Today, we’re delighted to welcome Liam Livings to the blog. Hello Liam – would you like to start by telling us a bit about your latest novel and what inspired it?
Kev: Book Two is the second part in a trilogy (it may end up being a quartet if I have time to write that part) about a Kev, who’s eighteen in the late nineties, growing up in Hampshire and Wiltshire in the UK. He’s searching for a man who’ll love him for everything he is, including his cross-dressing. It was inspired by Kev being a secondary character in my Best Friends Perfect series and me really wanting to tell his story. So many of the beta readers and reviews mentioned loving Kev so much (for some they loved him more than Kieran who was the main character in that series) that I decided Kev needed his own story. And it turned out there was so much of Kev that it’s taken up three books so far! Kev, as a character is a gift in terms of storytelling. He’s optimistic, romantic, naive, loves to get drunk and subsequently makes an awful lot of terribly-judged decisions. He has his mum and his best friend Tony to help pick up the pieces when it all inevitably goes wrong. Kev also has very bad taste in men and ends up having to kiss a lot of frogs before he may or may not find his Prince Charming.
This story isn’t a romance as such, but it is romantic. It has a romantic thread running through it as Kev very much wants to find a boyfriend who’ll support him in his developing career as a drag artiste in pubs and clubs across the south of England. The story covers depression, homophobia, health issues and friendship, alongside the romance.
I Should Be So Lucky, which was out in September 2018, is a category romance about two men and their relationship. Julian is a backing dancer for Sallie, an Australian pop princess and he enjoys the travel this job affords him to share his love of men far and wide for many years. If Julian had a slogan it would be: I’m Julian, fly me!
I love an opposites attract romance, so the other main character in this story is Troy, a gruff and quiet gardener at a stately home in Essex and part time St John Ambulance volunteer. Troy is just out of another long term relationship with a woman because they just don’t seem to stick.
There’s Troy’s diary called Dave, Julian’s best friend with benefits and colleague called Bjorn, and the wise counsel of a sixty-year-old cook called Olive who Troy works with.
The story is about both men’s attraction for one another and how they work out if they can be in a relationship together. Julian doesn’t do relationships – why would he, he’s got access to an all-you-can-eat buffet of men during his dancing tours, and Bjorn’s a backup if they don’t pull. Troy, on the other hand has never been in a relationship with a man, as he doesn’t see himself as one of those men, and yet he feels a certain way about Julian…
It was inspired by watching a concert of my favourite Australian pop princess and clocking a very good-looking backing dancer and wondering: what’s his story? I then went to see the same pop princess at Hyde Park for a concert and noticed the St John Ambulance volunteers and their rather impressive uniforms and the large glitter balls on stage. And the rest is purely invented by me!
You’ve published seven romances this year. What’s the secret to being so prolific and how do you balance the business side of publishing with your writing?
In 2018 I have had 4 books published by publishers. I’ve self published my Marketing The Romance non-fiction book and also three backlist fiction titles for which I recently received the rights back. So strictly speaking that’s five new books and three re-releases. They’re all in paperback and e-book too. And can I just say I now know things about paperback publishing I never thought I’d ever need to know – widows and orphans, justified text, book cover resolution…
My secret to being so prolific (while having a day job) are three tips: Pomodoro, Neo, Enya. I’ll unpack each of them in turn to explain what I mean.
Pomodoro – I write in bursts of time, usually from about 45mins, during which I only write. I do not look on the internet. Often I put my phone out of arm’s reach. I manage to fit in these bursts of writing anywhere and everywhere, particularly while travelling: on a plane, on holiday on a balcony, on trains, in hotel rooms when I’m away alone. In short I create these blocks of 45mins and then I write in them.
Neo – one of the keys (for me I’m not saying it’s for everyone) to writing in such a concentrated way without distractions, and pretty much anywhere is using Monica, my Alphasmart Neo. She’s named after Jilly Cooper’s typewriter because I love Jilly Cooper and my Alphasmart Neo is almost as old-fashioned as a typewriter. It’s an old school word processor or smart keyboard. It doesn’t connect to the internet. The battery lasts about a year in normal use. The small LCD screen of up to 6 lines of text is visible in bright sunlight. It’s instant on (literally seconds and you’re back to where you left off in your document) and it saves as you go along. With 8 file slots for words you can store up to about 72,000 words on it. And the best thing, they’re about £25 from eBay. I wish they still made them because I should be on commission from the company. I’ve introduced at least 8 author friends to them and they now swear by their Neos for upping their writing productivity. I went on a budget writing retreat recently and all three of us were writing on our Neos!
And finally, Enya. By this I mean some music to block out background noise while writing in public. I find it hard to write with people talking, but with Enya on (Chicane and Sigur Ross are also very good) I can literally disappear into my writing wherever I am. I’ve written in airport waiting lounges, in the car, in a library, on a very busy train filled with revellers quaffing champagne. All thanks to Enya. Other ambient music is available.
In terms of how to balance the business side of publishing with writing, I like to use an 80/20 rule. Spend 80% of my time doing writing (which includes editing, self-editing and submitting) and then 20% on marketing in its widest sense, which includes promotion. I used to do big blog tours to launch my books but I’ve decided to use videos instead in 2018. So I’ve been recording short videos about aspects of the books and also using the Facebook Go Live feature too. I also include meeting author friends for lunch to pick up tips as ‘the business side of publishing’ so I try to do that quite frequently too. It’s amazing how much time you can save by finding out a tip from a friend rather than having to start from scratch on your own.
As well as romantic fiction, I know you also love romantic comedies on film and TV. How do you think your love of film and tv romance has influenced your writing?
I love rom coms and romance in my TV too. I think this has influenced my writing because they tend to all end optimistically. I think there’s enough sadness in the world without me adding to it in my fiction. I tend to write humour in my stories too – not as in characters sitting around laughing at their own jokes as this is rarely funny in my experience. But the humour is found in situations they find themselves in, the deadpan dialogue and quips they share with each other.
I think what I’m saying is I like to write what would be described as romantic comedies with two, or more gay male main characters. So I wrote a gay romance inspired by The Holiday with life-swapping and snow and sun and love and fun and all the Christmas. (It’s totally fade to black on the old ‘sensual scenes’ if anyone wants to try their first gay romance.)
You also run workshops for new writers and you’ve written a book on marketing romantic fiction. What would your top tips for other writers be in terms of writing and also promoting romance stories?
My top tips for writing are:
Stop thinking about writing and write the book. Don’t aim to write a perfect book, just aim to write a first draft. You can edit a bad first draft into a publishable book (it’s what I do every single time as my first drafts are shockingly bad. Terrible. Awful. Dreadful.) Writing is when we make the words. Editing is when we make the words good. (I don’t remember who said this, it wasn’t me, but it’s so damned true!)
Further to this first tip – writing and editing are two different processes. Try to separate them as much as possible otherwise you’ll end up with the perfectly polished three chapters of about a dozen books.
Don’t wait for acres of time in which to write; make the time and then write. Tell yourself you’ll write for 45minutes. And then just write. If you do that two, three times a week you’ll have a first draft sooner than you’d imagine.
Learn the genre expectations of the genre you’re writing in – do this by reading. Lots of reading within your genre.
If you’re writing popular fiction, there are some things to bear in mind: dialogue is your friend; something needs to happen on every single page; keep in mind emotions are important and share your characters’ emotions with your reader; write in an easy accessible way – people won’t persevere with hard to understand prose in popular fiction, they’ll close the book and watch Netflix instead; create a world your readers will want to escape into (whether that’s a spaceship at the far reaches of the galaxy, a billionaire tycoon’s yacht where he’s trapped with his ex-girlfriend, or an East End London filled with nurses battling the everyday challenges facing them to triumph and shine).
Tips for promoting romance stories: marketing is much more than promotion. Know your market, what sells and try to fit your story, your characters with that. Know where your sort of readers hangout online and in person and go to them. Think about all of the marketing mix – all seven P’s: product, promotion, price, place, physical evidence, people and process. And if you want to know more about them, there’s a whole chapter or two in my Marketing The Romance book!
And finally, can you give us a sneaky hint of what you’re working on at the moment – what can readers expect next from you?
I’ve just finished writing a gay romance, The Rewilding of William and here’s a bit of the rough blurb I’ve written for it:
Romance author William has escaped London to follow his dream of rewilding a farm he’s inherited. A dream he must fulfil alone in memory of his late husband, and to prove his independence. William wants to escape from writing and grief.
Experienced farmer and Instagram star bodybuilder, Luke offers to help William, but isn’t banking on how badly William’s rewilding plans will affect neighbouring farms. Nor how unwilling to accept help or listen to reason William is.
Contains an inordinate amount of food. A few grumpy neighbouring farmers. A village fête fund-raiser and a picnic. A pair of dungarees in a log-chopping incident. A barn, a sofa and a large simmering pot of unresolved sexual tension.
I’ve also in the middle of writing the Kieran and His Friends series – which includes characters from several other stories all together as university friends for a long weekend to celebrate Kieran’s birthday. It’s inspired by the film, Peter and His Friends. From this I’ve got three linked category romances telling the happy ever after of some of Kieran’s friends: Bjorn’s story, Tony’s story and Kieran’s story. Julian’s story has already been written in I Should Be So Lucky, but he features in the other ones too.
I’m also thinking about doing another non-fiction book on how to write a page-turning emotional escapist romance. I’ve been a reader for the RNA’s New Writers Scheme since 2014 and see many of the same issues coming up in the manuscripts I’ve appraised over the years. So I’d like to share some of the common pitfalls and ways to deal with them.
I feel quite tired just thinking about the amount you’ve got going on so huge thanks for taking the time to share your experience with us on the blog.
Liam writes stories about gay men and their romances and he lives where east London ends and becomes Essex. He shares his house with his boyfriend and cat. He enjoys baking, cooking, classic cars and socialising with friends. He has a sweet tooth for food and entertainment: loving to escape from real life with a romantic book; enjoying a good cry at a sad, funny and camp film; and listening to musical cheesy pop from the eighties to now. He tirelessly watches an awful lot of Gilmore Girls in the name of writing ‘research’.
Published since 2013 by a number of British and American presses, his gay romance and gay fiction focuses on friendships, British humour, and romance with plenty of sparkle. He’s a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, and the Chartered Institute of Marketing. With a masters in creative writing from Kingston University, he teaches writing workshops with his partner in sarcasm and humour, Virginia Heath as https://www.realpeoplewritebooks.com/ and has also ghostwritten a client’s 5 Star reviewed autobiography.
Still single, despite his best efforts, Kev is a gay cross-dressing teenager, searching for love in the late nineties in Wiltshire. He may not know whether to put Yours Sincerely or Yours Faithfully at the end of a letter, but he sure can belt out a show tune in a pair of heels and a frock.
Looking after his worrying mum, who refuses to slow down despite having a funny turn and ending up in hospital, Kev’s working in a shop to support the household now his dad has left. Irreconcilable differences. His dad said Kev needed fixing and Kev and his mum thought he was perfect as he is.
Tony, his best friend and Human League fan agrees, although he thinks Kev’s a chaotic big-hearted, trusting mess. But he’s Tony’s mess and they’re there for each other through useless boyfriends, jobs, and studying. Because that’s what friends are for, right?
Contains an inordinate amount of singing on stage, many costume changes, lashings of heart, family and friendship, an almost complete absence of the internet and a big dollop of optimism.
Alison May is a novelist, short story writer, blogger and creative writing tutor who grew up in North Yorkshire, and now lives in Worcester. She worked as a waitress, a shop assistant, a learning adviser, an advice centre manager, a freelance trainer, and now a maker-upper of stories.
She won the RNA’s Elizabeth Goudge trophy in 2012, and her short stories have been published by Harlequin, Choc Lit and Black Pear Press. Alison has also been shortlisted in the Love Stories and RoNA Awards. Alison writes emotional fiction. She also writes modern retellings of misunderstood classics, in collaboration with Janet Gover, under the penname Juliet Bell.
Alison is currently Vice-Chair of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, and her latest novel All That Was Lost was published in September 2018 by Legend Press.