Tuesday, 28 July 2009

First line difficulties


I skimmed over a blog talking about first lines and out of the 20 odd examples quoted I hadn't read any of the books, but it did start me thinking about first lines.

They're important, I accept that. As a reader I know why - they either grab me, or they don't. If they don't, I may not go on to read the book. But as a writer, it becomes a whole different exercise. Maybe it shouldn't, but it does.
An opening line can set the tone for the book,
show off my grasp of the language, or simple grab your attention, which is what I think most new authors think is meant by The Hook. Or it can be something witty, in which case you might think A-ha! I like this sense of humour and take the book home. If the author doesn't keep up that sense of humour, the relationship is doomed.
I suspect each book, and each first line, operates under different drivers depending on the type of book. Thriller, romance, literary novel? Should it be a question? Some profound insight? Something lyrical? Or should we start the action off and running, as Shakespeare used to do?
How do we ever decide? And why am I not surprised that the first page is the bit that gets changed the most!
Here are 3 examples. I guantee you will know the first one; but what about the next two?
(1) "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a fortune, must be in want of a wife."
(2) "Left Munich at 8.35pm on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrived at 6.46, but the train was an hour late."
(3) "Every woman should marry for her own advantage since her husband will represent her, as visible as her front door, for the rest of his life."

Monday, 27 July 2009

Have Reviews changed?

A review of Far After Gold slid into my in-box this morning and I wanted to share it in spite of the fact that the holiday season means everyone is away and not reading blogs right now! You'll find the review here
"It brings the time period to life and the characters are described so vividly that you feel you get to know them as you read. This is a book that is worth reading. You get to take a wonderful trip back in time and live in the times of Vikings."

Some reviews take longer than others but are always welcome. How much effect do they have on readers' choices? There was a time when I read the reviews in the up-market newspapers every week and pushed in a few requests on Monday morning. So easy to do when I worked in the public library - and a good way of ensuring that our branch got a good selection of new fiction all through the year! But now I find that the reviews don't tempt me so much, sometimes not at all. It makes me wonder - has my taste in reading matter changed so radically over the years? Or has the type of book being written and reviewed changed instead? Or both at the same time - and heading in opposite directions?

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Unnecessary words


I was confident I would not have many "unnecessary words" to take out of my finished ms. It turned out to be just over 2,000!
and it seems I have a real liking for using the word "that." "So" was popular, too. I must remember this list when I am writing from now on and save myself work.
Went to see the new Harry Potter film yesterday and have to say I was disappointed. Very slow, with little or no explanation for those who have not read the books. Perhaps the makers consider that everyone will have read them many times, but there are still a few people around who have not. I had both kinds with me - and I have read it but so long ago that details have faded.
Kyaking is one sport that doesn't appeal to me. Too wet and cold and uncomfortable. Had these two been on the river in the last few days they'd have been swept away!

Monday, 20 July 2009

After the thunderstorms

I've done half a dozen posts on the RNA conference at Penrith and that's enough, I think; here's one last view of a few people talking and waiting a for lecture to begin.

The rest of the world goes happily on. Weather has been so variable lately with brilliant sunshine one day and vicious rain and thunder storms the next -
the river Tyne is in flood again - in July! - and yet the insects keep working the flowers in the intervals.


I've finally finished Reluctance. Just over a hundred thousand words, give or take a few as I weed out the repetitions and unnecessaries, which should not take long as I've done about three serious drafts of this story. I used Doc-u-map to track the Chapter Headings and the date line of the story - and found it really useful and a speedy way of getting around the pages. Took me an age to figure out how to do it initially, but now it is worth it.

Interestingly enough, after sixteen months of total and utter silence, I received a request for a ms from a publisher in the US. They are interested in Shadows, the story that got tangled in the Triskelion shambles. It is out for consideration with another publisher at the moment, but it is nice to know someone else is interested.

Now I shall begin re-drafting a story the M&B girls at the conference thought was OK if I tweaked one or two things. My prologue was "a bit grim" and would be better used as part of the Black Moment further down the story. The things Jenny said made good sense, and I wondered why I hadn't thought of it myself.
At home we are doing a bit of re-organisation. Late spring cleaning, you might say. For one reason or another, our bedroom has never seemed to be "finished." The other rooms, fine, but the poor old bedroom must have felt like Cinderella. It is now receiving Attention.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Penrith again


Kathy Gale: What publishers want – and how to make them want you
Wise words from a former Senior Editor at Pan, Pan-MacMillan, Women’s Press, now a writing coach.
Publishers want :–


  • An author who writes a book a year and sells loads, particularly one of the 12 titles picked by supermarkets. Facility for publishers to “grow” authors has gone now; writing coaches have stepped in.

  • They want to know where your book fits in the market place. They need a clear idea so they can sell it on to retailers, distributors etc ie “heartrending love story set in Regency Times”

  • Writing of a new or contemporary style

  • Must be able to write what publishers want rather than what you want to write * Misery memoirs/family sagas are now on the decline with publishers, though they still sell to the public. Talk to agents/read trade press, best seller lists, etc for new trends. Read new authors and discover what it is that is different

  • *Don’t write cynically for a specific market, but write your book with an eye on the market. Try for something special ie psychological accuracy and depth. Describe place, characters, evoke atmosphere – don’t let pace override everything else.

  • Don’t believe all the rules you hear, especially about length, or not starting with a dream, a secondary character, or a building

  • Be professional in your MS and covering letter. Don’t indent paragraphs but leave a space between them. Single quotes are more popular now. Include a couple of paragraphs on plot, genre, comparisons with other authors (careful not to sound conceited!) and that you hope to write more in the same vein, with continuing characters

  • Author appearance does matter, no matter what they say, so for a meeting dress bright and less than formal but not to the point of eccentricity. If you are interesting, intelligent and “promotable” it all helps. Showing yourself as self-respecting and assertive but not as TROUBLE is good, too.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Penrith continued


Freda Lightfoot spoke early on Sunday morning. Photographs taken while speaking are never flattering, are they? Freda shot a brilliant smile the second after this, but someone nodded forward in their seat and eclipsed her, so apologies Freda, this is the only shot I have.
"Creating a brand" was her theme.
The brand is a guarantee of quality, and readers recognise a brand they like. Today, post NBA, power is not with the writer, who must think as self-employed person, know their target audience and their work – and the way it differs from others in the genre. Authors need a website, updated regularly.
Plan for the year ahead and budget accordingly. Read http://www.book2book.co.uk to stay informed about the book trade. Get on the WI, library, church groups, and pensioners club circuit and talk to potential readers. Ask libraries if they have a budget, accept whatever their normal fee may be. At first you may do it for nothing, or expenses only. Get them to put up posters and sell tickets, provide a cuppa. Say you will talk about the issue of ….whatever your book happens to cover.
Link up with other writers. Produce a newsletter once a quarter
Contact the media about ten days before publication. If you appear on live radio, ask what the first question will be and remember they cannot cut or edit if you are live! Have three points in your mind – the book! The title! Why you wrote it! What it is about – have a little anecdote if you can.
Her talk was a perfect demonstration of How To Do It Well. I only wish I could hope to emulate her!

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Penrith once more


A happy picture of (L to R) Shirley Dickson, Margaret Carr and Prue Philipson of the Border Reivers Chapter.
Jessica Hart is a reader for the NWS and finds that the thing most often missing from submissions is emotional tension. ET - "a metaphorical holding of breath" - tension comes from uncertainty. The more obstacles you can put in the way of your H/h getting together, the more tension you create, the more uncertainty there will be of the outcome. The longer you hold your breath the greater the release when you finally do let go!

She mentioned Save the Cat (Blake Snyder) and agrees with his 15 Beats - the format works.

Jessica had a neat diagram that may be difficult to show here. Think of it as a mathematical equation, with a line beneath situation (external) -

situation (external) x plot = Emotional Tension
character (internal)

All stories need an initial hook or "situation," possibly an external factor that forces them together, but it must be believeable and there must be a "stake" for each of them. What is it that drives them? They each need a goal, and those goals should be in conflict. What are the usual drivers? Love, lust, hate, fear. Fear will subdivide into fear of rejection, humiliation, loss, loneliness, loss of face, comittment, betrayal, failure etc.

The H/h must change during the arc of the tale, test their fears. Push them out of their comfort zones. Get them to talk about their difficulties. If the heroine begins to find the hero attractive, why can she not tell him? Because she believes, because he told her so, that he is in love with someone else. Why did he tell her this? He must have a reason. It may not be true.

Secondary characters are not necessary. Keep the H/h alone and remind them every time it looks like they're getting together that they cannot be together.
As for the other pictures ~ Lynne Connolly diligently worked on her edits throughout the conference ~ and Jan Jones prepares to award prizes to the lucky few at the Saturday night conference dinner.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Penrith, expected

I wish I had better photos of the speakers at the conference. I'm still getting used to my tiny new camera which requires a very steady hand compared to the bigger, heavier types I'm used to.

Anita Burgh, right, gave a very thorough talk on how to woo agents and publishers purely through the way you approach them with your submission.

Unhappily my pictures of the M&B girls Jenny Hutton and Meg Lewis did not come out well even though they were both so young and attractive. They told us they want diversity and variety, that too many people were sending in submissions using the same old basic plots. They advised "listening" to our characters and discovering new twists on conventions and conflicts.


Internal conflict should be the main focus of the story. It took me a long time to understand what M&B meant by IC; now I understand it to be the opposing forces within each character, whereas
misunderstandings, for example, are external conflict. An internal conflict might be fear of rejection opposed to a need for security, for example. The emotional repercussions of a traumatic past are what the reader wants - not descriptions of the traumatic past itself.


Make your stories work on a character driven basis. Start with the character, chart their journey, mark their growth and change, stay with the character rather than the plot.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Penrith, unexpected

It may not be what you expect from a writers conference, especially a romantic writers conference, but walking early in the morning can be rewarding.
When I saw Sue Moorcroft's pic, here I knew we had been photographing the same horse. This is in the mare's own little world at the end of the lane beyond the tennis courts and the football pitches, with Blencathra (I think!) in the distance.











The fields were full of activity, too. Hares speeding across the meadows; not a common sight these days, now that hares are on the list of endangered species.


The conference was informative, exciting and tiring. Some familiar faces, many new ones - and the noise! If I ever had the idea that authors were shy, retiring people, then this gathering blew that idea right out of the water!


Coming from the north-east of the UK, so very close to the Border with Scotland, I don't often make the trip to London. It is expensive and to make anything of it, demands an overnight stay, so it is especially good that the conference comes north and gives us northern writers the chance to make the acquaintance of all the names I see so regularly on ROMNA .

Rachel Natanson gave us a insight into the complex workings of People's Friend where so much change has gone on lately. The audience remains the same - strong, independant minded ladies of a certain age who want stories that feature believable characters perhaps caught up in unfavourable circumstances. The readers do not wish to be shocked or offended or have to worry about leaving the magazine lying around where small hands may find, read and be hurt by it. The Pocket Novel word count has gone up to 50k and still features youngish heroines, whereas the shorter stories like romance stories about older leadies - ie over 50!





Thursday, 9 July 2009

RNA Conference


Drove over to Gibside today and walked the Great Walk to recharge the batteries. Gibside is a sad, folorn relic of a Jacobean Mansion house built in the early 1600s on a ledge above the River Derwent. The arms of James I are still above the door. (I have a photograph of that somewhere, must try and dig it out) The house was once three storeys, but for some reason I have yet to discover, the top storey was replaced with battlements.
There are so many delightful old houses in this locality and I have photographs of many of them. Yesterday I was out to lunch at Matfen Hall, north of the Tyne, and it is so very different to Gibside. Flourishing, and making money through its new Spa and the award winning restaurant in the Old Library.
Tomorrow I am off to take part in the RNA annual conference at Penrith, and on Monday I shall load more pics of our local old houses. Possibly one or two from the conference, should I stay sober enough to take them!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Late plots

There, he's got the cup, won the match, worn his
Thunderbirds-are-go jacket and it's all over for
another year.

Good thing, too, as we've had horrendous rain today. I am, at last, back to work and wondering why it is I only have INSIGHTS into plot development once I've written the damned chapter. I romp on to chapter Eleven and in the middle of the night realise I should have had Mary turn up at the dance in Chapter Seven and flirt with Holbrook. She is conspicuous only by her absence.
So back I go and insert all the relevant bits, and wonder what I'm going to think about chapter eight, nine and ten once I've reached fifteen, sixteen and seventeen.
I think I'll go for a walk and ponder before I go any further.
There's lots to ponder. Why, for example, the media currently rules the world. Why people seem to go into national hysteria mode when a famous person dies these days. Or perhaps they don't, perhaps I only think they do because the media tells me they do. Was it like this for Valentino? Lennon? Or do the subjects have to be realtively young and goodlooking? I noticed no hoo-ha for Sinatra, but maybe I was looking the other way.
24 hour news on hundreds of channels requires 24 hour stories to tell and there are so many journalists trying to make the grade out there...am I a cynic for thinking that sometimes they well, tweak a story to make it interesting? On the one hand I hope I am; on the other, I'm sure I'm not. I am divided, and let me tell you, it is uncomfortable!

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Heroes of the day












Rafa couldn't be here to defend his title so the Wimbledon final seemed a bit flat this year.

Roger was there, looking cool and trying hard . Andy Roddick was there, looking uncool and trying hard, sweat dripping from the peak of his cap from the second game. Neither could break the other's service game. Tie-breaks became the order of the day.

Until the last set of course when tie-breaks are not allowed. It went on and on, until I began to fear that one of them would fall down and not get up again.

Tennis is the gladiator sport of this day and age. One on one, for anything from forty minutes to over five hours without a break unless it happens to rain. Heroes are made in this sport, some seem born to be heroes.

Footballers may think they are fit, but they should try this for a living. Enter a tournament and any given day five sets are a possibility for the men. A team chase a ball on a football pitch, one man on a tennis court. He doesn't just want to beat his opponent, said one retired professional on tv last week, he wants to destroy him.

Roger looked worried, but never raged or threw things as so many do. And amazingly in these days of females grunters, trillers and screamers, this match was silent. The crowd made the only noise, and the audience at home could hear the racket strike the ball. There is no sound more redolent of summer and strawberries, unless it is the sound of leather on willow. Beautiful day.

Roger won. I'll save that pic for tomorrow.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Shields of Pride

Brilliant summer weather again, but these warm
nights make sleeping difficult. Good thing I have unread books to hand when the clock hands move on to two and three in the morning, otherwise I'd be demented come morning!
Last night I finished Shields of Pride by Elizabeth Chadwick. It was first published in 1994 so she has "refurbished it" for re-issue in 2007. The style of her writing and the story lines she selects are a little different now, but not a great deal. I enjoyed this story of Linnet and Joscelin (I must admit I had trouble with that name for a hero. I had a female friend called Jocelyn, and almost every time I saw the name in print I stopped reading and had to remind myself "that's the hero.")
The arc of the story is their romance, from first meeting to settled happy relationship after the first child, with all the near disasters early medieval life can throw at them. The difference between this and an M&B type romance is that the mindset of the characters is very much medieval, as opposed to the newer M&B type historicals where heroines in particular are very much this century constrained by their some aspect of their setting - which they soon overthrow.
Scene setting may be easier for medieval hsitoricals, when the differences between 1200 and 2000 are so very much greater than 1800 and 2000, but I do prefer it when author takes the trouble to give me an authentic flavour of what life was truly like in the time period she has chosen to write about. For one thing, it almost cures me of the dream that I would like to have lived back in history. For another, it is pure reading pleasure, and ensures that I won't, with a curl of the lip, be throwing the book across the room.