Sunday, 27 March 2011

The Birth of a Novel

So there I was, relaxing on the sundeck of a Nile cruise ship one afternoon last October.  We were moored at Aswan.  Because there are so many cruise ships travelling between Luxor and Aswan, they are usually moored four abreast.  They’re all built to the same basic design, and have doors on both sides of the lobby area, which are lined up exactly with the neighbouring ships.  If you’re on the outermost ship, you have to cross the lobbies of three other ships to get from the quayside to your own ship.  Not a problem, as they are only about three or four feet apart, and have short gangplanks with rope ‘handrails’ connecting them.

The sundecks are usually the same height but there is no gangplank connection at this upper level.  Lying on a sunbed, I idly wondered if it would be possible to vault across the short gap from one sundeck to another.  Not that I had any intention of trying it, you understand!

But somewhere in my mind, a story was being conceived.  Supposing the hero and heroine were on different cruise ships and the hero did that vaulting over the rails?

That evening, I put the question to one of the friends we had made on the cruise.  “Ross, would it be possible to vault from one sundeck to another?”  He walked across to the rail, studied the gap for a moment, then said, “Well, I wouldn’t try it now, but I could have done it easily when I was in my twenties or thirties.”

First piece of research completed - it was possible.  And I could see my hero doing his death-defying leap (slight exaggeration!) to be with the heroine.  He was tall, fit, with tawny hair which glinted gold in the sunshine, and stunning blue eyes.

So now what?  Are the hero and heroine guests on different cruise ships?  But the cruises only last 5 or 7 days, so what would happen when they returned home?  Somewhere in my mind I had the title ‘A Nile Romance’ (having abandoned ‘Romance on the Nile’ as being too reminiscent of a Poirot novel/movie!).  If they went back to England after the cruise, it would no longer be a Nile Romance.

Okay, they’re both going to be based in Egypt then.  Maybe she’s a tour guide on a cruise ship?  And could he be an archaeologist, working in the famous Valley of the Kings?

On a flight from Luxor to Cairo, I read an article in the flight magazine about an archaeologist who had explored a hidden tunnel leading from the burial chamber of one of the Pharaoh’s tombs in the Valley.   Hmm, something like that might work for my archaeologist hero.

With the setting and the two main characters in place, it was time to start thinking of the complications and conflicts that would prevent the course of love running smoothly.  I wrote the first two chapters at the hotel in Luxor where we spent a week after the end of our cruise.  Writing in longhand again in a notebook (which the very nice Egyptian in the hotel bookshop acquired for me) reminded me of my early (pre-computer) writing days.

I transferred my scribbles to the computer when I got home, wrote another couple of chapters then left the remainder of the story to simmer in my mind.  I picked it up again about six weeks ago and am now about three-quarters of the way through it.

Oh, and by the way, I never did manage to bring in the scene where the hero vaults the rails between the two cruise ships.  But I did call my hero Ross, after the cruise-ship friend who told me it could be done!

A-Z Challenge!!
As from next Friday, April 1st, I shall be embarking on the A-Z Blog Challenge - writing a blog each day (except for Sundays) each starting with a different letter the alphabet in turn.  Hope you'll drop in to cheer me on my way!

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Fragrance of Violets

I started my third novel while I was waiting for decisions from publishers about the first two.  My first attempt reached about 12 chapters before I decided it simply wasn’t working.  There was too much introspection and not enough action, or conflict between the hero/heroine, or external conflict(s).

I put it on one side for a time while I concentrated on the revisions my critique partners were suggesting for His Leading Lady.  By the time I came back to it, I’d worked out just what the various conflicts were going to be. 

One was the same as the original – the heroine had never forgiven the hero for destroying their friendship as teenagers.  But now, in addition to that, Abbey has an unresolved conflict with her father who deserted his family when he was young, and Jack blames himself for the accident which killed his fiancĂ©e.

The external conflict comes from the Lakeland village where I decided to set the story.  People in the village haven’t forgiven Jack for a newspaper article he wrote several years previously.

The forgiveness theme gave me my title – Fragrance of Violets.  This is based on a quotation from Mark Twain – ‘Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet bestows on the heel which has crushed it.”

The village in the Lake District is a real village.  I’ve given it a different name but anyone who knows that area will probably be able to recognise it. It’s a place I know well as I’ve visited it frequently.  My parents had a caravan at a farm just outside the village, I later took over the caravan and my daughters have happy memories of their time there when they were children and in their teens.

Fragrance of Violets was accepted by Whiskey Creek Press at the end of January and will probably be released in early 2012.      

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Writing Novels Again

The first novel I wrote in 2008 was a revamp of one I’d part-written way back in the 70’s. The original setting had been in England but, having just had three weeks in the States, I decided to re-set it in Virginia and change the hero and heroine’s jobs. In fact a lot of the story changed too as I re-wrote it. However, this was eventually rejected by a Harlequin editor and also a year later, not unexpectedly, by Mills and Boon. I knew it had too much back story crammed into the first few chapters. I am still trying to rewrite this novel and have changed the setting back to England again. One day it might actually get finished.

In the meantime, I started another novel. Again one which I’d started back in the distant past. I’d only written about three chapters, but still remembered the basic ideas I’d for the development of the story. By this time, I had acquired two excellent critique partners (take a bow, Ana and Toni!) who helped me to tighten up my writing as well as pointing out some of the bad habits I’d developed. I submitted this to Whiskey Creek Press in April 2010 and received an acceptance five weeks later. At last I was back in the land of novel-writing again!

His Leading Lady is scheduled for publication in June 2011, and at the moment I’m waiting for the cover picture and the edits which are due anytime now. According to the publisher, they are sent out 2-3 months before the release date, so that means sometime in March, I assume. We shall see!

The story is set in London's West End theatre world. I’ve always been interested in the theatre and have worked backstage at many amateur shows (usually musicals), as well as directing several shows with the Junior Group of my local amateur theatre society. I’ve also been backstage at two professional theatres (admittedly not in London) but I would imagine they can’t be much different from those in the West End.

I was able to draw on some of my own experiences for the story’s background – which leads me on to one piece of advice which is often given to writers: Write about what you know. Probably the most misleading bit of advice ever given! Taken at face value, if I was limited to writing within the parameters my own life, what could I write about? Living on the outskirts of a large city, twenty-five years teaching in state schools?

However, I think the advice means more than just where we live or have visited, and more than the humdrum, day-to-day life we may live. It encompasses everything we know. Emotions, for one thing. We all know what it’s like to feel happy, sad, excited, angry, scared, worried – and our characters can feel these emotions too. We know about people too – their mannerisms, idiosyncrasies, interests, attitudes and values. We know about places – not just those we may have visited, but also the places we see on television or at the cinema. Again we can all use this knowledge. And, of course, the internet is an open gateway to whatever other knowledge we may need for our stories.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

More Serendipity

Most people who know about my writing career know already that it was a chance meeting with a Harlequin best-selling author which prompted me to start writing novels again.

In June 2008, a friend and I decided to do an American Civil War battlefields tour, based at Manassas in Virginia. It was a busy week, covering sites in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. It was also hotter than usual for June – over 100 degrees most days.

Not ideal for standing in the middle of a field somewhere and trying to imagine some bloody battle there in the 1860’s. But we had some excellent military historians as our guides on the different battlefields.  Gettysburg, of course, stands out as probably the most evocative, when we stood where Pickett started his charge against the Union army. 

Most people on the tour were either husband/wife pairs or men (father/son or two friends etc). However, my friend and I found ourselves sitting behind two women each day on the bus and, inevitably, because we were the only two pairs of women on the tour, we ended up sitting with them at mealtimes too. One was Linda, from Washington State, the other was her cousin Doris from Tennessee.

(Linda on the left, Doris on the right, and also my friend Pat)

After a couple of days I discovered Linda wrote for Harlequin and was doing the tour as research for a Civil War trilogy she intended to write. I told her I’d previously had two books published by Harlequin, and so we got talking about writing in general. When she talked about book-signing tours all over America, I knew she was in a league way above me (in fact she’s written about 80 books for HQN). But, at the end of the week, she said, “If you decide you want to write novels again, let me know. I can maybe help you to get your foot inside the door.”

Well, who can resist an offer like that? When I got home, I hunted out a story I’d written years ago and set about re-writing it to bring it up-to-date. In November, Linda ‘introduced’ me to her friend who was a Harlequin editor and I sent my story to her. While I waited, I began to write another – again one which I’d started (but never finished) way back in the past.

To cut a very long story short, involving a time-span of over a year, the editor declined my first novel, with the comment:  "I enjoyed your depiction of two people who let mistrust and secrets drive them apart, and I’d hoped to be able to find a spot for the ms. in one of our series lines. Unfortunately, I confess my second readers weren’t quite as taken by the storyline as I was."   I sent her my second novel, but, disappointingly, did not receive any response from her at all.  So that was the end of my HQN link.

Despite that, however, I will always say that it was meeting Linda Lael Miller on the battlefield trip which started me writing novels again, and I will be forever grateful to her.
Linda's website is at:

Next week: Writing Novels Again