Tag Archives: writers on writing

The joy of lists for writers (and for normal people too)

The to-do list

lists of listsThis weekend, with the revisions for my second crime novel on my editor’s desk rather than on mine, I spent the weekend working through lists: essentially my “to do list”, catching up on housework, the ironing and reading a “treat” book.

They were on my mental list of things to do and, mentally, I ticked them off.

One of the things I did, once the heavy lifting was done, was sit down with a cup of tea. The radio was on – I love the radio – and Weekend Woman’s Hour was playing.

shopping list

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Lucy Ireland Gray was talking about the 200 discarded shopping lists that she’d collected from shopping trolleys (we’ve all seen those) and picked up from the ground. They went on display at the Museum of London Brands, in Notting Hill. 

One of her friends was horrified that one of the lists might be hers. Not so much worried that her shopping list would betray her inner secrets, but that it would out her as a litter lout. 

Why do we make lists?

lists for writersObviously as an aide memoire. This is a list of a colleague who is a lot of more organised than me.

My lists are messy, jotted down on the nearest piece of paper or notepad and maybe, later, transferred to this notebook.

I do, weirdly, have a book of lists.

This is from when I started using Instagram and was making a note of useful hashtags. I have lists for romance readers, for gardens, for cyber crime (they’re for my son’s books) and for food photographs.

I need a new one for crime fiction…

Looking through it, I discovered all sorts of lists I’d forgotten. Hero Names, a list of the events at the Tasting Rooms in East Grinstead, sadly now closed, a victim of the pandemic. Motives for murder. Poisons…

murder listsThis recent list, jotted down during a brain-storming zoom call with colleagues, needs to be transferred before it gets lost. (I could tell you what it’s for but then I’d have to shoot you. Writing crime…)

Do Lists Set You Up for Failure?

I didn't do the thing today by Madeleine DoreMadeleine Dore, author of I didn’t do the thing today: On letting go of productivity guilt, was on the radio programme exploring the tyranny of lists.

The ones we make at the New Year, for instance. She believes they set us up for failure. I am never going to start a list with Run Marathon so I’m safe there.

lists of New Year resolutionsI don’t actually make that kind of list. Mine tend to be more prosaic. But it did make me think about the lists I make.

The shopping lists that I always forget – although writing things down does seem to fix them in the memory. If all  else fails, I stand in the middle of the aisle, getting in everyone’s way, while I attempt to visualize my notepad lying on my desk.

Clearly, I need to get up to the minute and make my shopping list on my phone, which I’d have with me. One day…maybe.

But list-making isn’t all about remembering to buy cous cous, sadly forgotten this week. I had to use brown rice, which takes forever to cook. Never mind. It was good for me. Probably.

Writer’s lists

lists for revising a bookAs the contents of my notebook can testify, a writer’s to do list is often weird. Okay, there’s a list of goals… Write 1000 words a day, write 3 books a year (I can fantasize!), make the Sunday Times Bestseller List. (This list is thirty years old, okay, and mostly in my head!)

This is last week’s list as I worked through my revisions and renumbered the chapters…


These days my list-making is mostly  focused on the basics. Character names for instance. Romance is very focused on the two main characters, with walk-on parts as required, but when I started writing crime, I quickly discovered that I was going to need a much larger cast. Here’s the list…

A sleuth and her buddies – maybe a romance interest
A body or two
People who know stuff
People who don’t know stuff but like to gossip
A red herring or two

Lists of names

lists of namesAll of those people require names.

Names that fit the character’s age, background, social status, bearing in mind that mothers will often give their child a name for a future they hope they’ll achieve.

Alexander Bonaparte Cust, anyone?

This is the book when I first started writing. It helps, but isn’t the entire answer and is no help when you’re not paying attention.

lists on a spreadsheetWhen, doing a global search to check up on what a minor character had said earlier in Murder Among the Roses, I discovered that I had three minor characters called Steve and, later, my editor pointed out that I had a Molly, Polly and Olly… Clearly snatching names out of the air when in full flow was not the way to do it.

I had created a spreadsheet of all my major characters, their ages, anything significant and their basic role. It was the bit players that caught me out.

graphic of murder listWhen writing my second Maybridge Mystery, Murder Under the Mistletoe, to be published on 7 November (and this little list will give you a hint of what it’s all about) I had a group of characters that were using their bus pass.

I looked up names that were popular when they were born and added those to my spreadsheet, so that when I introduced a new character, I didn’t have to waste time hunting for something suitable. They might have been changed later, but the creative flow wasn’t interrupted.

By the time I was on my third book, and knew that I’d need an extensive cast list, I started a spreadsheet of characters as they appear on the page. And I now realise that I need an index-card system with cross-referencing for the regulars, and so that I don’t repeat names. They do tend to stick in the head and insert themselves.

Pause to add the  cards and box file to my shopping list…

retreat listMy next list is going to be a shopping list for my annual writing retreat, bearing in mind fellow retreaters’ dietary needs when it’s my turn to produce the evening meal. I’ve made a start…

Fortunately, I’ll be forwarding that list to someone a lot more organised than me who will be picking up the groceries. Remembering it will be their problem!

So, what do you do with your shopping lists? What other lists do you make? And what did you go home without the day you forgot your shopping list?


Liz Fielding

I’ve got a little list for when I’ve finished the book

When I say I’ve got a little list, it’s growing longer by the day.

Obviously, I always have lists of things I have to do – last month it included “Pay My Tax”, but also check my Public Lending Right statement, to see how much I’ve earned from the wonderful people who borrow my books from libraries.

Times are tough. Your library is a free resource and they’re under threat everywhere, so do make the most of them.

Public Lending Right for those who have never heard of it – and if you’re not a writer, why would you? – was spearheaded by the Society of Authors, an organisation that offers advice to, and lobbies for the interests of authors.

If you’re an author but not a member, Writer Beware gives information about scam merchants who try to rip off authors with fake competitions and dodgy publishers – the people who ask you to pay vast sums of money to publish your book and, having pocketed it, do nothing to sell it. Check them out before you sign a contract.

But back to my list

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Research Pitfalls and Pleasure

I have always found researching the back ground for my stories to be the greatest fun. But it is not all joy. Worse, it can be counter-productive.

As this year is on the brink of turning, I have been taking stock of my writing habits and also my output. Well, a little. Not the full audit, you understand. Just a gentle canter through those things that I have done, and those that I have left undone. And why.

And the reason, I fear, is often Research.

So I thought some people might be interested in my conclusions on research, its pitfalls and pleasures.

Pitfall 1  Getting Lost in Research

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A pearl anniversary…

One score and ten years ago…

Busy fizzWith apologies to Abraham Lincoln – I couldn’t resist – it is thirty years ago, almost to the day (it was actually December 2) when my first book, An Image of You, was published.

It was my fourth attempt to write a book for Mills and Boon. I do, somewhere, still have my first rejection letter. I seem to recall the word “wooden” used to describe my characters, and a suggestion that I read books by Elizabeth Oldfield and Vanessa Grant. As you can tell, it is ingrained in my memory.

The book…

I later had the enormous pleasure of meeting Elizabeth at author lunches, along with so many fan-favourite romance authors. But back to that precious moment. The arrival of my first box of books. I’d been out somewhere and when I came home the box was sitting on my desk, with my husband and daughter staring at it, waiting for me to open it. Continue reading

Writing under stress…

Writing (or not) without a kitchen…

I moved into my present flat four years ago. At the time it seemed perfect but, as happens to all of us, I wanted to rip out the kitchen and have something that worked better for me. More storage…

Clearly I could do nothing during lockdown, but in January this year I took myself off to one of those vast out of town warehouses. I picked up a catalogue then, drawing a deep breath – and an even bigger chunk of money from my bank account – sat with Michelle, who took me through the exciting process of buying a new kitchen. (This picture is utter fantasy – I think my entire flat would fit into this!)

Starting from Scratch

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

I was going back to the bare walls, so there was the choice of oven (yes, I chose the one that cleaned itself!) and a space age hob. It was only later that I discovered I was going to need new pans for something that modern and my mother’s beautiful stainless steel pans were gratefully received by my daughter (who has a gas hob that isn’t fussy). There was a much needed new fridge/freezer and I went for a smaller dishwasher and sink so that I could fit in an extra cupboard. (Needless to say, this picture is also a fantasy!)

Then there were the worktops. Hyperventilating at the cost of some of them, I eventually made my decision.

Tiles, lighting…

Now we wait…

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Yikes, I’ve won the Libertà Award : Guest Blog by Kate Hardy

As a follow-up to last weekend’s blog on the virtual ceremony for the RNA Awards 2021, this week we’re delighted to be able to welcome Kate Hardy, the winner of the LIbertà Books Shorter Romantic Novel Award 2021 for A Will, A Wish and A Wedding.

Kate is an old mate of the Libertà hive. She was one of the very kind authors who welcomed the then unpublished newbie, Joanna Maitland, to her very first RNA meeting. That was well over 20 years ago and Kate says she doesn’t remember. But Joanna does and is still grateful.

Kate Hardy's spaniels, Archie and DexterKate comes—be warned—with hairy hangers-on. So this is partly a writer’s pet blog too. It’s about time we did another of those, don’t you think?

Kate’s hangers-on, Archie (the big one) and Dexter, rejoice in the title of Edit-paw-ial Assistants.
More from them later.

Keep reading, as Kate tells us about how she became a published author and how she came to write the lovely butterfly-filled book that won our award.

Kate Hardy writes…

I’m thrilled to be here, as the winner of the 2021 Libertà Books Shorter Romantic Novel Award. It’s a glorious collision of numbers: for my 90th M&B, in my 20th year of being a M&B author and my 25th year of being a member of the RNA. And it’s also the third time I’ve won the award. As the photo below shows, I really wasn’t expecting it — and I’m so delighted!

Kate Hardy is announced as the winner of the Libertà Books Award 2021

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Writing Settings out of Sequence

Writing energy, happy writerI love starting a new book

It is a lovely feeling, a clean sheet  with so many possibilities. New story, new characters, new settings. It’s the time I can let myself dream as I begin weaving the story.

That is the point I am at now.

I have an idea for the book and the settings will be Regency London and mainly (probably) at my hero’s country house. And it is summer.

I first began thinking about this idea in September, when my current work in progress was coming to an end. Now I wonder if I chose a summer setting because the seasons were changing? Maybe I was hoping to hang on to those hot days and balmy summer nights. But I shall be writing the story throughout the winter: bare landscapes, long nights, icy days.

 It shouldn’t be a problem, I am a writer, aren’t I?

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Christmas Reunion in Paris—a writer’s anxiety and joy

The beginning…

romantic novelist busy editingWriting Christmas Reunion in Paris was a curious mixture of fun and anxiety. Maybe it’s always like that. There are always tough moments when you can’t see an ending, when you sit and stare at the screen and the words won’t come. But, mostly, like childbirth, you forget the agonies when all is delivered safely.

It all started when my editor asked if I’d like to write the first book in a three book mini-series – Christmas at the Harrington Park Hotel. My fellow authors, Kandy Shepherd (in Australia) and Susan Meier (in the US) were old friends. I was delighted to team up with them to work on the books that were about three siblings, each with their own painful past.

The collaboration…

writer at laptop smilingEmails flew back and forth as we worked on settings. The boarding school that James (my character) and his twin Sally had attended. The Harrington Park Hotel. The backstory of their parents, a stepfather, the moments that fractured a once happy family.

That was the fun part!

Paris…we’ve done that…

Paris for Christmas reunion

My story takes place in Paris, in the run up to the holiday, so I grabbed the chance to go and do a little research which I wrote about a few months ago.

More fun.

It couldn’t last…

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Writing in Lockdown: challenges met, challenges missed

Image by GraphicMama-team from Pixabay

To begin with, I thought writing in lockdown was going to be a doddle. My normal working life was sitting alone for hours alone staring at a computer screen. Then there were those bursts of high energy word-cookery. What would change?

Actually, I was even crazier than that. Staying home and not seeing people, I thought, would give me oodles of time to complete the umpty-um projects on my 2020 schedule. Maybe this was the year I completed three books, cleared out the study, got to grips with social media and started exercising regularly.

Um – no.

The Big Freeze

snow in March 2016What actually happened was that I froze. Pretty much immediately. And completely. Could hardly do a thing.

It was a nasty shock. I was ashamed and a bit scared. At the time, I didn’t tell anyone.

The house got more and more of a tip. I started things I didn’t finish. But for a while I was self-isolating. So nobody knew.

That stage didn’t last. But struggling out of it took me time. And, from things I have been hearing, I’m not alone. Writing in lockdown can be harder than you’d think. Continue reading

Jenni Fletcher guest blog : the writer in lockdown

Jenni Fletcher wins 2020 Libertà Books Shorter Romantic Novel AwardReality check:
was it really less than 3 months ago that we were in London, elbow-bumping at the RNA Awards? And cheering for Jenni Fletcher, winner of the Betty Neels Rose Bowl and the Libertà Books Award for the Shorter Romantic Novel?

Seems more like a lifetime, doesn’t it?

However, to cheer us up, and remind us that life really does go on, even in lockdown, we welcome Jenni to our blog this weekend.

Jenni is actually another Scot (yes!) from Aberdeenshire, though she now lives in Yorkshire with her family. She has published nine historical romances with Mills & Boon, ranging from the Roman to Victorian eras, and is currently finishing her thirteenth. She says that when she’s not reading or writing, she likes baking, eating the results of baking and cycling.

Judging from that willowy figure, she must do a lot of cycling 😉

Welcome to Libertà, Jenni, and congratulations again on your win. Over to you…

Jenni Fletcher remembers and reflects

A magic night…

Jenni Fletcher with Betty Neels Rose Bowl at 2020 RNA AwardsThe RNA Awards in March seem a really long time ago now. It was a wonderful night.

I was honoured when Libertà books invited me to write a guest blog, but at the time I was feeling a little too anxious to write anything upbeat.

Obviously a lot has changed for all of us since then. We’ve all had to adapt and find a new kind of normal.

For me, trying to write alongside homeschooling has been the biggest change of all, but it’s led to some positives, too. Continue reading