Friday, 27 July 2018

We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master

I haven't blogged in ages. All those promises (well, half promises) I made to you lovely readers at the start of this blog have been broken.

I wanted to write regularly on this blog, but alas I have just not had the time. N has taken most of it but not all. The Handmaid's Tale has also taken a fair chunk and then of course there is work!

Being back at work three days a week is great. I do feel like I have a work life balance - enough time with N. Time to cook and be all motherly and time for myself (be it at work! Although I do get a couple of hours on my non work days when he sleeps and I do use that time for me - as long as I have prepared enough food for him - I don't do much housework  in this time - some light cleaning and washing up because now N is older I can do some of the housework with him.  Instead I watch box sets and read and more recently I've been scouring kitchen and bathroom websites for our impending renovation but mainly I write.

I said to myself I wouldn't write anything new this year. That I would concentrate on Jackpot Jetty and the house renovation and of course N, but sadly this has not happened the way I planned. I think this is the issue most writers have. Once you start writing you cannot stop and the ideas come (unless you are in the middle of writer's block). So I was on holiday in France having a rare afternoon nap, but I wasn't napping I was conjuring up a new location, a new protagonist, a new cosy crime series... well not quite a series - a book, a one off which could turn into a series.

I'm excited. It involves an Indian female young Miss Marple character who has recently moved to Devon, quitting her high flying city job to make occasion cakes for the rich. She has a market stall too and she of course starts to solve crime.

I'm excited about this and so every opportunity I get I try to write. But for the first time I haven't given myself any deadlines...

Watch this space! 

Friday, 15 June 2018

We write to taste life twice...

...in the moment and in retrospect. Anais Nin.

So my current work in progress went to my critique group, my unloving and brutally honest critique group. I ordered a glass of wine to help me get through it expecting the worst. After all, I wrote Jackpot Jetty when I was sleep deprived with a three month old. But it turns out that I write better when I am sleep deprived, because the critique wasn't that bad. I need to make changes, some big, but mostly little and they are mainly just changes, not rewriting the whole thing - which I have had to do before following a harsh critique. It has boosted my confidence which I kind of needed because when you have a baby you occasionally need a confidence boost in all the things you used to do before baby because suddenly your brain is filled with baby things and you forget that you were once confident in things other than changing nappies and so you need to be reminded of it. 

That leads me on to work... so I was loving being back at work and I am still loving it, but sometimes I think can I do this? I used to be able to do it, maybe I can... but it takes a while to get your confidence back. It doesn't help when you have had more than a year off and have forgotten most things too! 

To add to work and writing we are in the process of buying a new house, if that wasn't stressful enough it is a house that requires complete renovation!

So my promised fortnightly posts have fallen by the wayside. Blogging I expect will be sporadic! N is still loving weetabix, and Ella's pouches, but is slowly enjoying food I make him again. He particularly likes cheddar and courgette muffins and cheddar and carrot biscuits. Easy peasy recipes as I'm not very good at baking! The little munchkin is growing so fast though and now I'm settled at work the weeks are flying by. How are we in June already?! 


Saturday, 14 April 2018

Author Interview - Poison in the Water


So to celebrate the re-release of my novel Poison in the Water, I am republishing the author Interview I did for the original release with So Vain Books! 

Tell us in a couple of lines what the book is about.
Fashion designer Celeste Renshaw is living her dream amidst Hong Kong’s glitterati. But the sparkle on her glamorous lifestyle soon begins to fade when she stumbles on a dark secret her husband has been keeping.  

An exotic location. Tell us a little more.
There are a couple of key locations in the book. The protagonist Celeste takes a career break to travel and in Thailand where she meets Mr Charismatic – Alex Renshaw.  An unfortunate event pushes them together and they travel on from Koh Phi Phi to Krabi. The story takes you on a journey through the islands encountering the smells, sounds and the tastes of the East. Thailand remains a special place for the couple and they venture back there when their marriage is on the rocks. 
Then there is London, which is home and where Cross is based (the name of the fashion house where the protagonist is a designer). The reader is introduced to luxe living and private members clubs and is given a glimpse into what life is like behind those closed doors. 
In Hong Kong, where Celeste and Alex eventually settle, you have the atmosphere of street life - hawkers selling century eggs and glazed ducks hanging in windows. Hong Kong is such a busy place, full of culture and the hustle and bustle of street life at every corner. But  Hong Kong has another side as well - a commercial side  which can be quite anonymous. You have these towering skyscrapers and malls with exquisite dining options in each one.  Once you are inside one of these malls you really could be anywhere in the world.

You are a keen traveller. Are any of your travel experiences reflected in the book?
I backpacked around Thailand so I experienced some of what Celeste experiences. There is a scene in the book where Celeste is on a boat (very similar to the one I went on) and a little barefoot boy throws rice into the brilliant turquoise waters near Kho Phi Phi and hundreds of silver fish come to the surface to eat. That memory is so vivid in my mind from my time travelling that I just had to include it. There are a few snippets like that in Poison
I have also spent time in Hong Kong – as a child we went there as a family on holiday, then again when I was backpacking and I have been there on business as well. My sister had an apartment there too. A few years ago I went over to help her furnish the three floor property and spent a good month in Hong Kong. Looking at fabric swatches during the day and eating at luxe restaurants at night. Each time I visited Hong Kong I experienced a different side to it.   It was just the perfect place to set a novel. 

What inspired you to write Poison in the Water?

The lives of the rich can be something of an enigma to us. We are intrigued by socialites and we have certain perceptions of them. Whilst many are pretty ordinary, some are not. You just have to turn the TV on these days and you can see ‘The Real Housewives of….’ Or Millionaire’s Mansions. Programmes that revolve around a lifestyle with money. 
I have been lucky enough to get a glimpse into this lifestyle and see what it is really like. The apartment my sister had in Hong Kong was luxury itself, set over three floors. It provided amazing inspiration for a place to set this book. I could just see Celeste and Alex living in an apartment like that with the money to match that lifestyle. I have had the privilege of going to private members clubs in London and going to expensive restaurants. It was this champagne lifestyle that inspired me to write the book. Because the adage of ‘All that glitters is not gold,’ is quite true and I wanted to explore this theme. 

So the book revolves around a champagne lifestyle. What other themes are prevalent in Poison in the Water?
Love, of course. It is a romantic suspense and tells a love story. Celeste meets the man of her dreams, but things are not all as they first appear.  Friendships are a big theme in the book as well. Some are tested and some are broken. The protagonist has some close friendships, a man she adores and a meddling busy body assistant. They all help and hinder her to some extent. Knowing who to trust is a big issue for Celeste, especially when she has been let down so badly. But the protagonist is not perfect herself. She has made some mistakes too and finds it difficult to swallow her pride. Saying she is sorry to the right people is important. 

Who is your favourite character and why? 
Celeste, the protagonist. It has to be. She is a career woman with steely determination and when we meet her she has such a passion for life. I love that about her. She lives for the moment – whereas I am constantly thinking about the future. She reminds me to be more present in the present!  Celeste gets swept up into a world that is all diamonds and Dior, but the sparkle soon begins to fade and she faces some difficulties that no woman should ever have to face. She has some strong people around her, but she has to find an inner strength to truly move on. I suppose, on some level, I admire her and what she goes through in order to get out the other side. 

What next?
I am working on the second book in the Chupplejeep mysteries. It’s called The Body in the Bath and is a light-hearted detective story set in rural Goa. I am also working on a thriller called Splinter. (Update: The Body in the Bath is now complete and has been released. The next in the Chupplejeep series is my work in progress and is titled Jackpot Jetty!)

Poison in the Water is available as an ebook and paperback on Amazon or through your local bookseller. 

Marissa de Luna is an author with a passion for travel and adventure. Poison in the Water is her fourth novel. For more information see www.marissadeluna.com

And (although I hate to do this) a little plea for reviews. As it is a re-release all the original reviews on Amazon have been deleted, so if you read it and like it, please do leave a review.





Wednesday, 28 March 2018

The Work Life Balance

Whether you are a stay-at-home mum or a working mum it's hard. Hard to leave your children and hard to look after them all day. They want entertaining all of the time and feeding and cleaning.  I'm back at work. Three days a week. I love it. I love the balance I have. I have time with N and I have time for me (well sort of for me) at work. Work is busy. I'm basically fitting five days work in three but for me it's better than working the five days so I'll take it. Sometimes, at work, I feel like I am continually playing catch up but I hope that once I have been back for a few months I will be a little more on top of things. I have to say I am probably more reactive rather than proactive these days. Before N, at work, I used to wonder why people didn't respond within 48 hours (and that was me being patient - I had no patience). For me there was no such thing as too busy. Make the time I used to think to myself. Now I know why emails can be left unanswered. Thinking about unanswered emails still leaves me in a cold sweat. Those two days that I am not in the office those pesky emails they build up, despite my out of office I know they are there waiting to be answered. But as I get used to this new life change I am sure I will get used to it.

What I do find difficult is having to start and leave work at exact times (because of the nursery drop offs and pick ups). There is no staying ten minutes late to finish a piece of work. So I write lists. Constantly. And with two days off a week I find I forget everything so the lists are necessary.

The work life balance can be difficult to achieve especially when you have the capacity to work from home. I find it easy to switch off from being a mum at work (unless N is a little under the weather) because I'm busy and don't have much time to think... but at home there are the odd moments when I have thought about those unanswered emails. Pre N I rarely thought about work after hours, and I hope to get to that state of mind again. I thought I would be able to work on a manuscript (Dark Waters) that I wrote before N's arrival, but I feel like I just don't have the brain power to do it, not along with everything else. Something has to give - another sacrifice has to be made so that I don't burn out. So that I stay sane and have that work life balance. It's funny isn't it - we have children and then immediately want to get back to what we were doing before - we want it all. Something has to give! Well, at least, for me it has to.

At the moment one of my publishers is winding up and so I have been busy working on the the re-release of Poison in the Water. That is taking up some of my writing time. As much as I would like to work on Dark Waters I know I shouldn't. I need to rest my brain a little.  I am also eagerly awaiting the critique on my current work-in-progress Jackpot Jetty and will work on that in the near future. Dark Waters may never see the light of day. It pains me to not be writing/editing something at the moment but perhaps a break for a few months will do me good. I have this blog and soon Jackpot Jetty to work on.

In the meantime I am getting on the self-care bandwagon (meditation is so last year...) and have just completed a course (online - Udemy is great for mums or anyone that wants to learn in bite size chunks) in Pranayama - yogic breathing. Something to add to my yoga practice - when I get around to doing some regular yoga again. I love learning (yep, geek) and so a work life balance means not just work, being a mum and a writer but learning as well - doing something different. I recently read an article about portfolio careers that millennial favour. It basically said that millennials like having several careers on the go at the same time. I get that. Blogging may not be a career or learning about yogic breathing but who knows where it might lead. And doing short courses always helps with my writing. In Jackpot Jetty one of the main characters is a yoga teacher so Pranayama is relevant!

Friday, 9 March 2018

The Critique Life

I (the geek that I am) am in a writing group - Abingdon Writers. They are a great bunch of writers and without them my novels wouldn't be half as good as they are. One of the main things I like about this group is that they are not a loving - they are pretty brutal. You need that kind of brutality when you're a writer.  Of course you want people to say how amazing your work is but let's face it apart from boosting your ego it isn't going to do much for your writing.

Abingdon Writers has a sub-group that critiques full manuscripts and I love being part of the group. Because, for me, critiquing develops you as a writer as much as reading does. It makes you look at your own work with a more discerning eye. In the next couple of weeks my current work in progress is going to the group. A critique normally requires copious amounts of wine to get through and normally when it is over I take two months to process the feedback. Sometimes I ask myself where do I begin. I don't listen to everything - sometimes there are differences in opinion, other times I just don't agree with a point that has been made. But generally, the vast majority of changes they say need to be made are made.

It has been a huge achievement for me to complete this MS (the next instalment in the Chupplejeep Series - Jackpot Jetty) whilst on maternity leave and I have to admit at times (in a sleep deprived state) I have written in a trance-like state - not knowing what I am writing, but getting the words down almost like an auto-pilot. I somehow feel that since having N my writing has changed. Is that because I have changed as a person? I'm a mother now and I guess that changes the way you look at the world - therefore affecting your writing. I also write differently now. I know that my writing can often be interrupted so I write what comes into my mind - I used to write in a linear fashion but not anymore and in doing so I am sure it has had an effect on my writing too. I am expecting a particularly harsh critique this time around.

My writing has changed and so has my editing style. Jackpot Jetty is a rough first draft. Usually I would wait till one of the final edits for a critique. But in submitting a first draft I can get some direction from the group early on and take my time to make my edits. I have given myself till the end of the year to get it ready for publication....So I have adapted, my writing and my editing style to make it fit around new lifestyle.

And what of little N? Well he has started nursery and so far so good, minus the bugs! Tummy bugs are the worst and it's hellish when you catch them too. But its still early days and I am hoping things settle in that respect.   

Monday, 5 February 2018

Itching to Scribble

So my book sales seem to be falling. Not the books with the publishers, but my self-pubbed titles. The ones I can monitor on Amazon. I check these once a month and I have noticed of late that sales have dropped. I haven't had any negative reviews for The Chupplejeep Series  and they sell pretty well so I'm not sure what has suddenly caused this. Another author I spoke to recently has said the same of her novels, it makes me wonder that if in this world of self publishing if there are just so many new books (from relatively unknown authors like moi) coming to the market that it is just flooded.

Possibly. Possibly not. I can't say that I monitor trends (I used to -but I just don't have the time now) but what I can say is that over the past year I haven't done much marketing for my books at all. What did I do previously? Not much. I had my old blog, which I never believed contributed to sales, a Facebook page, a Twitter account that I hardly used (I tried and was really good to begin with, but then I tired of it. I just felt there was too much noise on Twitter and frankly I didn't have the patience for it. But maybe I will venture back there) and more recently an Instagram account which I used more for checking out pictures of food I'd like to eat and following my favourite shops to see when they so on sale (also feeds into to on-line shopping addiction). But perhaps the little I was doing was working. My prices are pretty static. I like to keep them that way so that readers don't feel cheated if they see it for a lower price the week after they have bought it. Although from my own reading experience I don't really check on book prices after I have read a book...

Now I need to do something to boost sales again. Perhaps I will reduce the prices. They are already low, but it is a price sensitive market. And I am definitely planning to do a series of posts on Instagram and possibly my Facebook page called the Chupplejeep Diaries. This will be pictures mostly of Goa on Instagram with links to my Chupplejeep Series which will promote the books. Another thing on my increasingly long list of things to do!

One constant on my to do list is to moisturise N ALL THE TIME. Why? Because he has Eczema. It started at four months about a week after I saw an eczemous baby at a playgroup and thanked my lucky stars that N didn't have it! Since he has had this terrible skin condition. I have tried everything on his skin from Aquaphor to Zeroderm. The best thing that worked was oatmeal in a pair of tights soaked in his bath and rubbed on his skin. It pretty much kept the eczema at bay over the summer. But in the winter with the central heating - it is back - back with a vengeance. So more money has been spent - a humidifier installed in his room, a water softener filter too (this was a cheap one and needs to be replaced with a proper system). Several other creams and oils have been tried - nothing works. Even steroids seem to be temperamental.  The next product on my to-buy list is Moo Goo Udder cream. It's supposed to be good, but can I find a stockist in the UK - nope and their website is very slow so my purchase never goes through. I will persist - I  will get there. But I'm not holding out much hope for the cream as so far no cream  has worked (apart from Aquaphor which got rid of his eczema for a whole two weeks before it stopped working)

I have struggled with N's Eczema because sometimes his skin has been so raw I want to cry.  I hate using steroid creams on him too so that hasn't helped my state of mind when I have had to use the creams ( and then they are tempremental). The moisturising is relentless and doesn't really appear to help and you feel so helpless. I have been told to just accept it and do what you can to minimise irritation. I have been told that he will grow out of it. I hope so.



Monday, 22 January 2018

11 months on an 11 hour flight

A flight...an 11 hour flight. Normally I relish this time - away from my laptop and Google, and on-line shopping which I am addicted to since becoming a mum. Usually I use a long flight to watch movies and immerse myself in a good book. I sometimes do a bit of writing too. I started writing my first novel in an airport lounge and airports and aeroplanes are great places to people watch which is always a good pastime for a writer. Sadly with an eleven month old all of the above goes out the window.

The trip was to Goa, where I grew up so I knew once I got there ( 9 hours on the way out - 11 on the way back) I could switch of and relax (My parents have a house there). I have to admit the way out was okay. It was a day flight. He watched a few cartoons, ate Ella's Melty Puffs and was kept entertained by an apple for most of the journey, but the way back - a night flight - was tough. The armrests were static and so he could not sleep across husband and me so he had to sleep on just one of us. He was hot and bothered, but he slept. We didn't. However, we got through it. Before the flight I researched what to take to help me on the flight. I didn't find any great sites for advice so here is mine.

Take a good travel bag. A backpack (although not very trendy) is essential. A mum recommended this one to me from Amazon which is pretty tough to beat. The zip at the back gives you access to the lower part of the rucksack so you don't have to spend your time rummaging, while your baby is in fits of tears waiting for his favourite blanket.

I also recommend Melty Puffs as mentioned above (no nasties) and likely to keep the little one occupied. Ella's pouches too are handy or your pouch of choice. I do like giving N my own food, but these are pretty good if you are in a rush. I've passed the baby weaning phase but I was worried about processed food when I started. The guides from First Step Nutrition tell you what you need to know and it's independent so no sponsors to influence their reports.

Even if your little one is not on milk anymore, taking a mini formula bottle can be comforting and get can encourage them to have a nap too. There is so much distraction for them on an aeroplane!

Zip lock bags are great- for keeping things clean and keeping things separate and they hardy take up any space.

Milton travel wipes are handy for when you are out and about at your destination as well. Some high chairs in restaurants need a good wipe!

A hand sanitiser like Aquaint is good too for baby and you. You can get a pocket size version too.

A sippy cup is a must and toys - a book, a set of baby's first keys and remote or phone (The ELC ones are great).

A blanket and some outfit changes are a given.

I won't go into detail about what to take for when you are in a tropical country with a little one but two of the best products I used were the Green baby mosi-tabs to stick on baby's clothes and Badger anti-bug balm (both all natural I think). N has Eczema and this didn't interfere with that. And whilst my husband and I got bitten, N didn't so the bug balm and the tabs worked. Another must have for me were the Damero bags which I bought from Amazon. I got the three pack and they were great for putting in my day bag for snacks, swimwear and changing stuff for N. I like the fact that these bags have two compartments to help you keep organised.

It was a successful and somewhat relaxing trip (holidays are somewhat different with a baby. You never quite switch off). And I didn't do any writing. Going to Goa is the one time I do switch off. I have a no-work policy and that includes writing. I did take some photos for a Chupplejeep Diary that I am planning to launch on Instagram (@Marissade.luna) and on my Facebook page (marissadelunaauthor).  I need to sort out links and widgets to my profiles...bear with me! When I'm in Goa I try to observe my surroundings as much as possible and soak up the atmosphere so that when I put pen to paper I can recall the sights, smells, and sounds of the place and re-create this on the page. I once read that writing about an exotic location in the exotic location can hinder your writing because you are surrounded by stimulus that you can incorporate into your manuscript - I think there is some truth in that - for me at least. Now that I am back in England I remember what stood out for me not all the minutiae and so I am planning to go through my current manuscript - Jackpot Jetty and do an edit where I add in some of this detail - the dog sunning itself on the dusty red mud, the woman in the green sari walking along the beach her hands outstretched towards the blue sky, the sweet taste of a freshly made jalebi dripping with sugar syrup...








We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master

I haven't blogged in ages. All those promises (well, half promises) I made to you lovely readers at the start of this blog have been br...