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 My unedited work of genius complete with page long intro and flashbacks is brilliantly entitled Revengeful Seduction but sadly comments are now closed.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Put down your books, Women! (unless it v serious & literary)

Another week another controversy.

Yet again we are being told women are far too easily influenced and led by our hormone driven emotions to be trusted to read fiction, especially romantic fiction. It makes us want to be happy you see, makes us want loving equal relationships, possibly even families so we stick with our men, stop using contraceptives and have to have an abortion.

Woman writing for the British Medical Journal say what?!

Yes ladies, close those frothy pink covered books because YOUR reading material leads to unwanted pregnancies, marital breakdown and adulterous affairs. In a Daily Telegraph article published today with the not-at-all-sensationalist headline “Mills and Boon causes Marital Breakdown”
relationship psychologist Susan Quilliam ( - journalist, PR woman, broadcaster wow, multi skilled, she probably doesn’t have time to read – check out her website couldn’t see her research credentials but I am sure they are robust enough to back up such a huge claim) says "a huge number" of problems are caused by romantic novels.

"What we see in our consulting rooms is more likely to be informed by Mills & Boon than by the Family Planning Association,"
"We warn of the stresses of pregnancy and child-rearing, and we discourage relentless baby-making as proof of a relationship's strength. Above all, we teach that sex may be wonderful and relationships loving, but neither are ever perfect and idealising them is the short way to heartbreak. But are our lessons falling on deaf ears when compared to the values of the Regency heroine gazing adoringly across the Assembly Rooms to catch a glimpse of her man.”

Yes, Jane Austen, you may not have written for Mills and Boon but you are clearly also to blame with your breeches clad heroes and romantic declarations. I insist schools stop teaching such froth immediately and replace this woman with some nice Thomas Hardy – Jude the Obscure should do it, no expectations of a happy ending to be found there.
I ranted just last week about how men can, apparently, read all kinds of escapist fiction and yet be trusted not to let it overheat their brains and won’t repeat myself but do find it interesting that it is the right wing press that like to peddle these myths. As a woman what I find hard is not escaping into a novel – of whatever genre – for a couple of hours but the relentless barrage of criticism telling me I am too fat, not fashionable enough, my hair should be glossy, my skin flawless, I must work but not too much or I will ruin my child’s life, must exercise, eat this, wear that, decorate my house this way...

In my opinion the worst and most pernicious influences on women are those drip fed to us by adverts, by magazines, by tabloids, by reality shows, by soaps showing us a world where you have to be pretty and sexy to succeed. Where high heels and glossy hair are more important than a degree, where a cheating lothario of a footballer is a perfect mate. Look at the reality shows and you will see silicon enhanced women making a fortune out of selling every detail of their lives to the papers and magazines, often having babies with multiple partners as part of this real life soap opera. Spoilt heiresses, kiss and tell girls, barely clad pop stars, footballer’s wives (not female footballers, far too sweaty and non blow-dried) – these are the female role models.

Or you could lose yourself in a romance novel where the heroine could be a CEO, a successful baker, run an Art Gallery, a lawyer, a PR consultant, a graphic designer, a computer programmer, a doctor. What kind of ridiculous message is that to teach women? A fulfilling career and an equal partnership with someone who loves you? Clearly fiction. Go get a spray tan and some false nails and hang around a Liverpool nightclub instead. After all, if you get lucky you can always sell your story…