Friday, February 28, 2014

Winter/Summer Conundrum

Real Life - Breckenridge, Winter

Book Life - Frenchman's Creek, Summer

Greetings! Apologies for the lateness of this blogpost. I could blame it on the fact that I am now The Heroine Addict who is the furthest west. I could blame it on my lack of internet, except it got sorted out this morning. I could but I won’t.

Instead I am putting it down to my head being pulled in two very different directions.

I’m currently working on a YA novel set during two summers in Cornwall. Wonderful I hear you say, nothing is more lovely than a Cornish summer and I agree with you. The only problem I have is that I am thousands of miles away in a ski resort up to my neck in snow.

It is causing a split in my personality. I stare at my laptop and the words conjuror up dark green trees, grey water, blue skies and twisted folk tales. I look up and out the window. It is snow and icicles, blue skies or blizzards, Native American tales and moose on the trails. What is a writer to do?

I’m thinking of stocking up on cider to see if that helps get me in the mood… all for research purposes, you understand.

How do you deal with the conundrum? 

Sunday, February 23, 2014


Lately I’ve been getting ideas for the book after the book after the next book (!), which is really distracting.  I should just be getting on with the one I’m working on right now, but when you get a good idea, you can’t let it pass by – you just have to jot it down somewhere, anywhere!  Especially if, like me, you can’t remember something from one minute to the next without putting it in writing.  But it’s very annoying.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying my WIP and haven’t yet hit that “oh-my-god-this-is-such-a-pile-of-cr*p” stage, but those tantalising ideas of future WIP’s won’t leave me alone and every now and then I have to break off what I’m doing, open a new document and write what’s clamouring to come out.

It sounds insane, doesn’t it?  I should be able to control my thoughts, tell them to form an orderly queue and stop jumping it.  I am half English after all, and aren’t the English supposed to be good at queuing?  But maybe my Swedish genes take over in this case, because those ideas just aren’t listening.  Or I have no willpower.  Or something.

Actually, I shouldn’t be complaining, because surely the worst thing for an author would be if you had NO ideas.  None at all.  If your brain was drier than a desert with nothing but tumbleweed blowing through.  That would be nothing short of a disaster.  And that’s why I tend to humour my ideas when they get impatient and won’t wait their turn.  They’re my insurance against the dry season.

Maybe I should give up visiting interesting places?  Because places very often inspire me, especially old ones with an atmosphere of times gone by.  Take for instance Caerleon, in south Wales.  Now, I’ve never wanted to write a book featuring Romans.  I like learning about them and think they were awesome, but I let other people do the writing.  But when I visited what used to be the Roman town of Isca, the atmosphere got to me and those “what if” questions began to crowd my mind ...

I’m supposed to be writing about Japan right now and into my mind pops a Roman centurion.  Very distracting indeed!  I think I’d better go and deal with him ...

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Curious Case of the Beautiful Heroine

I don’t know when I stopped describing heroines. Somewhere along the way between my first book and the middle ones I realized readers usually formed images themselves without my having to describe first-person narrators in detail. I might say what the colour of their hair was, or their age if it was relevant, but anything beyond that was more likely just a passing comment touching on some feature in comparison to someone else.

Celia, the heroine of Season of Storms, looking at her famous actress mother, admits: “She was lovely. I had always thought so, always wished my own eyes could have been as large, my features half as delicate. Instead I’d inherited only her small hands and her allergy to cats.”

And here’s the exchange between David Fortune, the hero of The Shadowy Horses, and the heroine Verity Grey, when they first meet:

“I must say,” he confessed, leaning back again, “you’re not at all as I pictured you.”
Everyone said that. Museum workers, I’d learned, were supposed to be little old ladies in spectacles, not twenty-nine-year-olds in short skirts. I nodded patiently. “I’m younger, you mean?”
“No. It’s only that, with Adrian recommending you, I’d have thought to find someone…well, someone…”
“Tall, blonde, and beautiful?”
“Something like that.”
I couldn’t help smiling. I was, to my knowledge, the only dark-haired woman who’d ever received so much as a dinner invitation from Adrian Sutton-Clarke, and I’d held his interest only until the next blonde had come along.

We later learn her hair is long, and that an eight-year-old boy thinks she’s a “stoater”, but that’s it.

In The Winter Sea, I don’t think I described Carrie at all. And I know in The Firebird the only stray reference to Nicola’s looks was made at the beginning, when she says she’d got her job partly because “I had the proper look [to suit the image of the Galerie St-Croix], the proper pedigree, the right credentials, and I always dressed to fit the part.” And later we learn what her hair colour is when Rob warns her his father has “aye had a liking for blondes.”

But that’s it.

So it fascinates me to no end to see readers remark that my heroines are always beautiful. I won’t quote any particular readers’ reviews because I don’t like doing that—readers are wholly entitled to have their opinions, and authors, in my view, should not interfere with that. But the comments come up with enough regularity to make me wonder why so many people, when faced with a character who isn’t fully described, seem to want to default to the “beautiful”.

Even more fascinating to me is that some readers seem to assume the heroine is beautiful because she manages to attract the romantic attention of one or more men in the small town she travels to, as if beauty alone is the thing that attracts men—as if no man could ever be attracted by a woman’s wit, intelligence, vivacity, or simply the sheer novelty of having her arrive in town. (I grew up in a small town and I’ve travelled to a lot of them and lived in a small village in the west of Wales—believe me when I say you do NOT have to be a beauty to attract attention when you turn up as a stranger in a local pub :-)

The women I see in my mind when I’m writing are never what I would call “beautiful”. Pretty, perhaps, in an ordinary everyday way, but it’s my belief everyone’s pretty to somebody, and the most plain-looking face can become pretty when we have fallen in love with the person behind it.

I’m curious, though: Why do you think some readers, when faced with a blank face, are programmed to fill in the features as “beautiful”?