Monday, December 31, 2007

Resolved for 2008

It is far easier to do this today, rather than to put it off until tomorrow.

Everything is pretty set with my writing. Basically, I want to continue to improve and to give readers the best possible story. I also want to write 4 completed manuscripts in 2008 (not including the one I am currently working on).

Reader Outreach:
I now have a better idea about what works and makes me feel like things are working. Promotion v self-delusion. I love reaching out to my readers and hopefully growing my readership, but it can also be an expensive game and can really eat up one's time for an uncertain return. Therefore, I am going to concentrate on things that I like doing -- blogs, newsletter etc.

Time Management:
I want to manage my time better, so I do not waste hours surfing the 'net. Or worrying about things that are out of my control. I want to keep focused. This means using timers.

Weight control and exercise:
I want to get fit for Crete at the end of May. I started an exercise programme in 2007 and wish to keep it up. I also want to control my weight, rather than having it control me. I suspect that using a timer etc will have benefits here.

Happy New Year to all my blog readers.

The photo is because I am still working on this ms and needed the inspiration!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Review of 2007

I went back and revisited my resolutions for 2007.

Although I did not make my goal of getting my weight back to what it was in my 20s. I did lose some. More importantly, I started an exercise programme and my back pain has nearly ceased. (I put this down to exercise band I do when the computer is revving up). It find the 3-6 miles that I walk every day does wonders for my outlook. I would have to think what I would have been like if I did not do that.
Also I started looking after my skin much more. Establishing a daily routine has really helped I think. I am certainly happier with its appearance.

On the writing front, I did not write four manuscripts -- 2 Vikings and two Victorians. To date, I have written 3 books and have another manuscript 2/3 finished. It was one Viking, one Victorian and 2 Regencies. It physically pains me that I might miss a deadline. 6 January remains the official deadline, but I would like some time to revise.

I also I think became more timely with my PR. This year has certainly been a learning experience. Appearing on television was one of the highlights. And I remain convinced that there is a lot an individual author can do for FREE, rather than paying for it. I also do wonder if some of it is self-delusional activity to make me feel more in control. Some of it seems to be a bit of a treadmill. Ultimately the best PR is to keep one's shop window full of wonderful books. The last page of a book sells the first page of the next book. It is about reaching out to readers, rather than making PR an end in itself.

Little accomplishments are important as well -- the Aga now works, the boiler does as well and downstairs has been pretty much redecorated.

All in all it has been a good year. I will attempt to do a post on my 2008 resolutions.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Industrial Revolutionaries

I now why my eldest kept telling that the Industrial Revolutionaries was never in at The Lit and Phil. My dh managed to procure me a copy for a Christmas present.

It looks wonderful and seems to be absolutely brimming with ideas for stories.

For example, early 18th century England was full of spies. Not political spies but industrial spies who wanted to acquire the technology for their own country.

Or then there is the story about the American *Robert Francis* who demonstrated the torpedo to the British Navy. The process took rather long but finally, the ship imploded. Robert Francis is much better known by his real name -- Robert Fulton.

And then there is Marc Brunel and Sophie Kingdom. Sigh. Happy sigh. As well as the railway men who I already know lots about.

Gavin Weightman is interested in the transfer of technology between countries. He has sections on how the US and Britain cooperated and about the Great Exhibition. The US delegation apparently did not take up the space allocated, much to initial amusement, but then all were impressed with the efficiency of the Americans products. He also has a section about Japan. So it promises to be an interesting read as well as a whistle stop tour around the various countries.

I shall also be looking out for his other book on the Frozen Water Trade during the 19th century. This is the story of how one man shipped ice across the Atlantic. The Frozen Water industry collapsed in the early 20th century because of the rise of artificial coolants.

But I do have my wip to finish first. And my editor who is indeed lovely might get a bit upset if I get distracted.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas is nearly here

Christmas is still spelt deadline. The book is due on 6 January. However I have finished my refinements to QI and have done my proofs for An Impulsive Debutante.

Rereading An Impulsive Debutante was such fun and reminded me why Lottie Charlton became one of my favourite heroines. And if you liked Jack Stanton, you will love Tristan Dyvelston.

My only hope is that QI is as good. Actually with my current editor, I am certain it will be.

One thing that my editor did point out is that historicals are truly going down to 75k. So it means my current one does not have to be quite as long. And for me, it means that I have to be more careful with my word choice.

It is Christmas Eve and so here is a picture of this year's tree. The ornaments have been collected over the years and are lovingly put on. It is one of my favourite parts of Christmas.

I have sent my cards, wrapped all the presents, the food is in and my in laws have arrived, so Christmas has truly begun.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Contest winners and refinements

The winners for the December newsletter contests are:

KimW -- Taken by the Viking hardback

Sherry H -- signed paperback of her choice

Kathleen G -- critique

I have notified them all by email.

My editor decided that she wanted a few more things doing to QI. she calls them refinements and I go agree with her -- I think her suggestions will make the book far stronger. Okay, she is really a genius and has an unerring eye but we won't go into that. It is simply a matter of working through. The important thing is that the reader gets the best read possible.

It has been moved up the schedule which means the next one has as well. So my Christmas is really spelt DEADLINE.
Luckily all I have to do is wrap presents. But I have this TBR pile that keeps growing as well.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Fire in the Belly

There is an excellent article in the Christmas edition of the Spectator by Tony Parsons on why writing a bestseller requires something more than writing simply for the money. It requires heart and passion. Bestsellers become bestsellers because they are written from the heart. He argued even Harold Robbins with his books that became the runaway bestsellers wrote from the heart. I found myself agreeing with him wholeheartedly.
As a professional writer, it goes without saying -- I write for the money. It is how I earn my living. But I care passionately about each and every book I write. If I didn't care, the reader wouldn't care.
Why do I write the books I write?
Because I am PASSIONATE. Passionate about the need to have good historical romance where the setting is vivid. Passionate about the time periods involved. Passionate about the characters. And most importantly Passionate about the stories I want to tell.
Parson points out about idiotic boyfriends who tell the girlfriend -- go ahead write a chick lit, it's easy and you can make money. So you get idiotic people who think that writing Harlequin Mills and Boon is easy. I would say the reason why the current stable of writers write for HM&B is because they are passionate about the stories they write. They care intensely. These books would not be as successful as they are IF the writers were not dedicated to the medium.
Here I should point out that every HM&B is a world wide best seller. These books speak volumes to women around the globe. You do not get that sort of following without heart and fire in your belly.
Writing commercial books does not mean that the writers are any less dedicated to their stories.
Success in storytelling comes from being passionate about your stories. Full Stop.
Sometimes, yes, writers who would rather be writing other things get taken on, but they do not tend to last. And they are very much the exception rather than the rule. Also sometimes, writer's own individual interests takes them on a separate path from HM&B, but it does not mean they do not care passionately about the stories they told, rather that the Muse has led them elsewhere.
Without passion, without heart, stories can feel contrived and flat.
Ultimately because writing is such a long and lonely process, no one writes for the money. It has to come from the heart. One has to care passionately. In order to succeed in this business, you must have fire in your belly. You must have the desire to write the story. It shows in the writing. Always.

The very lovely Ray Anne went and found the url of the article. You can read it here. I read from the print copy as the Christmas Special of the Speccie always provides food for thought. Among other things, it has a Molesworth article and an article about the orgins of the crib.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

How Jack Stanton came about

As several of you have been so kind as to say that you like Jack, I thought some might be interested to know how his beginnings.

Back in May 2006, I went down to lunch with editors. I was very excited as I had never been to The Offices before. One of the things an author gets to do is to see the Editorial Director if she is in. She is a totally lovely person btw. But my knees were knocking as she asked if I had ever written a story about an engineer. I had to say no.
At lunch, I mentioned the conversation to my senior editor and we got talking about Brunel and other Victorian engineers such George Stephanson and his son Robert. We also discussed how they wanted me to move on from Romans and write Vikings etc. I did mention that a self made man would make an excellent hero if handled properly. But felt at the time, I was being very politely urged towards Vikings.
A few days later, I received a phone call -- could I possibly make that Victorian civil engineer a Christmas story? And could it be in the North with more than a hint of the Industrial Revolution as Helen Dickson was doing hte companion piece set in the South? I said yes and began to do the research in earnest.
While I knew about North and South and Richard Armitage, I did not watch it until after the book was finished. This is mainly because I did NOT want to be influenced by it at all. There was a case of North and South being used in a M&B book and by an author in the early 1990s as source material and there were Consequences.
When I did finally watch it, I let out a huge sigh of relief because Jack could have been played by Richard Armitage. Actually at the time, I was more taken with Toby Stephens. The odd thing is that my current hero Simon who also is a self-made man type started off as more RA but appears to be transmogrifying into TS...Who knows.
But it was really that chance conversation with the Editorial Director that started it all. And civil engineers are such great heroes, particularly in the early Victorian era.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Secondary Characters becoming leads

As some of you may know, An Impulsive Debutante which comes out in September 08 in the UK features Lottie Charlton from A Christmas Wedding Wager.
I have had several people raise their eyebrows when I have said this. My lovely editor at the time when I first mooted this proposition around this time last year murmured -- it will be a challenge but if you want to... And you have never done a heroine like that before, Michelle but I have faith... My daughter kept demanding. She wanted to know what happened to her.
The one proposition I kept repeating over and over in my head is that EVERY character is the hero of his own story. And Lottie in her own mind has ALWAYS been a heroine. She did need to learn a few lessons though...I had a great deal of fun writing An Impulsive Debutante.
My current editor who had not read ACWW at that point loved Lottie. She thought it wonderful that I wrote this heroine's story because Lottie is so great. She also had not quite taken on board that it was a linked story, so it does very definitely stand on its own. There is a brief appearance by Emma and Jack though..
At the moment, I have been struggling with the sensual tension in this book. And it finally dawned on me, I was still in the mode of the last book and considered my current hero like a brother. He is the brother of the heroine. Basically he had very nearly taken over the first story and I had to FIRMLY put him in his place as my editors had wondered if I was more interested in his story than that heroine... But now, I have to think and see him through my current heroine's eyes -- oozing with sex appeal etc. It required a step change in thinking but I was not prepared for the problem.
It is all in the viewpoint.
There is so much you learn when you are writing.
But fingers crossed -- some of my problems are solved with this manuscript.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Cataromance review for A Christmas Wedding Wager

One of the reviews I always wait for is the Cataromance review. I really respect Julie's opinion and I know she has a keen eye and takes her reviewing very seriously. If you want to know which catagory romances to read, you should definitely look at cataromance.

Iti s slightly later than Julie wanted because of her hetic family BUT it was well worth the wait!

My favourite bit was:

Touching, tender, passionate and simply breathtaking, this Victorian romance is rich in period detail and imbued with so many vivid descriptions of nineteenth century life, that the reader will feel as if she’s experiencing the story and not just reading it!
Wonderfully atmospheric, highly evocative, totally absorbing and immensely well-written, A Christmas Wedding Wager is another triumph for a novelist who never fails to make history come gloriously alive.

All is right with the world. AND I have finished my Christmas shopping .Now all I have to do is wrap presents, write cards and finish my manuscript before Christmas eve. The treee is up and I am taking part in Cheryl St John's Great Christmas Tree Tour, so a picture should be going up there soon.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

In Polish

Kate Hardy let me know last night that Gladiator's Honour is out in Poland this month.

The blurb reads like this:
Starożytny Rzym, 65 rok p. n. e.Przekonali się, że są dla siebie stworzeni, jednak Rzymianka z rodu patrycjuszy nie może poślubić gladiatora. Oboje, zarówno Julia Antonia, jak i Walens Trak, są tego w pełni świadomi, a mimo to nie zamierzają wyrzec się miłości. Julia opiera się macosze, która chce jak najszybciej i najkorzystniej wydać za mąż nielubianą pasierbicę. Walens stawia wszystko na jedną kartę. Podczas zbliżających się igrzysk musi zwyciężyć i z rąk Cezara otrzymać drewniany miecz, co jest równoznaczne ze zdobyciem wolności. Wie, że przyjdzie mu walczyć z bardzo groźnym przeciwnikiem.

Again a language that I don't know but it looks interesting. And I love the little Santa's hats they have on all their books this month.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Satisfying v Happily Ever After

People occasionally complain that with the romance genre, you need the Happily Ever After, the cliched clinch in the sunset. Umm no, you need a satisfying ending and because the emotional relationship has been the spine of the book, the reader will not be satisfied with anything but the couple getting together or at least showing the promise that they will be together. Readers are not willing to have the lady or the tiger type endings. They are not satisfying.
Ultimately a reader wants satisfaction. They want to feel that the main character/the focal character's emotional needs/goal is met. A cliche clinch does not do it. It is why those old Harlequin M&B novels where the hero appeared to hate the heroine up to the last three pages fell out of favour. The ending wasn't satisfying. Characters' emotional needs were not being met and readers started demanding more.
It is because Harlequin Mills and Boon does deliver on the satisfying ending that its books are so popular. Yes, they all end with a HEA, but is an emotionally satisfying HEA. There is a difference.
Equally and obviously, a HEA does not mean that the characters need to achieve all of their physical goals. They simply need to have their emotional needs met.
And sometimes, they achieve their physical goal only to realise that it does not meet their emotional goal.
For example, in A Noble Captive, Helena does become the Sybil, something she has worked and waited for for all her life, but she discovers that she really wants and needs something else. IMHO the ending would have been less satisfying if she had not made the decisions that she did as she had learnt what she truly wanted from life.
Or for another example. In Life on Mars, the main character's goal is to get back his old life, but once he does return, he realises that he has no feelings. Earlier, he has been told that the way you know you are dead is when you stop feeling. He then makes a decision that I think gives it a more satisfactory ending. The key moment for me is when he cuts himself and realizes that he is just existing.
In other words, it is okay to have goals change, but the turning points need to be marked. It is also important to realise that physical goals are simply manifestations of the internal landscape. And it is what goes on internally with a character that decrees whether or not a reader is satisfied.
One way of looking at it as my editor is apt to say -- is what does the character want beginning, middle, and end. What happens if they do achieve it? What other need does that open up? Will the characters be satisfied with the ending? If they can't get what they want, what can they get? What else do they need to achieve before thy can live happily ever after?
Endings are satisfying when emotional goals are achieved, rather than just physical goals.
And if the author does it right, the reader can not conceive any other satisfying ending besides the HEA in a romance. Therefore, the reader feels cheated if she does not get that ending.
Do not cheat the reader.
As Kate Walker has said many times, the last page of your book sells the first page of your next book. Never underestimate the power of an emotionally satisfying ending.
Now I need to get back to my middle and work towards that halcyon plain -- the ending.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

December Newsletter and contests

I have done my December newsletter and it has its usual array of contests, plus two recipes. Mrs Charlton's Lambswool Punch and my own eggnog recipe.
There are also contests to win a signed hardback copy of Taken by the Viking as well as one for aspiring writers.
These are exclusive to my newsletter subscribers, so if you wish to take part, do sign up and I will send out my latest newsletter... The sign up is on my sidebar.
If you want a chance to win A Christmas Wedding Wager along with a whole host of other brilliant books, visit Kate Walker's blog for her annual Christmas Stocking contest.

I found out that Gladiator's Honor was out in Greece earlier this year as O Monomaxos. it is a very interesting experience to see my work in an entirely different alphabet. I did take several terms of ancient Greek, and so can recognise a few words. Being published in dfferent languages is one of the perks of writing for HM&B. Harlequins are published in 22 different languages and in 109 different countries.
So far, including English, my books have appeared in 5 different languages.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Who runs HM&B

Going back to that Article, one of the more amusing assumptions by Julie Bindel was that HM&B is something of a male preserve. Yes, you have these little self deluded female authors but it is the males who decide.
Ummm which ones?
Although back in the 1960s and 1970s, M&B was mainly run by the Boon brothers. This has changed. The Boon family sold out many years ago to the corporate entity --Torstar.
Shall we look at some of the people who make the current editorial decisions at HM&B? It would have taken very little time for an competent journalist to do this.
All the editorial assistants and acquiring editors at HM&B are currently women. There was once a male editor but that was a long time ago and he is now a hugely successful agent. I think the NY office now is going for more equal opportunity and has hired its token male but there are no male acquiring editors at the Richmond office.
My current editor started working for HM&B within the last few years. She has a Phd from Oxford. She decided that publishing was preferable to academia. My former editor needs to finish her dissertation . Her speciality is 19th century women's literature. Her Phd again will be from Oxford... My senior editor has worked in publishing since the 1970s. She has held a variety of editorial positions within HM&B. And I would say that being an editor in any large publishing house is a huge achievement. it is not a part time job.
The executive editor of the Presents/Modern line is a woman. As it is not my line, I have only spoken to her casually at the HM&B authors' toast. However, she is impressive. Again she has chosen publishing as a career. She is not working for pin money. She is working because it is her career and she is highly successful at year in and year out discovering best selling authors and managing the most successful line in Harlequin Enterprises. In short you do not become an executive editor in one of the world's largest publishing houses by being a pushover. You get it on merit, because you have demonstrated that you can deliver.
The current Editorial Director of HM&B is a woman. She is also one of the most powerful people in publishing, in both the UK and the world in general. Ultimately she is the person who decides which author will be bought for the lines that the UK editorial team hold over all responsibility for. Spend some time in her company, and you will realise that she knows a fantastic amount about publishing. Not just women's fiction but publishing in general. She is the ED for very sound business reasons and is there on merit.
If any young woman wants to go into publishing or indeed to know what it is like to succeed in this business, they could do far worse than to take the ED of HM&B as a role model.
Basically these are the women who decide. It would be a brave man who told them what to do. They make their decisions not on some ideal but on hard headed business facts. they are in the business of selling books.
Ultimately it is the vast majority of consumers who decide which books are bought and how the direction of the business is shaped.
And about those titles, TPTB recently did an experiment and gave a few less hooky titles to books. They had to apologise to the authors in questions, because despite garnering excellent reviews, the books tanked. In the world of category publishing, hooks rule. Hooks actually rule on other areas of publishing.It is just that people do not seem to joke about murder mystery titles as much.
So before pointing to huge male conspiracies, it would be helpful if journalists etc actually did their homework.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

That Guardian article

Yesterday, the Guardian produced a very sloppy piece of journalism in the Hell part of its article on Mills and Boon. You can read the full piece on Natasha Oakley's blog.
The journalist in question, Julie Bindel did not bother to properly research her piece. She simply quoted Violet Winspear from a 1970 interview and used her research from 15 years ago. She also glanced at a few back covers of the January 2007 releases. Nowhere in her article does she mention the far more up to date research of Laura Vivanco or Sandra Schwab.
At the moment, certain academics are investigating why the romance novel has remained popular and what it can tell the world about popular culture and current perspectives on the female condition. The research is easily accessible from the blog Teach Me Tonight. Why not use that research?
Why not read the books? Why not look at the latest statistics?
Her very method calls into question her integrity as a journalist. How many other corners has she cut? Can her articles on issues closer to her heart be trusted or has she done the bare minimum?
I do not mind people not liking romantic fiction, I probably would not like the sort of fiction they enjoy. I do not write for those people. What I do mind is sloppy journalism masquerading as some sort of definitive truth.
Surely if one thing has come out of the feminist movement is that women have the right to choose what they want to read. Or is her world view that of a Stalinist dictator that we must all read exactly what she prescribes?
When people report on industries or companies or indeed genres of books, they need to do their research and not to cut corners.
What people like Julie Bindel can not get away from is that romance remains the most popular genre other than religion and Harlequin Mills and Boon, the largest publisher in that genre, despite their best efforts to *educate* the masses about the evils of such things.
Right, back to my writing. I write for my readers whose intelligence and integrity are without question.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Going quickly

Blogging today at Tote bags.There is a contest to a copy of A Noble Captive as it is out in Italian. The prize though is the UK edition.

Dear Author has a lovely lovely review of A Christmas Wedding Wager up.

Also they pointed out that eharlequin ebooks is a 50% off sale tomorrow. A chance to stock up on ebooks.

My dd is in her school's production of Priates of Penzance today. So all is go...

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Update on the Amazon situation and reader feedback

I have checked back. Amazon are now showing three copies in stock and that they have more on order.

I am so pleased as I would hate to think anyone was missing out.

The post delivered a lovely reader's letter. Tears came to my eyes when I read it. The woman had taken the time to scan the cover of ACWW and paste it to a card. She then wrote how much she enjoyed the book and that she had purchased copies for friends. It is for readers like Debi that I write my books.

Reader feedback means so much to me.

Dear Author recommends...

Perhaps an explaination as to why Amazon has gone temporarily out of stock...

Dear Author has recommended A Christmas Wedding Wager as one of their December reads. I can't wait to read Jayne's review and it is wonderful to know that the book inspired her to put up her Christmas decorations.

But the second comment really made my day. It is so great that readers think Harlequin Historical is pumping out some of the good stuff. I am so proud to be a part of their programme and I know how hard the editors and authors work...

On being temporarily out of stock

I went on this morning to check how well A Christmas Wedding Wager is doing. It is part of my routine to check on my books. Sad, yes, but it helps from going around the twist.

In any case, I have discovered that for some reason is temporarily out of A Christmas Wedding Wager. I did some fast checking. Barnes and Noble still is showing copies as is eharlequin. So I suspect that it is still relatively easy to get a copy and that it is just an Amazon supply problem. I mean after all the official publication date was only Saturday!

Of course, if you are willing to buy ACWW as an ebook (in any of its variations), there are always copies available. This includes Amazon Kindle.
The UK version of A Christmas Wedding Wager -- Christmas by Candlelight remains readily available from

Monday, December 03, 2007

Nell'Antro della Sibilla aka A Noble Captive

I discovered quite by accident that A Noble Captive has been published in Italian. It is called Nell'Antro della Sibilla and is a December 2007 release!
The blurb reads like this:
Mar Egeo, 75 a.C.
Catturato da una nave pirata mentre veleggia sulla sua trireme lungo le coste del Mediterraneo, il tribuno romano Marco Livio Tullio viene condotto su un'isola a nord di Creta e tenuto prigioniero nel tempio di Cibele, in attesa che giunga da Roma il riscatto. Il compito di vigilare su di lui e sui pochi superstiti del naufragio è affidato alla futura sacerdotessa della dea. La giovane, allevata fin da bambina per assumere quel ruolo, sente però di non avere il necessario dono della preveggenza e l'arrivo di Tullio, così diverso dal conquistatore brutale e prepotente che immaginava, riaccende in lei il desiderio di condurre la vita di una donna normale, con un marito e dei figli. Ma innamorarsi di un romano, l'odiato nemico, significherebbe tradire il suo popolo...
I found it listed on an Italian booklist of my books. and then discovered it on the Harmony (the Italian Harlequin) site.
It is always fantastic to have another editon come out.
Cranford continues to delight. I love the unfolding story lines, but all the romances so far have been so sad. Last night's episode was definitely one for the hankies...

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Counting Down to Christmas

It is the First Sunday in Advent and wherever you go in Britain or the US, stores are decked out in Christmas decorations and all are Counting Down to Christmas.

But who started this tradition?

The honour was claimed by one Gordon Selfridge.
And surely if any man who should be lauded for transforming the shopping experience at Christmas -- both in the uK and the US, it is he.

Selfridge was an American and first started the tradition in the Marshall Field store in Chicago. He also introduced carol singers, free gifts with purchases and generally tried to make the shopping experience pleasurable. He discovered that customers responded to the idea of Christmas and Christmas related themes. I believe he even started the whole idea of personal shoppers and gift guides.
He got his start with Marshall Fields as a stockboy in 1879, but 1890 he was a junior partner. He came over to the UK in the early 1900s(1906) and started Selfridge's in 1909. The reason hedid so is slightly murky and no one really knows the full truth but around about then Marshall Field was incorporated and there is some speculation that he was not as well treated as he thought he deserved. The department store he created was the largest built from scratch rather than by expansion.

He did not start the annual or even the fire sale, but what he did was to create the idea that shopping is aspirational. He wanted to create a desire, but he also wanted the expereince to be available to all who entered his shop -- whether it was to purchase a very expensive item or the cheapest one. he made shopping into an event for all to share. He was very keen on window displays and showing how a product might be worn or incoprporated into a lifestyle. He thought of his department store as living theatre. Because of his success at getting the public flock to his stores and stay, spending money, his ideas were copied all over the world.
Certainly when I worked as a teenager at I Magnins, it did feel like a stage set. And it was all about treating the customer right -- no matter the size of the purchase! I did gift wrapping and as long as the item was purchased from Magnins, we would wrap it in the appropriate sized box. Magnin's boxes at Christmas were always gold with I Magnin's written in deep burguny red, and tied with a burgundy ribbon. Before being placed in the box, the present enveloped in tissue paper and sealed with a gold Magnins label. It was great fun in many ways.

Anyway, love or loathe Christmas and its shopping, Gordon Selfridge's innovation appears to have worked.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Romance Reader Connection Review

I had a lovely surprise in my email today. Melissa Fowler has reviewed A Christmas Wedding Wager for The Romance Reader Connection. She gave it a 4 1/2.

My favourite bit was:

A CHRISTMAS WEDDING WAGER is simply enchanting!

You can read the rest of the review here.

The Romance Reader Connection will also be publishing my response to the Holiday Parade 2007 question about which miracle has affected my life. I look forward to discovering what other authors have to say as well.

In other news: I have had a slight change in editors. I knew it was going to happen and I love and adore my new editor. She makes me think and constantly challenges me. My old editor is moving to a new and exciting post in HM&B...and I shall miss her wit and wisdom. HM&B does have a habit of changing author's editors so they do not get stale.

For anyone worried about slush submissions, know that the editor in question will make sure they go to a good home.

I had a lovely time at the RNA Northumberland Christmas meeting and came back with a totally over the top purple feather pen which my daughter has designs on. However it is resides in my pen holder for now...

I am just so pleased that Ms Fowler liked ACWW.

Friday, November 30, 2007

November Newsletter Contest winner

I did a random draw. And Minna Puustinen has won the signed copy of A Christmas Wedding Wager.

I will be doing two draws for my December newsletter. One is a gift from Northumberland, and the other a gift to help writers revise.

Be sure to look out for the contests in the next newsletter which goes out 6 December.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Fashion Plates

This morning I was doing some research on the fashions of 1814. Okay , I should have been writing, but it seemed like a good excuse. I happened to look up La Belle Assemblee. This was the first fashion magazine.

Anyway, in the January 1814 issue was this plate.
My sister should recognise it as it has been on my wall forever. My great grandmother used to collect prints and this is one I was given. The colours on the web are more vivid than one I have. What you can not see are the curls in the woman's hair and the intricacy of the lace. Her cheek is a far softer pink and parts of the hat are not coloured in. Equally, the blanket is shown as green in this picture but in my print it is blue. And her foot rests on a blue footstool. Her slipper has a pink band over it but looks white instead of being dark as shown. The woman's dress in my print is all white and the pink of the braces is merely crosshatching. I know that sometimes the prints were hand tinted later and this could account for the difference.
The caption on mine says Morning Dress. Invented & to be had exclusively of Miss Bell removed to No 26 Charlotte Street Bedford Square
Engrav'd for No 60 New Series La Belle Assemblee 1st Aug 1814.
Anyway, if anyone is interested in fashion from the Regency period, it is worth looking through the Belle Assemblee. It is very fun to see what well dressed ladies were wearing. I am however very grateful to my great grandmother and her collection of prints.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Historical Romance trends

There was a very interesting article in Publishers' Weekly last week about the fact that historical romance is NOT dead, but alive and well. This is in big contrast to the 2005 article that proclaimed it dead.
Basically, I feel the interest in historicals is probably constant. Certain historical mixes have changed. For example, sweet traditional Regency is harder to find as Signet and Zebra closed their traditional Regency slots. Harlequin of course has continued to publish Regency and is doing very well with it. Avon also has done remarkably well with its historicals. Historicals are still hitting the bestseller lists and was one of the leading subgenres of bestselling romance.
Several things have probably happened. First, the mix of historicals changed. Second, when the number of publishing slots contracted, it is quite possible the quality went up.Also fewer publishing slots, but same amount of readers means the books that are left in theory sell more. Publishers see the increase in sales and the cycle starts over again.
Reading however is not a zero sum game. Simply because one genre is expanding , it does not mean that it is sucking readers from another genre. It simply means the quality of the writing in that genre is such that readers are responding to it.
The absolute best way to grow a genre? Keep the quality up.
Anyway, I am pleased that the quality of historical romance is starting to be recognised again. And the data is starting to trend upwards. There is a core of historical romance readers. I know. I am one of them.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Newsletter contest

I should point out that there are a few days left to enter the contest for a signed copy of A Christmas Wedding Wager. The details are in my latest newsletter. If you do subscribe before the deadline of 30 November, I will send the details. The contest is for subscribers only.

I will be sending out my next newsletter on 6 December and that will have details of my Christmas competition. Prizes will include a treat from Northumberland and copies of my back listed books.

My current book is coming on. But I am suffering from a sore throat that won't quit and now having done my research on scarlet fever etc, I keep thinking -- strep and oh help. Seriously I do not know how medical authors cope. Needless to say, I am drinking lots of honey and lemon.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The history of diseases

Diseases over time mutate. People might not understand the exact mechanism but they do change. And the symptoms of a disease may or may not be the same from one period to the next.
Take Rheumatic fever. I am currently researching scarlet fever as a character has contracted it before the start of the book. I was going to use polio but it wasn't really fully understood until approximately the 1830/1840s and as this story takes place in 1814, I want to have something where the boy has a chance of living.
Scarlet fever is one of those things you read about -- think Little Women or the Velveteen Rabbit, but once I started to do my research I discovered that it is not scarlet fever that is the problem, but rather the rheumatic fever that follows. And around 1800, the nature of that disease changed -- rather than simply just attacking the joints, it began to attack the heart and the St Vitus dance or chorea appeared. Suddenly over half of the victims developed heart problems. Most recovering within six months. Then it took an even worse turn in the early 20th century. Anyway I would hazard a guess that part of the changing nature of the disease down to the over -crowded conditions. Several hospitals owe their existence to wealthy benefactors founding them AFTER their children died. It is a disease that is mainly confined to children aged 5 -15.
Today, thanks to modern medicine, the incidences of rheumatic fever have been severely cut. Antibiotics form a good line of defence as does simple measures such as covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze and washing your hands before eating.
I found it intriguing though how it changed through out history. But having discovered the answers I need, I now need to write the book, instead of led down ever increasing labyrinths of research.

Friday, November 23, 2007


I found out yesterday that Taken by the Viking will be released in the US in May 08. They decided not to wait afterall until the entire trilogy had been completed.

Also the sequel to A Christmas Wedding Wager is called An Impulsive Debutante and will be released in the UK in September 08. No news of when it will be released in the US.

I am tremendously excited about the title as it does encapsulate Lottie. According to my editors, it took a very long time to decide on the right adjective.

Now all I have to do is write the sequel to the one I just turned it.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Wishing everyone who reads this a Happy Thanksgiving.
This year has brought many blessings. I am truly grateful:
For my readers. I love getting reader feedback and hearing what people think about my books.
For the readers of this blog because it is nice to think that people enjoy it and it is not sheer indulgence.
For my writing friends -- Writing romance brings me to contact with such interesting and giving people, people who make me see the world in different lights.
For my critique partners -- Whose support is without measure and very useful for keeping the Crow of Doubt away. And even though they may not read every word, I know they are there, ready with to cast their eye.
For my editors who are always willing to question and force me to dig deep, but whose interest lies in getting me to produce as a strong a book as possible.
For my friends in general -- who make life a little easier. One big blessing of this last year was reconnecting with my former high school classmates. It was wonderful to hear their stories and see how the winds of life had blown and how the shared experience of school bound us together...
For my family -- who mean the world to me.

May your Thanksgiving be joyous and may your life be filled with blessings -- both large and small.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Kindle and Harlequin

As you may or may not know, Amazon has released a new ebook reading device -- Kindle.
Harlequin is very committed to providing ebooks in ALL formats, so it has released its front list and back list in Kindle. I believe ebooks are released to other sources besides eharlequin on publication date. So this means that The Roman's Virgin Mistress is available in the Kindle format now and A Christmas Wedding Wager will be available in Kindle on 1 December.
I have no idea about ebook readers as I do not own one, but some people swear by them. I know they are very good for people who have failing eyesight and want large print at a decent price.

The Cave of the Wolf

A tremendously exciting archaeological discovery was announced yesterday. The Italians may have discovered the legendary Cave of the Wolf. This is the site where the she-wolf reputedly suckled Romulus and Remus. It was known that the sacred cave was somewhere in the honeycombed Palatine hill, but exactly where was lost in the mists of time until they happened upon it a few weeks ago.

It is located under the palace of Augustus and faces the Circus Maximus. In many ways, it makes total sense. The Circus Maximus was of the important sites in Rome and most of the games did have some of nominal religious significance. Augustus wanted to basically re-invent Rome and its morals. He wanted to bring back the Golden Age of Roman values and wanted very much to align himself and his family with those values. Siting his palace over one of the most sacred sites in Rome, possibly the most sacred site at the time, is one way he attempted to do this.
Augustus in many ways is a more interesting character than Caesar as he is basically responsible for transforming a Republic that was about to break apart into one of the world's great empires. He naturally wanted to align himself with the legendary founders of Rome. In some ways, I thought the tv series Rome did protray him pretty well. In others, I thought they missed the man. This is partly because Marc Antony (as protrayed by James Purefoy) was just som much more watchable.
It appears that Augustus did have the cave refurbished as there is a mosaic of a white imperial eagle.
The cave was central importance in the feast of Lupercol, a feast we still celebrate the remnants of today as St Valentine's Day.
It is so wonderful when Rome yields up its hidden treasures. Apparently they are planning on reopening the palace of Augustus on the Palatine in February. It has been closed for decades. And I can rememeber the Palatine as being a rather dull and dismal place.
I need to get working on my Regency but I find discoveries like this fascinating.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Revisions and Cranford

My revisions went off yesterday. My editors made me dig deep and I do think the book is far better for it.

Sometimes, it is very much a question of KNOWING that you should be asking questions and then forgetting. One thing my editors had me do was to look at the hero's attitudes towards marriage, beginning, middle and end. And breaking it down like that gave me added insight. Yes, I knew his attitudes changed,but could I pinpoint the exact moment they changed and highlight it. Reading through the ms I had submitted, I had to agree that the turning points were not as defined as they could have been. And because of that, the ending did feel flat. Anyway, fingers crossed -- all is well.

I now get to do the next book, the sequel to this one. Hopefully the lessons I learnt in my revisions this time will come through with this wip and the revisions will be light. One always lives in thought. Although I do like challenging revisions.

My newsletter went today, complete with the recipe for mincemeat. My next newsletter will be in mid Dec and will have a recipe for Lamb's wool punch.

I was very pleased to read what Kate Hardy had to say about A Christmas Wedding Wager. Kate is a fantastic writer and knows her stuff, so I consider it an honour that she likes my writing. Of course, when I am reading her books, I am apt to forget everything else. They are wonderfully well done Medicals and Modern Heats. Kate also writes non fiction about researching local history and researching the history of your house. Having read them, I find they are very useful indeed to the historical romance writer...

Cranford which had its debut on Sunday is excellent. It is one of those landmark BBC costume dramas. Eileen Atkins as the elder sister, Miss Dorothy steals the show. It is the interaction of the various character that is wonderful to watch. You get the feeling that here are people who have lives. Philip Glenister's character appears to be slightly Gene Hunt in 19th century. In other words -- strong and willing to act -- alpha male. The exact romantic lead has not been telegraphed -- Simon Woods is still in the running as is Greg Wise who plays Sir Charles Maulver. Time will tell and I prepared to shed a few tears, as I am certain several story endings will not end happily. BUT I know what I am doing on the next few Sunday evenings.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Unusual Historicals Launch Party

I am doing the launch for A Christmas Wedding Wager over at Unusual Historicals today. The official publication date for Christmas by Candlelight is tomorrow. And A Christmas Wedding Wager is officially published on 1 December, but I know that and a number of other outlets already has it in stock.
There a posting comments contest and the winner will be drawn by Carrie Lofty next week.
My November newsletter goes out tomorrow and there will also be a contest there.

I am hard at work on my revisions. The book is FINALLY coming together. It is going to be a great book. Truly. Yesterday I redid a scene that I knew was not powerful and not powerful and I couldn't think how to fix it. I think it is fixed. Oh the joy of finally getting it right.

Tonight Cranford starts with all its bonnets. Five weeks of early Victorian England. Bliss.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Whose writing rules?

Because Alice inspired me to go and do some research and because I am still in the midst of my revisions, I picked up my copy of Swain again and started to read the introduction.
He makes a certain of sense as long as I ignore the remark about love pulps. His basic point is that most published writers eventually figures out what works them. They develop a set of rules because human beings in general like to have some idea of how to go about things.
But rules only work in writing when they come from the heart. If rules come from the head, then they can inhibit feeling. Story is all about the communication of feelings. Without that communication, it can feel flat and the reader does not get the tension and emotional release they crave.
A big mistake writers can make is blindly following someone else's rules. They need to master the forms and techniques of writing. so they can have the tools to shape their work, but they should NOT be blindly following somebody else's pre-ordained pattern.
The most important thing to ask when faced with someone else's rule is why. If you can understand the reasoning behind the rule, then you can figure out if the rule makes sense for you and your writing.
The novice writer should not be asking how do I? But why do I and if I want to do xyz, what are the basic steps that I need to take. By knowing the why and the basic steps, the writer can formulate her own rule and her writing will retain that depth of feeling.
It is one of the reasons why I think it is important to study craft, so that a writer can work the mechanics behind a thing and not simply accept that because something appears to have always been done in a certain fashion, it must continue to be done that way.
So when you are faced with a set of rules -- ask why and see if they make sense for your writing.
Then make your own set of rules that work for you.
It is always about mastering form and discovering your own methods.

Cranford starts tomorrow evening and I am very excited. It does look excellent. Simon Woods who plays Dr Harrison played Mr Bingley in latest P&P. Me thinks he might be one of the love interests.

My revisions are going along and the book is getting much better. I have passed one of the really emotional bits and while most readers will go -- okay, so what;s new with the price of fish after reading it, I was trembling and tearful as I wrote it. But then my characters mean a lot to me.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Story Values -- a McKee reprise

Alice commented yesterday about a few posts I had done in May on McKee's Story. In particular, she asked about the term story value. But I still can't grasp exactly what a story value is. Is it an emotion? An attitude? A state of mind. All of these?
The short answer is all of these.

Right, I suspect it is a case of not understanding the terminology used. Or the way the concept is described. It is one of the reasons why it is sometimes useful to read several books on craft. Not everyone gets the concepts in the same fashion. Both authors may be explaining the same thing but one makes you scratch your head and the other makes you have a light bulb moment. Swain in Techniques of The Selling Writer is very useful on the subject. My problem with Swain is his bigoted view of women's books, but it doesn't mean the concepts that he writes about are any less valid. On concept, he is brilliant. It is one of the reasons that his book remains in print.

Deep Breath.

A story are made up of events but ultimately a story is a method of communicating feelings. Storys are all about emtion.
Events have no meaning or change their meaning depending on whose POV you are in. In that POV, the character will have values (feelings, motivations etc). These values will be particular to that character and the story -- hence the name story values. They may or may not be values that the author holds.
An event or happening without a value assigned to it is uninteresting, neutral. The reader wants to know how it affects the character. Is a rainstorm a tragedy or a blessing? Is a family birthday party where a toddler is given a wrapped present a happy occasion full of love and laughter or one fraught with tension? The answer is it denpends on the characters and the meaning they assign to it. The filter if you like through which the reader views the scene. It is the values of the character that assign the meaning to the event.
If these values do not in some way change during the scene, what is the point of the scene from that character's POV? Why is it necessary for this character to change?

It can be helpful when revising to make a note of the opening and closing values (feelings, emotions, motivations) of the POV character in a scene that feels flat. Have they changed? If not, this could be a reason why the pace feels off. the changes can either be huge or they can be the very turn of the tide, but they will have changed.

If the value do not change, you will often experience a lack of tension.

In other words, every scene must drive the story forward in someway. Stories only move forward with conflict and conflict implies change of some sort. Without the grit of change and conflict, the writer is spinning her wheels.

Some of the revision that I have been doing has involved making sure the relationship progresses with each scene. This does not always mean that it progresses forward. It simply means that there is some sort of change.

Does this make sense or do I need to take another stab at it?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Duckling update

The yellow duckling is fine and well. It is going into pin -- i.e. its feathers are starting to come in. It appears no worse for the ordeal.

The tiny reed pool has been filled as ducklings tend to be dumb about such things. I do think mother ducks can be very harassed with the silly things that ducklings get up to.

The bird flu is far to the south of us. Very worrying for those involved and I see once again, they are attempting to blame wild birds. The strain involved was last detected on the German/Czech border in the summer, very probably early August. The incubation period for the disease is 3-6 days. Birds who are infected tend not to migrate. The time scale is awfully long for the disease to be within the wild bird population and to be unnoticed. Also one would need to look at patterns of migration and investigate if birds from the area routinely turn up in Norfolk/Suffolk. The wildlife reserve next to the farm had not noticed any problem prior to this outbreak. Bird wardens do tend to be vigilant.
In short it is far too facile to blame wild birds and they need to investigate all the options. It sounds far more like infected meat/poultry feed. In other words, somewhere, corners were cut. The last outbreak in February was probably caused by imported turkey meat.
Anyway, hopefully the outbreak can be contained relatively quickly. And I would point out that the H5N1 despite the dire predictions of several years ago has yet to mutate and there is no evidence of human to human passing of the virus.

The revisions continue and I feel better about them. The book will be good.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Operation: Rescue Duckling

Yesterday, my dh who stayed at home from church with a throat infection looked out to see only six ducklings. As they had been on a Big Adventure yesterday and had had to be rescued from the neighbours' yard, he was concerned about the missing duckling, the sole surviving yellow duckling of the brood. We suspect that a tawny owl might have eaten the other one.

He went out and discovered that the missing duckling was trapped in the tiny reed pool. He rescued the duckling, wiped the mud off and put it in a box to warm. he had to move the box from by the Aga as one of the cats became very interested...

By the time I returned home, the duckling was well on its way to recovery. Once it was warm, it began cheeping its head off and we knew it was time to return it to its fellow ducklings. The mother can no longer be bothered with them btw and was engaged in head bobbing with a male duck.

It is now fit and well. But I thought the picture might amuse.

My revisions are coming on and I am starting to put them on the computer. Thus far, it has been well that I have deleted several external conflict subplots as I do not think I would have the word count for it...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Rememberance Day

Today is not only Remembrance Sunday, but also Remembrance Day. It is the day to remember all those who made sacrifices in the various wars and their families.
Last night, the BBC broadcast a moving festival of Remembrance. It was neither maudlin nor bombastic but it did highlight the sacrifices that the service men and women and their families have made over the years.
I know that many read the poetry of the WWI poets on today, but I like A. E. Houseman. The last verse of his poem The Recruit says something about why Remembrance Day goes beyond the immediate families.

Leave your home behind you
Your friends by field and town
Oh, town and field will mind you
Till Ludlow tower is down.

There is an importance in memory. Today is about honouring that memory and the sacrifices the individual soldiers have made to so that we can live our lives today.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Mrs Beeton lite

A new compilation of Mrs Beeton has been published. This one edited by Kay Fairfax focuses mainly on the advice given for the management of the Victorian household and as such gives a fascinating glimpse into late Victorian life. Mrs Beeton was first published in 1861.

I have long enjoyed rereading Mrs Beeton in the original for the wonderful tips on how to manage a Victorian house and servants. One of the joys of going to the Lit and Phil in Newcastle is to look at their copy of the Edwardian version of Mrs Beeton. I loved reading about what the servants should be doing. As it was an aspirational book, it gives detailed instructions.

However, it is a huge tome with lots of recipes and hints on how to host a dinner party, so for the writer of the Victorian period, this new book is probably of more use. Fairfax has taken a room by room approach.

I see from the papers, Judith Flanders Consuming Passions is now out in paperback. Again, this is an excellent book for anyone interested in the growth of consumerism in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Flanders' earlier book The Victorian House covers much of the same territory as Mrs Beeton's but it takes a wide view and uses a range of sources. Among other things, it has a detailed description of minutiae of mourning.

Personally I find the detail about how people lived and how society rules affected homes etc far more useful (and fascinating) than political history. My dh would disagree as he loves the cut and thrust of battles.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Richard Armitage v Philip Glenister -- enneagrams

Carrie Lofty put the idea for this blog into my head after her comment about Richard Armitage's protrayal of John Thornton. Adam also popped up to say that he has done a fan site for The Cranford Chronicles. One of the things it includes is the start for Cranford on the BBC -- 18 November 9 pm and a variety of interviews, including one with Philip Glenister.

Now I have no idea if Philip Glenister will be playing the hero in Cranford, (Simon Woods who plays Dr Harrison is a candidate as is Alisitar Petrie who plays Major Gordon) but I bet he will stealing scenes just as he did in Life on Mars where he played DCI Gene Hunt.

Both Gene Hunt and John Thornton are alpha personalities. Both like the leadership roles they have but they approach them in different ways.

Gene Hunt in that tv series is ultimately a 8. He cares about people once they become his. He is the King of the Jungle on his patch and he looks after people. He has a disregard for rules, because his main purpose to protect his team. He enjoys the challenge and wants to determine the course of his life. He is tough, but he has integrity. He dominates the screen. Protect and defend are really his watch words. He goes along with the status quo if it suits his purpose.

John Thornton on the other hand is very much more a 6. He likes to follow rules. Either rules he has made for himself or rules society has made. He cares about his factory, but he demands his workers follow rules. He is a hard man but he is honest. He is searching for security for himself and to a certain extent for his workers. You see this in the way he refuses to risk the factory on a speculative gamble. It is only after he loses that security that he is able to break some of the rigid rules -- most importantly being able to take the risk and confess his love.

I suspect Richard Armitage is a team player -- someone who learns his lines, gets on with it and is fairly punctual. If not, he knows why he is breaking the rules. In short he tends to play people who know the rules and are more comfortable with authority. He strikes me as being more comfortable playing characters who are in the 6 range.

I suspect that Philip Glenister, although disciplined, enjoys stealing scenes. I suspect he will improvise if it is going to make a better scene. I think he feels very strongly about the shows he is in and is not adverse to speaking his mind when the authority might differ. In short, from what I have seen of his work, he strikes me as being far more of an 8.

I could be completely wrong this but hopefully, it sort of demonstrates the differences between 6 and 8.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Bad boys, pirates, enneagrams and Cranford

First of all Nicola Cornick is doing a week long stint at e-harlequin talking about pirates, outlaws and pirates and why women are fascinated with them. Is it because women want to redeem? What is irresistible about a bad boy? Why is Johnny Depp so much more appealing than Orlando Bloom? Why is Sir Guy of Gisbourne more interesting than Robin Hood? Why is Mabel welcome to Frederic in the Pirates of Penzance, when I would fight for the Pirate King? (The elder two's high school is doing Pirates and my middle has been going around tarantraing and singing bits). Anyway, Nicola gives her take on why bad boys are popular in romance. I am being very good and not taking part as I am doing my revisions.
However, if you look at enneagrams, you will see that the Bad Boy is actually a special type of the number 6 -- the Loyalist. He is the rebel. He is the person who breaks all the rules. In order to break the rules, he has to know the rules, and he is the sort of person (in theory) who does want to keep rules but only on his terms. The interesting question is why? The general answer is that they have felt let down by their parents and the rules they used to keep. But these are the people who rebel. They are not trying to be successful rebels, they just breaking the rules. Number 6 also generally have a code of honour. People sometimes dismiss number 6 loyalists as being very beta and boy next door, but if you look at them in the context of the Bad Boy, you can see that they are a truly interesting type, a man that needs to be tamed. For example, I think an excellent case could be made that Vidal (The Devil's Cub) is a number 6. He is a man who lives by rules. He never breaks his rules -- just polite society's. He is ruthless. And ultimately he is wonderful and tamed by Mary.
My fingers are crossed that Cranford, the new BBC series based on three books by Elizbeth Gaskell, is as wonderful as it looks. They had a preview of it on the BBC the other day. Early railways. Scandalous whispering. Changes in society. Romance. Costume drama at its best.
Philip Glenister is in it but he looks to be far more stiff upper lip than normal. And I have seen pictures of a Simon Woods. In other words, I am not sure who the hero will be. Dame Judi Dench is in it, heading an all star cast. Some of the filming was done in Wiltshire and you can see photos of it here. It looks like it is going to be excellent. It will be shown on Masterpiece Theatre in the US, I think as it was filmed in conjunction with WBGH Boston. Anyway, I can't wait.
Right back to my wip -- the Tyne Valley and my bad boy hero. It is coming on, honestly.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Publishers Weekly --Beyond Her book blog Review

One of Barbara Vey's very lovely Weight watcher ladies has done a review for A Christmas Wedding Wager and it is up on the Beyond Her Book blog today.
If you haven't discovered Barbara Vey's blog, it is a really interesting blog to read. I thoroughly enjoy reading it.
The one wish that Loretta had was that there would be a sequel and regular readers of this blog will know -- there is one. My lovely editors still have not titled it, but it is Lottie Charlton's story. My daughter begged and pleaded and kept point out how she deserved her own story. And I know my editors loved the story as well.
Loretta also said that she was now a convert to romance so that made me very happy indeed!

Secondary characters and info

There was a post on Romancing the Blog yesterday and Julie Cohen also did a blog awhile back on JK Rowling's revelations about Dumbledore. I will admit that I wasn't surprised, mainly because I had read the last book and knew about his intense relationship with Grimwald, and it did remind me of the Charles Ryder/Sebastian Flyte relationship in Brideshead Revisited. I also tend to think of Dumbledore as a Mr Chips type character. He was someone who loved passionately once (perhaps unwisely) and then suffered. It also goes someway towards explaining why he was wary of Tom Riddle -- namely that his pursuit of knowledge echoed Grimwald's. Or was it his own and he knew what dark passages it could lead to if unchecked. In many ways, it doesn't matter as the main story would have still played the same, as the end result is the same.
But it does through up an intriguing question -- authors have to know much more about their world than readers do, should they share that knowledge? Or should it be something that readers if they want to can fill in the blanks? And when should that knowledge be shared? Because sometimes, if the author is going to write more stories about that particular milieu, the author could need to keep secrets.
When I am writing, I do know why other characters are in the cast and what their backgrounds are. The tip of the iceberg principle. I do a lot of research on both the setting and the characters that populate the worlds I write about. It is always a juggling act - -what does the author need to know and what does the reader.
For example, with The Gladiator's Honour, I knew the whole back story of Aquilia and how he came to be as well as how Tigris and his wife met. With A Noble Captive, I had to know how Helena's aunt became the sybil and Helena's mother was like and her romance with Helena's father. I also had to understand Tullio's relationship with his former wife. With Taken, I could describe the whole journey Haakon took with Asa ten years before the book started. I also know a lot about Asa's motivations and about Thorkell and the court intrigue. With A Christmas Wedding Wager, I ended up know all about Lucy and Henry Charlton's courtship and the Charlton family dynamics. This held me in good stead when I came to write Lottie's story (still untitled but will apparently have the word Debutante in it and possibly scandal). BUT the information does not really impact on the story and readers do not need the info to enjoy the story. In fact if they did know the info, the focus would be lost and the pace would slow to a crawl. Hopefully, the knowledge I have ultimately makes the world more real to the reader. However, if the end result stays the same does the motivation of a secondary character matter to anyone beyond the author?
I would argue very strenuously that an author needs to know the motivations of their secondaries, in particular their major secondaries if they want to avoid two dimensional characters and flat worlds, but should they reveal it afterwards? Is preliminary work interesting or distracting? Or does it depend on the author and the book? I am undecided about it but there again, I am a writer and I like to play guessing games about characters.
I am blogging at Tote Bags today about preparing for Christmas and am giving away a copy of A Christmas Wedding Wager.
My newsletter should go out at the weekend and it will contain another chance to win a copy of A Christmas Wedding Wager.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Cinderella drink

When we were in Malta, my middle and youngest discovered a new drink -- a Cinderella. They first tried at the Blue Elephant but soon discovered that other restuarants would serve it. Having tried it, I think it is better than the Shirley Temples that I used to drink as a child.
The basic recipe is for one person 4oz (250 ml) orange juice, 4 oz (250 ml) pineapple juice, the juice of one lemon, 1/2 oz (50 ml) sugar syrup and about 4 oz sparkling water. Shake with ice and pour into a glass.
Sugar syrup is made by boiling about 200 ml water combined with 200 grams of sugar for about a minute.
My middle prefers less sugar syrup for a tarter taste.
I suspect there is a drink with a bit of vodka added for the adults but do not know the name for it.
Anyway, it is a refreshing drink. You can make it even more luxurious if you used freshly squeezed oranges and freshly juiced pineapple.
The revisions continue apace. Yesterday, one of Kate walker's questions resounded in my brain -- why would she fall in love with him beyond the obvious? And I realised that I was missing a scene. This meant that the pace felt a bit static. But it is coming on and the book is moving more how I want it to move. It is always important to ask -- why. Or otherwise one's editor is apt to ask it.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Whooper swans and tawny owls

Yesterday, when helping my dh with the bonfire, it was basically still. My dh froze and cocked his head. A large smile appear on his face. Then I heard it as well -- wing beats flapping far above us. Two swans soared over our head -- large and majestic with wing beats so loud that you would almost think they were calling out.
My dh and youngest later went birdwatching up at Grindon Lough and saw seven Whooper swans. It has been a long time since my husband has seen Whoopers there. He had thought the swans he had seen earlier were whoopers but hadn't wanted to say. We mainly get Bewicks. Grindon was positively teaming with winter migrants -- grey lags, field fares, huge flocks of golden plover and lapwings as well. They were so excited that they came back for the telescope.
Generally Whoopers mean a cold winter. But it was the sound of their wings in the air that will stay with me.
At the moment much to my dh's delight, my youngest is very gone on birdwatching. Other people might find collections of stuffed birds boring or uninspiring, but my dh and youngest spend ages looking at them, discussing them. My youngest has started submitting bird reports to the local bird club and I believe is taking part in the Bird Atlas by submitting roving reports.
As I was finishing my work on my wip for the day, I suddenly heard a loud screeching call. My dh came in from the garden to report that a tawny owl had flown directly over his head and he could see the markings. We apparently have two in the dene and they were calling to each other. Tawny owls have an almost unearthly cry. They fly on silent wings.
My wip is coming on. My editors definitely have good eyes...

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Ballrooms and me

One of the enduring features of a Regency is the ball. However, when you go around a variety of country houses, there are not as many ballrooms as one might think. Also many of them have been changed out of all recognition, and let's face it -- they look very different at night and lit up by candlelight.
So I was delighted when my copy of the English Heritage magazine showed up and it had an article about ballrooms -- their growth and function. It was quite timely really.
I have misplaced my copy, but the illustrations were excellent and included a rose pink ball gown from the 1820s, complete with shoes. The shoes were to die for, showing that high heels and dancing did mix. There were also examples of dance cards but no date was given. I know in the early 19th century sometimes, little ivory fans were used...
I have loved ballrooms ever since I saw my first proper one. My high school was housed in an early 20th century mansion and boasted a ballroom where we had early morning assembly. I would often close my eyes and imagine what it would be like to waltz there as it was that sort of place.
In the mid 18th century, balls mainly happened in public spaces such as Assembly Rooms. The Newcastle Assembly Rooms were finished in 1776for example. The magnificent chandeliers are still there and the Grand ballroom does retain a definite flavour of the time period. Almacks -- the Assembly Rooms for the Haut Ton in London was founded in 1764. Most towns of any note boasted some sort of Assembly Room. The subscription balls were widely popular and it was not unknown for carriages to queue for up to 2 hours.
As an aside the required uniform for Almacks -- Beau Brummell's evening costume only came about in 1801 when the Beau was at the height of his powers. Prior to that time, male evening dress was far more brightly coloured.
As the 19th century dawned, ballrooms started to be Incorporated into country houses and large town houses. This mean the balls could be more private and that it gave the opportunity for more social jockeying. People would go to several balls per night in the Season, saving the most desirable for last.
One important feature was the wooden floor and this made ballrooms expensive to keep up as the floor needed to be highly polished. The most popular colour for ballrooms was yellow. If you look at the Assembly Rooms Newcastle, you can see that the colour does work. I used the Assembly Rooms in both A Christmas Wedding Wager and Lottie's Story ( which remains untitled but should have Debutante, Secret or Scandal in the title-- but this is up to my editors).
However, the ball in my latest wip, takes place at private house in the Tyne Valley. The NT houses in the area don't have purpose built ballrooms. Luckily for me, I recently went to a meeting at Minsteracres and the 19th century ballroom is still there. It has lots of gilt and mirrors. The walls are probably more late 19th century as they are painted with flowers but it did give me scope to use my imagination. More so than when I visited Close House as it uses the ballroom as a dining room. for a friend's wedding anniversary. But it still gives one ideas.
Anyway, I just like ballrooms and the article in the English magazine is excellent and timely.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Too warm for November

It is warm in Northumberland. Too warm. The Oriental poppies are blooming. Normally these bloom in June to coincide with ducklings. (Somehow we lost a duckling this morning and so are now down to 8. I still can't bring myself to put them in a pie!) The gaudy pink summer flowers are now contrasting with the crisp colours of Liquid Amber birch and the beech. And there is a colour clash..
Maybe the flowers etc know some thing I don't. Maybe all the rain we had earlier this summer felt like a winter. I don't know. All I know is my plants are acting strange. And I am still in t shirts in the house. Normally I take Eileen Ramsay's advice and wear two sweaters at this time of the year as I do not like having the central heating on. Not this year.
I want my November to be cold and frosty. Maybe even snowy. 11 years when we moved to our house, snow lay on the ground for weeks. The movers could not get the tea chests to me until a few days before we moved. Somehow, I can't see this happening here this winter.
BUT all the signs are that someone is going to have a hard winter. Geese and siskins arrived early. The holly bushes are full of gleaming red berries. There has been a bumper crop of apples and pears.
The bees are still flying and I need to take out the varroa strips and make the final preparations for winter -- namely putting the mouse guards on. Mice will try to hibernate in beehives and can thoroughly disrupt a colony. I do not worry about extra feeding as we have plenty of ivy and late autumn flowers, plus a number of winter flowers including winter aconites, snowdrops and hazel. The bees as a general rule of thumb have enough to see them through. If they feel a bit light in February time. I will give them a sort of Royal icing type feed -- apifondant.

My revisions are coming on. The basic problem with this book is that I did not make one key conflict personal and so it ended up being far more external than internal. at my wonderful editors' suggestion, I am internalising it. It is working far better. My editors are there to make the hard suggestions and to tell me to take a second look at those areas that are not working. fingers crossed that it is going to work this time. Already I can tell it is getting better.