Writing update!

9 February 2012

The other day, my husband was at one of his poker games (he’s a poker FIEND and takes part in tournaments and stuff) and someone asked him ‘What does your wife do?’ Without pause, he replied: ‘She’s a writer’ and then apparently reflected for a while on how nice it was to be able to say that.

I’m very touched by this, as I have found that the angst I felt as I wondered ‘Am I a writer?’ was nothing compared to that of my nearest and dearest, who’d apparently been thinking ‘Is she a writer now?’ Typically, I suppose the turning point for him came when I started making more money from my books than my day job as a researcher, which I am now optimistic about being able to leave at some point. And there was me, thinking it was all about being CREATIVE when actually, like seemingly everything else, it’s about MONEY.

I’m now selling around a thousand books a month, which is apparently pretty good for a self publisher and especially one like myself who does barely any promotion. I do sometimes wonder what I could achieve if I had an actual publisher behind me and therefore marginally more klout (hey, I might have sold over 3,000 books now but there’s still people out there who are VERY keen to let me know that I’m not writing ‘real books’ because they are e-books and that I’m not a ‘proper writer’ because I don’t have an agent or a publisher they have heard of, which isn’t technically true as they’ve heard of ME, haven’t they?) in the publishing world but, well, if it’s meant to happen it will and I’m not losing sleep over it in the meantime.

People have started asking if publishers are approaching me now that both my blog and my books are taking off – they are definitely not and nor do I expect them to. My blog gets over 3,000 views a day now, which is jolly nice but I don’t think there’s enough of a cohesive theme to the whole thing to make it of interest to them. I HAVE been approached by a very nice agent though (hello!) and am sending chapters of my Minette novel along to her as I write so she can help me improve them. I’m enjoying this immensely actually as I’ve been thinking for a while now that I wish I had someone who knows what they are doing to tell me what to do and help me with plot tangles and stuff.

I don’t know what will happen once the book is finished but either way, it will almost certainly be a better book for this precious input. It’s also changed the way that I write as, I’ll be honest, I used to try my best to forget that the book was going to be read by other people once I’d finished it. In fact Before the Storm is the first book that I’ve written with the express and full intention of publication. Now though I’m constantly aware that it is being read, nay SCRUTINISED, and that’s keeping me both writing (I can be lazy – it amazes me that people think I am prolific) and also on my toes somewhat.

Anyway, Minette is going very well – I’m writing the fifth chapter at the moment and am enjoying it immensely. Charles I is dead, Henrietta Maria is keen to marry Minette off to her cousin Louis XIV and Mademoiselle de Montpensier is keen to put as many spanners in the works as it takes to prevent that from happening.

Here’s some Writing Tips that I have picked up so far during this book’s conception:

1. You can’t ‘hiss’ a sentence that doesn’t have any ‘s’ in it. Think about it.

2. If you are battling terrible writer’s block, it can be immensely helpful to sit back, listen to music and mentally put together a stonking film trailer for your book that incorporates all the most dramatic or whatever scenes (written or not) that you think really encapsulate your book. For example, for Minette, I have a trailer worked out against the background of What The Water Gave Me by Florence and the Machine and it involves lots of running down corridors, screaming in carriages, floating on a lake while sunlight dapples through the trees overhead and cross looks at masked balls. And that’s my book. Um, okay.

For Whitechapel aka The Secret Keeper, I have worked out trailers to Before I Die by Kidney Thieves and Let The Record Show by Emilie Autumn (did I mention that I am seeing her again in March? I did? Oh well.), which involves um staggering down an alleyway in the dark, cross looks over a dinner table, the flash of a knife, a very painted up girl singing on a music hall stage and um possibly some snogging. Already, you can see that it is a very different sort of book.

Here’s one someone else made earlier cunningly combining Let the Record Show and Sweeney Todd. Obviously, if anyone ever unwisely makes a film from any of my books they have to star Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter (and Aidan Turner, Tom Hardy and Eva Green) or I’m signing NOTHING.

There was a number 3 but I can’t remember what it was. Oh wait, I know:

3. This isn’t a tip, but a response to a question I’ve been asked a hundred times recently – I have no IMMEDIATE plans to write a sequel to the Marie Antoinette novel but if one does emerge it will be rather different from its predecessor and may have a totally different narrator added to the mix, one that I can have a bit of fun with. To be honest, I wrote The Secret Diary of a Princess about four years ago now and am a bit staggered by how successful it has been as it was just a bit of fun and never actually intended for publication. There might also be a short story sequel to both Blood Sisters and Before the Storm as I’ve had a lot of questions about the fate of the main characters…

Anyway, it’s now almost a month since Before the Storm was launched and people have been very kind about it! I think it’s my best work to date and it’s nice that the first few readers seem to have enjoyed it so much…

I really enjoyed this book. After reading so many historical romances that circle tightly around the hero and heroine, and where it’s easy to tell who’s going to have a happy ending with whom at the end of the first chapter, it was a breath of fresh air to read about the strong ensemble cast and not to know what was going to happen next. All the settings come to life so vividly, from Bath to London to Versailles to Paris (especially Paris!) I also loved the homages to Edith Wharton’s The Buccaneers. Highly recommended!

Many historical novels set against such a huge backdrop of revolutionary France can lose their way, but Melanie’s skill is to weave together the stories of the main protagonists while zooming in to focus on their intensely passionate (in every sense) relationships. I read a review elsewhere that this author’s greatest achievement is to write so honestly about the way women treat each other – I certainly agree. Here we see women as silly girls, blooming into women or becoming embittered by the vagaries life throws at them; women as sisters, friends and bitter rivals; women supporting or stabbing each other in the back.

I devoured this book in one sitting. Elegantly written with fascinating, finely drawn characters and a beautifully paced narrative. Recommended to all lovers of historical fiction – and anyone who likes a good yarn!

Having recently read Edith Wharton’s The Buccaneers, I can say that this is a wonderful homage to that novel, which manages the rare feat of being a pleasure to read in its own right. Set in the years leading up to the French Revolution gives this reworking an added urgency. In spite of the precarious situation the heroines often find themselves in, this is a joyful and luscious novel. Melanie Clegg is particularly adept at painting the settings and costumes of the period in technicolour. Sometimes Clegg is in danger of getting *too* carried away with period details, but the excitement and obvious passion she has for the epoque is communicative, so she can be forgiven!

Ah, thank you so much! Before the Storm costs less than a decent gin and tonic, an aspirational magazine or a trip to Paris and is available from all good Amazon UK and Amazon US.

If you have enjoyed my books, please please consider leaving a review, no matter how short on Amazon and/or Goodreads (where you can get away with just rating with stars without actually saying ANYTHING, which is a bonus if you hate actually WRITING reviews) to let people know. It really helps and I would love you so much if you did, which may be a threat or a promise. Who can tell?

I’m off now anyway to write, do a little bit of work and also read about St Petersburg as we’re thinking about going either there or Venice for a few days this spring. Have any of you been? What did you think?

  • Picture at the top is used with permission of Denis Severs’ House, Folgate Street, London.