Monday, April 30, 2007

Wicked The Musical

Friday night saw my daughter and I at the Adelphia Victoria in London. Part of my daughter's treat/reward for holding my hand at the RNA lunch was to go to see Wicked the Musical. FOr those of you who are unacquainted with it -- it is the musical adaptation of the Maguire novel. It proports to tell the untold story of the witches of Oz, in particular -- the Wicked Witch of theWest.Why was she wicked? Why green? Was she truly that awful? And what about Glinda?
The theatre was full of early teen girls. All giggling and buying the many items of merchandise on sale -- t-shirt, cds, mugs etc.
The set was fantastic -- a moving dragon guarded the stage and Glinda descended to the stage in a bubble. The songs great -- Defying Gravity was my favourite from the cd, and remains my favourite. The ending of Act One is fantastic.
After reading about how theatres made illusions in Victorian ties, it was pleasant to see the same sort of illusions still being made.
I hesitate to say much about the plot line. Elphaba, the Wicked Witch is the heroine and in the best muscial tradition there is a HEA. I was suprised but it really worked. Think foreshadowing.
It was excellent. Better than I thought. There was a wonderful moment when her broom broke. Both my daughter and I assume it was not planned, but they did pull it off. I was also struck by what Tywla Tharp said about working with actors and how each actor brings something to the role. The current leads were not the leads on the cd, but they did a marvellous job. I also played the game of how would I have staged this differently.
But generally I just enjoyed the show. If anyone is planning to see it, they are in for a splendid evening. If you like the Wizard of Oz, you will love Wicked the Musical. Iti s a musical for all the family.
On the Saturday, we went to Hatchards where I bought far too many of the new Piatkus regencys -- reprinted American regencies. They have such lovely covers. And they have provided a bit of inspiration which is always useful. It aided us on the 5 hour train journey back -- there was engineering on the line.
I have started working on my wip again. It is good to be home.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

RNA Award

I am just back and I am delighted to say that my very good friend Nell Dixon won!!! As she only entered because I twisted her arm, I am doubly pleased. She has also promised to be a good girl and do her revisions to Charlie Darling -- her medical, and so once she is off her high, she had better or I shall crack my whip!!!

The awards ceremony is wonderful, and some day when I am not up for a prize, I would like to go to soak in everything. The Savoy just is.

My daughter and I came down by train, and dumped our bags at Biddy's. There we changed and met up with Julie Cohen. Julie was dressed in a black top and orange skirt. Her shoes were wonderful. My daughter was quite envious.We took a cab to the Savoy and went to the front entrance. There is a certain something about swishing up to the front.

Then we went to where the lunch was being held. I missed several steps as I was looking at all the Gilbert and Sullivan memorablia. But thankfully did not ripped my skirt.

The M&B champagne bar was set up just as you went in. And I was soon surrounded by the very lovely editors and authors. Anne Herries has the most wonderful smile (as you can see by her smile and wave) and Catherine George is tiny with a beautiful Welsh voice. She is standing next to Fiona Harper who looked every inch the RITA finalist in her turquoise. I was able to say hello to Nell Dixon as well.

We were called into lunch. The room was a riot of flowers. There was a programme of the luch for everyone with a cartoon by Bestie. And thoroughly captured the mood of why it is necesarry to read a romance novel on public tansportation.

Lunch flew by. You can see Historical author Carol Townend in this photo.
Then came the speeches. Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, the olympic gold medalist, gave a wonderfully inspiring speech. The awards were made, and as Nell sat there stunned, I forced her to stand up. She gave a fantastic speech. I was so proud for her.

Afterwards, everyone retired to the bar for more talking. A thoroughly good time was had by all.

My daughter and I went to see Wicked the Musical! in the evening. And that is the subject for another blog.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Magic knickers and me

My post about getting ready for the RNA lunch is up on the Pink Heart Society. Natasha Oakley has manged to decorate it quite nicely, including finding a picture of magic knickers. I believe they are called spandex in the US. All I can say is that they are totally hilarious to put on, and I do have a new found respect for celebrities like G Paltrow. But they do hold all the bits in....And she put a picture of my skirt on the post, and not hers...

Tomorrow should be fun, but I am also nervous. It is a big event in the world of commerical publishing. There will be lots of people there. The Savoy is rather posh. Luckily there will be friends and friendship is priceless. So seeing all of them will make my day.

I have my own prediction of who will win (and it isn't me). Kate Walker is accepting predictions and I think giving away a prize.

On Friday evening I will be seeing Wicked The Musical! I am not thinking about the return train journey.

Thewip has been going v slowly for a number of reasons. Thankfully my editor is not starting to crack her whip, although my cp will be. My middle was muttering about taking away books and forcing me to write on the train because she wants to know what happens next...Iwould like this one to be really good, but we shall have to see. Sometimes the crows flock.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Sold and Seduced Review

The Romance Junkies have reviewed Sold and Seduced. It received Five blue ribbons. So I am very pleased. My favourite part of the review was Michele Styles is a much beloved historical author and SOLD AND SEDUCED is a prime example of the reason why her fans are so devoted. With characters so vivid you can see them in your mind’s eye and a plot that will keep you glued to the pages awaiting each battle of wills between Fabius and Lydia. There’s an undertone of some wrong doing from someone associated with Lydia’s father but we’re kept in suspense until near the end of the book. I loved the historical aspect to the storyline and was fascinated by the different types of marriage and Lydia’s horrified reaction to what she perceived as being forced into an archaic marriage. I have to confess I love how Fabius challenges Lydia with the kissing wager. There’s no doubt that it gets her thinking about kissing him constantly and actually seems to bring them closer rather than destroy their relationship.

The news absolutely made my day. So thank you to Chrissy and all the rest of the team at Romance Junkies. It is reviews like this that remind me why I am writing and who I am writing for.

Monday, April 23, 2007

23 April

Lovers of the English language should rejoice today -- it is Shakespeare's birthday as well as being St George's day.

There is much debate on the authenticity of Shakespeare. Was the playwright really the man buried in Stratford on Avon? Some of it must be pure snobbish -- how could the son of a glove merchant has such a way with words. Personally, I have no problem with Shakespeare being Shakespeare. He does use many colloquial Warwickshire phrases. Neither do I have a problem with his leaving his wife and family in Stratford when he went off to London to make his fortune. It happens all the time. There are many logical reasons why he might not want to bring a young family to London. And who knows about his marriage.

My dh gave me 1599 for Christmas. It can be hard going at times but basically details one of the year's when Shakespeare was at his most creative. It is interesting that he too felt the tug of do you make your work commercial or do you write for the critics? In general he chose the commercial. The court thought he should contrate on his sonnets.

What shines through in his work is his voice. The way he put words together. How he created characters. The best way to enjoy Shakespeare is to go in person and see the plays. A play is a living, breathing entity. It needs actors to bring it to life. How the actor interprets the words, how the scene is set. To simply reading Shakespeare is to miss the whole point. Go and see a play. Listen to his words. It should refresh you. Also remember that he was not in general playing to the court, but to the average man in the street. he competed with the orange sellers, the monkey grinders, the pick pockets and the thieves. He is a multi-layered playwright. And what is also obvious is that he worked at his art. He was a professional. He exhibits -- desires, determination, dedication and discipline. And he made everyone's life richer for it.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Debra Dixon: Goal, Motivation Conflict

Almost since the time I started to get serious about my writing and read the e-harlequin boards, I have heard about Debra Dixon and how wonderful her book, Goal Motivation and Conflict is. HOWEVER, if you go on Amazon, it appears to be out of print and only available at an extortionate price. How could such a highly rated book be out of print I wondered? The truth is -- it isn't. You can order it from the publisher Gryphon Books for Writers for $19.95 plus postage and handling. It works out $26.30 or 13.15 British pounds if sent sea mail.
Is it worth it? Now, this is a hard question to answer. Dixon is certainly very good, and easy to follow. She made me think about my current wip. BUT most of what she is saying is not new. It is in most other books about writing. What is new is the way in which she presents the material.

I also wonder if many would be published authors get little bits of her work and read it as gospel. For example the bit about not having misunderstandings. Misunderstandings are fine, if you can see the motivation behind them. There are many reasons WHY people can not simply sit down and talk about things. Or if they tried to sit and talk, they would lie. Easily cleared up misunderstandings are not good, but misunderstandings that play to the heart of the internal conflicts are. Some people appear to go for the broad brush approach. The devil, however, I am pleased to say is in the detail. Dixon is describing what works for her. She does not say that it has to work for everyone. She talks a great deal about rules, but makes the point that understanding the motivation behind the rules is more important than the rules themselves.
Dixon makes the point about degrees of conflict. How heavy do you want to get in your motivation? If the conflict is too heavy, it can sink the story because the HEA is in doubt. One way around is to move out a degree. Dixon uses the example of heavy v light with a hero who wants a large family and a heroine who can't have children. A lighter conflict is a hero who wants a large family and a heroine is bringing up five boys on her own and wants her freedom from parenting. Depending on the sort of story, you may want to increase or decrease the level of conflict. But however you write it, the conflict should be clearly defined.

This book is not a beginner's book. I would call it more an intermediate book. It is best aimed at those writers who struggle with plot and structure. It is very good for those people who want to learn more about the WHY. There is much to like in the book and any book that makes me think is a good book. It addresses a very specific problem -- namely goal, motivation and conflict.

Will I use it? It is another tool in my toolkit for trying to create the best wip possible. What Dixon says is not new or revolutionary. But the way she says it, may appeal to some people. It is easy to understand. The examples are straight forward ( even if I don't agree with all of them). She uses film rather than books.

I would certainly not pay the crazy price on Amazon for it. Go directly to the publisher. If you like writing craft books, it probably worth reading, just to see what the fuss is about.

I had to laugh at the list of recommended books -- Linda Gooodman's Love Signs is there as a book that should be somewhere within your house. She also lists Vogler and Campbell. But I think the list incomplete and a bit facile. My list is somewhat different, but then that is fine. Different wirters work differently.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Roman's Virgin Mistress -- cover

Barnes and Noble have the July covers up and so I have finally been able to see what the North American cover is going to look like. I love the strap line -- Seduction Under the Italian Sun.

I am really thrilled with it. I know my editor went and looked for images Baiae where the story takes place.

The blurb reads:

Silvana Junia knows what the gossips say about her – and doesn't care! Until a mysterious, dangerous stranger rescues her from the sea, and she's instantly drawn to him.
Lucius Aurelius Fortis is rich and respected. But his playboy past could come back to haunt him if he cannot resist his attraction to beautiful Silvana. And in the hot sun of Baiae their every move is watched…
Tempted beyond endurance, Silvana will become his mistress. But she has one last shocking secret…which will change everything between them!
Rome, 69 B.C.

You can read an excerpt of the story here.

Anyway, I am really thrilled with it all. It is a really special moment when an author gets to look at the cover of her book.

Now All I have to do is keep writing my current wip.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Required Listening

Phillipa Astley has a link to the Easter editoion of Open book on her blog and it should be required listening for all writers -- whether they are published or not. The programme deals with how editors, publishers and authors work together. In particular it gives an editorial view of revisions and why they happen. I can't imagine ever working like Rose Tremain who has her editor come and visit. They then go over the book page by page in the course of two days. And I did find it amusing when an editor described how she tried v hard to be diplomatic and postive. One of her authors was then asked how he felt when he got one of her letters -- bruised and battered came back the reply. The morale is: author's egos are fragile. And some times, it does not matter what is said, the author is not going to like it. Personally, I agreed with another author who said he would be upset if the publishing house simply took the novel without any revisons, because he knows how much stronger a professional eye can make the book. There is always something that can be revised.

The part on covers was very interesting as well. How a cover needs to create a mood. This is certainly true of Sold and Seduced and The Roman's Virgin Mistress. And the prototype of Taken by The Viking that I have seen. As Cheryl St John has already recieved her July cover and it is beautiful, I am hoping they will be putting the July covers up soon and then I can put the cover for TRVM up.

The programme is very much geared towards the literary end, but I know that much of what is said is true of HM&B. They do stick with authors. they want to grow authors.they believe in authors. They buy books because they like the authors. I loved how Orion stuck with Ian Rankin for seven years.

The programme takes about a half hour and I enjoyed it. I was also amused that they did not dare state the obvious -- the one publisher who REMAINS a brand -- Harlequin Mills and Boon. M&B readers still wait for the publication day of their favourite series. Something that Penguin readers gave up on awhile ago.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Sold and Seduced in the shops

My friend Kate Hardy has sent a photo of S&S in WH Smith's in Norwich.

Red Rose for Authors has done a lovely review of Sold and Seduced. You can read it here. My favourite bit of the review was: This sensual, beautifully written and researched book is an absolute joy to read. I think it is equally as good as her first – The Gladiator's Honor – which has been short-listed for the RNA Romance prize. It quite made my morning.

Today the children go back to school, and i have to get very serious about my writing. I have allowed it to slip, and I need to reassert my discipline. However, I do think that it is often like this -- the first few weeks are slow as I stumble around and then I pick up speed as I begin to know my characters better. It is one reason why I like to write down the number of words done each day. It means I can go back and check. A sort of comfort blanket for those days when I feel daunted. I have only written 4.5k words since last Tuesday, but I am still on course for finishing the first draft by 8 June.

Over the weekend, I read the column --A Writer's Year and the woman was extolling the fact that she had written 25k in 4 weeks as being wonderful. I suppose it is -- it depends where you are in the novel. But she was then going to take six weeks off as she had other things to do and maybe she would come back to it. If I am 25k into a novel, I find I can't time off, it begins to consume my waking hours. Even if I have other things to do, I would make sure I spent sometime every day on that novel. I would owe it to my characters. Otherwise, after six weeks, I would have to start all over again.

As I said to my dh after reading the article, either you are a novelist and make the time, or you're not. And this woman holds herself out as a full time novelist. It is why she is writing her column in the newspaper and advising other people on their novels. Good work habits pay off in the end. It is all about discipline. There again the only way I ever finished any writing was to work on it each day.

I don't have the time to sit down and write 10k in a day. I can remember when I first started, I read on e-harlequin about writing two pages per day and how that would give me two books per year. I can do that I thought, and it helped me. I now do considerably more than two pages -- my ideal is about 10, in addition to any editing. For me, I need the discipline of working a little each day.

It is probably one of the reasons that I like the Tharp book so much as she does have a heavy emphasis on discipline.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Sold and Seduced Contest winners

The three winners are:

Amanda Packard

Amanda Jenkins

Stacy Helpman

Each winner will received a signed paperback copy of Sold and Seduced and Kate Walker's The Antonakos Marriage, the book that gave me my seed or as Twyla Tharp would say -- the book I scratched my idea from.

Congratulations to the winners and thank you to everyone who entered. My next contest will be for a signed hardback copy of The Roman's Virgin Mistress and full details will be in my May newsletter.

Failure leads to success

I have been reading Tharp's The Creative Habit and have found much to like. I loved her chapter on disasters. How people do their best work often after failure. Nobody succeeds all the time. Failures humble. The best failures are the ones you make alone in your room with no one watching as you strive to perfect your material.

It is the old Thomas Edison theory about finding 9,999 ways that a light bulb didn't work. In order to get to the 10kth time, he had to try the other ways first. As Tharp points out -- contrary to the assertion in Amadeus, Mozart work hard to perfect his musical skill. The striving towards perfection means you are going to fail. It is better that you make mistakes at the start so you can develop the skills later on. One of the worst failures in Tharp's opinion is denial. You know something is weak but you are hoping against hope that no one else notices. This is also where a good editor and good critique partners or as Tharp calls them the validation squad. I trust them with my crudest and clumsiest work and they reward me with honest criticism. I put a lot of faith in them and their eye. I trust their talent. I know they have hammered my work in the past and therefore no afraid to be critical and above they want what I want -- the strongest story possible. By working with them and learning also to examine my work critically,

Revision is the biggest test in the creative process. It is the admitting that something does not work as well as you hoped/feared and then putting it right. She has a great mantra -- first put right those things you know you can fix. It is also something that I believe.
Anyway, I hope to avoid the public humiliation of a total disaster. by going through the validation process and working with my editor and critique partners. From my point of view, it was lovely to see someone else provide a clear and concise reason why it works.

I am not a master Romance novelist yet. Perhaps I never will be. But I can strive towards making my work better. There is always something to work on. I also liked her idea about polishing skills being a clock face. You polish up one, and then go on to the next until you have come full circle and the first one needs polishing again. She spoke of how dancers spend time perfecting the basics, and how the best dancers are the ones who are constantly going back and relearning their basic moves.

Anne McAllister went on and on about this book, and now I am as well. It is excellent.

I shall be drawing the winners of the Sold and Seduced contest soon. I was very pleased at the response.

Friday, April 13, 2007

DCI Gene Hunt and women

The Daily Telegraph has now waded into the Life on Mars Gene Hunt thing with an article about why women love him. The journalist, a female, quite rightly pointed out that Philip Glenister should have been up for a BAFTA. A few weeks ago a female journalist also wrote about her obsession with Gene Hunt and how she discovered Philip Glenister reading bedtime stories on CBBC (something that had the mothers tuning in in droves I have no doubt).

Actually I am not surprised that women are enthralled with him. It is not his looks. It is his underlying core integrity, his loyalty to his team. He is the sort of man who despite his faults, you know will go into single handed combat with spiders, mice and other creepy crawlies. Through out the series, I was worried that some how the Life on Mars writer would add bits in that made Gene more grey. less attractive, but they didn't. Gene Hunt works because he has a code of honour. he also has a series of outrageous one liners. But when the chips are down, you count on him to do the right thing for his team. He is an alpha male hero, and why anyone should be surprised about women's reactions to him...It is the fantasy that is the perennial best seller in women's romance.

I do worry about the proposed new series Ashes to Ashes. He would be 12 years older. I don't want a shades of grey Gene Hunt. I don't want an older but wiser Gene Hunt. I don't want a ravaged by time Gene Hunt that might be more interesting to play. I want the black and white Gene Hunt, the scene stealing Gene Hunt, the unreconstructed male hero. And please, please, can his wife stay off screen? He is not the sort of man domesticity comes easy to. A bit like Sharpe.

Why do so many men assume women go for looks? Personality, codes of honour, doing the right thing can mean a lot. Give me a man of honour any time over a pretty boy snake.

The new wip goes slowly, but with my hero sorted. Things are starting to flow. I want my current hero to be even more dangerous. The sort of man who says -- this far and no further. But now that I have found him. Things have had to change.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Anne McAllister Commission

Anne McAllister's blog should come with a warning: You will discover interesting and intriguing books that will cause you to visit Amazon. Her latest discovery is Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit.

Twyla Tharp, in case anyone is unfamiliar with her work, is one of America's great choreographers. She is exacting, demanding and above highly creative in her medium. She has choreographed ballets, Emmy winning television shows and Tony winning musicals.

I thought the book sounded interesting when Anne described the rituals, and the thinking out of the box. I knew I needed to read the book when Anne mentioned ruts.

It arrived yesterday and is well worth reading. And yes, okay, I am creative. I like making connections. I do like the act of creation. I like change.

There is a lot to absorb. Little throw away sentences that suddenly open up new vistas. She writes of the discipline needed for creativity. Of scratching around for ideas -- scratching in terms of looking everywhere, like one scratches off lottery cards in the hopes of finding something. She also speaks about not mining too deeply in one place, and the combination of ideas. She also speaks of skill. Her stories about Mozart and DaVinci are not new, but they are in one place. ...the better you know the nuts and bolts of your craft, the fully you can express your talent. Build on solid foundations. Skill enables you to execute your vision.

I love her quote from John Gregory Dunne explaining the difficulties of writing novels and each new novel is a tabula rasa, and he has to remember how to get characters in and out of rooms.

She also speaks of casting, and getting the right person for a part. Justifying that.

I knew that I did not have the right person in mind for my hero. I have known about him for a while. but I couldn't think who I would cast as my hero. Which actor would I chose to play him? What quality does that actor capture? My usual cast of suspects was not working. I asked Anne for some ideas. Anne is very good with ideas btw. She came up with two. One I had already rejected. The other -- I had not even thought about. I did not recognise the name -- Mads Mikkleson.

He played Le Chiffre in Casino Royal. The minute I realized -- I knew that he had the quality of movement that I was looking for. Things fell into place. Horizons opened. I will have to change some of the things I have already written but it is going to be a better book.

It is a magnificent book. Full of sound advice. Or maybe because it tallys with my thinking, I find comfort in the reaffirmation.

Twyla Tharp is another one of those -- desire, dedication, determination and discipline ladies.

All I can say is get the book, read it and absorb it. I know I will be returning to it time and again.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Life on Mars -- the ending

In some ways they bottled the ending. I was still left with questions. And therefore it felt vaguely unsettled.

My big question was who caused Sam's accident? It happens exactly at the same time and in the same manner as the 1973's Sam. Coincidence is fine but there has to be a strict law of probability, and near the end every action must have been foreshadowed/comes as direct result of action taken by a main character.

Equally did Sam actually change the past/ Specifically with regards to the death of Annie Cartwright at the end of series one? What were the consequences of this? Is this why suddenly he is dead in the future? In other words why has 1973 become more real than 2006? Did he chose to live with the love of his life?-

Also did Gene Hunt et al really exist? Should this have been left in doubt?

Could the 1973 Frank Morgan have a son who was studying to be a doctor also named Frank Morgan? All it would have taken was the throw away line of my father was a Hyde.

Anyway, there were choices the writer of Life on Mars made, and me being me -- I would not necessarily have made them. However, the Life on Mars writer did make them, and generally the series worked me. In every case, the writer of Life on Mars made the correct choices for his story. But part of me is always asking why did he do such and such, and would a little tweak have helped?
If I can understand why the choices are made, I might be better able to understand why I make choices in my writing.

The Creative Habit book that Anne McAllister has been raving about arrived today. She was right. It does look excellent. Interestingly I have never really thought of myself as creative. Yes, I write, but that is just part of me. Anyway, I look forward to reading it.

I also went to Beamish Museum. Absolutely excellent. They have a railway carriage there from 1846. The whole set of manor gave me food for thought. And I have done a little on my new wip.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Life on Mars

Tonight is the final of the Life on Mars. It has been a wonderful show. There are many reasons why I should not like Gene Hunt, but I do. He has a core integrity, and he is very loyal with a code of honour. Okay, it might not be your code of honour but it is his. He also has some of the best one liners in recent television. Philip Glenister was born to play Gene Hunt.

I also love how the secondary characters like Phyllis, the desk sargant are drawn. You can see them as 3-d.

It is a show that has kept me coming back for more. I am interested in finding out about why Sam Tyler is there and why he went there. Was the accident an accident? I reminded of a time travel book I read once where a woman and her g grandmother switched places. I suspect if I tried to explain it logically it wouldn't work. and there would an ick factor. Suffice it to say that the woman was never able to get back to her own time and crippled by a stroke had to watch helplessly as her younger self tumbled into the mirror. And I can't remember the name of the novel,but it was partly set in the goldfields of California. I used love time travel books. But there is a paradox in time travel that makes them difficult to write.

Was an *older* Sam driving that car? Did he send himself back into time because he knew that was where he would findthe love of his life -- Annie? Was Annie driving the car?

I hope they don't bottle it and that the ending is satisfying. I am looking forward to Ashes to Ashes. gene Hunt is too good a character for the BBC to get rid of him. BTW the show which is the one of the most popular in BBC for a decade nearly was not shown. It is what they call a sleeper. Whatever it is, I shall be watching the final tonight.

Oh and I have started writing my next wip. Early Victorian. I know what my hero looks like, but I don't havea photo of him. Philip Glenister served as a model for my latest one. See above. Can't you imagine him as a Viking?

Monday, April 09, 2007

Easter Monday musings

I survived Easter, and the house is now awash with chocolate. Unfortunately much of it is Green and Black's or Thornton's. I shall simply have to exercise more.

On Saturday, I went over to Anna Lucia's. She lives in the sort of wonderfully quirky house that I love. Bits are from different times and the spare bedroom has distinct ghost like feel apparently until they redecorated. Whatever ghosts that are in her house, they appear benign. Julie Cohen was there with the fecklet. She looks wonderfully happy and relaxed. All in all a good time was had. Where Anna lives is wonderfully old fashioned and rural, but my middle said as we came back along Hadrian's Wall that she thought where we lived was not bad either. The Spring sunlight highlighted the wall perfectly -- it was the sort of day that photographers love.

I have started to do my calculations for my next wip. It is getting to the point that I have to begin writing. My critique partners are going to start cracking whips...but I have been writing in my moleskine. I love and adore my moleskine notes books. They are fun to write in but I will have to put words on the computer -- starting tomorrow. It is part of being disciplined.

When I saw Julie and Anna, it was interesting to see the different ways in which writers work. I had a sneak peak of Julie's latest -- all rubber banded and clipped. On the other hand, I use a large binder to keep my manuscript in when I doing revising. I find it easier -- particularly when I come to the random page tightening stage. BTW Julie's cover for it is even better in the flesh as it were. I am sure it will be brilliant. She used David Tennant as a model for her hero. As my middle says -- David Tennant is totally hot in Dr Who. My middle kidnaps Julie's books and reads them. Her favourite thus far is Spirit Willing ,Flesh Weak. Julie very diplomatically said it was up to me if my daughter read those books. All I know is that they are in many ways tamer than the stuff I read at her age. I can well remember reading the John Jakes Bicentenial series (The Bastard, anyone?)when I was 12. So how can I complain?

Kate Hardy said lovely things about Sold and Seduced on her blog. Her comments mean a lot to me as I like her writing, and I respect her judgement. Sold and Seduced has also been reviewed on the PHS review site and I was very pleased with the review there.

I suppose this is the time to remind one and all that I am running a contest. Basically email me with the answer to the question:
Which song is playing on my myspace page?

I am drawing the winners on 14 April. 3 lucky people will receive a signed copy of Sold and Seduced as well as the book that gave me the seed -- The Antonakos Marriage.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Easter, eggs and that bunny

Why the connection between eggs and Easter? It is not the chocolate manufacturer's gimmick.

Eggs were forbidden during Lent, but they were also a Christian symbol. An egg symbolises rebirth and renewal. New life. Easter eggs used to be called Pace (or Passion) eggs. Although most people give a chocolate eggs in Britain, people in many other countries still decorate hard boiled eggs for gifts. In Greece, as far as I can recall, the eggs are dyed red to symbolise the Lord's Passion. So there is a religous significance to eating eggs on Easter.

The word Easter most probably comes from the Anglo Saxon goddess Oestre. One of her animals was the hare. It should be noted that the Lord's Passion was more than likely celebrated in Britain BEFORE any rites to Oestre as the Saxon did not arrive until the 5th century. Christianity was definitely wide-spread in Northumberland during the 4th century -- IE the one found at Vindolanda. Another example would be Constantine the Great's acclamation at York in 306. Much was lost when the pagan Saxons invaded. When the Anglo-Saxons were Christianized, the festival's name stayed the same and the meaning changed. Oestre's fertility rites happened in the Spring.

The Easter bunny is Germanic and a relatively recent addition in Britain. As the Saxons were a Germanic people, it is possible that this is a hang over from the Oestre fertility rites. Germanic references to an Easter hare stretch back to the 1500s. Another version of the old hare v rabbit arguement -- is the Easter bunny really a hare?

The making of chocolate eggs of course happened during the Victorian period. This is because of technological innovations. Many people of course give up chocolate for Lent.

This is just in case anyone is interested.

Sold and Seduced went on sale in the UK yesterday (officially) I need to get a photo of it.

Happy Easter to one and all. May you enjoy your Pace eggs, even if you didn't know they had another meaning.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Good Friday and hot cross buns

Today is Good Friday -- one of the most solemn and sacred days of the Christian calender. Without Good Friday, the promise could never have been fulfilled. The date is set because of the Jewish Passover. We know it was a Friday because the next day was the Jewish sabbath. The days of the week were also just beginning to be used. It goes back to astrology and the belief that each of the planets govern a day. The major change was calling Sunday -- the day of our Lord. If you look at the week days in French or another Romance language, you will see what I mean. English days are derived from Anglo Saxon/Nordic gods.

In many Catholic countries such Spain and Italy, the day is one of processions. Years ago when I visited Spain during Holy Week, I was surprised at how many processions happened. It was Catholicism at its most raw -- robes, whips and chains. The procession on Palm Sunday in Grenada frightened me as the dark was falling and these men were solemnly processing, cowls hiding their faces. A few years later, we happened to be in New Mexico going from Santa Fe up to Taos and passed by the Chimayo pilgrims -- many were carrying crosses. The guidebooks all said that unless you were taking part, it was best to steer clear of the festival...Given my experience in southern Spain, I agreed.

In Britain, spiced buns first became popular during the Tudor period. Elizabeth I forbade the making of hot cross buns on any day except Good Friday. I forget when the edict was relaxed. I tend to like the British version of hot cross buns much more than the American. This is mainly because you have a dough or pastry cross in the UK as opposed to an icing cross.

I adapt the Elizabeth David recipe for her definitive guide to English Breads for my recipe.

It is basically -- warm 10 oz milk to blood heat, add 1 tablespoon of yeast -- allow to soften. Mix 1 lb strong bread flour (4 cups) with 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp nutmeg, ground allspice, and ground cloves, and 2 oz dark brown sugar (1/3 cup). Add yeast milk mixture, and then two eggs. Make into a soft dough, add more flour if required and then add 4 oz (1 cup) currants. Allow to rise until double (about 45 minutes.
Shape into 16 balls. Make a short crust pastry ( 4 oz flour plus2 oz butter. Mix into a fine crumb add2 tablespoons approx water) Make snakes of the pastry. Put crosses on top of buns. Brush with milk. Allow to rise for about a half hour. Cook in a hot oven for 20 minutes until nicely browned.

Far better tasting than the hot cross buns one purchases in the shops.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

On Setting

Setting is more than a one dimensional word. It encompasses -- place, duration, time period and level of conflict. Again it goes back to why -- why does your story have to happen at this particular place and moment in time space. Why does it have to happen where it happens? And why does it have to take as long as it does? Finally the setting must take into account the level of conflict.
This is because nothing moves forward in a story without conflict.

In other words, your setting is your story's world. Everything that happens in that story must obey the laws of that world. If you are going to have to do something strange or imbue something with power, you need to foreshadow. for example in A Noble Captive, a trumpet plays a part at the end. In order to have it play its part, the trumpet had to be alluded before -- it had to be part of the world and tied up in the beliefs of that world.

Similarly with Sold and Seduced. The story takes place in the manner that it does because of the real life political events that were happening in Rome. Just before the story began, Pompey had cleared the Mediterranean of pirates. If Lydia had not thought the wine promised to a pirate, she would not have sold it and the story would not have unfolded. Because the story structure is wound up in the setting, it could not have taken place at any other time. Hopefully this helps make it memorable for the reader.

Stories need to exist in their own world, and when you write historical novels, you must obey the historical rules as well. You need to have it feel authentic.

With my wip, part of my initial work is to ensure the story has to take place where and when I say it does. The setting has to be part of the structure.
One great leap forward for me was speaking to some friends yesterday who had lots of books on the area that I was able to borrow. Okay, we did a bit of bartering -- duck eggs and honey for the use of the books. And the books are fantastic --- a 1930s guide to Hexham and the Tyne Valley, a reprint of the 1888 Tomlinson guide to the area and a guide to the lost great houses of Northumberland.
Not only am I discovering why my story has to take place where and when it does, I am also discovering things like cruel Sykes burn near Haydon church once ran red with Scots blood when Edward III crossed the Tyne. I think I know which stream is Syke's but am now wondering what the burn/stream that runs through my garden is called and did it ever run red with blood? Today has been such a gloriously sunny peaceful day that it seems incredible that this tranquil place could ever have run red with blood.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Hands in marriage

One of the things about writing is knowing the creative limitations. Everything must be believable in the world you are writing about. Certain laws have to be obeyed. In the context of writing historicals, I do believe you have to obey historical laws as well.

After I got my idea for Sold and Seduced, I started to think about it. And suddenly realised that I had a problem --- basically Roman marriage law. Th Romans recognised four types of marriage. In the time period that I write about, in the vast majority of marriages, a woman's hand was not given in marriage. It was sans mano. She remained under her father's or guardian's control. This is why Roman women do not bear the same family name as their husband's. In the very early Republic and then later in the Christian era, Roman women did come under the control of their husbands and were married cum mano, but during this time, it was felt that women would be batter served if the legal guardianship stayed with her birth family. The intention was to make marriage stronger, but actually, it only increased divorce and made families less stable.

Personally I think it interesting that the early Christians went for the cum mano. I suspect Jewish tradition may have played a part, BUT as Roman custom and law prevailed at that point, and there are certain similarities in the wedding ceremony, I find it interesting.

Anyway, I had then had to come up with a reason why after Aro and Lydia were married, they would stay married -- particularly as Lydia's father was not keen on the marriage. In other words, I had to find a reason WHY Aro would insist on a marriage cum mano or with hand.

Once I had accepted the limitation, I was able to work with it, and the rest of the story flowed.

Some writers like to think about total freedom, but actually it is the structure and the demands of the world you create along with the main arc of the story that force you to exercise your creativity.

Monday, April 02, 2007

On not starting

Today I supposed to start my next ms, but I didn't. Instead, I went shopping with my daughter.

Several things I discovered: Monsoon is a lovely shop with clothes that suit me as well as my daughter. John Lewis has good shoes -- shoes that matched the clothes we bought in Monsoon.
And I spent far too much on make up etc.

This is all in aid of the RNA Romance Prize. I am determined to look okay when I go down. Today on the e-harle blog Jessica Harte explained what it was like to win. But more importantly she gavea taste of the buzz -- what it is like to be there. It all sounds exciting. But I am going to have to rediscover my nearly non existent skill at make up. Luckily I ended up speaking to the regional manager at Clarins who appeared to know lots. She was also v excited to hear about my big occassion.

All in all this took longer than planned and I didn't get back. I will start writing tonight.

Sold and Seduced has been spotted in several WH Smiths -- the official publication date is Friday. It was not in my local one or in the one in Newcastle. The contest is still open, and I have been getting a number of entries -- thank you. To enter, you simply need to answer the question -- Which song is playing on my myspace page? (Hint you can find a link on the side of the blog) Then email me with answer before 14 April. I am giving away three copies of S&S as well as three copies of Kate Walker's The Antonakos Marriage. If you are not on my newsletter list, I will enail you an invite if you enter the contest.