Sunday, 29 January 2012

A step in the right direction...

I have to admit, I haven’t been completely honest. Twice. Not lying outright, more of an omission. The first glossing-over-the-facts occurred in September when I was awaiting the New Writing Scheme (NWS) report on a book, Summer Fling, I had written targeted at M&B Riva. I knew full well it had gone for a second reading but didn’t blog about it. Why? Well, I wasn’t entirely sure what the first reader had said or if the second reader would like it. I didn’t want to post excitedly about my success only to have to admit to a damning second report later. Not just a few months after the Standard R so, I waited until I had received both and blogged about the experience as a whole.

The second omission was in November when something amazing happened. At the end of Oct, after some extensive editing of Summer Fling taking on board all the detailed comments and advice from my readers, I bit the bullet and submitted it into M&B. Thanks to the NWS I was lucky enough to skip the slush pile and send it ‘FAO’ but was still expecting a lengthy wait. This didn’t stop me from checking my email endlessly and obsessively which, as I waited 40 weeks for Standard R 2, was not very productive. Only…

Four weeks later I got an email. They liked the partial, they wanted to read the whole book.


I reread the email many, many times; and then I read it again. A frantic last proof read or two and the full book was off.  And time for omission no. 2. No mention of this amazing step here. Why? Partly because of the long, long wait times (a friend has been waiting for over 40 weeks for a decision on a full), partly because of the fear of another Standard R. Partly because I was hoping to write a spectacular, surprise blog detailing the story of My Call.

This isn’t that blog. But neither is it another Standard R. Ten weeks after I pressed send I received a mystery package in the post from M&b enclosing two Rivas, one by the very talented Jessica Hart, the other the latest Nikki Logan. A few hours later I received an email. Not an offer, no, not yet. But, for an aspiring M&B author it was gold. A breakdown of what works and, more crucially, what doesn’t. A long, long email from an editor with suggestions looking at character, story, writing style – the works and an offer to reread it if I make the suggested revisions or to read something else if I decide to work on another project.

If I revise it? Well of course I am going to revise it! Only not just yet…  there is a lot to take in, a lot to think about, a lot to plan. So, *rolls up sleeves* I am going to stop procrastinating and write Minty, edit her and send her into the NWS and then, with the experience of a 2nd book behind me, I will rewrite Summer Fling and try again.

I’m not there yet – but I’m one step close.

And my surprise package? Research. One of the first things aspiring M&B authors are told is to choose your line. Turns out although I’m aiming at Riva my voice is somewhere in between Cherish and Riva so I have been told to read as many Riva writers as I can. It’s a hard life sometimes isn’t it?

Thursday, 26 January 2012

STOP! Don’t Press that send button

I hate mingling (unless my boss is reading this in which case I LOVE networking, love it!), can’t stand big crowds, parties or large events and am allergic to ‘organised fun’. My favourite night out is a few friends, a cosy pub or restaurant, wine, food and good conversation; I avoid Christmas parties like the plague. As for phones, I won’t even phone up for a takeaway and make my long-suffering OH organise play dates etc if human interaction is called for.

Social media on the other hand, well you get all the nice parts of socialising; the fun, the humour, the support, the drama - all without needing to actually, you know, SPEAK to anyone. 

Did I say drama? There’s been a lot of drama recently. Now, I admit, I am just a tad hot headed. A weeny bit impulsive, a smidge emotional and, if pressed, will admit to a touch of the dramatics. I get riled, I get upset, I get emotional.

I am probably a fairly typical writer.

One of the hardest parts about growing up is learning to think before I speak, not to fly off the handle. To try and control my temper.

But the thing with email, texting, tweeting, blogging, commenting is that it’s all pretty instant – just like face to face interaction is. Once you press ‘send’ it’s out there, it’s gone. And you can delete, pull posts but someone somewhere has got a screengrab and they will be more than willing to post it.

Whether it’s the YA and romance writers griping at those who don’t think their work is the heartbreaking work of staggering genius their gran tells them it is, writers laying down rules for what they consider a ‘real’ review to be (either an academic treatise with footnotes or positive), an inexplicably single sci-fi writer (he highlights the single bit himself!) accusing all romance writers including Austen of 9th grade childishness and ability (that's about age 14 for those of us not in the U.S. I know some pretty mature 14 year olds actually) and then deleting all the comments on the blog he doesn’t agree with, well, the blogosphere has been alight with controversy the last two weeks.

It’s not just writers. All of us are guilty of hitting ‘enter’ on a tweet, email or FB post before we think about it – and we can’t all blame our Interns for sending inappropriate tweets (I’m looking at you office of Ed Milliband and Tom Watson’s #savetheintern). What we need to learn to do online is breathe, think and wait. We need to not fly off the handle on-line, just as we try not to in real life.

A colleague recently told me he has an email folder in which he files anything that makes him want to press ‘reply’ and compose an angry rant. He files the incendiary device in the folder, has a cuppa, does something else, sleeps on it and then replies. It’s pretty sound advice. 

So breathe. Rant to your nearest and dearest (privately NOT on Twitter or your blog comments). Spend 30 mins on the boxing section of your Wii Fit. Write the rant you want to write then save it and sleep on it. I can guarantee that when you read your imapssioned rant in the clear light of a fresh morning you'll be glad you didn't let it into the public domain to be laughed at. 

You're a writer and everyone on the internet is your potential reader. They might not be put off by a bad review but they will be put off by bad behaviour. 

Monday, 23 January 2012

Happy ever after...

For me, so far, the hardest part about writing romance is the HEA. Here your hero and heroine are, about to really be honest with themselves and each other for possibly the first time, lay themselves wide open to rejection (and being a category romance there are bound to be very good reasons why that rejection will be shattering) and your emotionally-invested reader needs to be swept away in a flood of sensual yet genuine emotion. The worry is that, having built your book and your characters up to this climax it is all going to be one massive let down, just as poor Anne  Shirley found when she finally received her  first proposal from Billy Andrews, who got his sister, Jane, to do the deed for him.

A truly satisfying HEA bypasses all sense and irony provoking a truly emotional response. I love Four Weddings and a Funeral I really do but when Andie McDowell says ‘Is it raining? I hadn’t noticed?’ I cringe. Every time. Yet up to that moment it works, the humour and romance perfectly balanced only to fall flat at the last hurdle – thank goodness for the end credits which redeem the film slightly. In contrast the ending of Sleepless in Seattle which came out at the same time is picture perfect – understated and sweetly funny much like the film itself.

*Swoon* Jordan Catalano...
Hathaway flying out to Seattle to find a bearded Dr Ross sitting by a lake (ER), Bill Pullman dropping the ring into the payment slot, his whole family grinning behind him (While you were Sleeping) and yes, despite my husband’s eye rolling, Patrick Swayze ensuring that No-One Puts Baby in a Corner. Claire Danes walking over to Jared Leto (My So-Called Life - okay, Brian obviously really loves her and that's lovely but she's a teenager and Jared Leto has cheekbones and a guitar), the moment the camera pulls back to reveal that yay! Joey and Pacey did get together (Dawson’s Creek), the look on Lorelai’s face as she realises Luke has ensured Rory’s farewell party was a success (Gilmore Girls). Each of these endings is the perfect pay-off for the viewer who, in some cases, has spent hours watching the characters grow and develop to reach this moment.

So how as romance writers do we achieve this perfect moment, this pay-off? Our HEA has to feel real, has to feel natural. We need to show that our characters have grown and moved on, are ready for this moment, deserve this moment. It’s not enough for a stereotypical, womanising, anti-marriage hero to just propose. We need to see what brought on this change of heart; we need to believe in it, we need to believe it will last. If our heroine has spent the last 120 pages professing to despise everything our hero is and does then she needs a more convincing reason to say ‘yes’ than his billionaire status and chiselled good looks no matter how perfect the proposal may be. Make them real, let them grow, show them learn from their mistakes and make the reader yearn for a HEA and then all you have to do is deliver it…

Sounds easy doesn't it?? 

Friday, 20 January 2012

Travelling by the book

This year, much, much later this year, I have a Big Birthday. Last time I had a big birthday, nearly ten years ago, surprisingly, I was still living in London and child free - looks back through the mists of time to younger, carefree days - and celebrated with two nights in a posh Bloomsbury hotel*, tea at the Savoy and an evening in my favourite Stoke Newington tapas bar with loads of friends. It was fab. Two weeks later we went to Venice.

Deep, deep nostalgic sigh.

Fast forward not-quite-ten-years and I am not just older, possibly wiser, definitely tireder but also poorer and it’s no longer just the two of us. We haven’t been abroad in years, our last two holidays under canvas, not necessarily by choice. But this year we are hoping to get away, to sleep in beds, between sheets not in sleeping bags on blow up mattresses, have food cooked for us, not heat up tins on a one ring outdoor stove. Ensuite loos, not treks across dew filled fields which definitely sounds more romantic and less damp than it actually is.

Only being contrary I don’t just want sun, sea and all-you-can-eat, I need more, a childhood spent with my nose buried in a book has given me many preconceived ideas of what a perfect holiday should be. The six hours we spend travelling down to Dorset or Devon? My attempt to relieve those long Noel Streatfeild summers when overworked children spent days running wild by the sea, returning to their stage schools full of cream and brown as berries. Must have been a lot warmer in the thirties, and a lot less rain.  Cornwall? The Dark is Rising series of course, I too want to stay in the Captain’s House, walk Rufus the red setter and help the Light defeat the Dark. Beats organised excursions any day!

Me on my honeymoon,
we dressed more formally eleven years ago
My OH cruelly vetoed my first choice of Prince Edward’s Island for a honeymoon destination, although he did allow me to choose a reading from Anne of Avonlea for the wedding itself, so instead I indulged my Lucy Honeychurch dreams and wandered round Florence for a week. Yes, we did have a room with a view, a perfect little apartment with a terrace overlooking the Arno. He may have been expecting highbrow sight-seeingwhen we went to St Petersburg knowing that my university degree contained a year of Russian lit and history. But no, instead I dragged him on a tour of significant locations from The Bronze Horseman.

And so what about my Big Birthday? Italy is always a temptation, with a classics degree and a love of wine, icecream and pasta it’s pretty much perfection but I find myself tempted by Austria. Not for the Sound of Music reasons, or Heidi (actually she may be Swiss), although naturally a day in Salzburg would be on the itinerary. Nope, a holiday in Austria would allow me to finally become a Chalet School girl.

Hob nailed boots, a neatly pinned scarf, a pack up with one vital ingredient missing and a sense of honour and adventure is all I’ll need to climb alpine slopes, wander alpine meadows, defeat Nazis, save people from falling glaciers and rescue Belsornian princesses. Then I’ll return to the Chalet for kaffee und kuchen and a spot of country dancing whilst conversing in at least three languages. Hopefully I won’t catch the twin disease though, I am pretty sure that every grown up Chaletian was delivered of at least one pair of twins, putting a  quick end to her career teaching at her beloved old school.

Of course, what I really want to do most is travel Europe by rail, first class on the Orient Express. Even my imagination draws the line at murder though.

*a surprise from my OH. I had had a very stressful week at work as they were restructuring and had to reapply for my job with an interview and presentation the day before my birthday. I returned home to find OH packing for me and was immediately convinced he was throwing me out and burst into tears. Drama Queen? Me?

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Flirting with intent

I’m cheating on my WIP.

It started out so innocently, a little thought that made me smile.

Next thing I knew I was daydreaming about it when I was supposed to be writing, idly imagining conversations, plot turns, characters, motivation.

And then I thought, what harm just a few lines? Just a few, tiny, exploratory words? Nothing big. In fact, this could be just what I need to put the spice back into my WIP. Because, let’s face it, things are a little stale right now. The spark has gone, we’re too comfortable with each other. I’m happy to be in my glasses, hair scraped back, glasses on, slouched on the sofa wine in hand. This new idea doesn’t know that side of me, we are all witty repartee, de-frizzed hair and contact lenses, flattering underwear.

A bit of time with something new might be just what we need to recharge the batteries, put the va va voom back into our relationship.

So I wrote a few words, then a few more until, before I knew it, I had written 2000. My WIP was waiting at home, anxious, one eye on the clock whilst I was out. With another idea. I was at the library but still…

I am a slutty writer.

Actually I don’t think the new idea is better than my WIP, or the other two plotted out, character rich ideas waiting patiently for me to get round to them. But it is new, it’s unknown and that makes it exciting. When I wrote Summer Fling it stemmed from one scene, that scene inspired from a song. I had a few ideas about plot, setting, characters but most of the book I discovered as I wrote it. Minty is different. I know everything. I know all about Minty and all about Luca, their past, present and future. What’s hard is conveying it, making it sound original and fresh when, to me, it isn’t.

And so I prevaricate, procrastinate and play around. Blog, tweet, read, look at brochures and plan holidays I can’t afford to take – all in the name of research naturally. The huge amount of time I spend Wii dancing and singing is, of course, quality family time, not putting-off-till-tomorrow-what-I-should-be-doing-today.

So, decisions, decisions. New, fun project which right now could be used as a shining example of a sh**ty first draft, head down on Minty and Luca or either of the plotted out, character-rich ideas I have.
Deciding isn’t procrastinating – is it?

Monday, 9 January 2012

It's all about the socialising

Once upon a time, when I lived in a big city and commuted and wore suits, I worked in marketing. It was one of those jobs where people used a lot of jargon to cover up that a lot of their work was, I thought, plain common sense. But recently I have seen so many people get their own marketing so very, very wrong that, for the first time, it has occurred to me that maybe I wasn’t being paid to do some 20th century version of the Emperor’s New Clothes but that maybe, just maybe, I was paid because I was good at my job!

Quietly reassesses career so far.

Now, in the olden days a lot of what I did was one-way traffic. I wrote information-based web copy, edited company magazines that I am pretty sure no customer ever read, instructed design companies to produce adverts and point of sale for people to look at. A lot of marketing just wasn’t that interactive. Then everything changed.

Social media. Didn’t exist when I worked in marketing so not my area of professional speciality but personally? I use it every single day. I interact with friends, many of whom I have never met in real life but know better than people I see every day, I interact with companies, writers, politicians, a very few celebrities, I mainly use Twitter, Blogger and Facebook whilst keeping an eye on Google + and Tumblr. I love social media.

When an author signs a contract nowadays there is an implicit understanding that they will do their own marketing; have a website, a blog, a FB page, tweet. Some publishers provide guidance and training on how to do this, some don’t. And of course, with the rise of the Kindle, there are many, many more self-pubbed authors than there used to be, all doing their own marketing.

Social Media. The clue, people, is in the name. Social – socialising, sharing. A quick google search finds the following definition ‘seeking or enjoying the companionship of others; friendly; sociable; gregarious’.  What it doesn’t say is ‘relentlessly bang on about my book until people want to beat me round the head with a Kindle’. It doesn’t say ‘random celebrity loved my book you will too…’ or ‘HERE IS ANOTHER REVIEW’ or ‘Better than Harry Potter/Da Vinci code/Time Travellers Wife (delete as applicable)’. It doesn’t say follow indiscriminately then unfollow if not followed back within 24hours. This, dear authors, is not marketing, it is spam. You are no better than a Viagra snake oil salesman.

Your potential readers are getting annoyed. This last week alone I have seen a lot of backlash against some of the most prolific of the self-advertisers, people commenting that they wouldn’t buy certain books if they had read every other book on earth, that they have unfollowed/blocked the worst offenders. They are lost readers. You can be Richard and Judy nominated, win the Booker and the Costa and they STILL won’t read you. Worse, they’ll tell all their many, many social media contacts why.
Don’t think of your twitter/blogger/FB accounts as inactive pages to push information out at people, remember they are interactive tools. Talk to people, be creative, be funny. Interact. Find examples of best practice and learn from them. I always really enjoy blog posts by Jessica Hart and Maisey Yates. Why? Both are funny, both post a lot of craft posts, both are relatable, both are very visual and use a lot of pictures, both are generous with giveaways. Both feel very personal. And I have bought books by both authors.

On Twitter I follow a lot of authors. It’s nice when they follow me back but I don’t expect that, it’s also nice when they take the time to respond to @ but again, some receive so many they would never write another word again if they responded to them all. So why do I follow them? I follow authors who give me a glimpse into their writing world, into what shapes them as authors. Why follow J K Rowling who never tweets? Follow Ian Rankin (@Beathhigh) who, as befits the creator of Rebus, tweets a great deal about beer, music and Edinburgh – and writing - always entertaining, down to earth and interesting. And he NEVER retweets reviews. Look at my follow list (@yrosered) and you’ll see a lot of writers, many friendly, encouraging, interesting – and if I hadn’t read them before I followed them on Twitter I certainly have now.

Just be yourself. Be interesting, be interested, tell funny stories, anecdotes, day to day frustrations. And yes, mention you have a book out every now and then – do the odd giveaway, maybe post an excerpt. But remember, when it comes to self promotion less is always, always more.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Feel the fear - and hide

Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think? No, I’m not talking about rain on my wedding day (it was quite sunny actually, though very windy. And I have never worked out how rain on a wedding day was ironic anyway). I profess to be a writer, amongst many other things, but for the last two months I have done very little actual writing. I have been on my computer a lot; tweeting (over 6000, mostly since April this year, no I’m not proud), blogging, reading – but actual writing? Not so much.

And yes, there was the husband’s Big Birthday and visitors and Christmas and weddings and I have a job and a child (not necessarily in that order) and volunteering and the occasional bit of housework. I even go out on the very rare occasion. Oh, and there was The Killing obsession although I consider that essential research as Danish crime TV is so closely linked to sweet romance writing, honestly. But the reality is I have been too full of fear to carry on.

Fear that the current submission will get another standard R, fear that as current WIP didn’t place in NV it’s not worth writing, fear that I am wasting my time; fear that I am a big fraud. Paralysing, all-encompassing fear. I should Face the Fear and Do It Anyway, remember that I have Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself but although I open up WIP, move a word here, delete a word there it remains static. And yet last year I received such brilliant encouragement, so many reasons to believe in my writing, so much hope I should have confidence. Only confidence is in short supply.

OH and I are at yet another crossroads, trying to peer into a crystal ball and see what the future holds. Since Northern Rock crashed our fortunes have been turbulent, in the resulting panic, as businesses tightened their belts we were both made redundant within just four months of the run on the bank. Freelance work eventually found we tried to pay off the resulting debt, pull ourselves back up only to find ourselves back out of work as the recession took hold and freelancers jettisoned. Grimly we clung on and found work, jobs we enjoy, employers we are proud to work for. This new crossroads may just be a tiny blip, may be something we look back on as a good thing, may change everything for the better – or for the worse. Regardless, I know full well that there is no use worrying but I am worrying anyway.
There are people who believe that Everything Happens for a Reason, that life is a series of valuable lessons like some true-life special on an obscure movie channel. I don’t. I don’t believe that life is necessarily what you make it nor do I believe that good things happen to good people or those that wait. Life is unpredictable, bad things happen to good people, hard work doesn’t always pay off and sometimes all you can do is hold on.

However I also know that books don’t write themselves, that contracts don’t materialise out of thin air and sometimes you just have to get over yourself. Write through the fear, the lack of confidence; give yourself permission to write badly, to make no sense. Just Write. In three quarters of an hour I am going to attempt to do my first 1k1hr in 2 months. I am going to Carry On Regardless.

Wish me Luck

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

A clean sweep

'This is so much fun, I love spending time with you. Can we do this again?
Heartwarming words heard from my 8 year old over the holiday season. On which particular occasion did she utter them? The shopping and lunch day (s)? At the work party I took her to? New Year's Eve with friends? Day out in Leeds to see 'Annie' (brilliant, brilliant, if you are near Leeds go while you still can). Cuddled up on the sofa watching films and eating chocolate? Nope. Yesterday as we cleaned out her bedroom.
She's not blessed with the tidiness gene, my daughter. Tiptoeing through her darkened bedroom to kiss her goodnight is like tackling a booby trapped assault course, blindfolded. I warned her Father Christmas wouldn't be able to find her bed to leave a stocking - only of course he did, bringing lots more clutter and mess into an already stuffed full room. And then she spent a night with her friend and saw just what a tween bedroom could be. Dressing table, illuminated mirror, swivel stool, minimalist sixties dollhouse. No clutter
So yesterday, the first day I didn't achieve my 'at least 500 words a day goal', we went on a tidying spree. Goodbye two thirds of her soft toys. Oh the anguish as we deliberated whether or not to keep baby dronkey (from Shrek). He stayed but Piglet, Eeyore and Tigger were cast aside. All her dolls, the big pram, high chair, their clothes - gone. Not my two dolls of course, they went back into the attic along with the small wooden pram and cot. All the babyish games put aside: 'I think I'm old enough for grown up scrabble now' as were a tip-full of broken felt tips, crayons, filled in colouring books. Goodbye to the Disney princesses, Bratz (yay!), Gabriella, Giselle, Eric and Robert leaving a mere 8 Barbies and 2 Moxie dolls, Eric from Aladdin and Toy Story 3 Ken complete with his paisley shirt. Playmobile, Lego and Sylvanian all stayed but the clunky doll's house furniture made for small pre-school hands went.
Now I have to make a trip to the charity shops after I donate the dolls and large pram to the local playgroup and say goodbye to the first part of her childhood.
It's never easy sorting things out, discarding, moving on. Whether it's toys, clothes, books or words. 'Kill your darlings,' advises Stephen King but you love those darlings, worked hard on them, they make you happy! But sometimes you have to move on, put them aside. I can never kill mine completely, I cut and paste them into a separate document and save it 'just in case' just like my old dolls and the wooden cot have gone back into the attic, just like I still have her first pair of patent, purple campers, her christening dress and the outfit she wore her first day home. After all, they're not just a little bit more clutter, they're memories.