katja willemsen
Let's Play Tag

Let’s Play Tag!


Writers may hole themselves up in their caves with their Next Big Manuscript but they have fun too! I was tagged by Ali Isaac in a fun game that promotes an about-to-be-published book and also introduces writers to a broader reader network. Ali asked me a few questions about what was brewing in my writing cave:


What is the working title of your next book? Mango.

Where did the idea come from for the book? Years ago, I was a workaholic marketing exec working in Paris. I lost my job two days before Christmas and that ladies and gentleman […drum roll…] changed my life forever.  I was in the “what now?” throes of trying to figure out my next move when someone gave me a kitten.


What genre does your book fall under? Romance

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? How loving a kitten turned Tasha Broadhurst from a power-obsessed Manhattan banker to a bohemian artist happy to live in the now, and helped her find true love.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? Self-published.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? About a year.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? Tuesdays With Morrie for wisdom, and Bridget Jones for the girl-next-door reality!

Who or What inspired you to write this book?  Living an authentic life after years of exhaustion on a corporate hamster wheel.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? It’s a story that should give hope to all those millions of readers who wish they could do something different with their lives!


Here are some exciting authors I’ve tagged to tell you about their Next Big Thing! Lisa Tortorello’s moving memoir about a young child and her grandfather, My Hero, My Ding. (http://lisatortorello.tateauthor.com/). Read Mona Karel’s human dramas (http://mona-karel.com/), and check out gay romance novel, Crush, by Laura Susan Johnson (http://crush-the-book.snack.ws/)



Quick! Hide behind your Kindle...


A socialite friend once gave me a tour of her brand new home. I enviously wandered along her floor-to-ceiling library and picked out a battered paperback: A Walk with a White Bushmen by Laurens van der Post

I love that old codger's writing, and the smell of the book’s musty pages thrilled me. It was clearly a much-loved copy. I asked my hostess how many times she had read it. She gave a careless shrug and said she hadn’t read it at all. In fact, she hadn’t read any of the books in the room. The entire library had been delivered by a secondhand shop. She hadn't even unpacked the 53 boxes herself.

Isn't filling a home with books you’ve never read a bit like having photo albums of a life you’ve never led?


Books tell stories other than their own...


Take my Robert Ludlum and Marian Keynes books. Not writers you would normally group together? Wrong. When I was a workaholic career-addict, Jason Bourne was my escape from the rat race. And Keynes’ frothy stories were like full body massages for my over-taxed brain. Pure bliss. To this day, those books remind me of that crazy burned-out time.


No prizes for what the Dark Night of the Soul-type books reveal about me. And if you just gave a knowing smile, then you've also searched their pages for answers to life's chaos.


Every city I’ve ever visited sits on my shelf in the form of a book. And how my travel tastes have changed. While Girls’ Shoe Guide to Manhattan languishes on a top shelf, Hiking in the Pyreneesnow has pride of place.


Moral of the story? If you don’t want books to reveal too much about you, get a Kindle.

Burning money hurts

Burning money hurts at first
20 September 2012

Flick a switch and the heating goes on, right? Not in our household. Heating used to be like brushing my teeth, I never actually thought about it, but living in the Pyrenees changed that forever.


When we first moved into our home, we stared in dismay at the massive wood-fired stove. We didn’t know our oak from our beech wood, never mind how to keep a fire stoked in the magnificent tiled contraption before us.


We went through piles of logs those first few weeks and “burning money” took on a whole new meaning. We also discovered the hard way that two people can’t be responsible for wood-fired heating at the same time because invariably the one thinks the other is keeping an eye on it! When it was my week, and my precious sleep was threatened by having to get up to tend the fire, I learnt fast how to feed the stove with just the right-sized logs to keep it burning through the night.


Modern on-off heating where you don’t think twice about what you’re doing is a thing of the past. Now I’m aware. I love the primitiveness of carrying inside the logs we need, and love the subconscious alarm that buzzes me out of my writing cocoon when “feeding time” is here.

Today the first wood delivery arrived. There's nothing quite like the quiet rumble of logs tumbling off the truck. I must be ready for winter.


Eye of the Storm


I did yoga this morning in an old converted barn high up on the mountainside. The contrast of the gale force winds whipping the 400-year-old walls outside, and the power of the silent moving bodies inside created a sense of stillness as intense as the eye of a storm.


I may live in the sunniest corner of France, but it’s also the windiest. There are days when the old folk don’t dare leave their homes for fear of their buckled bodies being tossed aside like autumn leaves.


This Tramontane wind is the region's Jackson Pollock, the way it strikes the landscape with its chaotic, violent lashings of air. Trees bend to snapping point, eerily sleek clouds hover like watchful spacecraft, animals and humans head for shelter. Only the birds stay out.


As I headed home, two vultures - lusty wings stretched wide -soared and plummeted as they challenged the Tramontane’s sovereignty. 

When the wind blows, turn the rudder, advises an old Chinese proverb. What better metaphor for the publishing challenge facing indie writers right now?

My rudder is already turning as I adapt to the winds ripping apart the publishing world's rule book. 

The writer, the sockpuppet and the poisonous pen

What do Tiger Woods, Rupert Murdoch and R.J. Ellory have in common? They’re high achievers with god-complexes who cheated and thought they could get away with it.

R.J. Ellory is a damn successful crime writer - over a million books sold – but he used false identities on Amazon to laud his own books, and worse, to slate his competitors. Ouch.

How the hell did he thinkno-one would find out in this world of expose-and-tell? Because the first I-didn't-get-caught cheat creates confidence, the second, third, fourth time breeds arrogance, then after that, well, entitlement kicks in, doesn't it? Just ask Woods and Murdoch. 

Woods never recovered his game. Murdoch lost a chunk of his business. I doubt the same will happen to our cheating writer though. If anything, his new infamy may boost book sales.

I’m always on the hunt for a good read, and I'd never heard of Ellory. For a brief moment, I was tempted to buy one of his books. But I couldn’t bring myself to click download. Nah. He can rot in writers’ hell as far as I’m concerned.


I'm in love!


eet my new crush: Goodreads. You heard about it, right? No...? Well, it’s Facebook for bookophiles. And it's been around for six years, six whole years. Where have I been?

I’m blaming my writing cave for not discovering it sooner. You know how it is: I write... life fades into black. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Here's how it works: sign up, get your bookophile buddies to join, create an online library of books you love, hate, want to read, then sit back and let the Goodreads robo recommend books you might like!

Have you ever stopped to think how many books you've read? In your life?

I counted the books at home: about a thousand. I factored in books “lost” over ten moves across a number of cites, two countries, two continents.The worst was my move from Cape Town to France. My Parisian apartment was so damn small, not even a dozen shelves... I halved my books. Oh the trauma.

But once in Paris, I bulked up in no time. Surplus books were huffed and puffed to the cellar. The books grew back to pre-move levels. Home was home again.

A few years later, another move. I went through the cellared books to decide their fate. The thrill of holding forgotten favourites: Pillars of the Earth, Midnight’s Children, Possession. They stayed, the lesser favourites went. Another 20% headed to the Great Book Sale in the sky.

Last move, 2011, and I did it again. This time the page-turning thrillers disappeared: Bourne Identity series, Le Carré spy books. Big thick yellowed tomes that  had once catapulted me into a time warp of lost days. (How rarely that happens now!) Another 10% downsized.

Are you following the maths? Because I'm not. How many I've read doesn't really matter, does it? But I figure it's a couple of thousand. A lot, yes, but not enough.

Enter Goodreads. It's like a big boisterous school reunion. With as many surprises. I'm shocked how many memoirs I own. Surprised how many spy stories I've somehow kept. Loved the gems I stumbled onto: Mister God This is Anna, The Little Prince, Brokeback Mountain.

So thanks Goodreads. Time to get some balance between writing and reading!

I hate Scrabble

I write, therefore I love Scrabble. Wrong. I hate Scrabble. I love words for their content, not their structure.

A scrabbler sees gambol as: 4 consonants, 2 vowels, total value 15. But gambol is so much more! There's bounce in the word, there's air, exclamation marks, kitten-play, spring, wheat fields!

Scrabble is word warfare. Writing is friendship. A two-way thing. Words come when I need them, and when a word really, really wants to have its say, I wouldn't dream of saying no. 

How can you compare the thrill of finding a gem of a word to express a feeling, a mood, a scene, to the thrill of finding a word worth 56 points?

I feel guilty when I play scrabble, like I should apologise to my tiny friend for demeaning it. Sorry pert, you cheeky little thing, I know it's embarrassing being next to matt, tent and pun, but it's worth a lot to me. Pffff. That's not friendship, that's exploitation.

But my words forgive me. I may lapse into the big bad world of scrabble, but my words know my heart. They rock. 

And between you and me...? I think they quite like their occasional tryst on the scrabble board.

Missing my book

I miss my book. My fingers are itching for the next one. 

But first: two more weeks of "agenting". I understand why writers curl up and die at this point. The temptation to send a mass campaign to every agent in the Writers' & Artists'  Handbook is huge, but that would fly in the face of my years in marketing, wouldn't it? Target, target, target.

Then wait, wait, wait. But I can wait. It's been long enough, so what's a few more weeks? I'll tell you: pure hell. But that's the real world. And it's in the real world that readers live.