Thursday, 29 December 2011

Resolutions and Books

It's that time of year again when most people want to do better in the coming new year than they did in the one just gone. It's a strange beast this need to make resolutions and promises to improve ourselves. I'm not one for religiously making New Year Resolutions but I always feel a sense of optimism and a desire to get going, to be more motivated and organised as one year closes and another begins. And this year is no different. I think I worked very hard over the last twelve months. I've certainly written a lot of words and when I totalled up the amount I had written I was very surprised by my productivity. The end result has not produced a finished and polished novel, but I have achieved more than I ever thought I could: two completed first drafts and a couple of novels that are about a quarter of the way through. That's quite an accomplishment. Now what I want to do is to take that a step (or two) further. Myself and two of my CPs have already set ourselves each a deadline to have a working draft completed by the end of February and I still intend to work to that. What I should be doing next is polishing that draft and... *takes deep breath*... submitting it. I'm not promising that submission is what I will do, but I shall make the effort to get to that stage. That sounds like a cop out, doesn't it? Yeah, well, maybe it is or maybe I'm just being realistic and taking it in manageable steps at a time. We'll just leave it there for now.

I'm not a prolific reader although I'm always reading something, and there's usually a book tucked in my handbag - just in case. Sadly, I just can't read terribly fast and much to the distress of me and my credit card, the to-be-read pile just keeps growing at a rate not in keeping with the speed at which I read. So, the intention is to try and reduce the ever growing pile over the next year.

Of the books I have read here is a list (not exhaustive):

Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James (Faber & Faber)
Flirting with Italian by Liz Fielding (Harlequin Romance)
House of Silence by Linda Gillard (Kindle)
Inherited Bride by Maisey Yates (M&B Modern)
Not Fit for a King by Jane Porter (M&B Modern)
Ordinary Girl in a Tiara by Jessica Hart (Riva)
To Marry a Prince by Sophie Page (Arrow Books)
Taken by the Bad Boy by Kelly Hunter (Riva)
The Ice Prince by Sandra Marton (M&B Modern)
Secret Princess by Jessica Hart (Harlequin Presents)
Starting Over by Sue Moorcroft

A Mistake, A Prince and A Pregnancy by Maisey Yates (M&B Modern)
Cavelli's Lost Heir by Lynn Raye Harris (M&B Modern)
Innocent in the Ivory Tower by Lucy Ellis (M&B Modern)
Girl in the Bedouin Tent by Annie West (M&B Modern)
Molly Cooper's Dream Date by Barbara Hannay (Riva)
Once a Good Girl by Wendy S Marcus (M&B Medical Romance)
Tempted by Trouble by Liz Fielding (Riva)
The First Night of Christmas by Heidi Rice (Riva)
Tortured Rake by Sarah Morgan (M&B Bad Blood series)
Strangers in the Desert by Lynn Raye Harris (M&B Modern)
Surf, Sea and a Sexy Stranger by Heidi Rice (M&B Modern)

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

North & South

I had to give in and get the DVD of North and South. I had been hearing so much about this series and especially its hero. I have to confess I didn't know much about this particular actor or watched anything that he had appeared in. I'd heard of Richard Armitage, of course. Sarah Kennedy would wax lyrical about him during her Radio 2 early morning show, and many of my Facebook and Twitter friends would chat and sigh about him. And having watched North and South with my eldest daughter I now know why all my female friends and acquaintances are half-way in love with him. He is very handsome and I would say he's giving Colin Firth a run for his money as a romantic hero.

As Mr Thornton in North and South I could appreciate his dark brooding handsomeness but as a character and a romantic hero Mr Thornton really had to work hard to convince me and my daughter that he was worthy of Margaret Hale's love. Miss Hale's and our first introduction to him was shockingly of him beating an employee for smoking in the factory. Later his violent action was explained, it made a kind of sense, but like Margaret Hale I wasn't yet ready to like him, even though I'd softened ever so slightly. Margaret Hale stayed strong and true to her convictions and I admired her for that. Her change in attitude towards the hero was a slow awakening and very convincing.

North and South is set during the time of the Great Exhibition and what came to be known as the Industrial Revolution, a time when machinery was being used more and more in manufacturing and farming. Life was pretty grim in the industrialised towns and the contrast between the life and people that Margaret Hale was used to could not have been more sharply defined. From a seemingly idyllic sun drenched life in Helstone and London, the heroine's father uprooted his wife and daughter bringing them to the north where there seemed to be little sun, lots of smoke and a grey monochrome existence as opposed to vivid colour. The darkness reflected the harsh existence of the factory workers and the attitudes of the masters towards the workers and vice versa.

Despite Mr Thornton's harsh exterior he has integrity and honour and is one of the better masters in the industry. Yet he still had to learn humility and to listen. This came at a huge cost: loss of life, love and almost everything he'd worked hard to raise from the ashes of his father's failure.

Margaret Hale is a quietly strong heroine and deals with her change in circumstance admirably and copes with the many tragedies that suddenly crowd into her young life. But she too is not without her flaws. Her ability to put the needs of others before herself and her strong sense of loyalty almost costs her a deep and abiding love.

I really enjoyed watching this four part series and by the last episode I was rooting for the hero and heroine's happy ever after, convinced at last of Mr Thornton's character and suitability to be a romantic hero worthy of his heroine's love.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

New Voices 2011

New Voices 2011 opened for entries on 13 September. There's been a lot of excitement about the competition on the M&B New Voices Facebook site with many members having already uploaded their entries. It had been my intention to upload my chapter perhaps a week maybe a week and a half after the opening date, but the closing date is almost upon us and my chapter is still not ready.

There are a couple of reasons why the chapter still languishes in my Mac. 

FEAR being the biggest reason of them all. Since NV last year I've worked hard at improving my writing, reading craft blogs written by generous published authors offering their advice, reading various craft books, and also reading and analysing novels in the lines I think I might like to write for. Despite all this effort the doubts still hover and taunt me, whispering in my ear that my best simply isn't good enough. Thank goodness for my Critique Partners who won't stand for that kind of nonsense and metaphorically slap my wrists when I wallow too long in my woe-is-me-I'm-crap-at-this mood. So... I plod on... as you do.

Another reason is INDECISION. But I'm not alone in that, thankfully. My Critique Partners are just as guilty I can tell you. There are four of us in our group and all of us have ditched version 1 for version 2 for version 3 and back to version 1 again (or something like that anyway). I have finally settled for version 2. The chapter is written, been checked by my CPs and now I'm giving it some final tweaks, and hopefully, it will be ready to upload midweek. Yeah, if I say that publicly, I've got to do it, haven't I? Or look very silly.

One of my Critique Partners (Rosy Gilmore) has already bitten the bullet and uploaded her chapter and you can read it here (I hope the link works!):

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Creative Minds

It has been quite some time since I last blogged. Now that's a familiar phrase, I think I may have used that one before! It's been a funny couple of months where very little writing has taken place, very little reading too. I don't know why this happens with me, but it does from time to time and it usually takes a lot of effort to get my head back into the writing/reading zone. That said, my creativity has channeled itself into another area so it's not been dormant altogether. My alter ego OpalFire (the photographer) has been busy creating mainly flower art using archive photographs as the weather has not been very co-operative - it's not easy to photograph a flower when it is swaying in a determined breeze or being drenched by persistent rain (the photographer doesn't like it much either!). 

I belong to a small critique group and a few weeks ago we made the decision to begin a group blog to give our thoughts about books we've read, writing techniques, and writing in general. At the moment we are still in the setting up stage with one book blog almost ready to be published, and another in the initial stages. So do look out for "Tales From The Bunker" which will go live very shortly.

Although the writing and reading has suffered somewhat, the creative mind has continued to work in other ways, and I'm hoping that a very imminent trip to Rome and Sorrento will kick start the imagination!

Monday, 11 April 2011

Clamouring to be heard

Some days characters are stubborn and unco-operative. When that happens the author has to step in and take over, become the master puppeteer, making these uncommunicative characters walk, talk, feel, live. It's painful at times. Yet, there are days when even long silent characters start yelling 'me, me, me!' AND at the most inconvenient times.

Why have they all suddenly decided it's time to make their presence known? Jealousy, I reckon. One lot of characters have been getting a bit of attention in my head lately as a result of my eldest daughter reading my 2009 NaNoWriMo novel and asking questions.

As I've mulled over Hal and Harry's unlikely friendship, where each would die for the other, Garth, an enigmatic yet reticent hero who literally stepped out of the past has nudged me to remind he's here. He's still not talking to me though - the rotten tease. Then there's Fergus a taciturn man whose past is about to catch up with the present still where I left him - on a farm in the picturesque countryside of Glen Tara. All of them are vying for attention with the heroes of two current WIPs - Alexander, another Scotsman who's never forgotten his first love, and Leon, a sexy Spaniard with turquoise eyes.

What is a girl to do with all these men shouting at her? <ahem> And should I be worried that it is only my male characters that want to be heard? A thought for another day, I think.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

A bit of a ramble about writing

What do you think of the new look Blog? I love the serene colours and of course I had to use flowers as my background as I do love floral photography. Sadly, the stunningly gorgeous background image is not one of my own.

This last week has seen quite a few of my writerly friends struggling to write whether it is finding the time due to other demands in life, fear of committing to the page because of shaky confidence, fear of committing to submitting work, or like me the feeling that whatever I write is not good enough and never will be. All these reasons take on an enormous soul destroying grip, and there are many times when it would be easy to say 'enough' and give up altogether. But if writing was easy, everyone would be doing it. So, we plod on doing our best to shut out the demon that nips at our confidence. 

Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter make it easer to share these woes and to bolster each other's flagging confidence, without it I think I would have given up a long time ago. I have been very lucky to find three like-minded romance writers and we have formed a very close working relationship to critique each others' work, exchange writing information and to be there when we hit the highs and lows that inevitably come with the writing territory. It doesn't make the writing easier but it is good to have the support network.

My work-in-progress (WIP) is sitting at just over 14k. It was growing in wordage but there was something very wrong with it. A lightbulb moment revealed that I had backstory, conflict - both external and internal, what I didn't have was a story. I had a set of circumstances but I had no idea how to bring these circumstances and my hero and heroine together. This moment of revelation was all very well but the problem of sorting it out hung over me like a black cloud. I couldn't see beyond it.  

It was a truly awful moment. Every word dragged its feet on to the page, some good, some bad, some indifferent. I had lost my connection with my characters. I was getting bored with my own writing. Not good. Something needed to be done before the damage was irreparable. Okay, it was a first draft and first drafts are allowed to be bad but sometimes instinct needs to be taken notice of.

Close to tears and heading for bed the answer presented itself. Voice. It was the voice that was wrong. I had been too busy trying to make my story fit to certain specific guidelines and technicalities, trying to emulate what I'd read in the genre I'm aiming for, that the essence of my writing style was lost therefore making it harder to write my hero and heroine's story.

The rewrite began the very next day with a lighter, less intense tone, and hopefully my real voice.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

It's been a while...

It's been a while since I've Blogged. I've begun a few but couldn't quite get the tone right so they sit abandoned in the Drafts folder.

What do I want to say? To be honest I haven't a clue which pretty much sums up my writing at the moment. I entered the Harlequin Valentine themed Secret Baby competition. For this competition all you had to do was to write the first 1,000 words of a longer story. This I did and was surprised at how easy those 1,000 words came to me. With some editing it was ready to go. My entry didn't receive many comments but the comments it did receive were very encouraging and positive, so I decided to go with the story for a while and develop it.

When I wrote the initial 1,000 words I hadn't given much thought to what happens later. So, it has been a frustrating few weeks trying to work out a conflict that is believable and can be sustained for the length of the book. The details aren't all there yet, not on paper anyway. It could be that they are lurking somewhere in the murk of my brain just waiting for the trigger to allow them to spill themselves onto an eagerly waiting blank sheet of paper.

Thankfully, I have the support of my critique group. They have questioned the reasoning behind why my characters behave in certain ways, and it has really made me think deeper about their motivations. It's not all clear yet, but it is getting there. 

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Regency Romance

Over the last wee while I've re-read quite a few Regency romances by contemporary authors and thoroughly enjoyed them and I've toyed with the idea of attempting to write my own.  However, writing historical romance has always terrified me.  There is just so much that you can get wrong and there is so much out there to research that I could get bogged down in the amount of information available.  Despite the fact that I have a degree which includes history subjects and I should have an idea of how to go about checking my sources it is still a frightening thing to attempt.

One of my writers' groups set a challenge of writing 5k a week during January just to get us writing after the Christmas slump.  It was a challenge that I accepted all too eagerly, and have failed spectacularly - in production terms, at least.  In my first week I produced the awesome total of 182 words.  BUT these 182 words were of a genre that is completely new to me as a writer.  They came at me out of nowhere.  I have no idea about the characters or even how the story will progress, but the beginning, those measly 182 words surprised me.  My fellow writers were very encouraging and I thought perhaps I should take it further.  The story I began is a Regency romance.  I've only ever written contemporary romance so attempting to write Regency is way out of my comfort zone. 

I've spent the last week researching on-line and discovering that sub-consciously at least I do know more than I credited myself with.  A writer friend also suggested a book entitled "Georgette Heyer's Regency World" by Jennifer Kloester.  It arrived through my letterbox yesterday morning and I've already read quite a chunk of it.  It is an excellent read, very readable, and a superb reference source for anyone interested in the period.

Another suggestion to get into the period was to read Georgette Heyer's books.  I have a boxful of romances that have the princely sum of 2'6 marked on the covers.  They are quite old and the pages are yellowed with age.   I've started reading "These Old Shades".  I'm about to start reading chapter 5.  I can't say that I love this book or its characters at the moment.  The hero, a Duke, is about 40 years old by my calculations and the heroine just 19 - it's a huge age gap.  There's nothing wrong with that in the scheme of things, but I do feel a little uncomfortable with it at the moment.  The hero himself dresses quite flamboyantly, sniffs snuff, has a quizzing glass, and so far, apart from rescuing the heroine (who he thinks is a boy) is not very nice.  The heroine, who I think believes herself to be a boy, has a severe case of hero worship to the point of abasement.  I know there are class distinctions in the period and that the lower classes are expected to fall over themselves to serve their masters in the higher echelons of society, but again, the heroine's behaviour leaves me feeling a little uncomfortable.  The only decent character so far is a chap named Hugh.   At the moment I have no idea what his role is or even why he is friends with the Duke as he appears to disapprove of the Duke's behaviour.  I can only think that at the moment Hugh is a means to an end for the author to show the Duke's character development.

I hope my impression improves as I read through the book.  Georgette Heyer is a much loved author of Regency novels and for that alone I really want to enjoy her work.