Monday, October 30, 2006

More on first pages

First can I say that Blogger is being werid. My sidebar has gone south, and the coments are appearing the comments section but not necessarily being forwarded to me or showing that there are some.

There is a new clustermap on the sidebar, and it is wonderful to see where my visitors are located.

Now a little about my theory about first pages. A first page needs to draw you into a story. Its main goal is to get you to turn the page. You need to have some sort of tension there. The story can not be static. Most readers, including agents and editors read the first page first and if it does not capture their imagination, they do not read onwards. The first few pages must draw the reader into the story and get them hooked. The writer wants to force the reader to keep turning pages to find out more. Questions need to be asked, and a few of them answered.

Bridging conflict is the conflict that happens BEFORE the main conflict or problem is introduced. In the case of a romance, the main conflict is between the h/H and concerns the growth of their relationships. Sometimes, however, you do need to show a little of their life before that first meet.

The First Meet is not necessarily when the protagonists meet, but when their relationship changes and begins to grow.

Because in most romances, the First Meet is what the reader is longing for, looking for and there is not a lot of narrative action before to sustain the bridging conflict, so the writer will probably be best moving the first meet as close to the beginning of the novel as she can.

A very wise publisher once said to me: Never Let an Opportunity for Good Narrative Action Pass You By.

In other words, don't start in the immediate aftermath of a battle, start as the battle begins as it will be exciting and tense. BUT also make sure that it has direct bearing on the relationship and is not simply backstory that the author needs as the main reason you are writing a romance is the relationship. Backstory and the witholding there of is a whole other topic.

Ideas to jump start flat First Scenes:

1. Make your first scene be about the h or H who has the greatest conflict at the beginning of the story. Who is in the most trouble? Who will the reader have the most empathy with? Who is in a dynamic or fluid situation? Who is under the most pressure?

2. Once your protagonist is there, what business must the reader know BEFORE the main action begins? Why? How can you make it more tense?

3. Look again at page one, have you done everything to make the situation seem immediate to the reader? Are you operating in real time? Does your protagonist face a choice? Why does your protagonist think his/her life is about to change?

4. How can you make it worse for your chosen protagonist?

You can repeat this exercise for other parts of your novel that fall between plot development points. These are the points that bridge, and the conflict there should be immediate and tense.
The writer is aiming for tension on every page and certainly in every scene.
As my editor said in her latest revision note -- sometimes, it is just TOO Domestic. -- ie nothing much was happening. I had to go back and up the tension.

I plan to include more of my writing theory in my newsletter. The first one will be going out in the begining of November to celebrate the publication of A Noble Captive in hardback. The sign up is on the sidebar, can be found (if it is not immediately visible by scrolling down.

Friday, October 27, 2006

the first page game

Julie Cohen posted something about first pages and disecting them. I have decided to play. The first one is from Gladiator's Honor, and the second one is from A Noble Captive which comes out in Hardback in Nov and paperback in Jan 07 in the UK. BTW at the moment, it looks like ANC will be available on They certainly have the cover up.

Gladiator's Honour
Rome 65 BC (Tells reader where and when)
Who was that man? And more importantly why did she know him? (There is mystery here)
Julia Antonia risked another look at the man standing in the portico of the baths.(period detail) It was not his bronzed muscular legs emerging from his almost too short tunic nor the breadth of his shoulders which captured her attention but rather the planes of his shadowed face. (Okay he 's sexy to look at but she is more interested in knowing the why) She knew those features as intimately as she knew an old friend’s and yet, when she heard him speak to his companion, she knew she had never heard his voice before.
His gaze caught hers and it seemed as if he could look into her soul. He arched an eyebrow and nodded. Did he recognise her as well? Her fingers pulled her russet shawl more firmly about her head and shoulders and smoothed the folds of her green wool gown, making sure she was dressed in a manner appropriate for a Roman matron. (showing her status, giving so detail about her --She wants to be respectible, she enjoys being respectible)
Sabina Claudia, her stepmother, gave that high-pitched cackle she always used when she tore some unsuspecting matron’s reputation to shreds and threw the scraps into the swollen river of Roman gossip. (she knows what happens to women who transgress) Sabina’s friends leant forward, their shawls quivering, eager to hear the latest juicy morsel, crowding out Julia’s view of the stranger. When Julia had the time to glance back, the man had gone, vanishing into the busy marketplace as if he had never been there. (Again the mystery, and will she be willing to risk the possible stain on her reputation? Who is he? The reader needs to turn the page)

A Noble Captive
75 BC -- An island in the Mediterranean, a few miles north of Crete (Tells reader where and when)
'The sibyl of Kybele wants to see you lot.’
The harsh voice of a pirate (indicates possible adventure. also why does this person want to see them?) cut across Tullio’s troubled dreams and jerked him awake. (shows hero is not in comfortable situation Why?)
Marcus Livius Tullio, junior tribune Legion II Fourth Cohort, (gives details of status -- Roman, triple name, officer therefore of the first estate -- the hero) winced as he stood up in the overcrowded hold where he was confined with what remained of his men. Every part of his body from his neck to his knees ached. The leg wound he received in the pirate attack throbbed.
How many days since pirates had overrun the trireme, transporting his men and him back to Rome?(period detail) Four? Five? In that short time, seven of his men had died in this stinking rat-infested place.
Some might say they were the lucky ones. (they are not in a good situation, how is he going to get out? )
In the dim light of the hold, Tullio could make out the dispirited faces of the twenty who remained alive. Already they moved like prisoners, shuffling towards the entrance with heads bowed.
‘Helmets on, boys,’ Tullio forced his voice to sound as firm and calm as it would on the parade ground outside Ostia.(acting heroic, the leader despite the circumstances, definate adventure in the offing, willing to fight his men's natural instincts to give them dignity) ‘Let’s show this priestess of theirs that we are Roman legionaries, not slaves or pirates who skulk in corners and attack in the dead of night.’ (shows hero determined in the face of danger, unbowed,. Who is the priestess? elements of conflict pirate priestess v Roman legionary)
At his words, the men stood straighter. (shows his men despite what they have been through believe him what is going to happen to them next? will their belief borne out? will Tullio escape or die? why does the priestes want to see them? the reader has to turn the page)

There is a bit more of each of my books on my website. In case anyone is interested in reading a bit further.

My first contest features a signed copy of A Noble Captive, but you must be signed up for my newsletter to partcipate.

Revisions sent

I finished hte revisions for my Viking ms today and sent them off. I do believe it is a far stronger book. However, my editor will have the final judgement on that.

With every ms and set of revisons one learns things. Unfortunately, sometimes one has to go over and over the same lesson ad nauseum. This time I learnt that I am far more comfortable with a slow build up to the first sex scene. By doing the scene too early, my pacing was off. My editor made a suggestion, and it all fell into place. She also gave me a simple solution to another problem that had bugged me.

Now sometimes, with the crows of doubt, I know they are phantoms and I ignore them. Other times, I just wish they'd become phantoms. It was more I vaguely knew there were problems but couldn't my finger on how to fix it. So buried my head and hoped. My editor saw it, pointed her finger and gave me good advice on how to fix them.. Editors are like that -- they home in on problems. It's their job.

So now fingers crossed I have sent Haakon and Annis merrily on their way. Off into the sunset as it were.

The house is a tip and I want to get the newsletter sorted out.Thank you v much, everyone who has signed up. It should be going out sometime next week to coincide with the hardback release of ANC. The hardbacks are mainly purchasesd by libraries.

Kate Hardy has just had her 25th book accepted by M&B. I can remember when her first book came out. Not so very long ago, so I am tremndously pleased for her.

I shall put up a list of Christmas carols I have been listening to. At the momenti it is mostly Maddy Prior -- Carols and Capers. It is v good except my middle hates the song currently stuck in my head. It is a wassail song, but not the tradional here we come a wassailing. This one has more of a waltz tempo.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Onwards with revisions

My latest set of revisions arrived late Monday.

They ilustrate the importance of an editor. My editor was able to pin point and spot those areas that my cps had mised. She also gave me a very big hint as to why the story wasn't working in its current form. Moving a specific scene to later in the book has really increased the tension.It also showed me the portential for several other scenes. It did also make reach for the research, and had me call my sister is a font of knowledge about Norway.

Increasing tension is what it is all about. Sometimes, you lose it by doing writing what seems sensible, but isn't. Sometimes, it works better another way....

A good editor can be indepnsible.

Mine is. She does have a good eye. It is just a matter of execution....

Things are flowing better now. And I hope to have them completed by Monday.

Please consider signing up for the newsletter. I know I should probably input all those people who have ever written to me about my books etc etc, but I hesitate. Do they really want to hear from me?
I plan to send out the first letter in a few weeks time. It will have the opportunity to win a signed copy of my latest book. It will also have recipes, a bit about the history behind my latest story, what I am working on now, possibly a few sayings and insirational things. In short, a more in depth look at my writing. The only person who has access to the list is me btw.

Monday, October 23, 2006


In response to popular demand, I am going to start a newsletter so that anyone who desires it, can be kept up todate with my book releases and general news.

As an incentive to sign up to the newsletter, the first newsletter will offer a chance to win a signed copy of my new book -- A Noble Captive BEFORE it appears on the shelves.
I will be sending out the newsletter soon.

A signup link is on the sidebar or on the contacts page on my website.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Laurie Campbell's Enneagram Class

Laurie Campbell is giving a repeat of her fabulous enneagram class. This particular class gave me real insight into developing characters.

The details are:

Giving likable, plausible characters a compelling conflict is easier with "enneagrams." Counselors and personnel managers use this personality tool to identify the heroic qualities (and not-so-heroic qualities) for each of nine types -- the Perfectionist, Nurturer, Achiever, Romantic, Observer, Skeptic, Enthusiast, Leader and Peacemaker.Every one of these character types has distinctive traits, including a fatal flaw, that will naturally bring them into conflict with other people...AND with themselves.Laurie Schnebly Campbell invites you to get ready for some hands-on homework -- to do during November or at leisure -- and discover how to increase (and resolve) conflict by using your characters' fatal flaws.Registration is $30 (PayPal or check due by Oct. 25) for the November 1-30 class, at

A Noble Captive cover.

Thanks to Deb Hale, I discovered that the cover for A Noble Captive is up on

ANC is available for pre order there in hardback and paperback and Sold and Seduced in hardback at So the listing for Michelle Styles is getting longer.

The quickest way to get ANC in paperback will be to order from Mills and Boon where it be available starting 1 Dec.

I have loved this cover ever since I saw an early mock up back in May. Several versions of it are blu-tacked to my wall and have provided inspiration. I love how Tullio cups Helena's head.

This time the cover really reflects the two characters btw. I was not allowed anywhere near the Art Fact Sheet, and it was all done by my brilliant editor.

The story of A Noble Captive occupies a special place in my heart. It is my second Roman. It is the first one that I worked with my brilliant editor on, but it is also one I really wanted to tell. It is one where the ending image came to me first, and then I had to figure out how to get there. It also has a secondary character who is close to my heart and sort of touches on my philosophy that miracles are happening every day. My fingers are firmly crossed that the readers enjoy the story as well.

I am bit over excited as getting the cover image up is like having a Christmas present come early.

Christmas is on my mind because I am currently writing my Victorian Christmas wip. And as a slight departure and for an intellectual challenge, it is a new era and the emphasis is on Christmas and not passion. I am very glad to have read Desmond Morris's book on People watching as I shall be concentrating on the first six stages in the courtship ritual, rather than reaching stage 7 (moth to mouth) in ch 1. It means building up pay offs. And it should be fun, but different.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Starting over

I had one of those moments yesterday when I realized the wip was spinning out of control and rapidly becoming a POS.
The motivations of the two main characters made no sense what so ever and if it continued, the whole thing would smell...badly.

I spoke with my lovely editor who knows how to ask the right questions and sound enthusiastic. I was able to explain what I thought was wrong, and why I thought this way would be better. She did not let me go with my first choice btw. But we discussed it and came up with a good solution. Or rather I came up with the solution and she wisely agreed.

It is now up to me to write the thing. But occassionally one has to go with one's gut. If it is not working, sometimes you have to examine the why.

And she was right about it needing slight tweaks to drop the new motivation in.

Now at least I know the back story. My characters are not whiny and my hero is much more heroic, or he will be...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A bit of research: Consuming Passions

My bedtime reading for the past few weeks has been Judith Flanders new tome on the growth of the consumer -- Consuming Passions Leisure and Pleasure in Victorian Britain.
Victorian Britain is perhaps of misnomer as the book spans both the 18th and 19th century. But I adored the subject, partially because I approach history at times from econ history background rather than a political history background. I find the details about the growth of things like broadsheet music, art, and ready-made clothes endlessly fascinating. It is those things that had the greatest impacts on people's lives and helped their (and indeed our) world.
My main problem with the book is the lack of an adequate index. Flanders covers a lot of information but the index is eccentric in its choice of topics. Or rather it does not act my mind would.
Having said that, it is a book I would unhesitatingly recommend to anyone interested in the period. It has wonderfully detailed information on subjects that are usually skimmed in Regency or Victorian novels.
I shall be using it to give my Victorian novel more of an authentic feel. Flanders includes a whole chapter on the growth of the Victorian Christmas, for example. I also found her chapter on sport and sporting most illuminating.
I now understand the workings of the circulating library, penny-bloods and Salisbury Square fiction as well as how WH Smith started. I found the whole history of shopping fascinating.
I have also finished Flanders' previous effort - -The Victorian House. Although it deals with a later period than my book (1850s and beyond), it serve to remind one of the trials and tribulations as well as touching briefly on the 1840s.. I used to enjoy reading Mrs Beeton at the Lit and Phil -- they had several copies from different eras.
Flanders makes an excellent point about corsets. If you look at the preserved corsets about 6% are under 20 inches and the average is between 20 -26. There is no way of telling if they were preserved because they were exceptionally small either. But much of the correspondence about tight lacing reads like a shoe fetish correspondent's would read today. How many people really do sacrifice their feet for 3 inch high Jimmy Choos?
Anyway, I can thoroughly and heartily recommend both books for anyone interested in researching more about the period.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Official Start, interview and another review.

The Romance has kindly done an interview with me for their New Faces column. One of their senior reviewers has given Gladiator's Honor Four Hearts. She said The Gladiator’s Honor is the first of four planned Roman-era romances by Michelle Styles, and if this debut book is an indication, readers have a lot to look forward to. It’s always a pleasure to discover a strong new voice in romance. Readers, check out Michelle Styles. You can read the full review here.

It does wonders for my ego to be told that Gladiator's Honor was a strong debut. I can only hope that my next book will live up to and expand on the promise. I believe my books have gotten better, but time will tell what the reviewers and readers think about it.

Today marks my official start for the acutal writing. It is one of the times that I find it helpful to go back and check howwell I did on keeping my goals...I do think I sometimes start slow and then really knuckle dowm. But this time, given the tightness of the deadline, I shall have to be very disciplined.
Unfortunately last night, I went up to bed, thought about the begininng, didn't have my notebook with me, and could not be bothered to go back downstairs. I know what needs to be written though...Famous Last Words.

The only person happy to have Christmas Carols on besides me was my middle. She was abit disappointed when I told her -- only the Victorian ones, no White Christmas! I also reread A Christmas Carol over the weekend for the umteenth time. it is wonderful how Dickens invokes Christmas and his Christmas message. Now that I have finished Judith Flanders' Consuming Passions -- much of the background comes to life. (I shall do a review of this excellent new reference book soon) Dickens first published A Christmas Carol in 1843. My wip is set in 1846, so I was able to indulge.

Last night was the last episode of Jane Eyre. It was wonderful. I was crying at the end. Really well done. I shall have to get the DVD when it comes out. Toby Stephens is certainly at the top of my list for TV heroes. Very High Drool factor.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Eternal present v specific time period

Most contemporary writing is set in the eternal present. It means that when thereader reads the book, it is set in modern day. It also means the contemporary writer does not have to worry about when things happened.
Christmas to them is moveable feast, set on whichever day of the week, it happens to fall in the year that the reader is reading it.
Not so with the historical writer as often a specific year is chosen. Thus there are readers who can quickly look up what was happening in 1846 -- the year my current wip is set in. Christmas was on a Friday for any who are interested. Also means I have to take into account dates that things might be closed, in order to give the wip an authentic feel.

If I was writing a contemporary, I would be able to be more vague. The Monday after the first Sunday in Advent for example, but not in this one. As it is anchored to a specific time, events happen on specific dates. One has to work with it, rather than against it.

And I know the vast majority of people will not be bother whether on Christmas1846 fell on aFriday or not. But some will and I am. Thus it adds to my enjoyment of the writing to try to give it as an authentic flavour as possible.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

On starting a new wip

I am curently thinking about my new wip -- the Victorian Christmas one set in Newcastle with a self-made man as the hero. He is going to have to be yummy.

For a number of reasons I believe my next hero will bear a certain resemblance to the British actor -- Richard Armitage. The link takes you to a v good and complete photo album. After my problems with posting Hugh Jackman photos, I thought it best to link the album. Richard Armitage is currently appearing as Sir Guy of Gisbourne on Robin Hood.

I am busy doing my outline. Fingers crossed it has enough turning points. I do like the Donald Maas exercise which says which are the five crucial events that take the plot forward, and what a three crucial events that move it backward. You can repeat the steps for the first and second plot layers. Or even subplots. It helps me to think and I am starting to get the semblance of an outline, perhaps one that is able to withstand 18/19 chapters.

Of course I also get the crows of doubt circling about HVC. Did I do everything correctly? Will it be good enough? that sort of thing. Actually I do know thatmy editor has a very good eye and she will help make it better. I really trust my editor. She is not only an Inspiration but a Bad Influence.

Anyway, the actual writing starts on Monday and so I had best get something sorted.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Done and sent

HVC has been sent to my editor! Before the deadline we had agreed, and definately before the deadline on my contract. Off my desk and on to hers. Hooray!

She has also agreed that at least my next two Vikings will be linked to this one. My request so I am very pleased about that one.

Now all I have to do is write my Victorian Christmas one! Cue the Christmas carols...

But first, the house needs tidying!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Plotting and other things.

Julie Cohen and Jenna Bailey-Burke have a Q&A up on e-harlequin about plotting v flying by the seat of your pants. Apparently I am totally a plotter. Well, if I am, it is my own method. And I do firmly believe that most of the tweaking and editing comes AFTER the first draft. Between you and the computer screen, there is not much help. And my plotting is an outline. I can't use other people's methods. Mine works for me, and is fairly chaotic.

Anne McAllister has risen to the challenge and published a picture of Julie and me at Brooks. I know it was Brooks, because I had discarded on my tweed blazer there. Where as at the lunch, I wore it and sweltered. It is well worth viewing -- her rogue's gallery.

I did a lovely talk at Crimlington Writers' Group yesterday. In case anyone visits, the slang website is
You Can't say that!. It is quite fun, but people should not be too hung up on it. The modern day reader also has to be able to read the work.

And certainly G Heyer's making up of words, and use of other dubious ones does not detract one little bit from the enjoyment of the novels. They have a ring of authenticity about them. And the whole point is to create an authentic world.

Now off to finish this round of edits!!!! I have a deadline to beat.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Letter writing

Last night we watched Beaches with Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey. It is a relationship film about the friendship of two women from very different backgrounds and what happens to them. It is one of my favourite films and always makes ne cry at the end. My DH enjoys the film as well. We first discovered it when I was pregnant with my eldest. He'd half-forgotten where Pouncer the wonder cat came from.

It made me think how much things have changed.

My eldest is about to go to Moscow with his school in two weeks time. Thus fulfilling my promise that he could. For those who don't know -- once I was first writing, he obviously thought I was not paying attention and after series of I gather frustrated questions, he asked if he could go to Moscow to which I replied yes.

When I used to go off to camp, parents were always told to write. Letters were the big deal. None of that now. The students were told that they could take a mobile phone and charger. No address was given to write to.

Watching the movie, reminded me of the excitment I used to get when I opened my friends' letters, holding the envelope in my hand, looking at the wrting and the anxious seconds of tearing it open. Reading it onceand then again. Between email and mobile phones, I don't write many personal letters these days. Maybe I should.

Up in the attic, sits the boxes of letters my dh and I exchanged over our courtship. Well read, and lovingly preserved. Would I have kept emails in the same way?

I do make a point to print out my reader's emails and treasure them, so perhaps I would have. Maybe it is the act of keeping and treasuring that is important.

But without a doubt a letter (however it comes) brings a certain comfort.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Proofs and such like

The postman handed me the proofs for The Roman's Virgin Mistress today. I had thought they'd arrive in a week's time. However, now that they are here, I shall get them done. AND then work on the next round of edits for HVC.

Certain things take priority...

My children will be very happy as this will mean I am not on the computer as much for the next few days.

It is lovely to re-read the book and also to see how the editors massage and shaped it. At this point, I am only reading for flow and continuity. generally the mistakes I pick up are mine. For example I used the phrase -- for a few weeks. How could I have done that....weeks were not a common concept then. It was not really until Ceasar changed the calender that they became generally accepted.

It is the tiny little details that help bring authencity to a novel.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Pink Heart Society

My call story is up on the Pink Heart Society blogzine today. Please go and visit so that I won't feel alone!

The PHS has done marvellous things in the past month and seems to be going from strength to strength. I know Trish, Ally, Nicola and Natasha have a number of exciting events planned. It is one of the first places I stop each and every morning. It is wonderfully addictive!

Monday, October 02, 2006

What a difference a complete draft can make

Yesterday, the white hot heat of writing came upon me. In many ways as the computer was doing a complete scan, this was not good.
I sat curled up on my sofa, scribbling away.At first it was going to be snippets and running order, then it became expanded and I did most of the last chapter plus epilogue.
Then it was church and the ideas started to flow thick and fast. I did draw the line at taking notes during the sermon! But it was a case of *hold that thought*, get home scribble some more, check the stupid virus scan, scribble some more, do jobs around the house, scribble. If you have ever had the misfortune to see my handwriting, you will understand why I say scribble. You know it is bad when you can barely make out the words.
Then the scan stopped. No viruses. The computer was free.
Next it was my just keep writing technique. Put it down and see where you get to. Finally four hours plus later, the first draft was done!
Bad pages I can fix. Awkward sentences can be polished. Ping ponging talking heads in space can be layered. The important thing is that is done. I have the clay and straw to work with.
I have decided for me, a first draft is not a 100 page outline or a synopsis. These tools can aid, but a first draft is something over the guideline word count, where the vast majority of my story is in place. I do do synopsis, out line, sometimes character studies but these are not actual drafts. There is a difference.
By the time I had finished, I felt energized. This is a change as I had been feeling exhausted and going to bed early.
Thus I was able to watch the second episode of Jane Eyre with Toby Stephens as Mr Rochester. Very good viewing but then I used to adore the gothic genre.