Monday, December 27, 2010

The Inner Child

I was going to write a blog post in praise of snow since I thought that would be seasonal and I normally love the way it transforms even the dreariest street into something magical. However, in view of all the trouble the white stuff caused here in the UK before Christmas, that doesn’t seem appropriate any more. But even though we’re all sick of it now and want it to go away, the reaction it caused when it first started falling stuck in my mind and made me think.

What is it about snow that brings out the inner child in us so completely? On the day the snow began, I listened to a continuous stream of shrieks and laughter outside my window. Later, when walking the dogs, I came across at least a dozen snowmen of varying quality and just about every car had swipe marks where snow had been scraped off to make a snowball with. It’s obviously irresistible, whether you’re an adult or a child!

I have to admit it usually has the same effect on me. I have an urge to throw myself down and make snow angels the way I did as a child. I want to build a snowman, a snow fort and even a snow lantern (see photo – love those, so pretty!) And although I’m usually too lazy to go skiing, I suddenly detect a flicker of interest in the skiing brochures which I normally ignore. (Don’t worry though, it passes and I go back to couch potato mode fairly quickly.)

Whatever the cause, I think rediscovering our inner child from time to time like this is great for an author. As we grow older, more worldly wise and often jaded and disillusioned, it’s wonderful to be reminded of how we felt when we were younger. The sheer zest for life, being carefree and happy, doing something just because it feels good or is fun – those are all qualities we might need for our heroes and heroines, and perhaps other characters too.

What other things bring out the inner child in us? Well, I’m childishly partial to cartoons – I watched Disney’s Beauty and the Beast yesterday for the umpteenth time and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m eagerly awaiting their new release Tangled early next year based on my favourite fairy tale Rapunzel and if I have nothing better to do, I’ll happily surf the children’s channels and watch things like the Road Runner or Foghorn Leghorn.

For me, it can also be simple things like for example baking, when I always leave some of the batter or dough in the bowl for tasting after I’ve put the rest in the oven. Or how about jumping on frozen puddles to hear the ice crack. Standing with your toes sinking into the sand at the edge of the sea while waves lap around your feet. Building sandcastles. Going on a fairground ride. The list is endless, but the moments of being carefree and just enjoying life are precious. And although the snow was the villain of the piece this year, I know that next time we’ll all be rushing outside again to join in the fun.

What brings out the inner child in you?

Please come back on Sunday to hear from Liz.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Casting the Characters

To continue the theme started two posts back by Liz, with her thoughts on sexy heroes (and we're all very grateful for THAT photo of Hugh Jackman, Liz!), which led rather beautifully into Biddy's discussion of heroines, I'd like to talk about casting, as well.

I've actually just been asked by an interviewer, as part of my "virtual tour" for the American release of The Winter Sea (Sophia's Secret in the UK), to tell whom I would cast in the character roles if the book were made into a movie, and to be honest it was one of the more difficult questions to answer.

For one thing, I don't see my heroine clearly when I'm writing her. I don't know why. It might have something to do with the fact that I'm usually writing in the first person, so I'm paying more attention to the things she sees than what she looks like. Whatever the reason, when a cover designer asks me to describe my heroine, I often can't manage much more than her age and her hair colour, if that. (It was probably one of my own cover designers who started the whole trend of headless women on book covers, from pure frustration!)

And I'm really no better with heroes. Movie buff that I am, I'll admit that I do sometimes find inspiration in actors, but they're usually not the matinee idols of the moment, so even if I wanted to reveal who they were (and as Jane Lovering pointed out in her comment on Liz's post, that's not always a good thing to do for the reader) most people probably wouldn't be able to call to mind an immediate image anyway. Besides, since I often go by what an actor looks like in a certain film role, there's a good chance that the actor if he's still alive looks very different now.

It's more common, though, for me to do things the other way round: not to base my character on an actor, but to see an actor afterwards who closely embodies the character I've written.

This happens most often with those in supporting roles. These are the characters I can see vividly, their faces so distinct I find it easier to match an actor to their features.

Brian Cox, for example, a truly great character actor, reminds me a lot of one of my favourite men in The Winter Sea – Colonel Patrick Graeme – and I can easily imagine Mr. Cox in the role, striding round in his cloak and his boots and teaching my heroine how to play chess from a soldier's perspective.

A second Scottish actor, Dougray Scott, is very much in looks and bearing like another of the Jacobites, Captain Thomas Gordon, who was from all accounts a very charming, handsome man, and who in my book does his best to charm my heroine.

And Vanessa Redgrave, with her strength and sense of humour, is the image (to me) of Anne Drummond, the Countess of Erroll.

Which is it for you, if you write?

Do the actors inspire your characters, or do the characters form themselves first, leaving you to find actors to play them?

And what's the best bit of casting you've ever seen done in a film or TV show?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Who's That Girl?

As Liz said in the previous post we spent a few wonderful hours/days discussing who we would cast in our books. She nabbed talking about the Heroes but a hero needs a strong heroine. And with a blog called 'The Heroine Addicts' we need to look at them.

Now what makes a great heroine for you? Is it her looks? Is it her sparkiness? Is she who we want to be? And when you see the heroine in your head does she look like a famous person?

One of my first heroines is a girl called Allie, in 'The One Before The One' (and yes I know there is now a book of that name but I started mine 6 years ago!). In my head she was a feisty and stubborn (and had to go head to head with a hero played by Jamie Bamber). Allie is the bridesmaid at her ex's wedding and is the prime suspect when he is found dead in the Orangery on his wedding night.

I chose the singer songwriter Allison Moorer. I loved her music and in this picture she said Allie to me.
The next heroine that I wrote about was Zoe. Her hero was Jack (Hugh Jackman) and she was a singer songwriter. Zoe and Jack's story was 'Dream Date' and was the first book I ever finished and it was requested by Mills & Boon but sadly got no further. Zoe wanted to follow her dream of going to Nashville and I wanted someone who looked quirky and determined.

I chose Lori McKenna who is a singer songwriter who followed her dream. Her songs have been recorded by Faith Hill.

Once I had brushed myself down after my rejection I started on another M&B.

My heroine was called Jo, she is the younger curvier sister of a top model. She works as a project manager in the construction industry and she wants to prove to her family that she is successful. She is someone who lives in her head. Her hero Lucas (Gerard Butler) is a reclusive artist with a penchant for picking up waifs and strays. He also hasn't painted in years. Until he takes one look at Jo and her curves. In my head there was only one woman with the fierceness and softness for this job.

Step forward Super Nanny, Jo Frost.

That story didn't last long and I moved onto 'Bah Humbug!' also known as 'The Wedding Carol'. Now I struggled with casting Edie Dickens. The story is based on 'A Christmas Carol' but is based around weddings. Edie is a divorce lawyer and she is visited by Ghosts of Weddings Past, Present and Future. I needed someone who could do uptight and end up soft and in the arms of ex-rugby international, Jack Twist.

I cast Emily Deschanel.

But as we all know I have moved on to the world of YA. Casting for 'The Stone Voice' (also known as 'Henges & Hormones') was easy when it came to the men. Quin is somewhat like RPattz and Lord Eden is Sam West. But Alexa was difficult.

Alexa is almost sixteen. And pretty bloody annoyed with life. At the beginning she is overly concerned with appearances. I struggled for ages to work out who she was. In fact I realise I don't give much of a description of her until well into the book. But then I realised who she was. Someone familiar. Ok so the person she is based on is well over twice her age (physically, not mentally) but really there was only one person it could be.....


Who are your heroines?

Don't forget to come back on Sunday to hear from Susanna

Sunday, December 12, 2010

What is Sexy or More Exactly...What Makes A Hero Sexy?

This question has been on my mind a great deal recently – no comments please! As a writer I have to think about what is sexy for my heroine, which may or may not be the same as me. Biddy wrote about crushes here and I certainly have loads of them which helps. I was speaking with DD,11, about our latest heart throbs as we share many to see if it was just a genetic pull or was sexy something that could be declared universal.

So for the sake of research I hunted out pictures...

I’ll start with one of my first and lasting crushes...Cary Grant. Now DD and I watched TO CATCH A THIEF not long ago and she agreed that he was gorgeous, but ahem wore his trousers too high however she could look past the wardrobe problem...(I told her styles change but sexy men don't...)

Next up a picture of Richard Armitage....

Then Hugh Jackman...(strangely enough I found this photo on fellow addict Julie’s blog????)

Then DD’s favourites of the moment Rob Pattison and Taylor Launter

So looking at the array above I wonder what is sexy...tall dark and handsome? 

Possibly... Is it the hair? The eyes? The humour? The intelligence?

While Biddy was in Dubai last week we spoke about who we would cast as the heroes in our books...

So it is no surprise that Mark in a Cornish House is Hugh Jackman, Tristan in August Rock is Matthew Macfayden, and at the request of DD the twins in Penderown are Rob Paterson, older hero is Jeremy Irons. 

However as I'm finishing off my NaNoWriMo project The Summer of the Black Hare I have developed an unhealthy obsession for Jake Gyllenhaal who is Alex....

So back to the beginning...what is sexy? I certainly have found men in real life sexy who were far from tall dark and handsome. Normally it was the wit that captured me in seconds and it has to be said that the smile is so important and let's not forget the backside... In my youth I had a thing for blonds despite the Cary Grant obsession. What do you find sexy and if you are a writer does your heroine agree with you or does she stick to her own ideas? Oh and do you enjoy research as much as I do?

Don't forget to come back on Thursday to see what Biddy has to say...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Naming Patterns

Like many other authors, I find names endlessly fascinating – the way they sound, how they fit together and what they mean – and it’s been that way for as long as I can remember. As a child, I spent ages thinking up names for my dolls and stuffed toys. I also fantasised about changing my own name since I didn’t like the one I’d been given and wanted something better. Why couldn’t my parents have called me Selena or Madeleine, for example, which sounded very romantic to me, or maybe Athena or Jezebel? I would have loved those.

Lately, I’ve been indulging in my favourite hobby (apart from reading that is) of genealogy, which means looking at an endless stream of names. Apart from being a fun way to relax, it also gives me inspiration since some of them trigger story ideas. In my family tree I’ve come across a few interesting names, but also lots of boring ones. Actually, the names themselves are never boring, but the naming patterns of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries were. Parents would insist on giving several babies the same one until a child finally survived. You’d think that after the fourth baby John or William died, the parents would realise the name was jinxed and move on to another, but no such luck. Makes life very difficult for anyone wanting to draw up a family tree and you wish they'd had more imagination.

Among my ancestors who did think outside the box there’s Mahala, Love, Fanny Frances (why two versions of the same name?), Tryphena and Vita Pura, all ladies with uncommon names, plus Garibaldi, Onslow, Royston and Warwick among the men. If only there were more like them!

Some are even more intriguing. Take my great-grandmother, for example – her maiden name was Martha Tombs. Sounds like the perfect character for a modern day vampire tale or something Gothic, doesn’t it? And yet in the one photo I have of her, she looks like your average cuddly grandmother. I really must name a heroine after her one day!

Names are so important to writers and I know most of us can’t get on with a story until we know what the hero and heroine are going to be called. I’m like that too, although most of the time the name just comes to me at the same time as the “spark” for the book. Sometimes finding the perfect name can be almost impossible though. I have one story I’ve rewritten three times with different names and it STILL doesn’t sound right – I’m hoping I’ll find out who the heroine is eventually.

There are some names I would never use – perhaps because they have bad connotations for me in some way – whereas others just feel right. What’s your favourite name for a heroine and why? Mine is Winter in Shadow of the Moon by M M Kaye, I think that’s so evocative and beautiful.

Do certain names have a special meaning for you and which ones would you never use? And have you ever come across a name you’ve never heard before and suddenly find a hero or heroine come alive in your mind almost instantly? That happened to me with my current one and it was wonderful!

Please come back on Sunday when Liz will be posting.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Julie's right, of course. I'm a definite Snape fan - for all of the reasons she gives, plus that shiveringly sensual delivery of the speech where we first meet the character in the film... Mmmmm. And yes, I'll admit to a shameful lech at some of the younger characters (Ron has caught my eye, but I'll have to watch out for the twins...) Although when I watch the DVDs of the earlier Harry Potter films, it makes me feel terribly old!

Cedric Diggory.... no. He was just too perfect!

I can't comment on the latest HP - I haven't seen it yet. And since I make a point of not reading the books until I've seen the movie, I don't know what I'll be facing, either.

But I like it that way. Given the choice, I'll always watch an adaptation first, and then read the book. The other way round is so often a road to disappointment. Our expectations are too high, maybe?

Sometimes, though, if it's a much-loved book, you can't escape seeing an TV or big screen adaptation after you've read (and re-read and re-read) the book. The Narnia books are one example. I think I've seen three adaptations of those now, and happily they've never disappointed. Those books are so much a part of my childhood it's almost painful to go to the cinema to see the latest, I'm always so afraid they'll somehow murder the soul of the story. But although the newest versions have certainly changed the story, they've left the beauty of that soul untouched.

I always remember how shocked I was with an otherwise lovely TV version of Ellis Peters' Cadfael stories. Derek Jacobi was, of course, brilliant in the role. But there was one character - a recurring character in the books - who was a shining beacon of goodness and humility. He was miraculously healed of lameness in the book which introduced him, then went on to take holy orders, be ordained, and run a charitable hospital. For all his goodness, he understood the frailties of humanity, and never judged. Everyone who knew him was in some small way blessed and restored.

In the adaptation they made him a scheming confidence trickster and thief.

I understand that perhaps they thought the modern audience wouldn't accept a miracle. But did they have to turn the character into the complete opposite of himself? It was such a shame.

But at least I can read the book again, and meet him as he was first written.

What adaptations have caught your eye for being brilliantly done, or perhaps for changing too much? Do you read the books first, or after, given the choice?

Don't forget to venture back on Thursday, when Christina will be sharing her thoughts.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

In Praise of Snape

I’m refilling the well at the moment, which means I get to do things like go out for coffee and the latest Harry Potter movie. My muse is fed by decaff lattes and boy wizards. Well, actually, to tell you the truth, I’m not so into Harry himself. The HP franchise has given me lots of scope for odd crushes through the years. I’ve gone on record saying I fancy the Weasley twins. (Double yum, though by the way Bill Weasley is really seriously super-hot in the latest film.) I have also fancied Robert Pattinson as Cedric Diggory (before he was Edward Cullen) and David Tennant as Barty Crouch (before he was Dr Who). I have also suddenly discovered a whole new appreciation of Lucius Malfoy, now that he’s an alcoholic ex-con.

But when I get right down to it, the Harry Potter experience is all about Professor Severus Snape. (Warning—there are some Snape spoilers to follow, if you haven’t read all the books yet.)

Quite aside from the fact that Alan Rickman is sex on legs, it’s the character of Snape who gets me, especially in the last few novels of the series. I love the underdog. I love the bad guy who is really a good guy. I love the tormented genius struggling between his good and evil natures, the honourable man who keeps his word no matter how he’s tempted—and for Snape, keeping his word means that he has to do some truly horrible things. He has to be hounded and villainised by everyone he respects. He has to protect the boy who by nature, he should despise. He has to take the gravest risks of not only his life, but his soul. He has to keep his true thoughts and feelings hidden from absolutely everyone in the world.

And he does it all for love. Unrequited love.

Yup. Snape rules. He’s even better than Dumbledore, in my opinion, because Dumbledore manipulates Harry and everyone else. Snape just does what he has to do. He gets the job done. And he hates it, he moans and broods and gives out detentions, but he does it because he knows it’s right.

I never found the Harry Potter books to be particularly subtle in their plotting or characterisation. But Snape is the exception. Re-reading the penultimate book in the series this week, I could really appreciate how J. K. Rowling leads Harry, and therefore the reader, to believe the worst of Snape, when in fact his actions have another, wholly different interpretation. And though Alan Rickman is hardly in the first part of The Deathly Hallows, the ambiguity is written all over his face.

What does this have to do with romance? Well, I’m always interested in what makes a hero. And Snape is a certain kind of hero, a kind that appeals to me a lot. In a romantic novel he’d wash his hair more frequently, of course, and he’d get the girl in the end. Or maybe not. Because a tragic hero is wonderful, too.

(And having taught school for ten years, I can also really identify with grumpy teachers.)

Come back on Sunday to chat with Anna Louise Lucia, who also has an unhealthy obsession with Severus Snape, though I'm not sure how she feels about the Weasley twins.