Writing a synopsis

This is not a “how to” post. In fact it’s a “how on earth do I …” post!

Following last week’s fairly disastrous working week in which very little work got done, this week I am working on the synopsis for the book I’m about to start submitting to publishers. Let’s be honest, I know before I even start that the odds are stacked against me. You know, lockdown has produced 6 million undiscovered masterpieces, every single celebrity has “written” a book and I’m not very good at marketing myself. In fact, my “author brand” these days seems to be a female Victor Meldrew with a pen!

So, if I’m to stand any chance of finding a publisher for the latest ms., I need a good synopsis. I have several guides from various respected sources on how to write a synopsis, but the problems is they’re all different.

Allow me to demonstrate, with the help of Enid Blyton.

One guide states clearly that you should only ever name the three most important characters in your manuscript. Everyone else should be described. If you don’t do it this way, no self-respecting publisher will read further:

JULIAN, DICK and GEORGE have an adventure with Julian’s little sister and a dog.

Another suggests naming all the characters and gives their ages in brackets. The age is an absolute necessity, without it, publishers will toss your ms. in the bin without a second glance:

JULIAN (14), DICK (12), GEORGE (10) and ANNE (8) have an adventure with TIMMY (2) the dog.

Another source suggests that age should only be included if it’s relevant and adds something to the character. This is what publishers like best and will guarantee that your synopsis will be read to the end:

JULIAN (14) has an adventure with his friends DICK, GEORGE and ANNE, as well as TIMMY the dog.

Then there’s the question of whether or not to give the characters’ full names. Advice varies, but at least one source suggests that every character should be given a surname. Even if the author isn’t sure what it is (as apparently Enid Blyton wasn’t!)

JULIAN KIRRIN [or BARNARD] (14), DICK KIRRIN [or BARNARD] (12), GEORGE KIRRIN (10) and ANNE KIRRIN [or BARNARD] (8) together with TIMMY ‘THE DOG’ KIRRIN (2) have an adventure.

I already don’t know what to do, and that’s just the first sentence!

There are however several truths that are universally acknowledged.

  1. Do not print your synopsis in green ink.
  2. Do not use a fancy font. In particular, do not use Comic Sans.
  3. Always include the ending.

I think I’ve got it, I’m ready to go! How will any publisher be able to resist?

The glamorous life of an author …

I thought, when my life-long dream was realised and I held my first book in my hand, that it was going to be different. You know, book signings, award dinners, publishers’ parties … the kind of stuff that authors do.

Instead, let me tell you what this week has consisted of so far! I’ll let you into a secret, a lot of it involves rain …

Image from Pixabay.

On Monday, it started by not being able to get my daughter out of bed to start school. This took about one and a half hours of tears and tantrums (and that was just me). By the time I finished this, I had lost all the time I had set aside to set up my social media posts for the week, and I had also lost the inclination to do them. It’s hard to be happy happy happy, fluffy kittens, pink cupcakes and clouds after a morning spent arguing with an angry teen. I find it hard enough on a normal day to pretend to be sweet and nice. I rushed out a couple of posts and resolved to do better tomorrow. I took my usual walk before lunchtime, I’m trying to do 10,000 steps a day, but this takes time. An hour and a half walking round our boring suburban streets in the rain I had achieved about 8,000 of my 10,000 steps, and lost a further hour and a half of potential writing time. I spent the afternoon editing. I’m finishing off a book which I absolutely loved writing. It has a grouchy heroine, a grumpy hero, and a pink fluffy cupcake cafe which both of them hate. I can almost guarantee that no-one will want to publish it – you know, it’s just not happy, happy, happy, fluffy kittens, pink cupcakes and clouds. I did the final 2,000 steps in the evening as I went to the supermarket for the weekly shop. I may not have got much actual work done, but at least we’ve got enough fresh fruit to see us through the week.

Tuesday was almost as glam as Monday. At least my daughter made it out of bed today! I spent the morning delivering Avon orders in the rain (yes, I supplement my writing income by selling cosmetics. I make more selling cosmetics than I do from my books. I don’t make much selling cosmetics.) and I did get some editing done in the afternoon. At least the deliveries meant that I did my 10,000 steps without a struggle. I tried to channel my happy happy happy vibes and think of entertaining, relevant and witty things to say on social media. I failed. I resolved to do better tomorrow.

Image from Pixabay.

Wednesday? On my authorly “to do” list for Wednesday was “Write blog post. Social media. Finish editing and print out.” Well, let’s see how that went shall we? First, I had to take my husband (in a lot of pain) down to the dentist and wait for him to have a tooth removed, because he wouldn’t be able to drive back. This meant sitting in the car in the pouring rain, worrying about teeth, in the centre of Middlesbrough. It doesn’t get more glamorous than that, does it? When I got back, there were a couple more deliveries to do that I didn’t manage yesterday. In the rain. I noticed that the garden was partially underwater when I got back. Finally, after lunch, I sit at my computer. Now, I will admit that my computer is quite glam. It’s rose gold, very satisfying to type on, and it sits on my lovely wooden desk, in the room we lovingly refer to as “the library”. At my glamorous computer on my satisfyingly bookish desk, I spent rather more time than I should have done agonising over whether my hero should use the F word or not. (The decision was that he should, because it suits his mood. If I ever have an editor, it can be their problem. I am unlikely ever to have an editor, by the way, because no-one in their right minds will publish a book where the heroine is mean to everyone and the hero uses the F word.) By the time I finish agonising over the F word, my husband comes down to say that his mouth is still bleeding and we have to go back to the dentist. I panic (I do that a lot these days), I use the F word myself, and spend another hour in Middlesbrough in the rain, and boy, it really is raining. We drive back on roads that are starting to resemble rivers. I do not write my blog post. Instead, I have a cup of tea, and hope that soon my hands will stop shaking. By the time I have cooked the kids tea, and our tea, and washed up, and had a walk to get those final few steps, I’m done for. No energy left at all. The garden is now completely submerged. I did not write a blog post, I did not do anything on social media, I did not finish editing, I did not print out! I resolved to do better tomorrow.

Image from Pixabay. I had a picture of my own to post, but apparently it’s a security risk.

Thursday. Oh well, there’s always today. Now, if I could just persuade my daughter to get out of bed …

We’re all going a little bit Regency …

Book Review: A Libertine’s Christmas Miracle by Emily Royal.

Last year I made a vow to widen my reading experience. I wanted to try new genres and new authors, and as such I was introduced to the wide and varied delights of Terry Pratchett (I know – how could I never have read any Pratchett?) Robert Harris and Barbara Cartland.

This year I’m moving forward with my reading education, and I’m taking a leap … no, perhaps a genteel spring … into the world of Regency romance. Which is huge, varied and not just Jane Austen. With the amazing popularity of Bridgerton on Netflix, isn’t everybody going a little bit Regency this year?

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay 

I chose a novella by Emily Royal “A libertine’s Christmas miracle” which is part of O Night Divine, a collection of novellas published by Dragonblade publishing. I’ll be honest that I chose it because Emily is a friend, and I therefore knew before I started that I was in for a dramatic plot, a dark hero and some scenes of an adult nature. I didn’t expect a cute puppy called Twinkle, but that’s another story …

Unlike Bridgerton, A Libertine’s Christmas Miracle is not set in the world of the “Ton”, but in a Cornish country house, at Christmas, in the snow. It’s a atmospheric setting for a Christmas romance, and I loved the little details that brought home the feeling of the period. The scents, the sounds, the feel of a country house at Christmas are beautifully evoked:

“The quiet, soft sounds of Pengannon – the longcase clock ticking in the hall, the crackling of the fire and the distant footsteps as the servants rushed to and fro, preparing warming pans.”

Image by Couleur from Pixabay 

Although the story is told largely from the point of view of Alice, the spirited mistress of the house, my favourite character was Susan, her somewhat crotchety spinster visitor. Susan doesn’t hold back from saying what she thinks, and declares that she doesn’t need men to fight her battles. I’d love to have known how her story continued!

An atmospheric opening, reminiscent of Wuthering Heights or A Christmas Carol, a satisfying ending and plenty of mulled wine and a roast goose in between. What more could you ask of a Christmas novella?

I thoroughly enjoyed my foray into Regency romance, and it reminds me that I still have Georgette Heyer on my to-be-read list, and several other novellas in the collection yet to investigate!

Fifty.

This week I have my fiftieth birthday, which feels like a significant turning point.

Image by Else Siegel from Pixabay

I’m not entirely sure how it happened; last week there I was, an optimistic adolescent, dreaming of what the future might hold, and now here I am with the productive years of my life behind me. My own children are adolescents and I hand over the future to them. I’m starting to look backwards at my life; what I have done, and what I haven’t done.

Let’s face it, I think I’ve left it too late to join the Royal Ballet, my first dream as a child, and it’s not looking good for acting with the Royal Shakespeare Company either! I did spend many happy years messing about with amateur dramatics, but I think it’s time to admit that I need to take a step back from that too – I’m too old for the parts I once wanted to play, and sitting in the wings filling out paperwork and trying to keep on top of child protection procedures was too stressful.

Image by Christos Giakkas from Pixabay

I went to University because I loved English Literature, and I took my studies as far as I could before I had to face the fact that I couldn’t take it any further because I didn’t want to move into the teaching side of academia, so I sidestepped into the world of libraries. I loved my work with rare books, I don’t think I was ever happier in a job than cataloguing early printed books in an academic library, but I’ve been out of that work for nearly twenty years, and my qualifications and experience are out of date now.

I did actually achieve my third childhood dream – I am an author – but my dislike of selling myself online means that I’m unlikely to become a proper author; one who makes money from her books. These days it feels like you have to work at becoming a celebrity first and THEN write books, and to the “list of things that I’m not going to be” I can confidently add “a celebrity”! I just want to write, and I’m not going to give that up in the near future, but as for self-promotion … well, I never know what to promote!

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

So, what next? Fifty feels like an end, but it also feels like a new beginning. There’s a blank page in front of me, and for the first time in a long, long while, I don’t know what I’m going to write on it. Perhaps its time to start dreaming about what the future might hold just like I did when I was an adolescent!

Picturing women

I’ve just been writing a piece about one of the characters in my Elsa Simonetti Disneyland Paris novella, “Mistletoe and the Mouse”. The character is a lady in her early sixties. She’s tall, grey, stern and forbidding. Think of Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca and you won’t go far wrong. She was a fascinating character to write, she sprang to life without much input from me at all. However, my problems started when I tried to find some pictures from Pixabay to illustrate her story.

I found that searching for an image of someone like Mrs. Buchan was … difficult. It says a lot about how we picture women over the age of, say, thirty. This is what I found.

Search 1: “Woman”

Inevitably, a very general search returns thousands and thousands of picures of women. However, most of them are also tagged “girl” and they all seem to look like this:

Image by Rondell Melling from Pixabay 

This one had the tags “woman pretty girl hair” which says it all, doesn’t it? Most “women” are well under the age of thirty, it seems.

This wouldn’t do for Mrs. Buchan. I got more specific.

Search 2: “Old woman”

I thought I’d try and remove the “girls” from my search. So I tried “Old Woman” next. Pixabay tells me that old women are either figures of fun:

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay 

Or else they’re ancient and tragic:

Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay 

And they’re inevitably in their eighties at the least. Mrs. Buchan is none of these. I’ll be honest, there were the odd pictures of ordinary women who hadn’t quite reached the age of eighty amongst the “old woman” category, but they tended to be smiling and happy which isn’t the picture I wanted to paint of Mrs. Buchan.

Search 3: “Middle-aged woman”

I should have known better! Mrs. Buchan is too young for “old woman”, so I tried “middle aged”. It’s obviously not an American term, because this is what I overwhelmingly found:

Image by press 👍 and ⭐ from Pixabay 

Yes, it’s a woman from the “Middle Ages.”

Search 4: “Older woman”

Okay, so she’s not “old” and she’s not from the Middle Ages. What term might an American use to describe a woman who isn’t in her twenties, but isn’t in her eighties either? How about “older woman”? Well, there was one page of results. Two of them were women who were older than thirty but younger than eighty. I rather liked this image:

Image by kalhh from Pixabay 

She’s serious-looking, and between the ages of thirty and eighty, but sadly she’s way too glamorous to represent my character. But at least I found one image that wasn’t entirely unacceptable to me as a representation of an older woman. There was also one smiling woman with a dog who might have been in a similar age group, but my character doesn’t have a dog.

Search 5: “Mother and son”

However, the woman-and-dog image gave me another idea. Perhaps I’m barking up the wrong tree … Perhaps rather than a single image of a woman, I should be trying to picture my character in her role as a mother and picture her with her adult son. Well, I think you know how that search ended.

Image by Victoria Al-Taie from Pixabay

Search 6: “Grey woman”

Now I tried thinking laterally. I started by searching for adjectives that described my character. “Stern” provided many pictures of ships, “Forbidding” of roadsigns. I tried something less specific – grey. I describe her clothes, her hair and her house as grey at various points, so what about “grey woman”? That might provide something that provided the right kind of mood and atmosphere, even if the woman is too young. Perhaps if I could find a “grey woman” with her back to the camera, or in silhouette, that might do?

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay 

Well, it’s a great image, but it doesn’t sum up my character. It did nicely sum up how I felt about the search by this point.

Search 7: Doors

So, this is where I gave up. I realised that I wasn’t going to find a suitable picture easily and I didnt have time to spend hours on a blog post that I should have finished last week. So, I decided that as Mrs. Buchan greets James and Belle for the first time at her front door, that I’d look for images of doors instead. And so, Mrs. Buchan came to be represented by this image:

Image by Momentmal from Pixabay

Apparently it’s the best you can hope for if you’re a female aged between thirty and eighty.