Showing posts from 2016

Merry Christmas

Although, as I sit and write this, the weather outside my window is looking far from festive, even if it is seasonal - ie strong winds and horizontal rain!  Oh well, perfect for staying indoors with a cup of tea and a mince pie :)   Like last year, I have a whole twelve days off work and, like last year, have lined up some quality reading material.

This holiday, I'm planning to revisit the wonderful works of Mary Stewart.  Written in the 1950s and 1960s, her books are now relatively historical, even a little dated.  But her clever mix of romance and suspense, her spirited heroines and enigmatic heroes, and the evocative descriptions of countries as far flung as Provence, Crete and the Middle East is the ideal antidote to the British Winter.

I'm also hoping that, after a long period of indecision and procrastination, a holiday and a Mary Stewart fest will spark some renewed energy and enthusiasm in my  own writing!  Maybe the New Year will indeed be tantamount to a New Leaf?


Hay on Wye Winter Festival

Having missed the Hay Literary Festival in the summer, I was really excited to get the chance to work at the Hay Winter Festival last weekend.  Smaller than the famous summer one, it coincided with the Christmas Light Switch On by Ben Fogle, a winter food fayre and a vintage fayre, so the town was both busy and festive.

I was honoured to get a free pass to one of the talks by children's author Piers Torday, and also a complimentary copy of his book, There May Be A Castle.  His talk was aimed, naturally, at children but the message for clear for anyone, old or young, who is aspiring to write a book: write from the heart and never give up!

Hay is a lovely town, all winding streets, interesting shops and alleyways full of secondhand bookshops.  I didn't get time to browse the bookshops, sadly, but did get in a lovely walk along the river Wye on my first morning.  The weather was festive too, crisp and sunny, and the rolling landscape absolutely stunning.

Since I was there promot…

Location, location, location!

One of the things I most enjoy about being a romance writer is getting to visit beautiful and exotic places the world over - albeit vicariously through the eyes of my characters.  Having set books in South America, Saudi Arabia, Italy, France and the UK over the years, I've discovered that researching the various and unique characteristics of these far-flung lands has become a bit addictive as well as very satisfying. 

Fictional people, just like flesh and blood ones, are shaped and defined by the place of their birth as much as by the families they were born into. Some characters, the hero in particular, are born and raised in privilege and duty, like the Sheikh in his desert palace.  Others, although born into poverty, rise by dint of their ambition and efforts, to take their place among the rich and famous.  But do either of them ever truly leave their roots behind them? 

That is one of the questions I ask myself when researching the geographical background and experiences of …

The Chicken or the Egg?

Which came first?  Or, to equate that to writing terms, which comes first, your characters or the story?  That's a conundrum that's been bothering me a lot lately as I seem to have acquired several characters but no story to put them in!  Apparently there are only seven basic plots out there but what happens if your characters won't fit into any of them?   Are they just too stubborn or is it simply a lack of imagination on my part?  Only twice in my writing career have characters and story popped up together, out of the blue, and it is only those times that the book has really flowed, almost of its own accord.  Is that inspiration?  If so, what do you do when, as is the case most of the time, inspiration doesn't strike and writing is just a matter of sitting down, putting your fingers to the keyboard and working at it? So many questions and no answers!

Or are there? Writers' block is easy to recognize, even though it comes in many forms from procrastination to deni…

Summer Shows

The summer months are a busy time for me as, in my day job, I attend a lot of agricultural shows, horse shows, food festivals and the like, both local and national.  One of my favourite events is the Aberaeron Cob Festival, which takes place right in the centre of this picturesque west Wales town every August. It is a showing of the Welsh breeds rather than a competition, so there are no prizes, though many of the horses there are regular prize winners in such prestigious events as the Royal Welsh Show.

The last two years, I've been lucky enough to have a ringside view of a packed programme, including the running of the magnificent stallions, the neck-breaking Welsh Mountain Pony Grand National, the Gentle Giants team of beautiful black shire horses, and the heart-stopping antics of the Galloping Acrobatics.  Many years ago, I spent several seasons working with horses and, although I rarely ride these days, it seems I've never quite lost the love of this noble and beautiful a…

A Fresh Start

Is it me or do the seasons seem a bit out of sync this year? It's nearly the end of July and already the wildflowers on my balcony are past their best bloom.  They still look pretty though, especially on a sunny Saturday morning, and they attract the bees and other pollinators in droves.  Insect-friendly plants are both attractive and essential and, in my work in conservation, I meet lots of people who are letting parts of their gardens 'go wild' in an effort to give nature a home when its natural habitat is under more threat than ever before. So go on, do your bit for nature and plant some wildflowers next spring :)

I find, like nature, my writing tends to go in seasons too. I usually start a new book with clockwork timing - January, May and September. This year, like the seasons, I am also a bit out of sync for several reasons.  Having put my last book to one side, and jettisoned my recent partial for the foreseeable future, I've taken a few weeks off to consider tw…

RNA Conference 2016

The annual Romantic Novelists' Conference is one of the highlights of my calendar, and this year was no exception. Held at Lancaster University, the venue was lovely even if the weather wasn't exactly sultry and summer-like.  Getting together with good friends over a bottle or three of Prosecco was the absolute high spot of a wonderful couple of days. The sessions were interesting and inspiring, among them HQ Harper Collins 'Reaching the Top in Commercial Fiction,' Vasiliki Scurfield on 'Writing the Foreign Hero' and Kate Walker on 'Emotional Punch.' One of the most illuminating sessions, from my point of view at least, was Sonia Duggan's workshop on 'Rekindling your Romance with Writing.'  Having been writing for almost ten years and as yet unpublished, this one really struck a chord with me.  Sonia gave us an exercise on composing a Dear John letter to our writing and what I wrote both surprised and shocked me and, for the first time, I wa…

Experimental Writing !

I should have been working at the Hay Literary Festival this week but, due to a pulled back muscle, I've been off sick and housebound instead for the last seven days  :(   I couldn't do much for the first couple of days except lie flat or, alternately, hobble around feeling bored. But by Wednesday, thankfully, I was able to get down to doing some writing - albeit standing up at my breakfast bar.

Having kicked my last book into touch for a while, I decided to take the opportunity to try something a bit different.  Would a new work station and view spark some fresh ideas and approaches?  It would and it did!  I'm one of those perfectionist type of writers who go over and over the same paragraph, line, or even word sometimes until it is  just right, at least to my mind.  To an editor or reader, of course, it might come across as completely wrong.

Too many times, when layering my story and digging deep into emotions, I've found myself not being able to see the wood for the…

A new beginning . . .

To a new book, that is.  Having submitted a full manuscript to Harlequin Mills and Boon recently, I'm hoping they'll like it enough to ask for revisions. In the meantime, however, I'm in the wonderful position of being able to begin a new story with no immediate pressure of a deadline - at least not yet!  And, while I never begin a book without the intention of eventual submission, I'm enjoying letting this one slowly grow.  I'm definitely a half-plotter and half-pantser type of writer and I always start with a character sheet and plot synopsis, though inevitably these are never set in stone.  For a writer, characters are real and, as human beings, they change and develop as the story progresses, reacting to and growing out of the emotional situations they are forced to confront, while remaining true to the people they are.

Every new book is an adventure and a journey of exploration for a writer, as much as for the characters.  Keeping the emotional intensity high…

A Writing Weekend in Cirencester

Well, truth be told, not much actual writing was done, as last weekend was another of Malaga workshops fabulous courses. This time it was at the Royal Agricultural University  at Cirencester,  an idyllic setting in the beautiful Gloucestershire countryside. The college itself dates back to 1845 and is the oldest agricultural college in the English speaking world.   Its long history was evident in the mellow stone buildings and old oak beams, and everywhere had an austerely welcoming feel to it. The rooms were rather lovely and the Tithe barn bar quite stunning and we had it all to ourselves on the Friday night, when much wine and good conversation was enjoyed.

The course tutor was Kate Walker  and, as always, she had a wealth of  knowledge and experience to impart. We were working on beginnings, middles and ends, which was great for me, as I usually hit a sticking point somewhere around the middle of my books. So a lot of attention was given to plotting and pace and Kate handed out s…

Easy as A B C ?

Anybody who's a fan of Everybody Loves Raymond will know Peggy the Cookie Lady, who prior to the annual cookie fundraising sales, drums her Brownies in their ABCs - Always Be Closing!  When Ray pinches her selling spot, the best in town, she soon shows him she's not a woman to cross!

However scary her character, Peggy's ABC mantra is a very useful one for a writer  - if you change the words to Always Be Completing.  I've heard many an aspiring author talk about their drawers full of first chapters or partials and I can never quite understand this strategy.  Writing is a learning curve, an ongoing process, and how is a writer supposed to develop if they never get past the first chapter or two?  Every novel has a beginning, middle and end and, while they might get brilliant at honing that vital first chapter, or even the first three, what about the rest of the book?

Having completed five unpublished novels to date, I would always recommend finishing a story once you'…

The delights of editing

Editing is one of my favourite things and I usually find it easier to edit a book than to write it in the first place!  So I've been enjoying doing the revisions on my latest WIP, especially as they've cooincided with a three week holiday off work :)  It's been lovely, doing almost nothing but writing every day, although - holiday or not - I'm definitely a morning writer.  My preferred routine is to get up around six, make a cafetiere of good Italian coffee and retire back to bed with my computer. Writing feels so much more relaxed when one's mind is uncluttered and there's no need to stop when things are flowing or dash out to work at a crucial point.  As a result, my revisions have come along nicely and I'm almost ready to re-submit a partial in the next week or so.

Also this week,  I met up for lunch with my good writing friend, Sarah Snowdon. We went to Dylan's in Criccieth, an Art-Deco-like building designed and built in 1954 by Clough Williams Ell…

Evolution and the Sheikh

Ever since Rudolph Valentino smouldered down from the silver screen in the 1921 silent movie 'The Sheikh', tall, dark and handsome desert heroes have been the epitome of romance fantasy and a mainstay of romantic fiction - and quite right too!  But has the most Alpha of Alpha males changed very much over the decades?

In 1919, Edith Hull's novel was an overnight sensation and her virile desert warrior made women everywhere go weak at the knees. Shrewdly, she penned a number of successful sequels featuring brooding Arab heroes, and her books paved the way for later romance writers. The Sheikh is still a firm and popular hero of romantic fiction, and one of my own particular favourites, but the world has moved on in the last  hundred years. Readers, and film-goers too, expect a different sort of hero these days and, consequently, for an author, he's not always the most straightforward of characters to write - as I've discovered in my latest work in progress.

Creating …

Happy 2016

I'm not really one for making New Year resolutions and this time round isn't an exception.  I did, however, resolve to submit my work in progress in early January and, today, I did just that.   It felt good hitting the send button but now begins the weeks or even months of waiting to hear back, trying not to think how I should have written certain passages differently, or cut something out, or put something in . . . the second guesses are endless and Romance writers nothing if not perfectionists!

The time ahead won't be wasted however;  I'm already mulling over my next book and, in February, I'm going to beautiful Fishguard, on another of Writers Holiday's  fabulous and friendly courses. This time, however, I'm delving into short stories by way of a change.  And, unlike previous years, I'm looking at the weekend as a mini-break too, going earlier and staying later, and hopefully getting time to walk a bit of the Pembrokeshire coastal path, weather permi…