Annie Lyons is Completely Fine (with the term ‘Uplit’)

Back in the mists of time shortly after my first book, Not Quite Perfect hit the Kindle top ten bestsellers (ah, those halcyon days), I wrote a blog about genres and how I was never really satisfied in my quest to define the kind of books I write. You can read the full post here: (My name is Annie Lyons and I write down words for people to read)

At the end of this article I concluded that Not Quite Perfect was, ‘a Chick Lit-Contemporary Romance-Women’s Fiction book or as I like to think of it, some words I wrote down about two sisters’ lives with a little bit of romance, quite a lot of humour and some tear-inducing sadness.’

Now I like words as much as the next writer but even I could see that I needed something snappier; a punchy little word or phrase to summarise a book, which can make you howl with laughter one minute and reach for the tissues the next.

Please don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not denigrating the terms ‘chick-lit’ or ‘romance’ or ‘women’s fiction.’ These work well for lots of authors and have worked for me too. It doesn’t matter how readers find your books and if these genres have brought them to my stories, I’m grateful.

It’s just that personally, I find these genres a bit limiting and not entirely accurate in defining what I write.

For one thing, it sounds as if I’m writing exclusively for women. Which I’m not. I have been approached by lots of men (not in that way), who have expressed genuine surprise at how much they’ve enjoyed my stories. Nearly all of them go on to say that they wouldn’t have normally picked up my books. Whether we like it or not, the terms ‘romance’ and ‘women’s fiction’ inevitably put men off. I’ve also encountered men who’ve asked if I write, ‘chick-lit’ in voices which belittled and dismissed my writing achievements out of hand. Don’t worry. I just asked them how many books they’d written and order was restored. You get the point though.

Gender politics aside, I struggle with the all-inclusive term, ‘romance’. There’s an element of romance in my stories, as there are in many books, but this isn’t the driving force. I write about parents, children, families and friendships; I write about grief, anger, divorce, dementia and secrets; I write about singing, cake, community, kindness and dogs called Alan. I want to make you laugh and I want to make you cry (sorry about that). I want to explore what makes us happy, what makes us human and reassure you that the world is a good place. There’s darkness but there’s also light. As Leonard Cohen succinctly put it,

So I am over the moon that there’s a new, gender-neutral genre (try saying that quickly) on the block and to my mind it sums up these subjects perfectly. It’s a shiny beacon of hope in the form of, ‘Uplit’.

‘Uplit’, I hear you cry? Yeah, okay, maybe it’s not perfect. It might make you think of those upside-down lampshades from the late nineties. Or as Matt Haig (whose books are often placed under this umbrella) pointed out on Twitter, as an anagram of ‘tulip’ but then, who doesn’t love a tulip?

Regardless of the awkwardness of the word, I’m delighted with the definition. These are books which have kindness at their core, which deal with sadness and devastation but which also offer hope and seek to find the good which still exists (it does, trust me) in our communities.

For me, this underpins everything I was trying to say when I wrote ‘The Choir on Hope Street,’ and ‘The Happiness List’. They are both set on the same street and tell different stories of communities pulling together, of unexpected kindness and friendship and the hope this can bring.

It makes me think of that image of the house in the film, ‘Up’, containing the bereaved elderly man and the little boy as it’s lifted by hundreds of balloons. There’s sadness in this moment but also joy and a soaring hope.

In the end, readers need signposts to find the books they love and if ‘Uplit’ is the one that brings them to my stories, I am completely fine with that.

 

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Ten reasons why you should try Creative Writing

  1. You’ve got a great idea for a book – it’s time to find out where that idea can take you. If you never try, you’ll never know.
  2. In this ‘use it or lose it world,’ writing is one of the best forms of exercise for your brain. In fact it is an activity that fully engages both sides of the brain – the right side for the more imaginative side of things and the left for the logical, vocabulary-sorting side. I call that win win.
  3. Sharing stories is as old as time and as satisfying as a cold drink on a hot day. Story-telling is particularly important because you are asking the reader to invest in your words and this in turn breeds empathy, which is a vital part of what makes us human and humane.
  4. Words are powerful – learning to use them well is a gift and a very useful skill.
  5. There is NOTHING more satisfying than creating a world, a character or a story from your brain and your brain alone. It is pure food for the soul.
  6. There is a chance that you might spark an idea, which becomes a book, which ends up as a movie, which brings you millions and a friendship with JK Rowling. It’s a small chance but writers need to dream.
  7. The world needs writers to interpret life, to find the truth and to share it. One of my readers told me that the characters in my books speak to her and for her – they represent her world and tell the truth about it. For me, that is a privilege and reminds me why writing is so important.
  8. It has hugely positive and far-reaching effects on your health, self-esteem and well-being. I discovered Creative Writing when I needed it most and can honestly say that it saved my sanity.
  9. Writing can be therapeutic – it can enable you to preserve memories, which would otherwise be lost, to purge yourself of certain feelings or just express emotion in a creative and liberating way.
  10. It’s fun! Writing for entertainment and pleasure is one of the best experiences in life and if your stories resonate with or amuse a reader, your work is done. Be proud and happy.

And if you live near to the Bromley area and fancy giving it a try, I have excellent news. I am running an Introduction to Creative Writing course this very autumn. Details as follows:

5th September – 10th October 2018

10.30 am – 12.30 pm

at Biggin Hill Library (https://www.better.org.uk/library/london/bromley/biggin-hill-library)

Cost: £ 149

E-mail: annielyons.writer@gmail.com for more information or to sign up

Grab your notebook and pen and meet me at the library!

 

 

 

The Happiness List

Dearest reader friends, I’m as excited as a toddler who’s just seen snow for the first time to announce that I have a new book coming in July and it’s all about happiness.

Happiness is a funny old thing, isn’t it? We all search for it, sometimes fail to find it and often only recognise it when it’s gone. To be honest, I feel the same about Double Deckers, which in a quirky twist of fate are also a great source of happiness for me. Uncanny, I know.

I did a lot of research on the subject of happiness when I was writing this book, some chocolate-based (I suffer for my art), some word-based. There’s mountains of advice out there on how to find happiness. Everyone from the NHS to Wikihow has tips on how to be happy. As I read and absorbed these ideas, the following questions leapt like Olympic snowboarders through my mind:

Is happiness something you can learn?

And if it is, what would the course which taught you how to be happy look like?

And so, my bookish chums, The Happiness List features my own version of such a course along with three female characters from three very different generations and backgrounds. Each has their own reason for attending the course run by Scandinavian Hygge-fan, Nik at their local community hall.

Heather is in her twenties and has just moved to Hope Street, close to where her late mother grew up. She is convinced that her forthcoming marriage to fiancé Luke will bring her everything she needs in life, if only she can persuade him to spend less time at work.

Fran is in her early forties and since being widowed two years ago, has done her best to bring up her teenage son, Jude and ten-year-old daughter, Charlie alone, whilst deflecting her own grief with darkly sarcastic wit.

Star-baker and community stalwart, Pamela is in her mid-sixties and is fed up with being taken for granted by her garden-fanatic husband and grown-up children. She’s ready to step out of her comfort zone and try something new.

With these three characters, I wanted to explore how people’s versions of happiness change depending on their age and circumstances and also how different generations learn from one another.

I loved writing this book because it enabled me to return to Hope Street and tell a new and fresh story about friendship, community and how important they are in bringing us happiness. Like most of my books, I aim to make readers laugh and perhaps shed the odd tear. I wholly recommend the addition of your favourite happy-making snack whilst you are reading and above all, I hope you enjoy it.

If you would like to pre-order a copy, you can click here: Amazon UK

And if that’s not enough, here’s a sneaky peek of the bright, beautiful cover to bring you just a little extra happiness on this chilly Wednesday.

Happy reading, my friends!

Ten Reasons Why I Love My Choir

A couple of years ago my sister-in-law came to me with a proposal, which she said would be ‘fun’. Alarm bells began to ring at this point. During our
child-free years our definitions of ‘fun’ led to some pretty evil hangovers and one particularly lengthy wait in A&E.

Still, we are older and wiser now or maybe just perpetually tired, so these days the proposals tend to be a bit more low-key.

‘My friend’s starting a community choir. She’s lovely. It will be fun. Do you fancy it?’

And actually I realised that I did. I’m not sure if it’s my age or possibly the age of my children, but I was suddenly aware that I no longer had any hobbies aside from ‘reading whilst my eyes slowly close at bedtime’ and ‘going to the cinema to see films provided they are rated 12A or below’.

I had officially become middle-aged and boring. It was time to get a hobby and have another go at this thing called fun.

So off to choir I went. From the first second I stepped into the room and we belted out ‘California Dreamin’’ I have loved it.

Here are the reasons why.

  1. Singing is good for you

Due a combination of a wonky spine, two children and writing, I have a bad back but I never notice it while I’m singing. After a session of belting out everything from Stevie Wonder to Snow Patrol, my back often feels less tense too. It might be the posture, the breathing or my pretty awesome moves but there’s something about it that is positively healing.

 

  1. Life has a soundtrack

In the film of my life, I make an entrance every morning to ‘Feeling Good’ by Nina Simone. Sadly, a combination of factors including my inability to make coherent conversation before the first coffee of the day and the withering response I would receive from my children, makes this impractical. However, I always have a song buzzing in my head. Sometimes it’s an ear-worm, often it’s something fantastic. Being part of a choir means I can now belt these out in the car, shower and supermarket with the legitimate excuse that I’m rehearsing. It’s brilliant.

 

  1. You are never alone in a choir

I can carry a tune and I learn a harmony but I am not a soloist. Despite my best efforts in front of the mirror giving a heartfelt rendition of ‘Someone Like You’, I am not Adele. I’m not even Adele’s backing singer but I would give it a go if the call came. I can sing fine on my own but I sing better with my choir buddies. There’s something about catching someone’s eye mid-song and sharing a smile because you’ve got this. You are nailing ‘Uptown Girl’.
Billy Joel would be proud.

  1. You are learning new stuff and it’s challenging

In week three we started to learn ‘Africa’ by Toto. If you don’t know this song, add it to your playlist immediately. There’s a reason why NME ranked it 32 on a list of 50 ‘most explosive choruses’ – it’s choral catnip. It also has a three-part harmony (four if you’re ambitious). I was in group three. We ran through each part and then tried them all together. It didn’t go well for me. I kept getting distracted by the tune, groups one and two and Jeff Porcaro’s impeccable drumming. It was frustrating and difficult.  Our MD directed us to an enthusiastic and charming Italian musician’s You Tube channel. He had helpfully recorded each harmony part. I pored over this video and decided that I loved this man. I made my husband (a talented musician himself) practice with me. I played it over and over in the car. And then it went in. Just like that. Like all those lyrics to 80s pop songs that are actually turning out to be quite handy now, the ‘Africa’ chorus harmony, part 3 is indelibly printed on my brain. And it feels good (cue Nina Simone moment).

 

  1. Performing in public is a blast

When I was a kid, I used to get nervous to the point of nausea about doing anything in public. Now, I get excited. Again, it wouldn’t be great for anyone if it was me singing on my own but in the spirit of ‘we’re all in this together’, it’s pure fun. Even when it goes wrong. And of course, when it goes right and people clap (an unexpected and welcome pleasure) or indeed cheer, it’s nothing short of intoxicating.

 

  1. We get to do some amazing stuff

Last year, we took part in an event to mark the opening of the new Tate Modern building in London. Our choir formed part of a 500-voice London community choir performing a specially composed piece called ‘The Bridge’ by installation artist Peter Liversidge. We rehearsed and performed in the Tate’s awe-inspiring turbine hall with the brilliant conductor, Esmeralda Conde-Ruiz. The piece was weird, wonderful and completely original. It felt incredible to be part of this and even my nine-year-old son (habitually underwhelmed by anything that isn’t linked to football or wrestling) declared it to be, ‘really cool, Mum.’ And it was.

Singing at the Tate Modern.

 

  1. There’s always cake

As everyone knows (ask Gareth Malone if you don’t believe me), the secret to a really good choir is excellent cake. We have a brilliant resident baker called Lucy (you can check out her rather super cake, book and film blog here – https://keeps-me-busy.com/ ). If Lucy ever left the choir, I think we would be in trouble. It’s simply not possible to channel your inner Dolly or indeed Kenny during ‘Islands in the Stream’ unless you have either eaten or are about to eat cake. The raspberry and Prosecco cupcakes were a particular high-point.

 

  1. Every community needs a choir

Yes, we kick up our heels at the Tate Modern and of course, when Kirstie Allsop invited us to her Handmade Fair, we said ‘will there be cake?’ and then agreed when we found out there would. But actually, our wonderful founder, Kari set up the choir for the local community. So we sing in our pub, at fundraising events, local fairs and basically anywhere we can if we’re asked. And when something awful happens as it did last year when a local boy and his aunt were killed when a car came off the road during a police pursuit, we come together to try to offer support by singing to raise money for the people who need it. It won’t take away the sadness but music has a way of offering comfort when you need it most.

 

  1. Every choir needs a brilliant Musical Director

Our founding MD, Kari is a passionate, enthusiastic fizzing ball of energy. Whilst she was running our choir, she inspired, cheered and booted us up the backside when we’re off key. She’s a great dancer and did her best to stop the mum-dancing and get us grooving. She taught us new stuff, she encouraged others to lead songs and she challenged us. Most of all, she made it fun. Very selfishly, she moved to Nottingham in the summer and we miss her dreadfully. Luckily for us, we have not one but two new amazing MDs, who have stepped up and are keeping her passion, enthusiasm and groovy dance moves very much alive. We are one lucky choir.

 

  1. Choir people are good people

I have met some lovely people since joining the choir. We sing, we chat, we sing some more, we eat cake, chat some more, possibly have another slice of cake and do a bit more singing. It’s the perfect evening really. Add in the occasional Prosecco-fuelled gig and I’m a happy camper. I have found my people and singing with them is the best.

 

Hanging with Kirsty – the cake was excellent.

 

It’s no great surprise therefore that my choir served as inspiration for the The Choir on Hope Street, although I have to add a disclaimer that no choir members were harmed in the writing of this book.

The two main characters, Natalie and Caroline form a community choir in a bid to save their beloved Hope Street Community hall. Or rather, perfect PTA mother Caroline forms the choir and drags a reluctant Natalie along with her. And of course, there is a resident choir baker in the form of Pamela and lots of cake because all good choirs need music, friendship and a decent slice of Lemon Drizzle.

I wanted to capture the spirit of what it’s like to be part of a choir and the way that music can unite and help people in the most unexpected of ways.

I think this photograph, taken at my book signing at Waterstone’s in Orpington earlier this year, when my lovely choir turned out to support me, just about sums it up.

Such a wonderful thing indeed.

 

http://amzn.to/2jLxPbD

The Choir on Hope Street gets a gorgeous new look!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that there is nothing more joyously rewarding than singing in a choir.

I have been the proud member of my beloved Churchfields Community Choir for nearly three years and can honestly say that singing with them has brought me levels of happiness that I hadn’t experienced since I wore out the cassette reel on my treasured Adam and the Ants Prince Charming album in the early eighties.

When I wrote The Choir on Hope Street, I wanted to convey this happiness – this love for music and singing. I wanted to show the sheer joy you can feel as you channel your inner Carole King or Rihanna – as the real world melts away and for a blissful moment, hearts rule heads and music does its awesome thing.

Of course it’s tricky to convey all this in a book cover but I am delighted to reveal today that those clever people at HQ have done just that with this brand new beauty of an eBook cover.

So, stick on your favourite tune (I recommend Crazy in Love by Beyoncé for this particular moment) and feast your peepers on this!

Gorgeous or what?

If you’ve already enjoyed The Choir on Hope Street, you’re also already one of my favourites.

If not, you can find out more about the story by following this handy link:

The Choir on Hope Street eBook

You’re welcome.

 

 

A letter to my eighteen-year-old self

About a week ago, I had the great pleasure of attending my former secondary school’s prize-giving as guest of honour. All I had to do was wear something other than jeans (oh all right, just this once), shake lots of hands as I dished out the book prizes (what’s not to like?) and give a ten minute speech.

As I considered what I could possibly say to this group of bright young things, I cast my mind back twenty five years to when I was eighteen, fresh of face, obsessed with comedy and tragically fond of my huge mustard-coloured duffel coat.

What would I say to that eighteen-year-old girl now? What advice would I give her based on what I know?

I posted this question on my Facebook author page and received dozens of brilliant suggestions from, ‘wear less black’, to, ‘making mistakes is key to learning’. You can read the rest of them here.

In the end, I decided to write a letter to my eighteen-year-old self and it goes something like this:

Dear Ann,

Firstly, don’t worry – you’re not always going to be called ‘Ann’. I know you hate it. I know you think it makes you sound like an austere maiden aunt. It’s all right. You’ll find the courage to say, ‘hi, my name is Annie,’ some time during your third year at Bristol uni. Fear not.

You won’t like university at first. You’ll feel homesick. You’ll miss your mum and you’ll spend whole evenings queuing to use the payphone (yes, children of the digital age – a phone on the wall into which you had to feed coins – the mind boggles, right?). You’ll think that everyone is having the best time ever and that you’re a sad loser who no-one likes. This isn’t true and this feeling won’t last forever because you will find your people.

You’ll know these people because they will be the ones who sit up with you all night talking and listening. It’s important to find people who talk and listen – shun the ones who just talk – they’re only interested in themselves and aren’t to be trusted. You will laugh harder with your people than with anyone else you’ve ever met in your life. They will be your friends for life. They will end up being godparents to your children and you to theirs. You won’t end up living close by but they’ll be there whenever you need them. You will continue to meet up as much as possible but you will find that you can’t party quite as hard as you did as the years go by and there will be more chats about mortgages and loft extensions. You will love them like family.

You will have your heart broken. Quite a few times and you will break a heart or two as well. This is part of the process on the road to finding the keeper. You won’t find him until you’re twenty four but he’ll be worth the wait and you’ll realise that you can’t even remember the name of that boy who first broke your heart by snogging your best friend at Emma Jackson’s New Year’s Eve party in 1991.

Your university years will be the best of your life. Your third year in Germany will be a particular highlight because you will be absolutely terrified when you arrive and having such a great time that you stay for another month when you’re due to leave. You will be pretty fluent in German too and your self-confidence will be at its peak. You will feel invincible.

You will be unsure of which career path to follow. Inexplicably you will apply to be an accountant, a management consultant and a diplomat. You won’t get any of these jobs because your heart lies with books. You will work in a bookshop, then for a publisher and then you’ll become a writer. You’ll write a best-seller but it won’t get published for a few years, during which time you wonder if you should give up but because you are tenacious to the point of stubbornness and married the right man, you keep going until your first book is published in 2013. You’ll carry on writing novels, trying to write the best book you can each time and happily, each book will be better than the last. You won’t be sure if this is your career for life but then who has one of those these days? You will keep exploring, keep learning and keep trying to make readers laugh and cry.

You will have children and come to realise that there is nothing that frustrates and rewards more than motherhood. You would cut off your right arm for them. And your left arm too. But you also sometimes long to lock yourself in the bathroom for a bit of peace and quiet.

In your twenties you will fret for hours about what people think of you, in your thirties less so and in your forties you will realise that no-one is paying you much attention anyway. In fact they never were. Be the kindest person you can be and you’ll be fine.

The media both social and otherwise will horrify and scare you at times but the kindness and wisdom of the people you meet and spend time with will reassure and console you that there is more good than bad in the world. Always.

As you grow older, you will look to your own children and the young people growing up and you will be inspired by them. They’re savvier than you were at this age – yes, they spend too much time staring at screens and yes, they use the word, ‘like’, with frightening regularity but they’re bright, they’re funny and if we join forces, we can probably sort out the world together.

So be positive, worry less, laugh more and maybe, just maybe, ditch the mustard duffel coat? Or keep it in the cupboard for twenty years when alarmingly it will come back into fashion.

Love and hugs,

Annie

A very special book event…

There are many wonderful things about being an author.

Firstly, you get to write books and as we all know, everyone loves books. In the same way that everyone loves Cornwall and Mary Berry. It’s just a fact of life. If you ever meet someone who tells you that they don’t like books, take this as a distress call. They just haven’t met the right book yet. Simply lead them gently to the nearest friendly librarian or bookseller and they will do the rest.

I love writing books – it’s the best kind of challenge. I love developing characters, weaving their stories, undertaking research (yes I really do need to watch that You Tube video of Bruno Mars again – my main character is a huge fan, honest) whilst doing my best to create something original and authentic, which readers will enjoy.

I have even learnt to accept the bad writing days, when pulling just one word from your brain feels like delving into treacle, when you’re convinced that you’re rubbish at this and should be doing a proper job, like tidying the hell-hole of the cupboard under the stairs. I believe that this is part of the process (albeit a very tedious part). Any writer who claims not to have days like these is a big hairy liar. That’s another fact of life. You’re welcome.

Last weekend I discovered the absolute cherry-on-the-cream-on-the-icing-on-the-cake (what? I like big cakes) moment of being an author.

A book event. And not just any book event, my friends. Oh no. This was quite literally an all-singing, cake-eating book event.

As many of you know, my most recent book is called The Choir on Hope Street. It tells the story of two very different women – Nat and Caroline, who come together to form a community choir when their beloved Hope Street hall is threatened with closure.

I have made no secret of the fact that I love my own community choir and they were a huge inspiration when I wrote the book. I wanted to write about how joyful I feel when I sing with them. If you’ve ever been part of a choir, you too will know how wonderful it is to share in that moment when the harmony sounds so sweet or indeed when you fluff it up and fall about laughing. Bloody marvellous, isn’t it?

The event took place in the Orpington branch of Waterstone’s. It’s a small branch and the manager told me (with no hint of malice or irony), ‘we just don’t get the big names – David Walliams and Lee Child won’t come to Orpington.’

But I went. And I took my choir and I can honestly say it was the best day of my writing career so far. As we walked in and spotted my books on the table, a man approached me and offered his hand. I didn’t know him but he told me that he was a writer too.

‘Well done,’ he said, wiping away a tear. ‘I’m proud of you. You’ve done it.’

I’m not great at taking compliments so I smiled and muttered something self-deprecating but I was very touched.

When the choir began to sing, it felt like the perfect summary of everything I was trying to get across in the book. I left my signing table and went to join them. I think this photograph sums up precisely how I felt.

While I signed books for people during the break, I experienced a tiny glimpse into what it might be like to be famous in a low-key, writerly way. I can report that it is utterly lovely. Talking to all kinds of different people about books and singing? And there was cake too? What’s not to like?

I was overwhelmed by the different people who turned up to support me – a school friend who I hadn’t seen for over twenty five years, two of my lovely author friends – one lady even asked me for a selfie. I was surrounded by my choir, my friends and my family – it was a bit like my wedding, just without the drunken dad-dancing.

As the choir finished their last song, I wiped away a tear because I didn’t want it to end. I was having a moment – a very, very happy moment.

Needless to say, the bookshop were amazing and very pleased because I finished the event as their number one bestseller.

Move over, Lee Child – see what happens if you don’t make time for Orpington?

For the rest of the day, I was buzzing as I shared pictures on social media and people responded with lovely comments. My favourite message was from a choir friend who told her six-year-old daughter about the event and my book.

‘That’s amazing,’ she said. ‘I want to be an author just like her.’

I’m already looking forward to her book-signing.

My work is done and I couldn’t be happier.