Saturday, 30 April 2011

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay
My, oh my, what a wonderful day
Plenty of sunshine headin' my way
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay



The verse has something about everything being ‘satisfactual’ – and I definitely feel satisfied now.  Congratulations to all other A-Z Bloggers who have managed to get to Z.  

Would I do a challenge like this every month?  No way! 

Will I take part again next year?  Yay, bring it on!

Thanks to Lee for providing this challenge and thanks to all who've visited my blog

And now it’s zzzzzzzzzzzzz time - for a short time, anyway!

Friday, 29 April 2011

YAY - I made it (nearly!)

Penultimate letter – Yay, Yessss and Yippee!

At the beginning of April, I had titles for about half the letters of the alphabet.  As things occurred to me, I’d add them to my list.  Some letters ended up with a variety of possible subjects.  I think C probably had the most – I considered Characters, Computers, Conflict, Confidence, Creativity, Coping with Writers’ Block – and eventually went with Critique Partners.

Some topics I chose were relatively easy, others really made me think.  In that sense, it really has been a challenge (another C topic!).  I’ve tried to write the blogs for each week during the preceding weekend, but it hasn’t always worked out like that.  Finding pictures, too, has been a challenge at times.   I know I wasn’t obliged to find illustrations, but I do like finding appropriate pictures to break up a blog.  Okay, so maybe I like to make things harder for myself  J

I was determined to complete the A-Z Challenge, and now I’m almost there.  I didn’t for one minute consider giving up.  I’m stubborn like that.  Once I take on a Challenge, then – barring circumstances totally beyond my control (like my computer blowing up) – I try to see it through.  I wonder how many of the other 1000+ signers-up made it to the end?

I have to admit I haven’t managed to visit everyone else’s blog.  I did make a sterling effort the first week to visit as many as I could.  I became a follower of a lot of blogs, and I’ve gained quite a lot of followers too.  I’ve read a lot of interesting and thought-provoking blogs, and hope others have found mine as interesting.  I really appreciate those who’ve left comments for me, since we writers thrive on feedback, of course – and we have to support each other.  Even better, I’ve also made several new friends. 

Thank you all for your support!

Thursday, 28 April 2011

X-cerpt from my new novel

Okay, here it is – the very first excerpt I’ve posted publicly from my June release of ‘His Leading Lady’. 

Blurb: Jess Harper’s predictable life is turned upside down when she discovers that Lora, her twin sister, has disappeared.  It’s just a week before rehearsals are due to start for a new West End musical in which Lora has the lead role.  Jess decides to pose as her sister in order to save Lora's career.  This brings her into close contact with arrogant theatre director Kyle Drummond.  Attraction sparks between them but there’s also evidence that he had been dating Lora.  So is Jess simply a substitute – in real life as well as in the show?  And what will happen when Lora eventually returns?   

Excerpt:
(Jess is posing as her sister, and she and Kyle have returned to Lora’s apartment after having dinner, the night before they are due to do a TV interview together)

            He followed her across the landing and her nerves fluttered like a bird caught in a net.  Her hand shook as she started to put the key in the lock, then Kyle’s hand on her arm stopped her.  “I’ll pick you up at nine thirty tomorrow,” he said.
            She looked at him, genuinely taken aback.  “But – but aren’t you coming in?”
            The instant she said it, she could have kicked herself.  Amusement flashed across his face.  “What man could resist such an invitation?” he said with a quick grin.  “But no, tonight I really must resist.  You need a good night’s sleep and I –” He stopped and gave a half-laugh.  “Well, let’s just say that I have a few things to sort out before tomorrow.  I’ll see you at nine thirty.”
            Jess knew the feeling sweeping through her should be one of relief, knew she should say a casual goodnight to him and open the apartment door.  But the look in his eyes sent waves of heat rising inside her.  She couldn’t move, even when he put his hands on her arms and started to lower his head.  A warning bell shrilled in her head but by then Kyle’s mouth was against hers and it was too late.
            His mouth was soft at first but the feel of it, so warm and tantalising, sent her head into a spin.  A small gasp escaped from her lips and parted them slightly.  Kyle’s arms went round her, and he pulled her firmly against him.  His lips hardened and his tongue slid into her mouth. 
            She’d been kissed passionately before but nothing had prepared her for Kyle’s kiss.  His mouth took possession of her in a seductive demand for surrender.  As his tongue gently fondled hers, sensations that she had never known before scorched through her, ignited every nerve and melted every bone.  She gripped his shoulders, her head went back and involuntarily she arched towards him, thrilling exquisitely to the feel of his hard body against hers.  The surrender he demanded was complete as she responded with the same fervour, wanting more, still more.
            When he released her, her breathing was ragged and she looked up at him, dazed and disorientated.
            For a couple of seconds, Kyle looked just as stunned.  Then he took a deep breath and gave her a wry grin.  “You certainly know how to make a man regret his decision!”  He cupped her chin with his hand and even that burned through her and then gave her a tender smile.  “I’d better go, otherwise I never will.  Goodnight, beautiful lady.  Sleep well.  And don’t worry about tomorrow.  You’ll do just fine.”
            His lips brushed her mouth again in a brief parting kiss and then he turned to the lift.  The doors were still open and Jess watched as he went in and pressed the ground floor button.  Still totally numb, she raised her hand slightly.  Kyle smiled and tilted his head in farewell.
            Only when she was staring at the lift doors did she finally move.  The key was still in the lock and she let herself into the apartment.  She closed the door behind her, then caught sight of herself in the hallway mirror.  Her face was flushed and her blue eyes stared back at her wildly.
            “Oh God,” she whispered as she brought both her hands up to her cheeks.  For a few moments she couldn’t think straight.  All she could feel was Kyle’s mouth, his tongue, his whole body.  A quiver ran down to somewhere deep inside her.
            In the next moment her eyes widened with horror.  How could she have let him kiss her like that? 
            She looked at herself again in the mirror and tried to calm her thudding heart.  Lora’s clothes, Lora’s make-up, Lora’s hairstyle.  Of course, he’d thought that he was kissing Lora, not her.  And she’d responded as Lora.  Hadn’t she?
            So that was some damn good play-acting, Jess.  Except that it didn’t explain her own response.  Not just the way she’d responded to his kiss, but all those other feelings that she didn’t even want to think about.
            Relief, she told herself firmly.  All evening she’d been worrying about how the evening was going to end, and when he’d said that he wasn’t coming in, it was simply relief that swept through her   Wasn’t it?
            Underneath, she knew there had been far more than that, but already her mind frantically tried to deny what had happened to her emotions and to her body too.  Instead, she diverted her thoughts to the TV interview.  Once she got through that, this whole charade would be over.  She could go back to Ashfield and forget that Kyle Drummond even existed. 


His Leading Lady by Paula Martin,
available from Whiskey Creek Press
in June 2011

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Wedding Fever


With two days to go before the Royal Wedding, the whole country is gripped by wedding fever.  Or so the media would have us believe.  Every magazine and newspaper, every news programme and chat show, seems to be dominated by it.  

Well, of course, I wish the young couple well – they both come over as sensible, level-headed and mature 29 year olds.  And at least, like most couples these days, they’ve lived together for a few years now before deciding to make a commitment to each other.

Hopefully, therefore, their marriage will survive the pressures put on it.   Of course, all marriages have their own pressures, although William and Kate won’t have any financial worries or the problem of buying their own home or the threat of redundancy/unemployment.  But living one’s life in the media spotlight must bring its own pressures (which fortunately most of us ‘ordinary’ folk don’t have to experience).

Royal marriages since the middle of the 20th century haven’t a very good track record.  One only has to think of Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones, Princess Anne and Mark Phillips, Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, and, of course, Charles and Diana.  Of the Queen’s children, only one, Prince Edward has (so far) remained with his first marriage partner. 

I’ll keep my fingers crossed for William and Kate – and I must admit, like thousands of others, I’m dying to see ‘that’ dress on Friday!

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Venting my Vexations

I wasn’t sure what to write for V – of course, things like villains, violence and voice all came to mind, but then various things happened that made me think of this title, so I’m going to list a few things which really BUG me!

Going out for lunch with a friend who then spends more time talking to their husband/daughter/other friend on their mobile phone while I sit there twiddling my thumbs.

Someone serving you in a store who, while she or he is putting your items through the bar code, is busy talking to another staff member - or even, as happened recently, to a friend who happened to be passing.  They hardly break off their conversation to tell you the total you have to pay. 

People who park their car so near to yours in a car park that you can’t get to the driver’s door to get in your own car.

Members of the social group which I organise who sign up for an event or visit, and then don’t bother to turn up or even let me know they’re not coming.

And, because I’m a writer, I have to add this one – celebrities who write novels and get them published simply on the strength of their name (even though they probably haven’t written the thing themselves anyway!)

Okay, grumble over – but you can tell me some of yours, if you want to get them off your chest!

Monday, 25 April 2011

Using all the Senses


We’re encouraged to use all the senses in our writing:  sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. 

I’ll let you into a secret. At school, we had one English lesson each week called ‘Prose Writing’ – and I hated it! I didn’t want to write descriptions of ‘A Summer Meadow’ or ‘A Storm at Sea’ using the five senses.  I wanted to write about PEOPLE – what they said, what they did and, even more importantly, how they felt.

Maybe I should have tried harder in those Prose Writing lessons, because I still struggle with descriptive writing – and with using the five senses. I don’t consciously think about using the 5 senses when I’m writing.  If they’re there, it’s instinctive, rather than planned.

I think the so-called sixth sense can be equally important.  Hunches, suspicions, 'gut' instinct, intuition, even foreboding and premonition, can play a big part in creating suspense in a novel. 

For me, there’s another sense – emotion.  The heroine’s emotion when the hero kisses her is far more important to me than what his lips taste like or the smell of his aftershave. Her inner reaction to his anger or his sweet-talk matters more than what his voice actually sounds like or what music is playing in the background.

The reader knows what the senses are. She (I say this because romance readers are usually women!) has probably held a man’s hand, smelt his aftershave, heard his laughter, seen his frown or smile, and tasted his lips. I can leave a lot of that to my readers’ imaginations, I don’t need to spell it out for them with adjectives or similes. What I want is for them to FEEL the character’s response to all these things and that’s where I concentrate my energies.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Time-Wasting

I am an expert on this subject.  I suspect that many writers are similarly expert.  I have a free morning so I sit down in front of the computer, all ready to pick up my novel where I left off yesterday evening.

But, before I click to open the chapter, I must check my emails and reply to them, and I’d better have a quick look at Facebook too, both my personal page and my author’s page.  Ah, some links there to someone blogging.  I’ll click on those and add a comment – since we writers have to support each other.

Which has reminded me to check what next week’s topic is on our group blog, Heroines with Hearts.

Ah, it’s ‘What genre I write and why’.  Well, that should be easy enough.  I’ll just play a game of Pyramid Solitaire while I have a think about it. 

Twenty games later, I suddenly remember I haven’t checked the latest posts on the several yahoo groups where I’m a member, so I pop into those, read the posts and maybe make a few comments.

Right, I’ve now caught up with everything else, so I’ll go and make a mug of coffee, then I’ll get to work. While I drink it, I switch on the TV because I haven’t seen the news yet this morning.  I’m about to switch off when the morning magazine programme starts but I see they’re doing a feature about the Lake District, so I have to stay and watch that.

Okay, time to go back to my study now.  I’ll just pick up this morning’s post from the doormat.  Oh good, this month’s writing magazine has arrived, but I’ll save that until later.

A couple more emails have arrived, better see what those say, and I’ll have another look to see who else has been on Facebook…

And now this ancient computer has slowed down to a crawl, so I need to reboot.

While it’s grinding into action again, I open the writing magazine.  Oh look, there’s an article here about procrastination …


Please tell me you know exactly what I’m talking about and not that you’re a super-disciplined writer!

Friday, 22 April 2011

Settings for my Novels

Many years ago, some scenes for a major British film were shot in my home town.  We watched some of the filming one evening.  When the film was shown the following year, of course we went to see it.  In one scene, a bus pulls up outside the Town Hall.  You could sense the reaction all over the cinema, with people muttering ‘Buses don’t stop there.’  In that split second, the illusion was lost as people with a personal knowledge of the location were distracted by an inaccuracy.

A minor detail, I know, but it has stayed with me, over 40 years later.  I’ve read similar inaccuracies in books – someone looks out from the White House and sees Pennsylvania Avenue beyond the Washington Monument (wrong, the Monument is south of the White House, and PA Ave is north), someone gets a train from Victoria Station in London to travel to Edinburgh (nope, you’d have a long time to wait at Victoria for a train to anywhere in the north of Britain!), someone pulls their car to a standstill in Quay Street, Galway (it’s in a traffic-free zone) .

In my opinion, writers must always take into account of the fact that one or more of their readers will know the place(s) in their book(s) unless, of course, they are completely fictitious.  All the research in the world will probably not give you the information to avoid making an error which causes the reader to say ‘Buses don’t stop there’ (or similar).

This is why, so far, I have set my novels in places with which I’m familiar.  His Leading Lady’ is set mainly in London, which I know fairly well.  Fragrance of Violets’ is set mainly in the Lake District, an area I know intimately.  My current WIP is set in Egypt.  A year ago, that setting wouldn’t have occurred to me, but having spent two weeks in Egypt last autumn, I think (hope!) I absorbed enough to write reasonably authentically about Luxor and the Valley of the Kings.  I’m having to do more research than, for instance, a novel set in the Lake District, but at least I have a basic knowledge on which to build.

When I was writing a fan fiction story, I set part of it in Galway in Ireland.  I’d never been there and, to my knowledge, none of the people on the loop where I was going to post it had been there either.  However, still wanted to make sure my setting was accurate, so I went over to Galway for a few days.  I walked fromthe Cathedral to Eyre Square and then down Quay Street to the Claddagh harbour.  Maybe I could have done that on a street map or even with Google earth but it wouldn’t have been the same.  I was able to absorb not only the sights, but also the sounds and smells, as well as the whole atmosphere of the place.

In short, I find it much easier to describe a place if I've experienced it for myself.  Not simply to avoid basic inaccuracies, but also to help my readers to experience it too.  I admire those writers who can use settings with which they’re not personally familiar, but I need to comfortable with my setting.  In my N post, I gave some of the reasons for my reluctance to write a historical novel.  Maybe this is another one – I can’t experience for myself life in the 19th century New York - or any other era for that matter, therefore I would find it difficult to descibe it for other people. 

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Research

Research, even for a contemporary romance, can prove fascinating and absorbing.  As an inveterate collector of ‘trivia’, I’ve amassed some priceless (and totally useless) gems.  I know what times the trains run from Luxor to Cairo, I know what tiltmeters and geodimeters measure, I know it costs upwards of £14 million to produce a West End musical show.

For one novel (originally set in America), I wanted my hero to be an expert volcanologist who went out to Hawaii, so I learnt all about Mount Kilauea and volcanic eruptions. When I re-set the story in England, Hawaii was too far away, so instead I had an interesting time learning all about volcanoes in Iceland instead.  I’ve not become an expert on volcanoes, but I’ve collected a lot of fascinating information.

I research the craziest stuff at times – how long would it take to walk from Galway Cathedral to Eyre Square?  (check back tomorrow when I do my blog on ‘Setting the Location’ and I’ll tell you how I found the answer to that!).  What's the average day temperature in Egypt in April?  How often does the Eurostar run from London to Paris?  What freeway runs through Los Angeles?  What alternative fuel resource plants are there in America?  

I find hotels, apartments, houses online in my selected locations and study them.  I look at clothes on fashion sites (I HATE writing about clothes, by the way, but sometimes it’s necessary).  There are so many seemingly mundane details which need to be researched to give my stories authenticity.

And this is where I have to say – thank heaven for websites!  Without them, research would be so much more time-consuming.  Imagine if every time you wanted to check on some obscure fact, you had to visit a library’s reference section.  And I know – been there, done that!
           
In the days before the internet, it was so much harder.  Once, in the 70’s, I wanted to set a novel at a college in Virginia.  Off I went to the library, found the names of a few colleges, came home, wrote polite letters asking for their prospectus, and six weeks later, if I was lucky, got the brochures.  Now?  Virginia college – click!  It’s all there.
           
I LOVE internet research!  

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Questions (and the answers I wish I could give)


I’ve decided to look at some questions I’ve been asked about my writing – with the answers I WISH I could give if I was less than polite!

Q. What’s your book about?
A. If you buy a copy (and I’ll autograph it for you after I’ve taken your money), you’ll find out.

Q.  How long does it take you to write a book?
A.  How long is a piece of string?   And do you mean actually writing, or thinking about it, or getting critiques back and altering things, or revising or editing? 

Q.  Where do you get your ideas?
A.  I get blinding flashes of inspiration  (ha-ha, I wish!)

Q.  How much money do you make?
A.  ‘Scuse me, how much money do YOU make – or maybe, 'I'm thinking of going on a cruise' (no need to add 'on the local canal').

Q. Are you famous? 
Answer: Well, you’ve heard of me. 

Q. My husband/brother/friend has written a book about the history of Branston Pickle. Would you be willing to take a look at it?  
A.  Hate Branston Pickle

Okay, I made that last one up.  The other questions (not the answers!) are genuine, but I did once get asked to read a friend’s husband’s brother’s sci-fi story which had been rejected 30+ times.  I declined, saying I knew nothing about sci–fi, which is actually true.  Yeah, right, I chickened out.  I didn’t want to lose a friend.  But I did tell them to take heart because Harry Potter was rejected 20 times before being accepted.


Would love to know what you'd like your answers to be, or any other questions you've been asked about your writing.  

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Point of View


There is a lot of advice out there about POV in novels.  It seems that the main problem with novice writers is the disembodied narrator who tells the story:
He laughed, not believing the words she had just said. “You’re joking."
She shook her head. “No, it’s not a joke.” Her heart was breaking at having to tell him this news
He banged his fist on the table although it did nothing to dispel his anger.
This is sometimes known as head-hopping – jumping from one character’s POV to another. 

When I first started writing romance novels, the rule was ‘heroine’s POV only’.  And no author intrusion either.  You couldn’t write "She didn’t see the angry look on his face as she turned towards the door.”  Of course, if she didn’t see it, then she didn’t know what look was on his face, so you’ve moved out of her POV into author mode.  

Writing from one POV only was ingrained in me.  When I returned to writing fiction in 2008, I was still writing from the heroine’s POV.  My about-to-be published novel ‘His Leading Lady’ is all in her POV.  It has some advantages.  The reader sees everything from the heroine’s angle and is as confused as she is when things happen that she doesn’t understand.  Single POV allows the reader to bond completely with the heroine.

In my second novel, ‘Fragrance of Violets’, I decided to experiment with dual POVs – heroine and hero.  I must admit I struggled at times to break out of single POV.  I didn’t want to destroy that bond between the reader and the heroine, but gradually I realised that the reader could develop a bond with both.  Not with head-hopping from one to the another in the same scene but with different scenes played out in the POV of one or other character.  And I started to see the advantages.  The reader can bond with both.  They can see things from the heroine’s POV and also from the hero’s.  Additionally, they may be privy to things revealed while in the hero’s POV which are not apparent to the heroine (or vice versa) and this can help to increase the tension.  For example, the reader learns the secret that Jack is, of necessity, keeping from Abbey.  Hopefully, it will leave them wondering just how Abbey is going to react when she finds out. 

In a recent discussion about POV on one of the author loops to which I belong, an editor (Tess MacKall) gave some very sound advice about POV.  With her permission, I am quoting it here (thanks, Tess!):

Just a few years ago no editor would have wanted a book with male POV. Now? Most romance books have male and female POV. Like everything else, the face of editing changes.

In the strictest sense of the term, head hopping today does not have the same definition it did just two or three years ago. In the past, not only was head hopping a matter of changing POV within a paragraph, but in a scene as well.  Now? It's perfectly acceptable with MOST publishers, online and brick and mortar, to change POV within a scene. But with that comes another couple of "rules".

Rule One: Don't switch POV just to get in a paragraph from the other POV. It needs to be at least a page to make it worth it.
Rule Two: The POV switch must be marked somehow. Some publishers ask for a line break, others ask for an asterisk or two. And that goes to house style.
Rule Three: Head hopping within a paragraph is still head hopping.

I hear all of the time that Nora Roberts head hops. I'm constantly being told that it can and does work. Well, I've yet to see it work.

And I've been sent all kinds of books to prove it. Not one has done that for me. It's not a matter of questioning the intelligence level of readers. It's simply a matter of making a story as clear and concise as possible. Why take the chance that one single line in your book will be misunderstood or cause even a momentary bit of confusion?

It's not a matter of interfering with author voice either.  As with everything you do, there are reasons for doing it. And in this case, it is to better yourself within the writing craft. 

When an editor or reader is reading our work, they are not reading it from the same perspective as the writer. Keep in mind that the editor and the reader have NO idea of our intent unless they can clearly see if in our words. Our perspective as a writer is from INSIDE our heads. We see, hear, smell and touch the same things our characters do. Our characters are real inside our heads. We are the omniscient POV in all of this. So intent is clear to us as writers. But our words don't always make things as clear to a reader or editor. Which is why there are rules and particular concepts that are unacceptable within the writing craft. And again, I'm speaking strictly to romance here.

Sound advice there from Tess.

I’ll conclude by giving you some ‘homework’!   He went into the bar which was dark and smoky.”  That’s author (or in technical terms, ‘omniscient) Point of View.  Think about how you could write that from your character’s point of view.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Occupational Hazards?


At one time, it seemed to be the norm that a hero in a romance novel had to have a glamorous, high profile or ‘macho’ job (think Italian count owner of vineyard, head of multi-million corporation, special forces operative etc).  When a heroine was actually allowed to have a job (other than a nurse, secretary or governess), then it had to be something supposedly ‘feminine’ like interior or fashion design, florist or librarian.

Today’s heroes and heroines don’t necessarily have to be at the top of their profession. They can be cops or doctors or lawyers.  And in fact, heroines could have those same jobs.  At least now we have some kind of occupational equality in romance novels.

However, my dilemma is that I don’t know anything about these kind of occupations.  Having spent almost all my working life in a High School environment, I don’t have a clue about other jobs.  I know I can glean some basic information from research or reading autobiographies but this still doesn’t give me the ‘inside’ information that lends authenticity.  And I don’t know any lawyers or PR/advertising executives or hotel owners etc etc etc.   

So what do I do?  Use my imagination and hope I’m not completely wide of the mark?   Knowing how unrealistically TV shows and movies often portray teachers and life in schools, I worry that someone reading my book will wince in the same way and say, as I have often said, “Well, THAT would never happen.”

‘His Leading Lady’ (my June release with Whiskey Creek Press) is set in London’s West End theatre world.  What do I know about professional theatre?  Nothing!  At least, not from an insider’s POV.  I drew on my experience of amateur theatre, did quite a lot of research and am now keeping my fingers crossed that it sounds reasonably authentic. 

So – I’d be VERY interested to know how other writers manage to give their heroes and heroines occupations about which they have no personal knowledge or experience.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Never Say Never

I write contemporary romance. 

I will never write paranormal, fantasy, sci-fi or any other variation of this kind of story.  Why not?  Simply because I have absolutely no interest in them.  I’ve never read or seen any of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ books or films for the same reason. 

I won’t write horror because I’ve no intention of scaring myself to death or having nightmares.  I couldn’t write a murder mystery or a thriller (because my mind just doesn’t work like that).  I don’t feel qualified to write gay/lesbian  or inspirational stories and I’m not into erotic writing either.

I’ve always said, too, that I would never write a historical novel, or historical romance.  That might sound strange because I’m a historian by profession, and taught history for more years than I care to count.  I love historical sites – ten years ago I spent two years visiting dozens of different places linked with 15th century English history, including every single battlefield of the Wars of the Roses.  I’ve done battlefield trips in France, Belgium and Germany, and also in the USA.  I’m drawn to historical sites wherever I happen to visit.

I love reading good historical novels, I like watching films based on historical events (although I hate it when they distort history or introduce deliberate inaccuracies for ‘dramatic’ effect).

So why won’t I write a historical novel?  Firstly, because I have no intention of writing “a modern story in fancy dress”, which is, admittedly, my derogatory opinion of some historical romances.  Not all, I hasten to add, before all the historical authors descend on me to vent their wrath.  But there ARE those who pay scant regard to the customs and attitudes of the period in which they set their stories.  Inaccuracies and anachronisms abound, and irritate me intensely.

My favourite historical authors are Sharon Penman, Edward Rutherfurd, John Jakes, Anya Seton and James Michener.  It’s very obvious that their novels are painstakingly researched down to the smallest detail.  Therefore my second reason for not writing a historical novel is that I wouldn’t have the time (or the patience!) to emulate that depth of research and that’s what puts me off.

Having said all that, while in Ireland a couple of years ago I visited a replica of the famine ship ‘Dunbrody’ at New Ross.  The original ship had carried thousands of Irish immigrants to America in the mid-19th century (including the great-grandfather of John F Kennedy).  Our admission tickets contained the names of one of the families who travelled on the ship, and at the end of the guided tour, we were able to find out what had happened to ‘our’ family.  I discovered that only two members of the family survived the journey in 1845.  The baby died first, followed by the mother and then the father.  Our tour guide said they had been unable to discover what had happened to the two young girls, aged 10 and 12, who survived. 

Somewhere a small spark was lit in my mind, and it has refused to be extinguished.  I keep thinking about those two girls and wondering what did happen to them when they reached New York as orphans.  One day, I might just try to write their story.

Never say never!

Friday, 15 April 2011

Make Me Cry

It’s happy endings that make me cry, especially in films.


I can remember one of the very first films I cried at – an old film about the San Francisco earthquake (with Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and Jeannette Macdonald). At the end, when they’re all camped out above the burning city, a boy runs up the hill shouting ‘The fires are out!’ and they march to the top of the hill, look out over the ruined, smouldering city and sing ‘San Francisco, open your Golden Gate …’ well, I’m in floods of tears!

Another film which ALWAYS makes me cry, even though I’ve seen it many times, is ‘Apollo 13’. The astronauts, after an agonising wait, finally break the radio silence. Years ago, I watched it actually happening on TV and cheered. But in the film, it’s the reactions of all the families and the Houston crew that make the tears flow, every single time!

I cried at the end of ‘The Incredible Journey’ when Shadow, the golden retriever, eventually appeared. I cried when Hugh Jackman found Nicole Kidman after Darwin had been bombed in ‘Australia’. For heavens’ sake, I even cried at the end of ‘Toy Story 3’ when the toys found a happy new home!

I cry at the end of ‘Carousel’ when Billy makes his peace with Julie, I cry when the family escape to safety over the mountains in ‘Sound of Music’, I cry when Emile re-appears at the end of ‘South Pacific’– in fact, a lot of musicals make me cry.

If a reader ever tells me that the happy ending of any of my books has made them cry (for happiness, I mean!), then I’ll know I got it right!

What movie or book has made you cry?

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Language


Language is the tool of the writer.  All right, that’s stating the obvious.  Or is it?  Some writers used words, maybe a lot of them, but they don’t necessarily explore the richness of the English language.  A poor or limited choice of words can make for weak writing; well-chosen words strengthen one’s writing.

Action verbs and descriptive nouns make your writing more powerful.  They also force you to be clear, precise and selective in your selection of words.  Personally I enjoy searching for exactly the right word to convey the image or emotion I’m trying to convey.  Here is one simple example from the latest chapter of my WIP (work in progress):   I wrote ‘to improve his image’ but something told me this was too weak.  What else could I use - advance, enhance, promote, reinforce, strengthen?  All these are synonyms of ‘improve’ and all have slightly different shades of meaning. In the end I went for ‘boost’ – a subtle difference but it was the word I needed here.

You can do the same with nouns.  Far better to choose a strong noun which is vivid and descriptive in its own right, without needing any clarifying adjectives.  Why use ‘confused thoughts’ when you can simply use ‘confusion’?

Language isn’t just a matter of selecting the right words though.  It’s also the way in which you put those words together.  It’s the style, flow and cadence of your writing – your own individual and unique voice.   

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Kinesics (or using Body Language in your novels)


Kinesics is the interpretation of body language i.e. the movement of the body as a whole or any part of the body.  The term was first used in 1952 by Ray Birdwhistell, an anthropologist, who argued that all movements of the body have meaning and that these non-verbal forms of language can be analysed.

Of course we’re all aware of how different facial expressions can reveal a person’s feelings.  There are seven universally recognized emotions shown through facial expressions: fear, anger, surprise, contempt, disgust, happiness, and sadness.  I would suggest there are many more – concentration, desire, joy, frustration and confusion are just a few that come to mind.  As writers, it’s our job to show our characters’ feelings – not by statements such as ‘She felt confused’ but by showing her confusion as in ‘Her nose wrinkled and the crease between her brows deepened as she looked from Sam to John and then back again.’

Eyes and mouth probably play the largest part in showing feelings – contrast the widening eyes of interest with the rolling eyes of frustration, and the tight-lipped smile with the pursed lips. Eye-contact (or lack of it) can also reveal a whole range of different feelings. 

The movement of the head as a whole is important too. Nodding signifies agreement, slow head nodding shows attentiveness, fast head nodding can show impatience, and there’s a world of difference between the head held high and the head down.

The position of the arms can signify different things, and of course the hands have their own language, whether it’s clenched fists, cracking knuckles or fidgeting with a pen or wineglass.

Leg positions can sometimes be influenced by gender.  Men and women do tend to sit differently.  Partly due to clothing, partly due to sexual differences, men naturally exhibit more open leg positions than women, but there are still accepted interpretations of leg position.  The figure-4 leg cross with the supporting leg being crossed just above the knee by the ankle of the or lower calf of the crossing leg signifies independence.  With a hand clamped over the ankle of the crossing leg, it can reveal stubbornness since the hand produces a locked position, reflecting the mood of the person.

Even the position of people in relation to each other can be interesting.  Sitting opposite another person can create a feeling of confrontation, which is intensified if there is a table of desk between you and the other person.  Of course, sitting opposite across a table can be fine for lovers who gaze into each other’s eyes!

Studying kinesics can help us to use the right expressions, gestures, movement or body positions to reveal the emotions of our characters.

One the best articles I have read on the subject can be found at http://www.businessballs.com/body-language.htm  This gives lots of examples, but also points out that body-language is not an exact science, and that a single body language signal cannot be considered a reliable indicator.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Jumping for Joy

I had already written something else for today, but last night I received the cover picture for my novel which is being published by Whiskey Creek Press in June.  I was so thrilled that I immediately sent the picture to a friend who replied saying that I must be 'jumping for joy.'  I am - so I want to share my excitement with you, too!


I love the hero and heroine, and also love the London night scene behind the words 'Stage Door'.

Jess Harper’s predictable life is turned upside down when she discovers that Lora, her twin sister, has disappeared.  It’s just a week before rehearsals are due to start for a new West End musical in which Lora has the lead role.  Jess decides to pose as her sister in order to save Lora's career.  This brings her into close contact with arrogant theatre director Kyle Drummond.  Attraction sparks between them but there’s also evidence that he had been dating Lora.  So is Jess simply a substitute – in real life as well as in the show?  And what will happen when Lora eventually returns?    

Hope you all like it as much as I do!

Monday, 11 April 2011

Ireland

I fell in love with Ireland in 2007.  Before that, I’d only made two very brief visits, a day trip to Dublin in my teens and a flying visit (literally!) to speak at a conference in Antrim in the 1990’s.  However, my very first fan-fiction story was set partly in Ireland and I wanted to check out the background details.  So in October 2007 a friend and I went to Galway for a few days.

Since then, I’ve been back seven times, and I’m going again at the end of May.  I’ve tried to define just what it is about the ‘Emerald Isle’ which draws me back there.

Of course, the scenery is one of the reasons.  The west coast is breath-taking –



sheer cliffs rising from the sea








beautiful bays  





breath-taking views











and, of course, the sun setting over Galway Bay.







Inland, the mountain areas are spectacular – my favourite area is Connemara.

Then there’s the heritage  - ranging from pre-historic to more modern history.  Wherever you go, you can’t get away from the richness of Ireland’s history.  Castles, abbeys, ruined monastic sites, and deserted famine villages.

I love Galway City – from the bustling narrow streets in the centre, lined with shops, small cafes and pubs, where University students mingle with tourists, and where buskers play fiddles at every street corner – to the quiet charm of Claddagh with its colourful cottages lining the quayside.

These days you can visit ‘Irish Pubs’ in cities all over the world, but nothing compares with a REAL Irish pub, with its nooks and crannies and snugs (small private rooms with just one table), the babble of Irish voices around you and a small group of musicians playing real Irish music.  Sheer magic! (and the food (“pub grub”) is pretty good too!)

There are so many more things I could mention, but I'll end with this one.  The Irish people are so friendly.  Complete strangers will chat to you in cafes and bars, they’ll wish you ‘good morning’ (not ‘top o’th’morning’ – which is Hollywood Irish!) when you’re in a small Irish village, and they’re more than helpful in every hotel, shop, cafe and tourist attraction I've visited.


 

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Heroines with Hearts


I make no apology for ‘advertising’ the group blog to which I belong.  It started back in October 2009 with 5 of us.  Then, without warning, the instigator of the group abandoned us (we later learned it was because of a health problem).  That happened about 2 or 3 weeks after she set up the blog.  The four of us who were left knew very little about blogging at that stage, but we persevered.  We chose a different topic for each week, and each of us added our own piece.

At the beginning of 2010, we decided to introduce a new feature – Friday Friends.  Every Friday, each of us in turn would find and interview another author.  This led to a pleasing increase in our followers and, indeed, in my case, to the establishment of some ‘real’ friendships which have lasted ever since.

During 2010, we had several changes in the group as some members departed and we brought others on board.  Now there are only two of us original members, but we have we have 3 more.  We continue to choose topics for each week and post from Sunday through to Thursday, while on Friday we continue to have our Friday Friends, although the latter now submit a blog on a writing topic of their own choosing rather than being ‘interviewed.’

It’s quite remarkable how we continue to come up with new topics to discuss.  They’ve ranged from ‘My Writing Strengths’ to ‘The Hardest Part of Writing’, and have included settings, characters, weather, colours, plotting, conflicts, fear, dialogue, and food.  We’ve discussed our favourite books, poems, movies, romantic heroes and heroines; we’ve talked about plotting, synopses, love scenes, promotion and using the 5 senses (and a few more).  You name it, we’ve probably talked about it, or will do so in the future.  This week our topic has been ‘Music while you write’ and next week will be ‘Different genres’. 

I enjoy being a member of the group.  Some topics I find easy, others really challenge me and make me define my ideas more clearly.    

Do drop in and, if you like what you see, we’d love to have you as a follower http://heroineswithhearts.blogspot.com

Friday, 8 April 2011

Goals


‘They’ tell you that writers should set goals but I’ll start by saying that I don’t consciously set goals for myself.

I’m aware that many writers decide on word-count or page-count goals - it might be 500 or it might be 5,000 words a day, or it might be a specific number of pages.

What, I wonder, happens when they don’t achieve their goal?  Do they feel guilty or frustrated?  Do they feel pressured to achieve that magic number of words or pages?  Is their writing dictated by the goal rather than by what they’re actually writing?  In other words, does the goal become more important than the story?  And, maybe the most important point, are they concentrating more on quantity than on quality? 

Writing 5,000 words a day means you could complete a 75,000 word novel in 15 days.  Even 1,000 words a day would complete it in just over a couple of months.  Nice idea!  But I can’t work like that.  Some days I DO write 1,000 words, other days I can struggle over 50 words.  I know my writing would suffer if I was striving for a word count each day.

My ‘goal’ is simply to write the best story I can.  Okay, maybe that’s not a ‘measurable’ goal as such - except that I think I CAN measure it.  I’m my own worst critic.  I know when I’ve achieved what I want to achieve, whether it's an emotional experience, a build-up of suspense/tension, or simply a word picture of a scene.  I know, too, when something doesn’t ring true and then I work at it until I’m satisfied with it.  

I once read: For a writer, ‘that’ll do’ is not an option.  Maybe my goal is never to say ‘That’ll do.’

I’ll be interested to hear of the goals you set for yourself!

Thursday, 7 April 2011

From First Draft to Final Manuscript

Phew, you got there!  Hero and heroine have overcome all the obstacles you threw at them and they’ve reached their ‘Happy Ever After’ ending.  Triumphantly you write (or type) ‘The End’ and get ready to send off your MS. to the publisher of your choice. 

Whoa, hold on a minute!  This is the First Draft – and there’s still a lot of work to do. 

One good piece of advice I’ve read is to do nothing for a week or so.  Catch up on all the housework you’ve been ignoring, go pull up some weeds from the garden, treat yourself to a lunch or dinner with friends – whatever will keep you away from your novel for a while.  You’re never going to be completely objective about it, but after a break from the intensity of creating it, you can come back to it with fresh eyes.

What Next?  The first step is to read through the whole story.  Reading it out loud can often highlight awkward sentences and show where your word flow can be improved.

Look for obvious mistakes, such as spelling and punctuation.  Some people advocate printing it out, chapter by chapter, since the ‘technical’ errors and typos are often easier to spot on a printed page, rather than on your computer screen.

Watch out for inconsistencies and continuity errors.  Have the hero’s eyes changed from blue to brown?  Did the heroine arrive at work in the morning and half an hour later go off for dinner with the hero?  One error, from a best-selling author, made my eyebrows lift:  A voice spoke, chillingly close. "Do not move." On his hands and knees, the curator froze, turning his head slowly. Only fifteen feet away, outside the sealed gate, the mountainous silhouette of his attacker stared through the iron bars.  Fifteen feet away is chillingly close?  

Check for clich├ęs and find a different way to express them.  Look at your sentence structure.  Do you have a series of sentences starting with ‘She’ or ‘He’?  Re-write them and vary the start of each sentence.  Delete unnecessary dialogue tags and/or too many synonyms for ‘said’.  The word ‘said’ is hardly noticed by a reader, whereas a plethora of synonyms like retorted, exclaimed, gasped, muttered, ordered etc etc can distract reader from what the characters are actually saying.  Find action verbs instead of using adverbs.  ‘She said nervously’ can be replaced with some action like lacing and unlacing her fingers.   

Look for over-used words and phrases.  You may already be aware of some of them.  I knew that my heroine’s heart jerked, jumped, thumped, pounded, quickened, thudded, leapt and did so many other things that the poor girl was in danger of an imminent heart-attack.  In Word you can use ‘edit’ and then ‘find’ to hunt out your over-used words. 

What about those you never realised you over-used?  Sometimes, on reading through your work, you can spot them but http://www.wordle.net/ is a useful tool for highlighting these words.  You can copy and paste a chapter into a panel and wordle will create a word-picture.  The words you have used most will appear in much larger print in the picture.  I guarantee you’ll be surprised, if not shocked.  I know I was!  
Wordle: blog 2
This is the wordle word-picture of this blog

The editing process can be time-consuming, but it’s worth the effort.  There is plenty of other advice in books and on websites about editing, so I’ll end with one last point.  Don’t over-edit!  Know when to stop ‘tweaking’ otherwise you’ll never have that Final Manuscript ready to send off!  

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

E-books or Real Books?

I’ve been firmly in the ‘real books’ camp for a long time.  I love books.  All the shelves in my home bear witness to that.  I haven’t counted, but there must be several hundred. 

Most of them I’ll never read again, but I hate parting with them.  If I take a bag of books to the local charity shop (simply to make some room on the shelves), I agonise over which to put into the bag.
 
I like a real book in my hands.  I like the look, feel and smell of it.  I love browsing in bookshops, both new and used, studying titles and authors, reading the blurb, sometimes dipping into a few pages.

I especially like my OWN real books in my hands.  I still remember the first time I signed my own book. Admittedly, it was just a copy for a friend, not the first person in a long line at a bookshop (dream on, I tell myself), but it was a REAL book.  

I was convinced that I wouldn’t succumb to an electronic book reader.  Quite apart from my love of real books, I don’t particularly enjoy learning how to cope with ‘new’ technology.   

BUT …

Last Sunday my daughter showed me her ‘Kindle’ and demonstrated how easy it was to download e-books.  Today I ‘looked’ at one in the electronic department of the hypermarket.  My interest has been kindled (pardon the pun!)

I’m thinking of the almost-two-inch thick tome I put in my suitcase for holiday reading last year.  How much easier to take a slim paperback size e-reader instead.

I’m thinking of the American-published books by many of my internet friends.  How much easier to download these instead of waiting for them to be mailed (and paying extra for postage and packing).

I’m thinking of no longer having to clear some room on my shelves to make room for new books.

I’m thinking I might be on the verge of conversion…  J    Anyone want to persuade me one way or the other?

And BTW, Whiskey Creek Press is now showing my new book,
His Leading Lady,
on its ‘Coming Soon’ page.  It’s due to be released in June.