Face the Fear … But do it Anyway!

Fear. It’s a funny thing. An estimated 10 million people in the UK alone have phobias. That’s about 1 in 6 of us. Claustrophobia and its opposite, agoraphobia, are amongst the ten most common phobias. Fear of flying (aerophobia) and fear of spiders (arachnophobia) are in there too. No surprises there. Not in the top ten list but coulrophobia is quite common and at least one of our Write Romantics has it … fear of clowns. Having seen Stephen King’s ‘It’, I’m not surprised!

But there are some strange phobias out there too. Did you know that alliumphobia is the fear of garlic, Dutchphobia is the very un-PC fear of the Dutch (why?!) or that geniophobia is the fear of chins (yeah, not sure I get that one either). And I have two absolute classics for you here – hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia is the fear of the number 666 and hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia is the fear of long words. Oh the irony that someone suffering from this can’t tell anyone what they’re suffering from because the word itself would fill them with fear!

Have you ever heard of novelrejectionphobia though? No? Well, that’s probably because I’ve just made it up but it’s a very real affliction that I’m facing right now. And I don’t like it.

I thought of the idea for my novel in 2002 and first put fingers to keyboard in 2003 so this year signals the culmination of a decade of work during which time I’ve learned so much about writing. I’ve written and re-written my novel (especially the start) more times than I care to remember. I’ve received several positive beta-reader reviews and two great NWS reports. So, armed with a box of freshly-printed business cards, a folder of synopsis print-outs for Novel 1 and the remaining two in the trilogy, and a handful of CDs containing Novel 1 should any agents of publishers ask for the whole thing, I attended my first RNA conference with a positive attitude that I was about to take my next step on the road to becoming published.

But things didn’t quite work out as my imagination had planned. I didn’t ‘fall naturally into conversation’ with any agents or publishers in the dinner queue and the two editors I met in my booked sessions didn’t throw their arms round me squealing, “I loved it. I MUST have the whole MS. NOW! And here’s fifty grand to secure the publishing deal!” I came home with all the business cards, print-outs and CDs still intact.

Don’t get me wrong; the two editors I saw really liked my MS. They were really positive about my voice and my style and the plot but one wanted the story to start at a slightly earlier point with some more action (both my NWS reports had said to start it later) and the other just wanted to make sure certain points came out in the MS. To be fair, they did, but a conversation with her gave me an epiphany on making a change to the start that would give my protagonist a really strong reason for seeking The One which would also provide the action the other editor sought.

All I needed to do was one more edit then get it sent off to agents. That wouldn’t take long.

Except it has.

Schools go back next week which means summer is over. Which means six weeks has passed. Six weeks during which I have been unemployed, having lost my job in late July so, in theory, have had all the time in the world to write. OK, so I spent a week on holiday and we had a weekend camping, I decorated the lounge, I cleared out the garage, I had a major clear-out of my daughter’s toys, books and clothes (which took several days) and I’ve had various appointments like doctor, dentist, hygienist etc. Not to mention actually spending time with my six-year-old and taking her out on a handful of day-trips. But there have been ‘spare’ days. Days where she’s gone to her Nana’s. Days where I’ve had cooking and cleaning to do but where I could have done it quickly and dug out my manuscript.

Yet something has stopped me. Yes, novelrejectionphobia has reached out its inky paws and slapped me about with a copy of Jane Wenham-Jones’s ‘Wannabe a Writer?’ “Yes,” I’ve cried, “Yes I do! But what if I’m not good enough …?” And so we get to the crux of the problem. Sending a previous incarnation of my MS to a few friends and family members last year was a little bit scary … but they were never going to be brutal about the feedback (I hoped) and, if they did, I’d be able to convince myself it wasn’t their genre/it wasn’t quite ready/they’re not experts or whatever excuse I decided made me feel better. Sending it to the NWS was also a slightly nerve-wracking moment … but all I was going to get back was a critique which would make me feel good about some parts (I hoped) and give me some constructive guidance on improving other parts. Even sending the first 6,000 words to a Harper Collins/Marie Claire competition has only made me feel mild apprehension … because I’ll probably read an article in a couple of months announcing the winner and realize I wasn’t short-listed because I’m assuming there will be far too many entries for them to reply personally to say “no”.

But if I send it out to an agent or a publisher, I’ll get a response. I’ll get a letter or an email. I’ll get a “no”. Or perhaps I won’t. But I’ve convinced myself it will be a no. Perhaps that’s because I’ve lost my job and had little success in finding a new one so I’m feeling like a big fat reject all round just now.

So I’ve spent the summer avoiding the final edit. Yes, I’ve had days where I couldn’t write; daughter to entertain, appointments to attend. But I spent half an hour sitting on the landing yesterday with a pair of tweezers picking out stuck bits of paper in my office shredder. Was that really the most important thing I could have done with that time? It’s not like the shredder was even jammed or going slow! I have several other examples of such procrastination that I won’t embarrass myself by sharing.

My other half put his foot down this summer and said that I didn’t have to rush out and get a temporary job (I have a few irons in the fire I’m waiting to hear on) but he expected me to do things around the house if I wasn’t working. Fair enough. But after a few days of hard graft painting the lounge, I could have put my foot down too and said I was writing for a day. But I didn’t. Because it’s easier to blame him than me for not finishing that MS. And if it’s not finished, then I can’t send it off … and nobody can tell me it’s not good enough!

At the RNA Conference, there was a session called, “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” It was all about identifying what stops you doing things (usually yourself) and finding ways to overcome them. The leader of this session is a life coach. It was a good session but, as a coach myself, I was familiar with everything covered … yet it’s so damn hard to apply it to myself. I could coach and support anyone else who needed it but it would be a case of do as I say, not as I do!

An hour ago, we got back home from some commitments we’ve had today and hubby said he’d look after Ashleigh so I could work on my MS. Crikey! I think it’s because he’s made a decision to join the local archery club through whom he’s been attending a trial course. This will take time and commitment so I think this is his way of recognising I need time for my ‘hobby’ too. Only I don’t want it to be a hobby. I want it to be a career. Which means I have to send my MS off … which means I have to finish it … which means I should be working on it now instead of writing this blog.

Will someone slap me about with a cold wet kipper please and make me get my act together before novelrejectionphobia turns me into one of those writers with a PC full of manuscripts that have never seen the light of day just in case someone says they’re not good enough. Because what if I am good enough? What if they love my work? What if they want to represent/publish me? What if I become a bestseller? It could happen to me, couldn’t it? I could have the talent and timing to make it?

Right, that’s it. I’d better get my MS out now and polish it off. Could be in an agent’s inbox by the end of the week if I get my finger out.

Mind you, it’s only 20 minutes until teatime and that’s not enough time to do anything now … or is it?! Help!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 Julie xx 

The Wednesday Wondering – Walking in Whose Shoes?

Another great Wednesday Wondering from our lovely Write Romantic in Australia, Helen R:

 If you could walk in the shoes of one author for the day, who would it be and why?

Ooh, how exciting! Would our Write Romantics go for someone with a wad of earnings, living a celebrity lifestyle? Would they select the person who first inspired them to read? Perhaps someone who develops brilliant characters or is the master of the twist in the tail to explore how they do this (and hope some of the magic rubs off!) Let’s see, shall we …

JULIE:

I would want to turn back time a bit and step into the shoes of someone I’ve not mentioned on this blog before but who was a prolific writer whose books I have loved … the wonderful Catherine Cookson. My mum used to read her novels and was a great fan and I borrowed most of them. I would love to understand how she wrote so many, how she kept them all different and how many ideas she still had ready to be formed into books. I’d also be fascinated to see her research. I’m no historian but I believe her books are historically accurate and she didn’t just write from within her own lifetime so she must have been quite a research demon … in the days before you could Google it! RIP Catherine J

 

HELEN R:

I would love to walk in the shoes of Judy Blume. Looking back I realise just how much her books helped me in my teenage years. They helped me to realise that I wasn’t alone in the everyday challenges that I faced, from adolescence and discovering boys to friendships and family relationships. 

I would love to witness Judy Blume’s research journey from developing a strong idea and themes for a book, to the development of characters, and how she got the dialogue of those characters just right. She is an amazing, strong writer and I am also curious about how she coped and how she defended her writing when she faced hate mail and arguments that her books should be banned from school and library shelves.

Judy Blume is an incredible, strong writer who has stood up for what she believed was right. I will always admire her honesty in her books and her willingness to discuss real issues faced by so many of us growing up.

Secretly I hope that if I was walking in Judy Blume’s shoes, then it was during the time she rented an office above a bakery…

 

DEIRDRE:

Good question…  I would turn back the clock, bring Barbara Cartland down from the great blue yonder and be her for a day. Why? Because she gets to lounge about wearing a lot of pink whilst dictating her books to some other poor soul who then has to hit the keys on her behalf and make it all into something presentable. AND – a big ‘and’ – it looks very much to me as if she also gets to eat a lot of cake 😉

 

ALEX:

When I first read this week’s Wondering I couldn’t think of any authors that I admired who had the kind of interesting lifestyle that I’d like to experience for a day. Then I thought there is someone and he’s a screenwriter so does he qualify? So I did some Googling and discovered that he’s written comic books so he is actually an author as well. 

The person whose shoes I’d like to walk in for a day is Joss Whedon. I think he’s a genius. I loved Buffy and more recently Firefly. I don’t know anyone who can write dialogue that’s as fresh and quirky and yet realistic. He’s also good at the big concepts too. Some of them don’t work too well and he admits that and moves on and I admire that about him. I’d love the chance to experience his working life and I’m sure I’d learn a huge amount about character development and how to tell stories.

 

HELEN P:

Another great question. I think it would be Stephen King, I would love to walk in his writing shoes for a day and if he didn’t want to share then I’d love to have spent the day as Jane Austen to see where her inspiration came from and to meet the original Mr Darcy although he’d have a tough time beating Colin Firth.

 

So, that’s what some of the Write Romantics have to say? What do you think? Is there anyone who you’d like to stalk be around for a day or swap lives with for a day? We’d love to hear about it. Please post a comment. If you’re new to the blog and don’t know how to do this, click on the heart to the right of the title and that will bring up a comments section at the end of the posting. Thanks in advance for joining in.

Julie

xx

The Online World

Today I’m posting about the online world that is becoming increasingly important to writers. Not only can we email submissions and check out publishers and agents guidelines with a few clicks of a mouse, but we can also become active within a community that helps us to develop as writers, whether we are published or still at the very start of our journey.  Have a read of my post and feel free to make comments on this topic…there we go, already a benefit to being online!

I’d like to start by talking about conferences.  These events are a great opportunity to network, make new friends and learn even more about the craft of writing. But what happens when you can’t make the conference itself?

The Claytons 2013 is what happened for me! I was unable to make the RNA Conference this year – well, I do live in Sydney, Australia, so understandable really – and I couldn’t make the RWA (Romance Writers of Australia) conference either as it was held in Freemantle, WA so it worked out a bit too costly to attend.  The Claytons 2013 is an online conference organised by the RWA for those who are unable to attend the actual conference for whatever reason.

I was a bit dubious about what this experience would bring and wondered whether I would get much, if anything, out of the experience, but I shouldn’t have worried. The Claytons 2013 was an unforgettable experience. It was held in the chat rooms for RWA members and began with a cyber-cocktail party which was heaps of fun as we all thought about what we would ideally like to drink, brought to us of course by the heroes dotted around the room albeit in our imaginations. The organisers used word play games to get the chat happening although just like an actual conference, you can probably imagine that a group of women didn’t need much encouragement there! To keep order at the conference, which took place the following day (thankfully only cyber hangovers to deal with!) the organisers also gave cues as to when we needed to quieten the chat room ready for a presenter.

Guest speakers at the conference delivered everything and more. We heard from Alexandra Sokoloff, American Novelist and Screenwriter; Valerie Parv, Australia’s Queen of Romance who has sold 25 million copies of her books worldwide; and finished the conference on day two with a question and answer session with Charlotte Ledger from Harper Impulse.

The wealth of experience and knowledge that presenters and delegates brought to the online conference made it an overwhelming success. The conference left me motivated and with so many ideas on how to develop my writing.  As well as the serious stuff at the conference, there was a lot of fun as there would be at a physical conference. There were giveaways of critiques, novels, homemade coasters and not to mention a random giveaway of an e-reader for one lucky delegate (I still can’t believe that it was me!)

As well as online conferences, writers utilise many other tools at their disposal. Some writers hold virtual launch parties for their books and the views seem divided as to whether this helps or not. I would love to hear from anyone out there who has either held an online launch party or who has attended one.

Being a part of The Write Romantics has shown me just how much support writers can get in the online world. I have never met any of the ladies on this blog but I feel as though I know them pretty well. I can email when I’m feeling low about my writing, share any joys that come my way during the journey and take comfort in similar experiences by sharing knowledge. 

I must admit that I’ve had a Facebook account for a long time but it’s personal and used for sharing news and photographs with close friends and family. But, with the online world comes a Facebook “page” on which we can promote our writing to anyone. I guess it’s kind of like sticking up a poster to advertise oneself as a writer and then being able to paste it to noticeboards all over the country and internationally as well. I wonder, has anyone had much experience with a Facebook page? Has anyone found that it’s a good way to build a reputation as an author and to gain a fan base?

And then we have Twitter which I have found is a good way again to share knowledge – plenty of people I follow add links to their Tweets and as I follow many writers, agents and publishers, these links are a great learning tool with hints and tips including how not to approach and agent, calls for submissions, as well as reviews of other authors and their work. It’s also a great way to get to know a little bit about an agent if you’re thinking of approaching them for representation. Not only does it help to discover their personality traits and perhaps indicate whether you could “gel” in your professional relationship, but it also helps you get to know the sort of writing that they represent.

Some writers whom I’ve followed on Twitter do tweet a lot of “Please buy my book” type pleas, but the writers whom I admire the most engage in conversation if I complement their books and that to me generates a huge amount of respect for them and their work. It’s also a big encouragement for me to buy whatever they write next. You know what it’s like: with favourite authors I rarely read the blurb, I just buy the book and dive straight in.  

The online world enables us to communicate with editors, agents and of course readers from just about anywhere. The online world has linked writers, agents and publishing companies from all over the world and long may it continue to do so in a profession where it’s easy to feel lonely and as though you’re walking solo on a journey with an unknown final destination.  

Please share your thoughts and views on this post…and I will of course respond!

Until then…happy writing!

Helen R x

The Wednesday Wondering – Our Characters on the Big Screen

Another week, another Wondering! This week we return to another passion of ours – films with a fabulous (but very tough) question set by Write Romantic Jo:

Who would you like to play the main character(s) in your book if it were made into a film? OR Who would you love to see the main characters in a book you love that hasn’t yet been made into a film (or perhaps a remake if you hated the film version that has been made)?

I think this Wondering has really captured the imagination of the group as most of the Write Romantics have responded to this one and have all chosen their own books. I think it’s such a dream scenario for us all that, not only will our books be published, but they’ll be made into Hollywood blockbusters too. Well, it has to happen to someone. Why not us?!

Although the only book I’ve read is Jo’s, I loved reading everyone’s responses because I instantly got a feel for the type of characters in their books. Mind you, I had to Google a few of them because I’d never heard of them … mainly because I’m far too busy writing and my sacrifice is very little TV! I have, however, now discovered a few new hotties I didn’t know existed!!! 😉

 

HELEN R:

If my book ever made it to film I would love to see Jessica Lucas play Jenna. When I saw Jessica Lucas’s photograph she felt right for the part. Her mother is white and her father is black, just like my character in the book. For Jake, I would envisage an actor such as Paul Walker with the lighter hair, the blue eyes. I could see him playing the part of a vet too, and looking ruggedly handsome as he works. I could see these characters together in a film … who knows, maybe one day. After all, we can all dream!

 

ALEX:

The main characters in Beltane are Finn, Zoe and Maeve. Zoe is new to the world of magic and has a lot to deal with in terms of coming to terms with her own gift and what’s happening around her. I think Karen Gillian (Amy Pond in Doctor Who) would be a fantastic Zoe. 

Maeve pretends to be a spiritual healer but is actually very cold and calculating. I think an actress like Lindsay Duncan would be wonderful.

Finn is a lot trickier. My friends who have read Beltane have very strong opinions on this and so far we’ve not found anyone we agree on. The person that Finn most looks like is Dan Snow. Now I’ll admit that a while ago I had a bit of thing about Dan (and watched one or two history programmes for no other reason) but I didn’t intend him to be the model for Finn. It just kind of happened. So far I’ve not been able to think of an actor who looks like Dan Snow. If anyone knows of one then let me know. I’ll be happy to check out any possible candidates! [Alex – closest I can think of is the absolutely gorgeous Paul Rudd who played Mike, Phoebe’s partner, in Friends but has been in a stack of films – Julie]

 

JAXX:

I’m not very good with names of famous people but I do know of Aiden Turner- the Irish one from Being Human, not the English one from – something else! I always imagined his face when I was writing about my gypsy boy as he looks dark and swarthy (and a little bit like he needs a good wash but I could soon have him in the shower!)

 

HELEN P:

I would love to see Sigourney Weaver sporting a very British Accent to play my main character Police Officer Annie Graham in The Ghost House and of course Detective Sergeant Will Ashworth would have to be Brad Pitt or actually I have a bit of a thing going on for Kevin Bacon at the moment so either of them would be fantastic.

 

JULIE:

I massively struggled with this one because I tend to have a good idea of the basics of appearance but don’t fill in the blanks fully. I once tried to find some images to inspire me and I didn’t feel anyone quite cut it but I’ll have a go for here because, as the host of the Wednesday Wondering, I’m determined not to back out of responding to one! I will not be defeated!

I have 5 main characters in my novel, Searching for Steven. Sarah is the protagonist and is a strong woman, a hopeless romantic and slightly ditzy at times. She’d need to eat a few pies for the role but Anne Hathaway would be my first choice. Sarah has two best friends, Clare and Elise. Clare is Irish, blonde, stunning, a massive flirt, a commitment-phobe, a career woman and very straight-talking. No idea if she can do an Irish accident but the closest I can think of in looks is Charlize Theron although she is a bit old for the character (sorry, Charlize – you’re still beautiful!) Elise is a very gentle soul and loyal friend. She has auburn hair so that limited me slightly (unless we get the dye out). Not perfect but we’ll go for Amy Adams or Isla Fisher.

For the boys, I turned to Glamour Magazine’s Top 100 Sexiest Males to try and get some inspiration but it didn’t actually help! There are some very odd choices on there! Sarah has two men battling to steal her heart. First love Andy would probably be played by Matthew Goode (who I adore in Leap Year) and new friend Nick would be Patrick Dempsey (although he’s also a bit too old so may need to be tweaked in the editing suite!)  Spookily enough, they’ve both been in favourite films of mine with Amy Adams (Leap Year and Enchanted respectively) so maybe she needs to be Elise as she’s worked with them before. Or maybe not because she was their love interest in those films and if the men start fighting over Elise instead of Sarah … well, we have a completely different book!

 

DEIRDRE:

In the book I’m writing now I definitely had in mind Laila Rouass and Edward MacLiam when I came up with my main characters. She’s just beautiful, and I do love an Irish actor…  They played Sahira and Greg in Holby City, a storyline I got tremendously involved in as it was so emotional, and sad since they didn’t end up together.  Unfortunately, when my book comes out and is made into a film  *much laughter* they won’t be able to play the actual parts unless they can play quite a bit younger. But who knows, maybe they can!

 

JO:

My answer would be that I would have liked Colin Firth ten years ago, around the Bridget Jones diary era, to play the hero in my book, but he has gone just a tiny bit too crinkly around the edges now – haven’t we all? Or maybe it is just me and Colin! Got a thing for Ewan McGregor at the moment after watching him in tight armour in Jack and the Giant Slayer, so I think I’ll cast him.  I’d like my heroine to be played by Holly Willoughby. Okay, I know she’s not an actress, but she’s got just the right look and sense of humour and I am sure she’d be able to turn her hand to it – after all, she’s apparently a published children’s author now too, but I have decided not to hate her too much for that!

 

What do you think of our choices? Would you go to see a film with this cast of characters? If you’re a writer, who would you like to have playing the main parts in your book? Whether you’re a reader or a writer (or both), are there any books not yet made into films for which you visualise certain actors? Unless I’ve missed it, I don’t think the actors for 50 Shades have been confirmed yet. If you’re read that, perhaps you have a visual of who would play Ana and Christian (have I got the names right?!)

Please join in. We’d love to hear from you.

Julie

xx

In The Name Of Research.

Research- for some the thought of it is a joy. Maybe you are an author who loves to spend time in the library going through the reference section, and loves every minute of what you are doing. Or are you someone who would prefer to be practical in their research, to be on the scene and experience what it would feel like to be in the place you are writing about, to walk the path that your hero or heroine will be journeying on. To imagine being in their shoes.

I wanted to know how far an author would go to research their novel. So I asked Sue Moorcroft and Henriette Gyland about how far they would go. They have both been good enough to give me an insight into what research they are doing for the novels they are currently writing.

Sue. I do keep thinking that I ought to write about things I want to do (fly a helicopter, drive a car around Silverstone circuit, drink very expensive wine) but it never seems to work out that way. Soon I’m going on a 42′ seagoing boat when, usually, I avoid boats on the sea like the plague. But I want to know more about the boat than I can get from the brochure-how it feels/smells/moves, how easy it is to get up on the flight bridge and stuff like that. This book, ‘In the same boat’ (working title), is also making me scuba dive this September, when I haven’t been down for six years. But I’m looking forward to that a lot more than going on the boat.

For my next book, I think the heroine is going to have a face lift and find a toy boy….Maybe she’ll get be the one who drinks expensive wine, too.

Sue, I take my hat off to you. Now I wouldn’t mind going on the boat, even though I can’t swim, but the thought of scuba diving just sends a chill down my back. Being under water must be an incredible experience, I’m not sure I could do it. I can honestly say if you need help to do any research regarding the possible novel about the heroine who drinks expensive wine, gets a face lift and finds a toy boy, I would only be to happy to help, I know sometimes this can be a burden, so just want to be there to lend a helping hand.

Henri. Good question. As far as it takes, bar actually murdering someone! (people do tend to get killed in my books)  When I was researching my historical novel (out May 2014) which is set on Hounslow heath, I went to stand on the heath itself to get a sense of the sounds and smells of the place. Although there is not much left of it now, and what you hear is mainly traffic and the aeroplanes from Heathrow, I still learned what the ground felt like to stand on and what sort of vegetation grows there. Also, one day when I can afford it, I may get a costume designer to make a Georgian dress for me 🙂

Henri. I know what you mean. There is nothing better than to stand in a place where your novel is set, to feel the atmosphere, to picture the place it used to be, and just be a part of it. To visualise your hero or heroine walking or riding across the heath. Sometimes you may hear voices that seem to whisper to you from the past. It brings the past to life. And to have a dress from the Georgian period would be something special. I hope one day to see you in it Henri. What better way to do research, than to live it.

My novel is set in the world of lingerie, so it has been an interesting time for me, as I have had to go into some rather interesting shops, to have a look at what my heroine would be looking at to wear and sell. So when I went into one well known shop (my friend advised me not to go to the back, just stay at the front) I nearly fainted when a very helpful male assistant smiled and asked how I was today! All I wanted was to sneak quietly in and have a look around, and also feel the material of the lingerie. This due to a scene in my book, and leave. Yes. Thinking about that particular day, I think scuba diving is becoming rather appealing. Also I have been fortunate due to living abroad I have experienced the tail end of a typhoon. to sit on a balcony with a cup of coffee, as the wind begins to blow ferociously, almost bending the tree branches to the ground, watching as the rain lashes the ground, sending its spray against my skin. All this is going to be a part of what is going to be in my novel.

It seems that Sue and Henri love to research in a practical way, to experience and feel what their hero/heroine would experience. To put themselves in a different pair of shoes. To go as far as it takes. And I confess I am more a practical researcher, and it is fun, and sometimes a bit scary.

Thanks Henri and Sue for sharing your answer to my question, and telling us about how far you would go for your novel.

So, having read everyone’s answer to my question, I just want to ask you, How far would you go to research your novel?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wednesday Wondering – Romancing the Write Romantics

Good morning to you all and welcome to another Wednesday Wondering.

Even though some of the Write Romantics are digressing into alternative writing styles, we still love a good romance and are all write romantics at heart so today’s Wondering addresses that very subject and was posed by me:

What’s the most romantic thing that has ever happened to you/that anyone has done for you?

Awww. Love is in the air! Here’s what some of the Write Romantics had to say.

 

HELEN P:

For me it was not long after I met Steve my husband. He was going on a lads holiday to Tenerife and the day after he went I got the most beautiful bouquet of red roses and a huge heart shaped box of chocolates delivered. Needless to say it was a one off and has never been repeated although we’ve been married almost 23 years.

 

HELEN R:

This was a fun “wondering” to think about as it took me back through the years. I would have to say that proposals and weddings get me every time, so I’m afraid my response may be a little cliché!

When we holidayed in the UK in 2003 my husband and I rented a small powered boat and took it out along the Norfolk Broads. The day started out beautifully with the sun shining, the smell of summer. We moored up outside a pub and enjoyed a Ploughman’s lunch (you have to absorb all things UK when you’re on holiday!) When we returned to the boat the heavens opened and the temperature had dropped. We set the boat free ready to chug back to my parents’ place, but the boat wouldn’t start. Luckily we had taken a mobile with us and managed to call the owner of the place where we had rented the boat but it took a shivering, wet hour or so for him to arrive whilst we huddled in the boat to try and stay warm and drifted away from the river bank. Apparently my husband was going to propose on this day…but he decided it wasn’t quite the moment.

Luckily for me, my husband found his moment at another pub lunch – this time with prawn cocktail baguettes – the day before we were due to return to Australia. This time the sun persisted and as we strolled along the river bank . He got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I think that one of the most romantic things for me was that I knew that something was up…he never gets nervous or tongue tied and it made the moment so special to see how much it meant to him, especially when he told me about his failed attempt the first time and that he had the ring tucked into his fleece pocket all day, paranoid that he would lose it with all the drama on the boat!

 

JAXX:

The most romantic thing ever was when a boyfriend put a fresh peach in a bag under my windscreen with the words ‘a peach for a peach’ written on the bag. Aww bless him.

 

JULIE:

Hubby and I have just been giggling because, having been together for over a decade, I feel I should be writing about something he’s done but I couldn’t think of anything. So I asked him. And he couldn’t think of anything either! He said, “Ooh, there’ve been so many …” then cracked up giggling, eventually concluding with, “You’ll have to make something up!” Well, I am a writer so that should be easy but that’s not the point of this segment!

So, I’m going to ditch the hubby (for this slot, not in real life!) and go back to my 1st year at university. A close friend and I had started seeing each other about a month before Valentine’s Day. On Feb 13th, we’d gone to the bar opposite our Halls of Residence with another male friend and the pair of them kept acting strangely and asking random questions about whether I liked surprises and whether I would be going straight to bed after we left the bar. I knew they were scheming something but wasn’t sure what. At midnight, I was in my room about to get ready for bed when there was a bit of a commotion in the corridor followed by a knock on my door. My boyfriend was stood there in nothing but a pair of white boxer shorts with red hearts on them, with a red rose between his teeth, clutching a bottle of bubbly in one hand and some chocolates in the other (although I may have made up the chocolate part – wishful thinking!) He’d run down two freezing cold flights of stairs dressed like that and had encountered several other students en route to his dismay and embarrassment!

Later that day, I left my door propped open while I made a cup of tea. When I returned, there was a Sad Sam (remember them – cute puppy dog with huge sad eyes?) on my bed and a card. I assumed they were from the boyfriend and was touched that he’d bought me a cuddly and snuck it into my room. Only they weren’t from him! They were from the lad who lived next door who was a good friend of mine and my boyfriend’s! The card was full of declarations of love for me and how he knew I was taken but he’d be there for me if things went wrong with the bf! Eek! Romantic … but completely inappropriate! Then, as I was wondering what to do, the bf appeared so I had to confess. He wasn’t a happy chappy at all. I assured him that he was the only one for me … but was secretly very flattered. I’d had zero success with boys before going to uni and now I had two fighting over me. Go Julie!!!!

 

RACHAEL:

It was romantic for me receiving a single red rose on the morning of my wedding day, with a note to say ‘I can’t wait to see you’ – from the man I’m now married to of course! Occasionally he will pick a few daffodils in the spring and give them to me but he doesn’t say it with flowers really. I often wonder if he was put up to the red rose.

Nowadays, after almost twenty years of marriage, the romantic things are the gestures that show he cares, not great bunches of flowers. Only last month, when I was due to go away for the RNA conference he knew that the farm silage was going to clash. Usually I would be up to my eyes in making food for endless streams of men, but he didn’t tell me and organised others to make food and help on the farm so I could go, knowing how important that weekend was to me.

I’m not even sure I’d want to be bombarded with flowers, perfumes, chocolates etc, but I love it when my heroes show their romantic side!

 

What a fabulous mix of different stories. I think I’m going to spend the day racking my brain now, desperately trying to think of something romantic the hubby has done for me (other than proposing) cos there must be something. Mustn’t there? If not, get your act together Heslington!!!!

Over to you. Please do share your experiences. We’d love to hear them. And they may even inspire a future novel!

Julie

xx

 

 

Desperately Seeking Inspiration …

A couple of weeks ago, I went on holiday to the Lake District. This is a place I love and have visited on many occasions but this was my first visit to Hill Top Farm in Near Sawrey, the first property Beatrix Potter purchased in the Lakes.

I think anyone who has heard of Beatrix Potter would be interested in (and enjoy) visiting this lovely house and garden but, as a writer, I found it particularly fascinating. Beatrix, getting over the untimely death of her fiancé, found inspiration in the house, gardens and surrounding areas, setting many of her subsequent books there. The Tale of Tom Kitten is set in the house and garden, The Tale of Ginger and Pickles is based in the village and The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck featured a duck that strayed from Hill Top to pick just three examples.

Wandering around the property, knowledgeable guides were on hand with copies of various books where visitors could match the illustrations to exact pieces of furniture and rooms in the house. My six-year-old daughter loved doing this. And so did I!

At Beatrix’s wishes, Hill Top’s rooms and furnishings “should be kept in their present condition” so that visitors could see where inspiration had come from and I really could see it. Her desk was laid out with letters and books and I must confess to having serious writing-desk envy (lots of drawers and cubby holes!) and could really picture the talented writer and artist at work. I could also see why she’d be inspired living in such a lovely farm in such a pretty part of the world.

Here’s a picture of me standing in the doorway of Hill Top. Please forgive the pasty legs!!!!

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All of this got me thinking about inspiration. Two weeks ago Deidre blogged about locations for books and asked whether we like fictional or real settings. Last week, Alex took this a step further and blogged in more detail about the two locations (Glastonbury and Orkney) that have inspired her novels. I’d like to look at inspiration in general. Where does it come from? Does a location inspire a story? Does a story inspire a set of characters? Does an idea for a character inspire the plot? I guess it can happen in many ways.

For me, personally, the inspiration for my first novel didn’t come from a person or a place. It came from something that happened to me. I’d always wanted to write but had no idea what the story would be. When this particular thing happened, I thought, “What a great idea for a story” and once that thought popped into my head, it wouldn’t go away. Suddenly I had my protagonist too because she’s predominantly based on me although how she reacts to “the thing” in my novel isn’t necessarily how I reacted to it because her reaction makes a far more interesting story. The plot unfolded by me constantly asking myself, “What if…?” and “Why…?” which led to new characters, settings and experiences.

Location-wise, my book is set in a fictional North Yorkshire seaside town although it’s based very much on a combination of Scarborough (where I live) and Whitby just up the coast from us. These two settings in turn inspired certain events in the book as there is so much stunning scenery in this area that it would be impossible not to be inspired by it. Scarborough has a castle so I have used that. Both locations have lighthouse piers and I have used that concept but created my own version in my mind for a couple of key events.

To conclude this piece, I thought I’d do a bit of a research on where some very famous writers got their inspiration from. I started with one of the most obvious – JK Rowling – but ploughing through several pages of Google just revealed that she got the idea for Harry Potter in 1990 while staring out of a train window on a journey from London to Manchester (or was it Manchester to London?) I read another article saying that she spent the train journey imagining what Hogwarts would be like and that, by the time she got off, she had most of the characters. But this doesn’t really tell me where the initial idea came from. Was she thinking about writing a book set at a boarding school and trying to challenge herself to do something slightly different resulting in lots of “what if…” questions before arriving at Hogwarts? Was she thinking about writing a book for children and had had a conversation with someone about witches and wizards which set her creativity juices flowing? I don’t know. I don’t imagine for one minute that she stared out the window at some fields and suddenly this whole world was created. There must have been some sort of trigger. Mustn’t there?

I found a slightly more satisfying response when I decided to look up Enid Blyton, one of the Write Romantics’ favourites. It would appear that, since childhood, she’d always made up stories and that they flooded into her mind at night a little like mixed-up dreams. In her autobiography, The Story of my Life (1052) she described the process of a story-unfolding like viewing “a private cinema screen inside my head… and what I see, I write down.” I found a fascinating link all about Enid Blyton (see below) but I still don’t know exactly where the inspiration came from. What made her imagine a group of four children and a dog having adventures, or a tree that reached the clouds and had different lands arriving at the top, or a man with big ears and a little boy with a bell on his head? Some of these are slightly shall we say unusual things to just pop into the head or onto a cinema screen or whatever if was that Enid Blyton experienced so surely, again, there was some sort of trigger. For more info, check out: http://www.enidblytonsociety.co.uk/enid-the-writer.php

I checked out a few more writers but it was a similar story i.e. no specific pinpointed moment. And then it struck me that perhaps that’s just how it is with most writers; the ideas just appear with no specific sources. Perhaps that’s what being a writer and being creative is all about? Perhaps I’m unusual in being able to pinpoint the exact moment in time that my idea for Searching for Steven materialized because, not that I come to think about it, I can’t pinpoint where the idea for the sequel came from. It wasn’t from personal experience, that’s for sure. I think just popped into my head … while looking out of a train window … as if on a private cinema screen (or did I read that somewhere else?!)

Over to you. If you’re a writer, where has your inspiration come from? Something you’ve experienced? Something you’ve read? Something you’ve overheard? Or did it just materialize? I’d love to hear more. And if you’re a reader, what do you think might inspire you to write?

Thanks for reading.

Julie xx

The Wednesday Wondering – Step Back in Time

Welcome to another Wednesday Wondering. Today’s wondering has been posed by Write Romantic Alex who asks:

If you could travel back in time (purely for writing research purposes obviously) which period would you go to and why?

Oooh. Love this question. Even though I write books that are very much in the current time, I am quite fascinated by history and have to say I feel absolutely spoilt for choice. As the collator of this, I’ve been astounded as always by so many great answers coming in before I’ve written mine. One of these weeks I’ll get my act together and write my response first so I don’t keep changing my mind!

Here’s what some of the Write Romantics say:

HELEN P:

If I could travel back in time it would be to Victorian England, I would love to see it for myself. Of course it would be as the lady of a big house and not some flea ridden unfortunate woman 😉 

 

ALEX:

As I’m now researching my new book I’d want to go to Orkney during the Neolithic period. I’m a little bit obsessed with this period. It’d be fascinating to see how people lived at that time and maybe even find out what they actually used the stone circles like the Ring of Brodgar for.  There’s a big archaeological dig on at the Ness of Brodgar at the moment so I’d like to pop in there too.  Then when I came home I’d astound everyone with my understanding of these sites that have been a mystery to archaeologists for years!

 

DEIRDRE:

I would travel back to the early 1920s. That was when my mum was a child and every summer she went to stay with her great-granny in her cottage near the village of Cowfold in Sussex.  She used to take me to see the cottage – empty and almost derelict – when I was young and we would picnic in the overgrown garden. I still make the occasional pilgrimage to ‘Granny’s cottage’.  It’s been turned into a lovely home now, joined up into one with the adjoining cottage, but the character still remains.  If you stand very still you can hear the bell tolling from the monastery across the fields.  Brings a tear to my eye every time…

I had the impression these visits were the happiest times of my mum’s life and I would love to go back see it all through my own eyes.  Great-Granny lived until she was almost a hundred, amazing considering the basic and often very hard life she led. I’ve researched that side of the family – they were farm-workers, mostly, and have some old photos. I can definitely see a book there somewhere, but I’d have to do a great deal of research into the period to bring it alive.

 

JAXX:

Would love to go back to the times of the witch-hunts to experience the intensity and reasoning behind the madness.  Would have to get rid of the big wart on the end of my nose first! (Joke!)

 

JULIE:

I would love to experience Mediaeval times and the Victorian era but am going to settle for more recent with two different phases in the last century. I’ve been thinking recently about community and a sense of belonging and I’d like to experience what it was like during World War II both in the towns and cities pulling together in the midst of destruction and devastation as well as the rural communities providing homes for refugees and farming vital resources. What was that community feel really like and can we learn lessons from it for today’s society? I also have an idea for a novel set during WWII and would love to experience it 1st hand to ensure accuracy.

I’d also love to experience the 1960s. I love the music, adore the dresses and would love to experience what ‘courting’ was like in the days of being woo-ed (don’t know if I’ve spelt that right), being asked to go to a dance and no mobiles/social media (not that they existed when I was younger either but things seemed less complicated in the 60s than my teens and twenties in the late 80s/90s).

 

So, which period would you like to travel back to and why? We’d love to hear your thoughts and, as always, we very much welcome ideas for future Wednesday Wonderings.

Julie xx

 

Monday Interview with Jane Lark

Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories. She began her first historical novel at sixteen, but a life full of adversity derailed her as she lives with the restrictions of Ankylosing Spondylitis. When she finally completed a novel it was because she was determined not to reach forty still saying, I want to write a book.

janelark

Now Jane is writing a Regency series for Sapphire Star Publishing and she is thrilled to be giving her characters life in others’ imaginations at last. Jane is also a Chartered Member of the Institute of Personnel and Development, and uses her knowledge of people to bring her characters to life.

‘Basically I love history and I’m a sucker for a love story. I love the feeling of falling in love; it’s wonderful being able to do it time and time again in fiction, and my understanding of people helps me write the really intense relationships I enjoy developing. I like writing characters who will capture your attention from the moment you open my book.’

We know that, like us, you were formerly a member of the NWS but we wondered if you could tell us a bit about how you came to join, how long you were a member for, the genre you write in and what inspired you to start writing?

I have always loved writing, and when I read Anya Seaton’s book, Katherine, I knew I wanted to write a book with a story which would pull people in like that. I heard about the Romance Novelists Association (RNA), and the New Writers Scheme (NWS) when I attended a writers event at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, years ago, I think I first joined in 2004, something like that, but then dropped out for a couple of years, I did re-join in 2009 when I’d started on a new series, but then didn’t pick up on the fact we could pre-renew and couldn’t get back in, so I haven’t been in the NWS for two years. But Illicit Love did pass through in 2009/2010.

Please can you tell us a bit about your novel writing journey so far?

Well, when I reached thirty, I thought, I am not getting to forty still telling people I’d love to write a novel, and waiting for that right time to write it, to come along. So, I’d finished my first when I was about thirty-four, set in Roman England, but I wasn’t hugely happy with it, just thrilled to have written one at last. So I started again, this time in the medieval period. That full manuscript (MS), I sent to Mills & Boon, and the NWS and gave to friends to read, and had good feedback (even from M&B) but not fabulous feedback, and it never got picked up, so I started again and plumped for Regency, as this period seemed more popular.

The advantage to taking longer to publish, is you really do have time to hone your voice and develop something that’s really good, not just average, and build up a backlog. When I sent my Regency novel into the NWS, they were very positive, but it was still a nearly there….

We would love to hear about your route to publication. What made you choose Sapphire Star publishing and how did ‘The Call’ for Illicit Love come about?

This really continues my story above. In that after I had this MS back from the NWS, I began attending a new local RNA chapter. It was the best decision I ever made as far as writing goes. This group of experienced authors, encouraged and advised me. I hadn’t a clue about the American romance market until I met them, and they gave me lists of publishers to try and new agents, and advice on writing, and promotion. Of course through the feedback I was getting from these submissions, my manuscript was progressing on from nearly there, all the time, getting better and better, and I started to realise I had something really hot on my hands.

So when I attended a ‘Love a Happy Ending’ event in the summer, which was promoted by a chapter member, and met Mandy Baggot and Nicky Wells, who also publish through Sapphire Star Publishing, I thought, well this publisher sounds as though they may fit me. There was no waiting for months for a reply from Sapphire, they answered in a couple of weeks and said they wanted Illicit Love, because it pulled them into the plot from when they opened the book, and they loved the intensity of the perspective of my characters.

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What’s next for you, Jane, with the recent launch of your first novel, your WIP and future projects?

Well, Illicit Love is the first in a seven part series, the second book I hope will be out pretty soon, but having spent years sending MSs around the UK market, and waiting months for replies, I kept writing and have this series virtually written and ready to publish. But Sapphire Star Publishing liked my writing voice so much, they asked me to write them a New Adult story too, because they felt the intensity of relationships I write, would suit this genre. I completed my first New Adult book a month ago, and will work between the two genres in the future. So I am currently hunting that still illusive, desirable, agent.

What are your dreams and aspirations as a writer, in terms of your long-term career?

Just to keep writing, well, to keep writing and receiving the rave reviews I have been earning for Illicit Love, people love it, and they read the characters exactly as I wanted them to be heard, which is amazing. I have cried several times when I read the reviews, happy tears. Plus so many people are coming back to me very excited about the twists and turns in the plot, saying they can’t see things coming, so that’s great feedback for me, now I just need to make sure all my book are like this.

What has been the single biggest benefit of joining the NWS, do you think?

The feedback was really valuable, to have someone in the profession read your work takes courage, and their feedback helped me to improve my work, but the best thing for me was the access to the wider RNA, and the opportunities it gives you to learn by meeting people in the chapters and at events, and at the conference. If nothing else it’s just great to talk to people who understand my writing addiction. “Hi, I’m an author, and I’m addicted to writing Fiction.” There I’ve admitted it.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us or any other advice you can offer?

The things that really helped me shift my MS from almost there, to being a story people are sucked into and can’t put down, was;

Firstly, going through my MS and taking out half my pretty flowery words and descriptions, and I had to be really callus in the end and delete some painful stuff, because the writing was really good, but there was just too much good writing, it slowed the pace of the story, and made it a likable story, rather than a fabulous story. What readers want is that bang, bang, jockeying of characters as you step them through the story in shifting scenes, like a film.

So, I did a ton of research, but only put probably 1/20th of what I know about the period of history into the story, because it’s irrelevant to what the reader needs to be sucked into what is happening between the people. But I am still getting reviews, which praise the language, calling it ‘poetic’, ‘richly painted story telling’ and ‘Illicit Love is so beautifully written it was a rare jewel’. It’s also still getting comments in reviews about the amount of research I must have done to be able to write this story. So now I call it, painting a background of history to write the story on. I think that is why people are telling me this is something new in historical romance.

Secondly, an author friend, looked at the first few pages of my MS when it wasn’t selling, and she said you need to tighten up your points of view, so you are clearly only speaking from the perspective of one character or the other. Well, from the two changes she showed me, once I worked them all through the MS, what a shift. I love putting my imagination inside a character’s head and heart, so once I had captured this in my ways of writing too, it really took the book off the page and into people’s imaginations.

Now my reviews are talking about the characters as though they’ve been charmed. “This book has a Romeo and Juliet (which I love) type of feel It’s a display of raw emotion drama and intimacy…I straight away warmed to Ellen. I felt for her throughout the whole book…The male lead of the book, Edward, is amazingly well characterised – what a man :D” Cosmo Chicklitan “Ellen and Edward are one of the best romance couples” Best Chick Lit.

So I am obviously thrilled it’s been so well received, and hope people benefit from this advice.

Thank you to The Write Romantics for asking me to share my journey.

Find out more about Jane at the links below:

Blog http://janelark.wordpress.com/janes-books/
Website http://www.janelark.co.uk/index.html
Facebook http://www.facebook.com/Janelarkauthor
Twitter https://twitter.com/JaneLark
Find out more about Jane’s novel, Illicit Love, at http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Illicit+love%2C+Jane+Lark

A Sense of Place

Deirdre’s post last week got me thinking about places and I realised that for me it works the other way round. I don’t choose a setting for a story. The setting comes first and the story comes out of it.
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Beltane which I’ve just finished (and is off being NWS reviewed as we speak) is set in Glastonbury. The original spark of an idea came from a rather odd bed and breakfast near Glastonbury Tor that I stayed in with a friend almost ten years ago. It was very alternative. People had conversations about angels over the breakfast table. Daily group meditation was pretty much compulsory. The woman who ran it was a very strong character and to be honest, my friend and I found her a little bit scary. Years later I started wondering what if someone who ran a New Age retreat didn’t have good intentions towards their guests. And from that I had my antagonist, Maeve.
Because of that there was never any question as to where I should set the book and the practical considerations of writing a book set 250 miles from home didn’t really cross my mind at the beginning. About a year in I realised that even with the help of Google Streetview I had too many unanswered questions so I planned a holiday/research trip. It was fantastic to spend a week in the place that I spent so much time writing about and huge number of new ideas came out of being there.
One of the amazing things about Glastonbury is that you never know who you’ll meet. At the Chalice Well I started a conversation about the weather and within minutes the guy I was talking to told me he was a druid and that after buying his house he’d grown a tall hedge around it because he practised druidic rituals in the garden. My imagination was obviously working over-time as to what exactly these rituals involved but the conversation sparked another idea and I knew this was all going to have to go in the book.
Once I’d decided I wanted to write a series with the same characters, I had to figure out where I would set the next one. I felt like I’d done Glastonbury. I needed somewhere else with a connection to history and myth. There are plenty of lovely locations I could have chosen but three years ago I went to Orkney and fell head over heels for the place.
As it takes me a long time to write a book (three years for Beltane) I want to write about somewhere I’m really interested in. So Orkney it is.
Orkney Aug 2010 009 (2)
However, there’s a problem and it’s not just geographical. For this book I want one of my characters to have been born and brought up on the islands, another to have grandparents from Orkney. They’re both embedded in the community with a history and a knowledge of it that I, a person who’s visited once and who lives 500 miles away, don’t have.
This week I wrote a first draft of chapter 1. There’s already a dozen things that I don’t know and some of them I don’t even know how to find out. I like doing research but getting to grips with this will involve a lot more than the internet can provide.
Over recent months I’ve been reading the Shetland books by Ann Cleeves and at the beginning of Raven Black, the first in the series, she says that it was overambitious to try to write a book set in Shetland while living in Yorkshire. She’s a highly experienced novelist. If she struggled then what on earth do I, a total newcomer, think I’m doing?
I’m going to Orkney for a week at the beginning of September. After that I’ll make a decision as to whether this is absolute insanity or if I can maybe, somehow, make it work.
So I’m wondering if any of you have experienced something similar. And if you have, can you give me any advice? I’d love to hear about the places that inspire your stories and the ways you bring them to life.
Alex
x