Annie Burrows tells us she’s rubbish at blogging. But we don’t believe her!

We’re delighted to welcome another first-time guest to our Saturday Spotlight. Annie Burrows writes regency novels for Harlequin Mills & Boon and has sold a staggering half a million plus books in 21 different countries since 2007. Impressive! As writers just starting our careers, we were keen to know more. Over to Annie …

 

thinking on the beachWhen Jessica put out a request for any authors who’d like to do a guest post for the Write Romantics Saturday Spotlight, I emailed, “Yes please! Me, me, me!” Well, you see, my eighteenth book comes out in September, so this is a great opportunity to do a little bit of promotion for it.

Problem is, I didn’t have a clue what to write about. I’ve spent an awful lot of my summer holiday sitting on the beach racking my brains over what I could write for this one – before eventually deciding to just own up.

I am officially RUBBISH at blogging.

websize costume croppedI don’t mind doing the ones where someone sends you a list of questions to answer. Because the questions are all about me, (the one subject on which I’m actually an expert.) Though I always feel rather sorry for whoever then gets to read the results. What have I got to say that every other single writer who’s answered those same questions hasn’t already put?

For example:

Q – Why do you write?

A – Because I can’t stop.

Q – Where so you get your inspiration?

A – I have a head full of characters doing far more interesting things than ever happen to me in real life.

(You must have read dozens of blogs just like that.)

So – although those blog posts are easy for me to do, I always suspect they make for dreadfully tedious reading. Which makes me a bit uncomfortable. The last thing I want to do is bore my readers.

So on the whole I prefer to have a stab at the type of blogs where someone like Jessica gives me carte blanche. “Write whatever you like!”

Trouble is – what I like writing is fiction. I’m a story-teller, not a blogger. When it comes to writing snappy little articles designed to show you all what a scintillating person I am, and thus tempt you to sample my book, I’m never sure quite where to start.

wet poppyShould I talk about a bit of research I did? Unfortunately, I am hampered by the fact I write historical romance. I can’t say, like someone who writes contemporary romance, that I’ve just come back from a walking trip up the Alps where I went to get flavour for my next Swiss-set romance, featuring a financier and a mountain rescue worker can I? I can’t physically visit the Regency era.

And how interesting would you be in hearing how many hours I spent scouring etymological dictionaries trying to make sure my hero could “make a run for it” in 1815 (yes, he could, since it has been used as a term for taking flight since the 1640’s), or browsing the website of Westminster Abbey to see which poets had already got monuments that Regency sightseers could have seen?

And I don’t think anyone would be fascinated by an account of my writing life. I sit down in my chair. And I write. That’s it. That’s pretty much my writing day (apart from coffee breaks timed to coincide with pop-master on Radio 2, Let’s do Lunch with Gino and Mel, and Countdown.)

I don’t even have any fascinating hobbies. When I’m not writing, I read what everyone else is writing. (Though I have taken to borrowing a dog on Mondays to make me go out for a walk as I’m a bit worried I’m going to turn into blancmange if I don’t get a bit of exercise. 

But lack of inspiration isn’t my biggest problem when it comes to blogging. No. It’s my mother. She was terribly strict about good manners. And one of the worst offences I could commit was to “swank”. So basically, I find it very hard to push myself forward, or blow my own trumpet.

LHLWhich is what this type of promotional blog should be about. Whatever content I create, I always have that nagging feeling that what I’m really trying to say is “buy my book”. Which makes me cringe. And yet I do want you to buy it. Because I think a lot of you will enjoy it. If you like Regency set romances with a hero who has never wanted to get married suddenly finding he has no choice, and a heroine who would rather hide behind a potted palm than get whisked out onto the dance floor and into his chaotic lifestyle, you should find Lord Havelock’s List a fun book to read.

Oh, and if you’d like a chance to get your hands on a free copy, I’m doing a giveaway on Goodreads from 2nd to 16th August. You can find out more here

 

You can buy Annie’s latest novel on Amazon here, read more about her on her website, or find her on her Facebook page.

 

Thanks for joining us Annie. We wish you continued success.

Jessica on behalf of The Write Romantics

 

Isabelle Goddard explains why she’s no longer afraid of (not being) Virginia Woolf

Our guest on the blog today is Isabelle Goddard, who writes for both HMB and the Wild Rose Press. Isabelle was born into an army family and most of her childhood was spent moving from place to place, school to school, including periods of living abroad in Egypt and Germany. Isabelle has had a varied career path, swiftly deciding that the role of secretary was not for her and moving on to work as a member of the cabin crew for an airline, which led to some encounters with interesting people and some great experiences – riding in the foothills of the Andes, walking by the shores of Lake Victoria, flying pilgrims from Kandahar to Mecca.

D1445 H small

The arrival of marriage and children and cats meant a more settled life in the south of England where she’s lived ever since. Isabelle returned to study, eventually gaining a PhD, and for many years taught English at a number of universities – loving every minute of it. Having always felt an affinity with the 19th century and growing up reading Georgette Heyer, when Isabelle finally plucked up the courage to begin writing herself, her novels had to be Regency romances.

Isabelle was delighted when her first book was accepted by Harlequin, Mills and Boon just before Christmas 2009 and even more delighted to publish five more Regency romances over the next few years. Recently she has moved away from pure romance and begun writing more mainstream women’s fiction under the new name of Merryn Allingham. Isabelle is currently two-thirds of the way through a trilogy set in India during the 1930s and 1940s and though these novels still include some romance, they also offer elements of mystery and suspense.

Welcome to the blog Isabelle and thanks for agreeing to an interview. We’d like to begin by asking what is was that made you start writing, how many books have you written and if you see yourself ever stopping?

While I was working full time, I ‘tinkered’ with writing. Short stories mainly, simply because they were short and I could fit them into a busy schedule. It was only when my workload decreased and I gradually slid into retirement, that I had the time to tackle something more substantial. I’ve written nine novels in the last five or six years. Six have been published, one is in the process of being published, and the other two are part of a trilogy I’m currently working on. At the moment I love writing so much that I can’t imagine ever wanting to stop.

Do you write full time or have another job?

Apart from teaching the occasional creative writing course or workshop, I don’t have a job. For many years I worked as a university lecturer teaching English Literature, so it’s wonderful to focus on creating rather than analysing.

What genre of romance would you say you write in and have you thought about trying any other genres, either of romance or something else?

I’ve been writing historical romance for the last few years, but am gradually moving towards romantic suspense/mystery romance – still historical – but more mainstream women’s fiction.

How did you get your first break into publishing, how long did it take and what did ‘getting the call’ feel like?

I sold the first novel I wrote to Harlequin, Mills and Boon but it took an age before I actually ‘got the call’ – something like two years between original submission and acceptance! When HMB finally rang, I remember I was sitting on the sofa feeling doleful with a bout of December flu. But despite the coughs and splutters, it felt pretty special hearing an editor say I was being offered a two book contract.

What has been your greatest writing challenge and how have you overcome it, if you have?

The main challenge has come from the job I did. I spent years teaching some of the greatest prose ever written and that’s pretty daunting when you’re considering putting pen to paper yourself. I had this mocking voice in my head which kept telling me not to bother. It took time to banish it. In the end, I managed to accept that I was never going to be Virginia Woolf! Instead I could be me and that could be fun. It was tremendously liberating when I broke through that barrier and allowed the words to come. Some of them were pure rubbish, of course, but in the middle there was the occasional nugget of gold which made me want to go on trying.

What would you consider your greatest writing accomplishment to be?

This question got me scratching my head, mainly because ‘great accomplishment’ doesn’t seem to fit where I am at the moment. With every book I write, I try to do better but I’m a long way off from feeling satisfied.

How do you plan your stories and develop your characters and do you ever worry about repeating patterns or themes in your writing?

The genesis of each novel is different. The trilogy I’m currently writing, for instance, sprang from my own family. My mother sailed to Bombay in 1937 to marry my father, not having seen him for six years. It’s a story that has always amazed me, plus the fact that I love India and all things Indian. So I used it as a jumping off point for my heroine, Daisy’s, story, which unfortunately doesn’t work out quite as well as my mother’s did!

I know my main characters before I begin to write. I sketch out as many details about them as I can and I know where I want them to start and where I want them to end. But what happens to them in the middle seems to grow as I get to know them better, and the secondary characters emerge in response to the story that is developing. As for patterns in writing, I think every author tends to repeat some of the same ideas and themes. When you write, whatever your story, you’re expressing part of yourself so it’s bound to happen. But setting novels in different historical periods – I’ve done Regency, Victorian and now the 1930s/1940s – has given me the chance to deal with different cultures and different societal expectations, and hopefully that’s prevented too much repetition.

Do you alter your writing in any way to appeal to international readers and do you have to change your writing style to meet the differing needs of your two publishers?

No, I don’t deliberately alter my style for different publishers or different audiences. HMB always use English spelling and punctuation and they also keep intact the particularly British aspects of the ms. I think they feel the English setting and language is what attracts readers in the first place.

The US publisher, Wild Rose Press, required North American spelling and punctuation and that meant a little more work on my part. It’s a strange fact that though US spelling simplifies, their punctuation is more complicated. It’s the punctuation I was taught at school but which in the UK is now seen as unnecessary. I had sometimes to modify phrases the American editor queried, phrases that might not be easily understood by an American readership, but at other times she was happy with my request that the phrase stayed. Working with an editor is always about compromise and it can be a great learning experience – on both sides!

Have you ever considered self-publishing?

I did try and self publish once, a novel which is now being published by Digital First. My efforts weren’t a great success! Apart from the fact that I’m technologically challenged, I hadn’t a clue about marketing and how much ‘push’ self published books need to get off the ground.

What do you think helps most in getting your books noticed in a crowded market place and how involved are you in the marketing process?

I’m still struggling with this one! I’m sure that luck comes into being noticed but equally sure that it’s also down to astute marketing and making the right contacts. I’ve gradually been dragged more into the marketing side – I have a website, a blog, a facebook author page and a twitter address. But I’m pretty hopeless at keeping any/all of them going and like many writers, I’m not a ‘Buy my Book’ type of person. I just enjoy writing.

What are your plans, hopes, dreams and aspirations for the next stage in your writing career?

I’ve enjoyed writing category historical romance enormously and I’ve learnt lot in doing so, but I’m ready now to broaden the scope of my writing. I’m hoping to move into mainstream women’s fiction but since most of the major publishing houses don’t take unsolicited manuscripts, it means finding an agent. I’m not holding my breath but occasionally miracles do happen!

You can find the links to Isabelle’s books on Amazon at: http://tiny.cc/cnz8bx

Find out more about Isabelle on her website and blog at: http://www.isabellegoddard.com/

Or follow Isabelle on Twitter @isabellegoddard

We’re Wednesday Wondering how NaNoWriMo was for you?

As regular readers of the blog will know, seven of the nine Write Romantics ventured forth into the scary but exciting world of writing a novel in a single month during November – well 50,000 words of it at least, and here’s how we got on:

Deirdre:

I registered with NaNo on a wing and a prayer, having decided on day 4 that I didn’t want to be left out!  I had every intention of giving it my best shot but got really tired after the first ten days (it’s old age, you know!) then stuff happened which prevented me from getting to the keyboard (excuses, excuses!) but if I allow myself a couple of extra days to make up for starting late, I’ll be up to 30,000 words, and I’m really pleased with that.  I started a new novel entirely for this project.  Spurred on by the target I raced on without editing or researching and since I had no idea I could write in that way, it’s been quite a revelation. I am finding though, that the further I get into the story, the slower I become as the little plot holes are starting to show up and I worry that if I plough on regardless I could end up with too much to alter later if I’ve gone up the wrong alleyway somewhere, or I could even find the story doesn’t work at all, which wouldn’t surprise me as I only spent about 5 minutes planning the thing!

Helen P:

I had to stop Nano to concentrate on getting my second book finished and sent off to my publishers and I think I was using Nano as an excuse to put it off when I knew it needed to be done. So I made an executive decision to stop the Nano and I’m pleased to say I did get book two finished and sent off to my editor Lucy, who I’m praying will love it.

I’ve also made a cracking start on my third book which will be a stand alone novel and already I’m up to over 15,000 words of that which I’m thrilled about. So I’ve probably typed well over the 50,000 words but they are just on different projects.

I’m very proud of all my Write Romantics who have completed Nano and all my other writing friends who have taken part whether they have won or not, it’s the taking part that counts.

Jackie:

I started off well with Nano and was really pleased with myself for the first week or so. I think my downfall was spending time poring over the old MS that I was re-modelling. I copied and pasted some of my old story and started editing it. Nooooo, I hear you cry, but I just can’t seem to write without editing now, which is not what Nano is about. My writing then felt like I was swimming in treacle and I wasn’t getting the buzz I had when I started. I knew that I’d failed in meeting my target, so just for a couple of days,  because I couldn’t bear to look at my Nano Novel anymore, I dug out my Victorian Potteries novel that I’d done two years previously at Nano time and not done much with since. Enjoyed musing over the changes I would make and after that enjoyed writing my Nano Novel again although I knew I was out of the running. Now am back in the saddle and although I’m disappointed that I didn’t complete the 50,000 it has given me 30,000 odd thousand words that I didn’t have at the beginning of November, so I take my hat off to Mr. Nanowrimo, whoever you are, and- see you next year!

The NaNoWriMo’ers are dog tired!

Jo:

Early on in the month I was well ahead of my NaNo target and was on course to write about 60,000 words.  However, life got in the way a bit, as it did for so many of the Write Romantics, and I saw that head start run off into the distance and leave me trailing in its wake.  By the final week, I had about 8,000, words catch-up to do in order to hit the 50,000 word target and I managed it… Just!  I had to finish a day early, as I was away for the weekend that marked the end of NaNo, and I limped over the finish line at about 5 pm on the 29<sup>th</sup> November with a validated word count of 50,028.

I’m sure I wouldn’t have written anything like that much without NaNo, though, and in fact I have written a word since.  I am planning to get back in the saddle next week, though, with the view to having a full first draft (about another 50,000 words) by the end of January.  I am going to have my personal FiNoByFe period (finish novel by Feb), if anyone wants to join me?

I can’t promise sophisticated software to work out your word count or motivational meet-ups in coffee shops for sprints, but I will be drinking lots of wine and mostly sitting around in my PJs with un-brushed hair hoping that staring at the laptop screen for long enough will magic up those remaining words!

Sadly, due to unexpected circumstances, I didn’t get to go to any NaNo meets for real this year, but I ‘met’ some really interesting people on the forums and I hope to do better next time.  In the words of Arnie, I’ll be back J

Julie:

At the start of the month, I hoped to win NaNo but was slightly dubious that my job hunt and working 3 jobs across a 7-day week was going to mean I didn’t realistically have time to do it but I’m delighted to say that I won NaNo and even finished a day early (on 29th November) with an impressive 50,521 words.

I’m also delighted to say that draft 1 of novel 2 in my trilogy is finished and I’m probably about a quarter to a third of the way through draft 1 of novel 3.

I said that I wasn’t going to do anything with NaNo other than enter my word count i.e. not get involved in forum discussions or meet-ups and I had to stick to that. It’s not that I don’t believe that these tools would have been helpful or enjoyable but simply that time was of such a premium that there was no way I could do any of those things and write as well. I confess I didn’t even read any of the motivational emails. The only things I did were enter my word count daily, scowl as my bar chart seemed to dip further and further away from the goal line and check the stats of a writing pal who had hooked up to my profile so we could see each other’s progress.

So, what did I get out of NaNo if I did nothing except enter my word count? Oodles and oodles. Because, for me, the “just write” approach is so refreshing. I started book 2 doing it and NaNo enabled me to continue in that “don’t you dare edit or you’ll get a slap” mindset so I could just get the story out there and worry about the descriptions and emotions later instead of spending days/weeks/months re-writing and re-editing the start and never actually moving on. With everything that’s going on in my life at the moment, November would probably have been a 5,000 word month if I’m lucky instead of the 50,500 month it turned out to be and I’m so grateful. It means that, with book 1 in the big bad world seeking representation, I can say to an agent or publisher that book 2 AND 3 are well on their way instead of just ideas. Without the goal of 50k words, I know I would have let life take over.

I had some sticky moments. I had 4 days of doing nothing. One of these was a day off inbetween book 2 and 3 which made sense to clear my head. Another was a night out but the other two were days where I felt shattered. On top of that, I had five days under 1,000 words and another 3 under the daily target which meant I had to do some real hard grafting at the end but a couple of days at the 4.5k mark and another couple at 2.5 recovered things quickly. The one thing I don’t understand, though, is why I can’t apply that same discipline, willpower and determination to my diet. Hmmmm. Answers on a postcard please! 😉

Lynne:

I got off to a great start, then life caught up with me. I had so much on at home I dipped out and didn’t finish. But I will do next year, I consider my efforts this year as an aperitife! 🙂

Rachael:

I didn’t get much more than 16,000 done this time and will give a better go next time.  However, I have had a bit of an excuse having been promo’ing like mad as a result of making the top ten in the HMB So You Think You Can Write competition.  All of that and still running a  business was amazingly time consuming, but the results are in today so expect a posting with some news from me on here soon…..

Technically speaking, we only had two winners but, we hope you’ll agree, there were no losers here.  We produced over 200,000 words in the month between us, had a top ten finalist in an international romance writing competition, from HMB no less, and a second novel winging its way to the publishers – all in the space of 30 days.  So here’s to NaNoWriMo and the other mad folk who joined us in our month of frenzied creativity.  We can’t wait to hear how you got on too, so please, if you can bear to type just a few more few words, we’d love to know!

Pitch Perfect

What does the word pitch mean?

1 To throw something.

2 The voice. To hit, the right note.

I have to confess, I am no expert in pitching anything, especially throwing a ball. And I couldn’t hit the right note whilst singing, even if you paid me. Yet in a few weeks, this is something some of us will be doing.

The RNA conference will be here in a few weeks time. This is an opportunity to pitch your novel to the publishing world. This is an occasion to sparkle and wow them. To see the masterpiece you have created finally out in the world. This is the dream of every author.

Now, here is what not to do. I have experience in this area. A few years ago at the RNA winter party, my friend who came with me, nudged me in the direction of an M&B editor. Needless to say, I was terrified. She asked me about my novel, and I told her. It seemed to be going well. It was then, I realised her eyes had glazed over. Not a good sign! It was at this point I decided it was a lost cause. I made my escape as fast as possible. She seemed very relieved.

Then, I went to the conference, and decided to put myself through the agony again.

First of all made sure my first chapter and synopsis were emailed to the editor. Great

Practiced out loud how I would answer questions thrown at me.

Two days before the conference I had an email asking me, if I had sent a chapter for the editor to look at. Panic set in, I double checked, and decided to send another copy. Still no luck! She hadn’t received it. Now what was I going to do? By now I could see my chance slipping away. At this point my nerves had kicked in. They decided to have a bit of a meltdown. This is another area that I do have experience in.

It was the day before the conference still the editor hadn’t received my chapter! By this time my nails were bitten, and I had started to pull my hair out. Gone was any thought about the weekend ahead. I was absorbed with this one interview, the one occasion where I might be able to shine. By this time I didn’t even have a hint of a sparkle about me. Nervous and wreck come to mind, and I hadn’t even seen anyone yet. Then it happened. The editor told me to bring a hard copy of my work with me. She would try and read it between interviews. At this point, I felt relief and nervous, all for a different reason.

So on the interview day, I stood with all the other people waiting to tell their story. My hands were sweaty, and I felt sick and my mouth felt parched and dry. Hearing my name called I walked in, and so began my first pitch.

Though there were a few disasters along the way. At the end I felt really positive. Even if you feel the pitch was a complete disaster, it doesn’t matter. The main thing is that you have stepped out and you have tried. Maybe practice makes perfect. So I encourage everyone this year to go for it, regardless how you feel. Sometimes we have to do step out and do it, even if we feel afraid.

Lorraine x

When wishes come true…

First of all I would like to say a heartfelt thanks to everyone who has commented and wished me well. No-one is more surprised than me about my offer of a two book deal with Harlequin’s Digital Imprint Carina.  In my heart I know my novel is good enough to be published because over the years I have read some that actually kept me going they were so bad and had found publishers, but I never actually believed it could happen to me. I thought it was something that would always happen to everyone else. I keep thinking it all might be a mistake, once my contract arrives I think I might actually believe it’s true and then I’ll give everyone a full update.

You know there is a garden centre we visit every couple of months up at Ambleside and outside there is a wishing well type thing with a bell that you throw your money at to see if you can hit it. It has become a Phifer family tradition now that none of us can walk away until we hit that bell at least once and make a wish. My wishes these last two years have been, please let me finish my book, please let me find an agent or publisher, please let the lovely editor I met like my book, please let the lovely editor buy my book – you get the idea. I think it might be time for another trip up there to make another wish but I’m not sharing that one unless it comes true but whatever you do with your writing and no matter how disheartened you may feel – don’t ever give up.

Helen P xx