Monday, February 27, 2012

Best Reading List EVAH

As a reader, I find choosing a good read sometimes a bit of a chore. I have high standards! I like romantic fiction, but I get stuck sometimes in a narrow genre because it delivers what I’m looking for. I want to dip my toe in the ocean of fabulousness that is romantic fiction, but I’m frightened of being disappointed.

As a writer, too, I want to read more. I want to know more about the UK market, about what readers are enjoying, about where genres are heading. But where do I start?

Then the RoNA shortlist came out, and I realised my problems were over.

I have, now, what has to be THE best romantic fiction reading list ever devised by woman. I’m going to be reading my way through it this year, exploring genres I don’t often dip into, discovering new authors, and new books by old familiar friends.

To find the same reading list, click here. To find out more about the Romantic Novelists' Association’s Awards, go and browse around this site. And look out for RoNA stickers and shortlisted books in your local bookshop!!!

(P.S – my first two purchases off the list were Christina’s Highland Storms and The UnTied Kingdom by Kate Johnson. *wiggle*)

Friday, February 24, 2012


This week, I've been doing some baking. I bought a new dress, I went to lunch in a restaurant and met a friend for some drinks. Tonight, I'm spending the night with some other friends.

It's been a very nice week, but according to the description above, it's been a little mundane. Try this one instead, equally true:

This week, I've been growing a cake called Herman in a plastic bowl in the corner of my kitchen. Several times a day, you have to lift the bowl's lid and beat Herman's bubbles down.

On Saturday my husband inadvertently knocked a glass of wine all over my desk and to make up for it, the next morning he gave me all the cash he keeps for emergencies and told me to buy myself a new dress. So I did; it has butterflies on it and it makes me feel great.

I wore it to lunch on Monday, at a restaurant where the women's loos are like the Hall of Mirrors in a funfair. When you wash your hands, you are confronted with the full-length sight of yourself from every angle. The loos are, in fact, so confusing that the restaurant has had to put a little arrow saying THIS WAY OUT on the only unreflective surface, which is the floor. Of course, the arrow is also reflected, so it does make for a disorienting and wonderful experience.

Afterwards, I met Biddy for a drink to celebrate her submitting her manuscript. She actually had two submissions with her at that very moment, and when she got up to go to the bar, I had to guard them with my life.

And tonight, I'm going to stay overnight with my friends who live in a house with a 25-foot shark protruding from its roof.

Sort of a different week, isn't it?

As a writer, you realise that details make things come alive. If you're writing about real life, you have to choose the best details—notice I chose Herman, the mirrors and the shark rather than all the time I spent cleaning my house this week, or trying to park my car, or on the phone with the bank.

In fiction, you get to choose the details. It's one of my favourite parts, and sometimes the part that takes the longest: getting the details exactly right. The necklace that makes my heroine remember, the unravelling carpet in the dining room, the bowl of rocks on the windowsill.

In real life, you can go to a house with a shark in its roof for one night and never go back, but in fiction, if these things capture the reader's imagination they also have to mean something. The shark needs to play an important role in the plot, or alternatively it has to impart a sense of fear, or it has to be part of a larger, quirky, fantastic world. You can't throw details into fiction because they're true; they need to be truer than true, they need to be significant.

Now I need to go make up some details. And bake Herman.

Come back Sunday for Anna's post...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Liebster Award

We Heroine Addicts were very happy this week to learn that the five lovely writers of Novel Points of View had given us the Liebster Award.

On looking up the Liebster Award and its affectionate journey around the blogosphere, I found a few varying takes on what the rules for it actually were, but everyone seems to agree on its purpose: it's given to a blog you enjoy and admire, and one you think deserves more recognition. So thank you, Gwen, Gill, Jenny, Mary and Linda, for making us feel very Loved and Appreciated!

When you receive a Liebster Award, you're supposed to list five random facts about yourself, but since there are actually six of us Addicts we're going to follow the lead of our friends at Novel Points of View and fudge the rules a bit by each listing one random fact:

Anna: I once played Grumpy in a school production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. In French.

Brigid: I can raise my left eyebrow independently. Like a female Sean Connery 'The name's Coady. Brigid Coady.'

Christina: I was once a Hell's Angel (or rather the girlfriend of one) but I wasn't much of a hellraiser!

Julie: I can touch my nose with my tongue.

Susanna: I was seriously into Taekwondo when I lived in Korea as a teenager, and I have a first-degree black belt.

Now, we weren't able to track Liz down in time for this post, she's been so busy, but we all agree she has the Best Fact of All, so we're going to share it for her: She has just been shortlisted for the Joan Hessayon New Writers' Award for The Cornish House! (Yay!)

So that's us.

Now, as with all good things given, we are bound by the rules of the Liebster Award to pass it on to someone else. Well, actually we're supposed to pass it on to a few others, but again we're going to fudge the rules and pass it on to one blogger we all love: Sarah Duncan.

If you haven't ever read her blog, you really ought to.

Which blogs do you love the best? Do share.

And come back Thursday, to find out what Julie's up to.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Dear Agent...

It has come to that point in my writing that I am ready to send my work out into the world. Revisions are done and now I need to see if I can get representation.

This weekend I will be drafting a letter or two plus polishing my synopsis! Here are a few examples of the drafts so far:

"Dear Agent,

Please, please, please love my book! I have written the manuscript in purple crayon on pink paper and have sprinkled glitter over it so you can see it is written for the teen girls. Also I am sending a singing telegram who will be delivering my synopsis.

Love, hugs and kisses


Maybe not...

"Dear Agent,

Here is a book wot I wrote. My friends Julie and Liz think it ROCKS! If you don't agree you are just a hater. By the way I will KNOW if you give this story idea to someone else and will come and HUNT YOU DOWN!

Love, hugs and kisses (I'm watching you!!)


OK maybe a tad psychotic... think I'll have to work on this. Maybe I'll work on the synopsis instead.

"So this girl called Alex, like moves to Cumbria and then she meets this bloke and then funny stuff happens. The some weird stuff. Then something else happens..."

Hmmmm. This might take me longer than I thought.

Any tips will be gratefully received!

Come back on Sunday to hear what Susanna has been up to 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Heroes of the Past

I’ve been thinking a lot about heroes lately (yes, day dreaming like Anna said) because there’s a new one “brewing” in my mind. I know what he looks like already and I have his back story, so now I’m slowly figuring out what’s going to happen to him. And I know one thing for sure – the ladies love him! Since the story is set in the 18th century, however, that got me thinking about whether the ladies of that time would REALLY have liked him, or if that’s just my 21st century view of him?

Obviously, he has to be attractive to today’s readers, so I’m subconsciously adding details that would appeal to us. But surely, a handsome man would always be a handsome man? Brad Pitt looked just as good as Achilles in a little skirt as he did in Ocean’s 11. But maybe that’s just me ...? Because if you look at the sort of man who was idolised in his day, tastes have definitely changed!

I recently attended a celebration in honour of Lord Byron’s (224th) birthday and it was clear that he was the Regency equivalent of our A-list celebrities. Famous, handsome, sought-after and “mad, bad and dangerous to know”. In other words, a bad boy hero, just like the ones in romance novels. But looking at the portraits of him, I couldn’t see the attraction myself. I guess you had to be there in order to fall under his spell? Or was it his superb poetry that did the trick? I don’t know.

There have been many such men through the ages, the kind everyone seems to find charismatic and attractive. I tried to think of a few and came up with:-

Henry VIII, who was supposedly very handsome as a young man, although it’s kind of hard to see from the later portraits. Apart from anything else, the fear that he might chop my head off would probably have killed any feelings stone dead for me!

Sir Walter Raleigh – yes! Now here’s a man I think I could have fallen in love with. Just look at those bedroom eyes in the miniature of him, they’re decidedly wicked.

Rupert of the Rhine – I think I’ve mentioned him before and apart from being tall, dark and handsome, well ... no, what more do you want?

In Victorian times, maybe Dante Gabriel Rossetti? Another poet – hmm, maybe there’s a trend here ...

Going forward a bit, Douglas Fairbanks Jr? – no, not for me.

Clark Gable? Hmm, maybe, but he reminds me too much of George Clooney and I’m not a fan.

James Dean – yes, maybe, I like the motorcycle and bad boy attitude.

It is strange though, how different the tastes were. So who, from the history books, do you think you would have fallen for? I think Sir Walter’s bedroom eyes are definitely calling to me, so I feel another day dream coming on ...

Please come back on Sunday to hear from Liz.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


I've been daydreaming a lot lately.

I've always made up my own stories in my head. My first ever published novel came about that way. I had picked up a book that read like one of my own daydreams and thought, "blimey, I could actually write down one of my stories and someone else might want to read it...."

Blimey, they did.

When, like Julie (see below), picking something from the To Be Read pile seems daunting or unsatisfying, I will genuinely make up stories of my own as an alternative to reading them. The characters are fully-fleshed and well motivated, their dialogue comes easy. I go over and over a scene in my head, experiencing the mood and emotion, feeling my way around where the most captivating parts are, wondering where to go next.

I have taught myself NOT to mutter the dialogue out loud. This is sometimes interpreted as something less socially acceptable than a good imagination....

I'm not fussy about genre. Sometimes they're what you might call fan-fiction, taking a character or scenario from TV or film or PC game* and playing with that. Sometimes they're sci-fi or historical, thriller or romance. Occasionally I take a starring role, most of the time I'm building new characters.

When I'm not writing, life isn't quite right, but it's fixable. When I'm not daydreaming, either, life is in a bad way.

I've been daydreaming a lot lately. It's rather nice.

Are you a daydreamer?

*I always feel like I ought to be embarassed about this. But I'm just not. Skyrim** utterly rocks, so there.
** Ha! Now we have a Skyrim post label. I am content.

Friday, February 3, 2012

commitment phobia

January was a great reading month for me. I blasted through five or six novels, all of them excellent. My lovely long-suffering husband The Rock God gave me an e-reader for Christmas and it's so easy! And so light! And so small! And I was spending time writing in the local library too, and it's impossible to go to the library and not come home with an exciting book or six.

And now we're in February and I've suddenly lost my reading mojo. It's not that I don't have good books to read: I've got stacks of them (literally) both in real life and downloaded to my e-reader, all of which I'm really excited about. But for some reason I don't seem able to make the commitment to any of them.

Because reading a novel is a commitment. It requires you to leave your own world behind for several hours, and give yourself over to the author and their world. And right now I just don't seem to have the energy for that commitment.

'It's not you,' I feel like saying to my tottering To Be Read pile, 'it's me.'

Part of it is because I'm coming up with a story of my own, feeling my way into it, and I'm a little bit afraid of being too influenced by other writers' work. Part of it is because some of the books I have to read are books that I do *have* to read, and while I know I will enjoy them, probably a lot, the duty aspect is making me drag my heels, because I'm contrary that way.

Plus, let's admit it: when we writers read a novel that's really really good, that we wish we'd written ourselves, we run the risk of getting jealous.

Or alternatively, when we read a novel that's so-so, but it's sold in its shedloads and is on all the bestseller lists, we run the risk of getting angry.

Reading is fraught with emotional peril. It requires bravery and trust.

I'm still reading a lot; I'm just not reading novels. Short stories are perfect for when I'm in a commitment-phobic mood, reading-wise, and I'm making my way through a brilliant and thought-provoking Phillip K Dick collection at the moment. But I hope I find my reading mojo soon, because when you find a novel that really does sweep you forget about being commitment-phobic.

Do you get into reading 'moods' like this? What do you do to jolt yourself out of them?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Sounding Board

funny pictures - No no, it's fascinating  Do continue
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My bedtime reading for the past few nights has been Lawrence Block's Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print. I don't read a lot of writing guides, but I've always liked Block's for their humour and practical view of the craft, and it's rare that I don't find some statement that resonates strongly while reading him.

Last night the comment that struck me was tucked in his chapter about what to do when your story stalled, and among other suggestions Block wrote that it sometimes helped to talk that part of the book through with somebody.

"Not every friend will do for this process," he warned, "and you have to experiment to determine which of your acquaintances serves you best as a sounding board. Some people—well-meaning, certainly, and often creative themselves—serve only to stifle your imagination. Others prove enormously helpful, perhaps because they're capable of listening so attentively. The person you select may be an agent or an editor. It may as easily be someone unconnected with the business, someone who doesn't even read much. You can try different people to see who does you some good..."

The reason this piece of advice struck me is that I realized I do it a lot—all the time, to be honest. My mother's my sounding board.

We talk at least once a day on the phone, and whenever I'm trying to work out a kink in the plot, or decide what my characters ought to do next, I will often discover the answer by talking it through with my mother. Or to be more accurate, by talking to my mother, since she doesn't actually have to be saying anything back to me at the time of this discovery (and to be perfectly fair, when I'm talking on the phone, it's hard for anyone to get a word in edgewise to begin with).

The conversation usually goes something like this:

ME: So the characters are heading to the airport.
MOM: Oh, yes? That's nice.
ME: Unless...unless they stop and see her grandfather...
MOM: Uh-huh.
ME: Yes, they could stop and see her grandfather, and maybe he could give her something...maybe...
MOM: (Respectful pause)
ME: ...a book. Hang on now, what if she's already phoned him ahead of time, asking if he could loan her the book, and then they could stop on the way to the airport, and while they're there I could sort of bring out the complications of how they get along with each other, and then he could give her the book, and if it had maps and old photographs in it then it might come in useful to them later on.
MOM: Uh-huh.
ME: And maybe the reason he doesn't mind giving her the book is that he never really wanted it in the first place, because he doesn't want to be reminded of where he came from, and maybe it was a gift from her father...

And on and on it goes, until I've got a whole new scene I never knew that I was going to need, complete with new thematic threads and everything.

This only works, for some reason, when I'm talking to my mother. No one else provides quite the same kind of a sounding board (much to my father's dismay, since I usually phone while they're washing the dishes and he has to finish up all by himself while my mother sits off to the side saying "Uh-huh" for half an hour...)

I'm not sure why this is, or how the whole process works, in all honesty, but reading Lawrence Block's book last night started me thinking, and wondering...

Anyone else have a sounding board?

(Sorry I'm late with this post, by the wayit's been crazy at my house this week. Come back Thursday for Julie's next post).