Friday, 21 December 2012

Favourite day of the year...

It's only the 21st December and I have already reached Quality Street saturation point and am considering booking my liver in for a much deserved spa break. It's been a frantic December at home and work and, as always, it's my writing that suffers.

My precious writing-Fridays have been spent Christmas shopping, ordering the Christmas food (if it all turns up at midday on Sunday I am going to be very, very smug but I predict a panic dash to the supermarket Sunday afternoon) cleaning (I know!), or at school plays. And I seem to have developed a frantic Christmas social life in the evenings much to my daughter's disgust. 'When are you in?' she asked the other day, desperate for me to finish reading the Hounds of Morrigan to her this year.

Luckily this weekend things slow down and after an afternoon baking on Sunday - gingerbread for the gingerbread and butter apple pudding I am inventing for Christmas day and the trifle for when it all goes horribly wrong - we'll swing into Christmas Eve. One of the things I love most about having a child is the invention of our own family traditions. Every Christmas Eve we go to the crib service at York Minster which ends with a tableaux of every child in a Nativity scene, usually about 300 of them. We've gone every year since she was two but I think this is the last year 9yo will want to participate so next year we may have to try the afternoon service or even Midnight Mass which will make this year's service extra special; I always well up for the descant in 'Oh Come All Ye Faithful', this year there may be sobs. After the service we go for lunch with friends and then the neighbours come round for mulled wine and to watch Father Christmas's progress on Google Maps.

Just a few years ago...
Christmas day is the usual bustle of stockings, presents, walks, food, wine and Dr Who and it is lots of fun but it's the quieter, sweeter Christmas Eve I love best. Whether it's snowing, frosty and sunny or, more likely, grey and raining, it's a magical day, my favourite day of the year.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Rising Star

Thanks to the (non winning) SYTYCW entry I had to come a little further out of the romance writing closet. It's never been a total secret, I just don't want to have to field too may questions about 'how's it going?' and 'are you published yet?' as no one is really interested in the answer to the former and what if the answer to the second is always 'not yet' and never 'well, actually'.
When people do learn about my writing there are two questions they usually ask. The first (interestingly most men's first question) is 'do you write lots of sex?' and the second is 'why not self publish?' I then blush and explain that actually I write sweet romance although naturally there is an element of sensuality and no, valid as it is for many writers, self publishing isn't a route I plan to go down right now.
But of course publishing is changing; epubs, self pubs, mergers and new ventures all make the publishing world more open, more complicated and more exciting than ever. From Entangled's rapid rise to prominence in the romance writing world to the new digital only lines being explored by most of the Big Six there are lots of avenues for prospective writers to explore which, in the end, can only be good for readers.
Lindsay J Pryor is a paranormal writer who is taking a chance on a totally new venture. Twice runner up in New Voices she recently published her debut novel Blood Shadows with start up publisher Bookouture, a digital and print on demand publisher looking for writers with the ability to grow as brands. Taking a chance on an unproved venture seems like a risky decision until you find out that the brains behind Bookouture belong to Oliver Rhodes, the Mills & Boon marketing guru behind New Voices and a Bookseller's Rising Star. Suddenly Lindsay's choice of publisher looks like a very sound one indeed.
The quality so far is staggering; the cover art is beautiful, the editing top notch and the choice of launch novel inspired. Blood Shadows is the first in a trilogy set in Blackthorn, a world where humans mix with third species like werewolves and vampires. A million miles away from glittery vegetarian vampires Lindsay has populated her world with treachery, violence and steamy sex. Caitlin is a strong, likeable heroine, Kane so Alpha he skirts closer to the edge than any Hero I have ever read. The twists and turns left this reader breathless until the very last page. It's a fantastic, exciting, hot read and I cannot wait to read the next one...

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Books, bookselling and passion

A few years ago I was going to open a children's bookshop. My husband had a little bit of redundancy money and, as I had never heard of double dip recessions let alone triple dip ones, investing it in a business seemed like a good plan at the time, especially as, for the second time in our marriage, both our jobs were threatened at the same time. In the end the money got frittered away on things like mortgage payments, bills and food but the dream was good while it lasted.

For a few splendid weeks I did my homework. I was a bookseller at Waterstones in my early twenties (rising to the dizzying heights of assistant manager, Ilford, just as all the creativity, individuality and fun that made the chain so special was stripped away for bland corporate identity and central buying) and when my daughter was a baby I worked evenings at Border so I know quite a bit about bookselling and had lots of ideas how to make it work in a world dominated by Amazon and in a city with one of the highest shop rental costs in the country.

I did market research, spent a lot of time on the phone to Bertrams and Gardners discussing set up costs and payment plans, I scouted premises and I came up with a brand identity that would work online and off. I planned a website full of blogs, recommendations and interaction and a shop packed with events, friendliness and books for everyone from the expectant mother to the jaded teen.  I even had the logo, name of the shop and perfect set out ready to spring to life.

I also intended to write whilst running the shop and raising the daughter. Just a little ambitious.

However, as the job market was less robust then we realised and the redundancy money disappeared I had to put the dream to one side, found a new job (as thank goodness did my husband, eventually) and carried on with the writing, the daughter raising and trying to make ends meet with varying success.

One thing my shop would have done, though, is support local authors. When I worked at both Waterstones and at Borders that was something really important to us.We had to strike a balance of course between profit and meeting the high expectations of authors, some of whom thought we would be able to sell out an event to launch their local walking guide with no help from the author himself, and we were very selective when it came to self published books. But local authors? Published by one of the big six? Bring them on! That attitude, sadly, seems to have disappeared.

I love books. I love the smell, the sight, the feel of them. I also love my kindle, the ease, the instant nature of it. I know Amazon is partly responsible for the decline of bookshops in this country and right now are under fire for interesting if legal tax arrangements. But if I want a book from Amazon it's there, always. The pricing structure makes it easy for me to take a chance on new authors just as three for two tables once did in Waterstones (is there an apostrophe at the moment? I can't keep up).

I barely enter my old employer now. Once it was the proliferation of celebrity autobiographies everywhere, especially at this time of year, now it's the lack of choice. Three for two guaranteed that I would leave swinging a bag with 2 books for me, one I wanted, one I tried because it was 'free' and one for my daughter. And when my local shop isn't stocking either of my friends' books, despite them both being big six published and one of them set here, in this very city, then I don't want to support that shop either.

If anyone wants to invest in a chain of children's bookshops then I am open to offers! Failing that fingers crossed I win the lottery. Because there is room, a need for well stocked bookshops run by passionate, knowledgeable staff in this country. Bookselling is a skill, bookshops and libraries are important and children need space to learn to love books.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Cutting and chopping

Southerscales - Credit J Richards
In my other life I work for a conservation charity. Quite how a Classics graduate, who didn't own a coat one entire year of university let alone waterproof trousers , whose only steel toecaps were patent purple DMs and who, until last week, couldn't tell a sycamore from an ash tree manages in an office where people get really excited by moss is a bit of a mystery. But I like to think I bring my own unique skillset to the workplace. But when I was offered the opportunity to spend two days doing manual work in the Dales I jumped at it.
We started out at Southerscales, an unearthly landscape of limestone high up in the western Dales, pulling sycamore saplings out from between the grikes. The limestone itself was very slippy and some of the cracks very deep but, armed with just a pair of loppers, I searched out and cut down as many saplings as I could find - once I'd managed to differentiate the sycamore from the ash. The next day (after a night in a bunk house so well equipped it was luxurious) we went to Grass Wood, a beautiful woodland full of autumnal hues. Here I got my inexperienced hands on a hackshaw and leaned how to cut down a tree. An actual tree. Me, a saw, a tree and one yell of 'Timber' (well, me plus my brilliant, patient colleague). It was pretty primal and maybe, just maybe I might survive an apocalypse after all.
A few days anyway. Foraging for food is still beyond me.
Grass Wood Credit J Richards
It feels pretty counter intuitive to be killing trees. After all, Classics graduate I may be but even I know that Trees are Good. How can it be good conservation to chop them even if turning lumberjack is more fun than I could have anticipated - in a back breaking, seriously achy way.Turns out there are many good reasons; chiefly sycamores are non native species, ash need space between them so woodland flowers - and the species associated with them - can flourish. The chopped trees were cut and left in piles to make habitats for invertebrates.
There was lots of time to think, especially on Southerscales, when I wasn't concentrating on not slipping and breaking my leg and imagining how mortifying it would be too be rescued by the Air Ambulance and I came up with a new black moment and resolution for Minty. I also realised how similar chopping trees and rewriting are. They are both brutal, irrevocable and essential. When I sit down to rewrite I keep the full text of the old draft in front of me because I figure I can reuse bits of it, especially my favourite bits. Surely in the end they can be worked into a new scenario?
*shakes head sadly*
Never happens  As I work it all gets chopped, cut. Deleted. No matter how much I love it, how witty it seems, how integral to the character. The characters have moved on,evolved and the book needs to move on to. The cut bits are left as habitat piles to feed the characters' growth. They served their purpose and now it's time to walk away, hacksaw in hand, and cut some more.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Social whirlwind

When I was a little girl a friend's mother caught me reading in her daughter's room during a birthday party. I had to put the book away and join in the games. 'We'll have to reconsider inviting you again' she sighed, 'if you can't join in.'
Truth is I never have been a great joiner-inner, preferring to read, quite happy with my own company and loathing 'organised fun'; party games are my idea of complete hell.
But that doesn't make me a loner. A few friends, a bottle of wine, chat and good food? Heaven. It can be hard though, working part time I miss the post-work spontaneous pub trips, but am at work when the other mums go running or have coffee - and I'm usually too knackered to drag myself out once the 9yo has been chauffeured to her activity-of-the-evening. Most of my closest friends live over 200 miles away. It can get a little lonely even for someone who prefers to live in books.
Sometimes it feels like it's just you, that everyone else is out having a fun packed, busy social life. But last week I had a casual chat to two very different women and realised that actually most people feel that way, trapped in an exhausting cycle of kids, work, domestic chores and money worries. Thank heaven for books and writing.
And thank heaven for social media.
I love both Twitter and Facebook. There are lots of people who mourn the loss of letters, phone calls, even emails and hate the way the world is divided into quick snippets.Not me. My friends may be be 200 miles away but I can see their son on his first day of school - and console them after they waved him goodbye. I can flick through their holiday pictures, celebrate the good and listen to the bad. I can chitchat with them. They are closer despite the distance because we still interact, we don't just communicate in edited highlights.
I have made new friends too, my Tweet stream is a fascinating mix of politics and writing, I met my amazing, talented Crit Partners online and Twitter is the first place to check everything from what dog breed would be suitable to correct grammar. To wrinkle brows at Tess Daly's dress sense and try to avoid spoilers during the Homeland/Downton Abbey scheduling clash.
And no one expects you to put down your book to join in. Even better!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Post competition thanks

Oh man, I hate these posts.  You know, those post-competition posts where I say 'Sadly I have not finalled and yeah, I am upset but the positive news is that I have learned loads and am a better writer as a result' finished off with a pithy, remark which shows how good humoured I am about yet another setback.
Don't get me wrong, I think those posts are important; this blog is meant to detail a writer's journey after all and goodness knows setbacks are a huge part of that. Only I wrote already wrote these posts after NV10, and NV11. And there was the epic NWS12 wallow too.
Wow, I am whiny. Apologies for that.
So we'll take it as read that I spent more hours than I care too admit waiting by the phone whilst refreshing my emails, obsessively waiting for a call that never came.
And we'll skate past the knowledge that naturally I am disappointed but I am picking myself up, dusting myself off and jumping back in the saddle (that's a metaphor you understand although I was tempted by those fitness machines that simulate horseriding. I'd rather ride an actual horse but sadly too time and cash poor. And urban. Luckily I do have a  new keep fit regime which  involves chasing the puppy up and down the sitting room yelling 'drop' fifty times a day).
Instead we'll celebrate the real positive of the whole SYTYCW experience - just how amazing people are. So many people voted and tweeted and shared my chapter on Facebook, promoted me in  blogs,sent me lovely messages and emailed links to their friends. I got support from friends, colleagues, fellow writers, people I don't even know. Even my husband read it; usually he looks horrified and mutters that 'it's not really my thing'.
So in the end I didn't get enough votes, nor did I get one of the coveted Wildcards but lots of people really tried to get me there. And that is completely brilliant.
Thank you xxx

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Relentless harassment (so sorry!)

You can never please all the people all the time (note to self; if ever lucky enough to be in a position to get reviews then remember that. It is NOT personal!) and when you open a competition up to public debate there are always going to be some strong opinions. Last year's New Voices competition came in for an certain amount of criticism from a vocal minority not just for the rose bombing (brutal) and some  perceived negative comments but also for the first shortlist; favourites were missed out (not mine *beams at Charlotte Phillips and her 3 book contract*) and there were some contentious inclusions.

So I completely see why it was changed this year. One vote a day from an IP address to cut down on vote manipulation (so I can't get my whole office to vote, damn!), no comments and completely left up to voting apart from 3 wildcards. I do miss the comments though; there have been entries I have desperately wanted to comment on but as I have no idea who the author is I haven't been able to.

we are not allowed to bribe people to vote;
 so puppy pictures are not a bribe, merely an incentive...
The problem with public voting is that, with 700 entries, how could anyone make a really informed choice? Much as I'd like to be zen about the whole thing and leave it to the fates I can't;  with just 3 up for grabs the odds of a wildcard are pitifully slim, so painfully, reluctantly I've been touting for votes. That way I know at least I've tried.

Not obsessively, not constantly. Work, child and frantic rewrite/polish Just In Case means I don't have the time. I am posting a daily FB reminder and tweeting - although of course that just reaches people who would probably vote for me anyway (apart from my husband 'What? Every day? I have read it though.' Which makes a change, he usually doesn't.). But with a vote a day I need to make sure they remember.

So I am Very Sorry everyone who knows me. Hopefully I'll never badger you again this way (if I ever do have a book out I'll be a lot more subtle, I promise) and thank you to everyone who voted for Minty and Luca - here's the link just in case you want to do it again *ducks and hides*

and, in the interest of fairness my CP's ridiculously accomplished entry:

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Vote for me! (If you don't mind that is...)

The voting stage for So You Think You Can Write has started and you can vote for me here
Every day until the 11th Oct. Every Day.
I mean, please, if you would be so kind. If you don't mind that is, if you want to.
Honestly, you don't have to...
Sorry to bother you, I'll go away now.

My goodness, I thought the rose bombing and comments in New Voices were bad enough. SYTYCW allows each person one vote, one day. So, if you want to galvanise support, you have to keep doing it. Every day remind your family, friends, colleagues, neighbours, random person in the supermarket, poor man at the door who only wanted you to change your electricity supplier. Every day you have to say 'Vote for Me.'
It's terrifying.

Thing is, I should love this. I adore marketing, am a social media addict. This should be right up my street. Only, it's different when it's me. Coming out of the romance writing closet, asking people to read my work again and again. This isn't fun, it's terrifying.

I have forgotten everything I know about social media marketing. I haven't scheduled tweets, nor do I retweet. I completely forgot to hang out at the Harlequin e-forums. Last year I was interacting and leaving comments from the day the competition opened. This year I feel more like a kid on the sidelines whispering 'Hi, please pick me...'

Having said that I am really lucky to have had a lot of support and I  want to thank everyone who has RT and shared my link, mentioned my entry in a blog and, of course, voted.
Could you do the same tomorrow please?
There are more puppy pictures if you do...

Monday, 24 September 2012

Minty and Luca; the evolution

I succumbed. I wasn’t going to put myself through it again. I really, really wasn’t. It’s a distraction, stress I don’t need; but, as the clock ticked down to the opening of So You Think You Can Write (SYTYCW) I caved. A global romance writing competition? Of course I was going to enter. Who was I kidding?

This year HM&B has combined elements of their two autumnal competitions - Mills & Boon’s New Voices and Harlequin’s SYTYCW. The first was a public first chapter competition with entries open to public comment and grading, which led to the dreaded ‘rose bombing’ and some very public dissatisfaction with comments received. The second also required a first chapter to enter but these weren’t available to view and entrants needed a finished manuscript in case they were selected to go through.

This year we submit the first chapter as per but they ARE available to view and subject to public vote, possibly comments but if so that functionality isn’t available yet. The top 24 then need to submit full manuscripts and three of those are then posted for public vote. Terrifying stuff. But so worthwhile. Previous competition winners have achieved publication and last year’s runner up Charlotte Phillips has three books waiting to be published. Three. In less than a year.

My chapter features two characters familiar to anyone who regularly read this blog. Some things haven’t changed; Minty still hides behind a carefree, frivolous mask and avoids all commitment, Luca still wants stability and a family. But many things have. These characters have been written and rewritten. And rewritten again.

First version: Chick lit lite with Minty deciding to marry her gay best friend because he was too afraid to come out to his traditional Italian family. Cue the arrival of his suspicious, handsome cousin Luca.
Second version (4 rewrites before entered into NV11): Minty is tricked by her gay best friend into a fake engagement when his cousin, Luca, comes to town
Third/Fourth version (NWS version) After one scandal too many Minty’s father cuts her off and she immediately finds herself back on the front pages linked to her flatmate’s cousin Luca, who chivalrously offers her an escape – and a job, at his Italian ice cream business.
Fifth version (RNA conference pitch) After her father cuts her off Minty’s flatmate offers her a job at his family business back in Italy. Only he’s forgotten to tell his cousin Luca, who is looking forward to welcoming him back into the business, that the job is for Minty not for himself.
Sixth version (SYTYCW) is very different. No flatmate,  a stronger set up and more sparks straight off – I hope! You can read it for yourself here: One Kiss or Two

Let me know what you think…

Friday, 21 September 2012

Summer, holidays & puppies

My thespian family dressed in their Mystery Play costumes
Just when it felt like summer may just have finally made a belated appearance it turned out that autumn was hot (cold) on its heels. It has been a chilly few days in York; tights, gillets and boots have been dug out and even seasoned Yorkshire folk have toyed with the idea of putting the heating on. Normally I love autumn, the leaves, the crispness in the air but this year I feel hard done by. I like my seasons to come in order and leave an impression not rush by with scarcely a deviation in temperature.
It was an odd summer. The Olympics and York Mystery Plays turned our lives upside down and all attempt at routine was lost - which played havoc with my writing and blogging. Not that I didn't have ideas, I had lots, just not the time or energy to get them down on paper. They included:

  • The history of York Mystery Plays (not writerly but as both my OH and daughter devoted over 4 months to it they were the event of the year in my household. They were spectacular btw)
  • My significant birthday and the resolutions I made upon it (write more, eat less, try & get up earlier)
  • Stephen King Was Right or Routine is Important
  • SYTYCW or here we go again although I should know better and am not prepared cue yet another frantic rewrite
  • The evolution of Minty through six SIX rewrites 
  • My awesome holiday to Austria, how it recharged what turned out to be very flat batteries and inspired lots of story ideas with amusing anecdotes (trust me, they were funny involving schnapps, hotel bands & the Heidi song)
  • This was our view sigh*
  • The awesomeness of Andy Murray's double win with some painstaking analogy about how working and waiting will get results
Instead however I am going to introduce you to the newest member of the household. He is very cute and very naughty and in just 5 days has turned our lives upside down. As it should be. Just think how much plotting I'll get done when walking him...

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Book Launch

Last night the very lovely Pam Hartshorne, aka Jessica Hart, kindly invited me to the launch of her new book Time's Echo. Fittingly for a book partly set in Tudor York, she held the launch in the Medieval beamed splendour of the Merchant's Adventurer's Hall and treated us to delicious canapés and fizzy wine. Very civilised indeed.

Of course I bought a copy of the book and started reading it the second I got back home. I love Pam's romances and was really curious to see how she would tackle a completely different genre. Time's Echo is a timeslip, a genre I know very little about, and was described at the launch as part Philippa Gregory, part Barbara Erskine and part ghost story. Grace, who hasn't stopped moving since she was caught up in the Boxing Day tsunami, has ended up in York where she is sorting out her late godmother's affairs. She has never been to the city before so why does it seem so familiar and yet so different? And who is Hawise, the Tudor maidservant who she keeps hallucinating she is? She can't be possessed, can she?

I don't know the answer to those questions by the way because I am only on Chapter Five but so far it is totally enthralling and very atmospheric with a real sense of menace - and I am hooked!

York being the village masquerading as a city that it is, there were several guests at the launch that I knew, some I expected to see including fellow students from Pam's creative writing course, and a couple I really didn't, including a much loved colleague from years ago. It was lovely to catch up with Donna Douglas who is also a York writer. Her latest book The Nightingale Girls is currently flying high in the charts. This one I have finished reading and can thoroughly recommend. It's an engrossing read, set in a 1930s hospital with a huge cast of brilliantly written characters and with a brilliant sense of time and place.

I feel very lucky to know such talented writers who are so generous with their time, wisdom and advice. And who write such eminently readable books. So, if you'll excuse me I have an armchair to curl up in and a book to finish.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

True heroines

It's been slow, this editing business. And yes, one of the reasons is that I am swept up in the new national pastime of Armchair Sports Enthusiast.

Funny to think that two weeks ago most of us were sceptical about the Olympics; turned off by the expense, the excessive branding restraints and the corporate takeover. One OTT, charming and bonkers Opening Ceremony later, a ceremony that celebrated books and the NHS, multiculturalism, music and all Britain's heritage - the good and the bad, and the country heaved a collected, contented sigh, sank back onto the sofa and grabbed their remote controls, ready to surf a red button fuelled extravaganza of sports.

It's been lovely to see overpaid, over exposed men's football relegated to the footnotes whilst athletes, gymnasts, canoeists and swimmers take their place on the front pages. We are all experts in judo and taekwondo and almost understand how gymnastics is scored. Andy Murray wins gold on Centre Court, the men's gymnasts score Bronze - then silver, then Bronze again - and dancing ponies are suddenly the hottest ticket in town. And everywhere we look women are being judged not on their looks (mostly) but on their strength and prowess and ability.

Jessica Ennis, Victoria Pendleton, Beth Tweddle, Sarah Stevenson, Jade Jones, Nicola Adams; just a few of the amazing women who have dominated the headlines in the last two weeks. Women who have  trained, sacrificed, worked every hour of every day to achieve their goals. Women who aren't interested in being famous at any cost, women who don't care about sweat, blood and tears, women with bodies that don't adhere to fashion's size zero ideal - bodies that are strong, powerful, that have a purpose and a use. Of course I have as much chance as achieving Ennis' abs as I have of squeezing into a pair of teeny designer jeans but I know which I'd rather have!

Of course two weeks won't change a culture. There's an alarming tendency for commentators and journalists to label grown women as 'girls', Benny Hill music played at beach volleyball, Telegraph writer's drooling on about women's soft limbs, the glitter, eye make up and sequin heavy costumes on the rhythmic gymnasts and synchronised swimmers (although, how do they breathe? Are they part fish? I'm not sure it's sport but it is certainly surreal and breath taking to watch). All this shows that as Team G.B.'s women rack up the medals there is a lot more work to be done. But it's a start.

Now where did I put that remote control again? I believe it's time for the diving...

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Fifty shades of Lace

A couple of weekends ago I went to the RNA conference in Penrith. It was fabulous from the filled goody bag when I arrived to the final talk by Kate Walker on emotion. There were far too many good moments to choose from; meeting two out of my three CPs in real life (and we had just as much to say in person as we do on line); watching fellow Yorkie Donna Hay, aka Donna Douglas, discover her inner self publicist (her first book as Donna Douglas The Nightingale Girls comes out 18th August and I can't wait to read it); or fan-girling over the uber glamorous  M&B contingent, especially twitter pals Fiona Harper and India Grey who were just lovely.

As for the talks - inspiring, thought provoking, tear-inducing (thanks Julie Cohen) and a real treat for an ex bookseller who loves a bit of industry talk, especially the frank and open Mira presentation. But if there was one theme that dominated the whole conference it was the sudden and surprising success of That Book. Less than half of us admitted to having started it, and fewer to having finished it but the truth is we would all kill for sales even half as good as hers.
A quarter as good.

But behind the envy and the admiration and the disdain and surprise and interest there was real puzzlement. Why this book? Why now? After all, it's not that well written (so we have heard) or original (fan fiction origin) or even that dirty. Apparently. (Okay, I haven't read it but I am addicted to this blog). And let's be honest. The romance writing sorority have been writing on this theme for years. 
You want to read about hot billionaires brought to their knees (ahem) by sassy virgins? M&B Modern line has them in droves. Sarah Morgan's RITA winning Doukakis's Apprentice is a witty, fun twist on the genre. And it's pretty steamy too. In fact read anything by Sarah Morgan, India Grey or Caitlin Crews. They can supply you with more alpha billionaires, lip biting heroines and knee trembling moments than tears at a gymnastic final. With emotion, wit and some pretty brilliant writing too. 

One of the worst parts of That Book's success has been the horrid, horrid term 'Mommy Por'n. There are so many things that offend me about the term that I won't even begin to go there; seriously. Patronising much? But apart from the patronising, sexist smugness of the term is the amusing implication that this is new. 

'Which one of you three
bitches is my mother?'
When I was a teenager the 80s bonkbuster ruled supreme. Jilly Cooper's jodhpurs clad playboys, Judith Krantz's high society heiresses, Jackie Collins's Hollywood bad boys and girl. All getting up to hot and steamy action that would blow Christian Grey's mind. Judy Blume's Forever was passed round my class, followed by the first three Jean M Auels, read less for their painfully researched look at Ice Age humanity than for the frequent and explicit love scenes. I was not allowed to stay up and watch Lace - but I sneaked a copy out of the library instead. It's being re-released and this fascinating interview with Shirley Conran made me want to read it all over again. 

Truth was though for me and most of classmates the sex scenes were fun - and informative. But a good book was better. I would far, far rather have read a good sweet romance than a badly written erotic one.  There's hardly a kiss in Heyer and I reread her many, many times. So despite the curiosity I won't be downloading Fifty Shades. I may have to take a copy of Lace on holiday to read by the pool though! 

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Love your library

One of the first tips for any would-be writer is to read. Read your chosen genre, read around your chosen genre, read widely, read voraciously, read greedily. Reading is one aspect of the writing game I have sorted. Not the way I used to; a job, a child, a social life (child's not mine, are you crazy?) and the aforementioned writing-lark mean that reading is something usually done before bed. Or while I'm cooking dinner. Or while child is at rehearsals/swimming/gymnastics/parties. Or when I dice with kindle death and read in the bath. Or because the sun's out. Or I have a cold.

I was shiny when I was 16!

Legend has it that I taught myself to read when I was just two. There may be some parental exaggerating in this but it's true that I don't remember learning to read and my school had me marked down as a problem child the first day of reception not just because I was *shock* the only child with divorced parents who *shock* couldn't afford school uniform and *shock* was on free school dinners but worse - Much Worse -'What are we going to do with her?' they whispered. 'That child can read...'
I read at other children's parties, under the covers at night with a torch, under my desk, at the table.

And when I wasn't reading I was making up stories in my head. I still do, only now I call them 'plots' and sometimes I even write them down.

As a child the library was my favourite place, my safe place. A whole room filled with books that I could read. I could try new things, rediscover authors, reread old favourites. I loved the slightly musty smell, the hush, the serious look as people browsed the shelves and that flash of delight as they found just what they were looking for.

I belonged to the library in every place I lived including my university city Glastonbury, Connecticut where I au-paired for a year. The American library had vast quantities of cosy crime and regency romance which I borrowed in huge armfuls to the horror of my employer who steered me towards the literary works on his bookshelves. That was okay too, I always did like to mix up my reading diet. This week alone I have read Sarah Morgan, Miranda Dickinson, Jasper Fforde and Henning Makell; category romance, chick lit, speculative fantasy and Nordic Crime.

Childrens, hard backs and classics. Not alphabeticised in vain attempt to seem less anal... there is a similar amount of fiction; category, some YA, the entire Agatha Christie & tbr mountains are all upstairs

Now I don't use the library in the same way. The years I worked as a bookseller I had a good discount and access to a lot of proofs and I got into the habit of owning and accumulating books; a habit my kindle has made a lot worse. There are 273 items in my kindle library after 20 months - and I don't download free books. I use my local library for the cafe, the wifi and the coffee and to try and find that book that will kindle my daughter's interest in reading. A book that so far remains elusive. Although in the dark times of redundancy the library was once again a place of comfort, of refuge. An escape.

Like many libraries the ones near me are changing, evolving. They are now called 'Explore Centres', there are less staff and more machines, less actual books and more computers, cafes and wifi, noise seems to be encouraged and children shout at whim (not mine; she may not be a reader but she has respect for the books). Sometimes this saddens me when I look at the space on the shelves and try and block out the noise, sometimes I applaud the innovation; an old failing building in my local park has become a 'reading cafe', a mixture of afternoon tea and books linked to the library system. Cake and stories and trees, what's not to love?

But as I hear of more and more libraries closing, shrinking, replacing professionals with volunteers, cutting, cutting, cutting I think of all the kids who may not have access to books at home for so many reasons, children who need libraries to flourish, to learn, to grow. Of me as a child, as a student, as an adult whose job disappeared and with it all security and freedom. Libraries are not a luxury, they are an essential. And we need to fight for them.

Monday, 2 July 2012

My father's legacy

There were many tales told at my father’s funeral. I didn’t really know him so I listened to them all avidly trying to get a sense of what kind of man he was. What kind of man left two young daughters and created a whole other life without them.

St Nicholas Street, Galway
He died alone, in a cluttered, very, very dirty house in Galway by this time pretty much a recluse. It must have happened near his birthday. I’m not sure how old he would have been; 58 or 59 I think. Not old but he was an alcoholic who had escaped death three times I was aware of. It had to catch up with him eventually.

It was a waste, everyone agreed. A waste that a brilliant, charismatic, charming man had squandered his life in this way. In the end, for all his talents he achieved nothing apart from fathering two children he didn’t raise.

I spent a lot of my adolescence and early twenties being very angry and bitter. When I wasn’t being sad. One visit to Galway as an adult was unsuccessful, I didn’t repeat it. And I didn’t tell him he was a grandfather, I didn’t think he deserved to know, didn’t want to taint my small, perfect baby with his deserting inheritance. My stepfather was (is) the funny, loving, doting grandpa she needed. Life was simpler, easier, better if I erased my birth father from the story.

Then he died and erased himself. I put a photo of her in his very grand, oak coffin at the very grand Irish Catholic funeral the lapsed Catholic Irishman would have hated. Wishing I had sent one photo while he was alive. Such a small kindness it would have been.

There were many tales told at my father’s funeral. The time he bought a model aeroplane and didn’t start it; he didn’t want to make a mistake so he kept it in a box and thought about it, too worried he might ruin it to ever actually make it. The books he planned out were never written not a word put down on paper because each word had to be perfect. The truth was he didn’t think he’d be a perfect father so it was easier not to be one.

Nature v nurture. He didn’t raise me, one weekend a month from the time I was five, gone before I was ten. And yet I have the same fear and I see it in my daughter too. The fear it won’t work, it won’t be perfect. The fear that as we are not good enough it’s better not to try. ‘There’s no point me practising my violin,’ she cried out in frustration one day. ‘I’m going to fail my exam anyway.’ It’s easy to say the right words. To tell her that failure is nothing to fear, that as long as she does her best that’s all that matters. Practice makes perfect. But I have the same doubting voices in my mind.

Why haven’t I edited Summer Fling? Why am I stuck on a rewrite of one chapter that won’t flow? Why am I putting all my energy into reworking a book that hasn’t been asked for instead of working on the one that has? I am so scared of failing, of not getting right, of that R&R turning into a simple R I am paralysed, sabotaging my chances of success with the guaranteed fail not finishing it will bring. Better to orchestrate your own failure than fail despite trying your best.

'Stop trying to talk yourself out of what you're trying to achieve Right Now.' More wise words from my C.P. as I panic, flounder, doubt. And she's right. I was, am, do.

But I am more than my father’s daughter. I have written three books. I am raising my daughter. I gritted my teeth and carried on when things got so dark I didn’t think I’d ever see the light again. I am terrified of failure, hence the epic wallow at my last NWS report, as all I could see was it confirm all those secret, negative fears, ignoring every word of praise and encouragement.

 I am terrified that I will keep on and on writing books that are never good enough. But crucially I also know that if I don’t write them, if I don’t try, then I will never get there. I have to keep going. And in that I am not my father's daughter, I am my own person. 

Friday, 29 June 2012

Advantage Underdog

I love tennis. Love it. And yesterday I fully intended to write a post justifying my love of tennis by pointing out just how perfect it is for research (aka my tenuous reasons for slacking off during every Grand Slam and Queens but especially at Wimbledon time).

I was going to illustrate my point with pictures of First Tennis Crush Stefan Edburg who had the most beautiful legs any man has ever sported, followed by Aussies Pat Rafter and Mark Philappoussis who used to play doubles *faints* dazzling their opponents with their gorgeous faces. Possibly. They dazzled me anyway. And then, after I had treated you to fit men in tennis whites, *swoons* I was going to make some serious points about handsome men who make money through hard work and dedication and then (Federer, Agassi) set up charitable foundations with their loot. Proper heroes. Proper inspiration for any romance writer. (Okay, Philippoussis ended up on The Bachelor, we'll gloss over that).

And then last night's match happened and suddenly I had the perfect inspiration for my post.

In this country we love to think that Wimbledon is special. Andy Murray may have made it to US and Australian Open Finals but they don't count. (I don't agree with that statement at all btw Andy if you happen to stumble upon this but we both know that most of the UK does). No matter how large the sports section, throughout most of the year tennis barely merits a paragraph. Growing up I didn't even realise there were other tournaments. And then for two weeks the country goes tennis crazy.

Wimbledon. The whites of the players against the green of the court. The thud of the ball on the grass.  The red button allowing you to select your match; if only they'd had that when, no matter how thrilling the other matches, the Beeb made us watch Henman grind his way to another plucky defeat.

A place where dreams can come true.

I've only set foot in the hallowed grounds once. A school trip when I was in the sixth. We had tickets for the outside court seats but I begged my way onto Centre Court. Memory is a funny thing isn't it? I was convinced I saw Goran Ivanisevic lose to Lendl in the fouth round Wikipedia tells me I saw him beat Kevin Curren. Either way (!), it was the first time I had seen or heard of the hot headed Croat but, like all the crowd that day, I was rooting for the underdog. It took him another 11 years to finally gain the title, on a Monday in a rainy July, a wildcard entry not expected to get past the third round, if he was lucky. He worked hard, he kept believing He never gave up.

Last night another unknown achieved the unthinkable. A 26 year old journeyman, used to the challenger tour, who had failed to even get past the first round of qualifying in previous years, came out onto Centre Court and blew away the world no, 2. If that happened in a film we would laugh at it as unrealistic, but it happened. The tension as he came onto serve for the match was incredible. The crowd expectant, Rafa wound up tight. Back home both my OH and I had our knuckles stuffed in our mouths, like children, transfixed on the screen. We expected him to choke. To blow that first match point like so many others before him. A nervous flicker up to the sky. A visible deep breath. An ace. Lukas Rosol in the history books.

Twenty six is young; but not for a tennis player. Miracles do happen, but not usually against a take-no-prisoners-champion on Centre Court. Hard work, self belief and having a go no matter what, it's worth a try isn't it? You never know where it might take you.* Just ask Rosol.

*Goes off to practice backhands dreaming of my Centre Court debut. Oh alright, really goes off to rewrite that first chapter for the umpeenth time and dream of that elusive contract.