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Thursday, 13 November 2014

Now Is All There Is

So, the sequel to 'Aphrodite's Child' was published on 12th November, 2014.  I can't quite believe I've published two books now.  Not that long ago, it was something I thought about – a lot – but I never dreamt I would actually write one novel, never mind two.

For those of you who haven't read either book, my debut novel, 'Aphrodite's Child' is set in Cyprus in the nineties and took inspiration from our posting to RAF Akrotiri in 1991.  I left the ending 'up in the air' as I like novels that allow the reader to imagine their own future for the characters, but so many people asked me if I was going to write a sequel that it got me thinking and I realised I could easily carry on the story.

It was a very different experience from writing the first novel as, when I wrote Aphrodite's Child, I was studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University.  This was a mixed blessing – on the one hand, I had loads of work to do: reading novels, writing essays and reading other students' work – but on the other hand, I had lots of help and positive feedback from all the workshops I had to attend.  While I was writing 'Now Is All There Is', I was very much on my own, which meant that I could get on and just simply write, but I had no help in the form of feedback.

I had built up a good fan base using Facebook and Twitter for 'Aphrodite's Child'.  I realised I had a niche market – people who loved Cyprus; people who had a connection particularly to RAF Akrotiri; people interested in the RAF and the life of RAF wives and people connected to the military in general.  This proved to be a real bonus for me as my readers (mostly women) loved the setting and seemed to appreciate the story.  So, having cemented my relationship with people by communicating directly with them via social media, I found that they must have recommended my book to friends and shared things on Facebook, because I then found I was receiving messages from people unconnected to my 'niche'.  Indeed, I was hearing from people all over the world.  I have a huge following in Turkey for some reason!

To be honest, when I first decided to self-publish, I thought after the initial interest, sales would just die away, but this has not been the case.  'Aphrodite's Child' has continued to sell well and it entered the Top 100 Best Selling books in two categories – Women's Literary Fiction and Literary Fiction/Romance and remains there today.

So, I had lots of people interested in the sequel.  I had many pre-orders and when it was published I had a real 'peak' in my sales!  It was only yesterday that it came out and I've already had one lady read the whole novel and given me a rave review.  Now,  that's what I call a fan!

I was a little worried that my fans of the setting would be disappointed that half the novel isn't set in Cyprus.  But, that's life ... Emily's posting had to come to an end.  I feel that the novel's second setting, Cornwall, is equally loved and atmospheric.  Maybe I'll even gain some new fans who love the Cornish setting.  Who knows?

It's very early days, but I'm pleased with this book.  It's always difficult to write a 'second' novel.  Rather like a second album for a pop star – people have high expectations and expect it to be as good, if not better than the first.  Let's hope 'Now Is All There Is' lives up to its predecessor.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Article in Western Daily Press, Saturday 28/06/14 West Country Life Magazine

A third career in writing changed my life and I've never looked back

By West Country Life  |  Posted: June 28, 2014

Sarah Catherine Knights began her working life as a teacher, but gave that up to become a photographer, a career she still follows in tandem with he writing. The two are perfect for her, she says, so much so that she regards  neither as work
Sarah Catherine Knights began her working life as a teacher, but gave that up to become a photographer, a career she still follows in tandem with her writing. The two are perfect for her, she says, so much so that she regards neither as work
 Comments (0)
I love both my jobs and don't regard them as work. I may be 61 but I have no intention of retiring.
My name is Sarah Catherine Knights and I live in Malmesbury Wiltshire with my husband, Peter and our black labrador, Juno.
I used to be a teacher, but I gave that up to become a portrait photographer and then in 2012, I did an MA in creative writing which started me on my third career as a novelist.
Peter and I have three grown-up children who live in London and Brighton; we are a close family and get together as much as possible. Every year, we all go to a restored lifeboat station in Cornwall for a week. This is a very precious time – it's rare to get everyone together, once your children have left home. Peter and I also go out to our house in Cyprus, two or three times a year. So life is good; I feel as if my third career is the one I should have been doing all my life, but maybe I had to get to this age to have the confidence to do it.
How many times in your life have you wished you'd done something that someone else has done? Well, that was me with writing. Every time I finished a novel, I would think to myself 'I wish I'd written that' or 'I could have written that'. I suppose three children, jobs and general family life got in the way and I never pursued those dreams.
It was only when the children left home and I had more time to think that I realised it was something I really wanted to do. I started googling creative writing courses and found a perfect one near my home. I thought I needed the discipline of a course to force me to write – I had a fear of failure in my personality, which I thought a course could help me with.
It was the best decision I've ever made. Although it was terrifying having my writing talked about in workshops, I loved the feedback I got from everyone. We were all in the same boat so we tried to help and encourage each other. It was such a positive experience that it gave me the confidence to carry on. I found my writing improved greatly through this process.
I had worried that I would be the oldest person on the course by a mile, but the very first person I met when I arrived was older than me and it turned out that 50 per cent of the people were my age. We all came from completely different walks of life, but we all had the same things in common: a desire to write and the time to do it. If I'd done that course in my twenties, I would have found it much more difficult; with age, comes a certain amount of self-belief and a feeling that you've got nothing to lose – you may as well have a go.
So, how do you go about writing a novel? I'd always shied away from long projects in the past, of whatever kind. I'd often get bored half-way through and just want to get it finished and done with. It came as a surprise to me, then, that I was even prepared to contemplate such a large task, but having decided to do it, I stuck with it and saw it through to the end. I published my first novel, Aphrodite's Child, in February this year and it's been fantastic. I often get messages on Facebook or email from readers, saying how much they've enjoyed it and it gives me such a buzz to thinksomething I've created has entertained so many people.
Here are a few tips that I picked up on my course and that I've learned through experience:
Write about what you know. There's no point writing about something you know nothing about – it won't seem real to the reader. So, if you're a barrister, for example, it would be good to write a story that involves the law and court procedure, because you know it so well. I chose to write about an RAF officer's wife going to live in Cyprus. It had happened to me, so I could describe it from experience. The reader knows when something isn't authentic.
One of the first things you should decide is – who is telling the story? This is a key decision – I didn't realise this myself, even though I've read thousands of novels, until I did the course. Are you going to tell it in the first person, the third person or have an omniscient narrator?
The reader has got to want to find out what happens to your main character; if he or she is boring or unlikeable, it's pretty well guaranteed that the reader won't give a damn about him or her, and give up reading.
It sounds corny, but your main character should go on an emotional journey of some sort. They should learn something fundamental about themselves and others.
You should know who your target audience is before you start writing. Be absolutely clear in your own mind – men or women readers? Young women? Older men? Teenagers? If you don't know who you're writing for, your book won't appeal to anyone.
Work out your general plot before you start. You don't need to know everything between A and Z, but if you don't have a plan, the plot will lose its way. Create a time line.
Getting from A to Z is hard. The average novel is 80,000 words. What I did was to not think about the whole novel all the time, it was too daunting. I thought of 'scenes', not even chapters. Scenes that moved the plot on and showed why people were acting in certain ways.
Vary the pace of the novel – sometimes weeks and months can go by in a paragraph and sometimes a few minutes takes three pages to write about. It's a little like photography – sometimes you have a wide angle lens and sometimes you zoom in, to see the detail.
Intersperse your descriptions and reflections with lively dialogue, but don't write speech that tells you nothing. Every conversation must either advance the plot or tell you about the character.
The last thing I will say is there is another big decision to make. Are you going to try to get an agent and wait for that six figure publishing deal or are you going to go down the self-publishing route? There are pros and cons to both ways and they are not mutually exclusive. I went down the self-publishing route and I would thoroughly recommend it. You don't have to wait for anyone; you can put it on the internet and see if anyone wants to read it. You are in complete control of your story, your cover, your marketing. It's hard work but ultimately, very satisfying.
Don't go into writing thinking you're going to become a best-seller and make your millions – you may be lucky, but you probably won't. Go into writing because you have a huge desire to write.
It's difficult facing an empty screen everyday, so you've really got to want to do it, but if you do, I guarantee you'll find it one of the best things you've ever done.
Aphrodite's Child by Sarah Catherine Knights is available from Amazon, £8.68 (ebook £1.99)

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Friday, 25 April 2014

My characters come alive ...

The island of dreams

I recently visited our house in Cyprus for a two week holiday and I found myself looking at places with a different perspective.  My characters, particularly my main protagonist Emily, seemed to invade my thoughts when I was in locations that I wrote into the book.  It was almost as if she'd taken on a life of her own and really existed.

For a start, a newspaper asked me to set up an author pic in Cyprus, so I chose to go to Petra Tou Romiou at sunset and I got my husband to take a picture of me against the backdrop of the famous rocks:

While I was there I could almost see Emily and James wandering across the beach, stopping to build hearts in the sand.  There were so many hearts everywhere – could I see some with an E and a J inside?  It's such a magical place to go to – if you ever visit Cyprus, make it a priority to go there at sunset.

Then I realised that we'd timed our holiday to coincide exactly with the Red Arrows.  They come to Cyprus every year in April to practise their routines.  It obviously wasn't deliberate on our part, but there they were, flying over the peninsular of Akrotiri.  What was fantastic was that someone living at Akrotiri now and who had read the book, invited me to visit the camp (you can't just wander on, even if you are an ex-RAF family).  As we approached the security gate, the Arrows flew directly overhead.  We ended up on one of the beaches and while we were eating lunch, the Reds did another practise routine and low and behold, I was able to take a picture of the heart, a key moment in the book.  If you look carefully, you can just make out the planes at the bottom of the heart on each side.  They made such an impact on Emily when she saw them directly overhead in Aphrodite's Child and once again, I began to believe Emily was in her married quarter garden, right now, looking up.

Later on in the holiday, I stopped at the top of the hill to look down on Curium Bay.  It was sunset and the view was spectacular:

It was at sunset that Emily and Luke walked and talked and came to a pretty important decision on this very beach.  If you look at the picture, they stopped at the middle taverna; could I see a couple walking along the beach, not touching, not looking at each other?

Of course, no I couldn't, but it's strange how characters in a book come alive.  They exist in the author's head, but once they have been imagined, they 'live' within the pages of a book and in the minds of the readers.

It's great to put fictional characters into real places – they can also exist in the air, the sea, the earth of that location.  Like Aphrodite ... she exists in the minds of the people strolling along the beach at Petra Tou Romiou ... people ask her for help to love someone forever and to procreate.

Now, for me, Emily, Luke, Charlie, Amy, James, Sophie and Sam exist on the island – they may be characters from a book, but they live in people's minds and in the imagination forever.

They inhabit the island.  They do.

See you next time.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Post publishing fatigue

Well, there's been a huge break since I last blogged!  My excuse is that I've been a bit busy getting the book published...

I went to a self-publishing conference in London, which completely changed my mind about what I was going to do.  I'd thought while I was doing the MA that I would go down the traditional route and find an agent and publisher, but listening to lots of people that day, I realised how much life has changed.  Publishing is, like everything else, transforming – sure, there are still a lot of authors out there who will want to go down that route and maybe I will in time, but for the moment, I'm going to give self-publishing a go.

It opens up a whole new world to the author; one of control over your book – you choose exactly what you want to do and you go ahead and do it!  It's much quicker than the other route – suddenly your book is 'out there' on a public stage, waiting to be read.

It wasn't an easy process though; people implied that putting your book on Amazon was as easy as uploading something to Facebook.  No, it's not.  I've learned so much in the past few weeks; as the saying goes, it's been a steep learning curve.

I started out trying to do it all by myself – I had a cover photo I'd done in Cyprus and felt was appropriate; I knew enough about formatting, didn't I?  I knew where I wanted the book to go, surely?  Well, no... when it came down to it, I wasn't at all sure how to make my photo go onto a book (you have to consider the back and the spine, of course).  I wasn't sure where I wanted the book to go and there seemed to be all these different platforms and formats required.  I read and read all sorts of advice on the internet and just got more and more confused and stressed!

In the end, I remembered what they said at the conference – this is a business, you have to invest in it.  So I started googling 'help for indie authors' and I found Ben Galley of Shelfhelp:

Ben was great – knowledgeable and patient and he helped me through the process and I would thoroughly recommend him.  I was so relieved that I didn't have to worry about formatting – I didn't want to have to worry that when the book was uploaded, it would come out all wrong.  He advised me about which companies to use and what I had to do for each one and then to crown it all, he helped me come up with a cover to be proud of.  That was an interesting process; I knew what I didn't want, more than what I did want.  He allowed me a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and we eventually came up with the picture, the fonts and the colours that were just right.  I'd never have been able to do this on my own; OK, I'm a photographer, but I'm not a graphic designer and it would have looked unprofessional if I'd done it myself.

So, I went with Kindle Direct Publishing: in the end – I didn't go for their Select Program, as this restricts you to just them and I'd heard about Smashwords: which distributes ebooks to lots of different retailers.  I went with Createspace: for my paperback version.  This is an Amazon company and I've been really pleased with the quality of the book.

 How exciting was that, to see the actual book for the first time?

The great thing about all this is you set your own price – I decided to set mine low for the ebook to start with in order to encourage people to read it.  I know what I'm like when I'm looking for ebooks – the price is very influential.  The price for the paperback seemed rather high at first; I'd written a long book and the number of pages obviously affects the price when you're doing Print on Demand.  I forgot to mention that – nowadays, you don't have to print hundreds of copies of your paperback.  They are printed only when required, so you don't have to spend lots of money up front on books that might not sell.  So the cheapest price I could sell my paperback for was £10, but now Amazon have discounted it and it's only a couple of pounds more than the average book and there's free delivery.  As the author, you can buy it cheaper and of course you don't get any royalties on those copies.  The postage is rather high, so it's a good idea to order a few at a time.

I've called this post, "Post publishing Fatigue" because getting the book on the Internet is just the beginning.  A book on Amazon would sink without trace if you didn't do some serious marketing and that's what I've been trying to do since it was launched.

 I think that's the subject for another Blog post – I'm tired just thinking about it now!  When I think back to October 2012, when I first joined the MA at Bath Spa University with just a seed of an idea in my head, I feel I've come a long way.  The writing was intense and the publishing was difficult but, it's been worth it.

It's been a great start and I look forward to the next few months, when I write the sequel to the novel, publish some short stories and maybe help other indie writers with the daunting task of getting their book 'out there'.  Do ask me about anything...I've been there, done that and got the T-shirt.

See you next time.


Saturday, 26 October 2013

The Island Seduced Her...

So, when I was at Petra Tou Romiou a week or so ago, (better known as Aphrodite's Rock) in Cyprus, I was photographing the sunset when I noticed this girl, simply standing, half submerged in the sea. She looked how I'd imagined the Goddess of Love looked, all those thousands of years ago.

This is the beach Aphrodite was born on.  It just seemed so perfect.  I took this shot and now I'm back home in the UK wondering...

I love the myth of Aphrodite.  She rose, a beautiful fully-formed woman from the sea.  Her birth and life dominates Cyprus.  Her influence is forever there, beckoning lovers to her beach, her birthplace.  She has come to symbolise Love, with her Roman equivalent, Venus, shining down from the sky, looking down on us all.

Emily, my protagonist, begins to feel that Aphrodite's influence is affecting her life.  She arrives on Cyprus, a normal everyday woman and over the course of a few months, she changes dramatically and her life will never be the same again.

Will she find happiness or will her transformation bring her sorrow?

You need to read the book to find out what happens.  All I will say is

...the Island Seduced her.

See you next time.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

The Goddess of Love changed everything...

My protagonist, Emily builds pebble hearts in the sand...

So...I'm writing this blog in Cyprus...soaking up the October sun and visiting the places Emily, my protagonist, haunts.

Last night, we went to Aphrodite's Rock at sunset.  It is the birthplace of Aphrodite, where she rose from the sea, fully formed.  As it is associated with the Goddess of Love, people often leave love tokens hanging from trees, initials scraped in rock and pebble hearts in the sand.  Wherever you look, there are hearts of all sizes and shapes.  People go there with hope...for eternal love and happiness.

The sunset last night was stunning.  We were expecting to be the only ones on the beach but there were quite a few people there, just standing and staring at the sun as it dipped beneath the surface of the sea.  It fell so quickly, but the colours were stunning.  It really was a magical moment.

In my book, Emily builds hearts there... I won't give too much away – I want you to read the book! But like Aphrodite, she is 'reborn' on the island with a hope for happiness.  You'll have to read the novel to see if her dreams come true.

I'd love this photo to be on the book cover as for me it sums the book up.  I know publishers have their own ideas – so if I ever get a deal, I'm sure I won't get my choice...but in my mind, this is it.  I already see it now in my head with the tagline – The Goddess of Love changed everything.

Who might happen?

See you next time?

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Simple things...

I haven't blogged for a while – the reason being my submission for my MA.  We have to give in 40,000 words on 30th September and although I've had it ready for weeks now, I've been reading and re-reading it for the past two weeks, driving myself slightly round the bend.  I began to know the words off by heart almost, which is a danger in itself, as you then miss blindingly obvious mistakes, typos, etc.  But...I've now printed it out and I feel I've done all I can to it.

I've also printed out the entire novel.  I was very impressed with my printer, which just seemed to churn it out without making an issue out of it.  I'd convinced myself that it would run out of ink, chew up the paper and do everything possible to annoy me, but everything went smoothly and I now have a huge pile of printed sheets sitting in front of me.  I can't believe that I've written so much – I know it's quality not quantity, but I'm still impressed with myself!  Whether I will be, when I've read it all through, is another matter.  It seems to take on a different substance when you read something on the page, rather than on the screen.  It's much easier to see mistakes for a start, but it's more than that – it becomes something separate, something tangible; on the screen, it's just an extension of your fingers.

I'm planning to go through the entire novel now looking for typos and other simple mistakes, but also trying to make sure that my protagonist's emotional landscape has some sort of coherence.  This is so easy to talk about, but so difficult to do.  I thought that I'd done it, but my tutor at Bath Spa has told me I haven't achieved it yet – I'm using the close third person narrative but I've got to get inside her head more – otherwise the reader won't be able to identify with her and empathise with her.  I think, and hope that it's just a question of tweaking rather than re-writing.  Time will tell...

So, thank you for reading my blog.  I hope it finds you well and if you are writing, like me, I hope you have achieved something today!

Just printing the novel out seems like an achievement to me today.  Simple things...