Wednesday, 31 May 2006

Romance and paintbrushes

Just when I’m getting cheesed off with my husband for not doing the washing up, he goes and does something romantic that makes it impossible to be cross with him. Hmph!

He comes home from work with a big bunch of roses and a bottle of pink bubbly in honour of the fact it was nineteen years since our first date. I had completely forgotten. And since hubby normally gets the date wrong, I was also very surprised.

Unfortunately, I had an evening of decorating ahead of me. But I’ll tell you this: painting a door with a brush in one hand and a glass of sparkly stuff in the other is definitely the way to go.

Saturday, 20 May 2006

Still floating

Apart from the fact my little toe looks like a plump purple grape, I am still on cloud nine. Jenny Haddon (RNA Chairman) kindly posted the judges comments for all the shortlisted books on ROMNA (the cyber chapter of the RNA). So here's the verdict on "Blind-Date Marriage", as it has been re-titled:

This very contemporary short novel is funny and charming and has real heart. The hero is an original, with his two distinct personae. You're on his side right from the cracking first page. Among our pleasures were a delightfully brisk heroine, whizzy plot, her ageing rocker dad and the way the hero handles a truculent kid. We believed totally in the world and the characters, including a scuzzbag would-be blackmailer. And there were some fabulous one liners that turned us green with envy.

...And the winner - for its freshness, vitality and sheer page turnability- isTHE BLIND DATE BRIDE by Fiona Harper

Now, I should be thinking about quoting bits of this in promotional material and such like, but all I do when I read it is go warm and squishy inside at the thought the judges actually liked my writing.

I've actually been quite terrified at the thought of my book coming out. The down-side of an overactive imagination is that it's very easy to imagine the worst as well as the best. (Think nightmares of angry people with pitchforks at my door shouting "fraud!" shortly after the publication date). But getting this award has boosted my confidence no end. More than the flowers, the trophy, and the cheque (wonderful though they are), it is the judges comments that have me on a high.

Friday, 19 May 2006

The unexpected actually happened!

Erm, remember I said I wouldn’t be needing a speech? Wrong!

Much to my surprise, I was presented with the Joan Hessayon New Writers’ Award at the RNA Summer Party last night. You could have knocked me down with a feather, as my mum likes to say. I had looked on the list of previous winners on the RNA website and discovered the last time a Mills & Boon had won was 1992, so I had assumed that the award would go to a mainstream book.

I must say, I can hardly believe it’s real. Certainly, most of last night felt like a dream (the champagne probably helped in that respect). I attended the RNA AGM beforehand, then carried on to the party where I met up with some of the lovely ladies from The Mouse & Pen on It was so good to see some of the people I chat to online in the flesh.

I was busy chatting to my editor at Mills & Boon, Kim Young, when the champagne was passed round and the herd of butterflies in my stomach decided to stampede. Most of the authors on the shortlist had made it to the party (6 out of 8) and we were called to the front and given lovely bouquets. Then Jenny Haddon, the RNA Chairman, gave a quick run down on each of the books. I couldn’t tell at all from her comments which book was going to get the award. I was just rather pleased she’d liked mine.

As I said, I hadn’t built myself up to expect anything yesterday evening, I thought my chances were slim, but as I was standing there waiting for Jenny to announce the name of the book that had won, I decided I really wanted my name to be read out. And then she was saying that the book they had chosen was “fresh”, and just as I was thinking that what she was saying sounded a bit like the comments on my book earlier, she announced the title of my book (The Blind-Date Bride, re-titled as Blind-Date Marriage by M&B) and my name.

The rest of the evening was a bit of a blur. After listening to David Hessayon, who generously donated the award, I was suddenly confronted with an empty mic and managed to burble some thanks to the RNA, the New Writers’ Scheme and Mills & Boon. Friends were grinning, Mills & Boon editors were crying and I just had the eerie feeling that I had entered an alternate reality. At some point I managed to edge out onto the balcony and call my husband with the news.

Me and my editor, Kim.

On the down side, when I got home, I kicked a stairgate as I was on my way to bed and now I think I may have broken my toe. But even that hasn’t managed to dull the excitement.

Tuesday, 16 May 2006

And the Oscar goes to...

I’m up for an award!

On Thursday, at the RNA Summer party, the winner of the Joan Hessayon Award will be announced. If you want to know all about the award, you can visit here, but the short version is that the shortlist is made up of books that have been through the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme and have subsequently been published.

I sent my manuscript of what is now called “Blind-Date Marriage” to the NWS last year. It was my second attempt at a novel and the first one I felt was truly finished to a standard I was happy with. I needed feedback. Before that the only person to have read my work was my husband (I made him check for plot holes and loose ends).

What’s an imagination for, if not to allow you to accept the Oscar for Best Actress or pirouette across the stage of the Royal Opera House? So, I day-dreamed that I would send it off and everyone would swoon over it and insist on sending it to a publisher right away. In reality (I do live there some of the time – think holiday home, rather than permanent residence), I was just hoping for a not-too-awful critique. You know the kind of thing: blah blah blah…bit of potential…blah blah blah…writing doesn’t stink too badly…

When I got an email from the scheme organiser, Nicola Cornick, to tell me the first reader had really liked it and it had gone for a second read, I was gobsmacked. Over the next few days I was known to yell: “I DON’T STINK!” whenever there was an unfilled silence.

Then things really snowballed out of control. The second reader liked it too. (People who knew what they were talking about said nice things about my writing and gave useful criticism!) So the daydream became reality – the NWS sent the manuscript off to Mills & Boon and not long afterwards I got a call from an editor to say they wanted to buy the book.

I was equally overjoyed and terrified. I am the ultimate planner. I don’t just not leap before I look, I measure the size of the obstacle, arrange medical insurance, spend 6 months training, and then I might, just might, consider letting my feet leave the ground. I had planned on getting published (just as every serious writer does), but I hadn’t expect it to happen so soon. Not that I’m complaining! I just had to do a bit of mental rearranging to get my head round it.

And now I’m trying to arrange my head to accommodate the fact that I’m up for an award. Thankfully, I spend so much of my time in la-la land, I have a useful defence mechanism against stressful situations – I never believe they are actually happening, thus the nerves don’t kick in too badly. (I remember the morning of my wedding day, standing in a large white dress thinking, “It’s not really me getting married today, is it?”).

Now, I’m just thrilled to be on the list. I have a sneaking suspicion it’s one of my daydreams that has somehow leaked into the real world. I haven’t read any of the other books on the shortlist yet, but a couple were on the long list for the Romantic Novel of the Year this year, so I will not be adapting my imaginary Oscar acceptance speech for use on Thursday. I don't think I will be needing it.

But then again, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last year, it’s that sometimes the unexpected happens…

Monday, 8 May 2006

Carving characters

Okay, my idea is chosen: an estranged couple forced to share a rather eventful car journey which makes them face up to the problems that tore their marriage apart.

Exactly what is going to happen to them is anyone’s guess. First, I need to get to know my characters, and the best way I know how to do that is a character interview or worksheet. Now, I have a love-hate relationship with character worksheets. I love sparking off new ideas for the story, but answering the questions often makes my brain hurt.

I use the character questionnaire from Kate Walker’s 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance”, with a few changes of my own. It covers all the basic stuff: hair, eyes, age, place of birth, parents etc. Then come the hard questions: what is her most treasured possession? How would an ex-lover describe him? What would she never do for any amount of money? Tough questions! (You’ll have to see Kate’s book for the full list.)

While my brain cells are spinning trying to answer these questions, little flashes of inspiration come – tiny details that flesh the characters out and make them likeable and, hopefully, unique.

So, now I have Adele and Nick. Adele is fiercely independent, and is buttoned-up a little too tight sometimes. But she cares deeply for people and is totally loyal to those she loves. Nick is a charmer, full of imagination. He’s a bit of a daydreamer and finds it hard to take life seriously. And he has dimples. Sigh.

Now, some authors definitely like to have photos of their hero and heroine to look at as they write. (Check out Julie Cohen’s or Ally Blake’s blogs, or Trish Wylie’s hero database, if you haven’t already!) I just can’t seem to work that way. I can see a picture that will fit my characters basic physical type, but it never matches the picture in my head exactly.

For my ‘Luke and Gaby’ book (coming out March 2007, by the way) I had a photo of Rupert Penry-Jones pinned onto my picture board. Luke was a kind of rougher looking version of him when I started the book. But the further into the story I got, the more he stopped looking like Rupert and looked more like – well, Luke. And I haven’t found anyone who looks remotely like Gaby yet!

So now, I’ve got to know them, the ideas for how to start the book are starting to brew and bubble. The first thing Adele has to do is catch a spider…