Monday, 9 December 2013

More haste less waste

As we all know it was a bit of a journey to get to this point *cue emotional mood music*. A journey that involved, apart from the well documented tears and tantrums, multiple rewrites.
Which as processes go is a little wasteful. Sure, I'm not fined per word, per scene, per character, per chapter unused but there are at least two books worth of spare words culled from Minty alone. And when you are as time challenged as I am it seems silly to write 150,000 words when only 50,000 are required.
So *rolls up sleeves* I needed to figure out a process that is a little more user friendly.
And Book 3 seemed like a good place to start.
First step was writing out a full proposal including my H & h's backgrounds, deceptively easy as as this story was my Minty alternate back in 2011 so I have had just a little bit of time to figure out things like conflict and motivation.
Second step was fast drafting the first 30,000 words (it was supposed to be the whole 50,000 but I ran out of time. I suspect running out of time will be a key part of this process).
And then I had to send the first three chapters to my editor *refreshes email again*.
This part is new. Not since the terrible historicals have I submitted three chapters of an unfinished manuscript, submitted chapters just one edit away from a first draft. It's a scary thing to do, they still feel pretty raw to me. I am imagining poor editor, head in hands, weeping gently over her keyboard wondering why she ever gave me a second contract.
But *shakes self* by getting her input so early on I can make sure my second draft is as tight as can be and on the right lines which may mean less revisions later on.
Well that's the hope anyway!

Monday, 25 November 2013

Once upon a time...

Once upon a time there was a daydreaming bookworm who wanted to be a writer more than anything else in the world.
Only she was too afraid to try. What if she got it wrong?
Sitting down with a pad and pencil or a typewriter or at a computer felt too pretentious.Like a little girl playing dress up. Much easier to make up stories, alternative endings, fantasies in her head and not try.
Because if you don't try then you can't fail. And it's all still a possibility.
But then, one day, she got fed up with being scared and she sat down at a computer and typed those all important words. 'Chapter One'.
Those words weren't bad but sadly the words that followed were. They really were.
So she wrote some more. Then more and more and more.
And slowly they got better. They began to turn into a real story. With a plot and character and even, a few more words later, conflict.
It all took a long time. There were some tears, a little despair, two courses, craft books and a conference. And some amazing, supportive friends.
But then her dreams came true. Someone wanted to publish her book and she lived happily ever after!

Actually that is mostly true. But guess what? It's just the prologue. All that work, all those many, many discarded words, those books and chapters that will languish forever in the Well of Lost Plots (copyright the great Jasper Fforde), the hysteria, tantrums and rare moment of euphoria? That just gets you to the beginning of Chapter One.

Being a writer isn't about writing one book and getting it to publication point. It's about writing another and another and another. It's about constantly improving, meeting deadlines, staying creative. That's chapter two and three and four and five.

I have a second contract now with deadlines and no finished books to conveniently slot into those spaces. I have had to start a new book knowing that this time I don't have limitless time and the big comfort blanket of the New Writer's Scheme. This is Chapter One. It's all very exciting. And scary as hell.

But I wouldn't have it any other way...

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Not my Lego friend

Today my daughter's long awaited copy of the Lego magazine arrived.
The only problem was the five doe eyed smiley girls on the cover. The Lego marketing team had flagged my daughter's gender and assumed she wanted the Lego friends version. Focus? School, pets, friends, baking. The pictures and text are bigger than those in the 'traditional' Lego stories, the themes blander.

When I was a kid all children wore orange and brown corduroy no matter what their gender and Lego came in standard red, blue and yellow. Black and white were novelties, I may have seen the odd bit of green. Then at some point they began to make kits and the genderisation of Lego began.

I bought her Lego long before her first birthday, first duplo then the stuff I remembered though the variety was bewildering; Harry Potter, City, Star Wars, Knights. So I went for a box of plain bricks and waited for her to create. And waited and waited...

Barbies, Sylvanians, Playmobile, Moxie Dolls. All preferable to the small bricks. So, Lego I get it. You see the lucrative female under ten market playing with these things and you want a share. I can just imagine the Board Meeting now. No matter that you live in one of the most gender progressive societies in the World, home of Birgitte Nyborg and Sara Lund. 'The little girls want pink and ponies. We must give them pink and ponies!'

Thus Lego Friends was born.

I don't mind the pink to be honest and I am pretty partial to purple. I don't even mind the beauty parlours and the dog grooming. I just mind how limiting this all is. I mind the larger pieces, the less taxing builds, the narrow focus on some kind of Clueless life. They could have been cleverer, less obvious and for opted for a more diverse Lego City - a city with more female characters, more animals, a focus on more than rescue services and vehicles by adding a whole High Street of shops that includes the beauty parlour but with the police station next door. A City for boys and girls no matter what their tastes. Cause right now girls are being told that the vast majority of Lego kits are not for them. And boys are steered away from anything domestic. It's unfair on both.

In the end all she needed was time. Eighteen months ago she discovered that small box. Now she's hooked asking for gothic castles and airships for Christmas, saving her birthday money. She couldn't wait to be part of the Lego Club. It's a shame the Club excludes her because of her gender.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Minty's Progress

Final edits have been accepted and Minty will finally be published in June next year, title tbc *sets off quiet fireworks so as not to upset the dog*.

Regular readers of this blog (lucky, lucky folk) are more than aware what a titanic struggle this book has been. My fingers are very firmly crossed that this was second book syndrome done and dusted and book three will be a breeze to write, even if only in comparison!

There were times over the last two years when I wondered what on earth I was doing - there's a fine line between obstinacy and perseverance and I really wasn't sure which side I was on. Many, many times I nearly put Minty aside to start on something new, sure I was fooling myself and that there really wasn't a book worth writing in this idea. But I couldn't. I loved my heroine and I loved my hero and I adored the setting. Everything else might - and did - change but they remained constant.

So here's a recap of how the book evolved from rewrite to rewrite. If you're currently struggling with a WIP that just won't work I hope this shows you there is light at the end of the tunnel, just sometimes the tunnel is a very, very long one!

Aug 2011 - First chapt competition - I wrote four alternative first chapters each centred around a socialite who embarks on a fake engagement with her gay Italian flatmate only to fall for his disapproving cousin, Luca. It didn't final.

Dec 2011 - I read India Grey's brilliant Craving the Forbidden about a girl's fake relationship with her gay best friend. I know there are many common tropes and themes in romance but this was far too good to follow. Back to the drawing board.

Jan 12 - Rewrote from scratch, still with a fake relationship theme, but this time with Luca, engineered by his cousin/Minty's flatmate.

Apr 12 - Sat down to edit. Rewrote from scratch removing one secondary character.

May 12 - Sent off to the New Writer's Scheme and also entered the first chapter in a Romance Fast Track comp.

June 12 - Didn't hear back from the Fast Track. Received an EIGHT PAGE letter from the NWS reader. Took to my bed, wallowed, cried, sulked. Got out of bed and rewrote killing off another secondary character and changing the theme.

July 12 - Entered new first chapter for a one to one at the RNA Conference. The editor quite liked it but suggested it would be better without the last secondary character. The gay best friend had to go. Rewrote again - the whole book

Sept 12 - Entered the latest new chapter in SYTYCW. Didn't place. Fell into pit of despair.

Oct 12 - Got an email from M&B asking if I was planning to submit a full mss for the Fast Track event. My email had got lost, they wanted to see it! Edited hard.

Dec 12 - Submitted.

Waited. Waited some more. Chased. Waited. (edited and submitted another book).


Oct 13 Edits

Nov 13 Final acceptance.

For all our sakes (and especially my soon to be long-suffering editor's) I hope that this steep, steep learning curve full of rewrites, tears, tantrums and endless first chapters is a one off. Thank you for sticking with me through it and for all your lovely comments about Minty. I can't believe she and Luca will get their HEA at long, long last. x

Friday, 18 October 2013

Raging against the dying of the light.

I got woken up by the phone very early this morning. My Grandfather has finally gone gently into that good night. Rejoined the wife he missed so bitterly, until the day he forgot who he was.

I tried to go back to sleep but it eluded me and I lay, wide eyed, staring at the gray morning light until the radio alarm started blaring out the day's news. I don't know why I start the day with Radio 4 Today. It usually ensures I am bad tempered and/or despairing before I have cleaned my teeth. This morning was no exception.

In some hideous coincidence the day my grandfather died in the home we, his family, had put him in, a decision made heavily, with grief, over a long period of time, this was the day Jeremy Hunt decided to lecture society about how we care for our elderly.

Too many elderly he says, are isolated and alone. It's the fault of the selfish children and grandchildren who abandon them to indifferent care. We should emulate other cultures and bring them into our homes and care for them with love and respect.

There are so many things I want to say in response to this that there is no blog long enough. I will just mention the complete care crisis that contributes to this loneliness, a crisis caused by chronic underfunding and the privatisation of services. I will mention the huge pressure on families often separated geographically because we must go where the jobs are,  on the women, and they are mostly women, working, caring for children and grandchildren and responsible for elderly parents. My mother has spent the last eight years shouldering the burden of her parents' care almost totally  alone, whilst working and helping me with holiday child care. She is exhausted.I will shake my head in complete shock at his exhortation that we emulate other cultures without considering what that actually means- often unmarried daughters and overworked daughters in law to provide the care. And actually, Mr Hunt, most cultures are finding that globalisation means that they are having exactly the same problems we are.

There are many ways to solve this crisis. Unfortunately for Mr Hunt it means paying carers living wages, an end to zero hours contracts, and putting money back into the community. It means supporting families as they make these difficult decisions, not berating them as they do so. I wanted my grandfather to die peacefully in his own bed after a hale, hearty life, not curled up in a hospital bed in a nursing home. Could I, or my mother, or my sister have provided that care at home? Even if I didn't need to work it would have been impossible. He needed professional care.
I wrote the following on this blog two years ago. This was my grandfather:

Today I went to visit my grandfather, Papa. He lives in a home and has dementia and it breaks my heart.

When I was a child he seemed preternaturally strong despite his short stature; if I linked my hands around his forearms he could flex his arms and lift me right off the ground. He could lift two grandchildren at once. His appetite was legendary, plates piled sky-high to be masticated slowly and thoroughly before equally massive second helpings. And then pudding.

 As I grew older I realised we approached things from a very different direction. He was a small town business man with conservative views (big and small c) who enjoyed country sports and belonged to all those men-only clubs that small town business men belong to. I have only rarely seen him without a tie and tweed jacket. I was (am) a grungy, vegetarian, left wing feminist. But he was my Papa and I loved visiting him, especially at his summer home in Nefyn, on the Lleyn Peninsula, where we would eat macaroons, go for long mountain walks and play scrabble long into the evening. And he would talk.

My Papa was a born storyteller. He always told us that he married Nana because she dug a pit in the woods and wouldn't let him out until he agreed to marry her; as a gullible six year old I reported this story as fact in a school report. During those long nights in Nefyn, or at the family home in Lincolnshire, he would tell me ghost stories. All true, he insisted, he may have been a keen walker and naturalist but he had a real belief in the spiritual world. Thirty years younger and I am sure he'd have been on Most Haunted. Or he'd tell me about his youth, cycling from Lincolnshire to Nefyn, sleeping in haystacks on the way, his post-war days in Germany working in the army stores where he met a beautiful, auburn haired German girl (my Nana) who he promptly married and brought home to Wandsworth. Tales of a boyhood roaming the Lincolnshire countryside. He brought the past alive.

His real flair though was for storytelling. His bedtime stories were fantastic. My family moved to Kent when I was 13, my sister 12. It was the first time I hadn't lived in the same town as my grandparents and I missed them horribly so when they came to stay it was really special. And Papa told us bed time stories even when I was 16 and my sister 15, we wouldn't let him stop. Quite unashamed and unabashed we demanded the next instalment of his Romney Marsh saga that starred us, our cottage and our cats, stories that combined adventure, magic and heroism like all the best children's' stories do. I still love childrens' and YA literature, done well story telling at its best.

He never wrote them down. He wrote poems - rhyming, scanning doggerel, he painted pretty landscapes, he  answered every circular or invite with a letter like the gentleman he was, but he never wrote down his stories. And that's a shame and a real loss. Now he never will, dementia is a horrible, horrible thing.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Inbox stalking? Must be competition season

Autumn, in the category romance world, is competition time and over 600 hopeful and very brave writers are right now constantly refreshing their email hoping to receive the email telling them they have one of the coveted fifty finalists spots in Harlequin/Mills & Boon's SYTCW competition.
I know exactly how they feel. 
In 2010 I enthusiastically and rather naively entered the first New Voices competition with my third attempt at a historical romance. I had done my research, had a hook, a conflict, a really long first scene full of description and no dialogue. I was honestly crushed when I didn't final. Crushed.
And then I picked myself up. I found Crit Partners, read craft books, went on a course, joined a professional organisation and, crucially, finished two manuscripts. I was ready for New Voices 11.
But the long hoped for email didn't arrive no matter how much I checked my phone.
And I checked a lot.
That stung. But eventually,  after a little wound licking,  I picked myself up, turned the chapter into a full manuscript and rewrote that first chapter at least six times. At least...
My aptly titled wonderland dress
And last year I plunged into a third competition. This was a public vote competition and I didn't think I would final but that was okay, I knew that the editors would call in any other chapters they liked. That was my goal. 
But they didn't contact me. 
I felt like I'd failed. Three competitions zilch interest. But I did have three finished manuscripts two of which I rather liked (let's never mention the third).
And so I looked at other ways to get them in front of the editors. I used one to ones, fast tracks and the opportunities RNA membership gave me. And eventually I had two full manuscripts in front of editors - and they both sold.
The second manuscript is a much revised version of both my NV11 and SYTYCW entry. It didn't final, and that's okay. I worked extra hard to make sure that the final manuscript I submitted was as good as it could be. 
So if you're refreshing your inbox right now, good luck! And remember, competitions are a brilliant way to get your name and writing out there, to get some feedback, to make some contacts. Competitions are great, I love them. But they're not the only way to reach your goal.

Monday, 7 October 2013

A month of firsts

It's been six and a half weeks since I got 'The Call'. In some ways it feels like a lot longer...

At first there was the giddy excitement and the copious amount of celebrating. There was a lot of celebrating. Wine, much of it fizzy. Good times.

There were the first real revisions on a book I knew somebody wanted. I received them in the middle of a shopping centre on an exhausting back-to-school trip with my daughter. They looked overwhelming and my mind went blank; where to start? But once I calmed down and thought it through, once I began writing, it all made sense. The suggestions all strengthened the book, strengthened the conflict, ramped up the emotions. I sat at my desk one night, fuelled by gin and finally, three rewrites later, got to the crux of my hero.

I may have said 'I love you' out loud. I blame the gin.

I went to the M&B author party which was terrifying and brilliant in equal measure and I loved it.

Then there was a flurry of non-writing stuff. I wanted to concentrate on starting book 3 properly but it all needed to be done. A q&a for the author website meant I finally had to decide just who, dead or alive,  I would invite to a fictional dinner party. I had to find photos (eek), change my twitter name, set up an author page on Facebook, buy a domain name and a host for a website which took me two days and some tears. I haven't been able to face actually populating the website yet!

A contract to sign.

RNA membership to turn from New Writer to Full.

My aptly titled wonderland dress
A sudden obsession with Game of Thrones. Three violent, debauched and pure character driven episodes a night for two weeks in which I should have been preparing book 3, only surely watching such great storytelling is research. Surely?

And last week my first AA's and edits for Minty all in one day.

The AA's were incredibly surreal. I have read the book on screen more times than I care to remember. I have read it printed out. I have read it on Kindle (I always, always do several read throughs on kindle, it's a great way to test pace and find sentences that read oddly in a book setting), but to read it set out as a real, proper book was the moment it all became real. Summer Fling has graduated from a file on my netbook (and Dropbox. Always back up people.) to a book that has been edited, copy edited and type set.

And it has a new name, just like its proud creator.

The Return of Mrs Jones will be published by Mills & Book Cherish/Harlequin Romance in April 2014.

I hope you like it.

Monday, 16 September 2013

She SHALL go to the ball

Up to now writing hasn't been the most glamorous of pursuits.
If there is no school run it involves pyjamas, if I do have to leave the house it involves the most pyjama like clothes I own.
There is a LOT of tea. And biscuits. And crumbs from said biscuits that get lodged in my keyboard so I yell and cry until my husband shakes them out and lectures me on not getting crumbs on the keyboard.
Sometimes it involves my lunch time at work, spilling soup on my work keyboard, sometimes wedging my keyboard behind the steering wheel of my car whilst daughter does ballet, gymnastics, athletics or whatever activity it happens to be.
Not glamorous.
And then, my two fairy godmothers, Fiona and Flo, said 'Jessica, you SHALL go to the ball'.

And lo it came to pass...
Last Friday I was the shiniest of new writers at the Annual Mills and Boon Authors' Association Lunch. And then I was the shiniest of new writers at the Mills & Boon Cocktail Party.
There was wine. And posh food.
There was a Ladies room so big it was bigger than my house. It had four large dressing tables and a Chaise Longue. Which I forgot to recline on.
There were many authors, famous, awe inspiring authors.
There was a goody bag with champagne and chocolate and nice smelling things.
I sat on a table with some amazing ladies including my brilliant Twitter friend Charlotte Phillips (@charlieflips) who it was lovely to meet in person at last.
There was more wine at Waterstones with the lovely Rachel Brimble.
There were cocktails (followed by wine, and nibbles, and macaroons) at the party where I met my editor and all the glamorous, sparkly Mills & Boon people. Who were very lovely (EVERYTHING was lovely!). Then next-shiniest-new-writer Christy McKellan and I drank more wine and ate hummus.
Then somehow I found my way back to my friend's house in South London without getting lost, losing a shoe or turning into a pumpkin.Miraculously.

I KNOW. Lush, right?
My aptly titled wonderland dress
Next morning many baby cuddles followed by a trip back to London for more wine with two old friends, the best kind there is, and a much anticipated trip to Tatty Devine where I finally got the necklace I had been promising myself as a reward if I ever got signed. It was slightly embarrassing removing the Tatty Devine necklace I was wearing and putting it into a box in which already resided two OTHER Tatty Devine necklaces and I don't need help, I can stop any time. I did choose my next three, four or five purchases while I was there.
And I made my train home with literally thirty seconds to spare and travelled home First Class to be met by my husband, daughter and pup. A Happy Ever After if I ever I heard one.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

The Call!

And so here it is...
The post I have been wanting to write ever since I first started this blog back in autumn 2010; after the first New Voices competition, after I decided I was really going to take writing seriously.
I was in Northumberland. A place with incredible beaches, picturesque castles, breathtaking scenery and a really, really infrequent 3G signal. The cottage I was staying in had no wifi and the strongest 3G signal was to be found in the sitting room, standing by the window (or sat on the sofa waving your phone in the air. I think my arm muscles are much strengthened after a week of phone-waving).
It was Thursday and I had received a very exciting email - Tatty Devine's final summer sale reductions. As my birthday is rapidly approaching I decided on the direct approach. I told the friend I was holidaying with (*waves to @nellbelleandme*) what I wanted, she relayed this to my husband and he then attempted to buy it over the wavering 3G network. This meant we were very late leaving for the beach.
I had of course seen that Flo Nicoll was making a Very Important Call that day and couldn't help allowing myself a tiny twinge of hope. I therefore had to keep competing with my present-buying husband for the 3G hotspot so I could refresh my Twitter feed and see if there was any news.
There wasn't.
So off we set; me, husband, 9yo, @nellbelleandme's eldest daughter and the pup on a trip to Low Newton beach. This is my favourite beach in the UK.

Perfect for paddling, castle views, rockpools and a pub. Just as I was pulling off the A1 my phone rang.
Silence in the car. We all knew that Flo was making A Very Important Call that day. And it was a London number.
My husband answered - and put Flo on speakerphone.
There was no way I was going to be able to drive safely and have any kind of conversation so I swung, a little wildly, into a farm track and jumped out of the car. To be very honest I can remember very little about the actual conversation - I think I kept saying 'thank you!' and 'Oh my goodness' a lot. But the gist was that they wanted to buy both books I had under consideration and Flo was offering me a contract!
Cue shaking, tears and a lot of squealing, especially from the girls ('Mummy, can we go to Disneyland now? You said if you ever got published we could...') and the pup who didn't understand why I was pacing up and down a lovely green path and he had to sit in the car. But eventually I pulled myself together enough to drive, very slowly, to the beach.
I then had to walk to the top of a hill like the worst kind of tourist to find somewhere I could tweet from!
I still have a suspicion I dreamt the whole thing - the Call, and a Northumbrian day warm enough to actually swim in the sea seems like far too much good luck for one person. Luckily Flo has sent me an email so I have proof. And all the details I didn't take in during the Call.
I don't have a title or a name yet (mine is already taken) but I do have a release date and a line - I'll fill you in just as soon as I have actually signed the contract! I am thrilled with the line they have put me in and can't wait to start working with Mills and Boon. It's been my dream ever since I was a teenager to write romance for them.
And now I am!

Monday, 5 August 2013

Silence isn't always golden

My daughter came second in her 400m final a couple of weeks ago. A terrifyingly competitive child she had decided to target bronze and so, after running a rather fabulous final if her ridiculously proud mum says so herself, she flung her breathless self on me then turned, raised her arms triumphantly and said (loudly) 'I owned you boys'.
To which her now slightly shocked but still ridiculously proud mother said 'sshhh. Show some graciousness.'
'But,' she protested, completely unrepentant. 'They said I couldn't do it, that no girl was going to beat the boys in the 400m'.
Oh. 'In that case, ' I said. 'Carry on.'
She did.
This was at the back of my mind on Saturday as I skimmed through my timeline. Men and women, but mostly women, agonizing whether to silence themselves for a day to show the vile, misogynistic trolls who think that women shouldn't identify as feminists,  shouldn't have opinions,  shouldn't speak out, should conform physically to their idea of attractiveness,  should get their tits out for the lads, should get on their knees, should get back in the kitchen, should Shut Up, that they didn't own Twitter.
I don't understand why people think trolling is okay, I don't know why an intelligent woman, an opinionated woman, a visible woman can get someone so angry that threats and abuse seems like a reasoned response. But I can't help thinking that shouting back, that naming and shaming, that refusing to allow the nasty, tiny majority to silence you is more effective than silence. Surely?
Tweet if you want. Blog if you fancy it. Sing, dance, laugh, talk, argue, discuss, giggle, converse,  pontificate,  WRITE. Let your voice be heard.
The 9yo gets on very well with the boys in her class. Sometimes she gets bored with sitting in the bench chatting and leaves the girls, runs off to play football, superheroes (she's the Black Widow, natch). She doesn't think girls are better than boys or vice versa, she thinks both genders are equal. But no one tells her she's not good enough, if they do she'll prove them wrong.
And that is why I made sure I tweeted on Sunday. Shouting back not shutting up.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Make mine a twist

Despite the air conditioning failure on the most unYorkshire of Yorkshire weekends, despite that sneaking sense that everyone else knows each other and is having the most wonderful time while you lurk uncomfortably on the sidelines, despite the ever growing fear that I will forever be New Writers Scheme and never a writer,
I had a good time in Sheffield. Stand out talks from Julie Cohen on theme, Nina Harrington on Procrastination and Fiona Harper on Romantic Structure managed to be both entertaining and really informative and it was gorgeous to have a 2 day catch up with Jane O'Reilly and Donna Douglas.
And I had two very helpful chats with two editors and came away feeling maybe I haven't totally wasted the last three years.
But I'm still a little unsure where to go next...
If the theme of last year was erotica the publishers, especially the non-categories, were a little less certain this year. They are all looking for something just not sure what. Not vampires. Not dystopia. They want fresh. They want a twist. They all want a twist.
And if it could be The Fall meets Gone Girl that would be great.
Only, last year, out of that massive deluge of books with grey covers coloured with one suggestive twist of silk, only those released in the three months after Fifty Shades did well. This year may be the year of the psychological domestic thriller but next year it'll be something new. After all, they didn't want vampires till after Twilight, dystopia until  The Hunger Games or erotica until, well, you know what.
This is nothing new. Many years ago when I was a bookseller the runaway success was 'the blue book' 'that one about the banjo'. Six months later a slew of Captain Corelli style covers hit the shelves. Marian Keyes and Bridget Jones kickstarted chick lit and Harry Potter introduced the crossover concept with special adult covers.
But no-one could have predicted any of those successes. And of the imitators the best are still going strong, the rest have sunk or moved onto something new. The best were already writing those books long before the publishers were demanding them.

Sometimes, in the rush to get the sales, to join the bandwagon, publishers stop trying to be the ones who actually launch the next craze, content to sweep up the leftovers from the last. I have just had a bout of reading YA dystopia. One of my favourite genres since Brave New World hit my GCSE reading list.
I have read some incredible world building let down by heroines who make Bella Swann seem like a feisty go-getter, cardboard heroes, books all tell with no show and always, always first person present. This works with a heroine as real as Katniss but these are thin on the ground. Thing is, they might have been good books. More edits, more time for the author to really find their voice, not rushed out to fill a post-Hunger Games void.
Because eventually the readers get bored and start looking elsewhere. And then the publishers call time on the whole genre and move onto the next golden egg.
But readers don't work that way. One of the most interesting things about the Kindle is how it has allowed readers to find and buy exactly what they want, often genres the publishers and booksellers have proclaimed over especially in the UK, the US has a stronger genre market; sagas, regencies, cosy crime. Erotica.
So maybe the twist they want, that the readers deserve, doesn't have to be something new. Maybe it can be an old genre done well, done with a spark, by an innovative and compelling voice. Because as every publisher says, these are changing times and with the rise of the self pubs readers have all the choices they need. Publishers need to make sure that they are the ones offering the best, most encompassing choices. To be the ones ahead of the curve in this moving, exciting brave new world.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

RNA Resolutions

Three days to go! In just three days I will wave goodbye to my husband, daughter and pup to head off for the bright lights of, erm, Sheffield University,  for the 2013 RNA Conference.
I really enjoyed last year's weekend, not least because I finally, finally got to meet two of my three amazing Crit Partners and so am really looking forward to the weekend, even if one of my CPs is sadly not attending this year. She'll be missed. The third lives in Florida and will be attending the very swanky RWA conference just a couple of days later in Atlanta where she has been invited to cocktail parties in glitzy hotels. But I am sure Sheffield University campus is suitably glam too, especially when we all get frocked up for the Saturday night dinner.
It's been a manic, manic month and I feel woefully unprepared but, even though it is a little too late to get my hair cut, buy and wear in exciting shoes and oh, get a publishing contract, there are a couple of things I am determined to do this year:
1. Talk to people. I am terrible at small talk, rubbish at pitching and although I could win prizes for underselling myself I completely fail at actually selling myself. Even when I know what I am talking about. But this is a campus full of agents, publishers and brilliant writers. So I WILL mingle. Especially with people I interact with on Twitter. Probably.
2. Stay up till after midnight. I am away from home for the whole weekend! The kitchen parties are legendary. I should really try and attend one. After all, I am the kind of person who naturally gravitates to kitchens during parties anyway.
3. Try not to eat quite so much cake.
4. Ask questions. Especially of publishers. I better start thinking of some...
5. Relax and have fun!
I'm bound to have forgotten something. Does anyone have any more tips for getting the most out of the conference?

Friday, 5 July 2013

Weighty issues

This time next week I will be on my way to Sheffield, home of lovely Jarvis Cocker, the Arctic Monkeys and, for the weekend, a couple of hundred romance writers.
Very, very exciting (and pleasingly close to home as well!). 
I had a great time last year, it was exactly what I needed after the Great Wallow of 2012 aka my RNA report. Hopefully it will work its magic again; since sending Summer Fling back to the editor 7 weeks and 2 days ago *coughs* I have had a major crisis of confidence. A weekend of inspiration is exactly what I need.
And not just inspiration on the writing front. One of the talks this year will be given by a woman who has had a huge effect my year; Kate Harrison
As I drove back from Penrith last year I made a couple of promises to myself. That I would return to the conference as a published writer and I would return a great deal slimmer. The first seems just as far away as it did a year ago. The second, thanks to Kate, is beginning to feel - and look - very achievable. 
I have always struggled with my weight. It's easy to blame circumstances; a slow metabolism, the craziness of life as a working parent, lack of time. And these are all factors. But I also really like food. And wine. Five years ago, thanks to the excellent puddings at the school I worked at, I put on a terrifying amount of weight. I lost it, struggling back to a just-acceptable BMI and swore I would never let that happen again. Only it did. Of the two stone I had so painfully shed, one and a half crept back on, so slowly I barely noticed.
Only I knew. When you can't bear to look at any photos on Facebook, when you do your best not to be in any photos, when your jeans have to be put away because they don't fit, your tops gape - you know. There's a point when you can't tell yourself it's 'natural curves' any longer. And it's not just about vanity. I have a small daughter. I want to be a good, healthy role model and when the size sixteens are getting tight and the answer is always found in a slice of cake and glass or three of wine you have to wonder just what kind of example you are setting.

So last March I made a start. Three months on Slimming World shed the first six pounds, then eight months of My Fitness Pal got rid of another eight. But sticking to 1200 calories a day was restrictive and it was all too easy to slip. Then, in the New Year, I kept seeing people referring to the 5:2. Eating normally five days a week but restricting your calorie intake to 500 or under on the other two. 
It sounded hideous. No way was I going to get sucked in.

But then I bought Kate's book. And slowly I began to think maybe this might be a good idea and in the spring I finally decided to give it a go. One of the things I really liked was the challenge of allowing myself to feel hungry, not reaching for ways to instantly silence the first hunger pang. 
Having already lost a stone it hasn't been a dramatic plunge in weight. Rather a slow, steady half pound a week - but overall I have lost twenty one pounds. My BMI is acceptable, I fit in the jeans, in fact they are a little loose! I'd like to lose another half stone and then I think I'll be fine, still pleasantly curvy (not that I would flaunt them) but healthy. Able to enjoy cake and the odd glass or three, but also at peace with being hungry. Fit enough to walk the dog for miles and happy to enjoy a good pub meal afterwards.
Now if Kate can supply the same kind of writing inspiration then this year's conference is really going to be a success!

Friday, 28 June 2013

The reviewing dilemma

A few weeks ago I won a free copy of Charlotte Phillip's new novella Your Room or Mine on a Twitter giveaway by new digital-first imprint Harper Impulse. I was really pleased - until it dawned on me that they weren't just giving it away to be lovely and generous, but that of course they wanted reviews.

For someone who claims to know a little bit about marketing I can be quite remarkably dim sometimes!

Now, I love Charlotte's style, championed her through NV11 and adored her first M&B title Secrets of the Rich and Famous so was pretty sure I was going to love this one too (and I did. It's a lovely, bubbly read. A sweet, sexy short well worth a read) so that wasn't the problem. The problem is more that I don't often do reviews because, if push comes to shove, I'm not sure I can be impartial when it come to people I know.

It's true that I have publicised a few books on here. And it is also true that some are published by friends, the majority of them real life friends. If I did dislike their work would I publicly admit it? Of course not. Luckily this dilemma hasn't arisen yet (honest!). I didn't tell you to rush out and buy Donna Douglas' Nightingale Girls series because we used to work together and are regularly asked to leave restaurants because they would really like to go home now, but because she brings the 1930s and her huge cast of characters to life beautifully. So beautifully that I have been begging for hints about What Happens Next. She won't tell me.

Nor do I enthusiastically retweet and add to all the praise deservedly heaped on Pamela Hartshorne for Time's Echo as a thanks for all her patience and help and for always joining me in 'just one more glass'. It really is a fantastic, spine chilling book. According to my mother: 'The best book of last year, even better than Song of Achilles'. Which is high praise indeed because she loved Song of Achilles.

I genuinely loved every book mentioned on this blog. But the day will come when I am less than enthusiastic about a book written by someone I like and I don't want to be in the position of either writing a dishonest review or letting them know that. So this is why I stay away from reviewing, fab as it would be to get loads of ARCs and to be courted by publishers for my influential views *dreams*.

But to show that I am an honest reviewer here are some thoughts that I have had recently on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a book that obviously I adore as a Children's Classic but have a few character driven problems with (especially point number one) that have been bugging me for over thirty years:
1. If Grandpa Jo is fit enough to go around the factory with Charlie why has he spent the last ten years or so in bed? Surely he could have helped his poor, hardworking, burdened son and daughter in law by tending an allotment or working part time rather than consuming cabbage soup and staying in bed? The same goes for Grandma Josephina, Grandpa George and Grandma Georgina. They can't all be that infirm!
2. No matter how amazing the chocolate is shouldn't the town boycott Wonka's products as he has contributed to the sluggish economy by firing his workers and importing slave labour? Uncut need to do some picketing.
3.  Which brings me to Augustus Gloop. A victim of Wonka's products. He would probably be a better person to takeover than Charlie, he obviously adores chocolate. Although he would need some hygiene training first. And a Health and Safety course. In fact the whole factory needs a Health and Safety audit pronto.
4. Verruca Salt; a victim of her upbringing. We all have the potential to be a Verruca Salt. Nowadays she would have a reality show and no one would bat an eyelid if she ordered a £1 million crystal bathtub. Actually, that isn't true. I would. I would bat and judge. But most people wouldn't.

Friday, 21 June 2013

It may be flawed, but it's mine

My first thought (after, 'What if I totally misunderstood what the editor means and I have actually made this WORSE', a thought that is still filling a good 50% of my brain at all times) when I finally pressed Send on Summer Fling was 'At last I can start something new!'
Four and a half weeks later I have 376 words. Words I know are highly unlikely to make it through to the final draft at that. And with a week from Hell looming (and *cough* Wimbledon), to say nothing of spending my morning off ironing not writing, I can't see that word count rising significantly any time soon.
After two finished mss - and four partials/unedited fulls - I am beginning to understand my process. Sure, to the casual onlooker it may look as if I have spent the last four weeks reading, look as if I whiled away the morning watching Gossip Girl and eating frozen yoghurt just as last week I spent my day off lying on the sofa binge reading Kristan Higgins and watching Queens, but Casual Onlooker I am slowly and surely figuring it out. Honestly.
I'm not a massive plotter, I don't lay my structure out on paper. I don't have a notice board or a highlighter pen or post-its cool as they are. I don't write character studies or Q&A's and Pinterest their wardrobes. Maybe I should. At least I'd have something to show for my time.
But four weeks of dog walking and thinking and frozen yoghurt have achieved something.
I know my hook. I know my conflict. I know what makes both my Hero and heroine tick even if his job is a little unclear to me right now. I know my three acts even if I don't have each scene plotted within those acts. I have names for them, but they may change, and I don't know exactly what - or who - they look like but I know their setting. And no, I haven't done the necessary research yet because I know I'll get sucked in and never get words on paper. I'll do that as I go along.
Sure, this process is flawed. It's time wasting and stressful and full of guilty 'why am I lying on the sofa and Not Writing' panic. But it looks like it's my process.
Time to find out if it works....

Friday, 7 June 2013

Things to do whilst inbox stalking

Nobody warns you. There's a lot of good advice out there; 'just write', 'try every day', 'write for you', 'save the cat', 'three act structure', '100 uses for Pinterest that are research, honest' blogs, books and courses. But nowhere have I found any advice on how to stalk an inbox in a calm and dignified fashion.
I blame my smartphone myself. It must have been different in the old days when the anxious aspiring writer was dependent on one postal delivery a day to communicate their 'yes', 'no' or 'possibly if you change everything'. If you were out, you were out. If the post didn't bring anything well,njoy the rest of your day. But now your inbox follows you around, looming over your head like a dark, gloomy, portentous cartoon cloud making you jump every time you are offered another 10% off a tent/free delivery on a takeaway/school newsletter* *delete as applicable

Hand over the water small ones
I even had 3G on the top of a mountain in the Lakes. So I checked my emails in between stealing water from the child and the pup and convincing my exhausted legs that they could go on.

Sixteen months, one alternative submission, five new opening chapters and a total rewrite later I finally sent in my R&R. Sixteen days ago. My romance fast tracked full was sent in 26 weeks and 5 days ago. Not that I am counting or anything.
But that means I am waiting on two manuscripts. Two and a half years worth of drafts, rewrites, edits, starting again, feedback and did I mention rewrites? 

Of course the best thing to do is keep writing. Start something new. And I am! I will! Only what? Another category? Something else? After four years of writing category? *head explodes*

So, in the last two weeks I have:
  • walked up mountains
  • been a good, ultra critiquing CP
  •  enjoyed the sunshine (actually, this is obligatory. In Yorkshire you can never, ever assume that just cause the sun is shining today it will again tomorrow. Or again this year.)
  • watched the French Open and marvelled at how much tweeting Andy Murray does when he isn't actually playing in a tournament whilst putting the Top 4 into Harlequin categories (Federer Presents, natch, Murray Riva/Kiss, Nadal historical, probably as a pirate like in the Majorca ads he does and Djokovich Cherish. I know he lives in Monte Carlo but he has a poodle and is a huge joker so can't be a Presents hero). 
  • reread Wolf Hall and then lost myself in Bringing up the Bodies via admiring Philippa Gregory's pageturning awesomeness in the Kingmaker's Daughter and finally, finally finishing Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. And enjoying it!
  • Unsubscribing from all those marketing emails
Whilst still checking my inbox 500 times a day. *sigh*