Why I am training to become a web designer

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A year ago today I had my book launch for The Rival. One of those dream evenings - at Waterstones Covent Garden, no less - when all my friends and loved ones got together and we drank prosecco and ate cake in the shape of my book cover. It’s a night I’ll never forget. A true milestone moment - something I’ll always look back on with huge gratitude.

some of the best bits by far have been the other authors I’ve met, the community of publishing professionals I’ve worked with and the clarity it has given me on my ‘dream’ career

It’s true what they say - being published has changed my life. But not necessarily in the way I expected. If I’m honest, I don’t suppose I really knew what to expect. I didn’t really think that far ahead. But with a year’s hindsight, I can see that some of the best bits by far have been the other authors I’ve met, the community of publishing professionals I’ve worked with and the clarity it has given me on my ‘dream’ career.

I love writing. I should say here very strongly that I have no intention of giving it up!! I’m currently working on my edits for book 3 and already have two other book ideas sketched out. But it has its challenges. It’s lonely and unreliable and stressful. So much about publishing is out of your hands - not least whether or not your book will actually sell more than ten copies.

I have sold more than ten copies, but even so, I am a control freak and for my own self esteem I know I need to feel in control of at least some element of my career. I’ve had a ‘portfolio’ career for a while now - with a mix of revenue streams - and it really suits my personality. I like the variety, and I find it gives me a sense of security that I need as a freelancer (I’m a Capricorn, what can I say?). I also know that the life of a full-time writer is not for me. It’s too solitary, too unstable, too introspective.

Daphne starts school next week (that’s another post in itself!). In my head this was always the deadline by which point I wanted to have decided on a new ‘career’ - something that would have longevity, that I could do alongside writing. I didn’t know what that would be, I only knew that I didn’t want to go back to journalism or content marketing. If my book had been a global bestseller and I’d sold the film rights and money was no longer a concern, I probably would have started doing some volunteer work just to make sure I didn’t go completely mad. But although I’m grateful to have earned a really nice income from writing over the past two years, it is certainly not yet enough to live off. I have to combine it with something else. And finally I have found that ‘something’.

I’ve had a blog since the long lost days of Livejournal and one of my favourite things to do was to redesign it

I have always loved fiddling with website designs. I’ve had a blog since the long lost days of Livejournal and one of my favourite things to do was to redesign it, change templates, add clever little bits of code and functionality. I probably enjoyed that more than the actual blogging, if I’m honest. I know, this is quite weird. Most people hate this stuff. But I find it really satisfying (and frustrating too - but ultimately satisfying!) and over the years I have found myself designing websites for a few friends. It became a bit of a hobby really. When I had my PR business, we paid a web design agency to build us a site but then about a year in I decided I didn’t like it and I rebuilt the entire website myself. 

As a journalist I was quite an early adopter of all-things digital and was one of the first to move across to working online from magazines. I knew all about SEO way back in 2004, and I’ve worked online ever since, whether that’s doing content marketing for clients, or social media or digital PR. I find the internet endlessly fascinating.

But I’ll be honest - I never thought I could be a web designer. I don’t have a design background. I’m very much a words person. I only have very basic coding knowledge, and it’s all self-taught.

But times have changed. Website design platforms have evolved.

Last year, I switched my entire blog and website over from Wordpress to Squarespace, an online web design platform that allows you to build pretty much any kind of website without any knowledge of coding. And then a whole new world opened up to me: a world of Squarespace web designers, who only build websites using this platform. I won’t bore you to death with the reasons that I left Wordpress after using it and defending it vigorously for years, but suffice to say that I now love Squarespace. I started researching, and I realised that so many freelancers were making a living offering Squarespace web design services. And I thought: why couldn’t that be me too?

Imposter syndrome tried to put me off, but thankfully I’ve managed to silence it! I’m currently doing an intensive course to make sure I’m up to speed with everything that Squarespace offers, and to nail down the fundamentals of what makes a good website. And I intend to officially launch my new business - Charlotte Duckworth Studio - in January.

To begin with, I want to focus on building affordable websites for authors. Many web designers will charge around £2000 to build a simple website, which is understandably out of reach for most writers. It feels like there’s a real gap in the market for this service - affordable, simple but beautiful websites for authors. In fact, I know there’s a gap, because as soon as I started talking about it with my author peers, the response was a resounding ‘yes, please offer this service, I need it!’.

So many authors hate tech, and yet having your own website really is becoming more crucial

Better still, as an author myself, I know exactly what you do and don’t need on your website. So many authors hate tech, and yet having your own website really is becoming more crucial - not least so that you can build your mailing list. With time, I’d also like to offer an even more affordable online course option, to teach authors how to use Squarespace to build their own website. I’d also like to offer website audits, and short but sweet courses on content marketing for authors and building your mailing list - but that will be further down the line!

I can’t tell you how excited I am to get started. I started my training earlier this week and am already absolutely loving it. Better still, I already have two customers signed up, and I haven’t even launched yet.

It’s exciting to be starting something new, and also absolutely terrifying. Much like writing!

It’s funny - I really feel like this career option would not have occurred to me if it hadn’t been for my book deal, and for all the authors I’ve met since I got published. In that way, I feel more grateful to have a book deal than ever before. To be able to continue to work with one of the loveliest communities I have ever worked with in a slightly different capacity is a serious privilege.

It’s exciting to be starting something new, and also absolutely terrifying. Much like writing!

So, if you are an author and you’d like to hear more - please head over to my shiny new website and sign up to my mailing list. As a thank you, you’ll get 10% off any product or service when I officially launch in January. EEEEK!

You can order my debut, The Rival, here. Unfollow Me is out now!

How I feel after solo parenting for three weeks

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I’m going to be honest here, when Oli and I first discussed the possibility of him doing the entire run of the Edinburgh Festival this year (he usually does one or two weeks at most), leaving me alone to look after Daphne (4), I thought I would be Absolutely Fine. He’s done it twice before since she was born – for shorter periods – and although it was hard work, it wasn’t that bad.

I even relished the opportunity of some more one-on-one time with her. We have a slightly unusual set up in that Oli looks after her more than I do (he’s a professional singer so he mostly works in the evenings).

Before he went off to Edinburgh our parenting set up looked like this: 

Monday – I work at my part-time job, Daphne does half a day at nursery, then Oli picks her up at lunchtime and they do the supermarket shop together/go to the park

Tuesday – Daphne is at nursery 9-5, Oli and I work from home

Wednesday – I work at my part-time job, Oli looks after Daphne all day while I’m at the office

Thursday – Daphne is at nursery 9-5, Oli and I work from home

Friday – Daphne is at nursery 8-1, I pick her up and usually do something with her in the afternoon while Oli works if necessary

As you can see from this schedule, Oli has done significantly more parenting than me over the past year (we are usually both around at weekends, and if Oli is working, it will be in the evening). It made sense, because his work is much more flexible and irregular, and my part-time job is fixed office hours. Also, Oli is just Much Better at looking after and entertaining Daphne than I am.

But… I used to get so jealous. I really did. Every now and then I’d feel so sad that I wasn’t getting to spend as much time with her, just the two of us. I felt like Oli and she had so many little in-jokes and bonds (their obsessive paper aeroplane habit for one) that I wasn’t involved in. And I really thought, if Oli goes away for a month, then I can just spend more time with her, and maybe we’ll get some of our own girly in-jokes too.

friends and family were giving me the side-eye and saying ‘oh, nearly a month looking after her on your own though? That’ll be tough’

I was also aware that this was the last real chance for us to spend some decent time alone together before she started school. Honestly, I was practically forcing Oli to go, even when friends and family were giving me the side-eye and saying ‘oh, nearly a month looking after her on your own though? That’ll be tough’.

Ha. I reached rock bottom (or so I’m hoping) at 5am on Sunday morning after she had been awake for an hour talking about giraffes and, bereft of energy and ideas for getting her back to sleep, burst into tears in front of her.

I’m not a crier. But through my sobs I said something like:

‘I’m… just… so….tired. So tired Daphne. Please. Mummy’s…. I…. just need some space! Can’t you give me some space!!? Please!’

To which she replied:

‘Mummy, stop crying, that’s enough now. That’s enough now Mummy’. 

In this imperious voice, which I swear is nothing like mine.

All was well in the end – she came into my bed and thankfully we both went back to sleep until 8.30am. But my god.

Three weeks looking after my daughter alone has nearly finished me off.

First of all, there’s the sleep issue. I keep thinking if she slept better it would be easier, but maybe I’m kidding myself. As it is, she will fall asleep really easily at night (between 6.30 and 7pm), but the price you pay for this is the 5am start. Pretty much most days she will wake around 5am – 5.30am if I’m lucky. Yes, we have tried a Gro clock. Yes she has triple blackout blinds. Yes we’ve done white noise, putting her to bed later, reward charts, giving her a nap, not giving her a nap, everything, everything, everything that people recommend.

I HAVE READ EVERY ARTICLE ABOUT EARLY RISERS EVER WRITTEN.

She has an answer for everything – and it’s invariably another question.

None of it makes any difference. For her fourth birthday, we bought her a proper digital clock, and told her that unless the first number she saw was a ‘6’ she was not to get out of bed.

It didn’t work. 

Instead the new routine created by this was her shouting out: ‘Mummy, it’s a 5 first, so I’m staying in bed. I think it’s a 5, but actually maybe it’s a 2. Mummy is it a 2? These are funny numbers, they’re not right. Not like the numbers we do in nursery. It’s not a real 5. What is that last number mummy? What does that mean? There’s blinking dots in the middle, are they numbers too mummy? Mummy, mummy, can I get up now? Mummy please? Please come? Please can you come and look at my clock and tell me what time it is?’

Every morning.

You cannot reason with her. She has an answer for everything – and it’s invariably another question.

I have removed the clock.

So instead, I put some toys in her room and told her that she could get up whenever she felt like it and play, so long as she didn’t shout for me. That kind of worked, except that she has the loudest voice on the planet and her version of playing probably wakes the whole street. This morning it was explaining to her Lego figures how giraffes need to be transported to the other side of the Nile in special trucks with trees on – bloody David Attenborough.

Whatever.

I gave up on getting a lie-in on day 3 of solo parenting, and started going to bed at 9pm.

(I should add here that Oli usually gets up with her so I can go back to sleep every morning until a more civilised hour, like 7 bloody thirty). 

Don’t even mention the allotment. No really, don’t. The guilt that I have only managed to make it down there once is killing me

So, the lack of sleep hasn’t helped. But then there are the chores. Constant chores. There’s so much To Do to keep a small house/family ticking over. Cleaning, washing, shopping, cooking. Watering the flipping garden in the heatwave. Bottom wiping and handwashing. Doing the bins. Tidying away the endless toys. Don’t even mention the allotment. No really, don’t. The guilt that I have only managed to make it down there once is killing me.

All those tomatoes! And blackberries! Wasted!

The first and only visit to the allotment…

The first and only visit to the allotment…

I don’t mind doing chores, but how do you do chores when there’s a small, bored person, tugging on your trouser leg every five minutes saying ‘mummy can you play with me now?’ and getting excited if she hears you moving about upstairs after you’ve gone to put laundry away – ‘are you coming down now to play with me mummy? Are you finished with your chores? Can you play with me nooow? Just a leeetttle bit?!’

The guilt! The number of times I’ve said ‘just five more minutes sweetie, mummy’s got to clear this up / have a wee / put some bloody clothes on’. 

It’s the guilt that’s the worst thing. I had these grand ideas that we’d be doing Fun Stuff together all the time, when instead all I’ve been doing is batting her away and trying to get her to play on her own, poor thing. A particular lowlight was when I dropped our handheld hoover and the whole thing burst open, sending showers of dust and hair and bits of old food all over me and the newly hovered floor, and she appeared with a slice of plastic pizza and proudly placed it on top of the mound of dust.

‘For you, mummy’.

And I said:

‘For god’s sake Daphne don’t put it there!!! Can’t you see mummy’s covered in [insert-really-bad-swear-word-oh-god-I’m-going-to-hell] dust?!’

And then she stared down at the floor and slinked away and I hated myself and that bloody hoover more than anything I have ever hated in my life. 

I know I have it lucky – this is not single parenting. I have moaned at Oli every evening after he’s come off stage (but not much – been too exhausted to remember most of it) and I even managed to go up to Edinburgh for two nights to see him, leaving Daphne with my parents. I know this is nothing, compared to what single parents deal with day-in, day-out. It has been a humbling lesson.

I have done a lot of apologising over these past three weeks.

I read somewhere that apologising to your kids is a good idea. It lets them know you’re human, that you’re fallible too. It’s respectful.

I have done a lot of apologising over these past three weeks.

Thankfully, I think she still loves me.

As we lay facing each other on our pillows in bed this morning she whispered ‘I just want you mummy,’ and I tried not to burst into tears again.

Oli’s home tomorrow. Sorry about the allotment babe, but at least I kept our daughter alive?!

You can order my debut, The Rival, here. Unfollow Me is out now!

Marketing for authors – top tips from expert Katie Sadler

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Something a bit different on the blog today, but probably the most interesting and helpful interview I have ever done! I worked with Katie Sadler on my first novel The Rival, when she was working in-house at Quercus. She left to go freelance shortly after and has been super busy ever since helping a range of authors with their marketing. From my background as a journalist, I know lots about PR but not so much about marketing, and so I found chatting to Katie a fascinating insight. Hopefully you will too - whether or not you’re an author, I think if you’re at all interested in books or publishing then ‘behind the scenes’ info like this is always really eye-opening. Over to Katie…

Please can you tell us a little bit about how marketing teams work in traditional publishing houses.

It very much depends on the campaign and the company. In the places I have worked, marketers have a weekly catch up, where they all sit together and talk about what they’re working on, occasional brainstorms, where they think of creative ways to talk about a book or work through any issues they come up against, and regular ‘away days’ where they might do a deeper dive into a single title or talk more generally about ways they can improve how they do what they do.

But, more often than not, marketing teams will all sit together, and we’re usually being told off by editorial for making too much noise, as everywhere I’ve ever been, they are by far the noisiest department. There is always back and forth about campaigns, sharing ideas, sharing things people have seen online etc.

Campaigns can last anywhere from 2 years, for a mega lead title, to a month or two. As an average, I’d say we would start working on a book around 9 months pre-publication and this would run through to a month after publication. But this really does depend on the book – when material is ready, when publicity want to start sharing advanced reading copies, when sales need the material, whether the author has a following to share early material with etc.

How many books will a marketer be working on at any one time?

A LOT. Again, this really depends on the publishing company, as smaller companies might only release one or two books every month.

Often you’re working on books that are publishing in 9 months, 8 months, 7 months… all the way up to backlist books that might have published a year ago but have some kind of activity that means they need some marketing activity around them. So, at a rough estimate, actively, they are probably working on 10+ books each month, with another 5-10 simmering.

The best marketers (and there are a lot of them out there) are really working on all the books they have ever worked for, regardless of publishing house. For example, if someone asks on Twitter ‘what’s a great illustrated book about birds?’, they might well have a great bird book that they can recommend off the top of their head, even though they worked on it 7 years ago (Matt Sewell’s Our Garden Birds, BTW).

Where there is no money, you will often find a creative marketing person trying any and all angles to promote a book

Do all books receive marketing budget?

Sadly, not all books receive marketing budget. There are many reasons why a title would or would not receive a budget, but I am probably not the best person to ask about the ins and outs of that as I was tasked with the spending, rather than the allocation.

Where there is no money, you will often find a creative marketing person trying any and all angles to promote a book: finding partnerships, building creative social media plans, thinking of ways to get copies into people’s hands and to help them spread the word about the book.

I should also note that some books have no consumer marketing spend, but still have a fair amount spent on them. For example, advanced reading copies are actually a surprisingly hefty cost, and are often a really important part of the wider communications campaign, but feel a bit invisible, because they come out so far in advance of the book’s publication.

Marketing budgets are definitely becoming more reactive. Most budgets I have had access to have some contingency built in to them. Often this is put aside in case there’s some crazy last-minute acquisition that is being published in two months and needs a budget, but it can also be reallocated to existing titles that need more support. Sometimes publishers will also have a pot that is put aside specifically to give extra support to books that are taking off. Sometimes a budget might come off a title that isn’t working (or that doesn’t need any more spend) and move it to something that is.

An author’s platform is definitely looked at during the acquisition process, and shared if it’s positive, but if you have no profile at all, just an amazing book, it is unlikely to stop someone buying that book

Do publishers take into consideration an author’s existing social media reach before making an offer on a novel?

It depends. If you are a YouTuber who has written a book that will appeal primarily to your fans, then yes – definitely. If you are a debut author who has written something everyone in house has fallen in love with? No, definitely not. An author’s platform is definitely looked at during the acquisition process, and shared if it’s positive, but if you have no profile at all, just an amazing book, it is unlikely to stop someone buying that book. The publicist and marketing people will almost definitely try to get that author to set one up though.

Do publishers think less of authors that don’t do some of their own promotion?

Authors connecting with their readers, with bloggers, with journalists, etc, is increasingly important, and I believe it can make a huge difference to the success of a book. Engaging with people and building relationships online makes people more inclined to support you, to read your review copy when it comes through, to celebrate your successes etc.

Having said that, there are huge authors who have no social media presence at all. That number is getting smaller, to be sure, but it is possible. If the sales are there, and you are a nice person to work with (key!!), the publisher will want to recontract. 

Even if the sales are not huge, but are growing, and they see potential in you, they are likely to want to recontract. Whether or not you have a social media presence will be a very small part of that conversation.

What's the most important thing authors can do to market their own books? 

Engage with people. Whether that’s online or whether that’s meeting your local book groups or booksellers, I think going out and talking to readers (not just other authors!) is the most important thing people can do.

That and set up an email mailing list.

That’s not sexy, I know, but say you set up an email list on your website and do almost nothing to promote it and only send out two emails a year to tell people ‘hey my book is coming out on this day’ and ‘hey my book is out now’. Even if you get 10 subscribers, those people are committed! They signed up to receive promotional messages from someone they don’t know. You could easily make a couple of sales from those 10 people, with very little effort.

Also, if you ever change publishers, or the Twitter algorithm changes and only 2 people see your posts from now on, that list will be a really valuable way of communicating with your readers.

And, on the flipside, what’s the most common mistake you see when it comes to authors trying to market their own books?

They either only talk about their book, or they never talk about it. I was talking to an author recently about this. She has THOUSANDS of followers on social media, and her book was recently in a Kindle promotion. She posted about it on Instagram, but didn’t include an image of the book or the title! I think authors get so scared of putting people off by being ‘salesy’ that they end up just not sharing their book at all. It’s a fine balance, for sure, but don’t forget to talk about your book!

How do you feel about social media? Which platforms do you think work best?

I think if you absolutely hate it, and aren’t going to commit to spending time engaging on it, it’s probably better to leave it. That said, I know a lot of authors who have been really reluctant to use it who have completely fallen in love with it. 

Different platforms are good for different reasons. This is a massive simplification, but Twitter is often a good place to connect with industry types – authors, agents, book bloggers, journalists, booksellers etc. Instagram can be great for reaching a wider audience if you have a good visual eye and are good at using hashtags. Facebook groups are brilliant for connecting with like-minded people. Facebook pages can still be good for reaching big audiences, but I think if you don’t have a budget to spend promoting your posts, it’s really hard to reach even your existing fans, let alone people beyond that. Facebook advertising is still usually delivering a really good response because you can be so targeted.

I don’t think any traditionally published author ‘should’ feel the need to spend money on their own social media marketing

Ad campaigns can be bafflingly complicated. Should traditionally published authors spend their own money doing them on social media?  

This is a very contentious issue right now! I don’t think any traditionally published author ‘should’ feel the need to spend money on their own social media marketing.

Where there is no budget or a small budget allocated, there is likely to be a reason why. For example, Facebook works best when there is a super clearly defined audience that is very like something that already exists within Facebook’s ad framework. If a book doesn’t have that, getting the targeting right will be really hard, and you might not get a good return on your investment.

I think it’s often better for an author to speak to their editor about what the best way is that they can help support the campaign. Sometimes the best way to get involved is by giving time, rather than spending money. 

That said, a) I think social ads are less complicated than people think. There is a lot of free advice out there, and there are also great courses available to help people (and authors specifically) come to grips with Facebook ads. And b) I know of a few very high profile, bestselling authors, who spend their own money around publication to supplement what their publisher is doing.

If an author decides they do want to spend money on Facebook ads or pay to create their own video assets, or whatever it might be, then the main thing is that they communicate with their publisher about it first.

I 100% believe that all authors should have their own websites

Do authors need their own websites? And do authors need to blog?

Author websites are so old hat, aren’t they? But yes, I 100% believe that all authors should have their own websites, purely so that there is one place that doesn’t belong to a retailer, where all of their books exist together.

Setting up a self-hosted Wordpress or Squarespace will only take a few hours even if you’re only vaguely computer-literate and is not hugely expensive.  If it’s built with SEO in mind (clear naming, clear layout, labelled images, search-friendly copy), it is likely to rank highly on Google.

AND I still believe in the power of blogging, because content marketing is a great way to bring people to your site that have never heard of you. Share interesting, useful information and tell people about it. I don’t think authors NEED to blog at all, but every time you write a blog post, you are giving people a reason to visit  your website where you also highlight your book. And having a site that is regularly updated also feeds into the Google algorithm, so that’s another win.

How do you feel about email marketing for authors? Any tips for authors wanting to build their email database? 

I think an email list is something all authors should have, which I’ve talked about a bit more above. Setting up a mailing list takes minutes and is free up to a certain number of subscribers. Even if no one subscribes, you haven’t forked out a lot of money or time to do it.

The general advice for building a mailing list is that you need to have a lead magnet – ie, something free that you give people when they sign up (free short story is a great one for fiction authors, free ’10 tips to help you do something you really want to do’ is good for non-fiction). That can definitely be really powerful.  

For me, the best thing you can do is get your publisher to add a link to the list at the back of all of your ebooks. If a reader has read a book of yours that they loved, they are probably at their most willing to sign up straight after finishing it.

Also: don’t forget to tell people you have one. Put it in your online bio, make the link to sign up clear on your website, talk about it on Twitter or Instagram captions. If you have a blog, make sure anyone who visits sees a sign up prompt.

What is the one thing you wish all authors knew/understood?

That by including us in your acknowledgements, most marketers will bend over backwards for you. Most authors don’t meet their marketing person until the acknowledgements have been written, so we almost never make it in there. But your marketing person will be assigned when you write them! Find out who they are and thank them!

Also, please don’t underestimate the power of just saying thank you when someone’s helped you. Or sending a card to people on your team if your book does well. People really, really remember small gestures like this and it will make them work harder on your book.

What's your favourite thing about working in book marketing? And your least favourite?

I love the creativity, the people and the access to free books. I very much do not love the to-do lists when you are looking after a large number of titles.

9 times out of 10, book marketers are in the industry for their sheer love of books

Tell us something surprising about book marketers.

9 times out of 10, book marketers are in the industry for their sheer love of books, not because we like seeing great ROI charts (although those are nice, too).

I feel like marketers on TV are often portrayed as the ‘no’ people in publishing (“marketing says no, so we’re not buying this book”). A) We do say no sometimes; editors ignore us. And B) We say yes more often than we say no, because if an editor loves a book, chances are we will too.

Tell us a little bit about your background/route into author marketing.

After a brief stint in online media buying in the early naughties, I have been working in book marketing for over 11 years, and have worked for Penguin Random House, HarperCollins and Hachette. I went freelance in Spring 2019 and now work with publishers on specific projects and offer marketing support for authors. I help advise authors on their marketing plans, can brainstorm ideas for their content marketing, and also offer ongoing mentoring for anyone who has a specific goal in mind but needs help creating a plan to get there. You can find out more about what I offer on my website.

After banging on about newsletters, it would be remiss of me not to also mention my own, where I overshare my life on a monthly basis (there are also interesting links and great books, if personal stories aren’t your thing!). You can sign up to that here. I love talking to authors about their own experiences and helping out where I can. You can find me mostly on Twitter and Instagram @katiemorwenna.

You can order my debut, The Rival, here. Unfollow Me is out now!

Mums who write: Lauren North

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My latest ‘mums who write’ interview is with Lauren North, author of The Perfect Betrayal, which tells the story of a mum who loses everything after her husband dies. Lauren’s a mum of two and chats about making time to write - even if it’s just for ten minutes - and how motherhood helped her imagination to go to the darkest places…

Where do you live and with who?

I live in the countryside on the Essex and Suffolk borders with my husband, Andy, and our two children. Tommy is nine and Lottie is eight.  

When it’s school holidays, I’m at my desk by 6am and write for two hours

What’s your writing routine like?

I’m not sure if this counts as a routine, but I try to write whenever I’m not spending time with the kids. We’re lucky to live very close to the school (60 second walk), so in the mornings I’m at my desk with a coffee by 9am. I write for a few hours. Then either exercise or walk the dog. Then I do another few hours writing in the afternoon.

When it’s school holidays, I’m at my desk by 6am and write for two hours. Then we go out for the day and do the normal fun stuff, then I’m back to my desk for another hour or two in the afternoon or evening.  

Where do you write from?

I have a small study downstairs where I write most of the time (it used to be a cupboard and I have to share it with the dog. It does have a window though). If I’m struggling to settle then I go to my gym and write in the cafe there. For some reason the distraction of other people often helps me to concentrate.

If it’s a quiet evening then I’ll do another hour while the kids are playing. I always take work with me on the club runs. Ballet and tap is two hours on a Tuesday so I take my laptop. Other times it’s a print out of my current chapter to scribble over in case I find myself with a spare ten minutes.

We go to our local zoo a lot and the kids love playing in the playgrounds there, so I’m often writing on my phone or scribbling in a notebook (or the back of a receipt once).

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On both a creative and a practical level, what impact do you think being a mother has had on your writing?

Being a mother gave me the confidence to believe in myself. Motherhood was the first thing I’ve ever felt any good at. I loved having the kids so close together (although that first year with a baby and toddler was hard). I’d tried to get published before I had children, but it was only when they turned 3 and 2 and went to preschool together that I sat down and realised I could write and I would fulfil my dreams.

On a practical level, writing with children in the house means there is often a lot of stop and start, interruptions for snacks and board games and sometimes I’ll find I only write in ten minute bursts, so I’m not precious about what’s going on around me. I can write for any length of time, anywhere. 

Creative wise, I have a very dark imagination and think often about the worst that could happen. I love my children beyond words and so I worry constantly about them, which often leads to little seedlings of ideas. A great example of this is when I wondered what if my husband travels away for work and dies and I’m left alone in a secluded house in a village where I know absolutely no one. This became the start of my debut novel.

Do you find it easier to write now you are a mother, or more difficult?

Harder definitely, but this is because it has taken becoming a mother to understand what hard work actually is. It’s taken being a mother to realise that I needed to improve my craft and to work hard to do it.

What do you think is the hardest thing about being a mother who writes?

All the times when I’m right in the middle of a fantastic writing session where the words are flowing, the plot is coming together, and I have stop and be a mum. That’s hard. And the guilt of course for the times I prioritise writing over the kids.

I think my love of writing has taught them to find their passion in life and go for it with everything they have

How do you think your love of writing has impacted your children?

Both Tommy and Lottie enjoy reading books and I still love reading books to them before bed every night. My love of books has rubbed off on them, as has my love of writing. Both kids enjoy writing stories too.

I think they are only just grasping this, and I hope it’s something that stays with them when they’re older, but I think my love of writing has taught them to find their passion in life and go for it with everything they have. And that hard work and perseverance do pay off.  

Having a supportive partner is not fundamental because us writers are passionate people who’ll find a way no matter what, but it does help

How does your partner support you in your writing?

In every way possible. I didn’t go back to work when the kids were old enough. This was a decision my husband fully supported for two reasons. Firstly, we both wanted me to be there for the kids during the holidays and after school, and secondly because he knew my passion was for writing and wanted me to live the dream, which I’m lucky enough now to be doing.

So there’s the financial support that comes with that decision and the fact that I earned nothing for more years than I care to think about.

There’s the emotional and practical support too. When things aren’t going well, Andy is always there with a hug and to listen before giving me practical advice, which I sometimes take and sometimes ignore.

Writing is such a tough job on so many levels, especially when you’re juggling kids as well. Having a supportive partner is not fundamental because us writers are passionate people who’ll find a way no matter what, but it does help.

Do you think the publishing industry is supportive of writing mums?

I can only answer this based on my own experience, and so far yes, to me it has been. My editors and agent have always been incredibly understanding of school holidays and my schedule. I’m always asked to give a good time for a meetings or calls and it feels like every effort is made to fit with my sometimes limited options.

What are your top tips for other mothers who’d like to write?

Carve out some childfree time to write, whether it’s first thing in the morning or last thing at night, and don’t give that time away for anything (washing, housework, etc can wait). This is not so easy when the kids are younger, but if that’s the case, then please don’t beat yourself up or stress about how little writing you’ve done. The children will grow up and you will find that time.

There will be days when you don’t write a single thing, so don’t worry. We all have these days. Writing comes a close second, but the kids do come first.

Try not to be precious about needing a particular time of day or place to write. These moments are few and far between for me, so learning to be flexible has really helped me.

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Please tell me a little bit about your latest novel.

The Perfect Betrayal (The Perfect Son in the US) opens with Tess waking in hospital the day after her son Jamie’s 8th birthday, certain of three things:

1. Her husband is dead

2. She’s been stabbed

3. Her son is missing  

The Perfect Betrayal is about Tess, a distraught widow, and her son Jamie, and the strange things that happen to them when the beautiful grief counsellor Shelley comes into their lives. It’s a novel about the rawness of grief and how far a mother will go to protect her child.

Quickfire Questions

What’s your favourite… 

Novel about motherhood:  Ah that’s a hard one. The Other Woman by Sandie Jones springs to mind. Such a clever story.

Thing about being a mum: The joy and laughter my children bring to my day

Thing about being a writer: Seeing how far you can push your characters before they break. 

Way to relax: Er . . .  what does this word mean? Pass.

The Perfect Betrayal is out now in paperback and ebook.

You can order my debut, The Rival, here. Unfollow Me is out now!

Excuse me while I humblebrag…

‘maybe I’ll just carry this around with me wherever I go?’

‘maybe I’ll just carry this around with me wherever I go?’

Except I’m not actually going to humblebrag. Not here anyway. Instead I’m going to have a (hopefully mini) rant about one of the most difficult parts of being an author – self-promotion.

Readers might not realise it, but publishers do really hope authors will do quite a bit of promotion of their own books. After all, publishers publish so many books throughout the year, and while most of them receive some marketing budget, only a few of them – the ‘big’ books (or ‘lead titles’ as they are called) will get the ‘big’ budget, with lots of promotion, like book tours and extensive proof mailouts and adverts on the underground and fancy launch events, alongside the normal things such as online advertising and social media support.

As the writer, the person who cares the most about your book is you, and this also means you’re the best person to promote it. After all, you know it best. You know who your potential readers are. You know the storyline in and out. You can happily wax lyrical about it for hours.

So it would be a bit crap if you didn’t at least try to give self-promotion a go.

I feel like I’m standing on a table in a busy room shouting ‘Me me me, everyone look at me!’

But oh my god is it hard. I’m not sure why – I’ve had a business before and I found it pretty easy to promote that. I was more than happy to shout about it to anyone and everyone. But promoting my books is like pulling teeth. Every time I tweet or instagram about them, I feel like I’m standing on a table in a busy room shouting ‘Me me me, everyone look at me!’ It’s so uncomfortable.

I wonder if it’s because, deep down, I still believe that writing a book is a pretty arrogant thing to do – it’s so personal, and yet it’s assuming that this personal thing is so important and worthwhile that everyone needs to know about it. Everyone needs to read it. It doesn’t help that I grew up in the UK in the 90s when ‘showing off’ was not cool, nor was foisting your opinions about things on any unwitting bystander (I still wish this wasn’t cool. While I understand the motivation behind them, the endless political rants on Twitter don’t half bring me down). And sometimes that’s what it feels like, promoting your novel. After all, when you write a novel you’re trying to convey a theme or deeper message – something that resonates with you and bugs you enough to make you wonder about it at night – but who’s to say that that ‘thing’ is as important to others as it is to you?

How very dare you!?

These are the voices in my head that I battle with whenever I tweet about my books, or share a nice review. Having talked to other writer friends about this, I know that many of them feel the same awkwardness when they have to talk about their books too.

But there are also other authors who are unashamed in their self-promotion, who go ‘all out’ to sing their own praises. And I have to confess that I look upon these people with a strange combination of admiration and horror.

Do I just need to get over my Gen Y upbringing and get on board with the self-love?

Where is the line drawn between self-promotion and bragging? Is bragging even a thing anymore? Do I just need to get over my Gen Y upbringing and get on board with the self-love?

Is there a ‘good’ way to do it? If you caveat it (which I often do) with some kind of disclaimer - ‘I know I’m showing off here but this review made my day’ - does that make it better? Does self-awareness cancel out the negative side of bragging?

Do readers mind unabashed confidence in novelists?

It’s just I’m conditioned, when I see people telling the world how great they are, to wrinkle my nose in disapproval, and then I wonder if I’m the only one. Do readers mind unabashed confidence in novelists? Maybe, like enthusiasm about anything, it’s infectious – maybe the self-belief rubs off and the readers then also feel convinced of your greatness. Or do readers see tweets like that and think, huh, get over yourself love, I’ll be the judge of how good your book is!

Either way, I suppose it gets you noticed. Which is the main aim after all. To stand above the crowd. 

Another thing that interests me is whether or not this is just a British thing. I don’t know. I remember the fascinating interview with the American author Jessica Knoll on The Cut about her income. Again, my cognitive dissonance was off the charts. I massively admired her for her confidence, while also finding it a bit distasteful. The reactions to that interview were fascinating.  

What do you think? I’m genuinely so interested in whether people mind authors ‘showing off’ (I know it’s not showing off really, but that’s how it FEELS to me)? Or do they like it?

A few years ago there was a hashtag on Twitter that was pretty popular - #humblebrag. I was pretty fond of that one. It allowed me to ‘show off’ whilst also acknowledging that I knew I was showing off and that it made me uncomfortable to do so - neatly incorporating an invisible plea not to be judged too harshly for it. I haven’t seen it much lately – perhaps I should try to bring it back?!

You can order my debut, The Rival, here. Unfollow Me is out now!

Have a nose around my home office

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Hello! Long time no blog. I am sorry, I have been embroiled in a complicated edit of book 3 and I tend to get very engrossed in one thing and find it hard then to do anything else. But I’m back now, and I thought it might be nice to give you a little virtual tour of my home office. If you follow me on Instagram you might know that it’s really different from the rest of our house.

We had both lived in Victorian/Edwardian properties before this and while they’re very charming with their period features etc, we both really really love the spaciousness you get in midcentury homes

We live in a 1970s house (I have blogged about it a bit here) and everything is very light, bright and spacious. Lots of glazing (far too much in some respects - especially when it’s warm, it’s like living in a greenhouse!) and just generally a lovely and airy feel. We had both lived in Victorian/Edwardian properties before this and while they’re very charming with their period features etc, we both really really love the spaciousness you get in midcentury homes. A proper hallway, rather than a narrow corridor dominated by a staircase. Big, square or rectangular rooms that make fitting in furniture easy. Huge windows that make the most of the views. There are lots of benefits.

But as usual I digress. The point is that when we moved in we really wanted to increase the sense of light and space further, so after we had our extension done last year we painted the entire downstairs white, and purposefully chose neutral furniture with lots of light wood and plywood - it’s very Scandi throughout I guess (although we do have some cool wallpapers in the bedrooms).

However, the one room in the house that doesn’t really fit with our ‘theme’ is my office. And that’s probably a result of us keeping artwork and accessories to a minimum downstairs. I am not hugely sentimental, but when it came to putting up finishing touches downstairs I had quite a few pieces that I was really upset we couldn’t find homes for. And so I decided to embrace it, and put them all in this little room. And so my home office is the one room in our house that’s, well, cluttered. I’d prefer to say homely, but cluttered is probably more accurate.

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So here it is: my little room that looks nothing like the rest of the house. It’s the smallest bedroom upstairs, and it’s at the front of the house and overlooks a load of hedging and mature trees. We’re lucky that we live down a cul de sac which only has houses on one side - opposite us used to be a running track, which has been sold for development, but we should (if the planners keep their word) still have our natural screening of mature trees and hedging to separate us from the new houses (which will be in a different road). Bit hard to explain but hopefully it makes sense!

[Gross sidenote: the downside of living in an ultra quiet cul de sac quite near a station is that taxi drivers quite often come down here to relieve themselves in the bushes opposite. It’s LOVELY. They never realise I can see them out of my office window. One day I might shout out the window at one and give him a heart attack.]

Anyway, it’s a small room - you could squeeze a double bed in if you had to but it wouldn’t be very comfortable. But it’s plenty big enough for an office.

I’m usually not a huge fan of gallery walls, but I think it works quite well and really does make me feel cocooned and cosy surrounded by the things I love
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As you can see, on the walls I’ve basically ‘gone with it’ and decided to hang every picture that ever meant anything to me, so it’s a bit of a mish mash. I’m usually not a huge fan of gallery walls, but I think it works quite well and really does make me feel cocooned and cosy surrounded by the things I love. There’s photos of me and my sister, pictures taken by my sister (a very talented photographer), a photo of my insane father flying the aeroplane he built in his garage, plus the large Clare Cutts screen print that I bought on my 30th birthday. It’s a mish-mash, but I like it.

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Furniture wise, there are two really precious things to me: my desk which is from Heal’s and by Sebastian Cox, and the little bureau that was my grandparents. The desk was a real extravagance but one which I have never regretted - it’s a pleasure to work at. The bureau reminds me of my childhood, because my Nanny used to keep all the family photos in the bottom cupboard and inevitably when we stayed with her I’d ask to dig them out and we’d go through them all together. It’s actually a really useful cupboard - we keep all our stationery bits in the flap-down section, printer paper and envelopes in the drawers and then the bottom cupboard houses all my paperwork. On top of the bureau is a vintage typewriter that Oli bought me for Christmas a few years after we got together. It works and I love it!

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The oak stacking shelves are vintage Heal’s and were Oli’s - we have two more of them downstairs in our kitchen which house our cookery books. Then there’s of course my dolls house (which I’ve blogged about at length), which sits on top of my childhood toybox. It’s empty (there’s no moving that dolls house easily) and needs repainting but it’s another thing I can’t bear to part with - under the lid it has my sister’s and my childhood graffiti.

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The daybed is from Ikea. It’s ridiculously comfy and it’s where I do most of my writing and editing. I love the soft pink colour and I usually have my Melin Tregwynt blanket over my legs while I work.

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On the walls by my desk I have my vision board (I could probably blog more about this but being a Brit I’m still a bit embarrassed that I have one) and a set of String shelving with family photos on. We’re not hugely big on having family pics everywhere - we have one collage frame in the kitchen, and then a few of Daphne as a baby scattered about but no big canvases or anything like that. And barely any of us as a couple! So unromantic, ha.

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The windowsill is home to all the plants that Oli won’t let me have in the rest of the house - mostly little ones. Plus my Lucie Kaas mini sparrow (I have a bigger one downstairs) and a radio I hardly ever turn on (I can only really work in silence).

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And that’s about it! This room has such a different feel from the rest of the house. It’s not purposefully styled, everything that’s in here is in here because I love it, not because it necessarily looks ‘right’ with the other pieces. It’s a bit ramshackle and incohesive but somehow I find coming in here really comforting. Even though I love the bright contemporary simplicity of the rooms downstairs, this room is a cosy haven, and feels very ‘me’. My own little sanctuary, and I’m very lucky to have it.

Desk - Sebastian Cox from Heal’s. Shelves - vintage Heal’s. Pendant light - Tom Raffield. Daybed - Ikea. Chair - Setu by Herman Miller, John Lewis. String Pocket Shelving in Ash and White, Utility Design. Blanket - Melin Tregwynt. Clock - Wild and Wolf from Amara.

You can order my debut, The Rival, here. Unfollow Me is out now!

Mums who write: Ruth Heald

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Next up in my ‘mums who write’ series is a chat with a debut author whose book I’ve have heard lots about already! The Mother’s Mistake is a gripping tale of postpartum fears and challenges, and has been racing up the Kindle charts ever since it was released earlier this week. Read on to find out how Ruth combines writing with motherhood - and, even more impressively, with severe pregnancy sickness…

Where do you live and with who? How many children do you have and how old are they?

I live in West London with my husband and two children, a daughter aged 3 and a son aged 8 months.

What’s your writing routine like?

I don’t really have a writing routine! I take opportunities to write whenever I can. My daughter goes to a playgroup for a few hours each weekday so I’m only responsible for my baby in the mornings. I try to get some writing done when he naps or if he is happy to play on his playmat for a bit. This means that some days I get an hour or so done and other days I get nothing done. I also do a bit late evenings after the children are in bed and at weekends. But there’s no consistent pattern.

If an idea strikes me, I’ll jot it down on my phone wherever I am; on the tube, waiting for the bus, in queues at the supermarket…

Where do you write from?

In the week, when I don’t know how much time I’ll have (i.e. how long my son’s nap will last) I tend to write from home. At the weekend, if someone else is looking after the children then I write in cafés because if I’m in the house the untouched housework makes me feel too guilty to ignore!

If an idea strikes me, I’ll jot it down on my phone wherever I am; on the tube, waiting for the bus, in queues at the supermarket…

I started writing psychological thrillers when I first became a mother, and I think that first year after childbirth can be a particularly vulnerable time for women

On both a creative and a practical level, what impact do you think being a mother has had on your writing?

On a creative level I’ve found lots of my recent ideas centre around new mothers. I started writing psychological thrillers when I first became a mother, and I think that first year after childbirth can be a particularly vulnerable time for women. My first psychological thriller, The Mother’s Mistake, is about a new mother who isn’t sure whether she’s going crazy or if someone is set on hurting her child. As a sleep-deprived new mother myself, the protagonist came easily to me! My second psychological thriller, out in September, also features a vulnerable new mother.

On a practical level, being a mother has made me far more efficient with my writing time. If my son falls asleep eight minutes before my daughter needs collecting from playgroup, I don’t faff about, I open up my laptop immediately and type as fast as I can!

Do you find it easier to write now you are a mother, or more difficult?

In some ways it’s easier, because I’m forced to make use of every second of time I have. I’m also more experienced now, so I’m more confident about plotting and more likely to stick to the plot I’ve laid out. But having less time definitely ups the pressure.

What do you think is the hardest thing about being a mother who writes?

It’s hard to get a sensible balance when you work in the home. Like most (all?) working mothers, I often feel guilty that I’m either neglecting my children or my work. I think working in the home complicates that further, because often I’m trying to work and look after the children at the same time. The boundaries aren’t as clearly delineated as they were when I was working in an office.  

How do you think your love of writing has impacted your children?

At the moment my children are a bit too young to understand, but I hope that as they get older my children will see me doing work I enjoy and feel that that will be a possibility for them too, whether it’s writing or other work that they feel passionate about.

My husband took paternity leave to look after my daughter which enabled me to work on my first psychological thriller

How does your partner support you in your writing?

My husband took paternity leave to look after my daughter which enabled me to work on my first psychological thriller. He also does more than his fair share of the housework and takes the children to the park at weekends to give me a bit of time to write.

Do you think the publishing industry is supportive of writing mums?

I submitted my book to my publisher, Bookouture, just before I got pregnant with my second baby and became very ill with hyperemesis gravidarum. Bookouture was incredibly supportive and pushed my deadlines back significantly to accommodate me. Despite this, I get the impression that maternity leave is not really “a thing” for authors and most work when their children are babies.

What are your top tips for other mothers who’d like to write?

1. Write what you like to read – you’ll enjoy it more and it’ll be easier.

2. Try and find a bit of time to write each day even if it’s only five minutes to scribble down a couple of paragraphs.

3. Don’t put yourself under too much pressure; some days the words will come out perfectly, sometimes they’ll be rubbish. You can always edit later.

Please tell me a little bit about your latest novel.

The Mother’s Mistake is a psychological thriller about a mother’s worst nightmare. Claire Hughes and her young family move to the countryside in the hope of a fresh start, but it isn’t long before Claire’s past catches up with her and her daughter’s life is in danger.

This is the blurb for the book:

Everyone makes mistakes. But does everyone deserve to be forgiven?

She runs past the tinkling of children’s laughter that fills the park. Heart hammering, she reaches the riverbank, breath catching in her throat as her eyes take in the small body, tangled in the reeds, pale and lifeless.

Three years later.

Claire’s life is picture perfect. A new home in the countryside. A new-born baby. A doting husband by her side.

But behind closed doors, her life is falling apart.

And when a threatening note is posted through her letterbox, saying she doesn’t deserve her daughter, it’s clear that someone knows about her past…

Someone knows that Claire doesn’t deserve her perfect life. Someone’s going to do everything in their power to destroy it.

Quickfire Questions

What’s your favourite…

Novel about motherhood: It’s not specifically about motherhood, but I love the way motherhood is portrayed in The Group by Mary McCarthy. It was published in 1963 and when I read it I was surprised by how relevant it was today.

Thing about being a mum: My children’s endless curiosity about the world around them and the joy they find in the little things that adults take for granted. It makes me see the world through fresh eyes. 

Thing about being a writer: The freedom to explore ideas and let the creativity flow.

Way to relax: Writing (!)

The Mother’s Mistake is out on now in ebook. You can find out more about Ruth on her website, and follow her on Twitter and Facebook. 

You can order my debut, The Rival, hereUnfollow Me is out now!

My complicated relationship with influencers

My novel about Instagram mums and vloggers, Unfollow Me, is released in ebook in the UK tomorrow! I’m very excited – and equal parts terrified – so I thought I would mark the occasion by talking a little bit about what inspired me to write it.

This book was an absolute gift to write, and I’m fairly sure that I won’t get quite so lucky again (by contrast, book 3 is slowly but steadily eroding my desire to live). The idea for Unfollow Me dropped fully formed into my brain one day, and changed very little as I wrote it. It all stemmed from a question – what would you do if the influencer you follow, who shares her life with you online every day, suddenly disappeared? And deleted all her social media accounts?

I didn’t know these women or their families, but as they shared so much with me, I became quite invested in them

But it goes a little bit further back than that. When my daughter was born, I obsessively followed lots of family vloggers – both on YouTube and Instagram. There was something addictive about watching other parents doing their parenting in what felt like real-time. It was the ultimate voyeurism, I got to see exactly what sort of clothes their babies were wearing, what nappies, what food they were eating, what books they were reading and toys they were playing with… I was heavily ‘influenced’ by these parents’ choices on things like cots and buggies and general baby paraphernalia. I didn’t know these women or their families, but as they shared so much with me, I became quite invested in them. I remember when one of them said she was in labour, I was desperately checking Twitter and Instagram waiting for the birth announcement – and to find out what gender the baby would be. She felt like my friend. Someone I genuinely cared about.

But she didn’t have a clue I existed. 

On that note, the title of this post is a massive misnomer, isn’t it? Because a real relationship is a two-way thing, and this was very firmly not a two-way thing in the same way a normal relationship is. This woman didn’t care about me, not in any meaningful sense. I was just a ‘fan’. One of the many faceless fans.

Of course it’s lovely to wish strangers well, but investing emotional energy in someone who you most likely will never meet seems like a strange way to behave.

It was a realisation that kind of embarrassed me. I wasn’t angry about it, I just felt a bit stupid. Of course it’s lovely to wish strangers well, but investing emotional energy in someone who you most likely will never meet seems like a strange way to behave.

It did fascinate me though. I remember years ago someone saying that social media has legitimised stalking, and that’s exactly what it’s done. But with influencers who monetise their platforms it’s a strange symbiotic relationship, in that the person you are stalking wants you to stalk them (to some degree) because that’s how they make money. But where are the lines drawn? What if they one day they don’t want you to watch after all? Do you have a ‘right’ to their life? Especially as, by watching them, you have paid for much of it?

Of course it’s similar in many ways to mainstream celebrity, except that it’s also very different. Because normal celebrities are worshipped for their talents in music, acting, writing, whatever. That’s how they make their money. And vloggers don’t have to be good at anything in particular. They just have to be friendly, charismatic and believe that what they have to say about, well, life and stuff, is important enough to be of interest.

This probably sounds like I’m very negative about influencers. I’m not. (The journalistic side of me, of course, hates them for being smart enough to identify a huge new opportunity and making a million times more money than we journalists ever did as we stuck to our prehistoric guns and sniffed self-righteously that ‘the blogging thing will never last’). But I also see that it takes courage to put yourself out there (in the same way that it does writing novels). I can also appreciate massively the downsides with regard to your children – you’re effectively sharing their most personal, character-forming experiences with a whole load of strangers, without their permission. It’s a tough call. Part of me thinks that the notion of privacy has been so massively obliterated by the social media age that it’s foolish to imagine that you have much of it left, and that children will grow up so used to constantly being photographed that it won’t affect them in the same way as it might affect us. Human beings evolve to cope with cultural shifts. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t survive. 

But part of me also thinks god, we should be protecting our children. The world is scary and big enough, let’s not hold them up to constant scrutiny from unnamed strangers too. Let’s not orchestrate every private family moment so that it becomes shareable and has monetary value. Even if the children involved don’t know what’s going on, even if they’re not old enough to understand. There’s a social media hashtag ‘#letthembelittle’ – the irony is overwhelming. Let them be little indeed! Leave them alone! Don’t make them pose and posture! Don’t upload a film of them crying at their third birthday party because they didn’t get the unicorn cake they wanted, even if it is ‘cute’!

I say this, but as a massive hypocrite. Because I am also very guilty of oversharing much of my daughter’s life. I blogged throughout my pregnancy, and then did monthly baby updates until Daphne turned about 18 months. Those posts are still live on this blog today, and get tons of hits - and I still get emails from random people who’ve read them asking me for advice on things like colic, which she suffered with. I really, really enjoyed writing those posts - it was such a strange time in my life and it was actually lovely to be sharing my experiences. If I had had the chance to monetise them more, and if I had no other viable career path (and if I’d been a bit more photogenic - ha!), I might easily have ended up becoming a mummy influencer myself.

As their audience grows, so does their wealth – it’s a self-fulfilling cycle

In the novel, I also wanted to focus on the other inevitable part of the strange partnership between influencer and influencee – the jealousy. After all, many of these influencers are earning an absolute fortune through their online presence these days, and thus their lives – which once might have seemed not too dissimilar to those of their viewers – are spiralling further and further away from that of Ms Joanna Bloggs. Some of the most successful influencers are the ones with huge houses and dozens of designer handbags, and it seems that people do enjoy watching those the most. As their audience grows, so does their wealth – it’s a self-fulfilling cycle. Which also fascinates me. Do people secretly enjoy being jealous? Do they find it inspiring? Motivating?

recently I have noticed that I’ve started to feel a bit inadequate, and pissed off with my own lot (and my own lot isn’t exactly bad)

I think for me, I found watching them all of those things. As well as completely fascinating. I stopped watching the Youtube vloggers as my daughter grew (not least because of the time commitment – many of them upload 15 minute videos every day, and I could never keep up!), but I still follow a lot of them on Instagram and recently I have noticed that I’ve started to feel a bit inadequate, and pissed off with my own lot (and my own lot isn’t exactly bad). And that’s when I realised again that it’s not healthy, to be investing so much time and energy – and comparing yourself non-stop – to people who are not showing all the bad stuff. Or even if they are showing the bad stuff, it’s totally filtered and manipulated for the audience.

Anyway, it was my hugely ambivalent feeling towards these brave women and their families that lead me to write Unfollow Me. Most of all, I wanted to write it from the perspective of the people following these women, to document their highs and lows as they try desperately to hunt down their idol. In some ways it was also a way for me to explore my own messy feelings towards influencers – and particularly mummy influencers, who are basically trying to create a career that allows them to be at home with their children as much as possible, which is something I genuinely really, really respect. I also really believe in making the most of opportunities, and if this is the best way for some people to make a living, then my God, they should go for it.

Like I said, I’m conflicted!

So Unfollow Me is told from the perspective of the fans (and the trolls) – two in particular, as they go to somewhat shocking lengths to discover just what has happened to their supermum Violet Young.

I loved writing this book. It’s something I have a genuine interest in – it’s something that feels very ‘of our time’ and I hope this comes across in the reading of it. 

Unfollow Me is out tomorrow in ebook for the bargain price of £1.99. It would make my day if you bought it. And I’d love to hear your thoughts on this increasingly bewildering new world too.

Mums who write: Melanie Golding

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I’m very excited to be featuring a debut author in my ‘mums who write’ series this month! Melanie Golding’s novel Little Darlings was released on May 2nd, and there’s been a real buzz around it, both here and in America, with the film rights already optioned. It’s a haunting, addictive tale of new motherhood gone wrong (is it any wonder it appeals to me so much?!). Melanie is also a mum of two - and spent her career up until recently working with children, so I was really interested to hear how she has found juggling the bizarre career of author with the all-consuming challenge of being a mum…

Where do you live and with who?

I live in Gloucestershire with my husband and two kids aged 7 and 9.

What’s your writing routine like?

I write full time, and work part time as a musician with an early years story and music group. The full-time writing is only a recent thing, since September 2018: for 9 years I was a full-time childcare provider from my home, together with my husband.

Where do you write from?

When writing my first book I would often just go out to the car and sit in the passenger seat with my laptop to get away from everyone. Nap time was ‘head down for quick burst of writing time’. Also, for a couple of years I would get up before the baby at 5am (I know, they slept late!) and write for an hour or so.

These days I do have an actual desk, but I’m afraid it’s covered in piles of books, paper, bills etc. I usually write at the kitchen table, but right now I’m at my son’s desk, because that’s where I found my laptop, along with a spare half hour.

When I got pregnant I suddenly realised I didn’t have, and likely wouldn’t ever again have time for leisurely dreaming any more. It was a real motivator
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On both a creative and a practical level, what impact do you think being a mother has had on your writing?

Before I had children, I used to wait for inspiration; I only wrote when I felt like it. I had all the time in the world. When I got pregnant I suddenly realised I didn’t have, and likely wouldn’t ever again have time for leisurely dreaming any more. It was a real motivator. Towards the end of both pregnancies I wrote in a kind of frenzy, because ‘my time’ was nearly up. I don’t think I would have finished my first full length MS if I hadn’t had a baby. Or I would, but it would have taken ten years. That saying ‘if you want something doing, give it to a busy person’ applied directly to me. I gave myself the task of writing a novel at exactly the time in my life when I had the least time to spare.

Do you find it easier to write now you are a mother, or more difficult?

Both. I write for a living now, so there is no longer a lack of motivation or a fear that it won’t be read. In fact, there is a pressure to get the words out and deliver the product. This is both surprising and interesting to me. I am now part of an industry, which I didn’t fully anticipate when creating work as an unpublished writer. But as a mother, my children need me to pay them attention, for hours at a time, during which no writing or thinkwork can be achieved. This makes the process of creating a novel artificially disjointed, and throws up extra challenges when returning to the world of the novel. You have to stitch it together so the seams don’t show. It’s possible that the work suffers, but it’s also true that if one can’t tear oneself fully away from the work, that the children do too.

What do you think is the hardest thing about being a mother who writes?  

Time constraints. Now that I have the knack of working anywhere, I feel the need more and more to become deeply immersed. Every day it seems I finally sink fully into it only to be forced out by the kids coming home, needing me to cook the dinner, all of that. Evenings are a washout; there’s no brain energy left.  

Most ‘normal’ jobs take away your family time. I’m lucky that I can afford to be at home when my kids come home from school most days

How do you think your love of writing has impacted your children?

My son said to me ‘we hardly see you now that you’re an author.’ I felt this was unfair, but it illustrates that all things are relative, and he can only judge by his own experience. I think I’d been to London a couple of times that week, but generally, I’m always here. If I was still teaching full-time, or if I had a nine-to-five with a commute, I wouldn’t have any time with my own children during term time at all apart from the weekends. Most ‘normal’ jobs take away your family time. I’m lucky that I can afford to be at home when my kids come home from school most days. I expect that one day they will appreciate it too, but I’m not holding my breath.

How does your partner support you in your writing?

He’s great! I couldn’t ask for more really. He does most of the school runs, all of the supermarket shopping, the lion’s share of the endless ferrying to clubs etc. If I need to get on with something I always can, and everything would be so much harder if he wasn’t there to help me escape into the work.

If I hadn’t been offered the publishing contract when I was, I’m not sure how long I could have kept on writing, and working, and parenting all at the same time

Do you think the publishing industry is supportive of writing mums?

I have no complaints along these lines, but I realise I’m in a very privileged position right now as my advance is paying the bills. This situation is extremely rare for authors, who often need to work other jobs to keep afloat. For a long time, I wrote and worked a full-time job and had small children, but it’s unsustainable. If I hadn’t been offered the publishing contract when I was, I’m not sure how long I could have kept on writing, and working, and parenting all at the same time.

What are your top tips for other mothers who’d like to write?

Writing for me was an irrepressible impulse over which I had little control. I felt if I didn’t write I would go mad, or die. The only advice is to write, to keep writing, and then to write some more. 

Please tell us a little bit about your novel.

In Little Darlings, Lauren becomes terrified that someone will do something terrible to her new baby twins, but her fears are dismissed as a product of her birth trauma and sleep deprivation. Later, when the twins are taken from her side while she’s in the park, the police are called. Everyone is relieved when the babies are found within the hour, apparently safe and well. Lauren, however, is convinced that they are no longer her children.

She will do anything to get her real babies back, even the unthinkable. Is she mad, or does she know something we don’t?

Quickfire Questions 

What’s your favourite…

Novel about motherhood: The Hours Before Dawn by Celia Fremlin

Thing about being a mum: Hugs; Sunday morning pancakes; Simpson’s Time

Thing about being a writer: Solitude; creating something from nothing; being your own boss

Way to relax: First Dates and a load of snacks

Little Darlings is out on May 2nd in the UK, April 30th in US and Canada in ebook, hardback and audiobook. You can follow Melanie on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

You can order my debut, The Rival, hereUnfollow Me will be published in June.

5 books I'm taking on holiday

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So we’re off for our annual holiday next week (potential burglars, please don’t bother, we have someone staying to look after our needy, emotionally fragile cat) and as always I’ve been daydreaming about what books to take for weeks. In the old days (ie before I had a child) the definition of a holiday for me was basically just ‘reading in warmer climates’. I mean, I think the entire purpose of my holidays up until I had Daph was to read as many books as possible. I usually read at least one a day - and I’m a really slow reader (on that note, I’m going to write a new blog about how much of an issue this becomes when you’re an author! I can’t keep up with my peers at all, it’s so upsetting).

But anyway, on holidays in the old days I’d buy a ton of different books and chomp my way through them while lying on a beach and not really getting tanned because I hate feeling too hot and I hate the sun being on my face. It was bliss. I am ever hopeful that one day I will be able to experience that very simple nirvana again, but for the time being - with a three-year-old who needs constant entertaining - I suspect it is a little ambitious.

Thus for my ten day holiday I have only chosen to take five books. And I’m depressingly pessimistic about the likelihood of me getting through even these. I’m so bloody knackered by the time that Daphne is asleep that I can barely make it through a page, let alone a chapter, without falling asleep. But last year, she did have a two-hour nap every day on the beach, so fingers and toes firmly crossed the sea air wears her out once again…

Anyway I thought it would be nice to share the books that I’m taking with you, and the reasons I’m taking them. In case there were any you hadn’t heard of, or fancied checking out yourself.

These are in no particular order by the way. Here we go…

DEGREES OF GUILT BY HS CHANDLER

I’m starting with a bit of a cheeky one, because this isn’t actually out yet (author’s perks). It’s being released in ebook on 16 May, but the author and I share an agent, so I was lucky to get an advance copy. Here’s the blurb:

When you read this book, you will think you know every twist in the tale.

Maria is on trial for attempted murder.

She has confessed to the crime and wanted her husband dead.

Lottie is on the jury, trying to decide her fate.

She embarks on an illicit affair with a stranger, and her husband can never find out.

You will think you know who is guilty and who is innocent.

You will be wrong.

I’m really into legal thrillers at the moment - I think I’m just so in awe of anyone who can negotiate all the research and complexity (it does help, perhaps, that the author herself is a lawyer! Even so…). Anyway I love that it’s the woman on trial for killing her husband, rather than the other way round. I’m excited for this one and getting under the skins of the two female protagonists.

EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU BY CELESTE NG

This one was recommended to me by a friend (the fab Caroline Hulse - read her book if you haven’t already!). Here’s the blurb:

Lydia is the favourite child of Marilyn and James Lee; a girl who inherited her mother's bright blue eyes and her father's jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue - in Marilyn's case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James's case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the centre of every party. But Lydia is under pressures that have nothing to do with growing up in 1970s small town Ohio. Her father is an American born of first-generation Chinese immigrants, and his ethnicity, and hers, make them conspicuous in any setting.

When Lydia's body is found in the local lake, James is consumed by guilt and sets out on a reckless path that may destroy his marriage. Marilyn, devastated and vengeful, is determined to make someone accountable, no matter what the cost. Lydia's older brother, Nathan, is convinced that local bad boy Jack is somehow involved. But it's the youngest in the family - Hannah - who observes far more than anyone realises and who may be the only one who knows what really happened.

I’ve never read any of Celeste Ng’s books but I have heard lots and lots of praise, and I love the premise of this - I think it’s exactly the kind of book the old me would have devoured on holiday. It’ll also be nice to read something a bit more literary - I tend to read loads of psychological thrillers so it will be good to have a break and try something a bit different (although the premise sounds very page-turny too which is GOOD for my woefully poor attention span).

HOW TO FAIL BY ELIZABETH DAY

I am totally obsessed with Elizabeth Day’s podcast, How to Fail, so I was very excited to hear that she had brought out a book too! Here’s what her publisher says about it:

This is a book for anyone who has ever failed. Which means it’s a book for everyone.

If I have learned one thing from this shockingly beautiful venture called life, it is this: failure has taught me lessons I would never otherwise have understood. I have evolved more as a result of things going wrong than when everything seemed to be going right. Out of crisis has come clarity, and sometimes even catharsis.

Part memoir, part manifesto, and including chapters on dating, work, sport, babies, families, anger and friendship, it is based on the simple premise that understanding why we fail ultimately makes us stronger. It's a book about learning from our mistakes and about not being afraid.

I find her podcast so inspiring - if you haven’t listened to it yet, then get on it, you’re in for such a massive treat. So I’m really, really looking forward to reading this. I’ve become quite the Elizabeth Day fangirl (and I hate that word!). I read quite a lot of non-fiction - I’d say at least half the books I read are non-fiction, and I absolutely adore memoirs, so I think this will be right up my street.

WATCHING YOU BY LISA JEWELL

And now for a ‘safe’ read (ie, one I know will be good!). Here’s the premise:

You’re back home after four years working abroad, new husband in tow.

You’re keen to find a place of your own. But for now you’re crashing in your big brother’s spare room.

That’s when you meet the man next door.

He’s the head teacher at the local school. Twice your age. Extraordinarily attractive. You find yourself watching him.

All the time.

But you never dreamed that your innocent crush might become a deadly obsession.

Or that someone is watching you.

I love Lisa Jewell’s books, and I find her such an inspiration as a writer, so I feel very confident that this won’t let me down. It’s always a pleasure to read books by ‘masters (mistresses?)’ of the craft. I also love that it has a stalking theme, which is kind of similar to my second book Unfollow Me.

THE BOOK YOU WISH YOUR PARENTS HAD READ BY PHILIPPA PERRY

Last but not least… I actually bought this in hardcover a while ago but it’s been sitting on the dining room table guilting me ever since. Here’s a bit more about it:

Every parent wants their child to be happy and every parent wants to avoid screwing them up. But how do you achieve that?

In this absorbing, clever and funny book, renowned psychotherapist Philippa Perry tells us what really matters and what behaviour it is important to avoid - the vital dos and don'ts of parenting.

Instead of mapping out the 'perfect' plan, Perry offers a big-picture look at the elements that lead to good parent-child relationships. This refreshing, judgement-free book will help you to:

· Understand how your own upbringing may affect your parenting
· Accept that you will make mistakes and learn what you can do about them
· Break negative cycles and patterns 
· Handle your own and your child's feelings
· Understand what different behaviours communicate

Full of sage and sane advice, this is the book that every parent will want to read and every child will wish their parents had.

I’ve heard loads of rave reviews for it (especially from friends) so I’m hoping, basically, that it’s going to transform me as a parent and provide all the answers to the questions that continually drown me (such as how on earth do you get a three year old to get dressed in the morning when they want to do everything BUT?). However, because parenting is definitely not just a mother’s job, I’m keen that Oli reads this too. I was telling a friend the other day that when we first went on holiday together we used to read to each other in bed - I was really embarrassed to admit it but she said she thought it was cute, so… now I’m telling the whole world on my blog. Ha. Anyway, my plan is that we read each other this every evening once Daph’s asleep (and then leave Greece as shiny happy new parents).

So that’s it! I also have a friend’s unpublished manuscript which I’m really looking forward to as I love her writing. I will let you know how I get on with these on social media! You can follow me on Twitter, Insta and Facebook if you’re not already. I really hope I manage to read all five - wish me luck!

My debut, THE RIVAL, is out now. UNFOLLOW ME will be published in June.