Thursday, March 31, 2011

Public Speaking: Facing the Fear

“Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking…” and that is about as far as I have written for a speech I have to give on Saturday. It isn’t a very big speech in the grander scheme of things but it is one in front of the RNA and is to say thank you to Katie Fforde for awarding me her bursary last year. So not long but definitely big in feelings and heartfelt thanks. And I am sitting here with my knees knocking.

Now those who know me know I am not frugal with my words. I am a talker. Some might say I love the sound of my own voice. I get paid to be a radio presenter so it isn’t that I can’t adlib and do off the cuff type stuff. But that is different. Stick me in a social situation and I can fake it. Put me in a sound booth and I’m fine. Stick me in front of a crowd where I can see them… not so good.

I have noticed that being a writer these days also comes along with the ability to do seminars and talks and “speechifying”. All quite terrifying thoughts and enough to sometimes give me second thoughts about wanting to be published. I know that Christina has talked abut it before on here and I was trying to figure out where my fear came from, I know I didn’t have it at school. I think it came during a presentation in my first year at University. I was doing a presentation on medical physics to my tutor group. I had done my research (I had scoured the Wellcome section of the Science Museum) and when the day came I put on my best interview outfit and presented.

There were a few things that I should have thought of… one biggie was that everyone else was in jeans and my beautiful Laura Ashley green skirt and jumper made me look like the posh privately educated girl I was. Also I should have done my research a little better… I managed to get something fundamental regarding prions wrong and I probably shouldn’t have argued the point with my tutor. Other than this I look back and realise it was a damn good presentation but I was eighteen and sensitive to criticism, real or imagined. So when my tutor made the comment ‘that some people had brought a lot of their personality to their presentation’ I didn’t see this as a plus point. In fact I thought I had done it wrong. So for the next decade I was paralysed in presentations. I kept my hands locked behind my back because I thought my usual gesticulating was wrong. I kept my voice even and probably monotone. In other words I got stage fright.

Then one of the companies I worked for put me in for presentation training. What a revelation that was! I turned out that all my natural instincts were correct and I had been supressing them for years!

I’d like to say that I have broken free from my bondage but I still stand in front of a crowd and look at them and feel like that eighteen year old. Ill prepared and out of place. I am still wearing that forest green interview outfit and I can’t quite remember what prions do. 

So on Saturday please think of me as palms sweating I try and tell everyone how much winning the Katie Fforde Bursary has meant to me… I’ll try not to drone on and I promise that there will be nothing about prions in it.

Please come back on Sunday to find out what Susanna has to say

Sunday, March 27, 2011

It's All in the Details

I had an epiphany lying in the bath reading Agatha Christie about two weeks ago. This wouldn’t be the first time this has happened reading her. The story was being told by one of Miss Marple’s friends and the details she shares with Miss Marple are such an insight into her character. Now of course I knew this, but sometimes you need to see it done so beautifully that you can spot where your difficulty with a scene lies. I was working on writing a scene that I had avoided in draft one of Penderown. It is an emotionally painful scene and to be honest I avoid them where I can, but that of course cheats the reader.

So here I was lying in the bath reading 4:05 from Paddington when I realized I hadn’t picked the right details out for Demi's state of mind or her personality. Once I saw this it was easier to write the scene. I didn’t have to tell how she was feeling – it was there in the details.

So this is the view from where I’m sitting as I write this…if I were to describe this scene in front of me what would I chose to highlight? If I was Maddie in A Cornish House it would be the bluebell because she is so drawn to the colour but if it was her step-daughter, Serena, it would be the small scented jonquil.

These small spotlights that we choose can actually make writing much easier. Here’s the opening paragraph of A Cornish House

It was nearly eleven and Maddie had been behind the wheel of the car for over ten hours. She
yawned and forced her eyes open wider. Slowing the car she approached yet another blind
bend. Moonlight silhouetted the twisted trees against the sky. Their tortured shapes rose from
the hedges, forming a tunnel. It seemed to be closing in around them. A shiver went down her
spine. The engine stuttered.

Can you tell Maddie’s state of mind? What she sees is an easy way to show and not tell.

Do you think about the details you chose or are they free flowing? In my rough drafts I don’t consider them at all. It’s only in the revision process that I know my characters better and can see through their eyes.
Please drop by on Thursday to find out what Biddy has on her mind…

Thursday, March 24, 2011


I spent last weekend helping my dh to wallpaper a room. It was really fiddly because we had to match up a swirly pattern of birds and leaves, and a few times we messed up (ok, mostly it was me, but still ...). The whole process made me think about the backgrounds in our novels though and how they can sometimes be just as difficult to get right. Like Susanna said a while back, we might require maps in order to imagine where the characters are exactly and if we can’t find real ones, we have to make them up and draw them ourselves. Also photos of places help, or actual visits to see what it’s like there, and lots of factual reading to make sure everything is correct. Often, I make up family trees for my fictional families as well so that I’ll remember who is who and I spend hours trying to imagine what they’re wearing. It’s all in the background, but important.

For my current wip, I had to do quite a lot of background research, some of which was very boring (dry tomes full of facts I didn’t actually need), but other parts were great fun. The story is set in 1750’s Scotland, so that justified a visit to the Highlands to tour the areas where I’d decided my story took place. And I got to indulge in one of my favourite pastimes, going around ancient castles, since they might serve as models for the one in my novel. What could be better?

I also spent an afternoon at a Highland folk museum where they had built up houses original to the period I was writing about. Seeing these firsthand was invaluable and made me adjust several scenes in my novel which hopefully made them more authentic. Without going there, I might not have realised just how much you reek after just a few minutes of sitting by a real peat fire in a smoky hut or the fact that the doors were so low even I had to bend down to enter (at 5’3” that doesn’t happen much!). And if I’d never seen a real “shieling” hut, I wouldn’t have had known how uncomfortable it must have been for a six-foot-plus male to try and sleep in there.

I’m quite an impatient person and normally I don’t enjoy research much, I just want to get on with the story. I feel as if descriptions of any kind hold me back and prevent me from moving on to the interesting parts, like character interaction, romance and adventure, but I know they’re necessary. So I’ve reached a compromise with myself – I do a little bit of general research first (since I write historicals, I have to know about the main events of the period obviously), then I write a draft version of the story with very sketchy descriptions and after that I finally do the research and go back and complete the background details. This stops me from being jolted out of the flow, which can be so distracting. It also allows me to be more specific in the kind of background research I do, because by the time I’ve written the novel in draft, I’ll know exactly what I need to find out.

This might sound like a chaotic way of working, but somehow, it all comes together in the end. How do you do it? Do you do all your research first or are you impatient like me, leaving most of it till the end?

Please come back on Sunday to hear from Liz.

Friday, March 18, 2011


I've been fairly lucky in recent years. I've had lots of opportunities to spy on people.

You see, it was Brigid's post about nosey parkers that got me thinking. I really found myself nodding along as I read, recognising that as writers we do tend to store up interesting details to use in our books.

Belfagan dance in the sea

Which got me thinking about morris dancing again.


I belong to a fantastic group of dancers, musicians and -perhaps most importantly - friends. We dance north-west clog morris, for fun, for fitness, to keep traditions alive, and either collecting for charity or performing at events for a small fee to cover travel. We're an eclectic group of people, each with their own story, told and untold. And, yes, I secretly pine to write a "morris" book, not about the dancing, but about a group of women brought together in the stamp of the clog, and the interwoven stories of their lives.

Clog display

But the things I know, that I've seen and been told, have been shared not for research or to help me with books, but because we're friends. So, when I write the morris dancing story, have I been taking advantage of my friends?


Photos courtesy of Chris & Gill George, and Ally McGurk

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Shoes, Glorious Shoes

I've done a quick search of this blog, and somehow it seems that we have been blogging here on The Heroine Addicts for several months now, and incredibly, we seem to have neglected to talk about SHOES.

Good shoes are, for some reason, vital to every romantic writer's psyche. Wheneverwe get together, we seem to spend a great deal of time staring at each other's feet and squealing in delight. I can personally vouch for the excellence of the shoes of every Heroine Addict, though special mention perhaps goes to Christina Courtenay who is never seen without an exquisite pair on her perfect feet. In my mind, at least, she toddles down to the shop in four-inch stilettos whenever she needs a pint of milk etc. (Don't disappoint me here, Christina.) I also treasure a wondrous moment when our own Liz Fenwick GAVE ME, through the goodness of her heart, a pair of black patent court shoes with the name "Louboutin" inside them.

I'm not sure what this says about us; perhaps it's just that we like to express our femininity in an overt way. Perhaps it's because we spend so much time sitting on our butts, writing, that we feel that when we get out in public and use our neglected feet we need to put on Something Special.

I wrote about the power of shoes in Nina Jones and the Temple of Gloom:

I’m a great believer in the power of high heeled shoes. They’re beautiful, they’re stylish, they can rescue a so-so outfit, and they make you appear to have legs up to your armpits, especially if you have passably long legs anyway. Also—and this may be obvious but it’s really vital—the taller you are, the more people will assume that you know what you’re doing... Most importantly, they’re uncomfortable. When you wear heels for every minute of your professional and social life you’re instantly proclaiming yourself as a person who is able to withstand blisters, pinching, and calf ache, because looking good is more important than pain. Besides, blisters can provide a handy distraction from an aching heart.

I must admit, that I spend most of my days slobbing around in a pair of furry Acorn slipper-boots. But today, my new book comes out, and I am not sure I am going to be able to resist buying these:They match my book cover, you know. Isn't that a good enough reason?

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Boy Inside the Man

People who've read my books know that I've let the odd character wander from one story into another. When I needed a vicar for a few scenes in my thriller Every Secret Thing, for instance, it occurred to me that I already had a vicar Tom from Mariana so instead of giving someone else the gig, I just used Tom. Why re-invent the wheel?

But in this latest work in progress, I've done something that I've never done before. Inspired by a fan's suggestion, I've taken a character who was a child in a previous book, and I've let him age naturally into the hero of this one. I didn't know if it would work, but the moment he entered the story, no longer a boy but a man, I could see just how perfect he was for the part.

I've found it fascinating, watching him develop as a character and noticing what qualities and habits he's held onto as he's grown. I tried to make him serious and quiet, but in dialogue his sense of fun and mischief still came out. And he still tips his head to the side when he's thinking, a habit I'd nearly forgotten. (In case that sounds crazy, I should explain: I "see" all my characters moving and talking as though I were watching a film, while I'm writing the gift of an active subconscious...)

Back when I first created Robbie sixteen years ago, I never could have seen him growing into a romantic hero, but he's got me thinking now of other heroes I first met as boys in books I loved, like Gilbert Blythe, who just gets cuter and more charming in the Anne books, or Almanzo Wilder, who matures from the Farmer Boy into one of my favourite kinds of heroes: the good-natured, strong and dependable type.

I think, with both men, it was having that background of where they had come from that made me so fond of them, and that's undoubtedly why I'm now so fond of Rob in this new book of mine.

I've been trying to think of more heroes who started as boys in a book (or a series of books), but I'm drawing a blank so far. Who else can think of one? And do you still see the boy in the man when he's grown?

(Don't forget to come back and read Julie's post this coming Thursday).

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Do you read the acknowledgements in the front or back of books? The ones where the author thanks a list of people for their help in the writing of the book?

Before I embarked on this journey and before I had met anyone who had actually published a real live book I never read them. I mean, what was the point? It was just a list of people who meant nothing to me in the grander scheme of things.

But then someone I know actually got a real live book published *waves at Julie Cohen* and suddenly that acknowledgement page became meaningful. It became meaningful because my name was on it. Me. In a book. Being thanked for doing something I loved for someone I loved. I don’t think I could have been more chuffed than if it was my story between those covers.

And it didn’t stop there; to date at least four authors have thanked me in different books (and bless you Julie for thanking me in every one). It has meant that I know take the time to read those acknowledgements in books. Each one of those names listed now is a person to me. Were they at the end of the phone for a late night plotting session? There with a bottle of wine when their characters were misbehaving? Or the imparter of obscure knowledge?

It got me thinking… even if I never get my own stories printed I have been a part of other peoples. Maybe some academic in the future will wonder who is this person who is being thanked and write an obscure and little read dissertation on it. That is all right with me, because everyone likes to be acknowledged.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


First let me say I had a different post planned for today, but I opened my email and there was a Google alert for my name. This in itself is not unusual as I tweet and blog etc., but this one was connected to Blake Friedmann Literary Agency. When I last posted, I mentioned I had good news but that I couldn't share it yet...well I had signed with Carole Blake on the Valentine's Day.

I couldn't believe after the years of dreaming and writing I had signed contracts with a legend. So this morning the Google alert led me here. It took away some of the unreal feeling that had been settling about me. I know that the hard work is just beginning. Carole needs to sell A Cornish House and I need to keep writing books that she loves, but sometimes you need to stop and shout YAY!!!! So often our hard work goes unnoticed let alone rewarded so I want to share this moment will all writers and dreamers. Dreams do happen. They may not happen when you want them to or exactly how you dreamt them. But if you believe and work your backside off they can happen.

I still feel a bit of a fraud though. I don't know if this will disappear when I have a book in hand or if it will remain always...

Have you fulfilled a dream? Was how you expected or did it surprise you?

Come back of Thursday to hear from Biddy.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

More Weird Crushes

I’ve been pre-occupied to quite an alarming extent recently with cartoon characters (or animated ones as they tend to be these days), largely because of the delectable Flynn Rider in Disney’s latest film Tangled. I’ve heard other people say they too developed a crush on him while their children preferred the horse or the chameleon (each to his own, right?), but he certainly added something to the movie-going experience for me!

This isn’t the first time it’s happened though – I had a similar feeling when I watched Howl’s Moving Castle. It's a typical Japanese cartoon film in so called manga style, and the hero in no way looks real, but he’s gorgeous and very well drawn. You can’t help but fall for him and wish he’d come and whisk you away with his magic. At the time, I thought perhaps I was weird, so put the whole thing out of my mind until it happened again when I read an actual manga comic.

A couple of years ago I picked up a YA book called “Wicked Lovely” by American author Melissa Marr and I liked it so much I couldn’t wait for the next instalment (it’s a series of five books and I’m very impatient). Since obviously there was a gap in between publication dates, I was thrilled to see that she’d produced a companion story, a little extra side-story as it were, in manga form, and I promptly bought that. It had yet another hero to fall in love with - Jayce. I was starting to wonder why this was happening to me!

Then I remembered that back in my teens, when living in Sweden, I used to read a seriously soppy romance comic series called “Starlet”, which featured heroines who were not in the popular crowd, but who eventually got the boy of their dreams. I wanted to be that girl and invariably fell in love with the heroes too, even though they were nowhere near as well drawn as today’s manga boys or animated heroes. So perhaps my subconscious is harking back to that time?

There seems to be a trend for romantic books to be “translated” into manga form. Apparently Harlequin Mills & Boon have been transforming their books in this way for years in Japan and they’re very popular (although the covers seem rather startling when compared to the ones we’re used to!). This was to attract younger readers, who were increasingly unwilling to read full-length novels. Certainly, both my daughters would much rather read a Manga novel any day than a real one, something I find difficult to understand, being a life-long fan of books.

I was also astonished to read somewhere recently that Diana Gabaldon is writing a special instalment of her “Outlander” series specifically to be turned into a manga comic. How can they possibly do it justice by translating it into drawings? A part of me thinks ‘no way, that can’t work’, but another part is now very curious to see how the artist will interpret Jamie Fraser, one of my all-time heroes. Oh dear, I think I’m going to have to buy it and I can feel another crush coming on ...

Anyone else hooked on cartoon guys?

Please stop by again on Sunday to hear from Liz