I had barely travelled before, and India was an incredible experience that saw me working alongside Bollywood Actors to create performances in villages and DVD movies to raise public health awareness of things like diet, pregnancy, HIV, and AIDS. Issues that had been brought up during our research in the field as we took blood samples, and asked women about their health experiences. It was an eye opening experience that forced me to realise my own belief system as a westerner. In order to interview the women in the villages we had to first get the permission of the male elders, and we faced daily challenges of things like infanticide, untouchables, and the caste system. It was also the first time that I came to realise how many strong and amazing women there are in the world, and it definitely shaped the charity that I would later found as part of my fight for children's advocacy. It was my first proper foray into the power of television and film for public health education, and I suppose no surprise that later on in my medical career, I would write a paper focused on the positive health impacts of series like Casualty.
Anyway, I digress. As it turned out, India was to leave its mark on me in a very different way, as my body suddenly had a reaction to my routine rabies travels vaccinations, and I suddenly found myself paralysed and in hospital in Chennai (former Madras) having developed a condition called Guillain-Barre. I can tell you that 18 months of recovery and frustration gives you a lot of time to contemplate the meaning of life! And so it was that I decided to pursue a career in medicine, around the same time as the first fast track medical school courses were introduced to the UK. I quit my job at the hospital in London and took up a post as an Emergency Care Assistant at the hospital where I was born in Reading (where Kate Winslet happened to have been born just a week or two before me!). I needed to get as much hands on care experience as I could to improve my application for such a competitive course, so I worked bank shifts on other wards and in an old people's home, and took night courses in science. But was still lacking experience alongside a GP and that kind of post seemed impossible to come by. And then, I discovered through some out-of-the-box thinking, that a couple of paramedics I'd met in London, also worked at Pinewood Studios at the medical centre there. So I wrote to the film studio and asked if I could do some voluntary work at the medical centre there. I've come to believe that it NEVER does any harm to ask, the worst that anyone can say is no. Never in a million years did I imagine they would agree to let me do work experience with them, but they did!!
That's how I ended up on film productions like James Bond's Casino Royal, and Harry Potter, and discovered that Pinewood had the only permanent underwater film stage in the world, and that in turn led to me becoming an IMCA Diver Medic Technician and going on to work in aviation, space, environmental, and hyperbaric medicine with the Royal Navy and NASA.
It was during one of these days on set with the medical team, that a call came in that Eastenders were looking for someone with some medical experience to play the role of a paramedic and the guys suggested that I might fancy it. I thought they were joking at first since I was more of a dweeb than an actress person. But I did it, and was then invited to join the agency's books as a 'Supporting Artist'. Back in those days, there were only a handful of agents and it was incredibly difficult to get on the books, and most jobs in the film industry were done on word of mouth. You worked on a production, people liked you, and then they asked you to work on their next production.
To be honest, I was terrified of my agent and I had so much imposter syndrome that I was sure I would get found out, but I never left their books. It was a family business and they had all been actors in the 1980s Tenko series and were very 'sweety darling' stereotypical creatives, a whole different world to me coming from an environment of Italian neurologists and brain experts at the hospital. Back in those days you got a call on your mobile phone (I don't think texts were a thing then) and you would be told to get to the studio for 4am tomorrow morning to play role x. There was no saying that you couldn't do it or checking your diary back then. If you didn't do it, then chances were you would never get a job again.
Lucky for me that I was at the studio pretty much all day every day now I'd picked up paid work, and that gave me the added advantage of being called to the agent's office, which just happened to be right next door to Roger Moore's office - so it became a regular occurance that I would meet with the former Mr Bond in the corridor and chat about the weather or what we were having for lunch in the studio canteen. And sometimes we would walk past people like Keira Knightly or Johnny Depp in a corridor too, hair in rollers, or nipping to the loo. Hold open the door and say good morning. Half the time I had no idea who anyone was since I didn't really watch tv or movies. I was far too busy swatting up for med school or studying for my med school exams once I was in. But I loved catching the train home at the end of the day and looking around at folks on the carriage and having a sense of them having no idea what magic had been created at the studio that day, but knowing that they would soon be chatting about the latest movie they had seen or having some sense of happiness because of the work and talents of a whole team of regular people who created beautiful things - the medics, set designers, shuttle bus driver, electrician, carpenter, costume designer, lighting guy, chef, optician, dentist, and of course the actors themselves. It was the same buzz as working in a busy accident and emergency department, or working with the Royal Navy, every person in the team mattered, because if one person failed to do their task, it impacted on everyone else. I still have that same sense of pride as a 'supporting artist' because even though the role is tiny and seems insignificant, it still matters, and it can really make up a scene and the context for the story. Sometimes I might spend a week away filming something, and you might just get a split second of me on screen if you're lucky!
Well, it turned out that once I started working as a 'Supporting Artist', I became eligible and already had the skill set I needed to become a stunt person, and the next logical step was to take part in some of the stunt training sessions at the studios, so that I could get my licence and work as a scuba diver in the underwater stage doing the underwater stunts. And that was when I moved to the Caribbean to begin my work in Public Health Medicine and turned my energies to working with space medicine, but I still kept my hand in with film work whilst I was there, and have done ever since.
Working on Gentleman Jack
Flash forward to summer 2018 and imagine yourself in the Tesco's car park of a market town called Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire. It's a baking hot day, and you are about to leave the cool, fresh air of the mobile home step, to try on layer upon layer of thick and scratchy material and a very tight corset. Welcome to the world of costume fittings! You've also just spent 5 hours on the train to get here for about £25 and forked out £45 for the train. Often when you tell people you are working on a film production, they imagine glamour or that you are a millionaire, but the reality is, it is poorly paid (often lower than the minimum wage by the time you take out your agent's fee, VAT, travel, and purchase of any clothing you might need for the job) and it is very, very tiring and unpredictable. But it's also a lot of fun, you get to hang out with cast and crew on set that you've met on previous productions (many becoming long time friends), and you get to see places in the world that you've never been to before. It's a lot better if you are filming at places like Pinewood or on long series because the pay is generally better, locations are less remote and expensive, and you can become a regular on things like Casualty or Eastenders, and a few of my friends from the old days when I first started, now work full time on Eastenders on their own market stall, or on Casualty as a porter or nurse. As a medical student it was the perfect job for me because I would bring my revision notes to set, and now as an author, I find that it helps to refill that 'creative well' and still gives me time to write and a change from working on my own at home.
Over the years I've come to quite enjoy the costume fittings too, because I'm effectively just a body that someone else is dressing, and I have no idea what they have in store for me. So it's always a nice surprise to see what I look like by the time costume, hair, and make-up have finished with me. It's definitely helped me as a writer, because I like to play a game with myself whilst they are getting me ready, and I try and put myself into the mindset and personality of the person I now look like, and imagine their back story. How old are they, are they friendly, do they have a family, what are their favourite foods, and what is their relationship to the other people on the set? Do they know each other? Often in the process of doing that, and continuing like that whilst we film, I will find myself with a complete story by the end of the shoot. It isn't something planned, it is something that just takes its own path as the director places me next to different people through the day and my character's back story develops and grows. How many authors get the opportunity to do that with their characters! That's probably why I'm starting to get quite a collection of movie set themed stories, all of them sparked by tiny moments of time on set.
Becoming a Murder Mystery Writer
The carpenter taking a piece of MDF and building a set made from wood, that looks realistic on camera, and seeing how all the elements come together to make something that viewers or readers can connect with on an emotional level. It's very hard to see those things when you are on set, it is only when you watch the finished thing that you suddenly get it, and to me that's just how the writing is too. It's words and descriptions and attention to the environment around the characters, and thinking what they are wearing and how that will impact on the decisions they make, that comes together to make a coherent story.
For me, Gentleman Jack was when a lot of these subconscious things, became tangible for the first time, as I sat chatting with some of the electricians and actors out in the reception as we tried to get some fresh air outside of the studio. I've worked with a lot of these folks before, and will do so again, but the story will be different next time, because they will be wearing different clothes and facing different challenges. I love how actors are able to do that, to live and breathe the characters they play, and I can't imagine having to switch between being yourself and then playing a character the next moment. Especially on emotionally charged productions such as Eastenders where they do a lot of method acting.
Gentleman Jack was also special, because I'd spent a year being filmed for a Channel 4 documentary about my ancestry and DNA and love of ice swimming, and so family history was very much on my mind. A lot of my filming is in London, but when it takes place in the north of England and is a period drama, then it has a different significance because I'm often playing roles that my ancestors would have done in real life. It brings me a deeper level of intimacy with my roots, and a pride for how hard they must have worked and the kinds of conditions they lived in. Crawling through a mine in the dark, by candle light, with a corset on, thick material, and through water was hard work in a studio setting, but imagine doing that for real day in and day out. Gentleman Jack in that way is sharing the story of my ancestors in a small way, but also the story of an incredible woman Anne Lister. Her struggles and lack of freedom and how she dealt with them and forged her own path, were the same kinds of struggles that those women I met in India went through, and that many of the children I work with today are going through. That makes me appreciate how important it is that we continue to tell these stories. For that, I think Gentleman Jack will be a little bit extra special in my many years of work as an SA. xx
November/December 2017 - Where it All Began
My author journey really began in November 2017 when I first came across National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and I somehow managed to write my 50,000 words in a single month - winning my first NaNoWriMo. I learnt three important lessons during that month: 1) that I was not only able to write the required 1,667 words per day but was writing closer to 10,000 words per day, 2) that the key to success is little and often, repeated on a daily basis, and 3) that I LOVED writing.
Around the same time, I came across The Creative Penn channel on YouTube, and later on through Joanna Penn interviewing different guests on her show, I began listening to the back catalogue of two more podcasts The Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast and The Self Publishing Formula (which has recently rebranded to the Self Publishing Show). As I listened to each podcast, I found myself in some kind of creative flow and began drawing out pictures from my dog walks in the Lake District that would later become my Rydal Water Adult Colouring Book.
Not Exactly the Year I had Planned!
Then, at 4.30pm on the 24th December 2017 my life was turned upside down in an instant. I was putting up my Christmas tree, and was looking forward to having a nice Christmas and getting some down time after a manic year of being away doing school talks, cruise ship speaking, and working on films. Christmas is always a stressful time for me, lots of unhappy memories from childhood, but each year I've been getting a little bit better at it. I'm also a workaholic, so taking even a day off from work is like going cold turkey for me. It was a huge deal that I had for once decided to take some time off and I was excited to put up the tree with a little bit of help from my three naughty little kittens and my dog. But I made the mistake of 'quickly checking my emails on my phone' and saw to my horror a message from the letting agent informing me that the office would now be closed for the holidays, but the owners had decided to put the house on the market on Boxing Day and that I'd have to be out when the agent showed them around and that they would need access to the property.
Writing as Therapy
It was a huge blow, on many levels. I had not long moved in to the property, and hadn't even bought any furniture yet, so was sleeping on a camping mat on the floor. No point buying anything now. Somewhere in the back of my brain I had a feeling that I wouldn't be living here for long, and the same thing had happened to me the prior Christmas in another property. I was sick and tired of having to move and not being able to make improvements to run down, over priced properties. The most annoying thing was that if I had been able to get a mortgage, then I would have been paying 3-4 times less for a place of my own, than I currently was with renting. But I couldn't get a mortgage because I was self employed and didn't have enough years of accounts and had been living and working abroad. This made no sense to me, especially given how much I had to pay to rent. There was 6 months of rent upfront, two months of deposit, plus the credit check fee, and the administration fee - more paperwork and expense than getting a mortgage. I wouldn't have minded so much, if the letting agent actually fixed things that didn't work, but that was the problem with having pets, there were very few options for renting.
The Birth of Bertram Bile - Time Travel Adventure Series
Anyway, I was fuming and frustrated at how little control I had over my life, and worse still, I wouldn't be able to get hold of anyone until the New Year now, and this would make it even more difficult to find a new place to live because most letting agents would be closed and no way could I afford to pay 8 months of rent (6 months plus two months deposit) again. Not to mention that I worked from home, and would have to waste my precious work time doing extra cleans and having to be out of the house during the viewings. Something had to change, but I had no idea how I was going to make this happen. So I sat down with a glass of mulled wine, lit a Christmas candle, and suddenly found myself writing a story to cheer myself up. Something I'd never done before, but on reflection I think it was a self comfort thing as when I was a teen in care, a very kind English teacher at school suggested that I pretend to write letters to her whenever things got bad over the Christmas holidays. I 'wrote' to her daily and began writing stories because I needed an escape from reality.
I wrote a novella in pretty much one sitting that Christmas Eve. Bertram Bile - The Last Wizard in the World, and the next day, and the day after that, I wrote and wrote some more. I thought I would write a Christmas story about a science teacher called Libby Lane, but Bertram appeared in my imagination, followed by his best friend Molly. Then I wrote a contemporary romance novella because I needed to prove to myself that I could write a story and romance seemed like a more simple place to start, based on locations I knew well.
Finding the 20Books50K Community
I continued to listen to my YouTube podcasts and those got me excited because it was like someone giving me permission to write, to know that it was OK to write stories. I was battling a lot of old demons, things that made me only do things that were sensible, not things that were fun. I felt guilty because I got pleasure and joy from writing and I didn't feel like I deserved to be happy. Life was supposed to be hard, not fun!! Good things didn't happen to people like me. Success was not really a word in my vocabulary. To add even more pressure to an already stressful time in my life, I had a breast cancer scare and my dog also developed a mammary tumour. We would both be needing operations in the near future. There was little I could do to change the situation, but writing was something I could do, no matter what.
I usually skipped over the suggested videos that played at the end of my podcast videos, but I wasn't quite quick enough this particular day, and suddenly I was watching some random video with a guy named Michael Anderle who claimed to be making around $50k per 20 books published. Another get rich quick scheme, I assumed, wondering what he might be trying to sell, probably some expensive course that wouldn't make a difference at all. But the video all seemed to make sense, and there was no sales pitch at the end, so I decided to do a bit more digging, and worked out the maths for myself. If I could write and publish a book and only sold one copy per day, every day for a year, the income would add up, to the point where $50k seemed quite feasible. Even when I was training as a Doctor, I never would have made that much in a year, especially when I thought about the difference between being paid by the hour and passive income. If I wrote a book, it would continue to bring in money for the rest of my life, not just pay me once. It could be a good way of funding my pension if nothing else, and at least I would enjoy getting to write in the process. If I did the cover myself, edited it myself, and used a CreateSpace ISBN I could give it a try without spending any money, and see what happened. Risk free, especially if I published under a pen name.
Writing a Book in Secret
After the Christmas holidays, the letting agent finally agreed that I didn't have to move out in January, and the date was pushed back to February, then March, then April, and finally to the 15th June (it is still on the market now!). But my year was already messed up. I lived from day to day not knowing when I'd have to move, and spending all my time trying to find a new place to live, visiting properties, and having to cancel school talks, speaking events, and film work. I'd spent hours planning out my whole year in detail before the holidays, including ice swimming championships, fitness training, and when to apply for a mortgage. My life was in limbo, I found it hard to focus on anything, and my hair started to turn grey. I began to put on weight because I was no longer out walking and swimming. But I published my romance book under my pen name and left it there to see what would happen. It didn't do a lot, but no one shouted at me, and it got a couple of very nice reviews and was selling the odd copy here and there. Later in the year I splashed out on a $15 pre made cover, and sales picked up (along with Kylitics changes). It became my experimental book, the one I got translated into Spanish for $50 (reaching number two in the Spanish language romance charts_ and the one that I had a go with for Amazon ads. It was my book for learning the ropes, in secret. Then something weird happened. I made the book available as a large print paperback book, and suddenly I was selling 1 book a day on average, but not as a Kindle book, as a print book. It sold consistently, every single day. A lot more could still be done with that book, but it proved that I could do it, that I could publish a book and earn money from it. I still get a buzz when I wake up in the morning and find that I've had a sale whilst I was sleeping. Most of my Amazon income for the year has been from that one book.
Fast Forward to June and everything was coming together for me with my film work, and I was getting some amazing offers for featured artist roles, and had been filmed for a Channel 4 documentary over the previous year, which would be on the telly in November 2018. The problem was, I couldn't do any of it because I had no idea whether I would be moving or where I would be moving too. I looked at caravans, mobile homes, living abroad, and at one point it looked as if I would be moving into a new build shared ownership property right by a busy motorway. In the end I found a b & b on the opposite coast of England from the Lake District, and moved in for a week, all set to move into my new shared ownership home. I packed up my rucksack of belongings, and travelled on three trains, via Newcastle to Hartlepool with my three cats and my dog. I'd never been to the North East before, and I was sad to leave my community, especially my swimming friends. I was at rock bottom, technically now homeless, but hugely relieved that I had at least managed to keep my pets and that we would have a roof over our heads. The biggest downside, was that there was no way I could leave my pets alone in the guesthouse room alone all day, and I'd left my vet and beloved pet sitter. I would have to find a way of earning a living, without leaving my room.
My Lightbulb Moment
I faffed around with mortgages and looking at properties, until eventually it dawned on me, that if I just focused on my writing and publishing for the next 6 months or more, then not only would I be able to get a place to live, but I could very likely get a place back in the Lake District where my friends were, AND I could likely buy a house for cash and not need a mortgage. Being in the guesthouse would save me a lot of money compared to the high cost of rent, plus council tax, and utilities, and that would mean that I would be a lot better off and would give me more time to work on my writing. My book was still doing well, and I released my Bertram Bile books. I listened to every podcast I could, read lots of books, and had become a member of the 20Books50K community.
Filming 'The Romanoffs' and 'ABC Murders'.
Right before I moved to the guesthouse I worked on an Amazon series called The Romanoffs, in which there is a murder on a train, and for this one particular scene where we were in the studio filming on an MDF model of the train carriage, the Assistant Director wanted me to enter the train on her cue, but since space was tight I was to stand by her, the Director, and the screenwriter as they discussed progress whilst watching the shots on their monitors. I've worked on film productions for almost twenty years, but in all that time, I never twigged that there were screenwriters or that many films and television productions are based on books written by authors. I then got put forward for a featured role on a new BBC series of Agatha Christie's 'The ABC Murders' but couldn't do it because of my house move, and the same with another series called The Crown where I was to play an Olympian, But the sequence of events planted a seed that led to me discovering a whole new genre of books called 'Cozy Mysteries'.
Ghostwriting and Publishing Services
I was still feeling frustrated after the move to the b & b. I found out about ghostwriting and wrote three romance books for clients for $20-$50 each, and then saw that they were getting bestseller status and wonderful reviews on them. The only difference between them and me, was confidence, and money. Where I couldn't afford to buy covers or pay for editing, they knew how it all worked and were able to follow through. If I wanted to earn a living then it was stupid to keep wasting time doing one off paid tasks, when I could be investing that time in writing my own books and getting passive income for the long term, but I still doubted myself. And I needed to find a way of bringing in money. I didn't enjoy ghostwriting. giving away my babies - my story ideas - to other people and watching them do well with them.
So I used that money and invested in a software package called Vellum, and set myself up on Fiverr offering book formatting services for $5. I knew it wouldn't make me a lot of money (I made $2707 for the whole year, collected 158 reviews which were mostly 5 star), but it would mean that I could earn back my investment in the software, learn how to use it really well, and bring in money that would go towards my own books in the longer term. I also offered beta reading, and book promotion services as extra services on Fiverr and continued to video log for another client privately. I reinvested some of that money into Klytics and bought a couple of premade covers for $5 on Fiverr and on Go On Write in a $10 sale. I learnt an important lesson here as my books started to 'stick' and sell consistently when I applied the right Klytics categories to them and changed the covers to better ones. I wish I could start my Amazon Author page fresh, now that I know more, but I've no regrets at just getting on and trying things, even though I knew they wouldn't be perfect (editing, covers). If I'd waited, it would have taken me years to get to where I am now.
FYI. I've decided to up my prices from $5 to $10 on Fiverr for 2019 since this will allow me to earn a little more for the actual hours that I put in, as I probably earn about £1.50 for each $5 after bank and Paypal charges etc. This should be less of an issue in future as I've also changed my bank account to an online one as I was getting charged for every payment into my account that was in dollars.
My First Cozy Mystery Attempt
It was a new way of writing for me. The cover and title was already there (for the Go On Write covers, not the Fiverr ones), all I had to do was to come up with a story to match the cover. I gave it a go, and did a soft launch under my own name. I wrote the story fairly quickly, over a couple of days, but didn't read it back or get it edited, because I didn't believe that anyone would even find it, and if they did they would probably think the story was stupid. I didn't have the money and it was too huge a risk to borrow money for a book that people might hate. It was one of the scariest things I've done - publishing! That book was Dead on Doughnuts, followed by Baa'd to Death which I made the cover for. I tested out Kindle Unlimited and was gobsmacked to find that not only were people downloading my book, and reading it, but both got to number 2 in the bestseller for cozy mystery, and I ended up giving away 966 copies of Dead on Doughnuts and 801 copies of Baa'd to Death. I even got some reviews, and people were generally pretty nice about my books. They liked the story but didn't like the spelling mistakes and typos and suggested I get a better editor. That I could live with!! It was so much more than I ever expected. The books were live between August and November, at which point I made one of the biggest decisions of my life - to become a full time cozy mystery author!
Discovering that I was an Amazon Bestseller
Something happened to me in November. I don't know what exactly, but I had my birthday and I decided that life would be different, that I had somehow found my thing, the thing I was supposed to be doing. But I wasn't going to rush things. I spoke to the guesthouse owners and realised that there was no urgency to move. My pets had coped a lot better than I could have dreamed of with living in one room, and it dawned on me that if I could just ride it out for a few more months, I'd be able to buy a home back in the Lake District where we would never have to move again. If I'd gone with the shared ownership mortgage and property I'd have had a landlord and would be in a place miles from anywhere, far removed from my swimming and quality of life. If I were to imagine my dream life, it would involve my pets, writing cozy mysteries, and being able to swim outdoors every day. And for the first time in my life, my dream felt like it was within touching distance. I just needed to put in a lot of hard work, and remind myself to do things little and often, just like I had with NaNoWriMo.
Starting My Own Publishing House - Isla Britannica Books
I had made a mental leap, it was a huge leap, but I felt ready for it. I registered my new company Isla Britannica Books with HMRC as a Limited Company - there was no way that I wanted to put my hard earned house on the line if life threw challenges my way in the future! I spoke to my accountant about what things I needed to do, and I spent ages trying to find myself an editor, a cover designer, and then saving up books ready to go to the editor and cover designer once I had saved up enough money. It was hard to sit on everything, but I knew it was the right thing to do - less haste more speed as the saying goes. The editor and cover designer are both booked many months ahead, so I knew I would have to work more strategically with my launches. There was no way I'd be able to publish rapidly, so I'd be better to sit on my books, do long pre-orders, and then release then in batched on the same day, each month. That would also help me with my promotion planning, making the most of the free days in KU, and with bringing in income.
Plotting and Planning for Success in 2019
The plan is to upload at least 5 books each month and have them on pre-order for $0.99 before they go on to their full price of $4.99. This feels scary when there are so many $0.99 books out there, but if I want to create high quality books then I need to hire professionals to do my covers and editing, and those things cost money. I have to set my standards high if I want to be known for producing good quality books and I want to be in this business for a long time. I need those books to not look out of place in a Waterstones or Walmart or Barnes and Noble store. I want my writing to become my main source of income and I need to be able to feed myself and keep a roof over my head. I'm planning to launch the first books on the 1st March 2019 and with better covers and editing, I'm going to try for a Bookbub. It's a strategy that wouldn't work for everyone, but I think will serve me well, given my goals, and backlist of books ready to be published. It takes a good few weeks for each book to be edited and I hate that this isn't something I can control, so by storing up books ready, I should be able to keep one step ahead of the editor at all times.
Streamlining My Life
Over the Christmas break I've done a lot of reflecting and processing on what has worked or not worked for me this year, and areas where I would like to see change. One of those was in relation to my charity Oceans Project. I used to spend a lot of time doing free sessions in schools and at STEM fairs, covering the cost of this myself, and Skyping with schools daily all over the world with Skype in the Classroom. This year will be very different, especially as it is harder for me to travel from the guesthouse now. I'm no longer going to do the school visits and Skype sessions, but will instead focus on my writing, and then once Amazon pays me 60 days later, a percentage of that income will go into Oceans Project's account to cover things like accounting each year, and another percentage will go into a special fund that Earthwatch has set up for me. This fund will pay for young people to go on expeditions around the world, tagging sharks in Belize, or studying river dolphins in the Amazon. And since I've left my books in my will to Oceans Project, that Earthwatch fund will hopefully continue to be funded long after my death as new readers find my books. That's a far better use of my time and energy, and will lead to a long term generation of young people having experiences in nature and hopefully going on to live richer, more environmentally aware lives as a result. I'm not launching my first books until the 1st March 2019, so I won't receive payments for those until the end of May, but that will be the first payment into the special Earthwatch fund, and my goal is that the payments will increase each month after that, as I release new books.
Taking Back Control
Having control over my own destiny is really important to me, especially in terms of my mental health. I simply don't like being beholden to others. I must have spent hours over this year, listening to audio samples and interviewing narrators, choosing narrators, and then having narrators deliver late or not contact me at all. That makes it really hard when you are trying to release your ebook, print book, and audiobook around the same time, or setting up promotions. So I'm going to be trying something new and out of my comfort zone in 2019 - I'm going to be recording my own audiobooks. There's a studio relatively close by to Hartlepool, in the city of Newcastle and I figured that I would rather pay the studio for the recording time and editing, than hire a narrator and then not end up with something I like. It's always a risk when you invest in other people's skills. I don't know if I can do it yet, but it will be a lot less expensive for me to pay for a couple of hours in the studio to have a try, and if it doesn't work out, I'll know that I gave it a good shot. I'm generally more time rich than finance rich, and recording my books could be something I do whilst waiting for books to come back from editing or whilst processing a new story in my head. If it works out, I'd have the added bonus of not having to share my royalties with anyone, and the full rights would be my own and that would give me freedom to decide where to sell the audiobook, rather than signing up for a standard 7 year agreement. That should also mean that I can set my own pricing and make my book available to more readers for a lot less money. So some of January will be spent in the studio!
Health and Fitness Goals
I won't lie to you, the past year has really put a lot of stress on my body and mind and I'm starting to feel the impacts on my health to the point where I can see myself going to an early grave at this rate. My biggest battle this year will be getting back into a healthier routine, but I know that my writing will reap the rewards as a result. I miss not being able to cook, and am eating a lot of foods, especially processed foods that I would never normally touch. I've just been surviving, thinking that this was a temporary state, but it's been 7 months since I moved to the guesthouse and change is long overdue. I've given myself two New Year's resolutions where my health is involved. I want to make sure that I walk at least 10,000 steps per day (better for my dog too), and I want to start eating healthier again. I love walking, and it's a great opportunity to listen to book marketing podcasts and to get into the creative flow. But it's something that has dropped from my daily habits, and there can be weeks where I don't even leave the building. As a result, I've built up a lot of fat that is making it difficult to get a good night's sleep and sitting isn't especially comfortable, and none of my clothes fit. I feel like my body is dying and I wouldn't be at all surprised if my blood pressure has gone up.
Sticking to the Plan
2019 is going to be very different. I'm going to go for a walk each day, I'm going to do stretches with my Theraband (to counteract my writer's aches in my thumb and wrist) during my Pomodoro writing sprints, and I NEED to get back into my swimming. Last year I swam in the lake or outdoors pretty much every single day, even through the winter. It made me feel amazing and I'm having withdrawal symptoms from my ice swims. So I'm going to try and get a swim in at the local pool at least once a week, and I'm going to start back with my cold showers. I had so many swimming goals last year, and I was going to put them on hold again this year, but then I decided to go for them, even if I don't have money and have to cancel them, at least in the first half of the year. I'd rather aim for them and fail, that not aim for them at all. Plus, if I can make it to my swims, I'll get to see my friends, have some downtime, and to feel connected with my community again, rather than isolated as I am here. It's silly to think that one house move or decision to sell a house could have so many life impacting effects. So the sooner I get a proper base, the better.
End of January BLDSA Postal Swim in the pool
March BLDSA Annual Dinner in Scarborough
May 1km BLDSA swim in Nottingham
June 1km (possibly even 2 mile) BLDSA swim in Scarborough
July BLDSA 1km or possibly the 3km swim in Bala, Wales
July 5.25km BLDSA swim in Coniston, Lake District (probably as a supporter rather than a swimmer)
August BLDSA 11.2km swim in Ullswater, Lake District (probably as supporter not swimmer)
August BLDSA 2 mile (5.25km) swim in Derwent Water, Lake District
August BLDSA 16km swim in Lake Windermere, Lake District (supporter not swimmer, but would like to do this in 2020)
September BLDSA 6.5mile St Mary's Loch swim, Scotland
September BLDSA 4.5km swim in Norfolk
Two years ago I booked to do a 1km swim in Antarctica in November 2019 (for my birthday) and I'm loath to cancel as this has been on my bucket list for a long time, and is part of my preparation for one day swimming an ice mile. To achieve this goal, I need to get my fitness and health back, work on my swim technique and swim faster, and get as much outdoor swim time in as I can so that I'm acclimatised to the cold and used to my feeding routines and warming up procedure when afterdrop kicks in. Funds will be tight for the first few months of my writing and publishing but I can swim cheaply at the local pool and at least get my fitness back up, even if I have to do sit myself in a bath of ice cubes in the meantime to get used to the cold again!
Neither my swimming or my walking goals will be achieved without me having structure and routine, and this is something I've really struggled with over 2018 with all the unknowns and being in limbo, plus adapting from a noise free environment and living on my own, to living in a guesthouse with lots of other people coming and going and the noise of the town compared to the sound of the mountains. I'm naturally a night owl, and my least productive time of the day is the afternoon, but most of my work for clients begins at 3pm which is about 9am US time. The guesthouse is generally quieter in the early morning and after 10pm at night. So finding a balance that works for me is tricky. In the summer it was easier to go for a walk early in the morning, but I wouldn't feel safe going out walking in the dark here, and with the winter it is dark until about 9am and then dark from about 3pm or 4pm. I'm also tied to the times that the dining room is open if I get a bit peckish or want a 5am breakfast.
Discipline and Focus
It will be really hard to get into at first, but my ideal day right now, looks like this:
5am-9am Write my books or work on the editing
9am-12 walk my dog, have breakfast, tidy my room, shower, pick up free Starbucks on walk home
12-1 have lunch, take a nap
1-4 do client work, write my blogs, emails, accounting
4-6pm go for a swim, dinner, social media, emails, accounting,
6-10 dinner, watch tv, reading, relax, plan next day. Go to bed.
I suspect it might end up that my routine in reality involves me staying up all night writing, going to bed around 4am, sleeping until 9am, and then doing the other things. But at the moment I'm finding it difficult to balance my best writing times with my surroundings, like when the pool is open for example, or when it is light enough to walk my dog. The most important thing is that I get my steps and my word count in each day.
Concentrating on the Little and Often
Again, I think the secret to success for me is little and often. Getting even 1000 words on the page, each and every day, likewise saving every penny I have towards the cost of ISBNS, and instead of paying for things monthly, switching to annual plans and saving a little bit more as a result. Even if that means saving 25p or 50p or £1 each day towards the cost. To be successful in my business, I need to be successful with my mental and physical health, I need to give myself the best possible start to everything I do. That means eating and sleeping well, losing some weight, exercising regularly, doing things that make me feel happy, cutting out things or people that make me feel negative. I've got one big goal here, and that is to save up enough to buy myself BUPA health insurance for a year. That gets me health checks, access to specialists, and peace of mind that should anything happen to me, I can get the right treatment quickly. I've moved from my regular dentist and doctor, whom I spent ages building up a rapport with, and now am in a totally new place, not registered with a doctor or dentist, and it feels unsettling.
Saving up for health insurance feels like a little bit of stability and consistency. It will take me a long time to save up for, but it's something that I want for myself as I grow older, to give me some peace of mind to know that I'll be covered if I break an arm and can't write or whatever. I've also re-read a book that I haven't read since the 1990s, back when I was financially stable and had savings and a house, pension, and fancy things materially including lovely holidays. I want to have that sense of safety that I used to have when I had money, and so I've set up different pots on my new Monzo bank account (they have an offer where they give £10 to new customers if you fancy it) and I will be paying in a few pence each day into those pots and into my ISA. I need to have an emergency fund again, and I also need to put money aside ready for paying tax now that I am a Limited company. I want to get into good habits whilst I don't have money, so that once I do have money, it's already an established habit to put money aside. I'm not buying any more Lottery tickets as I never win anything anyway, and will instead put that money aside to invest in shares and Premium Bonds. I still have a chance of winning, but at least I've got something to show for my money at the end of the day,
Paypal Working Credit
I should probably also mention another big change financially: Paypal Working Credit. This is going to be a life changer for me as it will allow me to pay for book covers, editing, and other book things thanks to being able to apply for this scheme. You need to set up a Paypal Business Account and have it for at least 3 months and earn at least £10k a year through your account. I'm just a few pence off that now thanks to my private client and work on Fiverr. I didn't open my account until a few months in to the year, otherwise I might have been there already. It allows you to borrow money upfront for a fixed fee, and then repayments are automatically taken from money that comes into your Paypal account. Since Amazon pays 60 days later, this will help me to get the start I need with my publishing, by which time I'll also have my first Amazon affiliate account payment - not much, but together it all adds up to a few extra book covers or editing per year.
Finding my Dream Jetty (I Mean Home)
My biggest goal for 2019 is to be in my own house in the Lake District by Christmas 2019, and to make that goal happen, I need to write every day, and believe that I can do it. Thankfully, a lot of that psychological work has already been done because I've signed up for the 20Books50K event in Edinburgh in the summer, and part of this will be a writing retreat and chance to sit and write with other authors, and to meet some of the cozy mystery authors I aspire to be like in terms of their success or writing styles, and to learn from a community of other authors. One day I'd like to go to the Vegas event, but if all goes to plan, then I'll miss the November one in 2019 because I'll be doing my swim in Antarctica!
I love chatting and reading the posts by those authors in our Facebook group each day, and I'd like to become a more active member of the community over the next year. It's the kind of attitude that I need to be around more, especially as we all have similar mountains to climb each day as we write. Some of those authors have spoken a lot about moodboards recently, but I don't have anything physical like that because my lifestyle is rather minimal at the moment in the b & b. If I did have a moodboard to inspire my writing, it would have at least two images on it. One would be an image of my dream house by the lake in the Lake District (I'm not excited about the house itself, but that the house comes with a jetty and lake frontage! Perfect for swimming). It's currently for sale for about £2 million so not really a realistic goal, but I like to aim high and to be honest I'll be over the moon with having any old house that I can call my own.
And so, I end 2018 feeling a whole lot happier and more positive than I was this time last year. The difference is that this year I have hope and I feel like I'm part of an amazing community, that I'm not alone. I'm back to being the master of my own ship
Applying for a Scholarship
At two minutes to midnight last night I submitted my application for the SPF Foundation scholarship. I couldn't apply for it last year because I didn't have any book reviews, nor a sponsor to support my application. I'd never counted up my 5 star book reviews before, and to my great surprise I found that I had more than I realised, and even the 4 star reviews were marked down purely based on my lack of editing. There are opportunities open to me this year, that I didn't have last year. I have regular customers on Fiverr - other authors, that I'll get to meet in Edinburgh in the summer, along with my cover designer. Even that sounds magical - I've got an editor and a cover designer!! That would have been impossible this time last year!
I've Surprised Myself this Year
If I could get good enough reviews and book downloads with quickly written, crappy cover, unedited books, then imagine how much more I'll be able to do this year with a proper team around me, and being able to write without the stress and fear of being homeless or not knowing what the next day might hold. If I hadn't found myself in the guesthouse, I wouldn't have made new friends (Julie and Paul especially), nor would I have been able to dedicate time to writing as a profession. I would have stayed doing all the jobs I could, just to make rent each month, but by downsizing in the interim, my overheads have reduced, giving me more time to write and do something I love. I've got a Facebook group of readers who say thank you when I share a blog post or free cozy mystery books I've found, and I had Christmas cards filled with lovely words from readers. I never could have imagined that this time last year, when I wasn't even sure whether I should publish a book!
My wish is to read back this post from my new home by the lake, this time next year, and to be a happier, healthier version of myself, with a wonderful balanced life of writing, hiking, and swimming, and to be reflecting not on a year of limbo, but on swimming adventures and time with friends. To be yelling at my cat to come in from the garden, and shouting at the others to leave the Christmas tree alone. I'm writing this blog post as a reminder to myself, but I hope that you will enjoy my journey too, as I grow and develop as a cozy mystery author, and become a better human being in the process as I find my feet around other people like me. I hope that you will join me this time next year as a happier and healthier you as well, having achieved your own dreams and goals. Thank you for sharing this journey with me.
End of Year Stats
Total Income for All Books Jan-Dec 2018: £448.92
Total book sales: 378
Total books given away: 4185
KU pages read: 17,138
Amazon Author Rank (all genres): #138,091
Amazon Author Rank (mystery - I took books down on 16th Nov): #21,354
Newsletter Subscribers (started my newsletter on the 17th September 2018 from zero): 1982
YouTube Subscribers: 3686
Audiobook sales: 78
Instagram followers Cozy Mystery Book Explorer: (started on the 29th November 2018) 125
Instagram followers (personal page): 2589
Pinterest (started from zero around the 16th November 2018): 167 followers 39.8k unique views/mth
Cozy Mystery Book Explorer group on Facebook (started on the 1st Oct 2018 at zero): 326 members
Author Page on Facebook: 64 page likes
Last year I was lucky enough to be filmed for a new Channel 4 television series called 'Genealogy Roadshow' which was later renamed 'My Family Secrets Revealed'. Almost a year to the date when we filmed it in the Lake District, it was exciting to be back in the Lake District (this time filming a new television series called Deep Water, based on the books by Paula Daly) and to learn that episode 3 of the series would be aired. For those of you in the UK, it will be available to watch on Catchup on Channel 4 for the next 28 days, but for those who are abroad, I've tried to film it so you can watch it here instead. I hope you enjoy the episode, and learn a little bit more about what makes me tick as a cozy mystery author too.
I did film a little vlog on the day that we filmed the main episode, in the snow during the 'beast from the east'.