Thursday, June 29, 2006

Time traveller

Everytime I return to the farm I step back in time: to a calmer place, a slow-paced lifestyle, to moments wherein the eddying breeze, fragrant with lilly and rose, is the only distraction on a heat-shimmering summer's day. Rain has proven elusive. Thunderstorms swirl around, promising relief with a far-off crack of thunder and a single jagged pierce of white light.

My daughter behaves as if born yesterday, finally able and more than willing to do all the things I did easily and much earlier when a girl: climbing trees, reaching out a hand to a skittish barn cat, exploring woods and copses, watching mesmerized as hummingbirds frolick in phlox and, best of all, riding a bicycle up and down the laneway, finally in solitude mastering balance and coordination.

For quiet moments indoors she has her Tamagotchi and an online connection to her Webkinz cyberworld—after all, she is a city girl who has learned the wonders of the Internet. For me, I'm taking time off writing to learn a new program required for an upcoming writing contract, and when I curl up in my girlhood single bed at night I have in-hand novels reminiscent of the sort I read twenty-odd years ago beneath the covers by flash/torch light.

Below is my summer vacation reading list:
  • The Bride and the Beast by Teresa Medeiros — a rare find thanks to my favourite second-hand bookstore in Montreal, a short, fairytale romance involving a dragon and a virgin sacrifice
  • Highwayman Husband by Helen Dickson — abandoned half-finished as Regency-era intrigue overpowered pent-up passion
  • The Wicked Lover by Julia Ross — currently winning my envy as two wartime spies circle and parry, both disguised, haunted by the past, yet drawn to each other
  • One Night in Paradise by Juliet Landon, my first Elizabethan romance
  • Deceived by Nicola Cornick, another Regency romance by one of my favourite authors.
My only worry is that I won't have enough to read for two whole weeks! Too bad I failed to get my hands on Delicious and The Gladiator's Honour. I suppose I can always resort to my daughter's cache, two books from The Royal Diaries series plus a treasure trove of facts about fairies. In fact, I am suddenly flooded with ideas for young adult books featuring romance, past and present. Gosh, perhaps even a tale involving a changeling or an outcast from the fairy realm.

There's nothing like a change of scenery to get the creative juices flowing again. Perhaps I'll end up writing in spare moments while on the farm, just as I did as a child.

Tell me what's on your summer reading list. Do you plan to step back in time or embark on a modern-day adventure?

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Those of you who visit Amanda Ashby's blog will have noticed her recent excited allusions to the RNA's annual conference, which is being held on 7th-9th July at Penrith. As a member of the RNA's NWS (New Writers' Scheme) and a resident of the north-west of England, I will be attending this star-studded event myself for the first time this year and, like Amanda, I'm getting quite excited. Not least because amongst the line up of stars that I shall be mingling with will be published authors such as Katie Fforde and Penny Jordan, as well as editors and agents.

Having received my 'conference pack' a couple of weeks ago, I had to decide which of the 20 workshops I wished to attend. These range from Ann Lingard's 'Is Science Sexy' to Sue Johnson's 'Banish the Curse of Writer's Block'. Of the six I am attending, I shall learn how to arrest the editor's attention, find out what literary agents are looking for, build a synopsis and create a sense of place through characters. I shall also be finding out what life in the Hollywood Story Department is like, as well as entering the world of the People's Friend magazine - you can't get much more diverse than that!

And if I can't make it after all that, then I'll eat all the leftovers when the conference ends!

If you're a romance writer and haven't yet joined the RNA, either as a published or unpublished writer - get to it. I cannot recommend their friendly support and organised opportunities to meet, mingle and learn from other writers, highly enough. As I said to my husband after a writery party at a particularly well-known writer's home last summer - if I never get published, I will certainly have had a lot of fun trying!

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Anyone for Tennis Players?

OK, so having failed dismally to come up with any more good things about the world cup (though Amanda did make the point about the beer, I suppose) I'm going to turn my attention to Wimbledon.

I have to confess at the outset that I myself have the hand eye co-ordination of an amoeba and the athletic prowess of a garden snail, so my interest in these sporting events is purely aesthetic. Which brings me to today's question, ladies...

Why are tennis players generally sexier than footballers?

Obviously there are a few notable exceptions, but as a general rule of thumb I think it works. But why? Could it be something to do with the heroic solitude of the two opponents, facing each other in some kind of modern-day hand-to-hand duel? There's a personal element to the whole event that makes it feel like a matter of masculine pride and honour rather than just a game. (And a rather banal game too, when you think about it.)

Men playing football and taking it very seriously just look like a bunch of fiercely overexcited six-year olds, but the dark, brooding focus on the lean faces of the tennis players is damned sexy. Perhaps it's also the way the camera zooms and lingers, so you can see the beads of sweat on their foreheads and the way their throats move as they swallow. The white kit certainly helps, I think. So much more upmarket-- and flattering to a summer tan-- than all that lurid polyester with its chavtastic brand advertising. Footballers with long hair look like cruise-liner singers. Tennis players with long hair look like beautiful pirates. And tennis has a sort of slow-motion grace and muscle-rippling elegance that does it for me every time.

What I'm really trying to say is don't be surprised if you don't hear much from me over the next 2 weeks. I'm calling it research. So there.

(Oh, and by the way, if anyone would like to make a case-- in the name of balance and fairness-- for the sex appeal of any other sportsmen, we'd all be more than delighted to debate it. Golfers anyone??)

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Tools of mass organisation

The other evening I watched my husband working through a ring binder full of Top Secret Information (TSI) and couldn't help but be impressed by the neat pages all diligently organised into sections and separated by variously coloured - er - separators. I cast my mind to my own TSI, which is recorded on myriad pieces of paper, post-its and notebooks, scattered randomly around my small office. And then it struck me - I too could have a ring binder, I too could have colourful separators - I too could be organised. After all, it wasn't just MI5 who had acccess to WH Smiths.

It wasn't difficult to decide how best to utilise these tools of mass organisation - I would separate the ring binder into compartments using the colourful separators and have individual compartments for characers, plot lines, scenes, research (sub-divided into individual topics), miscellaneous notes/thoughts/ideas. I could even store the print-out of my draft wip in it too. This would allow me to easily locate whatever I needed and even to move scenes and plot lines around physically, which would be pretty much like having a - well - p l a n.

So, off I trotted to Smiths, feeling like a kid at Christmas with a pocket full of Granny's money to spend on whatever my little heart desired. I thrilled to the touch of the hard-edged binder, marvelled at the two-hole setting of a jumbo punch, delighted in the rainbow-coloured separators and finally climaxed over the 200-page (yes - 200!) pre-punched, 'narrow feint and margin' pad of paper. Then I exchanged my cash for one of their 'how-long-does-it-take-to-cut-off-the- circulation-in-our-customers'-fingers,' survey bags and reassured myself that the cashier always mopped the countertop with a super-absorbent towel after every customer, not just the excitable ones who had been unable to contain their drool.

Now all I have to do is find the time to actually take the tools of mass organisation out of their carrier bag and GET ORGANISED.

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Friday, June 16, 2006

Skulking in the shadows

Lately I've been waking at sunrise or 5 am, when only the birds and sun have any business being up. As some of you know, while we wait for our house sale in England to "complete"—we "exchanged" yesterday finally—we are living on the third floor of my inlaws' home. While my characters exchange witty repartee in my head, and dance around each other playing the mating game, I must lie still lest I wake the sleeping household. My fingers itch to write, tap or even scrawl by morning light but it is not to be.

Two computers sit idly by while my husband sleeps beside me. I imagine fumbling around in semi-darkness, strapping my laptop to my hip, and skulking downstairs. I described my dilemma to a writing buddy and she immediately emailed me back to portray me as a spy dressed in a white terry cloth bathrobe, carefully avoiding the loose floorboards of the two staircases, leaping nimbly from shadow to shadow, freezing in doorways lest I happen upon a fellow resident in search of a glass of water, my eyes wide and brow furrowed—all in an attempt to find a quiet surface on which to perch my Toshiba.

I suppose you've done it, Imogen and Annie: finally convinced me that rising early is the only remedy for a writer beseiged on all sides by life's myriad demands. I can't wait to have my office back. Virginia Woolf wasn't kidding!

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Glad Game

I'm not a football fan, but after a week of alternating between boredom and contempt I've decided to try to find my Pollyanna side. So, here's my list of positive things about the World Cup.

1. David Beckham. The boy is beautiful. Perfect hero material (with the sound turned down of course).

2. (Er... that's it so far. I'm still working on it. If anyone has any more please let me know....)

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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Somebody help me please

Yes, a line from a Beatles' hit, but also a plea from my heart. I am in a quandary - and I don't like it. As you may know, about 2 weeks ago I completed the rewriting of the m/s that had been returned by the publishers. I then put the m/s away, started working with The Writing Coach programme on a new novel, acquired the names of 2 agents recommended by the RNA, wrote a scintillating letter to send to them with synopsis and first 3 chapters, THEN . . . yesterday, I read through said chapters to give them that vital, final check before sending them off - and thought 'hang on a minute, lady, these aren't anywhere near good enough and they also don't reflect the way you're writing now'.

I think part of the trouble is that I started writing the book 3 long years ago and, as Eva pointed out in one of her recent posts, one's writing changes with time/experience. It is interesting to note that the first few chapters were the only chapters which, during the rewrite from the original draft last year, I barely changed - the rest I rewrote with hardly a glance at the draft.

Obviously, I could decide to hold fire and write the first few chapters again from scratch, but I'm worried that might then necessitate changing the rest of the book. My dilemma lies in the fact that the m/s has now been read by 4 independent published writers, who all liked it, and the RNA liked it enough to send it direct to a publisher. If I rewirite it, I might remove what they thought was good about it. If I don't rewrite it, I'll be sending it off with the feeling that it's not as good as I think I could make it.

What do you think?
(I can't offer any prizes for the correct answer I'm afraid, but I can offer to mention your name in the acknowledgements, should the book EVER get published!)

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Friday, June 09, 2006

Stamp of approval

Hey, girls, be sure to visit Romancing the Blog. (Again! Of course we check it at least once daily.) Scour the long list of authors' blogs. Guess who just made the cut!

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Going it alone

Writers spend a lot of time working solo: writing, researching, revising, copyediting, proofreading, ruminating, observing life. There's no other way. We're often told to hang in there, to persevere, to develop a tough outerskin because, let's face it, few of us are going to sell our first manuscript. (Hardly a news flash, am I right?)

Recently someone remarked that perseverence alone may not do the trick. The comment set me back a bit. Hold on a minute, I thought, perseverence is the key to getting it all done despite the many obstacles (lack of ready income, skepticism of friends and family, guilt over burning yet another dinner or forgetting to pick up the kids...the list goes on and on). The underlying point of the statement centred on honing the craft. If, for instance, a writer sends out manuscript after manuscript, only to have each one rejected, the writer's lack of success may not be due to inherent defaults in the stories themselves but in the writer. Perhaps she's making the same mistakes over and over again and doesn't realize it.

I grant this regrettable situation may exist. But don't you think, even at this early stage when most of us are going it alone without the help of an agent or editor, we are nevertheless improving the more we write? I read widely. I learn something from each book I read, about plot, characterization, voice. I can't believe that I will fail to evolve as a writer. Already I want to go back to my recently completed manuscript and tighten it up. Blimey, it will never be perfect.

As to going it alone, are we really? We have our loved ones' steady encouragement, our critique partner's cheerleading—and I promise to finish Chapter 10 in the next couple of days, Imogen—as well as our blogging buddies.

We can't help but evolve as writers. It's as natural as the urge to put pen to paper.

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With a little help from my (cyber) friends...

Although the temperature continues to soar and drought warnings are becoming increasingly dire, thankfully the long dry spell in my writing seems at last to have come to an end. Rather sheepishly I have to admit that this minor miracle has been brought about, not by finding the right music or remembering to use my lucky mug (I'm sure it did help though), but by the support of the writing sisterhood.

So. I decorated the stairs and landing, conquered the ironing pile and entertained the children in the style of visiting heads of state for the whole of the half-term holiday-- anything to avoid confronting the fact that the w-i-p was not, in fact i-p at all. (I also avoided the blog on the basis that it's hard to write about it being hard to write.) But then the children went back to school and I was left with a choice. Go back to work (Office. Gossiping in the tea room. Surfing the net instead of working.) Or go back to work (Upstairs. Laptop. Lucky mug.) I knew what I wanted to do, but I didn't know if I could do it.

Salvation came first of all in the shape of Penny (Jordan, HMB queen and fairy-godmother type figure, who is endlessly patient, encouraging and inspiring), Sharon and Carole from the NWG, and an evening in the pub during which we talked not just about writing, but enough to make my mind swing back down that path... so that when I recieved lovely positive emails from Eva and Annie I was ready to come back here and find out what had been going on during my self-imposed exile. (There was also the added incentive of another chapter of Eva's wip to read. She always makes writing a novel seem like the most effortless thing in the world.) I ended up sneaking in (late as always, dropping pens and tripping over desks in my efforts to be unobtrusive) to Annie's writing coach lessons. And then, prompted by Eva I nipped over to Julie Cohen's blog and found myself hanging on every word of her fabulously honest, detailed account of how Delicious came to be published. (I am also, at the moment, hanging on every glorious word of the book itself. If you haven't read it yet do so immediately.) What she shows is that it can be a marathon, not a sprint and that the details count. Also, her maxim that the focus must be 100% on character and conflict was enough to send me scuttling straight upstairs to my hot little attic with renewed purpose. Thank you Julie.

Sadly I'm a person for whom purpose alone is not enough. I need stationery. Having discovered Fiona Harper's blog I had the perfect excuse to go out and buy a lovely new pinboard, some prettily coloured card (was feeling inspired already) and some drawing pins to recreate the oh-so-simple but marvellously useful plotting device that she uses. She goes to the trouble of including a picture of her own board, and gives details of what each coloured card represents. I think she might be my new Best Friend.

Always, though I return to my well-thumbed, annotated, underlined and much loved copy of Kate Walker's Twelve Point Guide to Writing Romance, which Penny gave to me when I first set out on my quest to write. I suppose I knew then that it wouldn't be easy, but what I didn't anticipate was the sweetness and generosity of the people I'd 'meet' on the way.

A huge thank you from a grateful new girl to all those ladies who've made it, but still take the time and trouble to offer their advice and encouragement to those of us who aren't there yet.

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The edification continues

Julie Cohen, Harlequin Mills & Boon (HMB) as well as Headline author, has written a superb post about revising. For the past week or so she's been holding visitors to her blog enthralled with the story of how she got her second manuscript, Delicious, to publication. As you can guess, it was a long process. (Sigh, is there any other way?)

I don't know what got into me, but over the weekend I re-read my first manuscript, the one currently sitting with HMB. I think it had something to do with Miss Snark's advice to "query and query widely" and my half-hearted decision to send the book out again — after all, the Richmond office has had the full manuscript seven months now!

Of course, guess what happened after I read it...I decided it needs a quick edit. Gad, the sentences are so long and ponderous. And talk about passive participles. Aya caramba!

Julie takes the first couple of paragraphs of her first draft of Delicious and shows us step-by-step how she revised it, resulting in a cleaner, leaner style and a vibrant, modern voice. The whole piece comes alive in an instant. Since she's a writer and a teacher, she doesn't tell, she shows.

Don't waste any more time here. Go check it out!

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Saturday, June 03, 2006

Nosiness leads to Creativity

Being the nosy soul that I am, when two of Scribes' Sanctuary's most regular visitors, Stacy Holmes and MsCreativity, drew attention to a blog called The Writing Coach on their own blogs, I simply had to go and have a look at it for myself. And wow! Am I glad I did? (Silly question that really - if I wasn't glad, I'd hardly be writing this now, would I? Well, not unless I wanted to tell the world it was awful and be sued - which I don't - okay, Jacqui?) However, I digress (unusual I know, but these things happen). So, as I was saying, I went over to The Writing Coach and it is the most brilliant piece of writing instruction/motivation/inspiration I've ever come across - and, believe me, I've come across a lot in my time. In a nutshell, it's a 30-day programme designed by novelist and writing coach, Jacqui Lofthouse, aimed at getting you to write 1000 words a day - and it's definitely working for me.

Which is fortunate really, as I have to have my next novel ready for the RNA's New Writer's Scheme by the end of August. Assuming I continue with Jacqui's programme, I should have at least 30,000 words to offer up for their delectation - and the possibility of a complete first draft of 90,000- but that may be a little optimistic, as I do have to work during the next 3 months and I do have to go on holiday in August - I know, it's a bummer, but it has to be done.

Anyway, the whole point of this blog is to recommend The Writing Coach to anyone and everyone - well, provided you're a writer that is. Not much point otherwise - although it's so good, even if you're not a writer, you might like to become one.

Oh, and one other thing - don't be put off by the fact that Jacqui is now on Day 5 of the 30 days. Simply start your day 1 today. No excuses!

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Friday, June 02, 2006

The headache strikes again!

Yesterday I had the headache. Not a headache, note. It sounds so much more painful to use the definite article, conjuring up not a random ailment but a pernicious, recurring disease bent on debilitating me.

I read a lot of historical romances set in England and the heroines occasionally get the headache. What I want to know is why they don't get a headache, which is what we say over here in North America. I'm hoping my British counterparts can enlighten me. When your head aches, what do you tell people? If writing for the British public, should I use the definite or indefinite article?

Thank God the headache has lessened or I'd be off to the hospital today. Or is it to hospital?

Stymied, once again, by British English! (You'd think I never lived there.)

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