Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The perfect Rom-Com

Two and a half weeks off work! In my head that means two and a half weeks of blissful writing time but of course, on day 5 of my break writing time has yet to materialise. Christmas has got in the way. I have managed to clean the house, skirting boards and all, buy and decorate a tree, do the bulk of my Christmas shopping, watch the Muppets Christmas Carol whilst writing all my cards and actually send said cards and various parcels. Today I was going to make mince pies with home-made mincemeat and the pastry in which to put it but pulled myself back from the domestic goddess brink and agreed to make cakes with the 8yo instead. Write? Not so much.

Yesterday I took advantage of a massive ironing pile to introduce the daughter to one of my favourite Christmas films. I first saw While You Were Sleeping at a large multiplex in Hartford Connecticut the year I au-paired in the States. Rom-coms were different in the early/mid nineties. Sweeter, more heartfelt, more innocent and yet spine-tingingly romantic (Sleepless in Seattle, another Christmas favourite came out the year before and my friend and I saw it twice in two days, bawling the whole way through both times).
Why do I love it so much?
1. Sandra Bullock does lonely so well, it gets me every time (same thing in The Net)
2. The moment she is watching the loud, squabbling family & the camera zooms in on a stocking with her name on
3. The proposal (so good we rewound to watch it twice)
4. Real characters (in real clothes), not Hollywood caricatures (well maybe the family, and the ex, and Joe Jnr, okay a few caricatures but good ones!)
5. Peter Gallagher thinking he has amnesia 'a,b,c,d,e,f,g,h...'
6. All the photos of Peter in his wallet, around his flat
7. Joe Junior
8. Lucy's speech at the wedding (did I mention that she does lonely so well, I dare you not to well up)
9. The minute she decides to take action and start following her dream, a lesson for all romance heroines everywhere.
10. Bill Pullman, not an obvious choice as romantic lead but he is perfect.

And, unlike many rom-coms made in the last ten years it's mild enough to watch with an 8yo and yet still a perfect romance. Inspiration for all sweet romance writers everywhere.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

A good example

When my daughter was born I knew that all I wanted was for her to be happy, to be fulfilled, no matter where life took her. As she got older, learnt to speak, she began to have some very definite ideas about what she wanted to be and, like most children, has changed her mind a lot.
At 4 she wanted to be a vet - and then she realised that that involved blood, pus and death, so she ruled out that along with doctor, nurse, dentist.
When she started school she wanted to be a teacher.
Then she wanted to be in a band.
Then a fashion designer.
For the last year she has wanted to be in the police. For anyone who knows my daughter this is probably not surprising.
But yesterday she changed her mind. It would be too hard to be a police lady and have children, she told me, maybe she would be a lady who helps out in schools.
My heart broke.
At just 8 she thinks having a career and a family are incompatible, thinks she can't reach high.
Although I took three years off when she was born she doesn't remember that, she has always known me working and it has always been part time. And she is really proud of what I do, although she has a very tenuous grasp (apparently I work in the bird team! I'm actually a Fundraiser for a regional environmental charity). Of course I have made sacrifices to work part time, entering back into the world of work at a lower level than when I exited, swapping salary and management for school pick up and drop off, attending assemblies and chauffering to activities. And I don't regret that for a moment. But I hate the fact that an 8year old girl sees her life choices as limited.
There is a popular school of thought that sees romance writing, popular women's fiction as regressive but one of the things I love about writing romance is that my heroine can be whoever I want her to be; a lawyer,a journalist, a party girl searching for fulfilment. Open any Mills and Boon and you will see a huge variety of jobs; a medical heroine may be a nurse, she may be a doctor, she may be an occupational therapist or a radiographer. An office romance heroine can be a PA, or a PR specialist, a CEO or a temp. Heroines run their own businesses, own florists, bakeries, coffee shops, hotels, event management companies. They teach, lecture and train. They are many things and by the end of the novel they are strong, empowered and happy. Just like I hope my 8year old will be when she's grown up.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Stylish knitwear & storytelling

Not one but two examples of stylish knitwear
I've never been embarrassed to jump late onto a bandwagon (query, what on earth is a bandwagon? *note to self, google*) so for the last three weeks, whilst those smugly ahead of the curve have been debating the differences in knitwear, plot and subtitles (less swearing apparently) between the Killing 1 and 2 (Forbrydelsen for the real trendsetters just so we all know we are talking about the original Danish version and not the American remake), longsuffering-OH and I have been glued to the sofa watching Series 1.
We are addicted. Two episodes a night addicted. Only now we've caught up and last night had to make do with Grey's Anatomy instead, yes it rains in Seattle but otherwise it was the cappuccino froth to the bitterly refreshing expresso of Copenhagen's finest export.

Of course I usually write at night and can usually manage to write in front of the TV, raising my eyes from the screen occasionally to ask what's going on. Apparently this isn't at all annoying. I did try to write in front of a subtitled Italian crime drama once but, as it turns out, one term of basic conversational Italian ten years ago didn't equip me to follow the twists and turns of a Sicilian based drama. I still don't know who was killed or why. My Killing addiction has meant that my writing has pretty much ground to a halt over the last few weeks.

Troells Hartmann - look at the cheekbones!
Luckily I have managed to justify this brief hiatus to myself. I haven't been vegging out in front of the TV AT ALL, although it may look that way, nope, I have been researching. Although pretty much as far from romance writing as you can get - a teensy crush on Season One's Troells Hartmann added a certain extra entertainment value, why isn't he in Season 2, why??? - The Killing has been one of the best examples of plotting, character development, showing-not-telling I have ever seen, in book or TV form. No wonder nearly everyone who sees it has been rivetted and The Guardian has devoted acres of newsprint to everything from those famous jumpers to the quality of the subtitles. As a detective story, as a personal-growth story, as a study of a grieving family, as a political thriller, as a look at lives torn apart it works on every level. The end of each episode is particularly brilliant, each strand approaching some new danger, knowledge, crisis simultaneously leaving the viewer desperate for the next instalment.

My chosen genre may be very different but I still want my readers to have that same need to keep on reading, to find out what happens next. To supply that page turning quality. To make characters feel so real that a reader cares what happens to them. I have a long way to go, all I can do is watch and learn. Which is why tonight you'll find me, back on the sofa, watching S2. Tak!

Friday, 25 November 2011

What team? Wildcats!

In a global world one country's celebration can feel very close and yesterday lots of people were sharing the things that they were thankful for. One of the things from the past year that I am thankful for is my CP group. In the aftermath of NV11 if I had one piece of advice for any aspiring writer it would be this: get yourself a good Critique Partner.

We all need cheerleaders at times. We all have those moments when we need someone to tell us that they believe (am I the only one who tears up at the beginning of HSM3 when it all slows down and the spotlight is on Gabriella as she sings 'Troy!' and he looks up at her and says 'Sometimes I can hardly breathe?' and she tells him 'You can do it just know that I believe.' Yes? Okay then. But, romance writers, it is the perfect moment - he can only be strong because she believes in him, the arc of all three films. I also sob through Soaring Flying.).

When I first started writing six years ago I was alone. My husband would read it if I begged him too and nodded sagely with a 'very good, dear' in the manner of some seventies sitcom husband leaving me feeling like Wendy Craig. No wonder I submitted just three chapters in two years although I did do an enormous amount of reading; ahem, research. Really it's only been in the last year that I have taken writing really seriously.

There's a few reasons for that - the online competitions, joining the RNA, the course I did with Jessica Hart, these have all been great boosts adding to my knowledge and confidence. The main reason however has been my own personal cheerleaders.

The internet is a strange and wonderful thing allowing you to connect with people all over the world, people you may never meet. New Voices 2010 was the first time I really shared my writing with anyone.
Suddenly I connected with lots of people through FB & Twitter - published authors, aspiring authors, newbies; all knowing exactly how it feels to sit down at a blank screen and push yourself to write something. People to talk ideas through with, to get enthusiastic, to ask questions, to point out massive plot holes or small typos.

Gradually, through the craziness of last year's Nano and as I made the first steps into Summer Fling I began to rely on a small group more and more. Their enthusiasm, honesty and kindliness pushed and supported me as I doubted, angsted, panicked and procrastinated. They are my cheerleaders - and I do my best to return the favour as they are also a very talented trio who I know will be published one day
We're far apart geographically but meet up to chat, critique, gossip, reassure, celebrate, share learnings every day. I would never have come this far without them. Thanks Julia, Jane and Maggie xxx

Sunday, 20 November 2011

A waiting game

You know it's Christmas when John Lewis turn a beautiful song into easy listening pseudo jazz (yes, I am looking at you, Ellie Goulding) and team it with a sentimental ad.
It must be nearly Christmas (click on link to either cry or sniff derisively)

 And  yet, despite the scorn and derision from the cynics on my Twitter feed (the romance writers love it), I can't help be charmed. Because it strikes a real chord. The theme this year is 'it is better to give than to receive' through the eyes of a small boy who is waiting for Christmas morning. And how long that wait is...

How I sympathise with that little boy as he watches the clock refuse to move, as the days drag slowly by. No, I am not waiting for Christmas day (I haven't bought a single present yet as it is NOVEMBER and Christmas is in DECEMBER; if I had my way there would be no adverts, crackers, tins of biscuits, cards etc allowed until 1 December and any house putting up their lights and tree before the 18th Dec would be fined. Christmas is so much more exciting when it comes suddenly upon you, not when it's dragged out over two months). Anyone who has submitted a book knows exactly how he feels.

When @nellbelleandme and I submitted our actually-not-bad-at-all jointly written book to agents it got returned depressingly quickly. There weren't many days to sit through before the clatter of the letterbox announced the return of the A4 brown envelope containing a painstakingly printed copy of our masterpiece and a 'no thanks'.

One of the many exciting things about submitting to Mills & Boon is their promise that every submission - every one of the thousands of unsolicited manuscripts landing on their mat (or inbox) every year will be read by an editor. This is a great opportunity. But of course the editors have a lot of work to do apart from reading our work of heartbreaking genius (their social media shows an idyllic working environment of eating cupcakes and discussing the relative hotness of Grey's Anatomy & ER docs; I suspect this is a tad misleading). They promise to get back to us within 24 weeks.

Six months. And it can be longer. The second standard R took eleven months to arrive. Eleven months of casually flicking on my email, desperately hoping every spam offer might be THE email, THE opportunity. So, of course this time, this submission, I have learnt from my experience and I am using the waiting time wisely, using it to write the next book, to keep learning, to read. Six months away is next spring, there's no point getting my hopes up until then.
So why do I get just a little jolt of excitement every time I see that envelope icon at the top of my phone screen?

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The tortoise and the hare

Tortoises are great; ambling along, munching on grapes and carrots, basking in the sun and sleeping away the winter. No wonder they practically live for ever! And they were name checked in the second-to-last-ever-episode-of-Spooks (sob, gulp) when ex-FBI agent turned politician soon to turn wife killer announced portentously that his house in Moscow had a tortoise in the garden. It sounded like some brilliant password to which the only reply could be 'the Hare is asleep in the field' but actually was a metaphor for a soon to be shattered post Glastnost life which is why I will love Spooks forever and mourn its passing along with other TV greats such as ER (sob), Buffy (sob) and Gilmore Girls (do not judge me...).
Add caption

Anyhow I love tortoises and my perfect cottage by the sea will have a tortoise in the garden (and a hare in the field) and hopefully my dream tortoise will co-exist peacefully with my dream red setter and dream dachshund.

In most of life I am a Hare, rushing madly around, ears flapping (metaphorically you understand), no time to stop and enjoy things until I drop exhausted by the side of the road whilst tortoises plod calmly past me. But I am a wannabe romance writer who works 4 days a week and volunteers with a local Cub group, whose 8yo has a schedule of activities which neatly sums up crazy 21st Century parenting – although no Mandarin, I live in Yorkshire, not Wimbledon. I don't have time to plod however much I want to.

As a writer too I am mostly a Hare, especially when self imposed deadlines loom. Half of last year's never-to-be-seen-again Nano was achieved in a mad sprint during the last 10 days. The last three chapters of just-submitted Summer Fling were written in week; don't worry it has been extensively edited since. But sometimes, especially at the beginning of a project I plod. I sit staring at the page. I type, delete, type again. It hurts. And I feel a fraud. What kind of writer doesn't actually write?

But I am thinking. All the time. Turning my characters over in my head. They accompany me every where – except work OF COURSE - In the shower, in bed, on the school run, shopping. And then, slowly, surely the characters and vague plot I have formulated begin to make sense. I can't do Nano this year much as I want to but was hoping to take advantage of the writing-frenzy that is November to really make some inroads into Minty. Six days and 1000 words later I have clearly failed, because although I knew where I wanted my characters to go I just couldn't see how. This morning though (whilst washing my hair) I began to see the way.

So I'm plodding on for now, allowing myself the luxury of thinking my way into my plot, my characters, the conflict. Not for too long though. At some point this tortoise needs to turn into a Hare and sprint towards just writing the damn thing!

Monday, 31 October 2011

A Rosy by any other name would smell so sweet

To pen name or not to pen name – that is the question. 

Okay, enough of the adapted- Shakespearean quotations. 

My name is VERY common – and too far down the alphabet list so this year I entered New Voices with a pseudonym, Rosy Gilmore. Rosy to fit in with my twitter name @yrosered, Gilmore because I want to live in Stars Hollow (DON'T JUDGE ME).

 I love social media and am pretty active already Tweeting, Facebooking and blogging. Only that is all under my real name; if I am going to have a pen name then do I need to start building up that online presence now?
But, on the other hand, social media is pretty time consuming, having a dual identity will mean double the time. More blogging, tweeting equals less time to write. There isn't much point having a great internet identity if I don't actually produce anything.
Also if I ever do achieve my dream and get a contract with M&B the editors will have their own views about pen names – if they don't like Rosy Gilmore all that extra tweeting will be wasted!

On the other hand mixing personal and professional personas can get tricky. A couple of Harlequin authors were tweeting about the forthcoming presidential election – or rather their intentions not to tweet about it because their viewpoint was bound to conflict with half their readerships' political leanings. Wise words and very good advice, only I take my politics very seriously indeed, my Twitter timeline a bizarre mixture of political types and romance writers plus anyone else that interests and amuses me. I don't want to alienate or upset any potential readers but neither do I want to stop tweeting about things that inspire me, about the things that make me ME..

The truth is all this is a long way away, I need to have some interest in my writing first – then I'll worry about what name I am going to use!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Old favourites & new ways

Today I submitted my New Writer's Scheme book to M&B (eek). When I first submitted The Terrible Historical only four years ago I had to print out my three chapters and synopsis and send it, a big fat chunky parcel. I felt like Jo March or Anne Shirley toting my manuscript down to the post office. Today I simply attached a couple of documents and pressed send. Easy.

Publishing, communications, marketing, even the way I buy and read books has changed so much in such a short time. I am an ex bookseller, I worked for two major chains, one of which still exists. And I loved it, surrounded by books all day, organising events at night, meeting authors, some of whom were lovely, a few even took pity on us poor, badly paid, enthusiastic booksellers and took us out for beers afterwards.

I still love bookshops and have the logo, décor and look of my dream children's bookshop very clear in my head. Shame I have no capital to make it a reality. And yet I buy most of my books online.

Do you remember when the only way to find a much-loved out of print book was to trawl second hand book shops, that feeling of excitement when you found the book you were looking for? I have a hardback copy of Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle, found in a book-stuffed shop in Scarborough long before the Vintage re-release. I collected Antonia Forest's fabulous Marlow family books at library sales and charity shops; I still remember the heart stopping moment I found Peter's Room on a market stall in Beverley. Now, of course, the excellent Girl's Gone By have republished the whole series along with many other children's classics.

I still adore a good second hand book shop but am much more likely to google a title, a list of shops and websites springs up making it easy to find the book I need. I loved an Australian book, Playing Beattie Bow, and when my husband suggested calling our daughter Abigail my mind flashed straight back to this time travelling tale and it's loner of a heroine. Of course Abigail is also the name of a Georgette Heyer heroine (Black Sheep) so a win-win (her second middle name is Anne, with an 'E' natch after my favourite literary heroine). I've always wanted to get a copy of Playing Beattie Bow but it is now out of print. Three clicks on Amazon, however and a second hand copy was despatched that evening.

The same night I remembered another teen favourite. I didn't know the title or author (any other ex-booksellers out there rolling their eyes?) but I did remember that it was a young adult romance set in Ancient Egypt. I put those words in a search engine and immediately a list came up, first book was Mara, Daughter of the Nile. Another click and £3 later and its on its way.
The kindle has also revolutionised my book buying, I love lying in bed at 9pm and just buying a book to read there and then. I still love paperbacks, hardbacks, the smell and feel but with a small house and a LOT of books there's no shortage of tactile reading experiences. It can be TOO easy to buy with a kindle though, not only do I spend far more money than I used to but occasionally I make mistakes and buy the wrong book completely, that doesn't happen with paperbacks!

Friday, 21 October 2011

Doubt Crows

Yesterday I had a bad attack of the doubt crows.

The worst thing about the doubt crows is they don't just attack one insecurity, they swoop down and peck at everything.
They told me:
  1.  I am wasting my time writing
  2. I take on too much, writing takes up too much time
  3. I am a Bad Mother
Interestingly they said I was a Bad Mother for over scheduling activities for the 8 year old AND for neglecting her to write.

Contradictory doubt crows.

They picked apart every worry I have about work, finance and life in general.
And once they start it's hard to banish them.

Every published author I know still gets attacked by the doubt crows. This week there has been a series of inspirational blogs by lots of Harlequin M&B writers to help New Voices entrants battle their demons.

Barbara T Wallace chronicled her fifteen year path to publication, Maisey Yates reassured us that she didn't win a competition either, Jessica Hart told us about books she wrote that didn't make it to publication and Donna Alward gave us a much needed talking to.

I banished the evil birds (for now) with the wise words and sympathy of my on-line writing friends and then met up with friends for pasta and just a little bit of wine. This morning my husband took the daughter to school allowing me a much needed and very rare sleep-in.

Today it all seems much better. Sometimes we all need to allow ourselves a little bit of wallowing, just not too much! 

Also the second chapters were uploaded yesterday. There is a huge amount of exciting talent out there.  I was pleased to see that my favourite from the first round produced a fantastic second chapter. I'm rooting for Charlotte Phillips' Honeymoon with a Stranger. How about you?

Friday, 14 October 2011

Post storm

Looking back at all this, when I am (hopefully) a published author with several books under my belt, I will probably find the New Voices frenzy funny.Remembering the constant, desperate checking of emails. The hope I was clinging to long after I knew the finalists must have been emailed. Reading the list on my tiny phone screen whilst watching my daughter swing round some parallel bars and choking back shameful tears.
Yep, one day this will be funny.
Today, not so funny, but not so desperately terrible either. No, I didn't win, or even come close. But now I have time to edit my finished novel, editing I am doing with the guidance of my NWS report written by an established M&B author who loved it. And when that's finished and submitted - submitted not through the slush pile but through NWS which is a brilliant opportunity - then I have Minty and Luca's story waiting to be written.
So really I am very lucky.

I hope the 1046 disappointed entrants are also looking at the positives. Rejection is hard, even (especially) when it's the third, fourth, fifth time around. Harder even, people tell you you're close, that they love your voice. There's a lot further to fall when you know you are almost there. But if you give up, say 'It's not fair', whine, complain and don't grow then you weren't ready to be a published writer after all.
Because if I've learnt anything over the last year it's this (well, along with lots of crafty bits and pieces that would ruin this post so I'll conveniently ignore them): It doesn't get any easier being published. You still have to write, submit, get feedback you don't want to hear and cope with 1* reviews on websites. Are you ready for that? Am I ready for that?

There's only one way to find out. Keep writing, keep submitting, keep learning.
And don't give up.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Calm before the storm

Right now the editors at Romance HQ are drinking their 20th coffee of the day, munching on pizza and donuts and arguing the respective merits of over 1000 entries. 
Yes - over 1000. Over 200 more than last year. 400 entries were submitted in the last weekend alone, entrants nervously polishing right up to the last second following the example of last year's winner, Leah Ashton, who famously submitted late. The top 20 will be announced on Thursday, early evening if they follow last year's pattern.
One entry amongst those 1000 is mine http://www.romanceisnotdead.com/Entries/509-Her-Italian-Fiances-Cousin
I have had some lovely comments and for a while (a brief while) I was riding high at the top of the rankings - only to fall as the rosebombers came out in force. How old and experienced we second-timers felt remembering the exact same dramatic ratings fall last year.
I wanted to be calmer this year, for it to matter less especially as I am halfway through editing Summer Fling, an actual finished book I plan to submit very, very soon. But I find I do care. I want to final and yet there are so very many accomplished entries, so many deserving finalists.
Luckily this year I have support, not just my long-suffering husband, but lovely, fabulous fellow writers who offer advice, ears to rant in, keen eyes to spot mistakes - both typos and glaring plot holes and who tell me that I will do it, maybe not this story, maybe not this competition but one day. Thank you, you all know who you are, I would have given up long ago without you. x

Friday, 30 September 2011

Finally - Making your mind up

So, after weeks of procrastination, stress, tears, tempers and basically driving everyone around me crazy I have submitted my New Voices entry.
This is the fourth rewrite of the third version (there were four in all), I also wrote 1500 words of an alternate that I loved so much but knew wasn't right for New Voices - instead I plan to write it my next book but one. I then had a panic attack about this chapter being too reliant on an external hook so I decided once and for all that I would submit my NWS first chapter. Three hours, one big yelling at my husband and storming off (to the bath), and whining at my crit group (it's all about me, ME, ME) I changed my mind, went back to Italian Cousin and two further rewrites. It's done, it's up, I tried to post a link but I can't seem to manage that AND treat you to classic Bucks Fizz making their mind up in early 80s style but pop along to www.romanceisnotdead and search for Rosy Gilmore (my new nom de plume, quite like it myself). Comments and ratings welcomed. Now it's time to edit Spring Fling... Apologies for the lack of paragraphs, Blogger's new format is baffling me at the moment...

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

New, Newer & Newest

New Voices, New Writer's Scheme, new book - it's all about the new this autumn. Sadly the theme doesn't extend to a cute new blazer and a perfect pair of new boots.
well, okay, maybe one pair of boots But, what with competitions and critique, I probably have all the new I can handle. As you all know New Voices launched yesterday and there are already over 60 new chapters for people to read, comment on and rate. If you're not registered go ahead and get stuck in; the most helpful thing for all writers is constructive comments - what works, what doesn't and why. And, with only 20 finalists, those comments will be what most entrants take away from this competition. I haven't posted yet despite wanting to get in early on. My chapter just isn't ready, it's lacking a certain spark, a sense of purpose and, after 24 hours of increasing hysteria for me and increasing impatience from my poor, over worked crit partners it was agreed I would take a break for a few days and go in for a rewrite on Friday *drums fingers impatiently on the table*. Not that the imbargo has stopped me thinking about my chapter. Not. At. All. Sadly inspiration has yet to strike.
The main reason for my impatience (apart from the fact that I am naturally impatient) is that I received my NWS critique for 'Summer Fling' on Friday and now am desperate to start editing - but can't until my New Voices chapter begins to sparkle. Part of me is wondering whether to put the new chapter aside for a while and submit 'Summer Fling' to New Voices instead (cue much angst, stress and pushing of crit partners and husband to breaking point). One of the two NWS readers actually suggested I do enter it - and at some point I do need to show it to new eyes. I was lucky enough to get two readers and whoever you are, thank you. Thank you so so much. I have a huge edit job in front of me with a lot of rewriting especially of the last third but your comments, encouragements have inspired me and given me the confidence to think maybe I can actually do this. What has particularly amazed me is how much they picked up - the good, the bad and the embrassingly ugly. Helpfully, there were bits they disagreed on, which is exactly what critique in the big, bad world will be like. Interestingly it's the less positive that sticks in your mind. There was a real sense that they knew my characters as well as I do, cared about them and rooted for them. Some edited comments: The good... This was a rattling good read aimed with fair accuracy at the M&B softer romance market, and I gulped it down in one sitting. It had pacey writing, plenty of good sharp dialogue, attractive hero and heroine and well handled back story... Congratulations on writing a sweet, funny and entertaining romance. You have a great voice and the story was a pleasure to read. The not so good... Reader 1: Everyone is so dammed nice! You allowed the story to become too cosy, too predictable. The 'I hoped they wouldn't notice that...' A bigger problem however is the lack of real conflict outside of the personal issue of will they, won't they get back together.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Work - it's a four letter word

Last week I spent a lot of money I don't have on miracle products that the hairdresser promised me would turn my hair from Anne Hathaway at the start of the Princess Diaries
On a good day
To glossy Kate Middleton-style locks
Dreamy, glossy locks
Apparently all I needed was an eighties style hot brush and some Moroccan oil, both of which he conveniently had to hand. Now, I am normally fairly astute where sales techniques are concerned - but not where my big, fizzy, unmanageable hair is concerned and I was soon handing over £13 for a tiny phial of oil and rather more for the eighties style hot brush. My hair still doesn't fall in glossy waves, for that I think I would need to be a New York style lady who lunches and book in for blow-drys. Not on my budget nor on my schedule.

What I really want is perfect hair that require NO effort. I want to wash, throw in some gunk and go. No hot brush or blow drying or work. I want it to be easy.

Of course if it was that easy we would all walk around with swishy hair and there would be no need for billion dollar industries promising us all frizz free glossiness. Papers wouldn't need to print pictures of supermodels on the school run to try and persuade the rest of us that we too need a yummy mummy outfit and perfect hair to drop our children off at school (I don't know about you but NOBODY turns up at my daughter's school looking like they are on their way to a photoshoot. Thank goodness). Looking effortlessly good takes a lot of hard work and time that I simply don't have or care enough about to do. Although I will hopefully buy horrendously expensive vials of oil.

Time for rather laborious and extended metaphor

The same applies to whatever you want to do in life. There will always be those who make it look easy, effortless. But just as those Daily-Mail-school-run-yummymummys have to get up obscenely early to work at that casual loveliness most of us have to work at what matters to us. And there are no shortcuts. No amazing vials of oil or hotbrushes to transform our work into something beautiful.

This week on Twitter that was a discussion about paid for editors. There are a lot of ways for aspiring writers to spend their money - conferences, memberships, courses - before adding professional editing in. And does it help? Would it teach you where you went wrong so you do better next time or would you always need the professional gloss put on your work? Donna Alward commented that her learning experience was "wash, submit, rinse, rejection - repeat" until one day she had learnt enough to succeed. But, all the professionals out there chorused, it is hard work. And there are no short cuts.

Any day now the postman will bring me that NWS report and I know that it is full of comments and advice and encouragement - and rewrites. I need to read, edit and rewrite, dig deeper, find that emotional conflict and really make it centre stage. Writing 50,000 words was just the beginning. Now the hard work begins. Meanwhile I have to take the 2500 words already written for New Voices, discard half of them and rework it. I don't want to. I wanted my writing group to tell me it was perfect the way it was, no more work required. Time to relax.

They didn't.

So today is a writing day. So far I have: drunk 3 cups of coffee, 1 cup of tea, read the paper online, rewrote an enquiry letter for friend, copyedited someone else's work, played on Twitter & FB, blogged. Not a bad morning's procrastination. Now I had better go off and do some actual, you know, *whispers* work...

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Generous world of romance writing

It is exactly one month since I sent my manuscript off to the New Writer's Scheme. Obviously I made the process as white knuckle as possible, printing it out the morning I was packing to go on holiday - on a camping holiday which means ten times as much stuff to assemble. Cue much panic and yelling: "It's not printing! What's happening?" and much blaming of my husband because it was obviously all his fault I had left it until the last minute.
Then more panic. Where were our self adhesive labels? Why didn't we have any postcards? And (my personal favourite) "I HAVE FORGOTTEN TO WRITE A SYNOPSIS." But, three very stressful and tearful hours later, it was sent off and now I am waiting not very patiently for it to arrive back (looks out window for postman for the tenth time this morning).
What is particularly scary about this is that the NWS reader will be the first person to set eyes on this particular story. The first page was read out at a writing class and discussed with friends, I also gave them a little detail on the back story but since March nobody but me has read it. I wanted the NWS reader to see my plotting, writing, dialogue and characterisation uninfluenced by any crit from outside in order for me to learn where I am going in the right direction - and where I have it spectacularly wrong. A complete contrast to my New Voices entry which has been extensively discussed by my crit partners.
But how lucky am I that this book of mine will be read by a professional who is willing to give up their time to comment on my writing? Romance writers and editors are so very generous with their advice and support through courses, social media and conventions. My twitter timeline has been full of writers from all over the world getting together for conventions filled with workshops and one to ones in NZ, Australia, New York and our own RNA annual convention in Wales. The M&B New Voices page on Facebook is frequented by published writers commenting, cheerleading and blogging tips. Is every genre this friendly or is this as special and unique as it seems? There is information galore for the budding writer, all we have to do is find it, read it and learn from it.
Schemes like the New Writer's ones are very special indeed. I have seen two of the reports sent to other entrants and they are filled with with guidance, constructive criticism and invaluable advice. Thank you, thank you, thank you to whoever is currently reading Summer Fling. I hope the middle doesn't sag too much *cringes* and I am (just a tad impatiently) looking forward to reading your report.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Stuck in the mud

At the weekend my ever-patient other half and I took our 7yo to her first ever festival. It was supposed to be a safe, easy one: just 10 miles away ,easy to come home if things went awry. Of course, we forgot to factor in the great British weather, more specifically the great Yorkshire weather. When it took an hour and a half to advance 10 yards, the rain sheeting it down, steaming up the car, it was evident that if we ever did manage to get the car into the field we were never ever going to get it out again.

The view from our tent

And still the rain came. A brief interlude of sunshine on the Saturday morning enables us to dry out our waterproofs and then the rain returned and the mud deepened.

This was the easy path

But, thanks to towels, babywipes and a strict policy of 'boots off outside please', we managed to keep the tent dry, warm and mud free and some amazing music, food and local cider kept our spirits up. And then, on Sunday, the sun came out. A lot of the mud dried, we could walk without fear of losing our wellies and/or balance and ended up having a fantastic day filled with even more amazing musical talent, topped off with a brilliant performance by The Levellers (if you like left wing, folk inspired rousing tunes, which I do - and so did most of the crowd judging by the reaction).

listening to an acoustic set

Verdict? It was brilliant and please can we go next year says 7yo.

Now, finally home again thanks to the tractor driver who towed me out the car park, preparing for next week when we return to the school routine, I am struggling to finish my New Voices chapter. Partly this is because I want the last part to be in my hero's point of view and I don't know him well enough yet to know how he is going to react. I have my heroine firmly sorted in my head but right now he is an annoying enigma. It strikes me that writing, whether a book, a novella or even just a chapter, is an awful lot like my festival weekend. You start out with great optimism, then it all gets a little bit stuck in the mud. But finally, after a lot of patience and hard, hard work, the sun comes out and you can really enjoy the process.
Or maybe that's just me?

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Surviving New Voices with some help from Rufus Sewell

I have just had a stoke of genius! Whilst writing the blog post below I was simultaneously trying to watch a BBC4 Italian crime drama; one term of Italian language lessons nine years ago obviously preparation for multitasking with subtitles,when I suddenly saw the face of my hero – not on the screen but in my head, Anyone see Zen with Rufus Sewell earlier this year Shamefully cut thanks to budgets? Inspiration for an Italian hero if ever I saw one. And who says watching TV is wasting time?

Heroic Zen

Okay, stop daydreaming - back to business: Last year I came upon New Voices somewhat unaware; a post on the Mills & Boon Facebook page piqued my interest, I clicked, noted the rules & regs & posting date and that was that. Completely ignorant of the vast amount of advice, knowledge and help available online I wrote and posted and that was that.

This year is already very different. New Voices has its own distinct Facebook page with over 300 followers including published authors, past participants and new entrants. Three of last year's entrants have forthcoming books with HM&B, many others have found success with rival online and offline publishers, I have taken two courses with the brilliant Jessica Hart and joined the Romantic Novelist's Association New Writer's Scheme (look at all those capitals) and nervously, email-obsessively await feedback.

I will, of course, be entering again. I have written just 1000 words but spent hours thinking about it, dreaming about it (writing and deadlines combining with tents and Scandinavian serial killers in an unsettling combination: may need to change my current reading material and holiday in an apartment in future), characters are beginning to make sense, a plot to develop. My expectations are more realistic this year, my focus on the entire book, not just one chapter. However, if I did learn anything from last year it would be this:

1. Act professionally. If you want to be a writer then every NV interaction is with potential bosses, colleagues and customers...
2. So, be polite, but not over the top! Sycophancy is embarrassing, rudeness even more so.
3. Want comments on your writing? Comment on others, we all want attention but with 800+ entries (based on last year) are more likely to click on those writers who have commented on us.
4. Remember, the commentators may mainly be your fellow competitors but they are also your future readers so treat their comments with respect even if you disagree.
5. Of course you will disagree with some comments but take a deep breath, ignore the urge to be rude about their entry and even more importantly resist the urge to argue. Thank them for taking the time to comment.
6. Even if you disagree, if the same point is made over and over then take it under consideration – remember these are your future readers.
7. It is a first chapter competition. Telling people they will understand when they read Chapt 2, 3, finish the book won't help – they are judging you on what they can read
8. Make sure your comments are constructive. Don't like something? Say it nicely, tell them why and give examples. Help them improve.
9. If you can't say it nicely and constructively then don't say it at all!
10. Market yourself. Use Twitter, FB and forums but remember – there has to be give and take. If it's all “me, me, me” people will ignore all your postings no matter how witty they are!
11. Have fun and good luck!

Monday, 15 August 2011

Recharging those flat batteries

I always knew I was deadline driven but writing over 13,000 words in 3 days, two of which were work days, then printing out the manuscript and trying to write a (forgotten about until the last minute – oops) synopsis whilst packing for a camping holiday and then posting manuscript on the way to said camping holiday was a little white knuckle even for me. It wasn't even the real New Writer Scheme deadline, that isn't until the end of the month, it was the made up deadline I inflicted on myself because I wanted to relax during my holiday knowing I had sent the TS safely off.
And because it is time to think about New Voices.
This year's camping trip was refreshingly free of rain except when we travelled there and packed up but, although my nostrils are filled with the scent of drying out canvas draped over every chair I possess, that is such a marked improvement on last year I can gloss over it, dwelling instead on swimming in blue, blue seas (very cold blue seas), roasting marshmallows on campfires, local cider, cliff tops filled with gorse and heather, no news. Riots? What riots? Safe in our Dorset bubble we had no idea that anarchy and craziness was breaking out across the nation's cities.
Should have been the perfect idea dreaming up scenario. Sun, sea, cider, what else does an aspiring author need? Armed with a freshly sharpened pencil and a very gorgeous A4 notepad from Paperchase I sent husband and daughter to collect fossils on the beach and started to explore the several ideas that had been stirring whilst I finished the NWS book.
They were all rubbish. Contrived, derivative, dull. Was it the writing in longhand? I am so used to typing have I lost the ability to use pen and paper? Looking at the state of my hand writing I am worried that the answer to that question is yes... Or were my batteries simply completely run down by that last, frantic weekend of writing?
So I read instead. I didn't go near romance opting instead for some nice bleak Scandinavian Crime and a touch of Young Adult.
There is just four weeks to go until New Voices launch and although there is almost a month for competitors to post entries – and several finalists did post late on in the competition last year – I want to get in at the start (there's that self imposed deadline again), not just because you get more comments and feedback but because it's fun to be taking part.
So I ran through the five bad ideas with my three faithful friends who very kindly didn't snort with laughter (actually as they are online friends they probably did but had the very good grace not to tell me) and they all quite liked one and helped me work it into something that may just work. If I can sort out those pesky motivations and conflicting goals and all the other ingredients that doth a good romance make. Meanwhile I am returning the favour with definitely no snorting with laughter just awe at their inventiveness and talent.
So now I just have to write the thing, that's the easy part isn't it?

Friday, 15 July 2011

Finding my New Voice

New Voices 2011 is around the corner. In two months time Mills & Boon will be once again giving aspiring authors the chance to get their work out there, for critique, comment, perhaps praise. To ultimately be judged and, for one hard working talent, given a unique opportunity to shine. The first New Voices was last year; I had been playing around with writing for four years or so, managing 40,000 not-bad-at-all words with the talented @nellbelleandme (turned down by at least ten short sighted agents, not that I'm bitter), submitting two partials to M&B and attending one exhilarating day of workshops at the York Festival of Writing. But New Voices 2010 was when I began to take writing seriously.

I wrote last year's entry cross legged in a tent in Devon, listening to the wind and the rain beat down around me (it wasn't the world's greatest holiday), fighting my daughter for the laptop as she rediscovered Monsters Inc in a big way. It was a way of passing time whilst I waited for feedback on what would become Standard R 2. Good feedback from a Mills & Boon editor at the York Festival of Writing had filled me with confidence, maybe a little too much. I didn't expect to win but I'll let you in on a secret, I did expect my entry to shine in some way.

My holiday writing space - in a rare, dry second

It didn't. The first entries on this blog relive that time in all its raw emotion, embarrassing and slightly uncomfortable to read maybe, but honest. The confidence was replaced with doubt, gnawing, gut wrenching doubt that even the many positive comments on my entry couldn't fix. But, for the first time, I had begun to participate in writers' circles online, befriending other writers, on Facebook and Twitter..Writers who were learning from their disappointment and moving on. Right, so I would too. I gritted my teeth and carried on.

I rewrote the competition chapter and a second and put them aside to come back too, along with the 2nd rejected R (the first rejected R is best left alone)
I started this Blog
I did Nano – 50,000+ words
I entered So You Think You Can Write and a Harlequin Valentine's Competition
I joined the RNA New Writer's Scheme
I did two courses with Jessica Hart, sadly not in Tuscany
I gave up editing my Nano (it belongs with the first rejected R) and started on a new book to submit to the New Writers Scheme

Not bad for nine months work, especially as all this is squeezed into those brief moments when I am not parenting, working or at cub camp (at this time of year every week seems to be cub camp).

And I am looking forward to New Voices 2011. I have a couple of ideas, one historical, 2 contemporary to play with the second I get the still untitled NWS manuscript off. I am looking forward to seeing how old writing friends have progressed, meeting new ones, reading all those entries, obsessively refreshing to see if anyone has commented on mine – oh, no. That was last year's behaviour. This year I will be much calmer about the whole process (ahem).

Roll on September
Anyone not familiar with New Voices can still visit last year's website at www.romanceisnotdead.com My unedited work of genius complete with page long intro and flashbacks is brilliantly entitled Revengeful Seduction but sadly comments are now closed.