Sunday, August 29, 2010


Recently two different things made me think of viewpoint and perception. One was watching the film Vantage Point and then on a walk with my husband when we encountered the scene pictured.

The film shows the assassination of a president from several people's point's of view and I think it is brilliantly done. It is almost like a text book lesson in writing a scene from different pov.

The next day on a walk we came upon the white tent in the middle of nowhere...both of us stopped because it was quite frankly incongruous in the setting. It was not on level ground, but it was properly staked and tied. My mind immediately thought of kids and adventure...while my husband's mind went off in a completely different direction - CIS.

What were your thought upon seeing the picture? What tale did it tell and who told it?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Eyes Have It

I was having a look at Susanna Kearsley’s lovely website the other day and the beautiful photo of her eyes featured on the home page made me think about their importance to us writers. I don’t mean just in terms of needing our eyesight for all this writing and reading, but when it comes to creating characters. What our heroes and heroines look like is vitally important and in my opinion the eyes are crucial, especially for the hero.

Eyes obviously play a huge part when it comes to attraction and personally, if I don’t like someone’s eyes, I can’t find them attractive. The clichéd saying “the eyes are the windows to your soul” or something like that really is true, at least when it comes to falling in love.

I’m sure everyone has their own preference, whether it’s the steely blue gaze of a Paul Newman look-alike or the spaniel-brown eyes of George Clooney. I don’t really mind about the colour (although I do have a weakness for green!), as long as they’re surrounded by long dark eyelashes or stand out in some way. Twinkling with humour is good, or flirty and fun with a mischievous glint. I don’t mind them with make-up either, á la Duran Duran or Adam Ant. Just like girls, some guys’ looks really improve with a bit of cosmetic help and as far as I can see, the trend started by the New Romantics has never really gone away among rock bands. Well, why should it? Take Billie Joe Armstrong of the band Green Day for instance – without eye make-up he’s pretty ordinary, but put a bit of black round his huge green eyes and hey presto – he’s gorgeous!

What really does matter the most, I think, is the expression in them. It’s just as clichéd to say that eyes can “smoulder”, but some guys really have that down to a fine art, maybe even without trying. It’s hard to define, but you definitely know it when you see it! And it makes you go weak at the knees for sure.

One of my heroes came about because I was intrigued by the mischievous look in the eyes of a guy appearing in a music video. I was watching Call Me When You’re Sober by Evanescence and almost forgot to listen to the song when I noticed the ice blue gaze of “the Wolf” (the video is a take-off of the Little Red Riding Hood story with the wolf as a human). Judging by the comments he generated on the internet, I wasn’t alone.

So which part of a hero is most important to you? Do you agree with me or does something else do it for you? I’d love to know.

Please come back on Sunday, when Liz will be here with another great post.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Getting Real

Ever noticed how the 'reality' of contemporary fiction doesn't often directly reflect – for want of a better word – 'real' reality?

Okay, so that's a bit of a broad question. We know that it's FICTION, I'm not talking about the strange propensity of all bomb diffusing to be successful with only one second on the clock, or the way the heroine/hero saves the day at the last moment, or even the serendipity of their meeting at all.(By the way, the superhuman, awesome writer Terry Pratchett uses this in his books as the it's-a-million-to-one-shot-but-it-might-just-work. Whoever heard of a last minute, desperate 876 to one shot coming off?)

No, what sparked this train of thought was the fact that on Saturday morning I was thinking I wanted a bit of a rest from social networking and being 'out there'. It happens once in a while, the constant urge to be connected fades and I just want to retreat for a few days and recharge my batteries. Noting serious, nothing sinister, but it made me wonder – why don't my characters feel the same way sometimes?

Then I realised that none of my characters (at least, at the moment) use Twitter, or share Farmville watering duties on Facebook, or blog, or even show withdrawal symptoms if they're separated from the BlackBerry.


I remember my first book's original draft showed nary a sign of a mobile phone, either. Okay, so they're essentially in hiding for most of the book, but still. The second... well, they're struggling to survive in the Sahara for a good part of the story, so I'll acquit them. But you don't find a secondary character googling seasonal weather in the Western Sahara or texting to hero to check he's remembered the passports.

In the book I'm working on at the moment, Google does crop up. There's plenty of mobiles, a netbook or two (and incidentally a death-ray and an earthquake machine, but that's beside the point), but still they're not tweeting requests for help with clues, or letting their family know what they ate for supper on Facebook. I can't say I've read many mainstream, popular books which include reference to the social networking sites, either.

Is it because technology, and social networking, moves so fast, and publishing so slow, that books are always a little behind the times? Or is it because we WANT fiction to be a little other-worldy – our world, but not quite our world.

Or am I just a closet luddite?

What do you think?

Don't forget to come back on Thursday, for Pia's next post.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Are you sitting comfortably?

Good. Because Biddy's post on Endings got me thinking of Beginnings, and the different ways we writers start our stories.

Nearly every writing guide I own warns me that readers these days don't have the same patience readers used to have, and that to hold their attention we writers should cut to the chase, in the literal sense. We should start with a 'hook', in the midst of the action, and not waste time painting the scenery or - horror of horrors - describing the weather.

Which often makes me wonder just how many classic novels, ones I've read, re-read and loved, would even make it past an editor these days, with opening sentences like: 'When the east wind blows up Helford river the shining waters become troubled and disturbed, and the little waves beat angrily upon the sandy shores.'

And how's this for an opening paragraph? 'James Macfadden died in March 1905 when he was forty-seven years old; he was riding in the Driffield Point-to-Point. He left the bulk of his money to his son Douglas. The Macfaddens and the Dalhousies at that time lived in Perth, and Douglas was a school friend of Jock Dalhousie, who was a young man then, and had gone to London to become a junior partner in a firm of solicitors in Chancery Lane, Owen, Dalhousie, and Peters. I am now the senior partner, and Owen and Dalhousie and Peters have been dead for many years, but I never changed the name of the firm.'

I can all but hear a modern agent or editor screaming, 'Who CARES?', and yet, although that particular book goes on for several more pages in the same leisurely vein before anything actually happens to the narrator - before he first meets the young woman who will be the catalyst for all the story that follows - I love it all the same, and always have.

Most of my own books, admittedly, start rather slowly. Like a filmmaker who opens with a wide establishing shot and then comes closer, I like to let my readers see my heroines in context, maybe even get to know them just a little, before setting things in motion.

Not to say I don't like books that start with action - some writers are amazingly good at it, and some, like Dean Koontz, can work both weather and a strong hook into their opening sentences, as he does in Dragon Tears: 'Tuesday was a fine California day, full of sunshine and promise, until Harry Lyon had to shoot someone at lunch.'

I'm just saying that we all have different voices, and a storyteller's voice can sometimes draw me in as surely as a 'hook', no matter what the writing gurus of the moment say.

Are you the same? Or do you need to have your interest grabbed by that first sentence?

(By the way, bragging rights go to the first commenter who can correctly identify BOTH novels from which the 'slow' openings above are taken!)

Don't forget to come back on Sunday, when Anna will be posting.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Wow! Well not quite sure how to follow Liz's fabulous post on settings. If you haven't read it then get thee to the post under this and then come back. I'll be here.

Done? Excellent isn't it? And I hope you took some time to read the scenes that were part of the challenge... no? OK the links are in the comments. We'll wait. Honest.

OK... all here? I'll begin. Well I'll begin by talking about endings.

When you are writing or reading you are always heading towards the end. The best feeling is that you desperately want to know how it ends but you desperately don't want it to finish. The whole of a story can be ruined by an unsatisfying ending. As a writer this the holy grail. How do you get an ending to be satisfying and fitting for the characters themselves.

This is something I have struggled with for awhile. When I was attempting to write for Mills & Boon, I found that I couldn't write the Happily Ever After that I knew they needed. Call me a cynic or a realist but I knew that even if these two people had overcome their obstacles in the book, that there would be other obstacles out there for them afterwards. OK so I know that it is a fantasy we are dealing with, I was even told that by M&B's Editorial Director, but for some reason I couldn't allow myself to overcome my cynical side.

But I am also an idealist and a romantic. How do I marry these things?

During the now infamous Cornwall trip I took recently, Liz and I were discussing endings and how, as a cynical romantic, do I resolve my own internal tension. Well I shall tell you, I am a big fan of the ambiguous ending.

1. (of language) Open to more than one interpretation; having a double meaning.
2. Unclear or inexact because a choice between alternatives has not been made

See I quite like that, the choice has not been made. Oh the choices have been pinpointed through the story. You hope that they will take the correct choice but will they? And what is the correct choice?

Going back to 'Frenchman's Creek' by Daphne du Maurier, you have a classic ambiguous ending. The proper and moral ending would be for her to stay with her husband and family, this is the dutiful ending. But for the romantics there is the ending where she runs away to sea with her lover. The only man she will ever love. The book ends with her on the shore, her lover in a boat. And then it ends. I reckon she probably stays with her husband but by ending it there, the choices and possibilities haven't been completely closed off. She could still hitch up her skirts and jump in that boat.

But for all my cynicism I am not keen on the unhappy ending. That is the romantic in me coming out. In my head I rewrite the ending to 'Casablanca' so she doesn't get on the plane. Oh I know the ending fits and is satisfying but I am romantic enough to want love to conquer all.

So what is your favourite sort of ending? Which books have the most satisfying endings?

Please come back on Thursday when Susanna will be posting!

Thursday, August 12, 2010


the view

I’m in the midst of my summer reading phase. This is something I look forward to all year and it has become a ritual out of necessity because I can’t write during the summer. Not that I can’t write physically but time wise. The kids are home and their friends come in droves. My friends come and the house is a hive of activity, brimming with dirty clothes, and  crowned by endless glorious summer evening meals that last forever... so not really ideal writing time. I look on it as resting time – hah, no really. I read, I watch people and I listen.

But yesterday I was thinking about setting…because I was in one of the most evocative places on earth – Frenchman’s Creek. Just the name produces images even if you have never been there or read the du Maurier book.

On a high bank at the mouth of creek a few Monterey pines stand guard bowing slightly toward the water from their towering height. Tucked in the trees is small wooden clapboard cottage which basks in the setting sun’s light. An old wreck peeks from below the green surface of the creek while the twisted oaks bend beyond the banks touching the high tide as a curlew cries in the distance….you get the picture.

So the setting screams romance, oozes history, magic and mystery. There are tales to be told. It’s almost tangible. Yet the reality of yesterday was more out of a sitcom. Biddy and I encased in wet suits had battled against the out going tide with a brisk wind blowing from the north west straight down the Helford River out to Falmouth Bay. No matter what we did the elements strived to keep us from entering the hallowed waterway. With the wind straight in our faces, it was a herculean effort to keep the kayak pointing straight. Each stroke sent us almost back on ourselves. When we finally reached the entrance, we were forced into the circles and couldn’t seem to cross the mystical barrier.

Of course being fierce determined romantic novelists with a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc to drink on Frenchman’s Creek we were not going to be barred. We fought on until Biddy paddled me straight into a waiting holly lining the bank. That was not enough – no next was a gorse. By the time we navigated under the cover of the majestic oak bowing over the river and tied onto a branch - frankly we were knackered and more than thirsty...but then the next challenge was upon us…opening the wine without overturning the kayak into the rather chilly water filled with circling grey mullet.

However we were rewarded with the sun breaking through lighting our little cave in the arms of the oak. The evening light turned the water from opaque green to glistening blue…peace had descended, the wine was cold and almost sweet to our salty lips…the romantic setting had arrived until some prat in a powerboat ignoring the 6 knot speed restriction came past at full throttle with wake that threatened to capsize us in nanosecond.

So all of this made me think - are certain places automatically romantic or frightening or …and if so what makes them that way? Yesterday Frenchman’s Creek wasn’t romantic – it was beautiful but in truth it was almost slapstick – two women absolutely shattered in wet neoprene trying to stay afloat in a lime green plastic banana drinking white wine. Yet in looking at my description above, I have described it in almost poetic terms.

So as writers do we pick setting to help the purpose of the scene? The gothic feel of a windswept moorland, the frenetic pace of a NYC street…then I asked myself how did we come to make these associations in the first place and would it be more effective to play against the setting rather than with it. Where do we get these feeling and associations – are they from literature and films or is it just our instinctive reactions to the environment? What do you think? How do you use settings? Will Frenchmen’s Creek be the location for the ultimate declaration of love or will it be more akin to my mother’s reaction of horror at the murky water filled with large grey fish and decaying tree branches? Or a comic scene of passion overturned in the frigid waters…..

A Challenge ...write a scene set in Frenchman's Creek and post the results on your blog and leave a link in the comments...

Please come back on Sunday when Biddy will be posting....


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Stage Fright

A few years ago, I attended a talk by a famous literary agent where she told us about the things an author might have to do, such as talks, book signings, and perhaps radio and TV appearances. At question time I gathered up all my courage and asked, “what happens if you’re an author and you’re a shy little wallflower type person?” She frowned at me and just said “You can’t be”. Right. But I was!

Don’t get me wrong – I love being the centre of attention in a small way (I’m a Leo so that comes with the territory) and don’t have any problems chatting to strangers. Speaking to a large audience, however, is a different matter. Then I’m far from confident and envy those people who can just stand up and keep a crowd enthralled. How do they do it?

I don’t ever feel that I have anything very interesting to say and I’m useless at being funny. At least intentionally. I once fell into a shop window in Oxford Street by mistake (I thought there was a glass partition protecting the dummies and leaned on it, except there wasn’t so I landed in a pile of fake snow) and that caused a great deal of amusement. In fact, my brother still laughs every time he even thinks about it. Sadly, I can’t perform such feats on command.

Some people seem to be born comedians and/or talkers and they’re never lost for words. Me, I’m the kind of person who always thinks of the witty repartee AFTER the conversation is finished. That’s why I became a writer, because then I have the time to think about it first! But that’s no good when you have to promote your book.

I’ve come a long way since that agent’s talk, but public speaking still gives me stage fright. I am learning though and in order to improve I even did a one-day course in public speaking, which was great. We learned that preparation is key – things like knowing your audience (what kind of people are they? what do they expect from you?), arriving early so the location doesn’t give you any nasty surprises, knowing your subject and being enthusiastic about it – this all helps. Always have three main messages that you want to get across and not lose sight of them. And it’s okay to be nervous, the adrenaline may even help.

I’m not sure I remembered any of those things during my recent attempt at public speaking as part of a panel at the RNA conference, but it went better than I thought so perhaps there’s still hope for me. At least I proved to myself that I can actually do it if I have to and practice makes perfect, right?

Anyone else a shy wallflower? And if so, how have you overcome that in order to do talks? I’d love to know.

Don't forget to pop back on Thursday, when Liz Fenwick will be posting.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Finding Time

Susanna’s not wrong: this year’s RNA conference at Greenwich was something special.

Not just because of the meeting of like minds, but because we were celebrating 50 years of the RNA. And because we were doing so at Greenwich, just down the hill from the Royal Observatory and the home of Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian of the world.

At the conference, Joanna Trollope spoke about how story telling is an ancient art, but novels have been with us for a relatively short time. A panel of Mary Nichols, Marina Oliver, Jan Jones, Julie Cohen and Jean Fullerton reflected on the past 50 years in romantic fiction (you can read the report here.) Between workshops, a few of us ambled up the sun-baked hill to pay our respects to the Meridian.

Time, time, time.

It made me think. You see, time has always been a bit of a bugbear to me. Not in the another-year-another-wrinkle sense. No, I’ve been more preoccupied with finding – with MAKING – time for writing.

This year, I think I’ve been doing better. In February, I joined an online challenge to write 50,000 words in the month. With friends cheering me on, tight management of the day job, Husband resigned to a month of quick suppers, and a quite ruthless abandonment of housework, I managed it. I made writing my first priority, and set aside all available time to do it.

It was good to do, but that white-knuckle write-a-thon left me with so many loose plot ends, I’ve been struggling to edit the monster every since. So now I’m trying a different approach. The 100x100 challenge aims to instill a habit of writing every day – with either 100 words or 30 minutes of editing as a minimum, every day, for 100 days. If you miss a day, you start your 100 days again. It sounds easy.

It’s not. It only takes a visitor, or a computer crash, or a domestic disaster, and suddenly it’s way past your bedtime, and the prospect of spending 30 minutes doing anything but sleeping is horrifying. So far, I’ve had to restart four times. But now I’m on day 14 and I think it’s going to stick…

What about you? What do you do to make time for things that matter to you, and how to you defend that time against those daily challenges?

Don't forget to pop back on Sunday, when Christina Courtenay will be posting.

Monday, August 2, 2010

In Praise of Conferences

I love conferences. Whoever first came up with the idea of combining travel, parties, and professional development, and tossing in a luncheon and a banquet and a really good excuse to buy new shoes, deserves a medal in my book. But there are conferences and conferences – the larger ones are wonderful, but privately I’m partial to the smaller ones, like Bloody Words in Canada, and the Romantic Novelists’ Association conference, which was held this year in Greenwich.

They’re less dizzying, these conferences. More welcoming. And in that kind of atmosphere, amazing things can happen. Case in point: On my first day in Greenwich, I found Julie Cohen and Christina Courtenay, both fellow writers I had met before and liked and kept in touch with, and Liz Fenwick, whom I’d briefly met a year ago in London and whose blog I liked to follow. And before I knew it Liz was texting wake-up calls and taking me for breakfast at McDonalds where I met her good friend Biddy (also friends with Julie and Christina), and that evening everybody introduced me to their good friend Anna, and we all just got along so well that by the barbecue on Saturday, while we were sitting drinking wine (as one must, at these conferences) somebody said – and I confess it might have been myself – but someone said, ‘You know what we should do? We ought to start a group blog.’

And the others, who were also drinking wine, thought it a Very Good Idea.

So we’ve started one, and here it is.

Which goes to show you, many good and unexpected things can come from conferences. Has anything happened to you at a conference? Did you make a lifelong friend? Meet someone famous who really inspired you? Get lost in the hotel? We’d love to hear your story.