Saturday, 30 April 2011

Great British Traditions

I don't think many people the world over could have missed the fact that yesterday was Royal Wedding day here in the UK. The nation has been in a fever for months, but in the last week all anyone seems to have been thinking about, writing about and talking about was the impending nuptials of William and Kate.

Like the rest of the country, even though my deadline is looming large on the horizon, I couldn't resist turning the TV on and watching at least some of the festivities. It's practically research, after all!

I edited the current book in the morning, stopped to watch the royal family arriving at Westminster Abbey and the arrival of the bride and groom. I also watched the vows and prayers, but then I disappeared back up to my 'office', definitely romantically inspired, to write a first kiss scene between my hero and heroine. No similarities to William and Kate's balcony kiss, I'm afraid, as this one took place on a desert island in a thunderstorm, but I was pretty pleased with the result, and it definitely ups the conflict and emotion in that part of the story, which is what I was looking for.

When the Royal Wedding guests disappeared inside Buckingham palace I went back to work, but after sorting out most of chapter eight and nine, I gatecrashed a street party in a road literally round the corner. Well, not exactly gatecrashed, as my family had been invited by friends who lived there to join them. It wasn't so much a formal street party as people setting up their barbecues and garden furniture outside their houses and generally wandering around getting to know the neighbours. The street had been officially closed for the day and someone had hired a bouncy castle for the kids to play on. Everyone had a wonderful time.

But then street parties, as well as Royal Weddings, are something us Brits know how to do well. I have a wonderful picture of my grandmother (3rd from the left), mother and her twin sister (twins with white ribbons 3rd & 5th from left on far side of table) enjoying a similar occasion in Clockhouse, London at the end of the second world war.

However, the street party above, with its pristine white table cloth and everyone in their Sunday best, was a little different from the one I attended yesterday. Shorts and t-shirts were the order of the day in 2011, and instead of nicely cut cucumber sandwiches we had charred burgers and salads, but we did also engage in yet another great British tradition that my ancestors probably steered well clear of in their 1945 finery - British Bulldog.
Now, for those of you not familiar with the term, British Bulldog is a playground game with a playing area of varying size (depends on where you are playing), where one player (bulldog) tries to catch the others as they rush past him from one end of the pitch to the other. Those caught help the bulldog to catch more until only one is left. (If you really want to know all the rules you can find them here).

After a few beers had been consumed, one of the dads on the street suggested a game. Mr Harper initially refused, as last time he played a game of British Bulldog he broke a bone in his hand and it has never been the same since. However, it didn't take much persuading to get him up and having a go, and I have to say that I haven't seen Mr H move that fast in about 20 years!

On the first pass of the first game there was injury. Which is probably why a lot of schools banned this game when I was younger. Injured party was nine year old girl in white dress (Belonging to me. The girl, not the dress, that is.) who was mowed down by another child on a bike. Rules clearly explained to child on bike and game resumes. Nine year old receives germoline and plasters from kind mum at nearest house and cuddles from non-Bulldog playing parent (me).

I wish I could say that was the only mishap incurred during the game, but after one of the participants had to be taken to hospital with a dislocated shoulder the game, not surprisingly, was dropped in favour of cricket.

The street party, however, carried on into the evening without any further mishap. It was lovely to have a day off work (well, for most people - I had to keep popping home to do a bit more editing) and have nothing to do but celebrate the Royal wedding by getting out of our houses, away from the television and out into the sunshine to meet each other and forge new relationships.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The Tea Crisis and more

My fridge and cupboards are bare - I don't even have any tea bags left in the house (sob!) - my house is a state and my husband is wondering when I'll ever speak an intelligible word to him again.
Yes, folks, I'm days away from a deadline and editing in earnest.

I've changed my hero's story a little - he no longer decides he can't marry his fiancee and then jilts her after a week on the island with my heroine. This time, its the fiancee who does the jilting and she does it before he heads off to paradise, giving Finn some things to think about. Just this one thing has opened up so much more for my hero in emotional terms.

Before, he only started to realise he had a problem with emotional depth late in she second act and his moment of truth/moment of grace didn't come until almost the end of the story - hence the lack of emotion, I think. Now, he's aware his ex thinks there was something missing from their relationship, even if he's confused about exactly what that was, and I feel it's much easier to dig deeper into his emotions earlier in the story. Hope this works!

Monday, 25 April 2011

Not feeling it

I’m only about a thousand words short of my word count, but I’ve stopped halfway through writing my final scene. Why? I’m not feeling it, even though I know the setting and idea for the scene is very romantic and I was really excited about getting to it. I have been known to write a final scene with a box of tissues on my desk to mop up the excess liquid draining from my eyes as I type, and I’ve written enough books to know that if the scene isn’t punching me in the gut, it’s not going to grab readers emotionally either.

The final scene is where there should be all the emotional pay-off for all the things you’ve been setting up throughout the book. So, if the emotion isn’t there as strong as I want it to be, it means I haven’t got all my ducks in a row earlier down the line.

I have a gut feeling this all may relate to my hero. Since I’m basing this book on Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale of A Little Mermaid I gave my hero a fiancée, as the prince in the story is in love with another girl and marries her at the end of the tale. This was a strange move for me, because I’m not a fan of chucking ‘the other woman’ in to up the conflict, but I made sure that it was clear from the start that my hero was not fully emotionally invested in his long-distance relationship, and made sure that it was deeper, internal issues that were really keeping him from pursuing a romance with the heroine.

However, I’m wondering his engagement is part of the problem. It’s external conflict, and even though I’ve backed it up with stronger internal conflict, I think it might have to go. The internal conflict on its own will have to work twice as hard in the second half of the book in that case.

Unfortunately, I think it’s time to rip my story apart and put it back together again. I dithered about putting the fiancée in the story to start off with, but sometimes the only way you can find out if something is going to work is if you try it. And if you never make bold choices in your writing you end up staying in ‘safe’ territory. And Finn McLeod is a man who despises ‘safe’. I think I need to give him the rollercoaster ride he deserves.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

The Black Moment and Bluebells

Just written the big, crushing scene where the hero breakes my heroine's heart! Yay! (That makes me sound really twisted, doesn't it?)

Anyway, that means I'm heading off into Act Three - but with only 7000 words left of my word count. That's going to be a squeeze. My aim is to get it written by Easter Sunday so I can go to family party without the end of my book circuiting inside my head. Too many words in the head means the ones that come out of my mouth are too few and are often only one syllable. Not good when you're trying to be sociable.

Yesterday, we had the most glorious weather here. I took the kids (and my notebook) out into the countryside for a walk and some ice creams. Well, the kids had ice creams and climbed trees/read while I scribbled down another scene. Anyway, the picture on the left is one I took with my phone. Sometimes I feel really lucky to live where I do.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

In the home straight...

I can't believe I've managed to see my little percentage progress bar (see right) on the current book go from 15% to 70% in 20 days!

Just shows how fast I can write if I have to. And, despite the fact all the research and planning for this book slowed me down at the beginning, I wouldn't have been able to go this fast without it.

If I can, I prefer a more lesisurely pace - time to let the next scene 'brew' in my head for a few hours, rather than having to rush straight on. But sometimes the ideas that fall out of the subconscious are the best ones.

In my 'down' time, I'm trying to work out why a film I really wanted to like didn't work for me. I was very disappointed with Letters To Juliet. Great idea. Great cast. But the romance didn't fly for me. Not quite sure why yet (partly because I got up from the sofa half way through and wrote my shopping list instead), so I'll have to watch it again to find out.

Any films you've been disappointed with? Come and share!

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Guilty Pleasures and Secret Crushes

Work on the book (The Little Mermaid (working title)/the story about the ballerina with a secret crush) is going well, but it's taking up all my time. No in-depth blogging until after the deadline, I suppose.

Meanwhile, I watched Julie Moggan's documentary on Mills & Boon called Guilty Pleasures today. Really enjoyed it. She followed the lives of some M&B superfans and one M&B Author - Roger Sanderson, who read my first ever M&B for the RNA's New Writers' Scheme and has cheered me on ever since! I started off thinking how quirky some of the people were, and I laughed out loud at some of the clever editing quite a few times, but the stories of those featured quickly became touching and endearing, and I found myself warming to all the participants (Yes, and that includes you, Roger, you know you're lovely!)

I met Julie a couple of times while she was filming, as she atteneded an RNA conference or two, and her crew came to one of the annual M&B Authors' lunches (see pic for proof!). Along with some of the other authors I was even filmed talking about one of my books, but I'm secretly glad I wasn't interesting enough to make it past the cutting room floor. I fluffed up my littile bit for the camera at least four times - even forgetting the name of my book once! So not the media savvy author am I.

Anyway, if you want to watch a multi-layered, unusual take on Mills & Boon, you can catch it again on 4OD.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Just keep swimming

I feel like Dory in the film Finding Nemo at the moment, except instead of humming, "Just keep swimming" to myself, I have "Just keep writing" on a loop at the back of my head. And I can't seem to stop.

Once the fever has passed I'll continue posting on theme, but in the meantime I have a couple of bits of wisdom about my process that I stumbled across on my journey from 'stuck' to 'flowing':

1. Get the foundations right.
I know some people say "write forward", "don't go back until you've finished the first draft", and I have done that in the past, but it doesn't always work for me. I often get stuck at the beginning of the second act, when the plot takes off in a new direction. I've discovered I need to go back and get my first act right if I don't want to wallow in indecision at this point.

Act One is for planting seeds that are going to start shooting and budding in Act Two and that will reach full fruition in Act Three. If I haven't got things set up properly in Act One I have no idea how things are going to grow in Act Two. If I try to write forward it's like walking through treacle. Once I've gone back and tweaked my first couple of chapters, though, I'm often all fired up and ready to get going again.

As good as a lot of writing advice is, we just have to figure out our own process. We can't be afraid to break the so-called rules or we just end up paralysing ourselves.

2. Keep It Simple, Stupid.
As much as all my character tables and questions about arcs and themes help me pull myself out of a rut, I find I can OD on them. I've ended up with too much story for a 50,000 word book (again!). And I was so busy plotting my hero and heroine's indivdual arcs that I almost forgot to make sure one vital ingredient was sparkling - the romance!

Those arcs to have intersect again and again, because in a Mills & Boon/Harlequin novel, it's the relationship with the other lead character that is the catalyst for change in the hero or heroine. So the romance - the times they interact, the sexual tension thrumming between them - has to be the major factor, not the other events that could push the characters to grow. Easy to forget that when you're knee-deep in charts and lists. Sigh.

Okay, I've warbled on for far too long. Time to get writing again! (Slinks off).

Friday, 1 April 2011

Fridays and Failure

I will continue my posting on theme/writing process shortly, but I'm chewing over a few questions Janet and Cara posed in the comments section of my last post, and trying to wrestle Finn and Allegra's story into submission.

In the meantime, I'm about to ditch at least two scenes of my Little Mermaid story and write something new. I have too much of my heroine on her own, thinking. She needs to be interacting with the hero. And when he's a hero who's quite as delicious as Finn McLeod I'm not sure why she isn't. Maybe it's the fear...

And talking of fear (which is very relevent before I hit the 'delete' button on chapter three), Michelle Styles has written a fab post for the Pink Heart Society on why failure can be the writer's best friend!