Wednesday, November 28, 2012

When One Thing Leads to Another

I'm late again with this, although this time I do have a passable excuse, since I've been doing battle with a rotten cold this week.

There was a great, thought-provoking Letter of Opinion last week by Janet over at Dear Author, on how things have shifted from standalone books to the series, and what sort of ripple effect this might have for both writers and readers. If you haven't read the piece yet, pour a cup of tea or coffee and go read it now. I'll wait.

You're back? Good. I found that post really intriguing, along with the questions it raised about whether the standalone novel was falling from favour, and whether we've all been conditioned, when ending one story, to look for the sequel.

I suppose it could be argued that this isn't such a modern development, really. After all, Anthony Trollope was writing his Palliser novels and Barchester Chronicles back in the mid-19th century, and Winston Graham spent over half a century writing about his Poldarks. And of course, being Canadian, I was raised on the series of Anne of Green Gables books. So it's hardly a new thing for writers and readers to want to revisit familiar, loved characters.

Image from Fantastic Fiction
I can't say that I've never done it myself. For example, when I needed a vicar for a small part in my thriller Every Secret Thing, it seemed silly to invent one when I already had a perfectly good vicar (Tom, from Mariana) walking around in my fictional world. So I gave the part to Tom, and he did well with it. I've done that a few times, with various characters.

And when a reader wrote to ask me whether Robbie from The Shadowy Horses would ever get his own book, it did get me thinking how perfectly suited he'd be for the role of The Firebird's modern-day hero. But generally, when I have finished a book, then the characters' business is finished, as well, and I'm done with both them and the story (or they're done with meI can never quite figure out which).

If The Firebird continues the story of several of the historical characters from my book The Winter Sea, that's only because those particular characters still had one stray bit of business outstanding that wanted to be finished properly, and now that I've taken care of that for them, they've pretty much settled down into their lives (though there are one or two, still, who might not be totally satisfied, and seem a little bit restless).

But I can't help but wonder, after reading that post, if our reading (and writing) habits are actually shifting. So, what do you think? Are we losing our ability to simply let a story end? To close the final page and give a happy sigh and let the characters go, without demanding to be told what happens next? And if we are, is it a failing of imagination, or some natural desire that readers felt at least as long ago as Trollope and his novels about Barchester?

And while you're pondering all of that, be sure to come back Thursday, to read Julie's post.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Happy Belated Thanksgiving!

As we have two US citizens in the Heroine Addicts it only seems right that we acknowledge Thanksgiving. It isn’t a holiday we have in the UK and I know that Canada has theirs in October but I think its great to have a day when we stuff ourselves on turkey… hold on… that is Christmas isn’t it?

<checks notes>

Ahhh sorry, I think it is great to have a day when we can look back and give thanks for every thing that has happened to us in the past year.

Things I am thankful for:

1.     My friends – including the lovely Heroine Addicts
2.     My Family – they are the only ones you get so treasure them
3.     My Health – am fitting fit and thankful
4.     My Writing – it might get tricky and other things get in the way but I’d never be without it
5.     My Flame – he survived a massive health scare earlier this year. He’s still around

What are you giving thanks for?

Please come back on Sunday to hear from Susanne

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Festival of Romance 2012 and We Have A Winner!

There is so much to say about the Festival of Romance but the most important is that our very own Christina Courtenay won the Best Historical Read with The Silent Touch of Shadows!!!
Christina Courtenay and Sue Morrcroft

But let's jump back a step from the exciting news....The gala dinner was fabulous and Biddy sparkled.

Jane Wenham-Jones and Brigid Coady

Jane Wenham-Jones was the brilliant compere of the evening...the full listing of all the winners is here.

As has been mentioned I was short listed for the Best Romantic Read....
Liz Fenwick, Sue Moorcroft, Miranda Dickenson, Rowan Coleman, Jane Lovering and Trisha Ashley

And the winner....
Rowan Coleman
Rowan Coleman for Dearest Rose!

All the night's winners...

I have no pictures of the the publishing deals that were handed out but Celia Anderson of the Romaniatics will be published by Piatikus! Then dancing that followed but due to jet lag I didn't last past the main course. However fellow Heroine Addict Biddy assures me that it was brilliant!

Saturday morning...breakfast watching crews practicing on the river...hard work!

First stop was to the Romance Fair in the Corn Exchange...
Christina Courtenay and Donna Hay setting up

Dashing men arrived
Drama ensued...a scene from a Mills & Boon Historical
Talli Roland reads at 'Coffee & Cake'
It was a sold out crowd at the 'Coffee & Cake' morning with so many wonderful writers and moi...
Liz Fenwick getting nervous
Liz Fenwick reading from The Cornish House
The Romance Fair was open all day and Bedford's shoppers had the opportunity to come in enjoy a chocolate and chat with romantic novelists of all varieties...In the shopping centre people were treated to actors performing from Mills & Boon Historicals, Writer's reading from there books while seminars took place in the library.

Sadly I had to come home...while the fun continued...already looking forward to next year's event!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

I AM reading

First of all, thank you very much for the good wishes – I’m sure Liz and I will cheer each other on tomorrow at the Festival of Romance Awards, and we’ll post pics afterwards whatever happens!

Autumn - great time for reading!
Now on Monday Anna was saying “I wanna read!”, whereas at the moment I can definitely say “I AM reading!”  And how!  In the last week alone, I read six books, (although some of them were fairly short).  Autumn is a great time to curl up with a book, but the reason for me is not that I’ve gone on an autumnal reading "bender" (if there is such a thing) or taken time out.  It’s just that I help organise a literary award and this time of year the long list is more or less finalised.  And as the organiser, I sometimes have to talk about the award and the books that end up on the shortlist.  Which means – I have to read them so I know what I’m talking about.  Good excuse, right?

It is in no way a hardship reading these particular books as they’re all romance and, having ended up on the long list, great stories.  But it’s made me think about WHY these particular books have done better than the other entries.  What is it about them that gives them page turning quality; what keeps the reader hooked?

There are all the usual reasons of course - first of all (and most obvious), there has to be a great love story, one that stays in your mind long after you finish reading.  The chemistry between the hero and heroine has to be amazing throughout, even if they themselves don’t notice it to begin with perhaps (or they try not to).  The dialogue has to be just right – a sassy heroine and a hero with a sense of humour is always good and makes for some interesting conversations.  And the conflict between them must be believable.  In some cases it’s the fact that the story is unusual which makes it stand out, or if it’s not, the plot has been given a new twist and made to feel original.  The writing has to be just right too – fast moving and entertaining in an effortless way.

All this makes for a great story potentially.

But ... we’re all different and what we look for in a novel may vary wildly, as the readers for the award demonstrate every year.  What one person finds wonderful, another says is utter rubbish.  Thankfully, each book gets read several times and the ones where all the readers agree come out on top.  Those are the ones I’m reading at the moment.  

For me, personally, the thing that always makes or breaks a book is the hero.  If I don’t fall in love with the hero, the story is doomed.  I don’t really care what he looks like (although hotties are always welcome of course :) ), but he has to be charismatic.  He has to charm me (and the heroine) in every way.  Then, and only then, will I consider the book a winner or keeper for my shelf.

What makes a book a keeper for you?

Please come back on Sunday/Monday to hear from Liz – she might have photos from the Festival of Romance!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

I wanna read

As usual, I find myself wanting to start my post with references to others.... Congratulations, Liz and Christina!  You and me both, Susanna!  And sympathies and respect, Julie.

As for me... life's been pretty busy here.  It's an overused complaint, but it's not exaggerating to say that life consists of up at six, off to work, no breaks, no lunch (except that eaten in the car on the way to another meeting), home at seven, cook, eat, DIY, housework, household admin, bed.  Rinse.  Repeat.  Apart from the weekends, where it's up at six, housework and DIY and household admin, bed at ten.

All the above being carried under the stress and emotional strain of wholesale reorganisation/redundancies at work - my job no longer exists, I will be applying for new ones in the coming weeks -  and a Big Thing (but a very, very good one) happening at home.

I'm not complaining!  It is what it is, and it's mostly right and proper. What's fascinating me is my reaction to it.

In the midst of this, two things are happening.  I'm scribble-writing more than I have for years, and I have  one significant craving.  It's not for someone else to do dinner, it's not for a hot bath, or a massage, or an afternoon off (although all of these would be nice), it's for guilt-free time to curl up with a book.

I'm not even sure which book.  Just me, comfy chair, no phones, no internet, a book and an hour or so.

And the fact that, because of that Big Thing, there is little prospect of that happening in the short, medium or long term future is making me grin like a loon.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

sorry, Ma, that there well done gone run dry

photo by f_shields on creative commons licence for flickr

At the end of September, I finished a book a month early. I sent it to my agent, who sent it to my editor. I took two days to go house-hunting and do laundry. I then immediately launched into writing another book, a 30,000-word novella, which I wrote in three weeks. I revised and submitted that to my other editor. We also sold our house, made an offer on another, found a solicitor and a mortgage advisor, consulted our accountant and the taxman and booked surveys and checked insurance. By this time, my editor had come back with revisions for my big book. We agreed a deadline of two weeks would be about right.

I went on retreat with some wonderful writers, to talk writing. I came up with an idea for my next book. I went to lunch with other writers, to talk writing. I went to dinner with other writers, to talk writing. I came up with an idea for another book. I went to a book launch with other writers, to talk writing.

On Thursday I sat down to write a new scene for my book that I'm revising. It's not a long scene, but it's an important one: a flashback to a time in my characters' lives when the foundations were set for their current conflict. I wrote the scene in a couple of hours.

The insightful Emma Darwin mentioned at one of those talking-writing events how sometimes writers who have written a lot can come up with something that is technically competent, but not at all exciting. It was that. It ticked the boxes, but it was lifeless. I can't possibly put it in a book that I care about, not as a key scene.

As usual, I've been beating myself up about this. Have I lost the joy of this story? Do I not have enough imagination? Does the story just not carry the depth I want it to?

But it has occurred to me that it's none of these things. I can't write a good, fleshed-out, emotional, complex scene because I am just too tired. Not physically, but mentally. I've done too much creating and talking and thinking and writing in the past two months. And I've also bought and sold a house.

My well is dry.

Yesterday, I spent the whole day reading a book. Today and tomorrow, I intend to spend playing with my kid and watching films with my husband. Monday...well, Monday I'm not so sure. Maybe the well will be full enough by then to come up with something worthwhile. Maybe not. Maybe I'll have to move my deadline forward a week or two, but that will be okay.

I have enough experience now to know that that there well will full right up again, Ma. And what a wondrous and exciting thing to know that it will. Just give it some time.

Look out for Anna's post, coming soon. My grammatically-problematic title is in homage to Susanna's post on copy-edits, below.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Kudos and Copyedits

Before I do anything else, I must brag for a moment, and let you all know that not one, but TWO of our very own Heroine Addicts have been shortlisted for 2012 Festival of Romance Awards:

Liz's THE CORNISH HOUSE is up for Best Romantic Read, and Christina's THE SILENT TOUCH OF SHADOWS is up for Best Historical Read! (Liz's agent and Christina's publisher are up for awards as well, as are several of our RNA friends, so lots to celebrate on this list).

Right then, on to the rest of the post.

You'll see, by the date, that I'm late again. I was supposed to have this up on Sunday, but in my defence I was working all weekend (and through most of Monday) reviewing copyedits of my book The Firebird, which I'd promised on my honour that my editor would have by end-of-day on Monday afternoon.

Copyedits very often are, to me, a Labour in the Herculean sense. I have a writing style that drives Grammarians to drink. I  like to boldly split infinitives. Write fragments. I don't think that prepositions are bad words to end a sentence with. And I can sometimes be stubborn, when it comes to commas.

© Tom Schmucker |
One of my early copyeditors, some years ago, hated my commas so much she took most of mine out and put her own ones in, where she thought they should go. In one memorable sentence describing a courtyard my characters had just come in to, I'd written: "The air was still, here." Meaning it was not moving. She took out that comma, too, leaving a sentence that still makes me smile (though it doubtless came as a relief to the characters to learn the air hadn't gone someplace else...)

The thing is, we have voices, as writers. And writing is made up of rhythms and structures and cadence and emphasis, things that won't always be bound by the strict rules of grammar. So the copyediting process, for me, usually begins with some poor copyeditor probably hitting the whisky and burning the midnight oil somewhere while trying to "fix" all my errors, and ends with me hitting my own whisky bottle and muttering into the night while I "fix" them all back. 

Well, all right, to be fair, I "fix" most of them back. I've been known to make actual errors, and good copyeditors find them and save me embarrassment, for which I'm grateful. And most copyeditors, after they've worked on a few books by one author, do start to "hear" the voice, and let it be. 

But I do wish they'd lay off my commas.

Do come back tomorrow, to read Julie's (always grammatical) post. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Procrastinator… Thy Name is Brigid

Who you find when you Google "Procrastinator" (photo - Liz Fenwick)

Today is the first day of NaNoWriMo. I have signed up. I know what I’m doing and I’ve had a whole day to do my almost 2000 words. So it is amazing how many other things I have found to do instead. I will take you through my day and you can marvel at my ability to NOT NaNoWriMo. I have a funny feeling this could be what the whole of November could be like.

I woke up and checked Twitter as is my habit. Who knows what wonderful tweets could have found themselves on my timeline overnight? I mean there could be a cute otter photo that is just begging to be retweeted or maybe Disney has brought LucasFilms and Twitter is melting down about it… (such an unlikely scenario but you have to check JUST IN CASE!).

I then leapt out of bed ready to face this first day of NaNoWriMo, put on my running gear and went out into the rain and ran 2 miles round St James Park. Glowing I returned and threw myself wholeheartedly into a Jillian Michaels DVD… well you have to do strength and abs with the cardio! Don’t you know anything?

After refuelling and my daily ablutions I head to the cinema for a bit of NaNoWriMo research and inspiration. Skyfall! What better way to fire the creative juices than looking at a half naked Daniel Craig (the sacrifices I make). Who knew that the adverts before hand went on so long? So by the time I made it home it was time for a late lunch and a bit of prep for a work related phone call. Gotta earn the money sometime.

Then I realised that I needed to register at the gym. My sister has given me a six week gym pass for my birthday and she activated it yesterday so I didn’t want to waste it! Half an hour in the pool (Mr Bond in the pool in Shanghai was my inspiration) and I’m feeling smug and a tad tired.

As I walked home the sun was setting and I realised that I had yet to actually sit down and NaNoWriMo…

So now here I am on my sofa, writing a blogpost and googling the best abs exercises to do in the pool. Obviously having set myself a writing goal I am trying to do anything to avoid itt, might even end up fit instead. Maybe if I set the goal to run a marathon I might write a book. Of course I would then run said marathon collapsing somewhere around mile 12 and having to be removed from the course.

I am of course counting this blogpost towards today’s word count (hey it is writing and vaguely creative). Only another thousand words before bedtime. But maybe I can fit in a bike ride before that.

I think November is going to be a long month.

Come back on Sunday to find out how Susanna is getting on...

*edit* I managed 1731 in the end...