Sunday, 29 July 2007


I'm interrupting my own boradcast to announce that I've finished Fern and Josh's story! You have no idea how relieved I am. I returned from Dallas with only 28k written and, after I'd slept for two days solid, I had two weeks until the deadline.

And, as usual, it has shot right over the word count. 57,000 plus! That's almost 30,000 words in 12 days. I feel faint just thinking about it. Now I just need to polish it up and get it nice and shiny for my editor.

I've also discovered that crying while I dictate messes with the voice recogniton software's head.

Back to our normal programming shortly...

Thursday, 26 July 2007

My Week In Dallas: Day Five - Friday part 1

While I'm letting the next scene of the work-in-progress brew I'm going to carry on with my adventures in Dallas.

I think I was finally starting to get over the jetlag on Thursday and so woke up after a good six hours sleep, very refreshed. The sun was shining, the day was going to be fun and exciting and I had to go and ruin it with a ‘Bridget Jones’ moment.

Because I was up early, I decided to try on the two dresses that were in he running for the Harlequin party that night. Dress one: strapless, formal, but very pretty. Dress two: less formal, more comfortable. I had been dieting hard to fit into ‘dress one’, but I was worried it was going to be a little bit too posh for the Harlequin party. It was a gorgeous Monsoon dress I bought on eBay that had black silk chiffon over the top of an emerald green underskirt. (See picture: pretty, right? I cut my head off because I had that lovely 6 a.m. look.)

It went on all right, but getting it off again it was another matter – the zip broke! So, and there was I, six-thirty in the morning and stuck in an evening gown. I was going to look pretty daft wandering around in it all day...

Eventually, I managed to wiggle out of it and I tried to get to the zip to behave. The problem: one of those little plastic loops hadn't joined up where it was supposed to and it just wouldn't come down again. In the process of trying to get it to budge, I broke it completely. Guess my decision was made for me... or maybe not.

After refuelling, namely, breakfast—yummy coffee, yummy muffins, yummy fresh fruit—I asked the concierge if there was anyone who could look at my dress and see if they could fix the zip. She said she would see what she could do.

At 8:30 a.m. I was bright and sparkly in sitting in the front row of "Creating Your Stories Backbone: Unleashing the Unexpected Power of Turning Points in Plots and Subplots" with Robin Perini. I fell in love with this woman. My love of charts and diagrams may be huge, but with her, it is practically an obsession. I think a couple of "pantsers’ (as in, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writers) were tempted to run from the room screaming until they realised this approach could work for them too (they just had to ignore the charts; it made them itchy). Little nuggets of wisdom I obtained from this workshop were:

  • Turning Points in the plot should be a surprise for the main character as well as the reader.

  • The quick and dirty way to figure out your theme: the epiphany of your protagonist is the theme of your book. What do they need to learn?

  • Discover your protagonist's flaw, a need, belief of fear that is keeping them from being the best they can be, and make sure that you're turning points test of this character flaw. For example, if your character has a need to keep the people she loves safe, let to those same people get into danger. Even better, let your character's actions put the people she loves in danger, let her failed to protect them. That's going to move her out of her comfort zone pretty quick!

After this workshop I nipped into the Harlequin Spotlight to get an idea of what's new and happening in the huge variety of lines that Harlequin publish.

And then it was time for, you guessed it, yet more food! The lovely hosts of the eHarlequin had invited some of the authors that regularly post and participate out to lunch at the Antares Restaurant at the top of the reunion tower (that's right, a restaurant in the ball on top of the stick in the picture!). The restaurant slowly revolves as you eat your lunch. Great for getting a good view of the city, not so great if you go to the ladies and then discover when you come down the stairs again that your table is definitely not where you left it. I'd just got over another inner ear infection, which often gave me the sense I was moving when I wasn't, and I kept having little relapses during the conference week. At least in the restaurant here, when I thought I was moving I actually was! It was quite a relief.

eHarlequin hosts, Jayne, Lorie, Wayne and Rae with Harlquin authors, Wayne Jordan (he does both!), Kira Sinclair, Olivia Gates, Fiona Harper, Trish Wylie and Michelle Willingham.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

My Week In Dallas - Day 4: Thursday part 3

Oh, and I almost forgot - I got back to my hotel room just after the pyjama party and was just settling down to jot a few things down in my notebook when I heard a noise like a police car siren - going off inside my room! Then a big booming voice informed me that there was an emergency in the hotel and would I please evacuate using the exit staircase. Oh my goodness, did my adrenaline go into overdrive!

I grabbed my handbag (I know you are supposed to leave stuff like that behind, but it was right near the bed and I didn't want to be stranded with a frazzled passport) and went out into the hallway where there was a strong smell of burning - like an electrical, burnt-plastic kind of smell. A security guard appeared and informed the bemused guests that it was all under control, it was only a short-circuited wire in the exit stairwell, and we could go back to our rooms.

I did so, but the alarm continued to sound for at least another five minutes. I started to get worried again and poked my head into the corridor, where I found a few more people with furrowed brows, cleary wondering (as I was) whether they should just find the nearest emergency exit anyway. As we discussed our options we decided that, as writers, the continuing alarm was bad news. Our what if engines whirred into life - What if the problem had spread? What if there was another fire somwhere else and the alarm had nothing to do with the tiny smouldering wire in the stairwell? You get the picture...

My imaginiation doesn't need much encouragement to run away with itself. Most of the time it's halfway there and straining at the brakes anyway. Eventually, the large, gruff-voiced security man (think Men In Black) reappeared and told us it was fine to go back into our rooms. The alarm would stop as soon as the smoke had cleared in the stairwell. I went back to my room, but kept my handbag right next to the bed, just in case. A few minutes later the arm stopped. Phew. Then I just had to wait for the adrenaline to wear off so I could go to sleep.

Oh, and by the way, have you noticed how fast my word counter thingy is going up at the moment? This story is so rollercoasting towards the end. Just hope I haven't jinxed it by saying that...Well, I haven't, because I don't believe in jinxes. Back to the work in progress...

Friday, 20 July 2007

My Week In Dallas - Day 4: Thursday part 2

The next event was the Welcome Reception. Basically, a chance to eat (again!) and chat. I'd lost track of where Trish and Jenna were earlier that afternoon and didn't spot them amidst the couple of thousand people (!!!) who arrived for the reception. I ended up talking to Beth, a lovely lady I had met on the eHarlequin. She couldn't believe that I've never heard of, let alone tasted, queso (a runny cheese flavoured, in this case, with chillis). I very much enjoyed sampling it on top of my tostada with pulled beef, guacamole and salsa. I looooove Mexican food!

Eventaully, Trish and Jenna found me. Apparantly darling Trish had been worried that I was on my own, but found me gassing away. I saw Jenna first and did a big wave and shouted “Jenna!” At which point she took a photograh. I chased her (I mean really chased her) but she wouldn’t let me have a look, and the next day I found myself guest-starring on the PHS blog as a caption competition. Thanks for that! My personal favourite from the suggestions was, “Waiter, ten more G&Ts over here, please!” Has someone been spying on me? How did they know?

Trish and Jenna were off to the Romance Divas dinner. I can't exactly remember what I did while they were out, but I think I took a shower and got on with the current book before getting in my jammies and heading off for the eHarlequin pyjama party – a load of grown women standing around in various states of undress and scoffing popcorn, herchey’s kisses and soda. There was a bar in the corner and the poor barman was looking a little bored so Trish, Jenna and I ordered a cocktail each – you guessed it – margaritas! (Still only the one, mind, I made it last all evening!). Is it just me, or is Trish's Sean the leprachaun looking a little too pleased with himself in this picture?

At first we all felt a bit daft standing there in our PJs, but pretty soon we were saying “hi” to people we’d cyber-bumped into on eHarlequin. It was a fun night. A lady turned up in leopard-print carrying her own personal, inflatable Tarzan! Seeing as there aren’t too many Y chromosomes at an RWA conference, the poor guy almost got popped. Talking of men at the conference, I did see one quite good-looking one at breakfast that morning being trailed around by his other half. She had him firmly by the hand and a look on her face saying, “Back off, sugar! This one’s mine!” It made me smile.

The huge advantage of attending a pyjama party is that, when midnight rolls around, all you have to do is…no, I do not mean “turn into a pumpkin”…I mean, you can flop into bed without having to get changed. Cool!

One of the lovely things about the RWA conference is that it's fun! Good clean fun. I didn't once see someone falling-down drunk or being rude and obnoxious. There was a real sense of camaraderie. let's face it, us writers spend most of our time on our lonesome talking to the cat when the plot gets problematic or when the characters are as flat as cardboard, so it's great to get together with other people who love to do what we love to do. And since all our writerly socialising each year is condensed into such a short space of time it does seem to be rather intense.
Oh yes, and don't be fooled by that innocent look on Ms Wylie's face, okay?

Thursday, 19 July 2007

My Week In Dallas - Day 4: Thursday part1

On Thursday the conference got properly underway. I had managed to secure a room at the conference hotel for the rest of the week and so by eight o'clock I had checked out of the Adams Mark and was heading towards the Hyatt in taxi.

Trish and Jenna let me store my case in their room until I could check in. Then I ran downstairs and attended my first workshop: "Yes, You Can Quit Your Day Job." Now, I quite like my day job, but I am definitely struggling to keep all the different pieces of my life afloat at the moment – work, writing, family, housework (yuck). I've been getting so stressed and I think something, somewhere has got to give. I haven't made any decisions yet. I just know I want to stop feeling like a little hamster on a wheel 24 hours a day. This workshop was food for thought.

At the literary signing I had bought the remainder of the books not sold and I put them in the goody room on the way to the workshop. I returned not long afterwards to discover that almost all of them had gone. Hooray! And my pens were going down too. I hurriedly pulled another 50 pens from my bag and put them on the table. I was determined not to take any of the 250 pens I had brought with me home.

For the next two hours I joined in a focus group for Mills and Booth and authors, chatting about various subjects from non-fiction to marketing. And once again, food was on offer. I'd had a huge breakfast at the Adams Mark (including some of that lovely Applewood smoked bacon – mmmm) but I couldn't resist having a muffin and some coffee.

Unfortunately, I missed the luncheon that day because I had been invited to a Harlequin Romance authors' tea party. I was really looking forward to putting faces to the names I'd read on so many (hundreds) of Harlequin Romances/Tender Romances in the run-up to getting published and I wasn't disappointed. I met: Melissa McClone, Marion Lennox, Teresa Southwick, Susan Meier, Shirley Jump, Linda Goodnight, Judy Christenbury and probably a few more that are evading my memory (sorry, ladies!). above left - editor Maddie Rowe with Linda Goodnight and Judy Christenbury. right - Shirley Jump and senior editor Tessa Shapcott.

Finally, around four o'clock, I managed to check into the Hyatt. My room was lovely with the biggest bed I have ever seen in it. It was high enough to reach my hips and wide enough for me to lie down on sideways and not overshoot the ends.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

My Week In Dallas - Day 3: Wednesday

I’m such a good girl. I should get plenty gold stars for getting up and doing some work on the wip before I set off for the Hyatt to meet Trish and Jenna. Trish was in a blogging frenzy for the PHS so we decided to sit in the bar and blog, chat and generally have a giggle before the day went mad busy. (picture: Trish PHS blogging in the atrium of the Hyatt)

After lunch I went back to my hotel (getting very used to riding the DART train at this point) and got spruced up for the the rest of the jam-packed day. I knew I wasn’t going to get a chance to get back to the hotel until late.

Booksellers’ Tea
The Booksellers’ Tea was a chance for authors to meet booksellers and chat to them about their books. I took some of my newly-made ‘Fiona Harper’ pens along as a giveaway. I managed to chat to a couple of booksellers but they were vastly outnumbered by eager authors, so I ended up chatting to some authors as well, including the gorgeous and vastly talented Jane Porter who writes for Harlequin Presents/Modern Romance and Five Spot. I have vowed to love her forever because she liked ‘Blind-Date Marriage’. I think knowing that other writers, especially those you admire, have read your work and like it is one of the best confidence boosts a new author can have. I left the Booksellers’ Tea with a huge grin on my face.

Book signing virgin ahead!
Next up was the Authors for Life Literacy signing. I blogged about this for the PHS and here is my post:

The 'Readers for Life' Literacy Signing was my first book signing ever. Up until now the only signing I've done is when my family embarrass me by shoving a book and pen under my nose and make me scrawl on their copies. What a way to start! Four hundred plus authors and a scarily long queue of eager readers. I got butterflies as I raced past them all (late - blame the lifts) into the ballroom.

My one and only fear was that no one would come to my little table and ask me to sign a book. I arranged my books and my little pot of clotted cream fudge to entice the readers and sat down to wait...and wait...and wait.

Forty minutes later I was definitely in a gonna-go-and-and-eat-worms frame of mind. Especially as I was sitting next to Kim Harrison, New York Times bestselling paranormal romance author, who had a steady stream of visitors ever since the crowds has stampeded through the doors.

But, eventually, as the people made their way to the middle of the alphabet, I got some visitors and the rest of the afternoon went really quickly as I chatted to people I'd met online, people I'd met at the conference and complete strangers (bless 'em for helping me not to feel like Billy no-mates!). I had a really great time. The Readers for Life signing was in keeping with its Texan setting - larger than life and on a scale that had to be seen to be believed!

Let me explain the pictures from that post: the first one is me doing my ‘serious author’ face, the second is me cracking up at my own attempts to be serious and the third is me calmed down (or at least as good as it was going to get).

Pizza Party!
From left to right: me, Melissa McClone (Romance), Trish Wylie (Romance & Modern Extra), Olivia Gates (Medicals), Jennie Lucas (Modern/Presents) and Sandra Marton (Modern/Presents). I think Jenna Bayley-Burke must have been hiding behind the camera! Also present but not pictured were Marion Lennox and Carol Grace.

Next it was time to have a Mills& Boon Authors’ get together. We had planned to go to the Italian restaurant in the hotel, but found out it was a) rather small and b)rather busy. Plan B was pizza and vino in Sandra Marton’s room. Plan B was definitely the way to go! We could actually have a decent conversation and, as we munched on delicious pizza that we got delivered to the hotel, we had great fun. Medical author Olivia Gates produced a whole plate of baklava (yum) all the way from Egypt for dessert. Marion Lennox donated a whole box of Tim Tams (which somehow ended up in Trish and Jenna’s room afterwards). I had heard a lot about these legendary Australian chocolate biscuits from my best friend and was delighted to actually sample them for myself. Odd that I finally had them in Texas…

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

My Week In Dallas - Day 2: Tuesday

I'm cooking the kids tea at the moment, so I'm taking the opportunity to blog. A greater proportion of my time today has been spent sleeping. I dicated quite of a lot of the wip onto my laptop but eventually had to abandon the udea as my eyelids just wouldn't stay up. I'm going to get a shock when I read it back, I should think...
I spent the first three nights of my week in the Adams Mark hotel in Dallas as the conference hotel was booked soild. This was the view out of my window:

After my embarrassing incident with the pancakes (see here for the full story) I decided to go out and explore Dallas. Being a Londoner, I decided to take a stroll and got some very odd looks. That was a big difference between central London and downtown Dallas - where were all the people? Probably sensibly hidden away somewhere with lots of air conditioning. London is busy, busy, busy in comparison to the bits of Dallas I saw.

It was cool for Dallas - around 85 degrees - but it was humid. I kept forgetting to prepare myself for the change when I ventured outside. It was like being wrapped up in an invisible, warm, foggy blanket the second I walked out of the door of my lovely cool hotel. I walked down to the JFK memorial near the grassy knoll and wanted to visit the 6th floor museum, which commemorates his life and death, but it wasn't open until noon so I got the DART train (a bit like a tram) back to my hotel, picked up my notebook and decided to find somewhere to eat and write nearby. I ended up in a shopping centre with an ice rink in the middle and ate salad and watched people practising their spins and jumps as I forced a thousand or so unco-operative words out of my pen.

After a couple of hours I decided to wander over the Hyatt Regency, where the conference was being held, and register. I got my name badge with a couple of ribbons to attach - a green one for being a RITA finalist and an orange one for being a first timer (nice colour combination!). I realised after I'd seen a few other conference attendees that I was supposed to put the silver RITA-shaped pins on my name badge. Other people were bedecked with lots of badge "bling" - pins from former conferences, RWA chapters and RITA and Golden Heart wins and nominations. Harelquin Romance/M&B medicals author Matrion Lennox had so many of the RITA pins on hers (of both colours) that she had to start putting them up the string round her neck! I'm surprised she wasn't dragging it round!

I was supposed to meeting Trish Wylie for dinner, so I checked to see if she had arrived yet - she hadn't (as the week wore on I started to realised that Trish operates in her own personal time zone. I can say that now I'm home because I am no longer within slapping distance).

I couldn't be bothered to do another round trip to the Adams Mark, so I decided to explore the Reunion Tower, which is adjacent to the hotel. It is fifty five stories high and, while not the tallest building in Dallas, it has an observation deck.

The lift ride (translation = elevator), which only takes 68 seconds, was in a glass lift that shot up the outside of the tower. I'm not bad with heights, but my knees got all tingly and I had to take a step back as we neared the top. I got some great pictures from up there.

At six o'clock, when I still couldn't find Trish or her room mate Jenna Bayley-Burke I decided to admit defeat and tramp back to my hotel. However, only a short hour later I was on the train again to meet them for drinks and dinner at the Hyatt. Jenna intorduced me to the joys of margharitas, bless her little cotton socks. Yummy. Just the one mind, I don't want to all to think I was pickled when I got back to my hotel room.

I'd only met Trish in the flesh once before and Jenna never, but we had chatted online and it was great to discover we all got on like a house on fire and laughed our way all through dinner at the cafe inside the Hyatt and afterwards back in their room, where Trish made me blog for the PHS. I returned to my hotel ready to sleep and get stuck into the start of the activites the next day.

Monday, 16 July 2007

I'm back!

Well, my body is back. Not sure where my brain is. And who knows which time zone my stomach is in. Didn't sleep on the plane (which was an overnight flight) because just as I settled down to snooze we hit turbulance - not drastic, just enough to jolt me awake every time I started to doze. Grrrr.

I'm hurtling towards a deadline and that is my priority, but I'd like to blog about my experiences in Dallas when either my brain is too fried to write or while the next scene is percolating in my head. I managed to get 6-7k written this week and I need to dicatate it into my laptop. Once I've done that I'm going to update my word counter thingy - which is seriously out of date.

Many thanks to all of you who commented and emailed me to wish me well! The conference was a blast and I had a great time. I wasn't that disappointed at not taking home a golden statue (I mean, I'd be bonkers if I said I wasn't disappointed at all, wouldn't I? There's always part of you that thinks, "Ah, but it would have been lovely...") because the books that won in both my categories were great! Especially, the lovely Barbara Hannay's.

Marion Lennox (who is just the sweetest lady I have ever met!) told me that she had to write 63 books before she got her first RITA (!!!). I'm just thrilled to have been a finalist. Maybe in another 60 books I'll stand a chance...maybe...with a following wind and fingers, toes and eyelashes crossed. But, since the Traditional category has been dropped from the RITAs, who knows? Having said that, with Harlequin Romances doing well in the Short Contemporary category in the last couple of years, I'm sure there will still be an opportunity for our biggest stars to shine.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

RWA Update

If you want to know what I'm up to this week, come and visit the Pink Heart Society! Trish Wylie and Jenna Bayley-Burke have hi-jacked me and we are blogging over there all week from the RWA conference in Dallas.

We're having a blast blogging about everything. We're going to be doing first-timers' first impressions, interviews with authors, fashion at the awards ceremony and general silliness involving a small green Leprechaun called Sean. We're also taking photos as fast as our digital cameras can charge. Pop on over and have a squiz!

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

I made it to Dallas. Long flight, made much more bearable by the company of a lovely lady sat nect to who was a librarian. We chatted books, writing, London and Dallas.

Last night I went out to dinner with friends from eHarlequin and had a great time. I was really glad I'd decided not to wimp out and go to bed. And I had the tastiest burger I've ever eaten! I made all the others laugh when I told them they "grew good cows here".

This morning I had my first experience of an American breakfast. Bona fide american pancakes! Not healthy, I know, but it had to be done. I cook a Nigella Lawson version for my kids occasionally and I decided I needed the authentic experience - to see if I'm doing it right. When the plate arrived, all I could say was "Wow!".

First of all, I was definiately making them too small! The ones I make are maybe 5" across, but my plate this morning was stacked high with pancakes maybe twice that diameter, served with blueberries, raspberries and strawberries (mmm), warm maple syrup (definitely something I will do when I return home!) and a blob of what looked like ice cream.

ice cream for breakfast? Oh well, when in Dallas...
Erm, no. After I'd taken a bite I remembered that the menu had said it was served with "whipped butter", but I'd been so overawed with my plate of gorgeousness I'd forgotten all about it. Whoops!

Monday, 9 July 2007

I'm on my way on my mini-adventure! Currently I am sitting in Gatwick airport waiting to board my flight and I'm also bored to tears.

By the time I arrive at my hotel this evening, I will have been awake for 24 hours straight. let's hope I'm over the jetlag and making sense by Wednesday...

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Leavin' on a jet plane...

Well, I'm off on a plane first thing tomorrow morning! Next stop: Dallas, Texas.
If you are going to be anywhere near there this week then drop by and say "Hi" to me at the 'Readers for Life' Literacy signing at the Hyatt Regency in Dallas on Wednesday between 5.30pm and 7.30pm. I will have clotted-cream fudge to give away...not that I'm trying to bribe you or anything...perish the thought!