Sunday, 24 October 2010

Breaking the rules

It has become painfully clear that it was arrogant of me to me to assume I can be a successful M&B novelist without actually being a M&B reader. Why do I want to write for Mills and Boon? The success of that A-level coursework, a love of happy endings and sexy men and I am really project/deadline driven; the clear submission requirements of M&B suit me. Plus, I admit it, I thought there was a formula I would follow it and hey presto. FYI there really isn't more's the pity.
So, why don't I read them? Once I did but although I continued to read the great Georgette and other regency writers published 20 years ago (Marion Chesney, Emma Darcy & Sheila Walsh were all favourites)I didn't pick up a M&B between 18 and 34. Partly it's because I am a really fast reader and can read a 50,000 word novel in an hour, no exaggeration. I need more emotional food from a book than I can get from one that's wrapped up in an hour. Secondly the big pile I read that post A-Level summer left me a little alpha-maled out. I was bored of tyrannical tycoons bossing around virginal secretaries only for said secretaries to fall into their arms, ironic as after just one chapter my hero comes across as just such a heartless tyrant. And I was really uncomfortable with the idea that a heroine needed to be a virgin and considerably younger than the hero, the books I bought from New Romney charity shops in 1991 stuck to that cliche rigidly and even today the word "virgin" crops up in quite a few titles. When I first thought about romance writing 4 years ago I read a few modern romances and the heroines were still either virginal or had only experienced terrible sex - until the alpha male came along, natch. Plus, they all had heroes that "rasp" (horrible word) and in the now explicit sex scenes "lave" various body parts (another word that makes me shudder in disgust). New Voices chapters however seem to be refreshingly clear from these cliches.
So I need to read more, and not just the historicals. I have read quite a lot of Mira titles and some of the longer historicals, plus non M&B authors such as Mary Balogh, Julia Quinn and Jo Beverley who manage to conjure up ubersexy regency alphas that suit even a sensitive feminist such as myself. But I need to read, to research more so have collected some of the 100 year celebratory titles (downloaded onto my Kindle), a halloween historical special and the free ebooks recently offered. Some I have really enjoyed (especially Emergency Wife Lost and Found and Colorado Abduction, neither genres I would usually read). First thoughts? The rules they tell aspiring writers DON'T COUNT! I have read a book where the hero hardly features, one that is just sex, another where the whole first chapter is written from the viewpoint of shock, horror a secondary character (and 8 chapters in I still know more about her than the heroine,)books where the whole conflict hinges on plot not emotions and another where the whole conflict could have been cleared up with a conversation. All big no-nos to us wannabes. Maybe if I hadn't tried to stick so closely to the rules I might have had enough of a New Voice myself?

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Away from the NV bubble

And so... a mere month (longer?) after getting caught in the New Voices bubble I have returned to my keyboard and began writing again. To do this I splashed out £230 on a notebook, £230 I really don't have but I did manage to resist the Ipad despite spending long, lingering minutes stroking it surreptitiously avoiding the suspicious glares of the Comet men. My little notebook may not be so super sexy sleek or cool but it has a portable charm of its own and this week it has proved invaluable. I took it to the gym Friday and after tennis, spent 3 hours rewriting Chapt 1, latte to one side, trying to block out the baby bore Yummy Mummy with the carrying voice and her screeching child. A further 3 hours work, also at the gym today(small daughter was rather hilariously in a tennis tournament. Luckily she is very non competitive). So six hours of revision, editing, rewriting I have a new Chapt 1. Half the description and the flashback scenes gone, more dialogue, all in the present. Is it better? God, I do not know! My main worry is that the characters don't come across as real, that the emotional conflict isn't present and palpable. I know I can do description, can conjure up an atmosphere and I am a lot more confident with dialogue. But living, breathing, believable characters? Better ask my Crit group I suppose...

Thursday, 14 October 2010

The lure of romance

I first discovered romance novels when I was just 10. We were on holiday and I read all my books in 5 days, my mother's in the next 3 (put me off Eveleyn Waugh and Iris Murdoch for life!). Then, in the sitting room of our rented villa I found two Mills & Boon. I don't remember the names or authors but I do know that one involved a sheikh. I was transported, read them twice then again. Four years later a friend's mother introduced me to Georgette Heyer and a literary love affair was born; she is still my go-to writer in times of illness and stress (along with Anne Shirley, natch). Over the years I have proved fickle, These Old Shades replaced in my affection by sequel Devil's Cub, Cotillion suddenly a forerunner after years of neglect, but the Grand Sophy, Arabella and Regency Buck remain much loved,much read favourites.

Four years after that, post A-level I wiled away long, hot summer's afternoons with a large pile of M&B and dreamt of writing my own, one day. A dream that began with a piece of A-Level coursework to write our own first pages in the style of Jane Austen. I got an A* and a vocation. A vocation unfulfilled and one I am only really beginning to try, late teens and twenties filled with uni, career building and socialising and my only thirties with childcare - although I did do a lot of research and even submitted a fairly awful three chapters (lots of plot, all secondary characters and no emotional conflict, other than that it was quite good!).

I have been asking myself 'Why?'. Why have I put myself through the stressful, self doubt inducing hell of New Voices? Why on earth do I want to be a writer, a romance writer anyway? Surely any sane woman would concede that a job, child, voluntary work and constant guilt about a shambolic house was enough for anyone? OK, it's all I have ever wanted but why?

I am a reader, voracious, completely indiscriminating, gluttonous reader. Any genre, any quality I have read it all. And I can put a sentence together in a not unpleasant way. And I daydream, constantly. Other people have ipods, I have stories in my head to occupy me as I walk, drive, eat, fall asleep - any time I am not working or reading. Do these qualities add up to a writer? In my confident teens I certainly thought so, I knew for sure one day I would be published. In my much less confident thirties it all seems a lot less certain, but I am going to try my damnedest to make it happen.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Sour Grape Hangover

Last week my small (then 6 now 7) daughter picked at her dinner, gagging, then refused to tidy her room so was sent to bed with no pudding. Cue massive tantrum that lasted over an hour in which she kept repeating just one line "I want pudding. By half 7 she was curled up in bed, face wet with tears whimpering, but she still wanted pudding. That was me yesterday over the callback list.It was internal but just as messy "I want it to be me" I shouted, screamed and whimpered in my head but, as small daughter found out, just wanting something isn't enough...
I got my critique, and sulked about that too (I know, I am a spoilt brat)because the editor failed to see what a dazzling talent I am and snap me up on the spot.Instead I got:
ou have created a really atmospheric opening to this story. Who wouldn’t fall in love with a hero galloping into town on a stallion!?

The plot and sequence of events was a tad confusing… The slip between the front and backstory wasn’t clear so it was difficult to keep track of the characters. I was interested to discover what happened in the past but it came too soon.

I know I’ve said this previously – but it’s one of my mantras… It’s important that the reader is engaged with a character enough to care about what happens to them in the past. In real life I can read a story about something bad in the news and be in tears – not because it truly affects me, but because there will be something in that story that I can relate to. You need to think about what it is that readers can relate to within your characters. But don’t overload them with backstory until you’ve got them in the palm of your hand. Then you can really squeeze the emotional juice out of the situation!

Focus on the front story and how they are reacting to each other in the now – the story comes to life in the interaction when he says he’ll take what he came for. But then you move away from the dramatic tension into the backstory.

There’s definitely potential in the storyline and you have a talent for creating atmosphere. I would suggest you need to really work on characterisation and keeping the reader in the present.

Good luck!

I am a glass half empty person, saw no encouragement in the above at all and thought "Why am I bothering? Between work, child and home I have no time, I never go out or see my friends or relax, why waste the few precious free hours I have doing something I am rubbish at?" Cue more tears. Never mind that the stories have been buzzing in my head demanding release for twenty years! It took words of wisdom from the lovely Sophia Harrop to calm me down.
"Ahem! A M&B editor has just told you:
"You have a talent for creating atmosphere!"!and that "There is potential in this storyline" WHICH MEANS that with work on the suggested bits and pieces, your story could make the mark. It could be a published M&B!!!
The eds comments are not hugely different from what other people have said except that the ed REALLY LIKED your intro with the hero galloping in on his horse!
I've said it before and I'll say it again - you're nearly there." Thanks Sophia!

Small daughter did get her pudding but not until the next day. So maybe my reward is round e corner, I just need to dry my tears, stop whimpering and get on and work xxx

Friday, 8 October 2010

Tears and wallowing

For two days fellow newbies and I have been anxiously checking out the New Voices site for the list of all those who nearly made it and who will be contacted after the competition ends, plus I have been waiting for my critique. We all thought we'd find out yesterday and it was after 9pm when I finally gave up. Today I decided NOT to spend the day glued to the computer so went out to play tennis then into town. This sounds more strong willed than I actually am - I could check the site on my phone and did at 5 min intervals. Apologies to the many many people in York I walked into as I stared fixedly at the tiny screen willing my name onto there. Lunch in the library (phone by my side)off to the shops and was trying on a skirt (it looked awful) when there it was. And there I wasn't.
Confession time - I felt numb, then as I walked back to the car I phoned my husband, tears were shed and I told him this was it, I'm giving up. Truthfully right now I feel that way but I know tomorrow I must dust myself off and recover from this - and I have my detailed critique to show me the way.
I was surprised by some of the choices in the Top Ten and have to say the surprise continues. Of course unlike the editors I haven't read all 820 entries but to me there are some glaring omissions and inclusions I just don't understand, either in terms of plot or writing (sounds petty I know but if I can't be honest here were can I - and it's just a few). I did write a list of all the chapters that I was surprised didn't get through first time and NONE were on the second list. So if you do get a chance to get onto the New Voices site here are the chapters I strongly recommend:
True Love Sucks by Xandra James
Infatuation & Injustice by Janet Dobbs
Cougar Mum & Cub Dad by Cara Cooper
Back for Good by Susan Watkins
In the Duke's Bed by Miranda Liasson
Shakespeare's Secret by Dana Fisher
Duel for Love by Kathryn Beresford
Sequins and Secrets by Joanne Pibworth

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Be careful what you wish for...

I have internet and email on my phone and a trusting workplace that doesn't monitor website usage so the in last few weeks have spent far more time than I care to admit on the New Voices site - checking my comments, watching the roses go down and waiting for a. the top ten b. the nearly-ans and c the editors' crit. Of course I said I wanted to be critiqued by the editors, it's an amazing opportunity to see where I got it right and, more pertinently and inevitably what I got wrong but with over 300 of us tossing our names into the hat I have been worrying more about the also-ran list, and how I'll feel when I am not on it.
So I got home, allowed child to skip swimming lesson after day off sick yesterday and started playing with the next instalment of my novella. I hadn't checked the New Voices site since school pick up (darn internet phone)so logged on to see that the crit list was finally posted. I wondered if any of the Newbies were on so clicked on, skimmed the list of names and - hang on, was that? No, it couldn't be. I actually clicked on my own name to make sure!
So on Thursday (or Fri, or poss next week) an editor's comments on my chapter will be publicly posted. It will be illuminating and helpful and it's as scary as help! What if it is all wrong? What if they hate it? What if I can't write? Still at least I'll know where to start the thing from this time next week. And I needn't feel guilty about holding fire on RS and enjoying myself with the Novella instead...

Monday, 4 October 2010

Still waiting...

Turns out we all got the wrong end of the stick. There was no big announcement on Friday, no list of the nearly-rans posted up this morning, instead we got to ask (in some cases beg, or crawl) for a public critique of our work, ten of us, out of about 300, to be chosen at random and those names will be posted tonight, then, at some point this week the editors' favourites will also be listed. While some fellow newbies have been ignoring the distraction and are busily rewriting their chapters and forging on with novels, the rest of us are in a suspended state - the tiny opportunity of a critique of my chapter is worth waiting for and may solve the whole to-completely-rewrite-or-not-to rewrite question. So I wait...
It's not all been sitting around obsessively checking the New Voices website though. In addition to work and a weekend of birthday fun for the newly seven year old daughter (a weekend that has left us both sick and coldy, curled up together on an unexpected and rare sick day together)I have written the first part of my chapter for the Newbies Novella. Which was a lot of fun, no pressure just writing for the joy of it. My only worry about it is how far to take it.I have yet to write a sex scene,let alone post one up on a public forum. I don't mind reading them but there is a streak of prudery in me that makes the actual writing of one really stressful and, I suspect, the end result will be as erotic as a cold baked beans.
My other preoccupation is whether to sign up for NaNoWriMo. It will be an excellent way to get some creative juices flowing, I have a plot idea and it sounds like a lot of fun! I do want to - but do I have time, can I make time? Honestly, I am doubtful. I need to start writing on the hop, during swimming and gym lessons, while she's paying tennis or in the park but my old laptop is less than portable, has a battery life of a nano second and takes half an hour to crank up. I dream of investing in a netbook but money isn't plentiful.To write on the hop does need new hardware though and it's the only way I can even consider NaNoReMo. Maybe I'll sign up and worry about the logistics later.