Saturday, 30 May 2009


There are so many distractions this week I've done almost nothing to my resurrected writing project. First of all the weather has been almost perfect, so we've been out and about, hence the shot to the right taken in the woods around Aydon Castle. Secondly, I've been watching Roland Garros in Paris and cheering on Rafa - and there's another week to go before the final!

Thirdly, and this is the crunch, I couldn't decide how I wanted to progress my wisp (work in second project, before you frown. Perhaps it should be work as second project and therefore wasp). M&B don't want it, so I want to make it less H/h focussed and have more secondary character interest.

I'm mulling over various title changes for it. I'd like something that reflects or hints at the story line, but nothing is coming to mind yet. Yesterday, I saw the way forward storywise, and have re-drafted the first two chapters and added a prologue. I have notes for the third chapter ready to tackle, but Federer is playing today... and the weather is perfect again, and our neighbours are hosting a garden party this evening...

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Blog-hopping pays off

I was blog-hopping this morning and fell into Julie Cohen's blog and found this:
To write a bigger book, I don’t need MORE of EVERYTHING. In fact, I don’t need much more of anything. What I need instead, is to go more deeply and with more complexity into what I already have.
KISS. (Keep It Simple, Stupid)

That really rang a bell for me. I sat up straight in my chair and read it again, and then again. Yes, I thought, this is where I'm going wrong with Daisy. I got so anxious to finish her story off and go on to something else that I didn't take the time to think the ending through and make it believeable. So, I've got myself into a total confusion with it. Time off is necessary, I think, and then to come back to it with a cool head and an analytical mind.
How good that the tennis season is upon us and I have ample opportunity to amuse myself watching Rafa and Roger slug it out again!

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Historical language and its uses

"Amazon, which commands 5 to 15 percent of the book market, claims that for titles with Kindle versions, digital sales represent about 35 percent of total sales."
This interesting snippet comes from a longer article here. It seems a best-selling American thriller writer has lost fans because Amazon priced his latest book too highly and they are refusing to buy.
I read an interesting blog today in which Anne Gilbert- link - discusses what some call "gadzooks" language, or "writing forsoothly". Ms Gilbert calls it "fake poetic," a kind of artificial "archaic" supposed to suggest an "olde-tymey" type of speech.
She uses "upon"(rather than just plain "on"), "ere", "nay", "mayhap" as examples and claims a lot of writers of historical romance think they are conveying "olde-tymey" speech patterns.
The style is closer to Shakespeare's time than early medieval English. She thinks some historical fiction writers in Victorian times used this kind of language and that the "tradition" has never entirely died out. I think she's right on both counts.
She goes on to say that some readers of historical fiction enjoy this kind of fake "archaism" because they think it gives them a flavour of the way language was spoken then.

Since she is thinking of Sharon Penman's writing, she goes on to wonder about Penman's use of "Britishisms," and because Penman is an American writer, living in New Jersey, she wonders why she spells words in the British way - "whilst" or "amongst", rather than "while" or "among" in the American way. She wonders why American writers do this.
I applaud Penman for spelling the British way when the story and characters are set in Britain. There is nothing that makes me grind my teeth more than reading a story set in this country and having so-called English characters who talk like modern Americans. It happens in narrative passages as well. Suddenly a glaring spelling error leaps off the page and I think crappy writing, crappy editing and then realise - American author, American spelling.
If I read a modern American story - and I do - Gerritsen and Roberts come to mind readily enough - then I want the characters's dialogue and the narrative writing to be US English. But I wonder if American audiences want a UK story set in Regency Yorkshire to have characters who speak like Americans? And if so, why? How can this be less of an issue than using "mayhap" and "gadzooks"?

Monday, 18 May 2009

Recent Reading: McKinley and Grange

I've read two books by Tamara McKinley lately. Her pattern seems to be - start by telling about one set of characters, get them to a crisis point and then start a new chapter and a new set of characters.
In Windflowers there is also a time shift. A scene break may shift characters forty years forward or back in the story, which had a "secret" and I must admit it kept me reading to the end to discover the "secret." The story line must have been very hard to control for the author. I can only imagine she had a really strong chapter breakdown ready plotted before she began the real work, and wrote the story from that. Otherwise, the opportunities for confusion seemed endless!
I romped through Amanda Grange's Captain Wentworth's Diary a few days ago. Excellent book!
I don't know if Mandy visualised her particular Captain W as she wrote it, but for me Rupert Penry-Jones waltzed in and took over the character lock stock and barrel. It turned out to be another example of a first person narrative where I barely noticed the single POV.
The pic is the Roman altar stone in Halton churchyard.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Halton church mouse

I love this place and not just because of the church mouse!

The walk on Wednesday paused here at Halton Church while we sat and enjoyed the view across the valley. Records say there was a church of some kind here in Roman times, and certainly the arch inside has a Roman feel to it. But I would say it is mostly medieval in style, and early medieval if I consider the battlements. A memory of the reiving days, perhaps, when not even a church was safe from the maruaders. The Moot Hall in Hexham is built in a similar style, and the Vicar's Pele Tower in Corbridge.

Halton Tower is a stone's throw away away to the west, and it is certainly noted as a fourteenth century tower built during the Border warfare. The house on the side is seventeenth century and there are said to be remnants of an older building to the north of the tower, but the house is in private hands so I can't go in and rummage around like I can at Aydon Castle, a mile and half to the south.

This is the area where I've chosen to set my Tudor romance TILL THE DAY GO DOWN, hopefully to be published sometimes this summer. The title comes from an old snatch of verse by Hobbie Noble, full of both threat and promise. I thought it gave the flavour of the men who lived then.

But will ye stay till the day go down

Until nght comes o'er the ground,

And I'll be a guide worth any twa

That may in Liddesdale be found.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

A walk on the literary side

A pair of curious lambs encountered on a walk yesterday They posed beautifully so I told them the cheque was in the post.

One of the nice things about a walk in the countryside is that it allows lots of time to talk with a companion. It won't be a surprise to know that one of the topics was writing/reading. How the literary world looks down its nose at popular fiction, where the borderlines are between shallow, superficial writing and the clunkiness of books deemed to be good (ie literary) writing. Should a book enlighten or entertain?

I prefer that a story should entertain me first of all and possible enlighten me as it goes along. But these days I won't read fiction only to be enlightened. Non-fiction will that for me, and do it far better. I've done my english lit at university, I've read since the age of four, tried sci-fi, historical, paranormal, thrillers and these days so many books are riddled with the violence and gore I do not want to open them. Only lately have I discovered the romance genre.

The romance genre is wide and stretches far beyond the Mills & Boon category romances that most people assume makes up the entire genre. I freely admit that in the 1960's I and colleagues made fun of Mills & Boon romances during quiet spells in the library, but the books have changed along with years.
I remember reading widely in my twenties, eager to soak up all the different ways that life could be lived. Things I didn't know until I was twenty-five are now common knowledge to nine-year olds and I think the thing to blame for that loss of innocence is the monster in the corner of every home - the tv. Reading takes an effort of imagination to translate the words into meaningful images in your head, and the muscle needs to be exercised and expanded from an early age. The tv requires only that you watch. Quite often it tells you what you need to understand. But tv and its dangers are another story. Must get on and do some work.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009


Isn't it strange how much a name matters when writing fiction?
I decided to change the name of my main male lead from Don to Rory in the wip and am slowly discovering that his character is changing as I write. Odd, as all I wanted to change was his name, not his personality. The story was finished, but this is a second draft, so really his character should have been fixed in my mind. It's a little unsettling to find that it isn't. I changed the heroine's name as well, but fortunately she hasn't begun to exhibit any strange quirks - yet!
I have finally decided that Sourcebooks don't want to know me. I sent my sub off in September last year, and waited patiently. I queried at Christmas, and yes, they had it. Since then nothing, in spite of three or four queries. That's sad.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Border Reivers and characters

Yesterday the Border Reivers group met at Morpeth and we all discussed writing blurbs. A weird art, and I'm not sure the meeting was productive as seven of us all had differing views on what was required for a really good blurb. Interesting, none the less, and I came away thinking definitely more practice required at writing the -- things.
I knew character names were important, but had not taken into account - silly me! - the differing views of others. Because I think Don and Julie are good names for H/h, I wonder why they conjure up an image of a forty-somethings in someone else's mind. Why are those names generally deemed old and stodgy? Is it a personal thing? Do they know someone of that age, with that name, and are pre-disposed to think every one called Don is like the man they know?
Or is the name itself dated? H'mmm. More food for thought. I chose Don because it was short, sharp, free of overtones (how wrong I was!) and fairly standard like Richard, James and John, the sort of names that persist through every generation. Call him Jake and I think of a six foot lifeguard I once knew in my distant youth - and that doesn't suit my character at all!
Last night was a late one due to a dinner dance and today will be taken up by dh's imminent departure for France, so I won't get much work done today. But next week - no distractions!

Friday, 8 May 2009

Style and technique

Spring has turned into a howling gale, so I'm done with the blossom pictures - there's hardly any blossom left!

This fire-engine turned up in our cul-de-sac this week. It seems someone had set the woods alight and this was the closest they could get to it. Can't have been much of a fire, thank goodness, since twenty minutes later they drove away.

Another incident was this rather large van trying to cross the too small bridge across the Tyne. There are large notices warning that the Victorian bridge is a mere 6 foot wide and there is a 3 ton weight limit on it, but these vans will try. This one couldn't even get on, and then caused chaos by reversing away from it with a queue of cars behind him.

But back to more writerly matters. Newbie authors/wannabee authors are often told 'read the line' or 'read the genre' to know what is required. There are certain difficulties with this, I find. First of all, the books we read are often two or three years old - but new enough to us - and the genre has changed and moved on in that time, especially since publishers are looking for something that will hit the shelves in one or two years time.

Also they always ask for something - you've guessed it - 'different.' Now I'm not saying that our plot would be identical to any particular published author, but if we learn the style of a famous author, and style is the thing we've been told to study, then how can we be different?

I suppose the answer would be 'learn the technique and develop your own style.' H'mmm. At first glance, style and technique seem very close. Sometimes, I suspect they might merge. At the othe end of the range, technique is a skill, a way of putting nouns and adverbs together so that the reader understands the message I want them to understand. Style is how it looks (reads).

For example, Dick Francis has a style I've mentioned before, applauding its brevity. Gabaldon has a style which is the exact opposite. Both are successful, both are suited to their particular genre, both are instantly recognizable. I think I've answered my own question - but what do you think?

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Romantic problems

Still the arguments rage over romance and its literary worthiness. For anyone who wants to follow it up, here's the link. Academic conferences are discussing it now!

I think it is damned difficult to write an interesting and well motivated romance. I keep changing my hero's motivation, or rather the childhood influences that have made him what he is and subconsciously guide his choices as an adult. Some things work, some things don't. When I first started this book on holiday in France about four years ago, I thought of it as a fun exercise, but now I think it is going to prove one of those "difficult" books. I wanted ghosts racketing around the old mill, but I didn't want frightening ghosts since it was primarily to be a romance. But if ghosts aren't frightening, what are they?

You see my problem? I have now - at last - constructed a scenario of conflict and I shall stick to it. No more deviations or this story goes out of the window. I'm starting to get just a tiny bit bored with it, so either it "works" in the next few sessions or that's it - over and onto the next, fresh story. I wonder what it will be?

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Hexham Book Festival

Had a day out today at the Hexham Book Festival. Evidently I missed a great workshop on synopses yesterday, but today I learned a lot by listening to M&B author Sharon Kendrick in the morning and a trio of authors plus a senior editor in the afternoon.

Some of the stuff can be found on the website, but here are a few words of wisdom that stuck in my mind -

"Remember not to overplay the arrogance. Weave in layers of conflict. As one question is answered, a second is revealed. Signposts are necessary sometimes. Beware coincidences, especially trite ones. (I don't suppose anyone will own up to that one!) 'She stopped at the gate and wondered if Tino would remember her' was deemed an excellent opening hook. You need to know their characters inside out and their backstory so you can set up and be clear about the internal conflict."

And at last I think I know what internal conflict really is.

The afternoon session authors were Natasha Oakley, Michelle Styles and Sharon Kendrick.
They were informative and enthusiastic, and all agreed that M&B romances are character driven and that constant change keeps the books relevant to the next generation. Good motivation makes a book work, poor motivation can ruin excellent writing.

For M&B you need tunnel vision on the central romance. If something doesn't affect the romance, take it out. It's got no business being there. In case you wondered, the other woman scenario is deemed to be 'external conflict' because she is outside the central romance. But a woman who has been raped and has ongoing problems with any future relationship is internal conflict. So is a grasping, greedy step-mother who makes the hero suspect that
every woman is a gold digger.
Psychological conflict should mount in stages to the resolution, but takes a nose-dive at the Black Moment when all seems lost.

M&B are looking for new authors. They get around 1,500 submissions a year and they take on 1% of them. But all 3 ladies talking to us today came through via the dreaded slush pile. What will catch the eye? Great characterisation, good voice and Something Different.

Keep writing!