Sunday, 24 December 2006

Silent Night

...and a silent Christmas for me. I've lost my voice. My husband didn't have to look quite so pleased, did he?

At least he did until I whispered to him that he would have to do all the chatting tomorrow when the family (mine) arrive. But then, since they are related to me, it is highly possible he may not be able to get a word in edgewise. I'm the quiet one in the family.

Anyway, Merry Christmas and I'll be back posting again after the festivities.

Friday, 22 December 2006

Christmas Madness

Yes, the season of complete craziness is upon us. So busy. Kids are overexcited. Husband is doing late shifts, so I've hardly seen him.

The other night my evening meal consisted of Sauvingnon Blanc and large amounts of Bombay Mix. Says it all, really.

Thursday, 21 December 2006

Settings: the final showdown

Last in my list of settings for Blind-Date Marriage is the theatre mentioned in the final chapters. I used a real theatre that I have performed in myself (that sounds very grand, but it year upon year of dancing competitions when I was a school girl). Back then it was called Lewisham Theatre, but now it's called The Broadway Theatre.

It's a lovely art deco building that looks a little lived in and I thought it was just the right location for the charity show - a not too-posh-local theatre that hosts shows by local dance schools, pantomimes and acts that were big names a couple of decade ago. I can't seem to post any pictures, but follow the link and you'll get an idea.

Sunday, 17 December 2006

Uh-oh

Uh-oh. I’ve been tagged by Donna.

No, no - you don’t need the darkened room and the bare light bulb swinging menacingly from the ceiling. Call off the rottweilers and I’ll answer the questions, I promise!

Four jobs I’ve had:
Dance teacher
Barmaid
Video editor
Church administrator

Four places I’ve lived:
London
London
London
London
Even when I was at college, it was on the other side of London.

Favourite foods:
Salmon – any way, any how.
Lamb (especially curry)
Roast beef
Avocados

Four movies I could watch over and over:
Serendipity
The Mummy
The Breakfast Club
Strictly Ballroom

Four TV shows I enjoy:
Grey’s Anatomy
Gilmore Girls
Strictly Come Dancing/Strictly Dance Fever - although I am in a huge strop since Emma Bunton got kicked off last night. She was clearly the best dancer in the competition.
CSI

Four places I’ve travelled:
Russia
Italy
Germany
France

Four places I’d like to visit:
The Great Pyramid
New York
Australia
Capri

Four websites I visit daily:
eHarlequin
Various blogs
Yahoo groups (to read my email loops)
At the moment, Amazon, to see how BDM is doing – even though I know amazon sales rankings are not that accurate and can be manipulated. Can’t seem to stop myself.

Four people tagged:
Ally Blake
Liz Fenwick
Jessica Raymond
Kate Hardy

Tuesday, 12 December 2006

Settings: a wonderful date come crashing to the ground.

Jake and Serena spend an idyllic date wining and dining and end up with a trip on the London Eye, (If you follow that link, have a look at the virtual tour) a kind of huge ferris wheel on the banks of the Thames. At the top it's 135m tall and it feels as if you are floating high above the London skyline. None of the surrounding buildings even come close in terms of height.

I thought I was being sooooo original when I used it, but since then I’ve seen it popping up in romances all over the place.

I’ve been on the eye twice and I loved every second. A glass pod carries you up into the sky on the banks of the river. Just opposite are the houses of Parliament and you can clearly see Buckingham Palace and St.Paul’s Cathedral. It might not look very high when you are down on the ground, but considering the tower of Big Ben starts to look titchy and seagulls flying down by the river are only tiny specks of white, looks can be deceiving.

I decided a private pod, a trip at night with the lights of the city sparking like diamonds, would be the perfect setting for a romantic encounter. What could go wrong?

Sunday, 10 December 2006

Settings: First Kiss

Next on my list of settings in Blind-Date Marriage is Greenwich Park. My grandmother—Nan, as she liked to be called—looked after me and my sister a lot when we were little and we used to jump on one of those lovely old red double-decker buses and find fun things to do all over south London.


Greenwich Park was a favourite, mostly because it has fantastic grassy hills which are great for rolling down. From where I live you have to cross Blackheath to get to the park which looks like this. I always find it odd to be driving through residential areas and shops one minute and suddenly it all melts away and all you can see is flat, green grass. But the Thames is not far away and the high ground of the heath dips sharply to meet the river not long after you enter Greenwich Park.




There is a fantastic view of the city from the top of the hills. I love the fact I can be sitting in a grassy meadow, the wind blowing the leaves on the branches above my head, and over the other side of the river there is a completely different landscape: glass and stone and steel.


This is where Jake and Serena have their picnic, a little spot called “One Tree Hill”, although it must have been named that a long time ago, because there are plenty of them there now! You can actually see a high-rise council estate from this point, but Ellwood Green (so named because my husband was watching the Blues Brothers when I was wondering what to call it) is a completely fictitious place, although based and bits and pieces of real locations.

Right in the centre of the park on the top of the hill is The Royal Observatory, and a little path below it is where Jake and Serena share their first kiss. Here is the ‘kissing gate’ that Jake gets deliberately stuck in so he can spend more time squashed up against Serena.



And here is the little brass strip in the path that marks the point where the Greenwich meridian – zero degrees longitude – passes through London. I can’t remember a trip to the park where I haven’t stood with one foot on either side of the line, half of me in one hemisphere, half of me in another.

Saturday, 9 December 2006

Cataromance review

I was all set to blog about Greenwich Park, but I'm going to have to interrupt myself to post about the review for Blind-Date Marriage on Cataromance. I got five stars!

Here's a snippet:

Blind Date Marriage is simply divine! Warm, witty and engrossing, I devoured this book in one sitting! Fiona Harper has got this wonderful ability to make you fall in love with her gorgeous characters and you will be rooting for them and cheering them on till the very end.

Fiona Harper has written an absolutely fantastic debut novel! Vibrant, moving and emotional, Blind Date Marriage has established Fiona Harper as an amazingly talented writer who is set to be one of the biggest names in romantic fiction!


For the full review go here.

Thursday, 7 December 2006

Scene and setting

I’ve blogged about Jake and Serena and how they met. Over the next few days I'm going to post about the places in my Blind-Date Marriage. I always love seeing authors’ inspiration for settings and finding out if they match the pictures in my imagination.

Here’s a pic of Jake’s flat. I love these tall, red-brick Victorian apartments. Of course, I'd need to sell a kidney and probably a couple of limbs to afford one in London...

And this is the sort of house I envisiged Serena and her father living in - although in my imagination, the stairs were on the other side and there was an ivy-covered path leading round to the back door.


Dreaming up locations for books is great, because there are no mortgages and the only limit is my imagination. I happily trawl through property web sites looking for inspiration - even if I have to remind myself I house-hunting for my characters, not for myself.

Wednesday, 6 December 2006

I'm everywhere today!

If you want to know a bit about my rollercoaster journey to publication, visit the fabulous Pink Heart Society today where I am featured on Writers' Wednesday.

Also, I've discovered that Blind-Date Marriage is being featured on the read with the hostie section of eHarlequin's message boards this week. If you've read it and want to natter, pop in and say what you think.

Monday, 4 December 2006

Now what?

So, I have a hero and a heroine. Now what? They had to have a reason to meet, a reason for their very different worlds to collide. And sometimes the oddest things provide inspiration.

When my editor asked if I wanted a dedication in Blind-Date Marriage I didn’t have to think too long. When I emailed it to her she responded by saying it was “strange, but nice”. It reads:

For the unknown man I soaked while driving through a puddle.

One rainy October morning I was driving along a road I know, but don’t use very often. Since the rain was heavy, puddles were collecting near the kerb and I drove through one not realising how deep it was. As my tyres hit the puddle a spray of water a good four-feet high flew into the air and soaked a poor man passing by.

I felt awful, but chickened out of stopping to apologise as I was on my own and didn’t want to aggravate an instance of ‘puddle-rage’. At the same time I was scolding myself for my cowardice, my brain was whirring.

What a great way for my hero and heroine to meet, I thought. What if she was brave enough to stop? Where would they both have been going? And before I knew it I had an idea for the opening of my story. The location changed and so did the car, unfortunately, but the basic nugget of the idea was in place.

Friday, 1 December 2006

Heroine inspiration

Serena in Blind-Date Marriage is a bit of a contradiction. This picture from a fashion spread was as close as I could come to pinning her down.

She’s got a slightly unusual, boho style and Jake thinks she looks like a “bean sprouts and tofu kind of girl”. But if he thought that meant she wasn’t looking for a traditional relationship, he was sorely mistaken. Her unusual background has led her to crave the soap-commercial family life more than other girls.

That was my starting idea for Serena – a girl who might look unconventional on the outside, but inside wanted the fairytale so badly she could taste it. Just the right kind of girl to attract a commitment-phobic accountant with a gift for jumping to conclusions.

I like creating heroines who don’t fit the mould, whether that’s because of the way they dress or the way they look or think. Maybe it’s because I used to like being a little different myself.

As a teenager, I didn’t rebel much, only in what I wore by becoming what was labelled a ‘goth’. Most of my gothic friends were intelligent and sensible and it was okay visit art galleries together to look at pre-Raphaelite paintings and show each other our depressing poems. I look back now and wonder how I didn’t realise how pretentious we were sometimes, but I suppose that is the joy of being young: knowing everything except yourself.

Here’s a picture of me trying to look moody at the tail end of my gothic phase. I do have one where I have a six-inch Mohican and blue lipstick (I was going to a Siouxsie and the Banshees concert, I think), but thankfully, I couldn’t find it.

While I am nothing like Serena – she’s much braver emotionally than I will ever be – her personal style owes a little to my teenage love of dangly jewellery and long, swishy skirts.

Tuesday, 28 November 2006

Dreaming up a hero...


I don’t know about you, but I love finding out the inspiration for other people’s stories – where the characters came from, why they chose a certain setting for a certain scene. I’m completely addicted to director’s commentaries on DVDs. I sometimes enjoy all the talk about which scenes they cut and how they used such-and-such and image more than the film itself.

Anyway, I thought I would blog about some of the inspiration behind Blind-Date Marriage. All of those who hate this kind of thing, prepare to hit the fast-forward button…now!

I’m going to start with my delicious hero, Jake. I’m not one of those people who can pick a picture of someone famous and use them as my hero. Even if I start off with a picture the character in my head starts to differ from them as I get more and more into the book.

The best I can do with is give you a picture of someone who is the closest match I can find. For Jake, it’s James Purefoy, and if you want to see a whole host of droolworthy pictures you’ll have to head on over to the Pink Heart Society and take a look at their most recent Male on Monday.

Jake likes to think he’s a tough businessman in control of his life. I felt so sorry for him when he met Serena and suddenly all his cool seemed to take a hike. But that’s what you get for denying who you really are and ignoring a whole side of your personality. Eventually it’s going to rear up and bite you on the bum.

Jake is much more creative than he gives himself credit for. He has a runaway imagination that quite often gets him into trouble and sometimes stops him seeing what is straight in front of his face.

I don’t exactly know where the idea for Jake came from. I just decided I wanted to write about a hero who had a very creative side that he wanted to hide. The idea drifted round in my head for quite a while until I decided he could team up very nicely with another character I’d been day-dreaming about. I’ll blog more about the heroine who brings him to his knees next time.

Friday, 24 November 2006

Proof!

I snuck back into W H Smith and took a photo of Blind-Date Marriage on the shelf. I asked a member of staff if it would be okay first. She clearly thought I was barking mad. But here's the proof:

Fifty-three

On a scale of one to ten, fifty-three is how excited I am today.

I was walking down my local high street and decided to duck into Smith's to see if my book was on the shelves. The fact I had checked at six o'clock yesterday evening to find last month's books (well, only one) still on the shelves made no difference. So, how shocked was I when I came face to face with a newly stocked display and my book happily sitting there, looking as if it hadn't a qualm in the world about being next to big name authors?

I'll tell you how shocked I was. After staring it for about five minutes and quite literally not being able to tear myself away, I walked straight out of the shop. And then I walked right back in again, because I'd completely forgotten I'd been on my way to buy drawing paper for the girls and inkjet cartridges. (Of course, I had to have another look on the way out of the shop as well.)

I then bumped into my mother-in-law, who I promptly dragged back in to have a look at my book on the shelf. And what do you think? There was a lovely lady filling up her basket with Mills & Boons and mine was in there! I saw someone buying my book! That was the point at which I did a little happy dance right there in front of the display.

Of course, then I had to explain myself and I got chatting to the lady in question.

So, hello to the lovely Dilys. Thanks for buying my book and I hope your dream of one day dancing with Anton Du Beke comes true. You made my day.

Thursday, 23 November 2006

Kate's stockings

Now before you all think I've decided to write something a little steamier than a Romance, let me put you straight. Kate Walker is running a Christmas competition on her website and she has two Christmas stockings stuffed full of books to give away.


Blind-Date Marriage is going to be part of the prize bundle along with:
  • Christmas Kids and Kisses - 3in1 including Kate's "The Christmas Baby Gift".
  • Accepting the Boss's Proposal - by Natasha Oakley. (I've read this and it was fantastic. Jemima was a wonderfully real and sympathetic heroine and Miles was just plain yummy.)
  • The Italian Doctor's Bride by Margaret McDonagh. (The Pink Heart Society gave this a fab review).
  • White-Hot by Trish Wylie. (This one made me laugh and cry. Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "pants on fire" and no, I'm not going to explain, you'll just have to read it!)
  • Chosen as the Frenchman's Bride by Abby Green. (Haven't managed to get my sticky paws on this one yet, but I wanna!)
  • The Italian Billionaire's Virgin by Christina Hollis. (Brand new Modern Romance/Presents author).
  • A Mistress for the Taking by Annie West. (Sitting on my to-be-read pile this very minute!)

And there may be more to be added.

Wednesday, 22 November 2006

Rain and rainbows

Yesterday I got wet. Really wet. I had been to the post office to post some books to Kate Walker (more on that later...) and got back to the playground to pick up my kids about twenty minutes early. Stupidly, I decided to wait.

It started to rain, freezing cold spiky drops. By the time my girls came out of school (late, of course, due to chatting with their friends - don't know where they get that from), I was absoluely soaked. The rain had gone through my raincoat and my legs were wet almost up to my knees. My trousers were the sort that stretch when they get damp, so they were trailing in the puddles by the time we left.

But life has a funny way of making up for raining on your parade (or school run, even). As we turned to leave the playground, we saw the most fantastic rainbow I have ever seen. A perfect arch, so bright you could see the colours repeating twice underneath the main bands. Not only that, there was a fainter one above it, making it a double rainbow.

I ran home with my soggy trousers, ditched them at the front door and ran upstairs to take a picture out of my daughter's bedroom window.



There. Isn't that beautiful?

You'll just have to come back tomorrow to see why I was posting things to Kate Walker...

Saturday, 18 November 2006

RNA Winter Party

I’ve been a busy bunny the last couple of days. Wednesday night was the RNA’s Winter Party and I also attended the RNA ‘Money Day’ on Thursday. Very useful, but more about that later.

Anyone who has read my blog recently and accused me of being organised would have had their opinion overturned if they had seen me trying to work out how to secure my coat on the hanger (plus lockable wire) in the cloakroom of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers. Thank goodness Liz was with me and came to my rescue. I could have been there all night trying to work out which way to thread the wire.

The library at Imeche, as it is known, is a great place for a literary party. It’s a lovely old room, stuffed full of bookcases and has lovely warm-coloured wood and wrought iron all over the place. While having my first glass of wine, a few of us perused the titles of the books nearest us. Not very romantic. Although there was one called ‘Internal Fire’, or something like that. Sounds a bit like an M&B from the eighties or Modern Extra to me. Not much evocative about ‘Theory of Gas Turbines’, though.

I had a great time (waves to anyone I met) talking to old friends, new friends, authors, editors and agents. I’m hopeless at networking, though. I forget all about it and just yak. I had a rather hairy moment in the middle of a heated discussion about CSI with some of the lovely M&B staff, though. Someone mentioned how cute they thought Nick was and, in my eagerness to agree, I choked on my wine.

Liz and I were very good and, because we had the RNA money day to attend the next day, resisted attempts to lure us out to drinks and dinner afterwards. Seriously, we should have haloes. I was going to post a photo of me and Liz, but I’m looking far too shiny and I have hamster cheeks.

Wednesday, 15 November 2006

Yummy Christmas food

My favourite thing about Christmas dinner is the bread sauce (picture me drooling right now just thinking about it) and my recipe is being featured on the Christmas recipe swap at eHarlequin.

Now, for all of you not in the UK (and probably thinking "Eeewwww!"), you can't knock it until you've tried it. Just imagine a nice succulent slice of turkey breast smothered with the most creamy, comforting sauce you could ever imagine. Just add a little dollop of cranberry sauce and you have perfection. The acidity of the cranberries set off the creaminess of the bread sauce beautifully. Scrummy.

My husband's family were all a bit sceptical when I brought it along to Christmas dinner many moons ago. But then again these people think pickled onions are a suitable accompniament to Christmas dinner. Nuff said. Now they beg me to bring some bread sauce every year.

Actually, even better than Christmas dinner is the leftovers sandwich I make on Boxing day: thick slices of fresh bread, turkey breast, pork and chestnut stuffing, bread sauce and cranberry sauce. Mmmmmm.

Friday, 10 November 2006

Great review!



I woke up this morning and found my book reviewed on the Pink Heart Society review blog.

If you haven’t found the Pink Heart Society blog yet, go and have a look here. It’s a great site dedicated to celebrating romantic fiction. They have great articles every day. Go and have a squizz!

Back to my review…

I was really thrilled with it. The reviewer said:

Blind date marriage is a humorous and touching story with a riveting plot, plenty of action and a loveable, quirky heroine. It’s written in a young, contemporary style and I absolutely loved it. A book you should not miss!

It got five out of five hearts in all the review categories: Hero Hotness Factor, Heroine lovability factor, Awww factor, Stickability factor, Humour factor and Weepy factor.

Wooo-hoooo!

Wednesday, 8 November 2006

Staying focused

Right. I said I’d post about what I did to tidy up Make Up to Break Up (Magic Hour) when the revisions came in. If I leave a note about it here I shall be able to come back to it when I’m panicking about the next book.

Okay, that’s not going to help. I’m already panicking about the next book and I haven’t even started it. I think it’s the literary equivalent of stage fright. My first book is out in the shops in a few weeks and I’m terrified people won’t like it – especially people that know me.

It seems to be having a knock on effect and I’m second guessing myself about book four and trying to be far too clever in the plot and structuring rather than just starting to write the darn thing.

Anyway, that’s beside the point. Paranoia aside, this is what I did to help myself focus on the central conflict of Make Up to Break Up:


1.I did a GMC (Goal, Motivation, Conflict) chart. I didn’t go back and tinker with the one I did before I started the book; I did a new one based on what I knew about the characters now. It ended up being much meatier and more focused – especially the internal conflict.

2. I made a table with a row for each chapter and two columns: one for Nick and one for Adele. Then I wrote in what their goals were at each stage and what they were feeling. Not in great detail, just the main points. If their goal/emotional state was the same for a couple of chapters, it didn’t matter. I was giving myself a road map of their emotional journeys.

3. I printed out another chart (can you tell I love diagrams and charts?) a row for each scene and, using my emotional road map from no.2, I filled in what the main emotional focus of each scene should be, bearing in mind my editor’s suggestions. Then, when I revised each scene, I would check the little bit of blurb I wrote for each one. Anything that didn’t help the scene run in that direction was history. Whole pages of meaningless bickering disappeared instantly.

Now, I know this approach will send some people running for the hills screaming, but it works for me. When I have too many conflicting ideas swirling round my head I need to anchor them down in some way and creating something visual like a chart helps me focus. And at the end of the day, this was what this story had lacked: focus.

The things to strengthen it were already there in the text, but they’d just got muddied by a lot of extra stuff. In other words, my attempt at adding complex, layered conflict. I can’t remember where I read it recently (it may have been a Q&A on eharlequin) but someone said about conflict: Keep it simple. Keep it deep. I’m going to repeat that to myself while writing the next book.

Thursday, 2 November 2006

Five things

Oo-er. I’ve been tagged by Jess to list “Five Things You May Not Know About Me”.

Here goes:

1. I’m half Scottish. My grandmother was a Robertson, so if I have a clan to belong to – that’s it. King Duncan (the one who was murdered by Macbeth) is way back in my line of ancestors.

2.I was born prematurely – two months early – and weighed only 4lbs.

3. I have tinnitus, the condition where I hear noises in my head that aren’t really there. (I’m not bonkers, I promise!) I manage to ignore it most of the time, but when it’s very quiet I can always hear a high-pitched whine – a bit like the noise you used to get when BBC closed down for the night.

4. I’m addicted to playing Tomb Raider. A kick-ass heroine who gets to explore beautiful locations and exotic temples – what’s not to like?

5. I’m married to a forensic scientist. I can snort at CSI like a pro now. Why, oh why, do they do everything in the dark? Use the light switch, for goodness’ sake! Having said that, I love the show and watch it every week – even if I have it on good authority that half of the fingerprints on their computer are upside-down.

A note from Sharon, the creator of People Collection (which seems to have originated this "Five Things..." list), says: PLEASE LEAVE THE FOLLOWING IN ALL ‘PEOPLE COLLECTION’ POSTS:Remember that it isn’t always the sensational stuff that writers are looking for, it can just as easily be something that you take for granted like having raised twins or knowing how to grow beetroot. Mind you, if you know how to fly a helicopter or have worked as a film extra, do feel free to let the rest of us know about it! :)

I tag two Liz Fs: Liz Fielding and Liz Fenwick!

Wednesday, 1 November 2006

It just gets better

Oooh! And I've just realised it's up on eHarlequin too!


Go on. Treat yourself for Christmas!

On sale!


Very excited. Blind-Date Marriage is on sale at Mills&Boon.co.uk.

It's finally happened. People can buy a book I wrote. Hee hee. Don't all start a stampede now.

...Oh, go on then, if you really want to!

Saturday, 28 October 2006

First page challenge

Julie Cohen is blogging about creating character and conflict in the very first page of a book and has thrown out a challenge to other authors to show how they do it. I accept that challenge, Ms Cohen!

BLIND-DATE MARRIAGE
Silhouette Romance/M&B Romance Dec 06

Jake knew only two things about the woman he was going to meet: her name was Serena and her father had money.
We know instantly that Jake is on his way to meet a stranger. Who is she? Why is he going to meet her?

Serena. Sounded kind of horsey. She probably wore jodhpurs. Mel had refused to comment on whether she was pretty or not, so she probably looked like a horse as well. He could see it so clearly: the gymkhana trophies, the chintzy bedroom. Serena wore her mousey hair in a bun and had too many teeth.
Uh-oh. Jake has a problem with a runaway imagination. Making assumptions like this is going to get him into trouble.

He stepped off the kerb of the busy London street and weaved through the gaps in the traffic. Headlights lit up his knees as he squeezed between the bumpers. A horn blared. That’s why he liked to walk. It gave him a sense of freedom in the midst of the cloying traffic. He wasn’t about to take orders from anyone, especially not a pole with coloured lights on top.
He’s also a very self-contained kind of guy and likes to be completely in charge of his universe. He likes playing life by his own rules.

Hopefully, I've set up the feeling that Jake's blind date is going to be completely different from what he's expecting and hinted that he seems ripe to have his tidy world turned upside down.

Tuesday, 24 October 2006

Finally got around to reading some more of my time managment book. Now, I know I will finish it deciding I am a total convert and will never leave a speck of dust unattacked in my house for more than ten seconds, but in reality I will probably find a few good ideas that fit in with my life and take those on board.

First bit of work to do was read through all the handy little tips scattered throughout the text and find seven I thought I could put into practice. For example:
  • Exercise while you watch TV. - Yeah, always mean to do this, but my brand new squashy leather sofa is far too tempting while catching up on my regular fix of trashy TV (America's Next Top Model).
  • Take yourself off junk mail lists. - feeling very virtuous. Done this already.
  • Do small jobs as they come up; don't put them off. - Whoops. Not feeling so virtuous now.
  • Record TV programmes to watch later, cutting out the adverts. - Sorry, not that desperate (or that sad) to gain an extra fifteen minutes in each day. Will not be able to hold out during Grey's Anatomy anyway.
  • Buy a sound activated device for your keys. Think how much time you've wasted over the years looking for them.

Two weeks ago I would have thought this was wisdom itself, as I am always frantically searching for my keys at school pick-up time/leave for work time/most of the time, but when I read this tip while having a bath, I laughed so hard I almost created a tsunami.

Only that afternoon I had dismantled on of these cursed (pronounced curse-ed to get an accurate sense of my fury) things after ripping it from my keyring. I had only had it for a week and it was driving me slowly insane. Whistling set it off all right, but so did:

  • High-pitched squeaks from number two daughter.
  • High-pitched squeaks from number one daughter (slightly less frequent).
  • My laugh (anyone who has heard me in full giggle will know how loud it is).
  • Me shouting at the kids. (Of course, this is theorectical; I never shout at my little cherubs).
  • Other random noises.
  • My husband's constant whistling. (Never realised he did it so much until last week).

On the other hand, I discovered I had lost the ability to whistle and the hoarse little noise I managed to produce only set it off now and again - and then when I was close enough to see my keys anyway.

So, for a week, I put up with my pocket going beep, beep, beep-beep, beep-beep-beep on a pretty constant basis every time I set foot in the school gates to drop off/pick up my daughters. The up side was that everyone thought they were text message beeps and suddenly I seemed the most popular mum in the playground.

The final straw came when I popped into my next-door neighbour's house for a little birthday celebration for the elderly man on our road who had just turned ninety. He was very happy to be invited round for chocolate cake and a cup of tea with a bunch of thirty-something women, even if we had at least eleven children (ranging from three months to nine years) racing in and out of the kitchen and pushing each other off the trampoline/climbing frame/grass in the back garden.

At first, the beeping of my keyring was an amusing talking point but, since it was set off about once every minute for three-quarters of an hour, I started fantasising about drowning it in my tea and then stamping on it in the manner of an enraged Daffy-Duck.

I will just have to go back to the frantic key searching. It's a whole lot less stressful than saving the extra five minutes looking for them maybe once a fortnight.

Saturday, 21 October 2006

Sold

Adele and Nick's story has sold - and as the first book in a three-book contract. Hooray! I now have deadlines. Not-so-hooray.

My working title for the book was Magic Hour, but the actual title will be Break Up To Make Up. I like it - it sounds young and fresh and a little bit different. It'll be hitting the shelves next August.

Tuesday, 17 October 2006

Losing it.

Still haven't blogged about how I got into focus with my revisions, have I? Life keeps getting in the way of my writing. Good news is, my editor says the revisions were great. Phew.

And, kangarooing onto a different subject all together, I found my time management book. I'd actually put it away in the bookcase. Now, that would seem to be the obvious place to look, wouldn't it? But, before you all say "Doh!", I hardly ever put a book back on the shelf unless I've finished it. If I'm still reading it, it will probably be either on my bedside table, on the window sill next to the bath, in my handbag or buried under the junk my family seems to create without even trying. Must have had been inspired by the book and had a moment of uncharacteristic tidiness.

Would it be even sadder to tell you I lost a brand new pair of shoes still in their box? Not surprsingly, I found them in the bottom of my wardrobe. That's the thing about being organised. It puts my whole chaotic system out of order.

Friday, 13 October 2006

Being too clever for my own good.

Revisions on “Magic Hour” are completed. Phew!

Sections of this book were pig-awful to write. Funnily enough, those were the sections I had to revise. D’ya think I should have cottoned on to that at the time? I shall certainly watch out for that on the next wip.

In my efforts to create a multi-layered conflict I had, in fact, just created clutter. Too much bickering, my editor said. She was right. They were stuck in car arguing about who did the laundry quite a lot. Zzzzzz.

I had wanted to introduce little niggles that were symptoms of the bigger problems, but all I’d ended up doing was muddying the waters. In the end, I hadn’t spent enough time on the central issues and there were some nice things that I could have developed more, but didn’t have the space.

At first I just started going through the ms cutting a sentence here, adding a phrase there, but the whole thing felt a bit disjointed and pasted together. And the sections I had problems with were still giving me a headache. I still wasn’t bringing the central conflict into the forefront.

I was too close. I needed to get away from the words and sentences level of doing things and concentrate on the big picture. More on this tomorrow…

Monday, 9 October 2006

Revisions, revisions, revisions

I'm in the depths of revisions for Magic Hour. Brain similar to noodle soup.

I'm struggling a bit to juggle two jobs, two kids and running a household so I bought a book called "Time Management for Manic Mums". Lost it in the mess before I'd finished chapter one. Says it all, really.

Wednesday, 4 October 2006

I'm not here

I'm avoiding my blog.

I'm in a post-book slump. My brain cells have all gone into hibernation and I have nothing interesting to say.

However, a new idea is staring to brew. I have a pink-haired heroine and a stuffy hero. This one could be fun...

Saturday, 23 September 2006

good times

Yesterday was the annual AMBA (Association of Mills & Boon Authors) lunch in London. My first ever one. Writing can be a very solitary pursuit and it’s always lovely to meet other authors, but I was especially looking forward to this as I would get a chance to see some online friends that I hadn’t met in the flesh.

I was feeling very famous after a couple of people said they recognised me from my photo in the RNA’s ‘Romance Matters’ magazine. How bizarre is that? And Abby Green, new author for Modern Romance, is forever in my good books for saying I didn’t look old enough to have a nine-year-old daughter. God bless her!

And after the lunch it was off to the famous Brooks’s gentleman’s club for a party thrown by HM&B for their authors. The champagne was flowing, but I stuck to water as I’m on anti-sickness pills to combat an ear infection. Still, better to be able to go to the do than be home feeling queasy.

I left the party with the phrase “send it in” ringing in my ears. I had all three of the Romance Team: Kim, Meg and Lydia, chanting this in my ear while I was warbling on about having finished the second draft and being too close to it to see where it needed work. Looks like I’ll be sending Nick and Adele’s story in on Monday. (Once I’ve had a little chance to read through and tweak, of course. Perfectionist? Moi? Never.)

Sunday, 17 September 2006

Haircuts and other horrors

I've been too busy to blog for the last few days. The current book is in the editing stages and I don't seem to be changing much - which is worrying me. I think I'm too close to writing it to be able to see the holes at the moment but, as my editor asked if I could possibly get it in a little earlier, I don't have time to slow down.

I've also fallen foul of life's little hiccups this week:

I got a parking ticket, even though I'd bought a pay and display ticket and stuck it on my windscreen with the little sticker they give you. It was a hot day and the sticker gave out and my ticket fell on the floor. The local authority don't consider I made a proper effort to display my ticket correctly, so the won't drop the penalty notice, even though I could produce a valid parking ticket. Grrrrr. It's either £40 now, or £80 if I risk a formal appeal. What more could I have done? Stood by my car for the three hours it was parked there to make sure the ticket didn't fall off?

Then, of course, I spent most of yesterday waiting for a piece of furniture to be delivered. should have arrived by 2pm. My husband phoned the helpline and, after being on hold for an hour, hung up. My phone bill is going to be huge. Furniture arrived at almost 5pm.

And on Friday I had a haircut. I decided to splurge and go to a salon I haven't been to in a while and get a really good hairdresser to do my hair. While this bloke has cut my hair before and it's looked fabulous, this time was the one that bucked the trend.

I have naturally curly hair and, at it's longest, it was reaching my bra strap on my back. Since it had got a bit too long and heavy, I asked if I could have a few more layers and have it shaped round my face a little more. However, he definitely took more than four inches he said he was going to take off the ends and when my hair gets cut it can spring up and go a bit mad. I walked in with ringlets flowing down my back and left wearing a curly football helmet that barely reaches my shoulders. I went home, lip quivering, and washed it myself and, thankfully, the result isn't as bad as I first thought. If it were a few inches longer it would be just what I wanted. It'll grow, so I'll just have to be patient.

Tuesday, 12 September 2006

One more under my belt

Phew! I've finished the first draft of mt latest book. Now I've got a couple of weeks to lick it into shape before I send it off.

I'm quite amazed at how much I managed to get done when I knuckled under: 28,000 words in the last sixteen days (since I got back from holiday).

I tend not to edit much as I go, so reading the opening chapters should be somewhat of a surprise. I've probably forgotten a lot of what I've written. I know I'll read some back and think, 'Hmmm, better than I thought it was going to be', and I will read some bits and think, 'Euch!' Funny thing is, the bits I considered the good bits when I was writing them invariably make me go 'Euch!'.

Wednesday, 6 September 2006

A thing of beauty

I have a new toy.

When I won the RNA's New Writers' Award, I decided to spend a little of my prize money on a PDA. I've resisted getting such a device for ages, always preferring using a pen and paper whenever possible (I just like writing). But my filofax was starting to feel like a brick in my handbag - that's if I could fit it in there in the first place.

In the spirit of 'going the whole hog', I later ordered a foldable keyboard to go with it. Both PDA and kyboard fit into my handbag more easily than the brick did and I think they weigh less too. The darn thing was out of stock almost everywhere and I've had to wait over three months for it to arrive, but it was worth the wait.

Now I am truly portable. I can write wherever and whenever without having to scribble in a notepad and type up later (although, sometimes that helps. I might blog about that another time.) And the design is so clever. I'm far too busy drooling over it to actually have used it much yet.

Sunday, 3 September 2006

Rolling down the hill towards the end

I've had a rather productive week! In total, since Monday, I have written 12280 words - a quarter of my current book. If I could write like this all the time, I'd be able to get a first draft done in a month. But I'm not going to get my hopes up; I know I need fallow periods between the times when the words won't stop flowing.

Hopefully, the flow will continue long enough for me to have the book off to my editor by the end of this month. This is a good stage of the book for me. I've got over the end-of-chapter-three hurdle and waded through the chpaters-seven-and-eight-bog. Now I'm rolling down the hill towards the end.



Kind of like this picture of my eldest rolling down the hill in Greenwich Park. Once you get started you just can't stop, even if it's a bumpy ride along the way!

Monday, 28 August 2006

Back to real life

I'm back from a holiday in the Cotswolds and ready to dive into the wip. I had intended to get a little writing done while I was away, but somehow I got obsessed with a rather large jigsaw featuring masses of frosty foliage and used a lot of my spare time that way instead. Still, the lovely villages and cottages were truly inspirational and I'm sure I'll use the Cotswolds as a setting one day.

And just to prove to myself my stuck-in-chapter-seven phase is almost over, I've written almost 3000 words today already. Yay for me!

Tuesday, 8 August 2006

Up on amazon

I'm going to have to get out the smelling salts, I really am. I just checked amazon.com and amazon.co.uk and my book is up! No cover. Nothing but the title and my name. So why did I get a jolt of adrenaline when I saw it? Because, it's very very very exciting, that's why.




Amazon.com has it up as a Silhouette Desire and not a Silhouette Romance, but I've put them right on that pretty sharpish, I can tell you.

Would it be really sad if I told you I've been checking every day for weeks to see if it was up? It would? Okay. I'm not telling you then.

Check it out here for the US and here for the UK!


Monday, 7 August 2006

It's real!


Things are getting very exciting at the moment. Last week I saw my cover for Blind-Date Marriage; this week my harback copies arrived. Real books! With my name on them! And words I wrote printed inside. I have to confess to having kissed a copy. How embarrassing is that?

I'm very excited, but nervous at the same time. I read a bit back and all I could see were clunky bits I wish I'd changed. Does this happen to anyone else? I'd be tempted to slip futher into writer's paranoia, but I've managed to remind myself that this book won an award. Even if all I see is clunkiness, others have read it and think it's good.

If I'm this bad now, what'll I be like when it finally hits the shelves?

Sunday, 6 August 2006

Rampaging commas and the like

I went to the RNA South East’s chapter meeting yesterday and it was very informative. Jay Dixon spoke to us about “What A Copy Editor Wants”. Now, I’m still fairly new to the biz, so this helped flesh out my knowledge of how the system works.

Checking through every word and punctuation mark when the proofs arrive is a bit tedious but, in the most part, I’m learning a tremendous amount from seeing the changes – especially to my punctuation.

I went to school at a time when teaching grammar was about as fashionable as nylon polyester is now. The bits I did learn, I remember well, but there are huge gaping holes in my knowledge. Thankfully, things have changed and my children are not going to have the same problems. My nine year old quite happily talks about ellipses and stuff like that, yet it was only in the last couple of years I discovered the proper name for those three little dots.

I’ve been reading lots of grammar books since I started writing seriously. I’m improving, but there’s still a way to go. If you could be jailed for punctuation mark misuse, I would be banged up for wilfully abusing commas. Hardly a page goes by in my proofs where, like the Lord on high, the copy editor gives commas and takes them away. At least I’m getting a feel for when they are in the right place now.

Secretly, I suspect my mss are populated by a pack of rogue commas. I swear they all jump up during the night and settle themselves back down in completely inappropriate places just for fun. That’s my defence, guvnor, and I’m sticking to it.

Tuesday, 1 August 2006

I Have A Cover!!!!!

As you can see, I'm mildly excited about seeing my first ever cover. Here is the North American version of Blind-Date Marriage which will be published as a Silhouette Romance.

The UK cover will use the same artwork, but have different branding. if you want a peek at the new look M&B Romance covers, hop on over to the Mills & Boon site.

Monday, 31 July 2006

Boasting

Today I am boasting on behalf of my fellow Romance authors, Liz Fielding and Marion Lennox.

For any one who doesn't know, the Oscars of the romantic fiction world are called the RITAs and the winners were announced at the end of the RWA conference on Saturday night.

Liz Fielding won the "Best Short Contemporary" category with The Marriage Miracle and Marion Lennox won the "Best Traditional Romance" category with Princess of Convenience.

I've read both books and they were wonderful. HM&B Romance authors rule!

Now, what is the next step in our plan for world domination? Mwaahaahaa!

Thursday, 27 July 2006

More punching

Okay, here's a little bit from "Her Parenthood Assignment" to illustrate what I think of as echoing and shadowing. (Someone else may have a completely different take on it, but so what!) Here's some blurb so you know what you're reading:


Luke Armstrong has spent five years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. And things don’t get any easier when he’s pardoned. He has to get to know an eleven-year-old daughter he barely knows.

Divorced Gaby Michaels is breaking out of her former role as a corporate wife to return to being a nanny. She agrees to take care of Luke’s difficult daughter, even though she knows she has a problem keeping her professional distance.

But this time it’s not the child she falls for—it’s the boss! And Luke is secretly entranced by the ordinary-looking woman who has the extraordinary ability do the warm and fuzzy stuff he’s long forgotten.


* * *

Luke tugged frantically on the strings of the kite, but it was too late. It fell out of the air and crashed on to the deserted beach. He sighed and trudged towards it. Gaby might be a bit of a shrinking violet at times, but she could talk an Eskimo into buying snow, and what’s more, he’d love her for it!

This outing to the beach with Heather had been her idea. You’re not working this Sunday, she’d said. The weather report says it’s going to be sunny, but windy, she’d said. Great weather for flying kites. Heather would love it…

And before he knew it, he was buying a multi-coloured contraption in town and spending his Sunday afternoon watching it nose-dive into the shingle again and again.

Heather had lost interest after ten minutes. So now he was left to keep up the pretence while she and Gaby wandered along the shore, arm in arm, and collected shells and bits of quartz.

He stopped to watch them. They were deep in conversation, sharing girl-type secrets, no doubt. His heart squeezed a little. Gaby had made such a difference to their home in the last three weeks. He still had to duck when Heather was in a foul mood, but more and more she was laughing and smiling, and he’d even caught her singing to herself.

He could see glimpses of the happy little girl she’d once been. That same cheeky smile she’d had, aged three, when she knew she’d said something funny or cute. They way she stroked a strand of her own hair when she was tired.

And it was all down to Gaby. He couldn’t take credit for the tiniest bit of it. All he managed was to stretch his mouth into a smile when it was required, and to say the right things—as if he were reading from a script—and watch his daughter blossom.

Gaby was getting closer and closer to Heather and, miracle of miracles, Heather was letting her.

And, all the while, he stayed on the fringes and watched. He was just as much on the outside of his daughter’s life as he’d been all those years behind bars. Why he couldn’t work his way into the centre—where all the laughter and warmth was—was more than he could fathom.

He watched as Gaby and Heather broke into a run and chased each other along the edge of the surf. The wind was cold and it blew their scarves in front of their faces, which only made them laugh all the more.

How did she do it? The woman he’d thought at first seemed ordinary, nothing special, had the ability to reach out to a heart and see it respond. A very rare thing indeed. He caught himself studying her, trying to work out what her secret was, where all that warmth and courage came from.

He alternated between admiring her and hating her for it.

He tore his gaze away and returned it to the kite lying a short distance away on the small, round pebbles. It seemed injured, lying there fluttering half-heartedly. He walked over and surveyed it with dismay.

The two figures walking along the shore hadn’t even seen it crash.

It was all in a tangle and he didn’t know what to do with it.


* * *

The emotional hit is that even though Luke's daughter is healing from her ordeal, he seems incapable of it. He feels just as much on the outside as he always did. The fact he can't fly the kite either echoes this.

In the last three paragraphs I've used the image of the damaged kite to reflect Luke's emotional state:

"He tore his gaze away and returned it to the kite lying a short distance away on the small, round pebbles. It seemed injured, lying there fluttering half-heartedly." (Luke is also injured and floundering)

"The two figures walking along the shore hadn’t even seen it crash. " (Luke is alone and no one knows how much he is struggling).

"It was all in a tangle and he didn’t know what to do with it." (it's Luke who is in a tangle and doesn't know how to remedy the situation)

I find I use this technique quite a bit. sometimes it's more obvious, like the kite example, and sometimes it's more subtle and nobody else might spot it. But I hope that, almost subconsicously, it helps the atmosphere of the scene.

Screwing the Punch

Janet asked me this after I reported back from the RNA conference:

Hi Fiona,I just read this on yesterday's blog:'The thing that stuck most was the phrase “screw the punch” (a boxing term), meaning deliver the emotional hit, then echo and repeat it, making the situation worse.'Can you remember from the talk what an emotional hit is and how you echo and repeat it. Sounds very interesting, Janet

I replied:
Janet, I'm thinking on this. I don't want to use any examples from my first book because they give away the plot too much. Trying to find a good example. It's one of those "I'll know it when I see it" things that are hard to put into words.

Now, I confess to still having my “L”plates on (learner driver plates for those of you not in the UK) when it comes to talking about "screwing the punch", but I came across an example today. This may not be the best example ever, but it'll do for now.

I was watching You’ve Got Mail and there was a scene where the big emotional hit came and then there were a couple of little emotional ‘ouches’ just to ram the point home:

Kathleen owns a small bookstore which is threatened by the opening of a big discount book store in the same neighbourhood. She doesn’t realise that the man she is starting to fall in love with through an email relationship (Sam) is one of the owners of the store. Neither knows the other’s true identity.

They agree to meet in person. Sam is so excited he tells his friend he would be a fool not to marry this woman, but he turns up at the rendezvous – a little cafĂ© – and discovers the woman he is about to meet is none other than Kathleen and he knows she hates him both professionally and personally (Big punch).

Sam is too nice to leave Kathleen sitting there thinking she has been stood up so he goes inside. She is not pleased to see him but, now he knows that underneath the spiky exterior is the most adorable woman he’s ever met, he tries to build bridges. He tells her she might discover a lot of surprising things about him.

Kathleen tells him she would only discover a cash register instead of a brain and a bottom line where his heart ought to be. (Ouch!) Then goes on to say how she never manages to come out with the perfect retort when faced with a horrible, insensitive person (ouch!) and has just managed it with him.

Sam suspects that Kathleen’s sees the kind, funny man she has met on the internet as the polar opposite to the real Sam Fox and that, in her mind, the two could never be the same person. If he confesses, he will lose her.

He tells her the other guy isn’t here (implying he is) and she tells him that, unlike him, the other guy doesn’t have a cruel bone in his body and has a good reason for not turning up. She ends with the line: “You are nothing but a suit!”. (Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!)

There is an awful silence in which Sam realises there is no hope and he leaves.

Each time Kathleen says something it’s another nail in the coffin for their budding relationship. It had the impact after he first outburst, but after it has been repeated a couple of times in the ensuing conversation, you know that all hope is well and truly dead.

I also think I found an example in one of my books that doesn’t give the whole story away, but this post is long enough already! I might post it tomorrow.

Friday, 21 July 2006

Stuck in the middle with you

Okay. I’m stuck in the middle of chapter three, which I seem to do every time, but this is an odd one for me. I know what the next scene should be, but I can’t seem to get started on it because the previous scene seems a bit flat. I feel I need a better foundation before I keep on writing.

Normally this would not be such a problem, but since I still have a black hole in my plot at the beginning of act 2, I need to make sure things are tight and focused now, otherwise I won’t be able work out what happens next. I’m reading Debra Dixon’s “Goal Motivation Conflict” at the moment, which is helping things a little, but I’ve decided to resort to another little tool that helps when I need to focus on what I’m writing. (The plot board isn’t helping – it’s just sitting in the corner, with a big blank space, laughing at me.)

I'm going to use a scene sheet. It’s an amalgamation of ideas I’ve got from various books I’ve read. James N. Frey uses a “step sheet” described in “How To Write A Damn Good Novel” and Raymond Obstfeld recommends little index cards with scene info on in "A Novelist's Essential Guide to Crafting Scenes". I’ve taken the basic idea, used bits that work for me and added anything else I wanted to add.

I don’t use them all the time – in fact, I only have an example for the first scene in my book. Sometimes the ideas flow and I don’t want to stop to mess around with scene sheets. But, when I’m stuck, it can help to go back and do one for each scene to make sure I’m building on the last scene in a consistent way. Here’s what I put in my scene sheet:

1. PRACTICAL STUFF

  • Scene no. & title I like to title my scenes in the same way I give a working title to my books. It gives me a hint as to the purpose of the scene.
  • Aprroximate word count
  • POV – who’s point of view am I in for this scene?

2. OUTLINE

  • Plot - I give a brief as possible outline of the plot.
  • Purpose - three reasons why this scene should be there. Does it move the plot forward, develop a character, develop the theme, add suspense? Is it needed introduce a character, develop a character's motivation, provide the next obstacle to the protagonist's goal? (Debra Dixon suggests that if you can't find three good reasons for a scene, it should go!)

3. Goal, Motivation and Conflict

I then like to summarise what’s happening with my characters. I find distilling all the info into a few sentences helps me keep focused on what they are feeling and thinking.
I like to add a little sentence at the top to remind myself what’s going through the character’s head.

In my first scene in "Magic Hour", Adele is thinking: “I do not need a man to help me catch a spider!”. It shows her fierce independence, even when terrified, and sets up the idea that she doesn’t want to need a man at all – especially not the man who’s just about to ring her doorbell (estranged husband Nick).

Then I look at the GMC – internal and external

  • Goal: what does this character want?
  • Motivation: Why do they want it?
  • Conflict: Why can’t they have it?

Adele’s external GMC for this scene could be expressed like this:

“Adele wants to have a bath at the end of the day, because she needs to de-stress, but a spider is lurking in her bath and she is terrified of them, sending her stress levels even higher.” By the time Nick rings the doorbell, Adele is already completely wound up, increasing the tension of the situation.

Adele’s internal GMC could be expressed like this:

“Adele wants to prove to herself that she doesn’t need anyone else, because she has loved people in the past and they have let her down, but the man who hurt her the most turns up out of the blue and threatens to weaken her resolve.”

See? Now I have homed in on what is making Adele tick at this point in time. Having that knowledge in the back of my head as I write or edit helps me see where I need to go or make changes. Maybe the dialogue doesn’t reflect this strongly enough. Maybe the emotion isn’t coming through clearly enough. If I want my readers (please, let there be readers!) to become engaged with my characters, then I need to make Adele and Nick's fears and desires clear and attention-grabbing.

4. Foreshadowing and payoff.

This is a little note to myself of things I may be able to use in the future, or emotional moments I can intensify by adding something in earlier in the book.

For example, my heroine in my second book "Her Parenthood Assignment" admits to the hero that her ex-husband never told her she was beautiful. I slipped this in a few scenes before a big party when the hero is completely gobsmacked by how gorgeous she looks, even though she thinks of herself as ordinary-looking. The heroine's revelation sets up a bigger emotional hit (the pay off) a few chapters later. Of course, the fact that the hero thinks she's beautiful on the outside, echoes that he thinks she's beautiful on the inside too - a fact her ex-husband sadly missed.

So, all I need to do now is go back though the last couple of chapters and make sure I focus on the right emotions and thoughts. As I do this, I often go one layer deeper in understanding my characters and will get a brainwave for where the next scene should go and I'm up and running again.

Sunday, 16 July 2006

RNA conference - part 3

I started Sunday morning of with “Jessica Hart’s A-Z survival guide for Romantic Novelists”. She is soooo funny. But, if you have read any of her books you will know that.

My personal highlight was D for deadlines. She gave us a run down of how she copes during her two month writing slot for each book:
Chapters 1-3 – not bad
Chapter 4 – slowing down
Chapter 5 – struggling
Chapter 6 – plodding
Chapter 7 – stop. Panic. Go down wine bar.
(In fact there were an awful lot of pics of Jessica at her local wine bar in her powerpoint presentation).
Chapters 8-10 – with 12 days to go, write in a complete frenzy and finish minutes before deadline.

Then I listened to Diana Burchall give a talk on ‘Life in the Hollywood Story Department’. She reads books for Warner Brothers to see if they can be made into films. Interesting. She also told us about her grandmother who was a story analyst in the early days of movies and who was rather eccentric.

We then had a PR forum and Jenny Haddon and Catherine Jones talked about raising the profile of both Romantic fiction and the RNA.

Katie Fforde talked for ten minutes about ‘The First Page’ then let us grill her with questions about her writing career.

Jenny Haddon (who writes as Sophie Weston for M&B) then gave a brilliant seminar on upping the emotion in our writing. I took home lots of nuggets from this one. The thing that stuck most was the phrase “screw the punch” (a boxing term), meaning deliver the emotional hit, then echo and repeat it, making the situation worse. I think I do this anyway sometimes, but it's always better to consciously use these techniques than just stumble along in the dark, I think.

Last of all Liz Bailey gave us a drama workshop to help us to tap into our emotions better. I must admit I got rather competitive about a game of “What’s the time Mr Wolf?” and managed to convey a rather rude gesture only by using a yellow feather.

I then spent a rather brain dead evening in the bar where Liz and I would lapse into silence because our brains were too tired out to think of anything to say. And the last few braincells gave up and went home during Stephen’s fiendish bar quiz. I now feel really thick and am sure I know nothing about the publishing industry – although I did do rather well on the low-brow music round. Curses!

Friday, 14 July 2006

Finally!


I have a website! It's pretty basic at the moment, but it does the job. Take a hike over to fionaharper.com and nose around! There's an excerpt from my award-winning first novel under 'books'.

RNA conference - part 2

Here’s a run down on some of the seminars I attended on day two:

Ann Lingard ran a session about using science in our books. She runs a website called Scitalk, which is an excellent resource for writers researching science-related matters. Plenty of scientists from a variety of fields have signed up to the site to make themselves available if a writer wants to contact them to ask a question. They have quantum physicists, forensic pathologists and people who investigate horse sweat (!), among others.

Kate Fenton talked about writing romantic comedy. She had me in stitches. She said that, although love is a serious business, falling in love is intrinsically funny – a socially acceptable form of madness, if you like. I was interested in what she had to say about off-setting humour with the emotional sections of her books to increase the tragedy.

Diane Pearson, RNA President, ran a very practical workshop on arresting the editor’s attention. She asked us to provide her with the first two sentences of our books and a short synopsis. She told us that the first couple of lines should give a feel of the whole book, saying something about character setting or theme. Unfortunately, I had used my current wip where Adele, the heroine, was faced with a spider in her bath. It read more like a horror story than a romance. Did not get a gold star…
Good tips for the synopsis (short synopsis) were to keep it to the main story and avoid mentioning too many secondary characters. She was constantly commenting on how there was “too much information”.

Dorothy Lumley gave a talk on what a literary agent is looking for. She said the submission letter is important as it is like a first meeting and it is wise to create a good first impression.

Penny Jordan also did a very interesting question and answer session. I’m afraid I didn’t write lots down, but a good tip for prop up a sagging middle was to add a subplot that lasts for only a few chapters, perhaps from chapters three to seven. I also found it hugely encouraging that she always thinks the current book is the worst one she’s ever written. Makes me feel a bit more normal.

After that it was a quick break to get ready for the gala dinner. The dining room might have been cramped, but the atmosphere was great and I had lovely time chatting to people I hadn’t caught up with yet.

Tuesday, 11 July 2006

RNA conference - part 1

The RNA conference was brilliant. My brain has officially switched off now I’ve come back, though. Which is a real pity, as some of the workshops gave me ideas for improving the blah bits of the wip, but I’m just too tired to look at it.

I’m going to blog in three parts about it otherwise it’s going to be a huge chunk of text. I took my camera, but didn’t manage to take a single photo. Doh!

I arrived on Friday afternoon after catching the train from London. I was in such a tizz in the morning, I managed to get on a train going to Blackfriers instead of Victoria. Thankfully, I was running early and didn’t get held up much. I travelled up with my pal Liz (Hi, Liz!) and we had a great giggle – especially when I accidentally head-butted a man in the bottom.

After the welcome, we had a little session of congratulating those who had had good news during the year – first sales, award wins and the like. I got my NWS award trophy, now with my name on it, so I was really chuffed.

First session was a panel of saga writers answering questions about their writing techniques and research. It was very interesting, even though they are a different kind of book to the ones I write (the thought of writing double, if not triple, the amount of words makes me quiver).

Everyone then sprinted to the bar to sit out in the evening sun and catch up with old pals. The highlight of my evening was when someone thought I was 28. They were a decade out, but I’m not admitting to which way.

Thursday, 6 July 2006

Just a little excited...

I'm packing my bags ready to go to the RNA conference in Penrith this weekend. I'm really looking forward to see friends, meet new people and soak up all the knowledge.

If you're going, say "Hi" to me. If you're not, I'll post when I get back.

Sunday, 2 July 2006

Black Hole Still Gaping

I've deicided to break out of the box and just write the first bit of my book. One of the problems with plotting the start of act two, is that I just don't know how much backstory will have come out and how much my characters will have talked about their issues.

So I just said, "What the heck!", and started writing, and before I knew it I was at the end of chapter one. (Woo Hoo!). Just goes to show that every book needs it's own approach and we shouldn't feel afraid to try something new. Normally I would find it difficult to write without a clear plan, but actually since I have been sitting at my keyboard, I've actually been less worried about my black hole.

Saturday, 1 July 2006

Sagging middles

Apparently, mine is not the only middle that is sagging. This is what my plot board looked like yesterday morning...


See? A big gaping black hole at the beginning of Act 2. (Top left is plot point 1, and then they descend in two colomns to the bottom right, where "happy ever after" is wrtitten). I know some writers prefer not to know what's coming up, but I definitely need a basic idea of my plot. I can't seem to start writing knowing that the black hole is there. But I must remind myself that I always get stuck at this point.

A great book to read on three-act structure is Linda Seger's "How to Make A Good Script Great". I know the book is mainly about screenplays, but it is relevent to the novel writer too. I'm a structure-junkie and I liked the idea of having three acts to the story, like a play.

Act one: this is the part where you set up the story and introuduce the characters. At the end of Act one there is a turning point which leads the action on to...

Act two: the story moves off in a new direction. Plot develops, characters deepen. A turning point (more dramatic than the last) leads to...

Act three: the final section of the story with a climax and resolution.

Most stories can be split into three acts, basically meaning that good stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. I found using the three act structure useful when plotting as it stops me meandering all over the place with no clear direction. I don't need to know all the small details of the plot before I start, but it helps if I know the basics - what Linda Seger calls the story "spine".

I see it more as a skeleton myself. The basic structure is there, but it isn't until I write a particular scene that I start to flesh that part out, knowing its feeling and texture and how it joins to other parts of the story.

The best advice I heard regarding plotting was at a workshop at the RNA conference last year for members of the New Writers' Scheme: plot is not just a series of events, there should be a chain of cause and effect. So, I could think to myself, "What could go wrong on Adele and Nick's journey?"and come up with various ideas: running out of petrol, taking a wrong turning, having an accident. But if I throw all of these ideas in, it will just feel disjointed and episodic.

There should be a reason why certain things happen e.g. they take a wrong turn because they are arguing about Adele's driving and she's not paying attention. Then they run out of petrol because they've ended up miles down a country road with no petrol stations in sight. "Because" is an important word in plotting. Now, I may or may not use these ideas, but it makes a lot more sense than just flinging every idea into the pot.

So, I'm off back to my plot board to see where the actions and reactions of the characters are going to take me...

Monday, 26 June 2006

The first words are the hardest...

Right. I’m going to start my new book today. Honest.

It would be so much easier if I hadn’t taken a break to decorate my house, do copy edits and generally let life get in the way. I’ve lost the flow of the story.

I can’t seem to write unless I feel the story is ‘bubbling’. By that, I mean the point when my head is crammed full of ideas, I can see the scene in my head and I just feel itchy until I sit down and get it out of me. Of course, I can write when the bubbles aren’t there, it’s just that it tends to be awful.

I think the problem is that my plot is still a little sketchy. I went back to my plot board this morning and pinned some bits on it. It’s a bit empty. As I look at it, I know what is happening in the beginning and I’ve got a vague idea of how the story resolves itself, but it’s the middle section that is blank.

The problem is, this is a story about a couple reuniting and, although they are stuck in a car together, their journey is really an emotional one. So, before I can plot it, I am going to have to make sure my character arcs are solid.

More about character arcs when I have made myself take a look at them.

Sunday, 18 June 2006

I love my bookcase

Okay, something daft made me ridiculously happy yesterday.

I had to demolish some lovely stone cladding in my living room (my house had been done up in the 70's in the "fake country cottage" style). So, fo quite a while I had to live in what looked like a building site. All moveable furniture left the room - including my big bookcase.

I love that bookcase. Mostly because my father-in-law made it for us not long after we were married, and since he died only a few years later, it feels good to have something that reminds us of him as a very central thing in our lives.

But yesterday, it was just the sheer joy of seeing the bookcase full of books and sitting in my living room that made me smile. I hadn't realised how much I had missed it until it was back. There is something strangely comforting about seeing row upon row of books all waiting eagerly to be read (or re-read, most likely). I keep looking at it and feeling all warm inside.