Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year

I am sitting in the mountains looking at blue skies and snow. It's magic but I shouldn't be sitting I should be skiing....the best laid plans and all that. I twisted my knee in a way it wasn't meant to go yesterday so I'm off the slopes and just looking at the beauty around me.
Liz Fenwick grinning through the pain!

This is not all bad as I have more edits to do on A Cornish Affair which are due mid January, which is now looking very close...

So even bad things can have positive outcome (we do this in our novels all the time!).

As I write this, I am hoping that as 2012 closes and 2013 begins the future will be filled with good things for us all. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Happy Holidays!

A double Xmas tree for us this year!

Or “god fortsättning as we say in Sweden!  That literally means “good continuation”, which is a bit weird I guess, but I suppose what they really mean is a continuation of the Christmas cheer and I’m all for that!

Just because the massive meal has been consumed and the presents opened doesn’t mean the fun is over.  To be perfectly honest, the time after Christmas is one of my favourite parts.  I don’t think I really relax until Boxing Day when I can finally stop cooking and rushing around, and just enjoy.  Enjoy the peace and quiet while family members who are no longer over-excited check out whatever they were given.  Enjoy leaving everyone to fend for themselves food-wise (we have enough leftovers to feed an army I should think!).  And enjoy some me-time - sleeping, reading or watching the DVDs I got.  In fact, just chilling.

The weather outside is typically British – rain, rain and more rain – but it doesn’t matter.  I have my family around me, the house is nice and warm and I don’t need to go out (apart from dog walks, but even those are short since my dogs don’t like to get their paws wet).  I may have suffered just a tiny pang of envy when my mum told me they have more snow than they know what to do with in Sweden, but although it would have been prettier if the lawn outside had been white, I don’t really mind that much.  I definitely don’t envy them all the snow shovelling they’ll have to do and I’ve never been very keen on winter sports either (too lazy).

It’s been such a busy year for me, I almost feel guilty for not doing anything and just sitting still.  But it’s wonderful at the same time and hopefully it means I’m refilling that well we’ve talked so much about on this blog.  I refuse to think about my own writing at all, leaving it to my subconscious for now to turn over plots and characters without letting them bubble to the surface.  Instead I’m concentrating on other people’s books and so far I’ve read two that have been waiting in my TBR pile for ages.  I thoroughly enjoyed them both, and I have a teetering stack of more waiting ... total bliss for a bookworm like me!

I hope you’re all chilling as well, enjoying the leftovers and lasting Christmas cheer.  I wish you a very Happy and Healthy New Year for 2013, the Chinese year of the Snake!

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Today I have to bake a cake.

It's my son Fecklet's* birthday this weekend, and like the very popular and utterly spoilt rotten kid he is, he's having not one but two parties, which means he needs two cakes. Today I'm making a chocolate sheet cake with chocolate icing, and Saturday I'm making vanilla cupcakes with jam.

I have done a lot of cake baking since becoming a mum, and especially over the last two years since Fecklet has started school. It seems that cake is required for nearly every school occasion, and last summer I won second prize in the PTA Bake-Off with my Earl Grey cupcakes with lemon buttercream, which was to be honest one of the greatest achievements of my LIFE, so I now find that I have a bit of a reputation to uphold as a baker.

Even so, I'm beginning to think it's become an obsession. When I look back over my Twitter feed and my Facebook profile, I don't see photos of parties or shoes or my kid: I see pictures of cakes that I have made. Lots and lots of cakes.

only second prize. I was robbed

whoopie pies (Maine style)

my Extremely Pink birthday cake

I even coloured this sugar myself. such a nerd

cupcakes for girly weekend

obsessed! I am obsessed!!

(It's really no wonder that I've also had to take up running.)

Anyway at this point you are probably thinking I'm going to discuss how baking a cake is like writing a book. But you know what? Baking a cake is NOTHING like writing a book. When you bake a cake, you have a recipe. You follow it. And then you have something nice to eat. The whole process takes a couple of hours and is quite relaxing.

When you write a book, there is no recipe. You take horrendous chances and a lot of the time you are terrified. You spend a year of your life on it, pouring blood onto the page, and at the end, you may or may not have something that you ever want to show anyone. It's very hard work and is not relaxing in the slightest and you don't even have any cake to eat at the end. Instead you have to proofread it.

I'm pretty thankful I don't have to write two books for Fecklet's birthday. Cake baking is way easier.

*His real name isn't Fecklet. I'm not that weird.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Stories...and being late

I was supposed to have posted on Sunday...sorry. Christmas and stuff...

Over on my blog I was talking at little bit about the new Peter Jackson film of The Hobbit (which I LOVED) and the lovely Sue Guiney comment that for three years attending the new Lord of the Rings films had become a family ritual for them and that had me thinking about how stories read, told and seen bond families together.

It can be the antidote about Grandma having too much sherry and face-planting in the trifle, which makes the family howl with laughter with just he words sherry and Grandma (no, it never happened with us but ask me sometime about the rental car in France...). So this is an example of something that happened, was shared, repeated and enjoyed.

But thinking about The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings...I read them in my early teens and found an early opportunity to share them with my children. Then had the opportunity to 'see' them with my kids, creating a tighter bond between us. I know each one of us takes something different from the stories but we share the experience.

I love how telling stories, reading stories or seeing stories can unite a family or even strangers. Yesterday in the cinema there was a conspiratorial air as we all took out seats...we were there to become a part of something, to leave the everyday and be swept away....simply magic.

As we are in the season when one of the greatest stories is celebrated, I hope that the season binds you tighter to your loved ones and that you share the love with the world.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pre-Christmas Creativity

I'm a day late with this, because when I went to post this yesterday I found Anna's post so moving I thought it ought to stay up an extra day.  And my own post felt very trite in comparison, but here goes ...

As an author, I guess I come under the heading of “creative people”, even though I’m only making things up in my head.  But I’ve always admired those who do some form of art or crafts, and would love to join their ranks, at least occasionally.  That must be why, in the run-up to Christmas every year, I suddenly have the urge to be über-creative and do things with my hands!

The itch starts at around the end of November, when I dig out the little Christmas tablecloth I started embroidering about four years ago (or was it five?).  I was all enthusiastic to begin with – I always am whenever I start a craft project of any kind – but as it took much too long and wasn’t finished for that first Christmas, I lost interest and have only added a few stitches each year since then.  So I get it out again, determined that THIS year is going to be the one when I finish it off.  (Trust me, it won’t be.)

Then it’s time to send out the Christmas cards, and I think “wouldn’t it be nice with home-made ones, perhaps a collage with the dogs in Santa hats or something?”  But as the dogs won’t sit still with anything on top of their heads, I can’t take the photos I want and the whole idea goes down the pan.  I don’t even contemplate any other form of card-making after that because I know it will look amateurish and I’ll just bin the lot and head for the charity shop to buy cards.

But there’s always the baking – my absolute favourite part of Christmas preparations (and that's a craft too, isn't it?)!  Saffron buns, Swedish gingerbread cookies, cranberry bread and sweet aniseed loaves.  Now these I do finish (although an inordinately large proportion of the dough for at least two of those things ends up inside me before they reach the oven).  Is there anything more wonderful and tactile than dough?  And the great thing about baking is it doesn’t have to look perfect, it just has to taste good!

Making Christmas candy is next, of course, another task I love.  It brings back memories of cooking with my grandmother who was ace at anything in the kitchen.  And it’s extremely satisfying when you have boxes of Christmas treats stored neatly in the fridge, don’t you think?  Then they’re ready for when I finally get to relax after present opening and read a book from the pile that will (hopefully) have been brought by Santa.

Last, but not least, there is the present wrapping.  I may have admitted to mild OCD in past blog posts, but when it comes to wrapping, it turns into full-blown obsession.  I can spend hours selecting just the right box, paper and string for every present and even though I know they’ll be ripped apart in two seconds flat, I don’t care – I so enjoy making them look pretty!

None of this has anything to do with writing really, but I think all this creativity might unlock the author part of my brain at the same time.  There’s a lot of time to think as you sew/bake or whatever and it’s relaxing too.

So now you know what I’m doing for the next couple of weeks – hope you’re all enjoying the preparations too!

Please come back on Sunday to hear from Liz!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Very Big Thing

Well, actually he's Quite Small, but Hugely Enormous in impact on our lives.

We're adopting a little boy.  He's two.  We met him last week, and he came home to live with us yesterday.

While I know we're actually the same people we were before, I don't feel the same.  Up to a week or so ago, I felt flawed and broken, set apart from other women.  Incomplete.  I felt defined by the number of years we'd been trying to have a family, the surgeries I'd had, the injections, the examinations, the embryos who'd perished, the so-early-they-barely-count pregnancies I'd lost.

Sometime last week, in between saying thank you for a bogie he'd passed me, laughing at Daddy being commanded to sit and play building block towers, changing a poopy nappy and exclaiming appropriately at Peppa Pig, someone hit the reset button.  Suddenly, almost overnight, I didn't feel like a woman missing something, but I woman who'd unexpectedly, undeservedly, been handed something Extra.

I still find it hard to shake off the number of years thing.  As of my birthday next April, it will have been ten years.  Count them.  TEN YEARS.

But that's only a number.  He's a whole little boy.

And that's a Very Big Thing.

(The above post is very much my own feelings and perceptions, and not meant as comment on ANYONE else!  Sadness - and happiness! - is always personal.)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

When One Thing Leads to Another

I'm late again with this, although this time I do have a passable excuse, since I've been doing battle with a rotten cold this week.

There was a great, thought-provoking Letter of Opinion last week by Janet over at Dear Author, on how things have shifted from standalone books to the series, and what sort of ripple effect this might have for both writers and readers. If you haven't read the piece yet, pour a cup of tea or coffee and go read it now. I'll wait.

You're back? Good. I found that post really intriguing, along with the questions it raised about whether the standalone novel was falling from favour, and whether we've all been conditioned, when ending one story, to look for the sequel.

I suppose it could be argued that this isn't such a modern development, really. After all, Anthony Trollope was writing his Palliser novels and Barchester Chronicles back in the mid-19th century, and Winston Graham spent over half a century writing about his Poldarks. And of course, being Canadian, I was raised on the series of Anne of Green Gables books. So it's hardly a new thing for writers and readers to want to revisit familiar, loved characters.

Image from Fantastic Fiction
I can't say that I've never done it myself. For example, when I needed a vicar for a small part in my thriller Every Secret Thing, it seemed silly to invent one when I already had a perfectly good vicar (Tom, from Mariana) walking around in my fictional world. So I gave the part to Tom, and he did well with it. I've done that a few times, with various characters.

And when a reader wrote to ask me whether Robbie from The Shadowy Horses would ever get his own book, it did get me thinking how perfectly suited he'd be for the role of The Firebird's modern-day hero. But generally, when I have finished a book, then the characters' business is finished, as well, and I'm done with both them and the story (or they're done with meI can never quite figure out which).

If The Firebird continues the story of several of the historical characters from my book The Winter Sea, that's only because those particular characters still had one stray bit of business outstanding that wanted to be finished properly, and now that I've taken care of that for them, they've pretty much settled down into their lives (though there are one or two, still, who might not be totally satisfied, and seem a little bit restless).

But I can't help but wonder, after reading that post, if our reading (and writing) habits are actually shifting. So, what do you think? Are we losing our ability to simply let a story end? To close the final page and give a happy sigh and let the characters go, without demanding to be told what happens next? And if we are, is it a failing of imagination, or some natural desire that readers felt at least as long ago as Trollope and his novels about Barchester?

And while you're pondering all of that, be sure to come back Thursday, to read Julie's post.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Happy Belated Thanksgiving!

As we have two US citizens in the Heroine Addicts it only seems right that we acknowledge Thanksgiving. It isn’t a holiday we have in the UK and I know that Canada has theirs in October but I think its great to have a day when we stuff ourselves on turkey… hold on… that is Christmas isn’t it?

<checks notes>

Ahhh sorry, I think it is great to have a day when we can look back and give thanks for every thing that has happened to us in the past year.

Things I am thankful for:

1.     My friends – including the lovely Heroine Addicts
2.     My Family – they are the only ones you get so treasure them
3.     My Health – am fitting fit and thankful
4.     My Writing – it might get tricky and other things get in the way but I’d never be without it
5.     My Flame – he survived a massive health scare earlier this year. He’s still around

What are you giving thanks for?

Please come back on Sunday to hear from Susanne

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Festival of Romance 2012 and We Have A Winner!

There is so much to say about the Festival of Romance but the most important is that our very own Christina Courtenay won the Best Historical Read with The Silent Touch of Shadows!!!
Christina Courtenay and Sue Morrcroft

But let's jump back a step from the exciting news....The gala dinner was fabulous and Biddy sparkled.

Jane Wenham-Jones and Brigid Coady

Jane Wenham-Jones was the brilliant compere of the evening...the full listing of all the winners is here.

As has been mentioned I was short listed for the Best Romantic Read....
Liz Fenwick, Sue Moorcroft, Miranda Dickenson, Rowan Coleman, Jane Lovering and Trisha Ashley

And the winner....
Rowan Coleman
Rowan Coleman for Dearest Rose!

All the night's winners...

I have no pictures of the the publishing deals that were handed out but Celia Anderson of the Romaniatics will be published by Piatikus! Then dancing that followed but due to jet lag I didn't last past the main course. However fellow Heroine Addict Biddy assures me that it was brilliant!

Saturday morning...breakfast watching crews practicing on the river...hard work!

First stop was to the Romance Fair in the Corn Exchange...
Christina Courtenay and Donna Hay setting up

Dashing men arrived
Drama ensued...a scene from a Mills & Boon Historical
Talli Roland reads at 'Coffee & Cake'
It was a sold out crowd at the 'Coffee & Cake' morning with so many wonderful writers and moi...
Liz Fenwick getting nervous
Liz Fenwick reading from The Cornish House
The Romance Fair was open all day and Bedford's shoppers had the opportunity to come in enjoy a chocolate and chat with romantic novelists of all varieties...In the shopping centre people were treated to actors performing from Mills & Boon Historicals, Writer's reading from there books while seminars took place in the library.

Sadly I had to come home...while the fun continued...already looking forward to next year's event!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

I AM reading

First of all, thank you very much for the good wishes – I’m sure Liz and I will cheer each other on tomorrow at the Festival of Romance Awards, and we’ll post pics afterwards whatever happens!

Autumn - great time for reading!
Now on Monday Anna was saying “I wanna read!”, whereas at the moment I can definitely say “I AM reading!”  And how!  In the last week alone, I read six books, (although some of them were fairly short).  Autumn is a great time to curl up with a book, but the reason for me is not that I’ve gone on an autumnal reading "bender" (if there is such a thing) or taken time out.  It’s just that I help organise a literary award and this time of year the long list is more or less finalised.  And as the organiser, I sometimes have to talk about the award and the books that end up on the shortlist.  Which means – I have to read them so I know what I’m talking about.  Good excuse, right?

It is in no way a hardship reading these particular books as they’re all romance and, having ended up on the long list, great stories.  But it’s made me think about WHY these particular books have done better than the other entries.  What is it about them that gives them page turning quality; what keeps the reader hooked?

There are all the usual reasons of course - first of all (and most obvious), there has to be a great love story, one that stays in your mind long after you finish reading.  The chemistry between the hero and heroine has to be amazing throughout, even if they themselves don’t notice it to begin with perhaps (or they try not to).  The dialogue has to be just right – a sassy heroine and a hero with a sense of humour is always good and makes for some interesting conversations.  And the conflict between them must be believable.  In some cases it’s the fact that the story is unusual which makes it stand out, or if it’s not, the plot has been given a new twist and made to feel original.  The writing has to be just right too – fast moving and entertaining in an effortless way.

All this makes for a great story potentially.

But ... we’re all different and what we look for in a novel may vary wildly, as the readers for the award demonstrate every year.  What one person finds wonderful, another says is utter rubbish.  Thankfully, each book gets read several times and the ones where all the readers agree come out on top.  Those are the ones I’m reading at the moment.  

For me, personally, the thing that always makes or breaks a book is the hero.  If I don’t fall in love with the hero, the story is doomed.  I don’t really care what he looks like (although hotties are always welcome of course :) ), but he has to be charismatic.  He has to charm me (and the heroine) in every way.  Then, and only then, will I consider the book a winner or keeper for my shelf.

What makes a book a keeper for you?

Please come back on Sunday/Monday to hear from Liz – she might have photos from the Festival of Romance!