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Sunday, 9 October 2016

One cruise you can afford to take

Just a quick heads up: I'm holding a 99c sale for my latest crime novel Murder on the Orient (SS) at Amazon, Apple, Nook, Kobo, Smashwords et al.

This is the second in the popular Agatha Christie Book Club series and follows the gang as they scramble across the gangplank and onto a cruise that's less R&R and a lot more "Ahhhhh!"

It starts with a passenger missing overboard. It ends with the book club utilising their 'leetle grey cells' (a la Hercule Poirot) to solve a series of increasingly violent crimes.

There's a wealthy widow dead in her bed. Another passenger stabbed in the ship's gym. And who the hell has been stealing the Captain's wife's designer kaftans?!

This book—set on a modern replica of a cruise ship that really did sail the high seas back in Agatha Christie's days—was a lot of fun to write and is a baffling one to solve if my reviewers are anything to go by.

But you be the judge! Download your 99c ebook now and jump aboard for the ride. It won't be for sale for long.

Happy (cruisy) reading everyone!

xo Christina

Thursday, 29 September 2016

What do you think makes a good story?

I once joined my local writers' group purely for the pleasure of meeting fellow wordsmiths. Yet I came away with a whole new appreciation of what it means to write. It seemed, after just two stints with the group, that my view of what makes a story great varied widely to others.

It was both a revelation and an inspiration that still echoes years later.

Writer, Machine, To Write

But first the revelation…

It was some years ago now. I had been toying with the idea of writing a crime novel for a long time but needed a kick up the proverbial. Always a very solitary writer, I have never really enjoyed collaborating with others on written pieces, and this despite over a decade in the media industry. This time, however, I decided I needed to shake things up.

It was time to stick my head out of my cave and connect with others.

So I looked up the number of my local writing group and gave them a buzz. I was quickly and enthusiastically welcomed to come along to their next session, the following week, at a local cafe. Which I did.

Now, I'm not sure how most writers' groups work, having never been to one, but this one followed a fairly simple routine. We would all settle in at the caf', order our preferred poison (latte and choc brownie for me in case you're curious) and begin to discuss what we'd been writing that previous week. Eventually a few brave souls would offer to read a bit of theirs out, and the rest of us would offer words of encouragement, wishing we had the courage to do likewise. Then, when that was over, someone would offer up a 'writing exercise'.

This happened each week, apparently, but always had a different focus. Today the focus was a postcard someone had brought along. It was of a field of poppies, a shed in the far distance, and a bleak sky. We were to use that as inspiration to write, giving ourselves 10 minutes to do so before each reading our offering at the end.

I was nervous but excited. Invigorated, too. So off I scribbled! I wrote with fervour and ferocity, scratching down the tale of a child lost, of a shed that offered redemption from the threatening night, of a bird that helped the child find her way home.

There was a beginning, a middle and an end. I thought I had done good.

Then, the 10 minutes up, we each took turns to read our stories out. Turns out I had not done 'good' so much as 'different'.

The first woman who read hers had latched on to that shed and described it in minutiae, every rotting timber floorboard and cobweb-covered crevice. Another writer rambled about the clouds above in vivid, florid detail. A third was fixated with the mood, the ambience, the bleaky bleakness of the night sky.

Not one of the eight writers had an actual story of any kind. Or none that I could see. They had words, they had adjectives, metaphores and similes. But none went anywhere. None did anything.

Nothing bloody happened!

Had I misunderstood the exercise? Were we just supposed to describe the postcard but not actually tell a story?

It was now, finally, my turn to read aloud and I was almost too scared to do so. For a few terrifying minutes I felt like a failure. I hadn't stopped to spend too much of my ten precious minutes on description. I had simply created a story, set up a conflict, and resolved it at the end.

They all listened politely, nodded their heads and smiled. I don't know if any of them even noticed the difference but I sure did.

The following week the focus for the free-writing exercise was a small, pink crystal someone had brought in, and I tried very hard to be descriptive, really I did. But ten minutes later, eight writers had described the crystal in exquisite detail and one had told of how an unassuming crystal had saved the diamond queen from the demon rocks.

That was the last time I attended that group.

It's not that I thought myself better than those writers, or worse for that matter. It's not that they weren't talented. It's just that their idea of writing differed so markedly to mine.

Prose vs plot

I learned that day that there are at least two types of writers: those who focus on prose and those who focus on plot. And I am so clearly—so unapologetically—in the latter. I love words, really I do, but in my world they have a purpose that goes beyong describing stuff. They must advance a plot. They must present a story. They must DO SOMETHING! Otherwise, they're just, er, words.

Words are like bricks in a wall. Pretty bricks make for a pretty wall, but I'm more interested in where that wall leads, and what the hell lies behind it.

It's little wonder, then, that I went on to forge a career as a mystery writer (which must be second only to sci-fi in the tightly plotted genres, surely?).

Yet sometimes, in quiet moments when I find my writing verging on the florid, I think back to that group and those descriptive writers. And I know that they inspired me in ways I never realised at the time. They showed me that while I may be no poet, no siree, I sure know how to tell a decent story, and isn't that what good writing is really all about?

It is in my book.

Happy plotting everyone!

xo Christina

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The Day I Valued Myself (kaching)

When I'm not bumping off people in my books I'm writing freelance articles for both 'old' media (paper magazines, remember them?) and 'new' (Yahoo, HuffPost et al). I've been a journalist for so many years I would seriously age myself if I even whispered the number, but take it from me. A LOT.

And for the most part it's been a breeze. I've earned a steady income, always had a swag of stories under my belt and could charge a decent rate. So much so, I struggled to take time off to write my fiction. It was a lovely conundrum. At my peak I had 25 freelance articles lined up.

It was a beautiful thing. Busy, but beautiful.

Then the internet—which had made it such a beautiful, busy thing—turned against me and suddenly everyone was a writer, everyone had a blog and nobody wanted to pay anybody a decent rate for anything.

As a consequence, all of the old magazines were closing down, the freelance market was flooded with writers, good and bad, and earning a quid became hard yakka.

C'est la vie, right? Suck it up.

Well, things reached a new low the other day when a new editor reached out to me and offered me some work, for less than half of what I usually get paid. A lot less. But that wasn't the low. I mean all power to the woman. She's starting a new magazine and has no advertisers lined up yet. Can't blame her for having a crack.

Oh no, dear readers, the low came when I began to seriously contemplate doing it! After decades exhaustively building my portfolio, earning experience as an editor of several national magazines and a bureau chief in three cities including New York and London, I was considering selling myself short.

For a few hours there I thought:

"Maybe I should just accept that lowly wage. What if nothing else comes in? What if this is the story of my life now? Maybe I should just get over myself and start earning less."

Then I gave myself a shake, remembered how well my fiction is doing (did I really need the pittance she was offering?) and decided I was worth so much more than that. If I accepted that ridiculously low fee, it would be a very slippery slope to working for absolutely nothing. And why should I do that? I don't need to build my portfolio. I don't need the exposure. Don't even really need the money, not to get by, anyway.

But it goes deeper than that. It goes to basic fairness.

Think about it. Imagine going in and saying to your hairdresser/builder/plumber/dentist, "I'm only going to pay you half what you usually charge. Cool? Now, about that tint... "

It's not fair. It's not right. Enough was enough. I decided then that I'd rather NOT work as a freelancer anymore than give my power away for nothing.

So, I emailed the editor back, politely declined her offer and wished her all the best with her new venture.

Then exactly an hour later—I kid you not, people, ONE HOUR LATER—another editor I had never met emailed to offer me work on her publication. But this editor wanted to pay me MORE than I usually get paid. Was I up for it?


It wasn't just that it was more money. It was what I should be earning after 30 years in this business, 15 of them as a freelancer. (Damn did I say those numbers aloud?)

There's a moral here, guys, in case you didn't catch it. It's a pretty simple one, and one I hope to remember in all areas of my life:

Believe in yourself, belief in your true worth, and the rest will follow 
(although I can't guarantee it'll follow that quickly! One hour. Extraordinary.)

Happy reading—and, hopefully, earning—everyone.

xo Christina

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Win a Free Paperback Copy of Murder on the Orient (SS)

Last month you had the opportunity to win the first book in the Agatha Christie Book Club series and I'm now offering you the chance to score a paperback copy of book 2: Murder on the Orient (SS)!

Just log in (or sign up) with Goodreads and head to their Giveaways section, or click on this link: GoodreadsComp.

Alternatively, use the following html:

The competition is open until August 26 so get in quick.

If you're not a member of Goodreads or don't wish to sign up, never fear. Just check out my earlier blog and you could win a free e-copy of this or any book of your choice.

Happy (free) reading everyone!

xo Christina

Monday, 8 August 2016

Check out my revamped cover and win a free e-book

As my devoted readers will know, I have a naughty knack of fiddling with my book covers whenever I get a chance. I love design and am often looking at ways to make my covers stronger, slicker and reach a broader audience.

Well, oops, I did it again!

Or, at least, my favourite cover designer Stuart Eadie did. As you can see from the image below, he's redesigned the cover of the first book in my Ghostwriter Mystery series, Killer Twist. This time, however, you won't notice a huge difference. It's just a minor revamp, a tiny polish, a strategic yet subtle appeal to those for whom first impressions count. I do hope you like it.

Over the next month Stu and I will be revamping all six covers in the series, so stay tuned as each new look hits the digital stands.

Until then, I'd love to hear your thoughts! I'm offering a free e-book* to the first 10 respondents, so don't hesitate to leave a comment below or email me directly:

Happy (revamped) reading everyone!
xo Christina

*NB: this competition is open for one full month from first publication of blog, and winners get to choose an e-copy of any of my nine C.A. Larmer novels, which can be found at Amazon. Good luck!

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

The Ikea Theory on Writing (it's just as unfathomable)

I was chatting to a neighbour the other day, groaning about a particularly badly written novel I was in the middle of editing.

"Some people just shouldn't write books," I said. "It's woeful and I'm struggling to make sense of it."

"Oh dear," he replied. "Hopefully she'll just self-publish and be done with it."

I was gobsmacked.

What did he mean? Was he saying that self-publishing is only for woeful writers? Was he saying that self-published books didn't go anywhere so it would get lost in a giant black sludgepile and save us all the agony?

Whatever my neighbour was saying, it didn't bode well for me.

While I have had a book traditionally published, I now self-publish my own novels, and have nine indie books available on all the major channels. I sold over 3,000 copies last month on Amazon alone and have an average four star rating. I DIY, and I do so proudly.

Or at least I did, until we had our little roadside chat.

Despite my humiliation, I didn't call my neighbour on his words because I didn't want to embarrass him. He's actually a decent bloke and I knew that he knew I self-published books, so would be mortified by what he'd just said. I couldn't bear the look in his eyes when he realised his faux pas, the frantic backpedal, the attempt to swallow words and attitudes that were, frankly, indigestible.

Come on, guys, let's remove the scales from our eyes and modern up.

We no longer believe that the produce sold at Woolworths and Coles is better than produce from the farmers' market. That's laughable. We accept that mass produced furniture from Ikea usually fails in comparison to bespoke pieces made by a local carpenter. Yet we still cling on to the idea that if there's a Big Publisher behind a book, it must be somehow better. Surely we're better than that? Surely we're smarter? Surely we've read anything by Tara Moss, Mary Higgins Clark or Lynda La Plante?

Product DetailsProduct DetailsProduct Details

Now before you get up in arms and accuse me of my own bias, allow me to qualify: I know all three traditionally published mystery authors are HUGELY successful and have an enormous fan base, and all power to them. I'm not saying their work is crap, not at all. But I could name at least 50 indie mystery authors I've read who do a FAR SUPERIOR job. These lesser-known authors create prose that is so much richer, characters who are far less cliche, and plots that leave you gripping the edge of your bed each night.

Yet by destiny or design, they have gone the independent route, and while some are doing really well, others are struggling. And they're struggling thanks to the attitudes of people like my neighbour who clearly wouldn't give them a whirl because they haven't got the words Pan Macmillan or Penguin or Harper Collins somewhere in the opening pages.

How short sighted of him, and oh how he's missing out!

The changing tide
The indie book publishing world IS changing, and it's changing fast. Sales are zooming, profits are booming, and many writers now choose to go it alone. Yet the general population has a looooong way to go to catch up. My neighbour was not trying to be insulting, he just has a bias that should be left in the 20th century where it belongs.

Stories are stories are stories. It shouldn't matter about format or publisher. That's an irrelevance.

All I ask today, dear readers, is that you give a book credit based on its content, not the imprint at the front. Take a look at the star rating. Look at the reviews. Read the first few chapters before you diss or dismiss. It's that simple.

Oh and be careful what you say to your neighbours. They might have just published another indie novel and be feeling pretty proud of themselves. Let's give them a pat on the back not a silent slap.

Happy (unbiased) reading everyone.
xo Christina

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

When one door shuts...

Image result for ageismI knew the second our eyes met that I was doomed.

The young woman glanced up from her iPhone 6, caught my eye, frowned slightly (ever so slightly) then kept glancing around, her eyes boring into the younger women gathered in the foyer around me. She had a kind of pleading, desperate look about her.

Trying not to frown in response (lest the crow's-feet scare her further) I wedged my lips into a bright smile, hid my old Samsung mobile phone in my handbag, and strode confidently across the room towards the leather sofa where she was now perched.

"Amber?" I called out as I narrowed in.

The website editor looked up at me and blinked a few times before it hit. "Christina?" she asked, dubiously. I nodded, extending one hand to shake hers. "Oh! Right. Sorry, I didn't see you there, please take a seat."

As she waved me into the chair beside her, I wondered whether I should save us both the time and simply turn around and walk away. Then I internally slapped myself for being so defeatist, sat down and attempted to redazzle her with my extensive resume.

I say 'redazzle' because Amber was already familiar with my work. We had met via email the month before and "awed" by my extensive writing experience (which includes editing national magazines, freelancing for 15 years, and running bureaus in London, NY and LA), she had given me four internet articles to write in just two weeks. I did them promptly, there were no complaints and that's when I let my guard down. I suggested we meet in person. I was coming to town and thought it would be lovely. But as soon as I saw the trendily dressed 20-something glance straight past me in the foyer of her office block I knew I had misstepped.

The woman was polite, she was responsive, she promised me more work. And then, after just ten minutes, she began to fiddle nervously with her iPhone and made her excuses. I thanked her for her time, returned home and proceeded not to hear from her. As I feared I wouldn't. 

Such is the life of an ageing female* journalist. 

Why am I so negative I hear you ask? 

You do the maths: 
Before meeting me in person = 4 freelance articles in 2 weeks
After meeting me in person = 0 freelance articles in 12 weeks (and counting)

"She was startled by my age," I told a friend who rolled her eyes in reply. "No, seriously, she seemed almost shocked to be chatting to a 40-something about writing for her hip new website. She was polite enough but she couldn't get rid of me fast enough and has not replied to a single email since I returned home. Not even a 'thanks anyway'. She's blocked me, dumped me. Thrown me on the scrap heap."

"Oh you're being pathetic," my friend scoffed. "Maybe she's just busy."

"For three months? I think not."

I don't blame Amber, not really. I was a young editor once. I probably dismissed older people, too, without even realising I was doing it. When I was 21, 30 seemed ancient, so to sit across from a 48-year-old must have felt prehistoric.

I wonder how 50-, 60- and 70-somethings do it, and I take off my hat to those who've survived and flourished in an industry that's hard enough no matter what your age. To them I must sound like a classic 'cry baby', and I apologise for that. I know I'm not old, not AT ALL, but in Amber's eyes I was well past my prime. It's all relative, isn't it?

Of course my defeatist attitude would not have helped. I understand that, too. Perhaps I had given up before I even sat down, but a decade of dwindling job offers and gradually quietening phones has done that to me. And I am not alone.

It IS harder to find work as you get older, especially in young industries like the internet and dying industries like journalism. But I don't hold it against Amber and I don't hold it against the industries because the very thing that has been killing off my traditional writing work, has enabled my new career as a fiction writer. And for that I am eternally grateful.

Thanks to the 'world wide web', I can self-publish my own books from home. I can reach out to my own audience (hello there!), promote my own work, and make a really lovely living without leaving my living room.

It has nothing to do with my age or my looks or how funky my phone is. I don't need the Ambers of the world to get ahead in the indie publishing world, and it's a liberating feeling.

So it's swings and roundabouts. When one door shuts... and all that.

I write this blog, not for a pity party but as a reminder to all that while age shouldn't matter, it probably does. But it must never hold us back. My short-lived career at the hip website may be over, but there's a silver lining: I now have more time to focus on my fiction, and you can guess who's getting slaughtered in my next crime novel (cue sinister laughter now).

The upshot of aging

Readers at Amazon and Apple and Nook don't seem to care what I look like or what I'm wearing or what mobile phone is in my daggy handbag. They just want great stories, and here's the kicker—the older I get, the better my stories become. That's the great thing about getting older: your writing matures right along with you.

So thanks for all your support over the years, dear readers, and happy reading everyone, no matter how old you are.

xo Christina
*NB: I don't know whether this is a phenomenon exclusive to women, I sincerely doubt it, but I'd love to hear from men on that score. In fact, I'd love to hear from ALL of you - men and women, old and young. Just drop a comment below and let me know if you've ever experienced ageism at work or in life.