Tuesday, May 30, 2006

When the tinkering stops

At last! The rewriting/tinkering is finished - at least as far as I can tell! Now I'm putting it to one side for a week before a final read/polish, by which time I'm hoping I shall have heard from the RNA with details of some suitable agents to whom to send it. And then I shall return to my prayer mat and say a little prayer for me - or maybe even a great big, gigantic, huge one - maybe lots of them. In fact, I may remain on my knees for ever. I wonder how difficult it is to type from down there?

Funnily enough the final rewrite has ended up being 2,000 words longer than the original version - I think that's due to that particularly awkward character who insisted on playing a bigger part - I just hope she's satisfied.

As for me, I'm positively itching to start something new. I had actually made a start on something before my m/s was returned to me, but I'm not sure whether to return to that or do something completely different. Trouble is, I need to hurry things along a bit, as the RNA has brought forward its deadline for submissions of novels being entered into the next New Writers' Scheme, to August - which gives me precisely 3 months. Fortunately, they do accept partials, which I think, realistically, is all they're going to get.

So, Eva, I guess we should rewind my counter back to the start - which will no doubt please Imogen!

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Monday, May 29, 2006

On wallpaper historicals

On the various weblogs I visit, there has been a lot of talk lately about wallpaper historicals, romance novels set in the past that are essentially costume dramas. The writer may get the garments and hair correct but neglects other historical details such as diet, language, politics, attitude. What surprised me—dare I say shocked?—is the large number of readers who don't seem to care if the writer gets the facts straight. They want an interesting story and care not one whit whether the heroine couldn't possibly have acted in that manner given the constraints of the period.

I'm the first one to admit that research can be insidious. It is enough to paint an accurate picture; far too much to impart a history lesson. But, come on, the writer has to get it right, doesn't she?

What do you think? For those of you who don't read historicals, what would you require from the genre?


Thursday, May 25, 2006

Heroine gets political...writer balks

We all know I had trouble with Chapter 7, as I blabbed (that is, blogged) about it. Chapter 8 (a short one) virtually wrote itself. Chapter 9, in which my heroine must address a political meeting to which "the ladies" have been grudgingly invited, is proving a daunting task. Obviously another case of the schizophrenic writer spending too much time in a character's head. I may as well be standing in front of two hundred men struggling to raise my voice!

Although I focus on the early Victorian period, my heroines are not spoiled little rich girls: pampered artistocrats or darlings of the gentry. They are middle class women forced by circumstance to make their own way in the world. Mary Charlton nearly missed out on love because she feared relinguishing her hard-won independence. My latest heroine, Rhian McAllister, tirelessly champions the cause of temperance (teetotalism) in an attempt to atone for her deceased husband's excesses. Both women embrace philanthropic issues because they themselves feel disadvantaged – firstly, as women. They are decades' away from thinking of their own rights. However, they are more than willing to fight for the rights of others: children, the working man, the poor, prostitutes.

Female philanthropists brought about vast change in the Victorian period: socially, politically and psychologically. My main character is proving to be a true heroine. I just hope I do her justice.


Sunday, May 21, 2006


There I was, legs tucked neatly under desk, upper body perfectly straight, eyes focused on the screen in front of me, mind working as one with my main character as she drove recklessly to the hospital where her beloved lay in a coma, when suddenly we were both horribly distracted - by a teeny weeny squeaking sound coming from somewhere close to our feet. Now, I'm not one to panic, but my main character is known to overreact sometimes. Up she leapt, (yes, I know she was in a car, but you've heard of suspended disbelief, haven't you? So - do it. If it helps, she had the sun roof open at the time, so she didn't bang her head, okay?) Anyway, as I was saying, up she leapt, only to fall back down a moment later (what did you expect? that she could defy gravity?). Daringly, she lifted both feet off the pedals and bent her knees upwards, peering down towards the dark floor (you have a problem with that? she steered the car with her knees - isn't it obvious?). She could see nothing. Perhaps she'd imagined it? Afterall she had been under a lot of pressure lately, what with being jilted at the altar, winning millions in Las Vegas and running for PM. She calmed her pounding heart, placed her feet back on the pedals and was only a little concerned to find she'd driven past the hospital and was now, in fact, on the back of a transporter that was heading for a low bridge. (Actually, I just made that last bit up.) The truth was that just when she'd convinced herself it was her overwrought imagination, the squeaking started again. This time she did what any normal woman would do, she screamed and ran out of the car. Realising this really wasn't helpful, she returned to the car which by now had parked itself in a handy hedge, and dared to actually cast her eyes around the floor again. Nothing. But our intrepid heroine was not put off, (oh no!), she bravely placed her ear against the computer monitor (doesn't everyone have a computer on the floor of their car?). Squeak, squeak, squeak it went. 'Ah ha!' exclaimed our heroine, and crashed her fingers down against the keyboard. Nothing, dead as a dead duck with bird flu. Bugger! What should she do? What could she do? She switched everything off and booted it back up of course. What happened? The mouse had gone and our heroine was able to return to dashing off to the hospital without any further hiccups. As for me - I merely mopped up the water I'd spilt on the desk when my heroine had surprised me by her sudden departure from the car, replaced the pile of books that had somehow got knocked to the floor, and repositioned the photo of my husband setting mousetraps in our garage.
Obsessed? Moi? Non.


Friday, May 19, 2006

If music be the food of love... I'm a picky eater.

So, as Eva says, I have the room, and I have the lucky mug. But as far as this book goes there's still something missing. My word count has crept up (11 000, Eva!) but it feels like filling a swimming pool with a teaspoon. I know the characters. (I'm a bit worried about them because neither of them is what you could call 'nice'. Let's just say they have a lot of baggage. It's Louis Vuitton baggage admittedly, but it's cumbersome nonetheless.) I'm very excited about the plot, but it's just not flowing. So what's missing?


I don't want to come over all Gypsy Rose Lee about this writing malarkey, endlessly coming up with more superstitions and talismans (talismen?). At the end of the day, as the awe-inspiringly prolific and excessively lovely Penny Jordan says, it all comes down to hard work and long hours (and a lucky mug, as previously established). But there's no doubt that a bit of music helps the process along no end.

The only problem is it has to be the right music-- and that means the right music for the characters and mood of the book, not particularly for me. The last book was set in Florence and Venice, had a dark-haired, 34-year old, deep-thinking hero, and as I wrote it I played Il Divo CDs in an endless loop. Between you and me, I won't be picking any of their tracks if I ever get asked onto Desert Island Discs, but something about the combination of good-looking men in dinner jackets and lots of Italian really hit the spot.

For this one, I'm at a loss. The characters are younger, naughtier, hipper (is that a word?), and the setting is the louche glamour of the Cote d'Azure in the height of summer. I need something that captures that lazy, sexy heat. Have tried classical, but that isn't working. Have done Sinatra with limited success. James Blunt (eeewww, not raw enough). Oasis (too raw, and too rooted in rainy Manchester). In desperation I've ordered a Bryan Ferry CD from Amazon which I remember very fondly from about 1985. OK, so my heroine would have been a tiny baby back then and would no doubt think Slave to Love is deeply sad and middle-aged, but she knows nothing. I myself have high hopes that it might just evoke the necessary note of uber-cool sexiness.

(Although there is always the risk that it might just take me right back to the age of 15, and I'll sit at my desk doodling love hearts, eating Kola Kubes and staring out of the window daydreaming until my mum comes along and grounds me until I've finished Chapter 3. Which isn't actually a bad idea... )

If anyone has any more suggestions for suitably lust-inducing music please let me know! And what does everyone else listen to as they write?

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Pink Heart Society

Hey, girls, we're now official (not to mention proud) supporters of category romance. We've been given our red badge of courage, the little dancing heart icon that is currently stomping on our hit counter on the right. Just give him a click to visit The Pink Heart Society online.

Besides championing the virtues of the romance genre, including the category romance genre, The Pink Heart Society also features a Database of Hero Material: Men to inspire the imagination...". I was a little disappointed not to see Tom Selleck's face among the gorgeous hunks—I've had a girlish crush on him since a teenager. I wonder whether we ought to ask the Society to include not only Tom but also models featured on romance covers. I just bought Diane Gaston's A Reputable Rake and I think I may be in love. Check out Ben Whitaker:


Another gorgeous cover model is Nathan Kamp. You can read all about him at wnbc.com's Romance: Buy the Book.

Lastly, if in the past you steered clear of romance covers featuring Fabio, take a look at the collection of Covers Gone Wild compiled by the Smart Bitches. I may have nightmares tonight.

Who inspires your imagination? (Or does the direct opposite?)


Sunday, May 14, 2006

Does Length Matter?

Hair? Nails? Eye lashes? Hell no! I'm talking about chapter lengths. Because I am such a hard working girl, I have today finished re-writing my entire, 85,000 word m/s (oh, Imogen, how dark your hair, how green your face) and noticed my chapter lengths varied by as much as 2,500 words (shortest to longest) - and it occurred to me - does length matter - or at least, does inconsistency in length matter?

To be honest with you, I have to say I didn't actually spend very long contemplating the answer - I just thought, hey! that's a great title for a post - that's how deep and meaningful my annual introspections are.

On the subject of honesty, the re-writing isn't really finished - I mean, I have got to the end of the m/s, but I now I need to fine-tune it as I've made some quite substantial changes that require sharpening up and a character who has decided she no longer wants to play a bit part. Naturally, I tried to explain to her that not everyone in my book could own a Porsche, a swanky apartment and learn to fly - but, looking back, I think that may only have wound her up. I've warned her that if she causes too much trouble, I shall cut her out altogether - and, would you believe, she threatened to sue me for breach of contract? Who do these people think they are?

Now, what time is my next appointment with the shrink?


Friday, May 12, 2006

Visit the Greenhouse

A frequent visitor to Scribes' Sanctuary, Stacy Holmes mentioned in her weblog recently a new small electronic and print publisher of romance called The Wild Rose Press with several different types of lines. For a full list, see their submission guidelines page.

Also worthy of note, Wild Rose Press has a section called The Greenhouse which includes articles and workshops for both new and experienced writers. It's worth a visit.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A chip off the old block?

Hey, check it out, I'm past the 40 percent mark!

Last night my eight-year-old spent what minutes she could steal between homework, dinner and bedtime writing. And writing at an enviable clip too. So much for hoping she'll become an engineer or geneticist. Maybe I should organize playdates with the girl who hunts around the schoolyard looking for bugs.

On second thought I'm squeamish. No bugs in borrowed quarters please, let alone a home of our own!


Ivory Tower

I know Imogen now has a room of her own in which to write. Annie, how about you?

As Imogen and Annie know very well (and a few others besides), my family and I are in transition. Once our house in England sells, we'll be plunking our money down pronto on a house here in Montreal, preferably a Victorian home—not a mansion mind, but something with considerably more room than we enjoyed in Nantwich. High on my list are a window if not a balcony and ample space for bookshelves. What do you consider essential to a writer's sanctuary? Hurry now, for the search is on!


Monday, May 08, 2006

Why writing in the rain is even harder than writing in the sunshine

Now, I'm not trying to develop a weather theme here - let's face it, we get enough of that in our daily conversation with people we don't know well enough to talk to about anything else. It's just that having thought rain was far less of a distraction when trying to write than that lovely round yellow thing I wrote about in my last post, today I've discovered that rain can be equally as distracting - especially when you've hung your washing out.

The thing is, when I hung it out , it was admittedly a little overcast but predominantly warm and windy - perfect drying conditions (or so my Best Housewifely Practice Handbook tells me). But then, half an hour ago, it started getting dark, very dark. Which came as something of a shock to me, as I'd actually been rather engrossed in writing a letter of resignation to my boss and serving breakfast to a room full of old people, before dashing off with my best friend to purchase a rather swanky town-centre apartment and a Porsche. Well, what else do you do on a rainy day? Oh, okay then, it's not really me - it's my character - why do all the best bits happen to her and not me? However, I digress - the point is, the darkness was clearly the forerunner of the arrival of those little wet globlets we commonly call rain (and which the people in the south-east would love to get their hands on if only they could - I wonder if I could sell them some on e-bay?) - anyway, the question was how many and big would those globlets be and how long would they fall for?

I peered out into the ever-deepening gloom. And then I noticed it, the puddles that never quite dry up on the conservatory roof - splish, splash, splosh. I shoved back my chair and dashed like Linford Christie (except without the lunch pack and the lycra) into the garden. Hmm. What had looked quite threatening on the conservatory roof was really nothing more than an attempt by a few minor drips to get themselves noticed. I touched the washing. It just needed another hour to be fully dry. I looked in all directions of the compass to see what might be coming my way. It was impossible to tell. I made the executive deicision that all housewives have to make from time to time, and brought in only the few items that were a little delicate and actually dry. Then I returned to my desk, all set to get back into my book. But it was impossible. I kept glancing out of the window like a criminal hiding from the cops. Trying to get back into my book was like trying to get back into a dream after the alarm's woken you up. But I must not give up. I was a swot (see Imogen's comment to my last post) and swots never give up. I forced myself to clamber into my Porsche and switched on the ignition. Vroom, vroom, she went. Splish splash splosh went the rain. Rain? No way, I was on the south coast where it never rained. Except I wasn't. I glanced back at the window. The rain lashed. Need I say more? What do you mean, 'please don't'?

So, how many words did it take me to resign my job, feed the olds, buy a swanky apartment and a Porsche? Oh, only about 4500 - BUT it does at least show that a LOT is happening in my book in a very short time - and that's good, right?


Thursday, May 04, 2006


OK, so it's Day 4 of The New Book, and things aren't going well. I may have rather rashly thrown the figure of 4000 words at Eva for the little counter thing, but it's miserably obvious that about 3768 of those will have to be re-written at some point, and therefore don't really count at all. In fact, by actually needing to be written again they probably count the other way. I am the only failed romantic novelist in Blogland with a negative score on my word-countometer.

Anyway, all is not entirely lost because I think I've worked out why.

I haven't been drinking my tea out of my Lucky Writing Mug.

When I did my O Levels I had a tiny lucky doll thing, that I crammed into the little zip-up pocket of my deeply unflattering school-regulation purse-belt. She came with me (although thankfully the purse-belt didn't) through A levels and university too, and is now enjoying retirement in the back of my underwear drawer.

These days I have a lucky mug. It's an Emma Bridgewater one with a picture of a cupcake on the front and little iced gems inside. And once, in the picture accompanying an article on the brilliantly funny and fabulous author Raffaella Barker I saw the exact same mug on her desk. So I know it works.

I guess, scientifically speaking, it would be kind of tricky to actually prove that the choice of drinking vessel has a direct correlation to the amount of words per hour and the literary merit of those words, but who needs science? In the sad, desperate world of the aspiring romantic novelist the Lucky Mug Theory is a no-brainer.

Just watch that word counter and see if I'm right.


Why does the sun always shine when I'm writing?

Today is the first day I've had off work for a while and I was looking forward to getting down to some serious re-writing and getting some top marks on Eva's counting thingy. Everything was going to plan until the sun came out and then, well, what's a girl to do? I've been stuck working inside for weeks on end and the weekends have been naff, so it seemed to me it would be not only churlish but downright rude to simply ignore that lovely yellowy thing in the sky when it had made so much effort to come and visit. I mean, if we ignore it, it might take the hump and disappear again. And we wouldn't want that, would we? We want to make it feel welcome so it will want to come back and visit us again, don't we? I knew you'd agree with me - that's what we unpublished writers have in common - no self-discipline and no single-mindedness. Hurray!

So, Eva - word count for today? Umm - make it a little more than zero, a little less than ten. Actually, I'm kidding, I got up at six and worked until one - impressed? I know I am! There may be a teeny-tiny bit of ambition there after all. Oh, woe is me!



Our pal Penny Jordan over at the Nantwich Writers' Group recently pointed us to an article in The Washington Post which reports what we've all known for years: Romance sells. And it sells big, generating 1.2 billion dollars' worth of sales in 2004 according to the RWA and accounting for 39.3 percent of all fiction sold in America (54.9 percent of mass-market paperback sales).

The article goes on to discuss Harlequin's success at appealing to niche markets and also touches on the burgeoning business of epublishing. Now, I see more of my computer screen than I do my family, but even I am resistant to the idea of reading a book via my laptop. I don't even like to read hardcover books because they're too bulky in bed. What will induce me to give ebooks a try? Any suggestions?


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A Confession

This is not a secret. For now we'll leave the secrets to Annie. No, this is a confession.

I finally finished Chapter 7. It was excruciating. Not because I got caught up in researching the Napoleonic Wars. Not because a fight scene required my husband's crit to ensure authenticity. No...it was simply because I couldn't get my characters to behave as I'd planned. Why not? Because somehow I started at point a and stupidly skipped all the way to point c.

Only it took me days to realize I even needed point b. Such epiphanies usually come to me in bed or while I'm in the shower or while I'm supposed to be listening to my daughter complain about her friends at school. This one took a whole weekend.

I wonder how writers working to deadline do it. How do they write, write, write, all day long, and still manage to step back enough to visualize the gaps?

What do you do when you get stuck? Walk the dog? Phone a friend? Go shopping? Perhaps surf the Internet?