Sunday, February 27, 2011

Dressing Up

I love dressing up.

I probably should have grown out of it sometime after the childhood dressing up box with the blue satin bridesmaid dress and fashioning a wimple out of an old tea towel. Or possibly after donning the flowing white robes and turban (properly should have been blue, but that's another story) of a Tuareg and walking two miles, barefoot, to a college party.

And it wasn't a fancy dress party, either.

But I never did grow out of it. In recent years, I've had some legitimate and glorious excuses for dressing up.

One time I took part in a Viking encampment on Lindisfarne, as the guest of a local re-enactment society (actually, that was a barefoot engagement, too - is there a theme here?) Sitting in the ruins of the priory on a sheepskin, sewing a pair of leather shoes, drinking from a stone cup, wearing an authentic linen shift and woollen dress, it was easy to leave 21st century Anna behind. Easy to think myself into another skin, to conjure stories.

Then last year I took part in the Cockermouth Georgian Fair.

I'm not much of an exhibitionist by nature. After one glance down at the wholly historically accurate amount of bosom on display, I had to swear to myself I wouldn't look down, or tug the dress up, again that day! When I first put the dress on, I though, "I can never go out like this!"

But actually it was easy. The weight of the dress, the constriction of the, um, underpinnings, the perfect fit of the bodice were constant reminders that I wasn't 21st century Anna again.

I was dressing up. I was someone else.

Both incidents reminded me that when we put characters together for a story, when we try to get inside their skin, sometimes it helps to put on what they're wearing OVER their skin, too.

But I really hope this doesn't mean I need to spend some time in the tight jeans and eye-watering colours of the heroine of my current book...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Author Copies Day

It’s as good as Christmas or your birthday...some might say even better. It’s the day all your hopes and dreams arrive in a big box tied with plastic tape.

It’s Author Copies Day.

Mine arrived this morning, in the hands of a fit young man in a white delivery van. Before signing for them, I jumped around a bit like a crazy thing whilst he stood by, politely not showing how weird he thought I was for getting excited over a box of books. I found a pair of my son’s rounded child-scissors and cut the tape and opened up the box.

There they were. Nestled together, protected with those little plastic air pillow things that my son loves to jump on and pop. Mine, all mine.

I do slightly odd things when my books come in the post. I’ve seen the cover before, of course, as a jpg or a cover flat, but it’s not the same as having the actual book. When I got my author copies for my first-ever book, I took photos of myself with them even though I hadn’t even brushed my hair yet. The photos are hideous, but you can tell I’m happy. I carried a book around all day.

This is my thirteenth published book, and you would have thought the excitement would pall a little, but oh no. I had to pose the book just so, so that light would reflect off the glorious, beautiful shiny bits. I’ve never had shiny bits on my books before. It’s more thrilling than I can possibly tell you.

So today, fellow Addicts, I am happy. I’ll be even happier next month, when I see the books in a shop. But meanwhile, a wish for my fellow writers: May your own Author Copies Day, when it comes, be as joyous as mine. Whether it’s your fortieth or your first.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Something to Celebrate

Today, instead of rambling on about myself, or what I think, or how I work, I'm going to use this space to spread the word about one of our own, the lovely Christina Courtenay, who's just achieved something rather wonderful and special, and who's far too shy and modest to say anything about it here. So I will say it for her:

Her first novel and let me repeat that: her FIRST EVER novel, the beautifully-written Trade Winds has just made the shortlist for the Romantic Novelists' Association's 2011 Historical Novel Prize!

That's Christina, standing second from the left, above, with fellow nominees Elizabeth Chadwick, Joanna Fulford, Kate Furnivall, Rebecca Dean and Jane Jackson.

The shortlist of six, which like all the RNA's Pure Passion Awards is selected by actual readers, now passes to a final panel of three judges: Richard Lee, founder of the Historical Novel Association, Elizabeth Hawksley, author and creative writing teacher, and Diane Pearson, president of the RNA since 1987. And the winner will be announced, along with the winners of the other awards (for the Romantic Comedy Prize, the Love Story of the Year, and the Romantic Novel of the Year) at a champagne reception at One Whitehall Place, Westminster, on Monday, March 7th.

Christina is one of those quietly generous people who's always the first to help somebody else, so it's lovely to see all that good karma flowing back at her. She was, in fact, one of the very first friends that I made in the RNA, and it was because of her that I met Julie Cohen, so without her we might never have begun this blog at all.

When I suggested she post something here about her nomination, true to form she shied away from the idea, not wanting to brag...but since an occasion like this seems to warrant a wee bit of bragging, I'm happy to do the deed for her!

We're all so very proud of you, Christina, and we have our fingers firmly crossed for Trade Winds.

(You can read the full list of award shortlists here, and be sure to come back again Thursday to read Julie Cohen's next post).

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Nosey Parkers or Writers?

We are having another intervention here on The Heroine Addicts.

Hello, my name is Brigid and I am a nosey parker.

I love knowing about what is going on in other people’s lives. Whether they are friends, colleagues, acquaintances or strangers I am fascinated by people and their relationships. Any sort of relationship, parents and children, husbands and wives, bosses or colleagues. Bring it on!

I ask questions I probably shouldn’t and encourage them to spill the beans they probably shouldn’t. I’d like to say it is all because I care and want to help them and that is partially true… I also try and tell myself it is because I am a writer and these relationships are the bread and butter of our trade. Yeah. That is it.

I have been told or witnessed some incredible things, if I put them in a book it would be seen as too fantastical. Or of course that sadly the reason certain scenarios are clichés are because they happen with frightening regularity and we are not so individual as we think.

So I have drank gallons of coffee, mopped up plenty of tears and been there because I am a good friend.

No one needs to know I am really a nosey parker, do they? Can we just say I am a writer and leave it at that?

Are you a nosey parker? Leave a comment (anonymous if need be)

Come back on Sunday to find out what Susanna has been up to (can’t wait to find out…)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Oops and It's Valentine's Day

I am so sorry. I was supposed to be here yesterday but I was a bit distracted. I can't tell you why yet but I will soon I promise.

However, it has led me to post on St Valentine's Day...the day to celebrate LOVE and not just love but romantic love in particular. For years I remember the anticipation of the day...from primary school up until I met the man of my dreams and married him. I remember sending cards for everyone in my class in grade one - then limiting it down to only certain ones by the time seventh grade had rolled around. Maybe it's my failing memory but I can only ever remembering one year when I received two unsigned cards. Oh how my heart raced. Could it be?

Now married almost  twenty years DH and I looked at each other this morning having forgotten it was THE day. As he left for work he said sorry and I laughed and replied me too. Has the romance gone? No. But the need to show it on a specific day when we both have our minds else where has. Boring I know...

But better than the article in one of the local papers this morning here, which did a poll and said people were more likely to be dumped on Valentine's Day. Ouch.

The day has so much potential and so much opportunity for disappointment and heart ache. During my dating years I never had a boyfriend in February...go figure. That was until DH arrived on the scene and he did the honourable thing and took me out to dinner our first Valentines one of the local restaurants who had trebled their prices for the night...maybe that was the beginning of the end of Valentine's for me. It took all the romance out of the meal and I told him in future that we eat at home on the night and do something the next. In truth I think he's more romantic than I am...

In case your wondering if I ever indulged in the present giving area...yes. One year I gave him in five sessions with a person trainer because I was looking after his heart. I thought it terribly romantic but he wasn't sure.

What was your most romantic Valentine's Day adventure or misadventure?

Please come back on Thursday to see what Biddy is up to....

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Spring Challenge

So there I was, getting on with writing my next novel and keeping my characters on track, or so I thought. But as we’ve discussed before on this blog, characters have a mind of their own, and my hero and heroine suddenly decided to write poetry to each other – just like that and without my permission! And not just any old poem either, but a Japanese haiku. Each. Great.

As I think I mentioned when Liz did her excellent post about poetry a while back, I’m rubbish at writing it. In fact, I don’t seem to have a single poetic gene in my body. So I wasn’t best pleased with my characters, I can tell you. But then I thought – hang on a minute, haiku? Three lines, seventeen syllables, how hard can it be?

First, I needed a little bit of background. What is a haiku poem exactly? According to an excellent little book I bought at the British Museum, they’re normally made up of three phrases divided into one of five syllables, then one with seven, then another with five again. They can be quite informal, but usually highlight a special moment in someone’s life or the influence of nature. So far so good.

If you follow strict guidelines, there are three other main rules – the poem should only consist of essential words, it should have a seasonal reference (ie. you should be able to guess which season of the year the poem refers to and for the Japanese there are five of them, the fifth being New Year which is special), and it should contain a so called ‘cutting word’. This apparently “indicates a need for reflection or gives the poem a certain mood”. But these rules don’t necessarily have to be adhered to if you’re writing in English.

Here is an example of a proper one (according to Wikipedia supposedly the most famous haiku by a man called Basho):-

Old pond

A frog leaps in

Water’s sound

(You may be wondering where the seasonal reference is? Apparently in Japan frogs emerge into the paddy fields in spring. Who knew? And obviously it’s not 17 syllables in English because it’s translated from Japanese.)

If you’re interested, there are lots of other examples on the internet and elsewhere, but I thought I’d give you a good laugh by sharing some of my “experiments” (not the ones my characters wrote, I’ll save those for the book). Really, please feel free to laugh – I did! Here goes:-

Fat buds glistening

Promising creamy petals

Silky on rough skin

The blossom of youth

Fading into the twilight

Like a misty breath

Fur, black and shiny

Canine enthusiasm

Wagging tail aloft

Ok, you get the picture – I’m useless at this! But I have to admit I had great fun trying, so I thought I would issue another challenge (similar to the one we had when this blog was newly started). Please, write a haiku poem and share it! Some of you might already have tried your hand at this and be extremely good at it, but even if you haven’t, don’t let that stop you. Just have a go - I look forward to reading the results!

And please come back on Sunday to hear from Liz

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Don't think about the mountain

I live on the edge of the English Lake District, a National Park famed for its mountains. We've got the highest peak in England, Scafell Pike, which, at 3,210 feet isn't THAT high in the world stakes of mountains, but it's big enough for us.

I've done Scafell Pike with Dad, who's the reason both my brother and I are into fell walking (and Mum's the reason I'm into landscapes, but that's another story), and on that occasion, as on many others up mountains at home and abroad, I had to take it one step at a time.

Actually, most of the time I take mountains twenty steps at a time.
No matter how much my legs are aching, or how unfit I've managed to let myself get, I can usually manage twenty steps. Don't worry about what happens after that, I can manage the next twenty steps. And then, when I've made those twenty, and I'm stopping to catch my breath, and waiting for the spots before my eyes to disappear, I can usually manage another twenty.

Thinking about the walk ahead, all the way up past Great End, and on to Esk Hause, then up Scafell and that soul-destroying descent into Little Narrowcove before the last haul up the Pike itself, would probably make me give up then and there! I can't possibly do that much, that far, that high.

But I can do twenty steps.

And then I can probably do another twenty.

The current work-in-progress is feeling a bit like a mountain. It's over 100,000 words long already, and, I estimate, only 80% finished. It's in pieces, irrational, out of order... and fixing it seems an impossible task.

But I can do twenty steps. Some days that's twenty lines, some days it twenty pages. But I'm still climbing.

What big job do you have in hand, that you like to break down into twenty steps or so?

Don't forget to pop back on Thursday for Christina's post!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Little Things

The lovely Liz is posting this for me today, because with any luck, I’ll be in the USA having the Christmas celebration that was cancelled back in December due to snow.  Thank you, Liz!

I’ve been doing revisions on my next book, and though some of these revisions are big, structural ones, many of them are quite subtle and small.  For example, my editor asked me to soften up one of my secondary characters, the heroine’s younger sister.  This involves changing some of the things she says and does, and the way my heroine thinks about her.  But surprisingly often, it can consist of just changing one or two words.

For example, here’s a sentence in my first draft:

“It’s none of your business,” Pippi spat at me.

In the revision, I’ve simply changed it to:

“It’s none of your business,” Pippi sobbed.

With the replacement of three words, Pippi’s gone from an antagonistic person to a vulnerable one.  She’s no longer attacking her sister; instead, she’s trying to put up defences.  It might not be great, world-shattering writing (and yes, I know I broke The Sacred Rule of only using “said” for dialogue tags—so shoot me), but it does what I need it to do.

Even little tiny things can affect how a reader perceives your character. 

I often notice the little things in what I’m reading, too.  I’ve recently read two books (by two different authors) where a character was meant to be urbane and sophisticated.  And yet, during a formal meal, these well-bred characters pointed their fork at the person with whom they were conversing.  I’m assuming their forks were empty, and not loaded with a heap of sauerkraut or whatever, but still...this little lack of table manners destroyed the illusion completely for me.

Have you made similar changes lately?  Or noticed little things that were exactly right—or exactly wrong—in what you’re reading?