Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Season's Greetings!

I'm pretty much on target with completion of the first draft of the next Esme novel which I'd planned to get done by this month, so I'm a happy writing bunny

(the idea being that I could indulge in Christmas and let the subconscious writer brain buzz away unmolested ready to spring into action for the first editing stage in the new year).

Thanks so much to all of you who have contributed in some way to my Engage Write Brain blog over the past year, either by adding your comments or by tweeting and re-tweeting posts.

So... I shall now get busy with present wrapping, singing carols, cooking yummy things to eat while I wish you a very Happy Christmas and a productive and exciting New Year!

See you in 2016!

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Virtual meets reality

I joined the latest 'real' Devon Book Club event at the weekend in Crediton. Deliciously entitled, The Indie Bookshop and Cake Crawl, it's the fourth one which has taken place since the idea took shape earlier in the year.

The original concept for the Devon Book Club was that the club be a virtual one, where people could join via the readers website Goodreads, to share books and chat over the internet. But it has now taken on an additional dimension when one member asked the club's founder, Ian Hobbs, "so, where do you meet?"

Ian's immediate response was "online!" But then he thought, why not do both? Now at regular intervals, authors and readers meet together to talk books and eat cake (and a cuppa too, of course - we are in England, after all).

On a wet and grey Saturday morning we met, initially, in Crediton Library where we learned a little about the new initiative for Devon's libraries - that of the creation of Libraries Unlimited, a mutual 'not-for-profit' organisation which comes into being from April 2016 to run Devon's libraries instead of Devon County Council.  Under the new arrangements, the mutual will be eligible to access grants and other funding options and, as a charity, will also benefit from changes to their tax status, That can only be good news if there's more money available for buying books! You can read more about the new arrangements, along with the team's enthusiasm for the future,  HERE.

Then it was time to meet the four guest authors, Kathy Shuker, Virginia Baily, Elizabeth Ducie and Michael Jecks . Each gave a short speech about themselves and their writing, before we donned our coats and headed off in the rain, with Andrew Davey, from Crediton Community Bookshop, acting as 'Pied Piper' as we trooped up the high street to the bookshop proper for coffee, cake and good old natter.

It was a very enjoyable way to throw a bit of sunshine on what would otherwise have been a very dreary day!


If you live or work in Devon, or even if you simply love the county, why not pop over to the Devon Book Club Facebook page or Goodreads group page and join us. Then, having got 'virtually' involved, next time we have a Bookshop and Cake Crawl, you might be able to join us for real!

Friday, 16 October 2015

Snippets of advice

It's been a head-down-and-write sort of a month. Not all novel writing, though, as other writing commitments have imposed upon my time. But with all those out of the way, I'm looking forward to a surge ahead, with a plan to complete the first draft of my latest Esme novel by the beginning of December. There - I've said it out loud. I'll have to stick to it now!

During this 'other writing' process, I was searching amongst my files for something and came across a folder of clippings from past issues of Writing Magazine. Over the years, some of the most helpful and inspiring articles I've read were interviews with authors, which Writing Magazine does rather well, and I've built up quite a collection of them. As I'm sure you'd agree, I've always found reading about the different ways writers tackle their work to be most enlightening.

This folder, however, was particularly relevant to me at the moment, as it was full of small cuttings of authors' comments about the novel writing process. I'd taken a highlighter to those quotes I'd liked best.

Some were practical, "when I'm researching I make notes and then I have little plot ideas that I write in the margin"  or, "before turning off my computer, I write down what's going to happen tomorrow in the story." 

Some were more philosophical, "you've got to come up with a story that means something to you, that comes from within."

One, of which I'm especially fond, likened the process to eating a meal. "The opening of a novel should be a delicious and irresistible appetiser, rather than a heavy main course."

Another was very heartening to read, as the author admitted, "Often I end up going round in circles." Tell me about it!

One author said, "the best piece of advice I ever got was, if you are going to be a writer, get your head down and write."

So, if that's not a stern prompt that I should stop blogging and get on with that half-written first draft, I don't know what is!

But I shall end with my favourite quote and one with which I strongly identify. However much planning and preparation I do before I start (and I do loads), it's always the case that, "the story takes life once you start writing."

That, for me, is the most exciting part of writing a novel.

Do you have a favourite quote from an author about their writing process?

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Books, teddies and nostalgia

I heard announced on BBC Radio 4 yesterday that the new series of Desert Island Discs was beginning later this week.

If you're reading this outside the UK and not familiar with it, it's a radio programme conceived in 1941, where a guest is invited to choose 8 records that they'd take with them to a desert island. In between listening to the tracks, the guest and the programme's presenter (currently Kirsty Young) discuss key people and events that have influenced and inspired them in their life.

I'm sure plenty of people have applied the same criteria to books and as I began mentally compiling my own list, I thought back to my earliest forays into the world of children's literature.

Having been a primary school teacher, I feared many of my memories might have been usurped by favourite picture-book classics but as I chewed the end of my metaphorical pencil, I glanced across the room and spotted an old friend who immediately reminded me of a particular set of books I held dear - my Rupert Bear Annuals. Inspired by Snowdonia, The Weald in Sussex and East Devon, they told stories set in magical countryside or wonderful seaside locations featuring Rupert Bear and his friends Pong-Ping the Pekinese, Podgy Pig, Bill Badger, Ming the Dragon and the little Chinese girl, Tiger Lily .

The very first Rupert annual came out in 1936, apparently, followed by 77 others right up until 2012. I think I may have just the one. Somewhere...

My 'old friend', if you're wondering, is none other than my very own Rupert Bear, (pictured right) made lovingly in the 1950s by my great-aunt to her personal design, based on the drawings from the Daily Mail's comic strip. I've had him since I was a toddler and although my great-aunt made him a change of clothes in the late 1960s (he used to wear a fetching green pullover with green plaid trousers and matching tie), he's worn pretty well since, despite all the years of cuddles.

My great-aunt made all her great-nieces and nephews Rupert Bears. Each one was quirkily different and we played with our charges in a variety of ways. My sister and I would gaze on with horror as two of our cousins (both boys) would fling their Ruperts around the room in derr-ing do "adventures".

All this reminiscing was no doubt intensified by an article I read this week in October's issue of Family Tree magazine, by Derek Tait. Entitled Life Through a Lens, he stresses the importance of nostalgia and old family photographs, and shares some of his own. He's written several books about childhood memories of the 1950s, the 1960s and 1970s, which I shall definitely look out for.

And while we're on the subject of 1950s childhood, I can thoroughly recommend the charming memoir, Cabbage and Semolina, by Cathy Murray. As well as a delightful and entertaining read, it might be the inspiration you need to record your own childhood memories.

So, it just leaves me to finish with an old family photograph of my own. A picture of me, appropriately carrying my grand-dad's Box Brownie camera case. Ahhhh, bless...

Come on, you must have heaps of lovely childhood memories to share. Let's hear them!

Friday, 14 August 2015

Step into my world

Prince Rupert Street, Shrewsbury
As my first Esme novel was inspired by family history and my ancestors hail from Shropshire, it seemed appropriate to set BLOOD-TIED in the county. With the historic town of Shrewsbury, numerous outlying villages, the nearby canal network and the wild landscape of The Long Mynd to chose from, it had potential for a wide variety of scenes.

The Long Mynd
But should I change the locations into fictional places or stick with their real names? In the end I opted for a mixture of both. Shrewsbury became Shropton (in fact, I'm not sure that the county town of Shropshire wouldn't be better named Shropton, i.e. Shrop-town!) and The Long Mynd, by contrast, retained its identity.

When it came to writing THE INDELIBLE STAIN, the inspiration had come from reading about 

© Peter Keene
19th century sailing ships transporting convicts to Australia. I decided I needed a coastal scene with dramatic cliffs from which my victim would fall.
The area around Hartland in North Devon was a perfect choice and I used a tiny former port for many of the scenes, re-naming it Warren Quay so I could add extra houses and reinstate the harbour the real location had once had, until it was washed away in a violent storm in 1896.

I'm now immersed in the first draft of the third Esme mystery, as yet untitled, and my mind is buzzing as I start to match my scenes with places. So, without giving too much away, I'll share a couple of photos with you of possible locations. That's all I'm saying for now!

What's your preference for settings? Do you like reading about real places or fictional ones? Do you have a favourite book set in a place you know and love? I'd be interested to hear your views.

Friday, 17 July 2015

How to save your writing sanity.

I was on a panel of SilverWood authors at the Penzance Literary Festival last week, answering questions on being an Indie Author. As part of the festival's Publishing Day, the event had been billed as a way to "pick up tips and avoid the pitfalls" in self-publishing.

The hour flew by and questions came thick and fast, leading from one subject to another until the audience must have reeled from so much information spinning around the room.  I can hardly remember now what questions were asked so I hope there was lots of note-taking!

This week, back at my desk and hard at it with writing the next novel, I thought of a great tip I could have passed on, relevant to all writers, whether indie or otherwise, and that's the keeping of a writing journal.

Now if that sounds like a lot of unnecessary writing when all you want to do is get on with the "real stuff", then stay with me for a moment, while I make the case for it being the way to save your sanity.

I first came across the idea of a writing journal when I read best selling author Elizabeth George's excellent how-to book Write Away not longer after I'd started writing. At the beginning of each novel, she starts a new journal in which she records her thoughts and feelings about the writing process. This is isn't a notebook of her ideas, plot, character etc., although that comes into it, but it's primarily about what's buzzing around in her head while she's actually in the throes of writing her latest work.

In Write Away, she quotes from her journals at the beginning of each chapter and for a novice writer, her words were of great comfort. She says things like: "What on earth am I doing pretending to be a writer?" and "Writing continues to be a scary proposition for me, as I don't see myself as particularly talented..."  To me, realising that even best selling authors have moments of doubt, gave me hope.

But she also shares the thrills as well as the angst: "Yesterday a most extraordinary thing happened... all of a sudden in the middle of a scene I had the most amazing moment of inspiration." Don't we just love it when that happens!

When I started to write The Indelible Stain, I decided I would also keep a journal. It wouldn't be something I'd slavishly write every day (I already write a daily diary, a sort of "ship's log", and have done for some 24 years) but if anything about writing was either bugging me or I had something to celebrate, I would write it down. Being able to have a good rant on the page can clear the air in my head and recording my buoyant mood after receiving a good review or a message from an enthusiastic reader helps puts things into perspective if I've had a tough writing spell, or I've felt overwhelmed by how much social media I have or haven't done that week!

As I grapple with my current novel and look back in awe at the research, the plotting and the note-making I did for The Indelible Stain and begin to doubt my ability to write another good book, I only have to dig out my writing journal and look back to the time I was in the middle of writing The Indelible Stain to remind me not to fret, that I experienced exactly the same wobbles last time around.

So, having reassured myself that, yes, I can do this all over again, I'd better get back to writing that novel before my confidence ebbs...

Do you have any clever tips to keep you from throwing in the towel in despair? I'm sure there are many writers out there who'd love to know what they are! 

Monday, 15 June 2015

Writing to a standstill

You know how it is. You're in the zone, hunched over the keyboard, on a roll, writing away for all you're worth and when you look up hours have passed and you haven't moved from your desk. Great, from a production point of view. Not so great from a health & fitness point of view.

Some while ago, a fellow writer posted on Facebook that they'd bought themselves a Fitbit® in an effort to ensure they moved more often. Not having ever heard of Fitbit® but uncomfortably conscious of my inactivity when in writing mode (not to mention the gentle but inexorable weight gain) I decided this was something I had to find out more about.

When I read about the system, I added a Fitbit® "Zip" to my birthday list and now my little lime-green friend (other colours are available...) goes everywhere with me.

My lime-green friend - showing his tongue
sticking out, because I've been inactive for too long!

As well as being a pedometer - monitoring my step-count and distance walked - it also logs how many calories I've burned, as well as any 'active minutes' I do, such as going for a brisk walk.

When I sync the device to the app on my laptop, the data is recorded on to my 'dashboard' where I can also log my food intake, any other activities (anything from gardening to Pilates) and keep a track of my overall progress.

You can set goals for yourself, including losing weight, when it will automatically re-calculate your daily calorie allowance accordingly, and when you reach your goals it congratulates you and sends you badges! (I'm easily pleased!)

I would like to emphasise at this point, that I don't have shares in the company...

Dashboard showing my mega-steps day!

The set-up works on a weekly rotation so your daily steps contribute to your week's goal of 70,000 (see reference below to 10,000 steps per day). Please indulge me, if I share with you my achievement of last Monday when I clocked up a mammoth 28,685 steps walking part of the South West coast path in Cornwall, which, as you can see from the photograph below, is pretty challenging!

A section of the challenging SW coast path,
Lansallos to Polperro, Cornwall.

My only gripe with the system is that I have to sync my tracker with a laptop computer or PC as Wi-Fi compatibility is limited. Or, to put it another way, my phone isn't sophisticated enough and my iPad too old! (Later iPad versions and other mobile phones do have the appropriate connectivity.) This means when I'm away I can't upload my efforts until I get home. Fortunately the Zip stores up to 7 days worth of data.

Now, here's the significant bit from a writer's perspective. A few years ago there was a buzz in the press about the British Heart Foundation's recommendation that we should all do 10,000 steps every day for a healthy heart (click here to read the BBC article). So it's sobering to discover, that if I get stuck in to a writing task at my laptop, it can get to half way through the day and I might only have managed 300 steps!

I'm amazed at how motivating it's been to have my Zip - it really does prompt me to getting up off my backside and GET ACTIVE! 

... which is fine as long as I don't get so motivated to move, I forget to allocate enough time for writing!

Thursday, 14 May 2015

The novel before the novel

Backstory is a critical part of novel writing. The clearest dictionary definition I've read was in Jan Baynham's blogpost on the subject, Backstory. What is it?, in which she defines backstory as:
 "The experiences of a character or the circumstances of an event that occur before the action or narrative." 

Therefore, what's gone before the book begins helps define the characters who the reader will meet in the story, as well as providing the context in which those characters appear at the start of the novel.

The accepted advice is to avoid dropping backstory into the narrative in chunks which slow down the story. It's this consideration which is the subject of Jan's post.

As an author of mysteries, however, my use of backstory is as a critical and considerable part of my planning process. Famously, crime writer Minette Walters said she never plans her novels but just sits down and writes, remarking it would be boring to know in advance what happens in the end (though in an interview with Shots Magazine, she does admit to spending time building her characters).

Unlike Ms Walters, when I set out to write a novel, I do have to know what secret will be exposed in the story before I begin (though I have been know to change my perpetrator during the writing process). In fact, I need to actually plot the backstory in some detail before I'm able to start plotting the novel itself.

Through this plotted backstory, I explore the motivation of my characters and gauge an insight into those characters' reactions to the secret being revealed, which in turn helps me decide on the sequence of events for the novel I'm about to write. This pre-plot also acts as a 'cross-check' reference to ensure that what happens in the novel is a logical and credible continuum of what's happened in the past.

So by the time I've worked all that out, rather than ending up with a simple backstory, I've pretty much got the plot of a whole novel - a novel which never gets written!

While I was writing my first novel, Blood-Tied, I sought advice from author, Margaret James. After she'd read the synopsis and the first few chapters, she said she was intrigued by my protagonist Esme Quentin's backstory and asked whether I'd considered writing the pre-quel to Blood-Tied instead. "But you probably don't want to do that," she (quite rightly) surmised!

Later, as the novel progressed and backstories of other aspects of the novel were revealed, my husband pointed out that these too served as separate plots in their own right, even suggesting that I could use one to write another, completely different, novel. "That's no good," I protested. "It would mean that anyone who read that novel, would already know the secret behind what happens in Blood-Tied!" Besides, it occurs to me now, I'd have to write a backstory for the backstory and I could end up disappearing up my own... well, you know what I mean.

Does this happen to writers whose plots emerge from a series of linear events, I wonder? But then, no character operates in a vacuum, they all need backstory - it makes them who they are, so even if the backstory exists in the author's subconscious, it will still influence the plot. As someone once said, we are all products of our own history. (I think they were the words of a genealogist which, given the subject matter of my mysteries, I find particularly relevant!)

But I don't think I'm likely to find any time soon that I can do away with my double-plot approach to writing. That's OK - I enjoy doing it. It's just that it takes such a long time!

So, writers reading this, how much backstory to you write beforehand? Could it be the bones of a different novel? Have you ever written a backstory and then decided it would make a better novel than the one you were planning? Or do you "sail by the seat of your pants" and rely on your subconscious backstory oozing its way to the fore as you write? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Stop! Smell those flowers!

I watched a news report on TV recently where a group of teenagers agreed to switch off their mobile phones and not use social media for two weeks. For some it was complete torture and most didn't last the course. Even those with the best intentions gave in before the fortnight was up. The reason they gave for abandoning the challenge was their anxiety at not being 'in the loop' about what was happening amongst their peers.

What I found disquieting was one girl who said she hadn't known what to do with the time she'd freed up! On a more positive note (though still with worrying implications), another said she'd finally got around to reading a book she'd not had time to do so before, because ordinarily she'd be texting or interacting on Facebook.

Writers, especially indie-writers, can become similarly focused with creating their author platform, marketing and social networking, and it's easy to get carried away with the need to be 'out there' at every opportunity. Plenty has been written about the way it can consume time and take over your life.

An article by Joshua Graham on Jan Friedman's blog advocates lists as a way of keeping control and several writers on Ann Marie Meyer's blog give their own suggestions.

Linda Gillard, in her interview on the Alliance of Independent Authors' blog goes so far as to say, "No thanks, I'd rather be writing!" Though she's not completely without an online presence, with a website and her Facebook author page. Read what she says, here.

So by all means get those lists sorted and set your social media priorities but, as the precious and fleeting spring blooms lift their heads, don't forget to give yourself time to "stop and smell
 the flowers!"

The 'Primrose Path' in my garden

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

The Scrivener Experience

I decided that when I started writing my next Esme mystery that I'd take a break from the old typewriter (joke!) and try out the writers' software tool Scrivener.

The program was written in the UK with a specific aim to help authors when writing long creative texts. Originally built for Mac users it's now available for Windows too.

I downloaded the trial version some while ago but hadn't really spent much time on it until recently. Fortunately, (and sensibly) the trial period is not measured in real time but by usage time, so you get 30 non-consecutive days to play around with it before having to decide whether to buy a licence to adopt it permanently.

One of the reasons I was drawn to the program after seeing a sample, was the nifty cork-board facility. As an index card user in ye olde fashioned way of doing things, this really appealed. I plan out my scenes on cards by writing a sentence at the top of each to summarise the content, adding more detail below. These I use as prompts for when I begin writing the novel proper. The Scrivener system allows me to work in exactly the same way but with oh-so much more.

I can use colour coding on my 'cards' (for different settings, alternative POVs etc.) and - a particular favourite - I can change the order of the scenes by simply dragging the 'cards' around on the screen, which a lot less hassle than using the paper version and having to rub out my pencilled notation in the corners and re-number everything!

Once the scenes are decided, click on the card you want to work on in the list on the left-hand side and a blank page will open up ready for you to write the scene's content. You can add new scenes at any time and write them in whichever order you wish. Great for authors who like to write out of sequence.

The list on the left, known as the binder, also holds every other sort of file you might wish to create during the writing process - character files, research information, settings, photographs, maps etc. - and a bin for your rejected work, which is only emptied when you're ready.

Once your scenes are written, it takes a few clicks of the mouse to compile all the individual pieces of writing into the full piece of work, as opposed to the long-winded cut 'n' paste procedure I've used in the past when writing in Word.

However, Word is not completely redundant, as should you still want to use it (and I do prefer Word's thesaurus than the online version linked to Scrivener) it's apparently possible to import Word files into Scrivener, though don't ask me how yet - I'm still a beginner!

These are only the basics and I'm still finding my way around the many clever tricks the program can do. One extra bonus for me is the ability to organise my thoughts, notes and ideas into an easy-find, easy-read format. Usually I'm in danger of drowning in reams of paper, notebooks full of disconnected scribbles and computer printouts. Although I did start out that way (which I always is a good way to get the writing brain engaged) now that I'm up and running I've been able to transfer the key information over to Scrivener files - a useful process in itself, enabling me to filter through the chaos and sift out irrelevant information.

There's a heap more I've yet to discover, I'm sure but, as the tutorial says, many authors don't go any further than learning the basic elements - it still serves as a very useful tool.

If you fancy taking a look for yourself, you can find out more by watching the demonstration video below or taking a look at Scrivener's website.


(If you have any problems with the video link, you'll find it on YouTube or via Scrivener's website.)

If you use Scrivener yourself and would like to share any tips or experiences, I'd be most interested to hear from you.


I've just come across a genealogy website called The Armchair Genealogist, advocating using Scrivener to write a family history, so I'm just nipping across there now to read how I might get even more use out of my new writing tool!

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The creaking TBR list

All through January I kept getting prompts from reading websites suggesting I set a reading target for 2015. Are you kidding? I put myself under enough pressure as it is, conscious of all the wonderful reading matter around me waiting for attention - family history magazines, novels, non-fiction books (novel writing research), gardening magazines, interesting blog posts...

But book bloggers and other avid readers seem happy to give themselves targets.

Jo Barton, on her book blog, Jaffareadstoo, has set herself several challenges, with the intention, I imagine, of ensuring she encounters a wide variety of reading matter.

There is The Eclectic book challenge (e.g. an autobiography, a debut novel, a romantic comedy), a Round The World Challenge (books set in different countries) and a Just For Fun Challenge (books from her own bookshelf).

But I particularly liked the concept of her 50 Books Challenge, a list which includes; a book set in the future, a book from childhood, a book that was originally written in a different language or a book based on a true story. Why not pop across to her website (later - when you've read the rest of this post!) and get some ideas.
Books galore at the Cullompton Book Festival last year.

Lots of Goodreads readers set themselves targets. There's even a group called Novel Books & Reading Challenges which describes itself as a "one stop, multi genre all-you-can-read book club."

It occurred to me that to be so prolific these readers must have some sort of clever strategy (unlike me!) which keeps them focused.

I wondered if they worked religiously through a list without deviation, whether they alternate fiction and non-fiction, crime and romance, literary and genre. Do they read one book at a time? Or have several on the go at once?  Do they read specific reading matter at particular times of the day?

How do they fit reading around 'life'? Does cleaning the loo 'earn' an hour's indulgent read? Is lunchtime sacrosanct reading time? When they curl up with a book do they take the phone off the hook and pin a DO NOT DISTURB sign on the front door?

If I do have a target for 2015, it must be to make more effective use of my reading time as I'm starting to feel inadequate!

So - how do you organise your reading? Go with the flow? Or follow a plan?

Have you set yourself a target for 2015? Do you have any reading challenges? Do you belong to a book club, either online or in person?

Have you any helpful suggestions of strategies in tackling your TBR list which have worked for you?

If so, I'd love to hear them.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

What's in a name?

I've had the subject of names on my mind recently since embarking on the third Esme mystery and gathering together the characters who'll appear in the novel.

Some writers change characters' names several times along the way while they 'get to know them'. I've read of one author who doesn't choose names at the outset at all but uses a series of Xs or Ys in his manuscript instead. But I have to have a name for my character before I can even begin. So choosing the right name is important.

Names can say much about a character even before they leap into action on the page. Consider the different preconceptions generated by the names Bartholomew and Wayne, or Gladys and Zoe, for example.

Nancy Kress, in her book 'Dynamic Characters', suggests that characters' names reflect their parents' choices. She points out that parents who decide on the names Susan Mary have a very different world view compared to those who choose to call their daughter something more flamboyant like Anastasia or quirky like (Nancy's suggestion) Rainbow Sweetgrass. And what about the reaction of those characters to their name? Do they hate having a plain name and long for an exotic one? Do they love being 'different' or yearn to be 'ordinary'? The answers could help with character development or even give the writer an idea in which direction the story could go.

Some names offer a clue as to the era in which a character was born, something aptly demonstrated recently while I was helping transcribe school admission records for Shropshire Family History Society. The first batch spanned the 1940s so names such as Dorothy, Joan, Hilda, Raymond and Dennis featured. This week it was Lily, Elsie and Henry, in a list dating from 1906.

But some names endure across the ages and are more difficult to pigeon-hole. A survey of 13th century Essex parish records put William as the most popular boy's name and in other areas surveyed it remained in the top ten for at least the next three centuries. By the 1950s it had become less well used until rediscovering popularity in a 2001 list. For girls, Ann or Annie spanned the centuries as one of the most consistent popular girl's names, from the 1700s right through to the 20th century.

Other names have dropped completely out of usage. The name Rohesia, which I used for a key character in my recent novel, The Indelible Stain, was number nine in the 'most popular' of girl's names around 1250. It's a Latinised form of the name Rose but it's not a name you hear these days (unless you know different, of course!).

The advice when choosing characters' names for your story or novel is never to have two starting with the same letter, so as to avoid confusion. When I wrote Blood-Tied I named Esme's sister Elizabeth without thinking (I seem to have a fixation for names beginning with E for some reason). Before I realised, I'd used the name to demonstrate the particularity of Elizabeth's character - that she never shortened her name to Liz or Lizzie, but always insisted on being known by her full name, Elizabeth. But in the event, rather than having to change it, the error proved serendipitous as it provided me with a very important plot point which I would never have thought of otherwise (and if you don't know what I meant, you'll have to read the book to find out!).

So, on that note, if you'll excuse me - I'd better get back to consulting my Oxford Concise Dictionary of First Names.

If you're a writer, how do you choose your characters' names? Do you, like me, need to know what they are at the outset or do they come to you later in the draft?
And what about surnames? Do you stick a pin in the phone book? Do you scan the cast lists in the Radio Times?
Do you have any good tips for choosing names? Please do share them in the comments box below.