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.

Software for writers

I’ve just added a “Software for writers” page to the ideas4writers blog. All the best writing software in one place. If your favourite software isn’t included please let me know.

Dave Haslett, ideas4writers,