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Friday, July 31, 2009

My Sony Reader

Okay, I'm cheating - sort of. This isn't a proper blog post BUT I have written a post on the pros to having a Sony e-Reader on the RNA blog here. Come and say hi!

There'll hopefully be more to come about ereading next week on this blog.

Have a good weekend!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sony Reader - Tempted?

A word of warning: The following is a completely biased opinion of the Sony Reader because, for me, it's the best thing since, umm... discovering Harlequin Mills & Boon. Yes, it really is THAT good!

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.

STORAGE:

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.


BEDTIME READING



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

RNA Conference Part 6

Gray’s Really Useful Bits

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:
Part 1
Part 2

Part 3
Part 4

Part 5

Monday, July 20, 2009

RNA Conference Part 5

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:
Part 1
Part 2

Part 3
Part 4


Sunday, July 19, 2009

RNA Conference Part 4

The Big Dinner

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:
Part 1
Part 2

Part 3

Saturday, July 18, 2009

RNA Conference Part 3


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 Cumberland sausage in sight this time, but instead some steaming lasagne that went nicely on my plate with a side salad and garlic bread. Sue, who has a chronic aversion to cheese in any form (except, unusually, cheese flavoured crisps and biscuits) opted for the ham salad. Again, the ladies who shared our table meant that we had plenty of enlightening discussion while we ate.


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 seven thirty 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:
Part 1
Part 2

Friday, July 17, 2009

RNA Conference Part 2

Coffee, Chaired Debates and Cumberland Sausages

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

Notes from Graham (RNA Conference Part One)

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

Magic Monday

Where to start?

  • 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.
Which brings me to today:

MAGIC MONDAY

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!
When I get round to putting away the unpacking - probably during the next few days, I'll endeavour to assimilate the notes for future blog posts.

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

Exciting week ahead preparing for the RNA Conference.

I wasn't planning to blog today but I'm sure that some of you know by now what happens when I try *not* to do something...

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!
Incidentally, if anyone's interested in the comings and goings at the conference, there are a few peeps who're planning to tweet it (#RNA).

I'll catch up again next week (when I've recovered from the excitement).

Have a fab week!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Bathtime for the Boys

Earlier last week we decided it was bath time for Rocky and Rambo.

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.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Friday Fun!

Oh boy, oh boy! Somebody please remind me that I'm a woman-of-a-certain-age! I'd planned a harmless day starting with a duvet morning (without the duvet) and enjoying the fresh coolness. Well, that'd been my plan anyway.

We knew we'd be without power at some point today when there'd be somebody from the electricity company coming to change our meter. Nothing very exciting so I was even happier to stay cool upstairs reading Katie Fforde's, Paradise Fields. Like I say, harmless and out of the way. Nothing exciting there, right?

Wrong! The said somebody arrives but has to return to his van (I think that's the bit that changes everything). I take a little peek just to be sure it is the electricity guy, and can't believe what I see.

Jon Bon Jovi?

Downstairs? In my house? Getting tools out of his van? No way! But then comes the clincher - that little voice coming right back at me. Yes way!

Okay, I need to state here that it obviously wasn't the real JBJ, but as good a lookalike as I've ever seen and, most importantly, future hero inspiration...

Brain in writer's whirl (you've got to be flexible in this profession you know) I realise my duvet morning has flown right out of the window. I scurry around looking for something decent to throw on. Definitely not the miniscule shorts I wore yesterday, that's for sure. Jeans and strappy top later, I head for the stairs.

Only, I'm too late! Much too late. JBJ looks up from the bottom of the stairs where he's already busy working on the meter (which is on the wall above the downstairs window). What to do?

Before I can get my brain into gear I dart back out of sight, but not before I confirm that yes indeedy, JBJ really is potential hero material. Oh, boy! Now what? I don't want to disturb JBJ's tool kit that's sitting in the middle of the stairs. Nor do I want him to spot my 'professional' interest.

So, there I am for the next 20 mins. In a dark, hot and miniscule upstairs hallway, holding my breath and stuck. How many opportunities does a writer get for potential hero material turning up, albeit briefly, in her house? Plus, how many writers have a hubby who's also a writer with an eye for potential research material? He'll understand, it's a no-brainer.

I do come out of hiding long enough to thank JBJ for the fast (too fast!) job he's done with the electric meter, before following him into the lounge where hubby very kindly prolongs the visit by helping explain directions to JBJ's next job and the one after that.

Finally, the morning's research over, I'm left wondering whether I should have perhaps made myself more useful by offering to go with JBJ as his personal sat nav...

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Master



A case in point where actions speak louder than words.

Thursday already?

Amazing!

I really need to get Chapter 11 revised/polished before next week, but I'm NOT panicking over it. It's too hot to do much of anything except staying cool and calm. There's a great post over on Melissa's blog, Grosvenor Square to remind us of the necessity of staying motivated, balanced and disciplined. Fab stuff.

I confess I did begin to panic a bit yesterday. Extreme heat is not conducive to helping reduce MS Symptoms. It's been 32 degrees here in the UK and I'd forgotten how this level of heat affects me. It's not just normal fatigue etc. that we all get in this heat, but increased nerve pains in the body, vibrations/tremors, numbness. It's strange because I remember Spanish, Cypriot or French heat didn't affect me adversely in the past. I know the UK has a different type of heat but even so, it's also been a reminder that my numorous relapses of 2007 has progressed my condition, so maybe even European heat would affect me nowadays.

However, having said all that, since my major op 11 months ago (hysterectomy), I've experienced a remission of sorts. I still have permanent dizziness, visual problems and chronic fatigue but everything else (like the weakness in my legs) has abated. Long may this continue.

I'm refusing to let my fear of increased problems take away my enthusiasm for the up and coming RNA conference next week. I so don't want the MS to be the primary thing I'm recognised for. Which tells me I still have heaps of work to do on myself to accept that sometimes it's necessary for others to be aware of my difficulties.

Isn't it strange that when I plan to write a completely different blog post that something so different and personal comes out? I guess that's also what happens in the writing process per se. When I think I know how my characters are going to react they always surprise me!

Well, I do feel a tad lighter having shared my deep and personal stuff with you all. Thanks for listening!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

RNA Blog now LIVE!

Liz Fenwick has launched a fantastic new addition to the blogosphere - a blog dedicated to the

It's a great way to keep up-to-date with The Romantic Novelists' Association and its members.

It's also a great way to add to the (already groaning) TBR pile.

Fab stuff!