Tuesday, December 22, 2009
I haven't made any New Year's Resolutions this year, because truthfully, what's the point? We all know the pressure of them doesn't last five minutes let alone 12 months. What I am doing is making a few life changes...and one of them is about books and the reading of them.
I gave myself a bit of a hard time during the latter months of last year. I didn't understand why I couldn't read romance any more with a passion full of enjoyment. I was horrified with myself. How could I expect to write romance when I could no longer bear to read it?
Thankfully, Graham sorted me out with this awful dilemma that had begun tearing me apart. Listening to him it sounded so simple. We've known each other since 2003, married 2005 and he calmly pointed out that ever since he's known me I've devoured romance after romance. But, and here's the crucial bit, I hadn't only been reading them for pleasure but with a learning mind...wanting to figure out how to write this wonderful genre that I love so much. So, unbeknown to me at the time, my reading had been primarily for RESEARCH rather than pure escapism.
Then came the hard bit to accept. I've read M&B for most of my life and subconsciously I know that I know what's required to write one. Therefore, I no longer need to drown myself in reading them to the same degree. That's when the mysterious mist lifted and I saw what'd happened.
I still need to read for pure pleasure and escapism but I also need to give my mind time off from working. Even though I didn't realise it at the time, that's why I dug out a few new-to-me authors from my bookshelves - Nicci French etc. The strange thing is that I'd never read them before because I thought they'd be a 'dark' read and I loved my happy-ever-afters - especially as 'real' life was often difficult.
The result of all this analysing is that I'm allowing myself a break from only reading the genre I'm writing. My attitude to reading has become far healthier for this decision. Now, when I come to reading my favourite romance authors I endeavour to read them as a READER, and not a writer. I'm also luxuriating in the return of reading other genres for escapism and I'm led by reading what I WANT as opposed to what I think I should be reading.
It's already become a win-win situation. I'm once again in love with books. I'm happier allowing my subconscious to do the hard graft for me and to luxuriate in each and every story I read, whatever the genre.
In fact by giving myself this permission it's made my writing feel much fresher and there's a lot less worry and fear about accidental plagiarism. I still LOVE romance, I still READ romance and I'm still WRITING romance, but the BEST thing of all is that I've opened myself up to all different genres too.
An addiction to books is something I've become proud of.
Monday, December 14, 2009
I have a book review scheduled to be posted every day this week on the other blog (read here). Gotta love Blogger for giving us the opportunity to be visible when we're not really here.
I'm making this my last blog post for 2009. So, on behalf of Graham & myself, we'd like to wish you all
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Gray has his new Historical Romance in the research and plotting stages, while I'm getting deep into my contemporary Romance. Although the historicals are primarily Gray's turf and the contemporaries are mine, we still work together on both manuscripts during the inital plotting and first draft stages. For the first time we have both reached different stages of our respective books at the same time, and until now this has concerned me.
Then, as I was reading Writing in more than one world I realised that if it's approached right it is possible. I'm now seeing it as an advantage that Gray and I are at different places with our mss. I'm currently reacquainting myself with Kate & Matt and the structure of the plot before revising/rewriting. For this I need to work alone and immerse myself deeply with their backstories and motivations for their actions. Gray needs to continue with his deeper research and draft ideas on his own until the characters and setting become vibrant in his mind.
We're still talking to each other about our progress and brainstorming the odd plot point, but for the historical I'm not 'in deep' and likewise Gray with the contemporary. By the time Gray needs me for the writing of the historical's first draft, I should (hopefully) be done and dusted with my current revisions.
The good thing about this is I'll know enough about the historical and I'll be ready to go deeper with the historical on the emotional level.
Complicated - in writing, yes but in practice, no.
How do you work and deal with different works-in-progress?
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
- Ensuring that the plot is (and remains) character driven.
- Decide what's going to happen to push Kate & Matt together.
- Plan how I'm going to go even DEEPER into the emotional conflict.
Finally!!! My very first rejections from M&B (many moons ago) told me that my stories lacked emotional punch. It's taken me forever to understand what that meant. Even though I've come a very long way from those cringeworthy first efforts, I still never really 'got' it.
Monday, December 07, 2009
Although my critique is tailored to M&B Romance all the advice I've been given is relevent (imo) to most genres.
Facts to remember:
- In a character-driven story the plot needs to be constructed around the hero and heroine.
- What events are going to happen to push them into facing their demons?
- What events are going to create conflict and resolution for these characters?
I think you have done this to a certain extent, carefully foreshadowing events that have a later pay-off, but I think you need to go deeper into the emotioonal conflict between your hero and heroine and construct your plot around this.
This first para had me whooping with joy, particularly because the Reader felt that the story is a fit for the Romance line - my biggest fear being that it might not be suitable.
- It's obvious you've done your homework
- The tone, sensuality and type of story are all a great fit for M&B Romance line
Again, this fills me with relief. The Reader then explains that 'showing, not telling', point of view and using scenes haven't been included in this report because they aren't needed.
- You have a nice writing style & I found your book easy to read with hardly any technical writing issues pulling me out of the story.
and now begin the lessons to learn:
- You are a competent writer and you handle these matters with skill.
- ...M&B Romance requires a highly emotional read...this is where your story needs further development.
By this time I'm very excited. I'm still only half way down the first page of the single-spaced critique and I know there's another six pages to go! This Reader has read my manuscript twice and on the second reading marked up the manuscript focusing on the main issues she wanted to address.
Before getting down to the nitty gritty of the book the Reader reminds me to:
- ...be encouraged: your writing shows promise and my aim is to help you develop further...
I LOVE this Reader! She has obviously spent a lot of time on Kate & Matt's story and I'm so hungry for constructive criticism that I can't wait to read on. Instinctively I know that this is what it's all about and I'm impatient to LEARN.
So, that's where I'm at right now. The crux of my edits/revisions will be to dig even deeper into the emotional conflicts between Kate and Matt. This sounds simple but when it comes down to the actual process it's tougher than I imagined it'd be.
My plan is to get the book restructured by the New Year with the intention of re-submitting the manuscript to the NWS by Easter.
Incidentally, if any aspiring writers are wavering about whether to join the RNA's NWS I'd say
Monday, November 30, 2009
Life, as always, is complicated, as it is for everyone. Lots has been happening in the 'real' world which in turn has given my health another knock (like it needed waking up!). But, it's been during this latest life-blip that something has shifted inside me. A new kind of acceptance coloured my mind-set.
Now, acceptance in any shape or form is a good thing. It's taken me 10 years, but it's finally started to happen. I have a new mantra that has become relevent not only to my health situation (i.e. the MS) but also to life in general:
Those five little words suddenly enveloped me with peace and acceptance that I hadn't embraced before. I realised that no matter how I feel; angry, frustrated, upset etc. I can't change what is.
Suddenly, everything feels so simple. I can rant all I like about the MS or life's curve balls, but nothing will change. That was when I accepted that I can't change 'what is' but I can change the way I deal with it.
The great news about this is that I don't have to do anything or use any energy that I haven't got, but just accept the current situation for what it is - without feeling the guilt or surprise that tries to grab me whenever I experience another symptom or effect of the MS.
So, in essence what this means is, there'll be no more apologies from me for my blogging lapses, non-attendance of events that I can't make, and 'virtual' absences. It's now enough for me to know that *I* know I'd be doing everything if I could, and when I can't (which is more often than not) it is what it is.
Thanks for listening to my ramblings. :)
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Thursday, October 22, 2009
I've not done any writing for far too long and I'm looking forward to getting back into everything. The question I've not known the answer to until recently is what manuscript I'll be turning my attention to when I get back to writing. Before the hiatus I'd planned to put my NWS/M&B manuscript to one side and work on another w-i-p. That's now changed.
Gray and I have decided that we're ready to launch into another rewrite of Matt & Kate's story. I guess that the time away from them has put enough distance between us and we'll be able to return with fresh eyes. This means that Arianne & Kal's story is returning to the back burner.
Gray's still waiting for his critique from the NWS on Sam & Katherine's story and he's currently researching the next period he's going to be writing about. It's an exciting time because he now knows which historical period he's going to focus on in his future books, but I'll leave him to speak about this when he's ready.
I received an AMAZING critique from the NWS on the contemporary book, and I'm hoping to share it with you in a future post (or two).
During my hiatus I've read some FANTASTIC books by new-to-me authors and one in particular who has re-ignited my own passion for historicals, although I have to say it's an era I didn't know I was interested in - 12th Century England. Elizabeth Chadwick now joins my other fave historical authors (Carol Townend, Nicola Cornick, Philippa Gregory...)
I believe that I am proof that books that are picked up cheaply in charity shops do lead to future purchases - Elizabeth Chadwick's Shadows and Strongholds was one such 'charity' buy for me and this morning I received a delivery from Play.com of a brand spanking new copy of Lords of the White Castle which I'm very much looking forward to reading. Thanks also go to Elizabeth Chadwick for reminding me how much I love reading historicals and I'm now catching up with Nicola Cornick and Carol Townend's books that I already own but have yet to read.
Well, this 'dipping my toe back into the water' post is becoming quite long so I'll finish here.
It's great to be back!
Monday, September 14, 2009
Unfortunately, I'm not back to every day life yet, and I'm unlikely to be for a while. To think that I tried to kid myself that this isn't one of 'those' relapses and, by comparison with previous experiences, it's only a mild one. Ha! Famous last words.
A relapse it is. Mild it is not.
I've now reached the stage where I Don't Want To Talk About It. No, that doesn't mean I'm going into denial mode. Nor does it mean I'm going to pretend that I'm well - I don't have the energy to maintain the falseness. But what it does mean is:
- I'm going to stop making excuses/feeling guilty/apologising for my lack of health.
- I'm going to enjoy the simple things in life (reading, watching tv, napping as often as I need)
- I'm going to refill the well - spiritually, mentally and physically
- I'm going to conquer the 'worry' gene
Bye for now.
Back in the early 90s I couldn't get enough of Danielle Steel's novels. It was also the time when I submitted my first manuscripts dreaming of publication. I remember vividly having a plot for a new manuscript featuring Vietnam...I researched, I began making notes, and then Danielle Steel released her new novel...based in/around Vietnam! I felt deflated and from that moment I could never bring myself to read another Danielle Steel.
I now look back on that time with amusement. I've come a very long way since the 90s and as I'm currently going through my latest relapse (in the journey that is multiple sclerosis), I felt a yearning to pick up a Danielle Steel book and remind myself how much I once loved her books.
I'm halfway through Mirror Image and I'm enjoying the story. As I'm reading I'm seeing the difference between a writer and a storyteller. I can learn a lot from this highly successful author. I'm going to endeavour to STOP worrying needlessly about every word I write, whether it's following the 'rules', and I'm going to focus on TELLING the story (well, more showing than telling ;-).
Danielle Steel is a FAB storyteller. Her characters are three dimensional, and the plots are never predictable. What I admire most about Danielle Steel is the way she ups the conflicts that little bit more which keeps the reader turning the pages.
I'm thrilled to have rediscovered Danielle Steel's books and I'm excited about learning how to keep my future plots bubbling.
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Okay, rant over. Here's the plan:
I'm looking forward to receiving Gray's FINAL chapter on his historical - should be ready to be posted by Monday - YAYY! The only stress will then be hoping that the postal system doesn't let him down and meets the NWS deadline - but I'm not allowed to worry, so I'm not (well, I'm trying not to, anyway...)
Daughter is raring to go from being a 'live-in' guest to a visiting one. Three days and counting...
Son is...well, least said the better really. I have a mantra that I must remember to say more often (like every two minutes!) I shall not worry. I shall not worry. I WILL NOT worry. I'm still waiting for its effect to kick in.
I'm now off to make the most of my enforced 'rest' and dive back into my latest read: Jill Mansell's Rumour Has It which I have to say is helping me loads - it's laugh-out-loud funny and I'm loving it.
What's everyone else reading?
Saturday, August 15, 2009
I'm not completely out of the woods but there's plenty of sunshine peeping through the branches to remind myself that I will be soon. :)
We have an exciting week ahead: My dd is flying the nest [for real this time]. I'm very excited for her because she is moving somewhere beautiful and peaceful and she'll finally be able to focus on her studies without any interruptions (namely from those who are at university for the 'good' times and not the study).
Gray will have finished his NWS submission in six days. I'll be so relieved and happy for him. He prioritised helping me get mine finished, printed and sent off, and without him I'd never have done it. I'm really proud that despite difficult times he's still made his daily word count.
Gray and I celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary this week. The 'real' celebrations will come later in September when he whisks me away for a gorgeous weekend somewhere I've always wanted to visit. More will be revealed later next month.
I'm hoping that another week and I'll be back to blogging regularly. Incidentally, what do you think of my new backgrounds on here, the review blog and twitter?
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
There are a few reasons why I've decided not to take steroids this time around and they are all related to the side effects:
- I loathe the weight gain but even worse is the moon-shaped face. Seriously, over the course of the years I’ve ‘lost’ me, and trust me, it’s a weird feeling.
- The primary reason is how ‘out-of-it’ steroids make me – especially in the week following the short, sharp course. Withdrawal is horrendous.
So, what have I learned during this episode?
- I always assumed that it’s the steroids that make me so ill especially during the second or third week of a relapse. Now, I’m not so sure.
Sunday was my worst day yet. I felt like I was recovering and then, BANG, I’m worse than ever.
- So, I’m now wondering whether that’s the relapse per se and *not* a side effect from the steroids.
I’m finally learning that I can’t rush a recovery no matter how hard I try. In fact, I’m thinking the harder I try the longer it’ll take.
- So, I’m learning to be kinder to myself.
Yes, I get frustrated. Yes, I get fed-up. Yes, I also have the occasional angry moments. But, no, I’m not in bed because I’m depressed. I’m in bed because I’m going through an intensive blip of the multiple sclerosis. The symptoms are the same as those I’m used to coping with on a normal, day to day basis. It’s just that they’re more intense and literally stop me in my tracks.
I believe that this intensity is my body’s way of enforcing a period of rest – so I can resume daily life stronger than before.
I guess the main learning curve for me is:
- Respecting my body *with* the MS
- Pleasing myself and not other people’s expectations.
- Being kind to myself because I deserve it!
Thanks for listening.
Monday, August 10, 2009
I’ve come to the conclusion that no, I don’t think I am. Yes, this blog is about my (and Gray’s) writing journey. BUT, I/we can’t escape from the simple fact that our journey goes hand in hand in the company of living with multiple sclerosis. Therefore I should include these difficulties and acknowledge the effect they sometimes have on my road to publication. After all, if I hide this major part of my life doesn’t it mean that I’m pretending to be somebody I’m not?
I’ve worried in the past that my health difficulties could go against me in the publishing industry. But I’m not comfortable hiding these important factors from editors/agents. Surely, pretence isn’t the right basis on which to build a professional relationship?
The fact is that I’ve been a writer far longer than I’ve lived with my neurological condition. I never want the MS to control my life to the degree that I get scared of being found out. Integrity means the world to me. Anybody who matters will know that I am *not* the multiple sclerosis; I am Sue, the writer (mother, wife, etc.) who also happens to have multiple sclerosis.
I also respect that I’m not the only writer out there living with the difficulties that a health condition brings. I want to inspire other writers to never give up on their publishing dreams no matter what curve balls life throws.
So, the upshot of this post is to say that I’m still here and I’m still blogging albeit with a difference: I’m no longer hiding the ‘real’ me.
Monday, August 03, 2009
Well, I should have recognised the signs - there's been enough of them.
I haven't had an MS Relapse for nearly 2 years but it seems that's changing. With the agreement of my lovely doctor I'm going to try to ride out this latest health blip without the dreaded steroids. Thankfully, so far, my legs and vision haven't been affected, it's just balance problems due to exacerbated dizziness/vertigo compared to what I usually experience on a 'normal' (for me) day-to-day basis.
I'm very fortunate to have the support of friends and family around me - especially my wonderful hubby. The forseeable future will be frustrating for me having to give in to not being able to help those I love. There's never a good time for anybody to be ill but I'm going to (try) to accept the inevitable gracefully. After all, I have so much to be thankful for. Namely:
- My wonderful hubby
- Finally having experienced an RNA conference
- Making new friends at conference - and one who's become a very special friend.
- Making the NWS deadline (my completed Romance is being sent off this week)
- Editing/proofing Gray's Historical so he too will make the NWS deadline
- Reading lots of FAB books
- Enjoying quality time with my daughter before she moves into her first home later this month
- Meeting up with my mum occasionally in the virtual world of Pogo and no doubt losing my intermediate rating (again!) on Canasta.
- Revising my Romance with NWS critique and submitting the partial to Mills & Boon.
Hope to be back to my 'normal' self sooner rather later. :)
Friday, July 31, 2009
There'll hopefully be more to come about ereading next week on this blog.
Have a good weekend!
Thursday, July 23, 2009
FOR THOSE OF US PASSIONATE ABOUT READING, WHY A SONY READER?
That's a good question and one I've answered time and again to my wonderful hubby and many of my friends who simply do.not.understand.
A Sony Reader is a fab storage solution. Especially if you've downsized to a teeny tiny cottage like I have. If you're lucky enough to have plenty of storage, please carry on reading because there are plenty of other reasons too.
"But, I LOVE 'real' books. The smell, the print, the whole turning the page thing."
This may come as a surprise but, SO DO I! Okay, not strictly true because I have an aversion to mouldy, dirty books from secondhand bookshops (and occassionally library books). I mean, there are times when you wonder where some of these books have been, don't you think?
For me, the beauty of my Sony Reader is that it's gorgeous to look at and touch. It's true that the smell isn't there but for what the Reader gives you that's a small price to pay, even if you do love the smell of print books, right?
READERS ARE NOT A REPLACEMENT FOR PRINT BOOKS
As far as I'm concerned my ebooks COMPLEMENT print books. They do NOT diminish them or REPLACE them. One example is when I first started reading an ebook it was on my laptop. I was enjoying the story so much that I wanted to continue reading at bedtime. Have you ever tried reading from your laptop in bed? Trust me, it isn't comfortable.
If, like me, you mostly read at bedtime (why is it the only time we get the peace we need sometimes?) you probably get earache from your partner wanting you to turn the pages quietly and/or turn the light out. Sound familiar? Trust me on this, my Sony Reader has helped to avert marital strife at night time. I can now turn the pages of my book at the (gentle) click of a button. There's another button that will also put a bookmark in, so there's no fumbling for these either when you're sleepy and wanting to put your book down. Yep, for me, it's another win-win situation.
VARIED READING TASTE?
My reading taste's eclectic and changeable. Sometimes a romance might not give me what I'm looking for. Perhaps I need to read a thriller, historical or an autobiography/non fiction title, or a literary or classic book. With the Reader it's no problem. No more heavy sighing or cursing how I can't locate the book I want. And no, 'that' one won't do, it HAS to be the specific one!
EASY TO FIND BOOKS
On my Reader I can organise my books into collections. For my Harlequin Mills & Boons I have a separate 'shelf' for all the different series. At the click of a button I can choose a Modern, Romance, Medical, Historical, Spice, or wherever else my mood wants to takes me. PERFECTO.
Is there anything else the Sony Reader can do that a paperback can't?
I've been waiting for this one because the answer is a resounding yes, Yes, YES! I'm sure I'm not the only person whose eyes get fatigued - especially after sitting at a computer all day? We-ell, the Reader has the fantastic ability to increase (or decrease) the size of the font on the page!!! I have to admit I was dubious about this in the beginning, but once again, it's so quick and easy to do and it doesn't detract from the story either. IT FEELS THE SAME AS READING A PRINT BOOK ONLY BETTER!
GOING ON HOLIDAY?
The last point I'd like to make about how fab the Reader is for avid book lovers is when it's time to pack some reading material, whether it's for a vacation, long journey, or even an appointment waiting room. You can carry all your books in your handbag! Again, this is great if you're never quite sure what mood you're going to be in.
WHAT DOES EPUBLISHING MEAN TO AUTHORS?
There comes a time when change is inevitable. E-publishing has proven itself to be more than a one-hit-wonder. Like it or not it's here to stay. I think no matter which profession we're in, it pays to keep up with the times otherwise we risk getting left behind. I guess it's even more important if, like me, you're aspiring to make a career in this profession. In fact that was another of my arguments. Everybody who writes for publication wants to have their words read, don't they? So it makes perfect sense not to shun the advance in technology but to embrace it and let it take you along with it.
I believe that epublishing makes a readership more accessible, as well as opening up a whole new world of prospective buyers for your words. It doesn't matter if readers (like me) have run out of storage to buy their books. It doesn't matter if people travel a lot and/or need to put down their chosen reading material more frequently (I'm thinking parents here).
A little secret for other aspiring writers? You can easily turn your completed manuscript into a PDF document which means, published or not, you can read it and enjoy it the same as a published book! Read it from an editor's perspective and a READER'S too.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Here’s a short collation of the notes I made over the course of the weekend – these were all the bits that I found relevant to myself (and Sue) rather than an exhaustive collection of every bit of advice, so apologies for the omissions!
• Melanie Hilton explained that, when writing a Historical, she always researches backwards, otherwise she’d never get around to starting the darn thing. Hmm, that sounds very familiar!
• At the Q&A session, I learnt that, if you’re bored with doing revisions, it’ll show. Revisions can become a displacement activity, and it is possible to get obsessed by them. Are you reading this, Sue?! (okay, okay, noted!)
• Melanie Hilton has a great little scheme for writing to deadline: she works out how many writing days she has left, divides her word count by this number and then has a total for each day. Always trying to exceed this total is a good habit, too.
• The main problems that Mills & Boon face are all too familiar themes, as well as stories built around themes that are plot-driven rather than character driven.
• If you have characters acting out of character to make the story work, it shows you don’t really know your characters properly!
• A combination of a strong voice and a fresh take or new twist on a given situation is the key to success – it’s a question of carving out your own unique niche in the market.
• Secondary characters should be used ONLY to show the hero or heroine’s personality.
• Emotional, character-driven conflict is the foundation of a satisfying romance. It spawns both tension and excitement.
• Conflict is there to bring human emotion to the fore.
• Romance novels should contain ups and downs, highs and lows, stormy weather and sunny days (not necessarily in that order!).
• Always bring variety to the table.
• Start off by thinking of two really interesting characters, the rest follows from there.
• ‘The Mysterious Miss M’ by Diane Gaston is a great example of a Historical romance that really works.
• Stretch your imagination/stay true to the genre/give your characters a hell of a journey/show them growing and changing/make fantasy out of reality.
• Be in the movie of your book.
• Readers skip too much description.
• Use concrete detail and make it vivid!
And that’s it! Hope it all helps.
Thanks again to those at the conference, without whom this rather exhaustive account would never have been possible!
I'd also like to add my thanks to Gray's with the addition of thanking HIM for sharing his experiences of our first RNA conference.
My experience wouldn't have been anywhere near as fantastic if it hadn't been for Gray being by my side. Thank you so much hun - we make a fab team! :D xxxxx
Catch up on earlier RNA Conference posts here:
Monday, July 20, 2009
The Morning After the Night Before
Groan. I woke up the next morning wondering just how many glasses of wine I’d imbibed the night before (answers on a postcard, please! Umm, trust me, you really don't want to know!). Still, my sluggishness was dispelled by a post-dawn shower, followed by the big task: it was time to load all of our (well, Sue’s) belongings back into the car. Just where had the weekend gone? I was soon traipsing back and forth between apartment and vehicle and acquainting myself with the early morning drizzle that had decided to descend upon the university campus. Inevitably, it was half past eight again before we made it to the restaurant for the final time for a spot of breakfast.
This time we were surrounded by French students on some kind of foreign exchange programme who had reserved half of the tables. C’est la vie! Nonetheless I just had time to polish off yet another English breakfast – and I’m pleased to say that Sue joined me this time – before stretching my weary legs on the way to Melanie Hilton’s discussion of the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme.
This was another useful and informative hour, and it really helped that there were a number of real-life readers for the scheme in the audience who were able to handle audience questions. With our minds slowly dawning to the fact that we have a LOT of work to do between now and the end of August, Sue and I headed upstairs for the final talk of the weekend, entitled “Sense and Sensitivity”.
This one was hosted by Linda Gillard, a well-established author who took us through an exploration of the five senses and showed how to use them in our writing. I have to admit, I was a little subdued when I entered the room, noting that the desks were arrayed in a square around the edge and that each of us had a pencil, some notepaper and some photos. Did this mean that we were going to have to work? With the last remnants of the Pinot Grigio still in my system I really wasn’t in the mood to do anything active, but thankfully this feeling soon passed when I learnt that our work wasn’t going to be ‘shared with the class’.
Our first activity was to recall a major childhood memory and describe it by using the four senses other than visual. I was immediately transported back to the shed in my next door neighbour’s garden, which was our ‘den’ back when I was seven. Yes, I read and was influenced by the likes of Enid Blyton’s The Secret Seven when I was this age! The smell of freshly sawn wood was strong in my nostrils and I found myself really getting into the task. Next up was a photo exercise, where we picked a snapshot and had to describe the scene, again relying on non-visual senses. I chose a picture of a group of monks at prayer, and this time I could almost hear the shuffling of robes, the turning of pages, the cough from one of the brothers who’d caught something when he’d been outside weeding the garden earlier. My footsteps were echoing on the tiled stones as I walked among the monks and I could almost taste the stony dust in the air as I ran my hand along one of the roughly hewed blocks that made up the walls...
Anyway, I digress. I loved this task and really got into it. Maybe you can tell? We then had to choose a more recent memory and once again describe it, so I recalled a moment on the beach at Bamburgh Castle with Sue, when we paddled in the chilly North Sea waves. I had to check under the table to make sure that the sand wasn’t between my toes because I could have sworn I felt it. The final task was picking a photograph of a person and describing them using the senses once again. I ended up with a grumpy-looking chef and I could almost smell the spices from his kitchen. I’m sure he had pasta seeping from his very pores.
With the last talk over, it was time to head back down to the conference room, where some pretty amazing statistics were read out about the popularity of romantic fiction, the fine magazine Romance Matters was discussed and finally Katie Fforde popped up to sum up what had just happened. There was a lot of clapping in this section so I left with sore palms. As we had a long drive back, Sue and I decided we didn’t want to hang around for the buffet lunch, as we just wanted to get going. After a brief run-in with a stoat on the road just out of the campus (thankfully it survived the encounter), we were off, our heads filled to the brim with everything writer-y and romance-y! We came across quite a few of those modern-day scourges of the road (I’m talking caravans), but otherwise our trip went smoothly on our way home.
I even had time to stop off and treat myself to an all-time favourite (a double chocolate milkshake) before we finally reached our quaint little village, exhausted but satisfied, our appetite for romance fiction conferences sated...at least for this year.
The End – but some useful advice to follow in tomorrow’s part six!Catch up on earlier RNA Conference posts here:
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Consider me sartorially challenged if you will, but I always try to go out of my way at ‘official’ dos to look my best which often means looking slightly different from everyone else. By all accounts, the gala dinner was a pretty well-groomed affair – no jeans, thank you, but as long as you look smart you’re in, with the opportunity to dress up if you so choose.
However, I’d been wearing a shirt and tie during the daytime, so I wanted to go one better. That’s where the cravat came in. Yep, I’d ordered one especially and had been itching to put it on, so when the time arrived I was pretty pleased with my appearance: black suit trousers, black shoes (newly polished with the free polisher I discovered in my room), white shirt, burgundy cravat and my Writer’s Jacket ™, that comes with me for these exclusive occasions. Sue had also dressed to impress, splashing out on a gorgeous black sequinned dress, and I’m not just being biased when I say that you looked great, Sue! *blushes*
We’d learnt our lesson by this time and arrived early for the dinner, which meant we didn’t have to queue too long. Unfortunately, there was still some waiting involved, and we found out later that the chef had just chopped the end of her finger off and had been rushed to hospital. That’s dedication for you! This left the rest of the catering staff running around like headless chickens but nevertheless we were seated soon enough.
Sue and I opted for a four-seater table, and then we sat with baited breath, wondering who our dining companions would be for the evening. It turned out that they were Patricia Teggart and Sarah Lee, a pair of lovely ladies who couldn’t have been better company. Patricia writes stories targeted at People’s Friend and has a small obsession with Betty Neels, while Sarah’s a Kiwi who works as a cellular pathologist. Clearly she was the cleverest person at our table and had to field my boring questions about her day job (hey, I’ve never met a cellular pathologist before!).
Soon the conversation - and the wine - was flowing as the evening began proper. Put 130 people in a medium sized room with the windows shut and things start to heat up, so my gambit of sitting underneath a ceiling fan quickly paid off. By this time, the rest of the diners had arrived, and many of the ladies were wearing some very pretty dresses in order to make the most of the evening. I’ve also never seen so many high heels together in a single room!
Another word on the wine: this was a silver service meal, so our table opted for the Pinot Grigio. By God, it was gorgeous – the best wine I’ve tasted! Needless to say the first bottle had soon been drained of even the smallest drip and we were quickly unscrewing the second. I’d never had it so good (the start of things to come perchance?).
This was a three-course meal and soon we were tucking into the first course: mushroom soup. No straight-out-of-the-tin concoction this, oh no; this was a delicious, extremely edible soup packed with real mushrooms. Croutons, too, which is always a pleasure. I also had a particularly fine garlic-topped bread roll which went nicely with the soup. Sadly, the soup drained away before I’d even looked at it properly (I swear there was a hole in the bottom of the dish)!
Time for the main course: chicken roast. (I was under the impression that the chicken was supposed to be accompanied with a delicious red wine sauce?) I was slightly disappointed with the quality of the ingredients of this, but then that’s the danger when catering for so many. (Hmm...) Needless to say I finished it off quickly enough, just in time in fact for the stupendous dessert, which was actually a dish loaded with a selection of mini desserts: there was an Eton mess, along with a lemon slice, some treacle tart and something else I can’t remember the name of but which went down a treat. Good show!
Katie Fforde was on hand to deliver a well-deserved competition award, and then I checked my watch and was astonished to discover it was ten ‘o’ clock already. Where had the night gone? The diners started slipping away and it was only too clear where most people were going: the Gin Case, of course! Sue and I said our farewells to our fantastic dinner companions and headed over to the bar. Feeling somewhat shambolic, I had a half-bottle of Pinot Grigio slipped into an inside pocket so I had to make a hasty detour back to the accommodation as you can’t take your own alcohol into a place like that.
We ended up sitting at a table with some more simply fantastic people: namely, Pia and Henriette. I discovered a shared passion for historical romance and the rest of the evening simply flew by. So much so, in fact, that by the time our companions left it was well on the way to becoming the next day and the bar’s shutters were coming down. The game of pool that Sue and I had been planning on? Well, never mind, it wouldn't have been much of an alternative when compared to the wonderful conversations we’d been having. By this time it was tipping it down, so Sue and I headed home and were soon out like a light.
To be continued...
Catch up on earlier RNA Conference posts here:
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Booze, Sage Advice & the Blues
Back in the bar, conversation reigned unhindered. By this time I was mixing my drinks freely, which is something I always try to avoid doing, but luckily I escaped from the situation unscathed this time (I did have a nagging headache in the morning, but it had evaporated by the time breakfast was at an end!Trust me, I'm going to keep more of an eye on you in the future!)
Sue and I ended up at a table (me balanced precariously on a stool) sitting with a fabulous group of authors both published and unpublished. There was the gregarious Nina Harrington, celebrating the success of her first release in the Romance line Always the Bridesmaid (by the way, thanks for the copy Nina!).
Sitting nearby was Allie Spencer, still hot from the success of winning the 2009 Joan Hessayon Award for her Little Black Dress debut, Tug of Love, and the ever-chirpy Judy Jarvie, whose near constant smile has the power to lift even the most tired, booze-addled, sore-kneed and aching-shouldered of aspiring romance writers!
I should take a moment to pay tribute to the wonderful authors we chatted to at various points over the course of the weekend. I’ve already admitted previously that I can’t remember all names, but credit’s due to everybody for making this such a lovely time for one and all.
Particular joys for the pair of us were the opportunities to meet up with darkly delicious erotic fiction writer Saskia Walker and one of my all-time favourite historical authors, Carol Townend, who proved to be just as instantly warm and friendly as she comes across on the internet.
Sadly, some of the biggest M&B authors were unable to attend this year (and I hear that many crossed the pond to attend the RWA conference instead), but I don’t think the conference suffered as a result of them not being there.
Sue and I were enjoying ourselves in the bar until the barman suddenly approached from behind, announcing that it was time for last orders. I checked my watch. Half past ten! As far as I was concerned the night was still young, so what on earth was this all about? I pulled out the conference timetable that I’d been diligently carrying around in the back pocket of my jeans – slightly tatty by now (the timetable, not the jeans) - and confirmed what I thought I already knew – the bar was supposed to be open until midnight! (It's very difficult to socialise and network when there's nobody there!)
It turned out that, as most people had already gone, there was no point in the bar staying open. This was a real shame, a combination of long trips and early nights, as well as some ‘naughty’ kitchen parties that I’ve been hearing about. Nonplussed, we headed ‘home’ for the evening for some much-needed kip.
The RNA conference doesn’t leave much in the way of spare time. I was up at half seven the next morning, squeezing myself into a cramped but workable shower (thank God for that!) and soon identifying which one the ‘hot’ pipe was! A quick blow dry later – oh, the perils of long hair – (ohh the joys of a high-maintenance guy) and I was ready to attend breakfast with Sue.
I’ve always believed that a big meal is capable of setting you up for the day, so I was looking forward to attacking the dish with gusto. The only problem was that it was half eight already, and the first programme started at nine. Time to start stuffing! Luckily, it wasn’t that bad. We’d avoided the queue this time and I soon found myself sitting down with a full English breakfast in front of me; let’s just say that the chef did themselves proud with this one. Sue opted for the cereal and croissant, (which I was too busy talking to eat!) but there was no way I was missing out on the full complement: sausage, bacon, fried tomato, fried bread, scrambled egg, mushrooms and toast. All in the space of twenty minutes, too!
Before I come across as too much of a pig (as if!)– and I fear I’m too late for that – we’d better move on to the morning workshops. The first was with the lovely Victoria Connelly, who took us through the rejection blues, describing some of her experiences and dishing out advice left, right and centre. A fine start to the day.
Next up was the bit Sue and I had been waiting for: a talk by M&B editors Meg Lewis and Jenny Hutton on “Digging Deeper – finding new twists by knowing your characters”. The excellent advice was duly noted and will be shared as an addendum after this increasingly long-winded, multi-parted conference report is over!
As you can imagine, this was all a lot of information to take in, and also the long journey north on the previous day had started to take its toll on the both of us. Therefore we were forced to miss a couple of great-sounding talks by Rachel Natanson and Veronica Harvey, instead getting our heads down for a couple of hours’ sleep. Nevertheless we still managed to pop in to the Brambles restaurant for lunch.
I was pleased to see that there was no
We dragged ourselves valiantly onward to Jessica Hart’s talk in the afternoon, entitled “Nobody mention the F-word!” This was another profoundly informative session during which we learnt plenty about what works and what doesn’t work in romance books, including, somewhat surprisingly, examples from prime-time American TV shows.
By this time, the afternoon was wearing on and both Sue and I became aware of the impending date: the gala dinner, served at and a three-course meal to boot. There was no time to think about heading towards the bar: instead we hopped, skipped and jumped back to our apartments. Yes, it was time for Sue to get ready. Three hours later (because I had a long nap!) and we emerged, blinking, into the evening air...
To be continued...
Catch up on earlier RNA Conference posts here:
Friday, July 17, 2009
I should digress for a moment as Sue took part in something I didn’t have to attend: a meeting with a bona fide Mills & Boon editor! Yep, Sue signed up for the chance to attend a ten-minute session with a flesh-and-blood honcho from M&B’s HQ, and she’d sent in the first chapter of her Romance, Learning to Trust Again, and a synopsis to boot. No doubt Sue would have been chewing her fingernails by the time the appointment arrived, but as she’d had them manicured the prior afternoon she couldn’t. So she chewed my ear instead.
I acted as Sue’s escort, leading her to the scaffold. I mean the stairs. At the top, we found that Sue had a few minutes to spare, and somewhat bizarrely we ended up having a small debate about the merits of good grammar with Sophie Weston and Joanna Maitland, two renowned and highly experienced M&B authors. Sophie also goes under the name of Jenny Haddon, and her excellent guide to the subject, Getting the Point, was the topic under discussion.
Now it was time for the hearing. I mean the editor meeting. Sue disappeared and I was left wandering round a buzzing seminar room, where copious amounts of afternoon tea were just being poured. In actual fact, coffee was the beverage of choice at this conference, and I suspect it helped sustain energy levels during the 48-hour event.
At this point, I started to meet people. Now, Sue and I met a lot of fellow authors over the course of the weekend, many published, and a lot hoping to be published like ourselves. I have a notoriously bad memory – that’s what started me writing things down in the first place – and unfortunately I’ve already forgotten many of the names of the people we spoke to, although I understand this sort of thing gets easier as time goes on. One of the first to greet me was Melanie Hilton, who gently prodded me as a reminder that our New Writers’ Scheme manuscripts are due in at the end of next month. Gulp! Is that really only six weeks away?!
At this point I realised that I was lugging around two mobile phones that I didn’t need to have on me (okay, so it’s not as easy when you’re a guy without a handbag) Umm, Gray, I think you mean you normally pile everything into my handbag and you were missing me? I decided to pop these back to our accommodation block, and I was just returning when I heard Sue’s laughter bubbling from an upstairs window. Did this mean the editor meeting was going – GASP! – well? It turns out that it was. (I confess it took me a few days to realise this!) Sue sat down with Meg Lewis, who told her where she was going wrong and invited her to send in a revised manuscript. So, that’s our next job – ironing out the problems and giving the hero and heroine more internal conflict and debate, rather than relying on external forces too much. That, and the age-old problem of not having the characters on the page together enough. Sue concluded the discussion by asking Meg if her voice was suitable for the Romance line, and the answer was a resounding yes. Yippee! :-D
With the appointment over, we started to enjoy ourselves. The conference opened with a welcome by grand lady Katie Fforde, who later made a point of introducing herself to us in the wine-drenched heaven that was the ‘Gin Case’ bar’s courtyard. But more on that later. For now, we sat back while Jan Jones went through the list of celebrations, paying special mentions to those RNA members who’ve had their first novel published over the course of the year. There’s something about the celebration of shared success that’s completely inspiring, so I really enjoyed this part.
We then progressed to a lively question and answer session, involving no less than five (five!) well established authors from a variety of genres, who answered questions in turn with a general theme of ‘How much ... is too much?’ The first question was ‘how much sex is too much?’ which I guess is inevitable considering the type of writing we all do! (Aww, Gray I'm loving that you're really getting what it's all about!)
The talky stuff over for the day, we headed en mass for the ‘Gin Case’ bar, located just a short way away on campus. I’ve discovered that listening is actually incredibly thirsty work so I was more than eager to grab a pint, although I fear I was the only one there drinking a “man’s” drink, which again is inevitable given the company. The poor staff behind the bar of the ‘Gin Case’ had no idea what hit them, but I’d like to commend them all for being particularly pleasant and friendly during our stay.
The sun had made a rare appearance so a number of us moved to the courtyard area outside, and the conversation increased from a bubbling undercurrent to crowd-sized proportions. There was a lot of greeting, a lot of catching up and a lot of shared interest to attend to. I ended up chatting to a fascinating lady who told me all about her book set in South America during the reign of Elizabeth I. It’s this kind of thing that RNA conferences are all about as it really can only happen face-to-face.
At half past seven we all moved across to the restaurant to enjoy the first of the self-service meals. Unfortunately, one of the very few problems with the conference was the queuing. A lot of us had to wait in a long line for a very long time to wait to get served, which wasn’t ideal for Sue, who gets a bit wobbly after having to stand up for a while (that's putting it mildly, very kind of you, Gray, thanks!) . When we got inside, we found that the first choice had run out, so a couple of dozen of us were left with the choice of Cumberland sausage, Cumberland sausage or Cumberland sausage.
Now, I’m a man to speak my mind, and I don’t mind admitting that the humble Cumberland sausage isn’t the most appetising-looking of delicacies. Looped into a snail-shell-like shape and of a greyish colour and rubbery texture, it doesn’t scream ‘eat me!’ like some foodstuffs I could mention. Nevertheless, a Cumberland sausage was duly plonked onto each of our plates, and we found somewhere to eat them. As luck would have it, we were joined by the friendly Helen Scott-Taylor and her enthusiastic husband. Helen told us all about paranormal romance as well as her debut novel, The Magic Knot, and I have to admit that I’m hooked. There’s another book on the ‘to buy’ list (ooh, and one more book purchase I don't have to hide?!).
Speaking of books...the freebies we were given at this conference were fantastic! Each of us came away with bulging carrier bags packed to the brim with all kinds of reading material, conference notes, advertising, chocolate and even a fiery-hot gobstopper that burnt the roof of my mouth!
Following this we had a school dinner-style coconut slice in custard, which was A-okay, and the glass of complimentary wine they’d served had suddenly run dry. There was only one thing for it: back to the bar!
To be continued...
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Part 1 – The Road to Penrith
So, Sue’s asked me to write down the account of our first visit to an RNA conference, which happened over the 10th to the 12th of July (last weekend, in other words). I said I’d do my best, so here’s hoping that there’s not too much rambling...(Sue reminds Gray that this is the reason why he's writing up the notes. I'm the rambler!)
After the usual last-minute preparations (just how heavy do you like your suitcase, Sue?) we set off early on Friday morning. We live on the Leicestershire/Rutland border, so it’s a simple enough route to join the A1 northbound, head up to Scotch Corner and then shoot across the A66 to Penrith. Luckily, we had a fantastic journey north, and I always feel a swell of delight when we enter mysterious Yorkshire – mainly because I’m VERY MUCH looking forward to getting the chance to explore the as-yet unknown Dales and the Moors with Sue in tow...(I can't wait)
We’d made Scotch Corner in two hours, so I was on a high. The A66 to Penrith is a fast road but dual carriageway at regular intervals, so there aren’t too many idiots around. Once you enter Cumbria, the scenery is breathtaking, and it once again reminded me that we haven’t properly toured this part of the country – YET. In fact, we’d done so well that we got to Penrith with a couple of hours to spare, so we headed into the town centre.
Now, Sue’s not too great at walking medium or long distances, so I agreed to leave her behind while I went to fetch a bottle of water. I have to say, Penrith didn’t impress me too much. The people in this bustling town seem lovely, but there’s a general air of it being run down: case in point, the public toilets, which were housed in a port-a-cabin with broken windows. Not too romantic, then. Still, I got the brief opportunity to have a nosy round a few charity shops (an obsession, I’m afraid) and pick up the aforementioned refreshment, before heading back to the car for a light lunch. I’m not one to blow my own trumpet, but I’d prepared a packed lunch the night before – and dare I say it, those tuna sandwiches were delicious. (Sooo relieved that you had the foresight to think of this, Gray. They were indeed delicious!)
The car park setting, complete with cracked concrete, noisy builders and shouty teenagers might have been less than salubrious, but we enjoyed the meal nonetheless. Now it was time to set off to the university campus to begin the weekend for real. If we could find it, that is.
Penrith is built on the side of a hill and the town centre is a mass of winding little roads, all of them loaded with traffic. This is a place where the number of cars is only equalled by the number of roundabouts. After we found ourselves in the middle of an industrial estate we did a U-turn, and eventually managed to follow the given directions across the M6. The University of Cumbria is actually located a mile or so out of the town in glorious unspoilt surroundings, so I was dead chuffed when we pulled into the car park.
I was aware that the place was very leafy, which was great, but otherwise it seemed deserted. There were a few nervous-looking women here and there, rushing back and forth to their cars. We were still early, but we decided to see if we could go and pick up the keys to our accommodation. The good news was that the ever-organised Jan Jones had everything in hand along with Roger Sanderson, who has a soldierly feel to him, so we were soon stationed in our accommodation block.
I was a bit chastened when I saw the building work that was going on directly outside – they’d decided to tape off some of the paths, too (not that we let that stop us...). The good news is that the workman on the digger went home on Friday afternoon and didn’t return for the rest of the weekend. In any case, the rooms were spotlessly clean and even had lovely little welcome bags complete with toiletries, a sewing kit and even a shoe-shine brush. I spent the next twenty minutes frantically power-walking back and forth in an attempt to unload the car, ever-aware of the minute hand on my watch progressing...
We’d already had a run in with documentary filmmaker Julie Moggan, who’d previously visited us at our home to shoot scenes for a major documentary on Mills and Boon that she’s in the midst of filming. Julie seems to have limitless energy and spent the whole of the afternoon running around with a sound woman in tow, shooting footage and trying to get her consent forms signed. I’m glad I didn’t have her job to do! Needless to say that before long we ended up agreeing to a further, brief interview which I think went pretty well.
By now, we’d really done all the preparation we could, and I’d even donned my bright purple shirt in readiness for the conference opener. So there was nothing else for it – it was time to go and see what all this conference malarkey was about.
To be continued...
Monday, July 13, 2009
- This time last week I came down with a flu-type virus and I was almost paralysed by fear thinking that I'd be unable to go to the RNA conference.
- By the grace of God I was shaky but loads better by Thursday.
- By Friday morning I was consumed with relief to be leaving for the three hour car journey to Penrith.
- Had a lovely appointment with a Mills & Boon editor.
- The rest of the weekend passed by in a whirl of busy-ness.
Why magic? Because:
- I'm absolutely shattered in addition t0 'normal' chronic fatigue, yet (and this is the magic bit) I couldn't stay in bed.
- My brain is still busy unravelling the weekend's experience.
- Any minute I'll wake-up to discover it's all been a magical dream!
I just want to end this by saying a HUGE THANK YOU to my real-life hero for enabling yet another of my dreams to magically come true.
Monday, July 06, 2009
This is THE week:
- to finish current book - and as often seems to happen at this stage, my head is already in the zone for the next. I really need to find the self-discipline to keep Arianne & Kal out of my head. There'll be plenty of time for them soon.
- to conserve as much energy as possible - this week is MEGA for both Gray and I. We're both excited and nervous in equal measure, but Gray more so. He's not only doing the driving, but needs to be mentally prepared to sit his first year's exam for his journalist course next Monday!
- not to get too excited too soon. I know that this forthcoming weekend (including the editor's appointment) will be gone in a flash, so I can't tire myself out before we arrive. But it's sooo hard because I can't wait to meet everybody!
I'll catch up again next week (when I've recovered from the excitement).
Have a fab week!
Sunday, July 05, 2009
This isn't something that happens very often (as you can probably tell by the look of rapture on their faces) but it was a case of needs must and all that. Who would've thought that it'd take three of us to bath two little chihuahas!
First up was Rocky. Now, they're both loving pooches but Rocky is the master of the sloppy kisses and hugs. In fact, he's a bit of a trollop because he'll be affectionate to anyone. Not good if the front gate's ever left open I can tell you. Rocky's also the adventurous one and always on the look-out for whatever mischief he can get up to next.
Thankfully, for this bathtime we were prepared! All went swimmingly and even Rambo found his brother an intriguing spectacle. Until, that is, it was his turn. What can I tell you about Rambo?
We-ell, he's the baby! He cries at everything and has always been very timid and fearful of everything. Yet perversely he's always been the 'grown-up' pooch.
Whenever Rocky has his mad five minutes (which is at least once every day) Rambo is rarely impressed. Especially when Rocky tries to get him to join in and resorts to nipping Rambo's hind legs whenever he passes him on the circuit!
We know Rocky's mad dash is over when he runs out of steam and spends the next five minutes making things up to Rambo by licking his ear.
All in all bathtime was successful. Yes, we all ended up wet but that's half the fun, isn't it? Rambo didn't even try to jump out once he'd been plonked in. He did however grumble and mutter the whole time, although that's no different to his usual everyday grumpy old mad impression.
Both our chi's have such distinctive personalities and it's always such a joy to watch them interact together.