Tuesday, 23 June 2015

In Search of the Writing Niche

After years of attempting to write romance in a contemporary setting and not quite succeeding beyond the first or second draft I've begun to question my ability to be a writer of modern romance fiction. 

Perhaps, I'm not cut out to be a writer. That's a strong possibility and something I often ponder. I like to write. I won't say I enjoy it or love it, because it is usually quite a struggle. When it works it feels good, but those moments are few and far between. I've recently made the decision to shelve the novel I've been working on for two years. It had lost its sparkle and the relief of not having that novel hanging over me like a black cloud of doom was immense.

A week and a bit later, I'm getting twitchy. I've got too much time on my hands. I'm used to being busy and having a story to work on. 

I need to write. It's that simple. Whether or not I ever publish my writing, I need to write. That's a pretty good feeling.

The thing is, what do I want to write? I have considered writing historical, but the amount of research terrifies me. So much could go wrong. And so I put it off year after year, convinced I couldn't do it. That is until last November during the annual National Novel Writing Month challenge.

I decided to wing it. I had some sketchy knowledge from reading historical novels and watching period dramatisations on the television of the period I wanted to set my story in. It was enough to get me started. In the end I found myself writing a time-slip - the best of both worlds - contemporary and historical, with a touch of paranormal.

The writing of a very messy first draft in a genre I've not attempted before was quite a revelation. I had fun writing it. It was very liberating as I felt unconstrained by the way I thought it should be written (being heavily influenced by other writers), which was my biggest problem writing straightforward contemporary romance, and let my imagination have its way.

Is this the way to go? The genre I should really be writing? My husband has said on many occasions over the years that I was writing the wrong stuff. I'd nod, more than half agreeing with him, but carrying on regardless.

I now have the time to do the historical research, I have the books, I have a complete first draft to work with.

Here goes...

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Montana Dreams (Another NWS entry)

Crikey, it was a bit hard getting back in here. It's been eighteen months since my last post (hangs head in shame at the terrible neglect) and I didn't know where to find the front door. At the front you'd expect, but things appear to have changed in Blogger world since my last visit. I'm here now, though. The place is dusty with cobwebs strung all over the place. I daren't look in the corners. 

Two years ago I sent off my first RNA New Writer's Scheme novel for professional feedback, which I wrote about in a previous post. The reader's feedback was very useful and I've tried to incorporate her advice in my new novel Montana Dreams.

Montana Dreams began life in November 2013 as my National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) effort. It was so awful, I entitled it The Novel of Boringness. I had little hope that it could be redeemed. I didn't care if I ever saw it again. However, The Novel of Boringness was not willing to be ignored. It left me with no choice but to attempt to edit it. And so it began - a whole new writing experience and learning curve. You just don't stop learning, do you?

What began as an edit soon turned into a complete re-write. The discovery that I could re-write, that the words were there somewhere in the murky depths of my brain, was quite a revelation. I didn't think I had it in me. The basic storyline remained the same, but was approached differently and with more thought than the brain spill that is NaNoWriMo. A large chunk from the first draft never made it into the second. I feel regret for some of the missing scenes and they may make a return during the third draft. Other scenes such as the crazy idea of having a bomb controlled remotely by mobile phone will never, ever be revived. This story is supposed to be a sweet romance, after all.

With much encouragement from Morton Gray, Montana Dreams is now on its way to a reader from the New Writer's Scheme. The relief when it went was immense. The thought of all that time I would have to do other stuff was exciting. However, Montana Dreams won't let me go. 

Draft three is about to begin.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Lochindorb, The Wolf and Frozen Fingers

Much of the UK has been struggling with snow but here in Moray we've been incredibly lucky. Yes, we've had the grey dreich misery but we've also been blessed with blue skies and light from that mythical yellow hot thing in the sky. The sun, I think it's called. The air has been crisp and cold but that golden orb has, on occasion, had some pleasant warmth.

Now, this blog post is not about writing, but I'd just like to insert here that one of the many rules of writing is don't open your story with the weather. Hmmm, I wonder if that is true of Blogs too...


The Other Half, Teen 2 (Teen 1 was off gallivanting in Aberdeen celebrating the 18th birthdays of two of her friends), myself and the two dogs decided to take advantage of the lovely weather and we headed out for the afternoon across the regional boundary into the Highlands to our destination of Lochindorb.

Now for a wee bit of history... forgive the liberties I've taken with the telling - for more detailed historical information I shall provide links/references at the bottom of this blog. 

Lochindorb Castle Ruins
Photo by OpalFire
Lochindorb is a loch (not as huge as Loch Ness but big enough) with the ruins of a castle on an island in the centre of it. This castle was once the lair of the infamous Wolf of Badenoch, Alexander Stewart (1343-1394), fourth son of Scottish King Robert II.

Elgin Cathedral -
an artist's impression
It is said that the Wolf was a bit peeved (my words) at being told by the church, namely Bishop Alexander Bur of Moray, with whom Alexander had a difficult relationship, to live with his wife and not his mistress Mariota de Athyn with whom he had several children. This interference by the bishop and their frequent clashes as well as other political issues at the time contributed towards the Wolf's bad behaviour. (It's worth delving into in more detail if you're interested - see links). As a consequence the Wolf went on a terrible rampage of revenge and arson. He destroyed the town of Forres, Pluscarden Abbey, and then moved on to Elgin to burn the Monastery of Greyfriars, the Hospital of Maison Dieu and finally, the ultimate act of revenge, the magnificent Elgin Cathedral, known as The Lantern of the North.
Elgin Cathedral as it is today
Photo by OpalFire

Of course, these treacherous acts did not go unpunished. Bishop Bur excommunicated him but in due time Alexander Stewart made a plea of forgiveness, paid suitable remuneration and was given absolution by the Bishop of St Andrews. 

That's the history bit done! Do go and check the links - it's a fascinating history and I haven't done it justice by glossing over it.

The scene at Lochindorb when we arrived was pretty - blue skies, snow on the distant mountains and a layer of ice on the loch itself. It was cold and got progressively chillier by the time we left as the sun was setting - minus 3 degrees C!!

Photo by OpalFire
What struck me when we got out of the car was not how cold it was - we were still well insulated from the warmth of the car - but the stillness and the incredible silence and how it wrapped itself around you. The sky was huge, the water barely moved, there wasn't even so much as a breath of wind. At one end of the loch you could see the rugged mountains in the distance and at the end where we were the heather and bracken covered moor stretched with just the occasional tree breaking the undulating brown-ness. 

Then you noticed the sounds - the unfamiliar birdcalls, voices belonging to other visitors carrying across the distance. Ever heard the ting-ting sound of a stone bouncing across ice? At first it's like listening to a bird but then you realise what it is.  But over-riding the sounds and the silence is a sense of place, historical significance, atmosphere. Fanciful? Probably. Yet, there are places whose pasts are ingrained in its very fabric: Glencoe is amazingly atmospheric, Pluscarden Abbey has a holiness and tranquility that reaches out to you.

The trip was a chance for me to play with my new ND8 filter and practice my landscape photography techniques, and also for Teen 2 to have a go at using the camera she got for her birthday the previous month. So far, I think she's doing better than me at the wildlife photography as she managed to snap a grouse we'd disturbed. All I got was a blur because I'd forgotten I had the ND filter screwed to the front of the lens and that the camera was still set to two second timer delay. Over two hundred photos were taken and very few of them are noteworthy but it was a great few hours out and worth the frozen fingers.

Sunset at Lochindorb
Photo by OpalFire


"The Wolf" by Charles Mackie - 
"Mariota" by Charles Mackie -
"Blood of the Wolf" by Charles Mackie - 
"Elgin Past and Present" by HB McIntosh
The Heritage Centre in Moray is a useful source of information especially for genealogists - http://libindx.moray.gov.uk/mainmenu.asp
Both Elgin Library and the Heritage Centre have a superb collection of local history books

Thursday, 6 December 2012

A Wee Catch Up

A friend of mine has started blogging and it reminded me that I haven't written or even looked at my blog in quite a while.

Perusing through my ramblings I notice that I tend to say things and never follow them up. So, here's a wee catch up on the submission half promise I made under the blog post entitled "Resolutions and Books".

I finally sent off a whole novel, not to a publisher, but to the New Writer's Scheme which is part of the Romantic Novelists' Association. I struggled terribly writing that novel and I wasn't overly happy with the finished product. I knew it needed a whole lot of work. I was encouraged by friends and other writers to send it off anyway as I was paying for the critique as part of my membership. 

So I did. I sent it off.

And it came back about two months later.

And, oh heck... my fears were confirmed: it needed A LOT of work.

Yes, there were a few tears shed. It's funny how you know that there is much wrong with what you've written and you fully expect confirmation of that, but when you get it, you're still not quite prepared for it.

I got an amazingly detailed and constructive report (15 pages!), which listed the four main areas the reader felt needed improvement: characterisation, internal v external conflict and development of romantic relationship, the use of POV/Show not Tell, and developing individual voice.

As you can see A LOT of work required.

I thought it probably best to put the NWS novel on the back burner for a while. I'd spent nearly a year working on it and to do it justice I need to step back from it and evaluate how I'm going to tackle it.

Then November was upon us. You know, that month where many writers take the mad inclination to write a book in a month? Well, I embraced the madness and on the morning of 31 October I got my idea, made an outline ready for me to begin writing on 1 November. 

A SHINY NEW STORY! Oh, the excitement of something new is just the tonic I needed. A new set of characters, a new set of problems to tackle and the good thing is I have the advice I received from my NWS story to bear in mind whilst writing it.

Sadly, this year, I didn't complete NaNoWriMo. My Mac's hard drive failed, I was already two days behind target (but slowly catching up), most of my novel (19k) I had emailed to myself but I lost 2k of new words that I hadn't had the chance to back up. It really threw me and I just lost the enthusiasm for the madness.

But I haven't lost the enthusiasm for the story and Fergus and Caitlyn's romance will be finished, hopefully in time for the next NWS submission.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

It Feels Good

I can't believe that I've finally done it. After years of battling with my lack of confidence in my writing abilities I've actually finished a novel and edited it. Okay, it is far from perfect and needs much more work, but it's done and is on its way to an anonymous reader for the New Writer's Scheme of the Romantic Novelists' Association. 

But you know what? I learnt something. One of the things I learnt was: listen to my CPs and when that first chapter is proving problematic, leave it and move on. That's the advice they gave me, but I was hung up on getting this chapter right. I felt I couldn't move on until it was sorted. Twenty days it took me to write a 50k draft. It took eight months of frustrated hair pulling, threatening dire consequences to the whole MS, and close to packing it in altogether, to get a grip and work on the rest of the novel. Another thing I learnt, and it's something I knew already, but it wasn't until I'd experienced it that I really understood: a novel won't be right first time and it's a process of evolution, where an idea grows and develops with each layer, splitting and dividing like the cells of an embryo to become something real, complex and more solid.

At the moment I'm feeling quite proud of my achievement and fairly chilled that it's winging its way to a professional writer for feedback. I know that feeling won't last and that I'll be chewing my nails wondering at my temerity in sending an unpolished piece of work out and stalking my post box for signs of its return. 

I attended my very first RNA conference this year, held at Penrith, and it was an amazing experience. I met so many new people and best of all I got to meet two out of my three lovely critique partners - Jane O'Reilly and Jessica Thompson. Sadly, we didn't get to meet the fourth member of our group - Julia Broadbooks - as she lives across the pond in a much warmer climate and couldn't attend (not because of the climate - I just thought I'd throw that one in because our summer has, frankly, been pants!).

The encouragement I received from people I'd never met before and the inspiring workshops I attended at the conference really motivated me to get my novel ready to send to the NWS. For three weeks I got up before my family (at stupid o'clock) and got in a good two to three hours of work editing and re-writing and for the first time ever I felt like I was really trying, really putting in the effort. I put aside my lack of confidence and instead worked with my determination to get it done. 

It feels good...

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.