Saturday, April 28, 2012

no such thing as platonic?

'Blog about male/female friendships in romantic novels,' said Susanna Kearsley to me. 'I have a few good ones in my own life, and lots of writers ignore them.'

Of course Susanna's wish is always my command, so today I'm writing about platonic friendships between men and women in romantic novels. Susanna actually said that I wrote them well, but to be honest, I'm struggling to remember any platonic friendships in my books that stayed platonic 100% of the time, for both friends.

Because that's the problem, isn't it, between men and women? A lot of the times, someone falls in love. I've written two best friends to lovers stories, where the heroine's best male friend was totally in love with her and hiding it, but they did get together in the end. I've written a book where the heroine's best male friend was totally in love with her, but hiding it, and they didn't get together in the end, though they eventually mended their friendship. Right now, I'm writing a book where the heroine is totally in love with her (married) best male friend, but hiding it, and they don't get together in the end, though they eventually mend their friendship. 

In a romantic novel, the focus is on the romance. And so 'best friend of opposite sex' becomes a romantic trope. It can provide internal conflict (I can't fancy him! He's my best friend! I'll lose the friendship!), or external conflict (Why is he spending so much time with her? She can't just be his best friend!). It can be the reason for forced proximity (We've been best friends forever and bought houses next door to each other and he's the maid of honour at my wedding!) or complication of plot (I'm so in love with my best friend that I'm going to artificially inseminate myself with his baby!). 

Basically, it's pretty handy in all sorts of romantic situations. 

And I like exploring friendships as well as relationships. A romantic relationship is often quite new, but a long-standing friendship has a language and habits and routines of its own. It's complex and changing, and often full of unspoken conflict. Between a man and a woman, you have the added dimension of possible sexual attraction, and contrasts between the way the different genders think and behave. (One of my personal favourite scenes to write was in Girl from Mars when female Fil and male Jim go clothes shopping together and Jim compares the women in H&M to zombies. 'BRAIIIINNNNNNSSSSSS....') But as well as being frustrating and adding conflict, this can also add a deeper perspective, as the man and the woman will see the same situation in different ways.

So, male and female platonic friendships in novels: quite useful really. They perform a different function than same-sex friendships, and in gay-best-friend friendships, and can add a lot to a novel. Even if the characters don't end up falling in love.

Who are your favourite male/female platonic friends in novels? I always loved Will Stanton and Jane Drew in The Dark is Rising sequence; they seemed to have a special understanding, though I'll admit I imagined them getting together one day, maybe in the future, when that pesky Dark was gone and that Will-is-immortal issue had been resolved. I'm not sure Susan Cooper meant it that way, though.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Had I But Known...

With Liz’s publication day for The Cornish House only a month away, I’ve been thinking back to how I felt when I was in her shoes. (That’s me in the picture above, at the launch party for my second novel, Mariana, back in 1994).

I was—in addition to being Much Younger and Thinner then—much more naïve about writing and publishing, and looking back I can think of a lot of things I wish I’d known then.

So here are five things I wish someone had told me, when I first got published:

1. That getting published is only the beginning of the journey. When I was starting out, publication seemed like the finish line. Everything I did—querying agents, querying editors, learning the business—was aimed at achieving that one single goal, and I always thought that when I reached that goal I’d be able to say, “This is it! I’ve arrived.” But there wasn’t a finish line, as it turned out…just a turn in the track and a whole lot of distance to cover beyond that. I’ve been on that track almost twenty years now, and I still don’t feel like I’ve arrived. I still have to pitch, and I still get rejected, and boy, do I still have a lot left to learn.

2. That the first editor I worked with probably wouldn’t be my editor a few books down the line. I was in my twenties when I first got published. I dreamed of developing a Pascal Covici-John Steinbeck-like connection with my editor, and I’m sure many editors working today still aspire to that, too, but the reality of modern publishing is that editors don’t always get the final say in whether they continue to acquire your work. They also—being rarely paid enough for what they do—tend to get mobile in this business, move from house to house, change jobs, get sacked, get married and have children and leave publishing for other work. I’ve had three different editors in the UK, four in Canada, three in the USA, and four in Germany, and each of them has taught me something valuable and helped me to advance my craft. But being me, I tend to get attached, and find it difficult each time I have to lose one.

3. That I will always feel the same way in the middle of a book. It won’t get easier. I’ll always think it’s rubbish and I’ll always feel like stopping and just throwing it away, because it’s clear to me it’s never going to turn out half as good as I imagined it. I know now that I’m not the only writer who has ever felt this way (Hi, Julie!), and I’ve learned I just have to ignore the doubts and forge ahead and finish, but I wish someone had told me it would always be this way.

4. That, while some writers start out successful, for most of us this is a long game. It’s always been thus, though. Jack Higgins wrote 22 novels before he came out with The Eagle Has Landed, and Rosamunde Pilcher wrote at least that many over almost 40 years before she found bestselling status with The Shell Seekers. Learning a craft can take time. It’s a good thing to cultivate patience.

5. That the relationships I’d build with other writers would become one of the most wonderful, supportive, and sustaining forces in my life, helping me through crisis after crisis—and not only in my work, but in my life. We’re an odd bunch, writers, but no one can hold you up better than someone who’s been down themselves, and although I once had the impression, when I started out, that writing was a solitary job, that hasn’t been my own experience. In my writing-room, I’ve always had my characters to keep me company, and outside my writing-room, I have the friendship of writers like my fellow Heroine Addicts. A pretty good thing, in my view.

If you write, what are some of the things you wish you’d known, when you first got published?

(And be sure to come back Thursday, to find out what Julie's up to...)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Paper Cuts and New Flames

New Flame and me first time round...
I have endured a month of agent rejections which felt like death by a thousand paper cuts washed in lemon juice. The first wasn't too bad, the second was ho hum-ish. When heading into double figures I was wilting and it stung. Luckily (and who would've thunk) work got crazy busy and very successful as well. I dived in and it helped. A little.

It hasn't helped that I haven't seen New Flame for four months. It has been a long four months. He isn't much of a writer so we have been skyping like crazy. It is an interesting way to develop a relationship. It feels a little like old fashion courting. You talk lots and find what you have in common but there is no touching. Just lots of yearning. It feels more intimate...

But that is all about to change... I am counting down the hours (at the beginning of the week I was counting the sleeps) until I see him. I have overpacked my suitcase. I have had a haircut. I left excited behind sometime ago and am now orbiting exhilarated. I'm also, if I'm honest, slightly scared. What happens if it isn't the same? What happens if the flame has died? Silly but I can't help myself.

But when I see him at the airport tomorrow night I know I'll have sweaty palms and my heart will be racing. And I'll have a massive cheesy grin on my face.

And of course the writer in me will be hoarding these feelings and experiences and wondering how they'll fit into a story.

Whilst I'm off on cloud nine Susanna will be here on Sunday.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Fear, Panic, Loathing and Famous People

I have been debating what to write this post about and obviously didn't come to a decision until too late to post on time...but I thought I might share the state of my head at the moment. As you can see from the title it's a bit more the scattered.

My brood have all been with me for Easter which has been wonderful and distracting to the extreme....but confession I have given in to it too. The really bad news is that I can't afford to.

I am at the 1/4 done mark with book two and feel frozen. I haven't wanted to move forward queue fear and when I think of the deadline queue panic which then brings about the loathing - self loathing. Now trying to look at this objectively, I have watched friends work through this. But I am really in a tricky state as because of my crazy life I can't leave things to the last minutes because last minutes don't actually exist in my's just a series of last minutes. It's not just my's tax issues, articles, invites, health and health forms...and more. The stress building up inside is getting impossible to live with and sadly true i sat in the garden last night thinking it would be easier to keel over with a heart attack than try and do everything on the list let alone do it well...cue sharp pains across the chest.

Quite frankly I'm not sure what to do. In the past I would have pick the easiest to accomplish item out of the list and do that which would break the dead lock but I don't think that would work this time. It seems I try and the task just becomes more complicated.......I would say I'm making things worse for myself but to be honest it seems to be doing that on its I'm stuck and I don't know what to do since dropping dead isn't an options....suggestions will be gratefully received.

On a lighter note i was reading through blogs and I saw something that triggered a memory...a far distant one of meeting Carl Yastrezemski at my uncle's house. Now unless you grew up in Boston and were a fan of the Red Sox would mean much to you but for me it rates up there with have Larry Bird tell bouncers at a Boston club to let my friend and I in and when Kevin McHale hoisted DS1 onto his shoulders...I suppose my biggest famous person meeting though was the fabulous Bob Hope....

Now to finish packing for flight to UK tomorrow and decision of what to pack and more importantly what to wear to important press evening on Wednesday night....

Come back on Thursday when i'm sure Biddy will be in a more bouncy mood...

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Country Life

I have a new hobby – gardening! It’s new for me because until we moved to the country recently, we lived in an apartment for a very long time with only a small balcony to grow things on. And let’s just say my experiments at balcony horticulture were not really all that successful. More like disastrous. (It could have had something to do with the fact that I forgot to water the plants, but anyway ...)
But now I have a real garden to play with and it’s absolute bliss. I’ve been buying seed packets and bedding plants like there’s no tomorrow and have just about killed my back weeding the flower beds in order to make them ready for the new stuff. It’s hard work, but I don’t mind at all. My usual couch potato self doesn’t object to actually moving and I’ve discovered all sorts of new muscles I never knew I had. Great!
Will I remember to water these new plantations? And will they actually grow and thrive the way they should? I’ve no idea, but I’m hoping Mother Nature will help me out a little here. It does, after all, rain a lot in England and as I’m planting in proper soil, rather than tiny little pots, hopefully that will help too.
As I write historical novels, this whole gardening thing has made me think though – I’m just playing around at the moment and I’m not too bothered whether my seeds grow or not. But in the past, people depended on the produce from their gardens and failure could mean catastrophe. They had to grow enough to live on until next year’s crop and if that didn’t work – and Mother Nature refused to co-operate – they went hungry. It’s a sobering thought!
We take so much for granted now and trying my hand at gardening has really helped me get into the mindset of my characters from the past a lot better. I can understand their struggles and their frustration if their hard work didn’t pay off. Living in the country is great too, because it’s so much easier to visualise what the world was like back when there were no cars etc. Just fields full of bleating sheep, horses and cows grazing and the birds singing their hearts out. In London I could go days without seeing a single sparrow – here the garden is full of busy little sparrows, finches and wagtails, not to mention the tame pheasant who strolls around the lawn squawking and countless other birds whose names I don’t even know.
I’m starting to sound like a Good Life guru advocating going back to our roots, which isn’t my intention. But moving to the country has been a great learning experience and it’s given me lots of inspiration for writing. I just hope my seeds grow so I can feel the pride my forefathers must have felt when they succeeded in feeding their families! Just as well no one is depending on me though as I’m still learning ...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Birthday Bash

April is a fine month for writerly birthdays.

Susanna found that a quick google for famous Aries writers gives us: Maya Angelou (4 April 1928), Robert Frost (26 March 1874), Nick Hornby (17 April 1957), Washington Irving (3 April 1783), Henry James (15 April 1843), Barbara Kingsolver (8 April 1955), Louis L’Amour (22 March 1908), Flannery O’Connor (25 March 1925), Eudora Welty (13 April 1909), Tennessee Williams (26 March 1911), William Wordsworth (7 April 1770), and Emile Zola (2 April 1840).

Which, all in all, means that Julie, Liz and yours truly are in very good company... Yes, this week it's our birthday! So we thought we'd continue the party and share our favourite birthday (or any time!) cakes with you!

Julie's cake is pictured above - a cake she made herself, on a dish given by Brigid - and the recipe can be found here (I'm drooling already).

Liz sent a picture of her cake from Dubai, complete with smurfs - it's a cheesecake made with fake sugar and thus low carb!

Christina is sharing her recipe for Easter Cake:

Whisk together 2 eggs, 200 grams of caster sugar, 200 grams plain flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder and 100 millilitres of water.

Grease a 9 inch cake tin and shake some breadcrumbs over the surface so the cake won't stick to it. Add the cake mix and bake in a 175 degree Celsius (340 Fahrenheit) oven for 25-30 minutes.

Icing - put 1 egg yolk, 75 grams butter, 100 grams caster sugar and 1 tablespoon of vanilla sugar into a saucepan and bring to the boil while stirring. Pour this over the cake as soon as it comes out of the oven, then leave to cool for a little while. Eat while still warm though!

My cake's a classic Victoria Spoge (gluten free, naturally) oozing with raspberry jam and whipped cream... mmmmmmm.....

There's a good recipe here, but I prefer using half and half Orgran self raising GF flour and Dove's Farm.

Brigid said she'd selflessly provide the drinks for our little cakes party.... "How about some Twinkles?

Per cocktail:

30ml vodka

15ml elderflower cordial


1. Pour vodka and elderflower cordial in cocktail shaker and add ice cubes

2. Shake (a la Tom Cruise) then strain mixture into chilled martini glass or glass filled with ice

3. Top drink with champagne and add a twist of lemon.

Chin chin!

And a Happy *hic* Birthday :-) "

Happy Birthday, April writers!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

LOVE MACHINE launch party!

For the first time in Heroine history, we are having a launch party for a book that is not by a Heroine Addict.

Or at least, not on the cover.

LOVE MACHINE is an erotic science fiction romantic comedy by Electra Shepherd. It came out yesterday from Ellora's Cave and it's about a woman who falls in love with a big blue robot.

How can the Heroine Addicts not celebrate a book about a woman who falls in love with a big blue robot? Especially when it gives us the excuse to come to a party with ROBOT DATES??

Here's more about the book:

Good-time girl Cally Morgenstern has never paid much attention to the robots her father built. That is, until one night when her vibrator runs out of batteries. And hey, if you’ve got a six-foot hunky robot offering to relieve your sexual frustration, you’re not going to say no, right? Even if he is sort of…well, definitely…blue?

Cally quickly realizes Blue isn’t the average robot. He’s rapidly acquiring a personality, for one thing. And an avid interest in human sexuality, particularly when it comes to Cally. She’s eager to teach Blue all she knows about sexual pleasure, even if they have to build him a few necessary parts in the process. And even if Blue’s explorations of human feelings touch her own, very human, heart.

But enough about the book for now. Let's see what ROBOT DATES the Heroine Addicts have turned up with (in alphabetical order of names, so as not to play favourites):

Anna has come with Optimus Prime. It is a well-known fact that Anna starts to salivate whenever she sees a photograph of Optimus Prime. At least two Addicts have personally witnessed this fact (most lately in the lunch queue at the last RNA conference in Caerleon, if you are wondering).

Brigid would probably like a country music singing robot. But for some reason, robots don't seem to sing country music. So she has The Flight of the Conchords singing 'Robot Song' instead:
'We no longer say "yes", we say "affirmative".'

Christina, of course, with her fondness for Highlanders, has to be accompanied by the Scottish Robot RoboCup Football Team (I joke you not):

(photo from the BBC)

Julie has been known to snog a Dalek on occasion:

Liz doesn't muck around when it comes to robots. She's here with The Terminator. Hasta la vista, baby! And Susanna has often expressed her great love for Blade Runner Replicant Roy Batty, as portrayed by Rutger Hauer.

So, without further ado, we asked Electra Shepherd to answer Five Fast Facts about LOVE MACHINE:

Favourite scene in the book: Without a doubt, it's the scene where Cally and Blue have to build a big, blue, robotic penis. For obvious reasons.

A scene that made you smile: Cally is teaching Blue how to dance, and she goes to turn on the stereo. But then Blue tells her there's no need, and turns on his own internal MP3 player instead: 'I've Had the Time of My Life'. Nobody puts Cally in the corner!

Character who surprised you the most: Blue. One of the characteristics of his growing humanity is the fact that he's unpredictable.

A scene you hated writing: The last scene. I'd had so much fun writing the book that I didn't want it to end.

A book your hero probably has on his book shelf: I happen to know that Blue is a very big fan of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, by Douglas Adams.

If you'd like to see more sexy robots and take Electra's Who's the Sexiest Robot? quiz, it's on her website, here.

And LOVE MACHINE is available in ebook here.

And finally, faithful readers...we'll admit it, Electra Shepherd is actually a Heroine Addict in disguise. But which one? Take a wild guess.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Sometimes, you have to blow the trumpet for your fellow Addicts.

I'm here (out of turn, and without their knowledge or permission) to yell, scream and cheer for our own Susanna Kearsley who is a RITA FINALIST in the Novel with Strong Romantic Elements category with her book, The Rose Garden.

The Ritas are the biggest romance awards in the world and I for one am thrilled! The award winner will be announced in July.

And let's not forget our own Christina Courtenay who is up for Romantic Novel of the Year with her book, Highland Storms, after winning the Historical Romance RoNA in March. This will be announced in May.

Please join me in wild applause and in wishing Susanna and Christina the best for the final announcements. We Addicts are hugely proud of them!