (Thanks to my sister for reminding me of this.)
  • I once spent a night in an igloo on Mt Ruapehu. Ruapehu is Maori for “two peaks”, and it’s an active volcano which starred in the Lord of the Rings movies as Mt Doom.
  • I’ve visited more than twenty countries, and more than twenty US states. My husband loves airplanes, so if there’s an air museum near where you live, I’ve probably been there.

My 11 Questions to Answer

1. Who were your favourite authors as a child? Why?

Enid Blyton, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Arthur Ransome, and Anne Digby. I read a lot of Scholastic books which were from a range of American authors, but my favourites were the British writers (no doubt influenced by my British family). And I loved boarding school stories.

2. Is there a country you have always wanted to visit, and if so, where?

I’ve visited large portions of Europe and North America, and the populated parts of Australia. I’d like to visit some Asian countries, like China or Japan—because I love their food!

3. What is your favourite kind of weather?

Warm but not hot. My ideal day is clear and sunny, with a temperature in the mid 20’s Celsius—equivalent to the high 70’s in Fahrenheit.

4. Why do you blog?

I started blogging back in 2011 on Iola’s Christian Reads, after I discovered I could get free ebooks from my favourite publishers if I had a book blog and promised to post a book review. That lead into a new role as a freelance editor (www.christianediting.co.nz), and that lead into writing my own fiction … and this website.

Now I blog because I enjoy it, and because the discipline of blogging keeps me writing.

The downside is that same enjoyment and discipline. It’s much easier to blog than it is to actually work on what I should be working on … my books.

5. What started you writing?

I’ve always written, but most of my writing has been school projects, university assignments, work reports—things other people wanted me to write. Being introduced to the world of book blogging and reviews opened my eyes to the fact I could write for my own enjoyment.

But the thing that prompted me to begin writing fiction was an invitation from Dorothy Adamek to attend a Margie Lawson immersion course. Margie is a brilliant writing teacher, and I knew attending the course would give me more tools to help the authors I work with. But the entry prerequisite was a fiction manuscript to edit … so I started writing fiction. And I love the new challenge.

6. What are the challenges of being an author/writer?

With non-fiction, it’s knowing about the topic, and not being awed by the fact there are so many people who know more than me.

With fiction, my challenge is getting past editor-me and actually getting the writing done. I’m a planner and plotter by nature, but I’m currently buried in a plot hole. One part of my brain says “just write!”, while the other part knows that will be a waste of time if I don’t know what the characters should be doing, or why.

7. How do you keep yourself motivated?

I’m still working on this one …

The desire is there, but I need to be more disciplined about getting through the planning stages, and getting onto the writing.

8. If you could choose a place to write where would it be?

There are a couple of local cafes I enjoy visiting to write. I find the different location and atmosphere helps me concentrate. It’s ironic, as I’m an introvert who enjoys the solitude of working from home. Yet I can get a lot more done if I go out—even though I’m then surrounded by conversation.

9. What difference does it make being a Christian and an author?

That’s an unintentionally difficult question, because I don’t know what it would be like to be a not-Christian author!

I do believe that as a Christian author I’m able to bring God’s truth into my writing, in smaller or larger ways. I often read novels where I want to yell at the characters because the answer to their problems is Jesus, and they don’t see it.

10. What’s your work in progress?

I have three. This is why I have difficulty in prioritising!

I’m working on a non-fiction book about the various paths to publication.

I’ve also written an online training course teaching writers how to start building their author platform (website and social media). While I’m writing both for the Christian market, the information applies to any aspiring author.

And I’m working on a series of short novels. My planning process has shown that my first manuscript, Play On, Jordan, is actually the fifth book in a series. I’m currently working on a prequel novella and trying to edit the first book.

You can click here to sign up to my newsletter to keep track of my progress towards publication.

11. Who is your ideal audience?

My target reader is a Christian woman who is looking for fiction that reflects her Christian beliefs, and perhaps challenges them a little. She also would love to travel to New Zealand—if she can’t do that in real life, then she’ll substitute that for virtual travel via fiction!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this insight into my life and writing. My nominees to complete this challenge next are:

These ladies (along with Jebraun Clifford) set their blogs up recently through a challenge I ran on my editing website, Christian Editing Services. I’ll be running the challenge again soon—if you’d like to participate, click here to sign up for more information.

Ladies, I’d like you to answer the same 11 questions David asked me.

Readers, do you have any questions for me?

Happy New Year! (Not every year starts on 1 January)

Happy New Year! 

Okay, so I’m three months late in terms of the calendar New Year. But this is my first post for 2017 …

Today is 31 March, which is the final day of the New Zealand tax year. This means tomorrow isn’t just April Fools Day. It’s also the first day of the 2017/18 tax year. So while Americans should now have finished the painful task of annual taxes, those of us Down Under are just about to start.

This might seem a little odd, but there is a reason for it. And as with so many things in New Zealand, that reason goes back to jolly olde England, where the new tax year begins on 6 April. On the face of things, that seems even less logical than 1 April, but there is a reason.

If you’ve ever researched family history, you’ll know 1 January wasn’t always the beginning of the calendar year. Way back in history, when the great minds were debating these matters of importance, they decided the year should begin on 25 March.

Lady Day

Why? Because Jesus was born on 25 December. Therefore the angel must have visited Mary on 25 March, which is known as Lady Day. So it was only logical that 25 March should be the start of the Christian year.

Then Pope Gregory introduced the Gregorian calendar in 1582, because the existing Julian calendar had got out of sync in terms of calculating the correct date for Easter (a debate which has still not been settled). Great Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752, a move which many people resented because they were ‘robbed’ of eleven days—the difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendars.

This short year impacted on people who paid (or earned) rent or other monthly or annual payments. A rather complicated set of decisions and an Act of Parliament meant England and Wales shifted New Year’s Day from Lady Day to 1 January. They also moved the beginning of the tax year forward to ensure the 1752 tax year still had the correct number of days. And that hasn’t changed, so the English tax year still starts on 6 April.

The original lawmakers in New Zealand must have thought a tax year starting on 6 April was a historical anomaly they could and should fix. As a result, our tax year runs from 1 April to 31 March. Except for public sector organisations, most of which run a 1 July—30 June financial year. And except for international companies, which often use the calendar year. So basically we’re all over the place.

Okay, so I’m a bit of a history nerd even though I write contemporary fiction.

Today…

I’ll be spending today in a café overlooking the beach, having my first ever annual planning day (thanks to Randy Ingermanson for the idea). I dropped the ball on some of my social media and other commitments last year, and I want to make sure that doesn’t happen again. I also want to make sure I move forward on my writing—fiction and non-fiction—and turn some of my almost-finished drafts into books or courses.

And I’ll be praying, to make sure God is in the plan. It’s His job to set the strategy and direction, and my job to execute it. To do that well, I need to hear His direction.

I’d ask for your prayers as well, that I’ll know His will, and that I’ll be obedient to the call he has for me this year.

My Two Top Travel Tips

It’s the time of year when a lot of writers think of going to writer’s conferences (and those of you in the northern hemisphere are planning your summer holidays). I’ve done a lot of travelling over the years, both alone (for writer’s conferences or business) or with my family.

Travel Tips

Here are a few travel tips I’ve picked up along the way:

1. Plan Ahead

You don’t want to get to the airport for the trip of a lifetime and discover your passport has expired (yes, I’ve seen that). Planning ahead can help avoid these little “issues”. I use lists.

Travel List

All travel documents and sundries, including:

  • Tickets
  • Passports (if required)
  • Booking confirmations (e.g transport, rental car, hotel/s, conference)
  • Travel Insurance information

Packing List

I have two lists: a family list, and individual lists for each child. I have these saved, so I just need to update the clothing items for the season and the number of nights we’re away.

Family List

The family list includes:

  • A family toilet bag
  • A basic first aid/medicine kit (because someone always catches something)
  • Kindle and phone, and their chargers (wall and car adaptor)
  • Any non-clothing items I need to remember (like books!)

I try and focus on the things that I either won’t be able to buy at my destination, or things that will be overpriced. Forget shampoo? No problem. Most hotels have shampoo in the room and you’ll always be able to buy something, even if it’s not your preferred brand. But if your children forget the charger to their favourite electronic device … that’s challenging.

The Individual Lists

I use packing lists for myself and for the children, and have since my son was about ten. He enjoys packing his own suitcase, and I enjoy not having to do it for him. But he’s a boy, and boys … let’s just say they have different priorities. So I give him a list, which includes minor items like hairbrush and toothbrush. I’ve found these are the items he “forgets” if he doesn’t get a list (even for an overnight stay).

Travel Light

This is the advice “everyone” always gives, but they don’t necessarily tell you how to achieve it (I have a couple of suggestions that work for me below). There are two reasons to pack light:

  • It’s easier to carry (or drag)
  • It gives you room to buy souvenirs

Packing light is especially important if you’re travelling with small children, who might not be entitled to their own luggage allowance but who require a lot of paraphernalia …

A lot of travel advice says not to check luggage if you don’t have to. Well, if you have small children, you have to check the luggage. There is no way you can navigate through an airport with one stroller, two sleeping children, and three dragalong cases, no matter how small. So check the cases and use a backpack or shoulder bag as your cabin baggage.

I packed light even before we had children. My husband and I once did a six-week trip through the Greek Islands, Egypt, Israel and Jordan. When we got on the plane at Heathrow, my backpack weighed 11 kgs (around 25 pounds). Yes, it did weigh a little (lot) more on the return trip, but at I could still carry it easily, and didn’t have to worry about it being overweight.

My top tips for travelling light are:

Save the sample sizes

You know how when you buy makeup or skincare there is sometimes a gift-with-purchase? I save those product samples and put them in my holiday toilet bag. Then I don’t need to carry full-sized bottles.

Watch the Shoes

Shoes are bulky. More to the point, they take a lot of space in your luggage. Sure, you can stuff things inside them, but better to take fewer pairs (and definitely don’t take the boxes).

When I go on holiday, I take as few pairs of shoes as possible, all in the same colour, or coordinating colours. For example, I took three pairs of shoes on that six-week holiday—good walking shoes (because I knew we were going to be doing a lot of walking), jandals (aka thongs or flip-flops), and a pair of nice sandals suitable for shopping or meals out. I then coordinate my entire travel wardrobe around those three or four pairs of shoes. Yes, it gets boring. But I can wear all my other nice things when I get home.

Plan Coordinating Outfits

This goes along with the shoes. I have two basic colour “themes” in my wardrobe: black and navy. When I go on holiday, I take one theme, and I make sure that I have at least two tops to go with every bottom (skirt, shorts or trousers), and at least two bottoms I can wear with every top. It adds variety, and helps me not get too bored with limited wardrobe choices on a long holiday.

Okay, those are my tips. What tips do you have to share? And do you have any exciting travel plans?

9 Top Tips for Aspiring Authors

Last week I had a comment on a book review post asking for advice for new writers. Well, it might have been asking for advice for new writers, but it also had a link to a website advertising writing aids which seemed a little spammy so I didn’t approve the comment. (Well, it was on a book review post, so seemed more than a little off-topic).
9 Top Tips for Aspiring Writers
I’ve been writing fiction for a little over a year–not long, in the scheme of things. But that first novella manuscript won one small writing contest (Almost an Author), and is currently a finalist in the American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis contest, the flagship contest for unpublished Christian fiction writers. So my writing must have some merit.

But there is more to writing than just writing. At least, according to Stephen King:
Stephen King quote
CES FB Quotes (2)

I’ve been reading Christian fiction for over twenty years.

I’ve seen trends come and trends go, which means I’ve got a good feel for the genre and have learned what publishers buy.

And I’ve been working as a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction for the last five years, which means I’ve seen a lot of manuscripts, good and bad, and have learned something about the craft of writing from each one. I’ve attended conferences, undertaken online training, and completed a hands-on immersion course with international speaker and writing coach Margie Lawson.

I’ve also read dozens of books on writing craft and dozens more books on book marketing. Each has contributed to my understanding of how to write, edit, publish and market books in this new world. A world where aspiring authors don’t need an agent and a big-name publisher. A world where authors can self-publish without the stigma of ‘vanity’ publishing.

I’ve learned a thing or two.

So I’m going to give my answer to the question my commenter initially asked. I hope it helps him or her and anyone else who is thinking of writing a novel, who is in the middle of writing their first novel, or who has one or three or ten completed manuscripts buried in some virtual drawer.

So here are my top tips of what an aspiring fiction author needs to know and do:

1. Understand Genre

Publishers publish by genre, booksellers organise their stores by genre, and readers read by genre. Your book has a better chance of succeeding if you understand what genre it is, and meet the expectations of readers of that genre. For example, a romance novel has to have a happy ending in which the hero and heroine are together. If he dies at the end, it’s not a romance novel.

Yes, authors do can do genre mashups (Amish Zombies in Space springs to mind), but even that adheres to the expectations of each of the constituent genres (I think. I don’t read zombie novels, so don’t know how it stacks up against them).

Understand your genre, and write to the norms of that genre.

2. Write What You Love

If you love trashy romance, write romance novels. Don’t write highbrow literary fiction with beautiful language but where nothing much happens. Don’t write gung-ho action adventure novels in which the hero fights his way through innumerable blockages in order to reach his goal and get the girl. Conversely, if you read literary fiction, don’t write Amish romance because someone tells you that’s what sells.

Write what you love for two reasons. If you’re writing in a genre you love to read, you’ll know the conventions of the genre and what the reader is looking for. And your writing will flow better because it’s something you want to write (unlike so many of those creative writing assignments in school).

3. Read what you write

Read in your genre. Read outside your genre. Read old books. Read new books. Read novels which have won awards, and try to work out why they won. Read award-winning novels as judged by industry professionals (e.g. the Christy Awards), by writers (e.g. the Carol Awards) and by readers (e.g. the INSPY Awards). Read the Christian novels I recommend each month on this blog.

4. Study the Big Picture

The big picture element of writing is the relationship between plot and story and structure and characterisation. Most craft books focus on one or two of these aspects, but the more I read, the more I come to believe that you can’t look at any one of these in isolation. They all need to be considered together.

Here are some books I recommend which examine these big picture elements:

– Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell
– Plot versus Character by Jeff Gherke
– Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
– Story Genius by Lisa Cron
– Structuring Your Novel by KM Weiland
– GMC: Goal, Motivation, Conflict by Debra Dixon

(See what I mean about the relationships?)

5. Study the Technical Craft of Fiction

You also need to understand the basics of modern fiction. Yes, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens were great writers, and you can look to them for insight into the big picture elements. But don’t try and emulate the way they wrote. Novel writing has changed a lot in the two hundred years since Austen was first published, and writing like Jane Austen won’t win you any fans today. Even novels from the 1990’s might be too old-fashioned in terms of style to be of benefit in terms of their technical writing craft. (Although they will still be of benefit in terms of the big picture elements.)

The modern writer needs to understand:

– Point of View
– Showing not telling
– Scene and sequel

For advice on these issues, try:

– Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View by Jill Elizabeth Nelson
– The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglasi
– Scene and Structure by Jack M Bickham

6. Understand the Mechanics of English

There is no point in knowing how to craft a great novel if you don’t have the technical writing skills to get it on the page so people can read and understand it. Christian editor (and founder of the Christian Proofreaders and Editors Network) calls this the PUGS: Punctuation, (word) Usage, Grammar and Spelling. There is nothing worse than picking up a novel which is hard to read because the author doesn’t understand how to order words in a sentence for maximum reader impact.

For advice on actual writing, I recommend:

– Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss
– The Elements of Style by Strunk and White

7. Join a Community

You’ll learn as much from your fellow writers as you will from books, so join a community of writers. This could be online (e.g. Facebook groups such as Australasian Christian Writers). It could be a formal organisation (e.g. Romance Writers of America or Australia or New Zealand, American Christian Fiction Writers or Omega Writers or New Zealand Christian Writers). It could be a Christian group or a general market group. It could be for fiction writers or all writers.

8. Write

You can study too much. It was true when Ecclesiastes was written and it is true today. Study, but ensure you get words down on paper as well. Or get pixels on a computer screen.

9. Learn to Self-Edit

Yes, I’m a freelance editor so you’d think I’d have a vested interest in people not editing their own work, to give me more to do. But correcting simple mistakes the author could have corrected for themselves isn’t much fun, and means I might get too focussed on correcting commas and hyphens at the expense of more fundamental questions of plot and style. And anyway, the cleaner the manuscript in terms of writing mechanics, the cheaper the edit.

Tools like Grammarly and ProWritingAid can help with the most technical side of this self-editing, identifying things like passive voice and overused words and commonly misused words.

But you need a human to pick up that your heroine’s hair colour changes three times without her ever visiting a hairdresser, or that there is headhopping in Chapter Four or that you have a nasty habit of structuring every sentence the same or that your mute minor character actually had a couple of lines before she miraculously started talking again.

For advice on how to self-edit your novel, I recommend:

– The Word Loss Diet by Rayne Hall
– Revision and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by James Scott Bell
– Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King

In Conclusion …

Everyone agrees I came into fiction writing the ‘wrong’ way. Most people write a manuscript first, then start looking for writing groups or publishers or advice on craft. I did it backwards: I spent several years learning the craft before I started writing. I don’t believe you have to spend years, but my relative success with that first fiction manuscript proves (to me, at least) that time spent studying craft isn’t wasted. And you’d do far worse than starting with the books I’ve recommended above.

Do you have any questions about writing? Ask in the comments.

Dear Seth Godin

[For those who don’t know, Seth Godin is a marketing guru who writes short but thought-provoking blog posts.]

Dear Seth Godin

I probably should have written this post before now. It’s my response to a post about how you learned the clarinet for eight years, but you never actually played it—well, not the way it could be played. You said we often opt for more instead of better, where we should focus on better.

I agree. We should work towards better, not more.

But not always. We live in an individualistic culture, and it’s easy to forget that we’re not all called to be an individual, to work in a vacuum. Sometimes we’re called to be part of a team, to be part of a group where the sum of the whole is more than the sum of the parts.

Sometimes we're called to be part of a team. Click To Tweet

Tauranga Brass Band

I’m a member of the local brass band. We practice together once a week, and we play in public several times a year. Some of our players are outstanding—they’ve been playing for decades, and they practice every day. Others are relatively new to music and bands, but are diligent in attending practice and trying. Many are competent but not outstanding, people who love music and playing, and embrace the opportunity the band provides.

I’m a mediocre player at best, but I still play.

I play because I enjoy it. But mostly I play because if I didn’t, there would be something missing. We’re a small band. Only one person plays each part. No matter how humble I might think my part is, how mediocre I am as a player, the band is better for me being there. It doesn’t matter that I’m not soloist material. My part is important. The band wouldn’t be complete without me. The sum of the whole is more than the sum of the parts.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, we play at the Dawn Service on ANZAC Day, to commemorate the servicemen who died in the battle at Gallipoli in World War One. We play at the Battle of Britain Day service, commemorating all those who died in that epic battle over the skies of England.

We play at the Merchant Seamen’s Memorial Day, commemorating all those who died in while serving on merchant ships, transporting food and vital supplies to the front. And we play at the Battle of Crete Memorial Service, where we commemorate those who gave their lives in defence of Crete in World War Two, an act which has made our soldiers legends in Crete.

We play at community events.

We undertake an annual charity concert, usually in conjunction with a local choir, to raise money for causes as diverse as establishing a local church playgroup and freeing sex slaves in India. We play carols in a local shopping centre at Christmas. We play in the park on a Sunday afternoon, and small children dance to our music. One looks at us in wonder—has she ever seen music performed live before?

Does she even know those sounds on the radio or TV are made by real people playing real instruments?

Every time we play, someone stops to tell us how beautiful it sounds, how much they like our music. We remind them of their father, their brother, their husband, their son, their loved one who played in a brass band or a concert band or an orchestra. We bring back memories of happy times.

So you’re wrong, Seth Godin.

But you’re also right. You said we should focus on the things we care about. And while I might not be an expert brass soloist, I’m a very good brass band member, and I do care. I’m part of a team who work together, and bring people joy.

And for me, that’s more than enough.

 

Iola Goulton

Introducing Iola Goulton . . .

My name is Iola Goulton, and I am a writer.

Specifically, I write Contemporary Christian romance with a Kiwi twist.

Part of me is exhilarated by the prospect of this new journey. Part of me is petrified.

It’s not just the “normal” new author nerves about putting my writing out into the world. I’ve been doing that in a small way for years, first with my book review blog, Iola’s Christian Reads, and then with my freelance editing website, Christian Editing Services. And I regularly contribute to two group blogs, Australasian Christian Writers and Suspense Sisters Reviews, so it’s not that I’m uncomfortable with sharing my opinions.

What I am apprehensive about is some of the opinions I’ve expressed in the past, and how they might impact on or influence my fiction writing. As a reviewer, I’ve often been blunt about what I have or haven’t liked in the novels I’ve read—if I’m honest, that bluntness comes across more often in what I don’t like.

As a freelance editor, I’ve often been blunt about the writing issues I’ve found in novels I’ve read. And I’ve given a lot of advice on various writing topics, including genre, and point of view. I’ve also been less than impressed when authors have committed the very writing crimes they preach against.

And that’s what I’m most nervous about.

I don’t want to commit the crimes I’ve preached against. Of course, this doesn’t mean my novels will be perfect, rather, that I’ll make different mistakes.

Logic says there is no such thing as a perfect novel. Apart from anything else, all readers are different and looking for different things in their fiction. I’m not going to please all of the readers all of the time. My best hope is to please some of the readers most of the time.

And who are those “some readers”?

Readers who are looking for contemporary Christian romance that’s a little different: something slightly edgy, with a little humour, and a unique setting—the Kiwi twist.

If that’s you, welcome. It’s lovely to meet you. Have a seat, introduce yourself, and I’ll be back next week to introduce you to some of my favourite places.