Guest post: E. Rachael Hardcastle (Author of Finding Pandora)

6016f2_1e64bbd333624e3da9900739929e2dbc-mv2_d_1280_1214_s_2.pngToday we’re delighted to welcome supernatural fantasy novelist and West Yorkshire lass E. Rachael Hardcastle to the ideas4writers blog. Her box set Finding Pandora – The Complete Collection (Books 1 – 4) is out this week.

Naturally, we wanted to know all about her, her ideas, and her writing and publishing experiences, and to see if she had any useful tips to share. Here’s what she had to say:

How do you find and evaluate ideas for characters, plots, dialogue, etc?

It’s an overused response but ideas just come to me. Sometimes after watching TV or reading a book I wonder what new swing I could put on that premise, so I’ll write it down and explore it later on. I never base characters on real people – I like to let the characters develop into who they need to be and usually fill in a profile sheet (as seen on my blog) to make sure I cover everything.

How did you get your latest idea? What made it good enough to write about?

My latest idea came to me after watching Jurassic Park and reading a book called The Great Zoo of China. I wanted to explore the theme park idea further, where the guests have to escape for some reason. I know the idea is popular because the movies do well, and to the best of my knowledge the books have done well too, so I thought I’d note it down and brainstorm some ideas. I haven’t started writing yet, but I know it’s a golden nugget because it crosses my mind every day.

How did you expand the idea?

  • Use brainstorming and mind mapping ideas

  • Use story beats to note everything down and build a story/characters

  • Note down the cliches I wanted to avoid and why

  • Watched the movies, read the books etc for research and to see how I can make my story unique

How do you do your research?

I prefer to use reference books rather than the internet, though I do often mix the two. I write fantasy, so some of my research is on myth, legends, signs and symbols, etc, which is fun, so I don’t actually mind this part of the process. I then keep notes in a ‘story beats’ outline document in OpenOffice, which I refer to whenever it is needed. I tried Scrivener but haven’t yet made friends with it.

Would you be willing to share with us some of the ideas you’ve rejected?

I very rarely reject ideas, I just note them down for use in a future project. I think my advice would be not to reject anything because even if it has been used before, there’s always a new way to approach it. They say there are no new ideas and I believe this is true to some extent – it’s what you do with them that counts.

Which book marketing ideas would you recommend?

I offer free content to prove I am trustworthy and helpful. I think marketing can be creepy when you’re posting ‘buy my book’ on social media. Your posts will be ignored and you might lose followers by doing this. Post free content on your blog, helpful notes and resources, and then offer your book at the end. For example, you could advertise your book at the end of a YouTube video that is free and offers the viewer a solution to a problem.

How did you get published?

I self-published my work after coming close to traditional publishing and turning down two offers. I decided I wanted to be in control and give it a shot myself. That way, I could learn the ins and outs and possibly turn hybrid later.

Have you had any really bad/bizarre rejections or reviews?

I once received a postal rejection (with my manuscript enclosed) and on the title page was the comment ‘We don’t publish poetry’. I had submitted my 50,000+ word high fantasy novel…

How do you find the time to write?

I think I steal the time to write after work and between chores at home. If you want to be a writer, you should write, and those who are serious will make the time.

Where do you write?

I have a home office. I keep all my reference books, tools and notes in that room so I can access anything I need quickly and easily.

Can you recommend any software or apps that help with your writing?

And finally, where can we find out more about you and your books?

My website is at

Thank you! Good luck with the box set and for your future writing success.

Thank you!


Writing software recommendation: Workflowy

Regular readers will know I love lists. But what I love even more are:

  • organised lists
    • hierarchical lists (like this)
  • outlines (in the form of hierarchical lists of course)

The sort of list that you can:

  • easily move around
  • insert bullet points at will
  • promote or demote entries from chapter headings to sub-headings and back again, for example
  • split entries into new headings or sub-categories of their own
  • and so on.

(But it has to be extremely easy and quick to do all of those things.)

You can do so much with lists like these, from making a shopping list to outlining an article or story or novel to creating the business plan for a multi-billion dollar industry.

I’ve just started planning a rather complex novel, and this is where a decent outliner should come into its own. But the tools I had available just weren’t doing it for me. I tried using them and quickly ditched them and moved on to the next … and the next … until I ran out of options.

Microsoft Word has a built-in outliner, and while it’s usable it’s not brilliant (for complex novels at least). Also, I haven’t got Word on my netbook, only my desktop computer that I hardly use any more.

OpenOffice Writer, which I use on my netbook, sort of has one but it’s a massive pain to use – and totally unsuitable for planning a novel.

Until recently I used Treepad Lite for organising things, but it’s been a love-hate relationship. It does the job but not elegantly, nor is it fast. I started planning my novel on it but quickly abandoned it.

At this point I considered buying Scrivener so I could use the cork board/index cards feature, but that isn’t really how I like to work – I like lists! (It’s close, but not quite close enough.)

I do a lot of writing on my iPad now – including this very blog post. So I wanted something cross-platform: it needed to work on my Windows desktop computer, my Windows netbook, and my iPad – and ideally also on my Android smartphone so I can work on my novel while I’m out and about.

So I dug around in Apple’s App Store and eventually found Workflowy. It’s perfect, it’s dead simple, it’s brilliant. I wish I’d found it years ago. There’s an iPad app, an Android app and a browser version so you can use it in Windows. And none of them costs anything (which is always my favourite price!)

(There is of course a paid-for version – there always is, and that’s fair enough as they have to stay in business and continue creating great software – but none of the paid-for features are essential as far as I can tell. I seem to be getting on perfectly well without them. It might be useful to collaborate with other writers at some point, though – and that is a paid option.)

The only very slight drawback is that you can only add 250 items (bullet points) to your lists each month (unless you pay to upgrade). But if you recommend Workflowy to your friends (see below) you get an extra 250 items per month for each one who signs up.

If you’re a list-maker/outliner/planner like me, rather than someone who prefers the “start writing and let’s see where it goes” approach, it’s well worth having a look at Workflowy. My novel is now coming along splendidly, so I give it my highest personal recommendation. It’s something I definitely use (a lot) and have come to love and rely on in a very short time – and that’s not something I say very often.

There’s a short video on their website that shows you how it works. And that’s all the training you need.

If you use the following link (because you’re my friend) you can immediately start off with 500 items per month as your basic allowance rather than the usual 250. (It will increase my allowance too, so thank you in advance if you decide to give it a try.)

More writing tools

Each month from now on I’ll be looking at no cost/low cost tools (and probably books too) that make our writing lives easier. If you have any recommendations please let me know: I’m sure there must be lots of other great tools out there that I’m simply not aware of.

Would you pay to use a library?

Medieval crime author Michael Jecks has proposed that those who can afford it should pay 15p (or about 22 U.S. cents) to take out a book from a public library. Those who cannot afford it – i.e. those who receive welfare benefits – would not have to pay.

Here’s how the BBC reported the story.

Seems fair enough to me – I already have to pay 1 pound to take out audio books on CD. But what do you think?


We now have an account on Twitter: @i4w_official. We would have been @ideas4writers (of course) but someone else seems to be using that name – they’ll be hearing from our lawyer very soon. In the meantime, if you’re on Twitter please follow us at i4w_official. We’ll start sending out some interesting tweets for you (and maybe a few special offers too) once our number of followers reaches 100.

Email address changes

Several of you have changed your email address since signing up to receive updates to this blog via email. Please note that we at ideas4writers cannot update your email address for you, as you subscribe to the blog via a service called FeedBlitz, and it is they who maintain the list of subscribers.

You should find instructions on how to update your FeedBlitz account at the bottom of each weekly mailing. If you have any problems doing this, the easiest way is to click on the Unsubscribe option, then go to the ideas4writers blog, click the orange box in the top right corner, and subscribe again using your new address.

Google Reader

Another way of subscribing to the blog is to use Google Reader. This allows you to subscribe to as many blogs and web feeds as you like, and see them all on one page without having to visit each site individually. Marvellous stuff – once you start using it you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it!

New articles

I’ve written some new articles for you, and updated some old ones. You’ll find them here. I’ll post the new articles here in the blog at some point too, but you can read them all right now. Lots more articles coming soon.

Next week

In next week’s blog update I’ll have another 10 What Ifs to inspire you.

Dave Haslett,

How to find article ideas using keywords

In a recent update I mentioned that I’d found lots of ideas for articles by using keywords. Naturally enough you wanted to know more about how to do this. So here’s a more detailed explanation:

1. Think of something you might like to write an article about. It could be something to do with your specialist subject, or something you feel like writing about today.

In my case I wanted to write articles that would help people write articles using our Date-A-Base Books. My articles would help those writers – and help us sell more of the books.

2. Think of the words or phrases someone might type into Google in order to find out about that subject. Make a list of as many combinations as you can think of. These are your keywords.

My list of keywords would include things like:
2010 anniversaries
2011 anniversaries
forthcoming anniversaries
historic anniversaries
writing anniversary articles
anniversaries of inventions
anniversaries of famous deaths
and so on

3. Start typing each of your keywords into Google and you should see it auto-suggest some other things that you might be searching for. Some of these items might give you ideas for articles or article titles. Otherwise, use its suggestions to extend your list of keywords.

4. Save your list of keywords as a text file – you’ll need it in the next step.

5. Go to and download Good Keywords v3. Install it on your computer, then import your list of keywords into it. It will generate even more keywords for you – words and phrases that are closely related to those on your list. By now you should have a pretty long list of keywords – and hopefully a few ideas for articles. But if not, don’t worry.

6. Sign up as a member of, if you haven’t already joined. Then go to the Author’s Area and click on Author Tools | Title Suggestions. Try entering each of the keywords you found earlier, and it should give you a list of up to 20 possible article titles for each one.

You should end up with a huge list of possible article titles.

By doing this, I managed to find over 150 ideas and titles for articles in about half an hour. It will of course take me considerably longer to write them all.

However, could help you with this too, as they have quite a few article templates. These include Top 10 lists, Pain Avoidance, Pros and Cons, Q and A, Survey Results, and several others. These are in the training course, which you’ll find under their Author Resources menu.

They also have an excellent blog which gives lots of suggestions and help with writing articles, and they also publish regular video tutorials. An excellent and highly recommended site!

Dave Haslett,

The Apple iPad (hastily) reviewed

Apple have just released their new iPad [pictures here], and since they’ve signed up several publishers with the intention of it being (in part) an e-book reader, I thought I’d better say something about it.

In common with most of the world, I haven’t had my hands on one yet – just seen the pictures, heard a few comments and read the specifications. But that’s enough for me to form an opinion, so here goes.

I’m sure it’ll sell by the million, as Apple stuff usually does, but I don’t intend getting one myself just yet. Or even at all. Maybe I’ll think about it when it gets to version 2 or 3, if they eventually manage to get it right.

They could so easily have made it one of those must-have items that would have had even the likes of me salivating, and queuing up at midnight to get my hands on it. But sadly, that’s not the case, because to my mind there’s an awful lot wrong with it, and after all the hype, that’s come as a massive disappointment.

First, let’s consider it as an e-book reader: a nice idea, but they’ve got it wrong.

It’s good news, of course, that Amazon’s Kindle will have some decent competition at last. But Apple’s iPad appears to have a standard laptop screen -132 dots per inch (dpi). Admittedly it’s nice and shiny, and lovely to look at. But it’s not the paper-like e-ink screen you’ll find on proper e-book readers. If they couldn’t use e-ink they should at least have used a high-density screen with a minimum of 250 dpi. But no. On the positive side, at least it’s colour – unlike the current e-book readers. But very much on the negative side, it’ll be just like trying to reading books on your laptop. And that’s not generally a very pleasant experience. It’ll be pretty much impossible outside on a sunny day – an environment where the Kindle is in its element.

Next, you can watch movies on it. But sadly they’ve got that wrong too, because it isn’t the right shape. Movies are all shot in widescreen these days, and the iPad hasn’t got a wide screen. So you’ll get those annoying black bars across the top and bottom. Or, if you want the picture to fill the whole screen, you’ll lose whatever’s happening on the left and right and only get the middle bit.

You can view photos on it, and even see slideshows of them. But you can’t take your own photos because there’s no camera. I for one would like to know why they left that out. It would have had so many more uses if it had a camera. I refer you to some of the amazing augmented reality things you can do with an iPhone, which would have been even better on an iPad. If it had a camera. Which it doesn’t. I think someone seriously dropped the ball there.

And of course you can use it to surf the web. Sort of. But, as I understand it, it doesn’t support Adobe Flash (nor does the iPhone), so half the websites you visit won’t work properly.

Those are the things that – for me at least – turn it from being an item of infinite lust, and something I’d use every day, to something that would just sit in the corner silently gathering dust.

So, what is it good for? By my reckoning, there is just one thing that it will be exceptional at – and this is why it’ll sell so many millions: video games.

It has a touch screen that can be used both vertically and horizontally, it supports multi-touch, and it’s big enough that 2 people can play at the same time. You’ll be able to stab and poke and flick with abandon. Remember that table-top football game Subbuteo? (Just ‘flick to kick’.) That would be brilliant on an iPad. Things like tennis/squash, pool/snooker, and even good old shove ha’penny would work well too. It could revolutionise gaming in much the same way as the Nintendo Wii has done.

So – what do you think? Is Apple’s iPad going to change the world, and revolutionise book publishing? Will it be one of the best games machines ever, but otherwise useless? Or have I got it hopelessly wrong? Let me know!

Dave Haslett,

Touchpad burn – update

About a month ago I mentioned that I’d got a sore finger from using the touchpad on my MSI Wind. And I still have. I thought it might be something electrical – it sort of feels as if my finger is being repeatedly microwaved, albeit at very low power. But over time it builds up and starts to really hurt.

I still haven’t had a chance to try touchpads on other laptops – I’ve been way too busy. But no one else has reported this kind of problem. Anyway it’s probably best if I don’t test other laptops until my finger has fully recovered.

I’ve just had a close-up look at my finger and it seems to have a sort of blister on the tip of it. Possibly from friction – i.e. overuse or pressing too hard, or possibly from a burn. Either way, I’m going to have to stop using the touchpad.

But what to use instead? A mouse is no good, because I use the MSI Wind in bed, armchairs, sofa, car, etc and there’s nowhere flat to rest the mouse. So I’ve just ordered a trackball instead – a Logitech Trackman. In case you don’t know, it’s much like a mouse except that the ball is on the top instead of the bottom. The mouse part stays still and you push the ball around with your thumb. It’s perfect for me because you can use it anywhere. And I’ve heard that once you’ve got used to using a trackball you’ll never go back to a mouse. I’ll let you know how you get on.

Dave Haslett, ideas4writers,

Trackpad burn

Regular readers will know that I treated myself to an MSI Wind netbook at Christmas, and I now use it quite heavily instead of my HP desktop PC. In fact I haven’t used the desktop at all for the past week.

I’ve been using the Wind’s built-in trackpad rather than plugging in a separate mouse. This is the first time I’ve used a trackpad for more than a few minutes, and after a busy session of dragging, cutting and pasting in Microsoft Word a few days ago I discovered something unexpected … trackpads can get very hot! (Well, mine does anyway.)

Since I’ve never heard of this before, and there doesn’t seem to be anything much about it on the web, I’m left wondering whether this only happens with the MSI Wind, or whether it only happens with *MY* MSI Wind.

It could be to do with friction – in the same way that you can make fire by rubbing sticks together – though that seems unlikely as the trackpad feels smooth.

The wind’s trackpad only works when you touch it with your skin – prodding it with the blunt end of a pencil, for example, won’t work. So perhaps a more likely cause of the heat build-up could be to do with the way it uses the capacitance of your skin to detect movement.

I would have asked you to help me test this on other laptops and netbooks, but I don’t want to be held responsible for burns or nerve damage. So I’ll take all the risk myself and try it out on a few other machines. Playing a few quick games of Spider Solitaire (which comes with Windows) is a good way of testing it, as it involves lots of dragging and dropping and heavy trackpad usage.

As I said, I don’t want you trying this for yourself. (But if you do, I am not to blame for any damage or injuries.) Spider solitaire is also horribly addictive and will keep you away from your writing, so if you have it on your machine you should delete it!

(If you’ve experienced “trackpad burn” – which is my name for the phenomenon – or you can explain what’s causing it, please leave a comment. Any cures for overly sensitive fingertips – which is what I now have – are also welcome!)

Dave Haslett, ideas4writers,