Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Recovery Time Required

Finally after much blood letting this rewrite of A Cornish House is done and dusted. I was beginning to think I would never get there. I hope that for all the pain it caused (which included my mother desperate desire to read the end before she left which was 4 am this morning) it is a stronger story. I do know without a doubt that it is more Maddie's story than Serena's - so even if it's crap I have at least proved to myself that I could re balance and intensify the story. For this I owe a debt of gratitude to the lovely Julie Cohen for reminding all things have been written before but it's what you bring to the story that makes it different and the Donald Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook.

Now I will not touch it until Monday - I promise. I need the distance to get perspective. However as I woke early this morning (Have been rising about five every morning to have peace and computer time) I was twitching. I think if I begin rereading on Monday that gives me a clear two weeks to play with it and then I can send it of to the RNA New Writers' Scheme as an unpolished but complete work. It was the best I could hope to achieve with the end of August deadline.

I have to say there is a part of me also that is itching to begin writing the book in my head which began brewing last summer at the RNA conference. However that must wait until September even thoughI have found the house that will be the basis for the setting......

Friday, July 25, 2008

So Close I Can Taste It

I haven't been blogging - not for nothing to say but the time issue again. My parents are here which is bliss. My house is now sorted and the kids are sorted. Life is good but time keeps disappearing. DH arrives today :-)

Yesterday I woke at 4:30 and couldn't fall asleep again so I crept downstairs and began revision work. I had spent the six hours the previous day while the car was being serviced this week. I sat at the kids table in the local vauxhall garage with a printout of A Cornish House and Donald Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. I began at page one and worked through his chapters and the connections in my head started flying. My poor heroine is having more and more dumped on her but best of all - it all fits.

This leads me to the marathon revision day yesterday. So I revised from five am to six pm yet I didn't reach that crucial stage where these new key scenes need to go. I know what I have to write and I now know where they need to fit in the story but truth be told I might just be a little bit afraid to write them. Why you ask? Well, they will hurt Maddie and me. I will have to pull on all those dark corners of pain that we shove away to make these scenes work and I'm just not sure if I can do them justice.

I have wrestled this story from Serena's (the bolshy teen) grip and placed it back with Maddie but it has come at a huge emotional cost for her. I keep saying what else can I throw at her? So now I sit on the edge of writing some pretty painful stuff.......DH keeps saying as I mention what else is going to happen to her - and this is going to have a happy ending, it sounds more like a slash your wrist job. But Maddie will have her happy ending, I promise, it's just that both she and I will have worked bl**dy hard for it.

Have you had any scenes that it took all your reserve to write because you knew how much it would cost your hero/heroine?

Finally some links - over on C. S. Harris's blog there is a great post on lessons learned.
And finally from d.o.t's blog I found this blog How Publishing Really Works which carries much worth while info......

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Well, we did have summer ever so briefly over the weekend but it have left us again. I took some wonderful photos of our days on the Helford with water so clear (and cold) and the sky blue but my camera it appears is on strike. It won't focus properly any more. In these days of digital cameras can they be fixed and is it worth I wonder?

I am trying to achieve some routine which is working. I have managed to keep the early rising thing going which means I have a peaceful two hours before any child appears. I should be cleaning the house but I have been getting back into A Cornish House. This has meant beginning again so to speak. So Instead of being on page 285 of the structural rewrite I am on page 160. Having said that this time through I am catching only small things and I am pleased that new additions seem to fit in seamlessly. Now to push on to where the BIG stuff needs to added.

So with my routine back in place I have been trying to catch up on all the blogs I have missed. I am still not commenting much but I am reading them again but before I venture on to what today's blog is about there have been some new additions to RNA conference reports:

Kate Johnson has a great write up of two of the Saturday morning sessions up.
Anna Lucia

Now while catching up on blogs Iwas reading Nathan Blansford's blogblog I clicked through to Rebecca Ramsey who had a great post about encounters with famous people. This had me thinking about my more recent ones. In Rome we were in the same restaurant as Julia Roberts much to the Dh's delight. The sort of sad thing was that we thought it was just a woman who looked like her........(papers confirmed the following day it was her). I have contact encounters (walked into them) with two very tall men - first was Stephen Fry back when the DH and I were first married and lived near Windsor. Fry was so tall I didn't see his face after I walked smack into him and I was clearly so short he didn't see me! The second was at the Jumeriah Beach Club (in our first stint in Dubai when JBC still existed) was Jeremy Clarkson. I had turned to shout at the trailing kids and continued to walk which was straight into him. I realized who it was as I appologized. Probably my most famous encounter after sitting next to Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall in Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons was actually talking to Bob Hope on the golf course. I was about eighteen at the time. Somewhere I still have my golf card that he signed.

So fess up - who and how have you encountered famous types?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

RNA Conference - Small World Moment

Now that I have blogged about the the serious business of the conference I thought I would just add one last little tale. As regular readers will know I have lived all over the world but home is now in Cornwall. We bought our beautiful house back in 1996 just after we returned from 18 months of living in Calgary. We were based up near Gatwick and the company didn't want us to buy a home but to lease. So we did but I didn't feel happy not having a place that was truly ours.

So i will jump back in time to the summer of 1995 when we thought we were coming back to England for a three week holiday and staying with my in-laws in their house on the Helford River ( lets just say at this point I had one 2 1/2 year old boy and another one who was eight months and the garden of the house was on a forty-five degree slope!). Friends who wanted to spend time with us while we were home had booked a cottage in a nearby village for a week. DH and I went there to meet them on arrival. I set foot in the house and the virtually the first words out of my mouth were - "If this house ever comes on the market, I want it." It spoke to me and it still does. Nine months later the word came through the local grapevine that the house was to be sold.......the rest is history.

The vendors were great people and I think truly wanted us to have the house. We shared a transit van to shift the furniture etc. So on the way down from Gatwick I drove our car full of kids and things to somewhere near Oxford and collected the vendor while DH and her husband drove the van down together.

This time allowed me to talk about the house its history and their love for it. Her parents had bought it in the early sixties and brought it into this century. She had so many memories and kindly left us with photos of the transformation of the house. Now you are wondering how this has anything to do with the conference but hang in there.......We bought the cottage with contents as it was an on going letting concern. The vendor only took away a few personal items. Of the many things left behind were copies of her brother-in-laws books. She told of one tenant who had loved the books and and how they kept getting requests for more information. Now my memory may be wrong but I think she mentioned that her bil had visited the house.

These books are still on the cottage's shelves. I have often picked them up but to date have not read them as yet but definitely will now.
Now let's jump to the conference. I arrive tired and a bit hassled on Friday afternoon ( I had driven from Cornwall to Heathrow to collect DH on Thursday so that we could be at DS2's school for a final parents' reception near Andover - spent the night at friends - collected DS2 from school early in the morning to take him to his soon to be senior school near Oxford for uniform fitting and to meet his housemaster - dropped DH off at train station so he could visit his sister in London, returned DS2 to school and then drove to the conference in Chichester). So I registered and crawled to my room dumped the bags and with tired everything left my room looking longingly at the bed. As I left my room I met a man on the stairwell. I thought he was lost as clearly RNA conferences don't attract a large number of good looking men. However we struck up conversation and I tried to figure out how to broach the subject -are you a romantic novelist? By the time we had reached the book stalls I had discovered that indeed he was and over from Dublin for the weekend. It was his first conference. He desperately wanted to know if there would be any other men at the conference. I said not many but a few brave souls were usually around - fortunately at that moment Steve, Kate Walker's other half appeared.

I thought no more about our male attendee until I caught up with him in the bar after dinner Saturday. I cornered him and said exactly what was he writing (that was after I did the polite thing and ask him if he was enjoying the conference) he then spoke of his uncle J.G. Farrell. Something then went bing in my wine muddle brain. He said he wanted to continue the story of one of his uncle's book. What would that be I asked? he said the Troubles. Another bing went in my head. I asked him what other books did your uncle write? He said The Siege of Krishnapur and ......... By this time alarm bells were ringing. I knew each and everyone of those titles. They belonged to my house. They were part of its long history. I tried to explain. I tried desperately to remember the vendor's name. You see I could remember her maiden name as that is a family that the village remembers fondly. Too much wine does not aid memory then Mark came up with her first name and it all clicked........some times it is a very small world.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Romantic Novelists' Association Conference Day Three Part Two

The last session of the conference for me was Kate Harrison's Botox for Writers - restoring that va-va-voom to your work. I must say I was thinking less at this point in the conference that I wanted to restore the zing to me and not my writing.

Kate began by showing us a pretty scary picture of a face having needles pushed in! I was awake. So here's what she said:

Botox for Writers : The Fiction Facelift

-tone up a tired imagination
-banish a saggy middle
-retouch & refresh a fading image

She began with a case study of the tired imagination which showed symptoms of an inability to focus and a wrinkled brow. The causes were constant deadlines and outside pressures.

-stories are universal-storytellers must be valued
-appeal to us from childhood
-passed down in all cultures
-it is a way of expressing the world, human emotions and struggles
-as story tellers we are performing an essential fundamental function
-it may be instinctive but its not easy

A story must answer a question
-Who will be the best?
-How will this person transform themselves?
-How will the family/friends respond to the transformation?
-Which team will win? Which woman will land the man?

Story = struggle OR change
-to satisfy, a story must involve a struggle or conflict
-without conflict there is nothing to keep the reader interested
-conflict doesn't always mean argument - but the reader must care
-no struggle - no drama

--the struggle to achieve a goal be overcoming obstacles (think of working to get through a mine field)
-obstacles may be physical or mental
-think of twenty ways to make it harder for your character
-increasing the jeopardy can increase tension and interest: add new problems or obstacles, increase difficulty, how far can you push your character?

Story= Character
-nothing matters unless your reader cares about your character
-they don't have to be completely likable though it helps
-but a reader must identify with the struggle

Story Solution
-what is the central question?
-what is the struggle, challenge or change the character must go through?
-can you make the struggle, conflict or challenge greater? more dramatic?
-consider raising increasing the jeopardy or playing with time to raise the stakes (here think of the classic film rom com where the loved is leaving on a flight and the hero rushes off to the airport to declare undying love and gets caught in traffic)

Next Kate dealt with the Saggy Middle (the photo for this one looked all too familiar!)
-symptoms were bloating and blockages
-causes - inevitable stage of life, delivered too many manuscripts
-treatment the WIP/Tuck ( loved this!)

Saggy Middle: Vitamin Cs Boost

1. Change will do you good!
-change your writing location - try cafe or library
-change your perspective -try the pov of another character, or from first to third.......
-change your writing method - computer to pen, skip the description and write as a screenplay

2. Cheat: if in doubt leave it out
-this can be liberating if you are a rule follower
-if stuck at a scene skip forwards
-write entire pages that say what happens then just move forward
-move ahead to scene you can't wait to write

Saggy Middle: the SCAMPER Miracle Plot Lifting Booster
-swap/substitute -think Freaky Friday, Wife Swap or Shakespeare
-combine: genres, ideas, new elements (keep list or use collected articles)
-Adapt - take successful formula and change one element - for example the a quality from a much loved movie or previous book
-maximise -exaggerate to an extreme
-perspective - unexpectedly change pov/have characters see things from a new angle
-eliminate -get rid of a character, a possibility, or escape route. where does it leave the story?
-reverse- dramatic change- rages to riches, Back to the Floor, sudden unexpected reversal tests character

Saggy Middles: SMART Workout
Set your goal. They must be:
-SPECIFIC (what are you going to do - be precise for example read history book on medieval gardens for characters passion)
-MEASURABLE ( how will judge them - 100 words a day)
-ACHIEVABLE (they should challenging but not off putting)
-TIME-LIMITED (set a review date and revise goals if struggling at that point)

She added that is should also be FUN - what would renew your enthusiasm for current wip?

Case Study 3 was Faded Image which symptoms were greying out of date look and the cause changing fashions.

First thing to do was the Stimulating Prep Treatment.
-gather materials together:books magazines tear-sheets, objects, scents. Hunt round the house for things new and old be it a stone from the beach, a postcard and even a cupboard stable. to try the multi-sensory approach
-look through these and set aside the ones that work well
-have a notebook to hand to record to note down any immediate reactions/thoughts/passions/themes.....then think about the themes that jump out at you. Beware story ideas may occur at this point

Intensive Imagination Renewal Treatment
brainstorm media you enjoy
-pick one at a time and analyse why you enjoy it and why they work
-apply to your own work

Refining Revolution Solution
(we all give ourselves rules so break them)
-work out your own rules
-write what the opposite would be
-think how you could tweak them to make your work more interesting and fresh

Conclusions the Holistic Approach:
-get more rest
-get out more
-ask for help
-drink more water
-give self treats

Further resources:
Sticky Wisdom/How to Have Kick-Ass Ideas
Story by Robert McKee
The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler

Kate had us laughing the whole way through but I know I could really see how these methods could perk up a weary creative mind and have already started a few things in mine.

Just to say again that my notes are very incomplete and I know I have missed many of the subtleties of the various sessions which doesn't do the speakers the credit they deserve.

The conference wound down with a smaller group for dinner and quiz. I am pleased to say that I was on the winning team again! Just goes to show that you must learn to be near Anne Ashurst when it's quiz time. The most interesting part of the quiz though was the writers who did not recognize their own work - my lips are sealed on who they were though :-)

It was a brilliant conference thanks to the hard work of the wonderful Jan Jones and the committee. I have come away feeling lifted and inspired so now back to revisions - a deadline to meet!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Romantic Novelists' Association Conference Day Three

Let's just say that day three began with a head that reminded me that I am not young any more. Breakfast was a fairly subdued affair and as I sat opposite Julie Cohen we were both grateful that we both knew each other well enough that words were not required.

The first session of the morning was a PR round up by chairwoman Catherine Jones. The RNA is all about raising the profile of Romantic Fiction in all its many forms. This includes the two main prizes - The Romantic Novel of Year (this year Freya North's Pillow Talk) and the Romance Prize for category romance (this year Kate Hardy's Breakfast at Giovani's). Liz Bailey who has been doing a sterling job with the PR asked us all to vote on who we thought was the sexist thing on two legs. Well in my hungover state there was only one name that came to mind - Richard Armitage - later I thought of a few more. We then had an update on the preparations for the RNA 50th Anniversary in 2010.

Then just what every writer needs on those feeling less than wonderful mornings - laughter in the form of Jane Wenham-Jones. I began to take notes but I was laughing too hard to keep going. So will apologize that I can not even sum up her talk but if you haven't picked up a copy of her book Wanna Be A Writer then do..........

The next session of the morning for me was on the RNA's New Writers Scheme led by Melanie Hilton aka Louise Allen. She reminded us that agents and editors give you two minutes as they 'speed buy' so make it easy for them with polished work. I realized this year will be my fourth year in the NWS but as Giselle Green whose debut novel Pandora's Box came out in June was in NWS for nine years so it's worth it to keep at it.

Next Up was agent Caroline Sheldonwho began with the not so good news about the publishing world:-

-publishers are focusing on best sellers
-shelf life is shorter than yogurt but longer than milk
-the full effects of the Net Book Agreement are now fully visible
- numbers of publishers is condensing (now 9 major houses here) so it is tougher to place books
-they want to publish fewer titles
-minimum sales are 4000/5000 hardback and 15,000 paperback
-250,000 is a big seller
-mid lid have been cut from 12 to 6

However they still say the are:

- looking for fresh, new, different voices
- new directions in romantic comedy, chick lit, mum lit, Gothic (think The Thirteenth Tale), weepy (think Bridges of Madison County), sagas, sweeping stories (think Maeve Binchy or Rosamunde Pilcher), and quality historicals (think Philippa Gregory)

For submission her tips were:

-material needs to be tip top
-title must evoke what the book is about
-great first line
-research agents carefully - there are more of them now which is good for the writer

An agent should:
-be enthusiastic
-share your vision
-have drive, professionalism and flare
-be in it for the long term

The most important thing she can do for you is find you a powerful editor who will fight for your book.

So with a break for lunch and a nap I was ready for Julie Cohen's workshop on Pacing (which isn't just what you do in your Jimmy Choos while waiting for the of your dreams to ring).

Julie began with the fact that pacing works on two levels:
-the whole book
-sentence and paragraph

She said that as a writer we are a time lord (here we all glazed over thinking of David Tennant) as you manipulate time for your reader. You control the novel time, the reader's time, her experience of time (that she spends reading the book and how quickly or slowly this feels). This leads to an intimate relationship with your reader.

She then moved onto length of book and how this effects pacing. A shorter books is fast (obvious) and a bigger one has more time for subplots, introspection, world building, history and reader digestion. The two example she threw up on the screen were Green Eggs and Ham vs. War and Peace.

She suggested doing a calendar after the first draft to visually see how the story is moving through time. A periodic event can help pace book. The example she used was Carole Matthewsbook the Chocolate Lovers' Club. The four main characters meet on a regular basis.


Golden Rule Number One: reading time is subjective (real time has gone quickly yet they have spend a longer time with the character)

Golden Rule Number Two: a book with a lot of well handled conflict will seem to go more quickly no matter how many pages (here she noted Penny Vincenzi's books and Phillipa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl - big issues but reads so fast)


-a pacy book is efficient in it's story telling (no wasted time or repetitions)
-each scene should whenever possible have two or more purposes

Some General Functions:
-more the plot forward
-move the subplot forward
-character development
-create emotion
-create atmosphere
-create conflict
-impart information

Julie prints out the manuscript and then goes through it to make sure each scene serves more than one function and to be sure that she doesn't have scene that do the same thing in the same way.


-start each scene with a hook to grab your reader
-end each scene with a hook to keep your reader from putting the book down
-use the biggest hooks for chapter endings

Julie then had us analyse a short scene for The Other Boleyn Girl. In a small space P. Gregory had packed in conflict, dialogue, atmosphere and irony.


Give your reader variety in:

Julie sited Marian Keyes' This Charming Man as a good example.

Keeping a Secret:

Readers are nosey - keep your secrets back.. Ask yourself how long can I keep it back from the reader or the other characters. Delay as long as possible. Here she sited Giselle Green's Pandora's Box (not a spoiler as it is on the back cover - the daughter has a terminal disease and plans to kill herself but her mother doesn't know - as reader you keep turning the pages to find out what happens when the mother finds out).

Slowing Down and Speeding Up:

You need to slow down for:
-dramatic events
-important points
-emotional high points
-sudden happenings

Short scenes can speed up but can also slow down by distraction and the white space around it can make it feel like more time.

Speed Up or Skip
-coffee scenes
-description for the sake of it
-things that are necessary in real life but not in fiction (going to the loo, washing hands....)
-naturalistic but unneeded dialogue
-the bits at the beginning and ends of scenes that are not hooks


Resist the Urge to Explain

Getting Out the Chainsaw (and loving it)
-embrace it
-revise for pace
-do a chapter list with title and what happens or function after first draft to make sure the novel is balanced

Her final thoughts were that pacing is as important in Romance as in any other genre and it must be invisible to the reader. With that in mind she said to remember that:

Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did only backwards and in high heals.

I think that is enough of a post for today.......tomorrow I will fill you in on Kate Harrison's Botox for Writers. However check out the following blogs for more reports on the conference:
Kate Hardy
Imogen Howson
Ray-Anne's next installments

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Romantic Novelists's Conference Day Two

Saturday was an example of how my life can be divided. I needed to be in two places at once. DS2 was celebrating his last day at prep school and there were all these wonderful sessions at the conference.........I may it back to the conference in time for Jill Mansell's talk which was the last session of the day.

Jill had us all laughing which did make it tricky to take coherent notes but here is what I can make out of mine (Jill if I have my facts wrong please please correct me - otherwise it might be embarassing!):

-she writes feel good fiction with nice people in it
-her characters are much wittier than she is (so she says)

-she writes by hand sitting comfortably on her sofa with tv going in the background

-she doesn't break the work up into chapters until she has written the whole book and can see where the breaks need to be

-she uses a time line

-she gets here ideas from being nosy, eavesdropping, watching tv while writing, problem pages in magazines, asking people pertinent questions

-sparks of ideas do just come

-she adores the Internet and has found that looking oneself up is like being in the a loo cubicle and having people just outside talking about you

-the biggest compliment is that she made a reader laugh or cry and helped them come through some hard times
-she collects embarrassing experiences
-she writes one book a year/ roughly 1000 words a day

Now Fortunately I can send you and me in the right direction for some brilliant reports on the the sessions I missed. Debs Carr has written up her day at the conference here. The notes are brilliant in their detail. Ray-Anne is working her way through her notes and thus far written up the Midas PR session here. We were lucky enough to have the independent book seller Mark Thornton of Mostly Book in Abingdon providing the conference with the book stall and a talk on Shelf Secrets. His account of the conference is here.

So the one successful thing I did do was have my camera handy to capture everyone dressed for the gala dinner........... So here is a selection of Romantic Novelist's in the bar of course

Here is Anne Ashurst and Giselle Green


Here's Bex Leith and Lesley Cookman.

Jane Wenham-Jones and Katie Fforde

Kate Harrison and Sarah Duncan

Julie Cohen and Pam Brooks aka Kate Hardy

Janet Gover and Ray-Anne (see above)

Fenella Jane Miller, Anna Jacobs and Jean Fullerton

Jill Mansell and Moi

Beryl Kingston

Kate Johnson

and her shoes!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Romantic Novelists' Association Conference 2008

Wow. Me thinks I might still be brain dead from all the thinking, talking and dare I say drinking but what a fabulous conference again this year. It is just the boost I needed to set me back into my writing life and remind me that this is exactly where I belong. Upon arrival it was like being greeted by a massive group hug. So many friends to see and chat to but by the end of the weekend I still had missed people or only briefly said hello.

The opening session was a panel of authors who cover the broad spectrum of Romantic Fiction which went to show just what a broad church it is ( yes for those attending it is an intentional pun - all the plenary sessions were held in the chapel). So looking at the photo above you have Anna Jacobs who writes just about everything including Sagas and Contemporary Women's Fictions, Pam Brooks who writes for Harlequin Mills and Boon as Kate Hardy for both the medical line and Modern Heat, the moderator Anne Ashurst who writes as Sara Craven for HMB, Kate Harrisonwho writes Chick Lit, Nicola Cornick who writes Historical Fiction for HMB and HQN Books, and not in the photo was Kate Johnson who writes Paranormal as Cat Marsters.

It was a fantastic start to the conference to see how each of these authors felt about Romantic fiction and how passionate they are about what they write. There was a thread that carried through all their answers about romantic fiction- a journey. This is journey of growth to love and to greater self understanding.
As is appropriate shortly after the opening we adjourned to the bar and there I spotted these fabulous shoes on a HMB editor, Joanne Carr.
I will post more about the conference tomorrow - the natives are rising here and it's time to leave the writing world behind and be mum again.