Tuesday, July 31, 2007

More books on writing

The first I blame Trish -- this is the Michael Hauge book on Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds. He sounded interesting and I thought it would be intriguing to learn. It does not matter -- a writer always has to be able to describe her story quickly.

I have purchased two new books on writing.
The other was because his other book was unavailable at Amazon.co.uk. So I finally broke down and bought Dwight Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer. It was first published in 1965 and I believe I read it as a teenager. It is one of The Bibles of fiction writing. Dixon and Maass both mention it. I had a quick look at the opening chapter. he has wonderful reposites for people who think that stories are simply formulas and can be done by computer or people who think that craft needs no honing. To my amusement, he used the example of a fictional writer of love pulp --Mable Hope Harley -- who had been writing for thirty years and who declared to the young writer that as she had learnt everything by simply reading, there was no need for craft to be taught. Swain disagrees -- in order to be able to pick up things up from reading, one must first know what one is looking for. One also has to know why certain rules came into being in the first place. For example, the HEA comes because the vast majority of readers prefer it and therefore the potential market on average is much larger. With romance, the readers demand it. In other words, he believes as McKee does, as do so many writers and teachers of craft that it is the mastery of craft that is important. The understanding of the why.

Swain is big on scene and sequel, but the way he is using the term sequel, it is not exactly how some people define it.

Anyway, it shall be interesting.

I also have restarted my Regency Part 1 as my deadline is beginning to loom.

Monday, July 30, 2007

In the ether

Prior to 1815, there was a national scandal about fire damp. Basically in coal mines, you get a build up of gas and then when a naked flame hits it, you get an explosion. In August 1815, two men both created safety lamps and depending on whom you believe, either Davy invented the safety lamp or George Stephanson. The truth is that they both did, working independently of each other. To his dying breath, Davy, the great scientific giant believed that Stephanson had cheated and sought to discredit him. Stephanson, partly because his mind was on other matters such as locomotion, did not say much in public on the subject.
Davy felt that an uneducated man who did not know much about chemistry could not have invented the lamp, and Davy was initially awarded the prize money. However, George Stephanson had his supporters and after a lengthy investigation, he too was awarded some of the prize money.
In practice the North East miners tended to use the Geordie lamp and suffered fewer problems with fire damp. The Davy lamp because of its slightly different construction tended to overheat and this sometimes led to problems with fire damp.
The unsatisfactory point about the whole affair is that Stephanson never really did explain why he wait until August 1815 to begin his experiments. The answer is probably simple -- the scandal about fire damp had become so massive that the Grand Allies had offered Davy an award. As Stephanson worked for in a Grand Allies mine, he may have become aware of the problem and decided to do something about it.
In any case, much as Swann and Edison were working on the problem of electricity at the same time, so were Stephanson and Davy working on fire damp. It was in the ether. And I do think Stephanson showed that someone versed solely in practical experience can sometimes reach the same conclusions as someone versed in theory.
The Victorians made much of the fact that Stephanson actually risked his life when he was developing his lamp as he tested it under extreme conditions by deliberately going where the pockets of hydrogen gas was know to be. The Victorians often used George Stephanson's life as a morality tale. Illiterate mine worker comes to control the transportation network.
What is known is that George Stephanson never had much time for honours. It is said that Robert Stephanson refused a knighthood because one was not offered to his father.
The third Geordie lamp is kept in a glass case at the Lit and Phil where I saw it on Saturday. The Lit and Phil looks just the same as it has always done since 1822. I found lots of wonderful books including a biography of William Hedley, one of the fathers of locomotion. The Lit and Phil is truly a wonderful place -- so many books, so much information. I had almost forgotten what it was like to stand an independent library.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Is Romance Women's Fiction?

On his very interesting blog, literary agent Jonathon Lyons has been defining women's fiction as he sees/uses the term in today's publishing world. In his opinion, romance is worthy of its own separate category and should not really be considered women's fiction.
Now I have a few problems with this as I think the terminology is wrong. Romance is very definitely women's fiction. It is written for and read primarily by women. But it is certainly not all of women's fiction. And as an aside it is also a form, and not a formula. Much in the same way that a mystery story is a form.
My personal opinion is any attempt to say that romance is NOT women's fiction or somehow separate from women's fiction does a disservice to the reader and the industry as a whole. It could lead to a perceived ghettoizing. When, in fact, if one looks at it, the romance genre is one of the most commercially successful of all the genres. Many readers read all forms of women's fiction, depending on their mood. Many writers, while they may start in pure romance, do move out into more complex and complicated story lines. Publishing houses such as Harlequin have lines that specialise in all forms of women's fiction.
I do however understand what he is trying to get at. Romance as a genre does have certain requirements, in particular a emotionally satisfying ending with the relationship of the primary couple being statisfactorily resolved.
The problem is coming up with a term that describes that women's fiction that is not a romance and is readily understandable by all.
There is a branch of commercial women's fiction that does not need a HEAOver in the UK, it is often given the label saga/family saga/modern saga/contemporary saga or even relationship fiction. Romance may be an element of the book but it is not the overriding arc or spine. The focus is not so much on the growth of the emotional relationship but on other things or elements in the protagonists life. While a romance tends be an arch-plot, other novels written for women can have multi plot or even anti plot structures. Sometimes it is called With Romantic Elements as there is often a subplot of romance in the book.
In fact in the early 1960s when the RNA was founded, there was a debate about this very subject. Rosamunde Pilcher alluded to the debate in her speech last year at her lifetime achievement lunch. They knew that the label Romance could be perceived more narrowly than they intended but it sounded the best and was the most inclusive of names. The Relationship Novelist Association somehow did not have the same ring to it.
Or Women's Fiction Novelists. Today, the RNA's Romance Novel of the Year is mostly likely to be won by a novel with strong romantic elements rather than a straight forward romance.
But the fact remains there is this branch of women's fiction and some agents prefer to specialize in it rather than in romance. The problem is how to convey it and in a way that explains it easily and does not demean. Saying that there is women's fiction and then there is romance does not do it for me. Sorry.

Friday, July 27, 2007

On writing trash

Trash is the wrong word to use btw but it is the common word used to refer to highly successful commercial fiction. Fiction where the story and the ability to give a reader a white knuckle ride of emotion and excitement overrides lush description and clever use of language. The story is king and in my book it is how it should be.

FWIW Dickens wrote trash. He was not considered to be a great writer until sometime in the 1930s, merely a popular one. Jane Austen wrote trash as did the Brontes. Daphne du Maurier wrote trash. An early review of Rebbecca states that this novel would not be long remembered. Agatha Christie was just a mystery writer. There were even complaints about Shakespeare during his time and how he wasted his talent on the more commercially successful plays. The list goes on and on.

Most authors who later are considered to be classic are in their lifetime popular and commercial authors. They are remembered because above all else the story speaks to the readers, through time and space. It is only later that often people realise -- hey these people can actually write, maybe there is a reason... In other words, it takes time to become classic.

I don't know why people curl their lip about commercial fiction. Maybe it is because they enjoy the guilty pleasure that gives people. I am not sure, but you know I love reading trash, and I really enjoy writing it. The alternative is too dismal to think about.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

BBC Radio Newcastle

This morning, I appeared on the Paul and Ian show on Radio BBC Newcastle. There will be a listen again feature so you can hear the show. It will be available at some point after 1pm. I am about 20 minutes into the thing.
The show is amusing and light hearted. But I think (hope?) I came across well. They are known quantity to me as I appeared on the show in May 2006. A pair of likely lads from the Toon. Light hearted. Fun with a quirky sense of humour.
And I did get to read the first couple of lines of The Roman's Virgin Mistress, so I can feel it was a success. And they were kind enough not to tell me that it wasn't!

My revisions have arrived and so it is a matter of improving and strengthening TD. It can be done. It is a matter of working at it.

Monday, July 23, 2007

HEA -- a requirement

One of the periodic issues that raises its head is the Happily Ever After and why a romance has to have one.
It always amazes me. People don't want an emotionally satisfying ending? They don't want the major plot arc resolved?
If all that happens in your book is that the people take up the threads of their ordinary life at the end, it does not work. It is the sort of -- it was all a dream. Characters need to grow and change.
Because Romance belongs to the archplot category of genres, it does mean at the end of a story, all major threads should be tied up. In particular the spine of the story must be resolved. Time has shown that a greater percentage of the audience prefer a happy ever after.
Think of this another way -- would a crime novel be enjoyable if the killer was never caught, and the mystery went unsolved?
This is not a rule but a very important part of the form that has to be mastered. If a writer does not want to master this form, they are free to write in another genre. And there are other genres -- for example sagas where the romance is secondary and the spine of the book is held by the character's growth.
But if a writer DOES want to use the highly successful romance format, they do have to adhere to its most basic form.
The emotional satisfaction that readers get at the end is why people read romance. They want that buzz.
The real trick is to create a situation which gives the reader a white knuckle ride.She is positive until that last climatic scene that the principals won't get together. She wants that. And the writer should never cheat the reader. Well not if she wants her readers to come back for more.
For my part, I write historical ROMANCE and that means an emotionally satisfying ending with threads tied up.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The last episode in Rome

Just a reminder that the last episode in Rome goes out tonight on BBC 2.

I think that this series has been much better than the first series. I am sorry that it will be the last one. But I do think it has been well done.
I also think the idea of having it on twice a week worked. It enabled the viewer to get very involved.
It is one of those series that people will remember.

Coffee Time Romance prize

The blog about a day in my life is up at Coffee Time Romance. There is a chance to win a copy of The Roman's Virgin Mistress. I am currently hoping that someone will enter...

The Shelfari thing is slightly addictive at the moment. What books to put on my shelf. That sort of thing. Anyway, I find it interesting.

My daughter has finished HP for the second time. She read it once and then had to reread it. She thinks it is better than books 5 and 6. Perhaps equal to book 4. She also keeps teasing me with hints. Everyone is not as they seem. Umm, I figured that would happen. She was also very satisfied with the ending.

My editors' thoughts are supposed to arrive on Tuesday. They do like TD but have ideas on how it could be strengthened. This is what I like to hear. I want my books to be the strongest possible read.

I am feeling more positive about my current wip. The crows of doubt often attack at this stage. I don't think I am ever truly happy with a book until I have my editors' input.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


And after myspace and facebook comes shelfari. It is a social networking group devoted to books and book groups. Jen Black sent me an invite and I finally decided to check it out and to join.
It is very easy to use. The navigation makes sense and I found my books quickly. It appears to be mainly US oriented but they do welcome users from around the world.
There are groups devoted to Historical romance, Harlequin and Silouette books, writing romance as well as a host of other genres.
I thought as an author and as someone who loves and adores books that it was worthwhile to belong. It is always pleasant to find more like minded souls.

Friday, July 20, 2007

TheRomanceReader at Heart reviews The Roman's Virgin Mistress

I was absolutely delighted to discover that the Romance Reader at Heart had reviewed The Roman's Virgin Mistress and had given it one of their Top Pick awards. I have a lot of respect for The Romance Reader at Heart and their reviews. I know that their reivew for The Lady Soldier taught me a great deal and made me understand and question things. I also know that they review from the heart.
One of my favourite bits of the reviews was I absolutely knew that when I picked up Michelle Style's new book, I was going to be wonderfully entertained, and I am so happy that I was right! I love, love, love Michelle Style's books. Her writing is always above par and her stories are fabulous! You can read the rest of the review here:
It is such a compliment. I really do try to entertain readers. And I am so honoured.
The PHS Review site has also done a review of TRVM.
I loved the fact the reviewer said Michelle Styles’ historical romances are simply terrific! The Roman’s Virgin Mistress is a spellbinding tale that vividly evokes the past and that is laden with intense sensuality, dramatic emotion, heart warming drama and poignant romance.
Yesterday, I also got a fan letter in the post! A very lovely reader from Vista California had writtten to me via harlequin Enterprises. She loved TRVM and wondered if I would sign some book labels for her. She enclosed an IRC and self addressed envelope. It was a really thrilling moment.
Hopefully you can tell that I love and adore reader feedback. I do try to answer all reader letters and I also try to read all reviews. They are important to me. I o keep them in a heart shaped box and look at them when ever the crows of doubt really strike. The box has three new additions!

The last Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is released at midnight. My family's copy will arrive by owl post on Saturday morning.
It seems a very long time ago that I went to the school book fair at my son's first school and purchased the first Harry Potter. Because he was eight, I wanted to know what he was reading. I can remember thinking that reading this must be what reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe when it had just come out was like. And the annoying thing was that the series was not finished! In fact, it had barely begun.
My son loved it as well. We had to join the Harry Potter fan club, and received a mugglfied golden snitch and he got regular newsletters as well as invitations to book launches. However, after the third book was released, I think the fan club had to be disbanded as it became far too big.
My lovely dh for some reason went out to the bookstore and happened to discover a hardback copy of The Chamber of Secrets which he duly purchased. I think it had just been released. Anyway, I kept telling people about this wonderful book. Most had not heard of it. Those who had, enjoyed it. A good friend remarked on the similarities with Eva Ibbotson's The Secret of Platform of 13 3/4. And there are some but both books are very different. I suspect it is more a case of ideas floating around in the ether.
I sent copies to my sister in the US as she had never heard of the book. She then went to a book fair and was able to pick up posters for her classroom as no one was interested. The next year, the Scholastic area was swamped!
My long suffering husband, after the third book was released and both my son and I had to read it on the day of publication, gave in. He was going to prove that it was not very good, and read it aloud to my daughter. Suffice it to say that he became an evener bigger fan of the series than I was.
It has been a magical ride. Yes, there is hype about the series, but it is the stories that speak to people. JK Rowling is a masterful story teller. I have my own theories about what should go on at the end, and I shall be reading avidly. I am certain that the series will become a classic. And all those lucky children will be able to read it straight through, without waiting...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The timing of inventions

I am currently hard at work writing my regency duo. i wanted to include a bit about the railways and their beginnings. After all, George and Robert Stephanson were from the Tyne Valley. I started out by thinking about the Rainhill competition in 1829 for the Liverpool Manchester railway. It was at the opening of the Liverpool- Manchester railway that there was the first railway fatality when an MP did not heed warnings and climbed down from the coach...But this is really strictly speaking that funny time between Georgian and Victorian. William IV. A thoroughly interesting period and one I am very fond of but it is not strictly speaking Regency.
Then I thought, let's move the clock back earlier The first public railway was the Darlington Stockton railway completed in 1825, but the amazing thing for me was that over 200 miles of rails existed at that point in time. In the North East, people had begun to see the possibilities of steam locomotives.
I went further back. George Stephanson first perfected the steam locomotive in 1814 and this is FINALLY the date I am going for. Even then, he was not the first to have a travelling engine, he built on the Trevick engine and a number of other engines, but his My Lord engine was the first to use rails and grooved rather than ratcheted wheels. The development of the railways was also enhanced by the development of wrought iron which meant the iron rails could actually hold the weight of the engine. It was pretty much the start of locomotive fever in the North East of England.
Sometimes, I think that people consider the Regency period to be the last bastion before industrialization when in fact, the vast majority of the inventions were happening and the world was changing rapidly.
I shall have to make another trip to Beamish. Their waggonway exhibition is wonderful. You get a real sense of the period. They often have a wood fire going in the station. And the third oldest surviving engine in the world is there. The other two are in the Science museum in London and I think in Glasgow, but I can't be bothered to look it up. They look a bit different to today's notion of a steam engine.
Anyway the wip is going better now that I have discovered that the whole things reads better if I swap the first two scenes. My ever so lovely cp made the suggestion and it does up the emotional tension for all concerned.

My children are all excited about the publication of Harry Potter. My eldest has loved the books since the first one came out in paperback. Apparently on JK Rowling's website, she disproves some of the more outlandish theories on her website -- including Dumbledore being Ron or Harry returned from the future!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Casts -- beekeeping

Yesterday, the front garden again filled with bees. This time instead of flying low and being easy to catch, the bees opted to swarm high into the lime tree. It was a cast -- a smaller swarm with a virgin queen at its head. Casts are usually difficult to catch.
My only hope now is that the beehive remains with a large enough colony. I doubt we willl get any more honey off that hive this summer. The annoying part is that the rosebay willow herb is just coming into flower and it is generally a time of intense honey production.
A learned beekeeper told me that no two summers were the same. I can identify with that.
I also feel writing books that no two manuscripts are the same.Each takes on its own characteristics and quirks.Sometimes the beginnings fly along. SOmetimes the endings. Soem want to be typed on the computer and some want to be written long hand. Sometimes, the characters remain shadowy for the longest periods. And other times, they emerge full blown. The only constant is the difference.
This wip is being frustrating. I keep changing my mind. BUt I know once I get my editors' thoughts back on the last one, my own thoughts on this one will crystalise...and then I will be able to write. Until then, it is slight exploration.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Bee swarms and winners

Yesterday, the bees swarmed again. They went back to the same spot and this time I was able to capture them and put them in a new hive. Later after I take off the honey, I will unite the swarm with the weakest colony.
It is far too late in the season to expect any honey from this swarm.
But I am currently wondering if the werid weather has mixed up animals' instincts. Several of the ducks are trying to nest again. Normally by this stage, they are well into the moult and have given up. I do NOT want more ducklings.

The winners for the various contests have been drawn and notified.
Marty won the critque contest.
Maureen Edmonds won the first prize in the Taken by the Viking contest
and Judy Cox won the second prize -- a signed paperback from my backlist.
I also had run a myspace contest and Jenny won that.

My next contest should be in October...full details will be in my next newsletter.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

A Review for TRVM and trying times --bees

Julie Bunello has posted a lovely review on cataromance for . My favourite bit was Michelle Styles is one of the most exciting and original voices in historical romance and her latest novel, The Roman’s Virgin Mistress, is a superbly crafted tale which will hold her readers in thrall! It is wonderful to think that someone feels I have an exciting and original voice.
I also liked: Laced with plenty of passion, adventure and intrigue, The Roman’s Virgin Mistress is an engrossing historical romance written by a novelist who seamlessly interweaves historical detail with high drama, intense emotion and sizzling sensuality.
Julie, of course is a highly expereinced reviewer and takes her reviewing very seriously. If you have not seen the new look cataromance, be sure and do so. It is wonderful.
I was also pleased to read on Roxanne St Clair's RWA blog that It's true, it's true: the historical romance novel is alive and selling! In the words of a buyer from one of the major chains, historicals are "trending up" for the first time in a while. This is especially true of the bestselling authors of historical romance, and booksellers are closely watching the numbers of new and midlist authors in this sub genre, because increased sales from those authors is the sign that the trend is real and lasting. Terrific news for the hundreds of writers and millions of readers of the beloved historical.

Let us hope the trend is long and lasting. And readers continue to enjoy my books. The only thing I can do is to make my books as enjoyable as possible.

Yesterday was a day of frustration. We had a bee swarm. In mid July! Arrogantly I had considered we were beyond such things. Most of the swarms happen in late May/early June. By mid'July there is no real chance of getting honey off a swarm. The annoying part is that honey production also stops on the hive they swarmed from.
This time, the swarm which was about the size of a basketball -- so a proper swarm with the old queen rather than a cast -- landed in the Monterey cypress. I had no wish to lop bits of the tree off, so I attempted to use smoke and a skep. They appered to go into the skep, BUT when I checked later in the midst of a rainstorm, the bees had vanished. So did they give up and go back to to their hive? Or take off for somewhere more suitible? I don't know. All I know was that I had to lug the spare brood box back into the house. As I did not know which hive the bees had come from, I could not simply dump them back in. My thought was to put them in their own hive and then reunited with whichever colony seemed weakest AFTER I had taken the honey off.
Once the rain stops, I will have to check the honey situation and try to determine which hive is making a new queen.

Friday, July 13, 2007

On food and celebrations

Today my post to help celebrate Kate Hardy's 25th book is up. It contains my recipe for the Queen of carrot cakes. The giveaway book is a copy of The Roman's Virgin Mistress. If you go to Kate's blog, you will be able to see how to enter. And at the very least, you will see a pretty good recipe for a carrot cake.
Kate and I both share a love of food. Kate put another of my recipes in one of her early books. She calls it Jack's Lemon tart. I call it -- Lemon Lust tart. You can find the recipe on her website. It is sort of upmarket lemon squares.
It is one of the very nice things about writing: discovering people who are sympatico. And Kate's book are delightful, feel good reads with multi layer conflicts and satisfying HEA. What more could anyone wish for?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Ducklings photo

As Kate hardy requested it, this is a photo of the ducklings from mid June. They are slightly less fluffy now and are about the enter their dinosaur stage.
Imelda the bad mother duck is standing guard. She is pathetic. And of course the ducklings have no sense at all. They are apt to become lost/over waterfalls/fall down ravines or just run off the lawn peeping their little heads off as Imelda finishes that one last preen.
I have also discovered Grose's Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. It is where the upper class slang spoken in the Regency comes from. The members of the Varment club first popularised it. Byron and Sir Godfrey Webster founded the Varment club when they were at Cambridge. I don't know quite why anyone thinks Cambridge students were more serious than Oxford students in those days...Men were regularly sent down from both places. Byron obtained his degree from Trinity mainly by staying the course and simply being there. Idleness, debauchery and drunkedness seemed to have been the order of the day.
Still I was intrigued to discover the actual dictionary. The bucks and dandys were speaking an argot that was several years out of date. I wonder if this caused great mirth in the thieving faternity as these men attempted to slum it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Store cupboard soup

A store cupboard soup -- or how make a simple soup fast. Also known as Roast corn and chipotle soup.

Roast 2 ears of corn in the over for ten minutes. If you don't have corn ears, take 3 cups of frozen corn , place on bakingtray and roast in hot oven.
Fry 3 minced cloves of garlic and 3 chopped onion gently in olive oil for five minutes.
Add 3 400 grams cans of chopped tomatoes plus 750 ml of chicken stock (okay 3 stock cubes plus water) to garlic mixture. When corn is done, add that. Add several tablespoons of chipoltle chiles in adobe sauce to mixture (you can get this at Sainsburys in the UK and it is good to keep in the store cupboard otherwise add some chiles), season to taste. Simmer for ten minutes. Serve with bread and a salad.
A nice light soup for the summer and easy to prepare when suddenly one is faced with the sinking sensation of there is nothing in the house to eat...because one has spent too long watching Richard Armitage again in North and South. And other excuses.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Late Night Party Ducks are go

Last night saw the panic of the Motley Crew -- this year's first group of ducklings. They had gone exploring, become separated from their mother and panicked. They could not figure out how to get out of the upper lawn enclosure. Mainly the upper lawn is closed, but as several members of the Drones Club decided to do walking along the wall and falling into the upper lawn area, we opened the gate. The MC wandered in. Their mother who is a good mother duck and perhaps over anxious began quacking, but the MC could not figure out how to get out and the mother did not think to go in.
My dh is not well versed in duck herding and so came back into report that the MC were huddled under a bush refusing to move and he had a headache from the noise.
To get ducks to move, you need to approach them from behind and drive them towards the goal. Otherwise they scatter.
I duly went out and tramped through the borders. It was not until the MC thought I would step on them that they broke cover and went out of the gate. Then I had to tramp through the long border and flush them out of there. Finally, they got the message and went and joined the mother duck.
After that it was round and round the duck house as the little ducklings decided it was their turn. Their mother shrugged and went to bed. The duckling eventually tired and went in their house to receive a quacking.
The thing that always surprises me is how well developed the social groupings are, and how they have such formalised rituals with head bobbings etc.

The Romance Readers Connection has done a lovely review for The Roman's Virgin Mistress. It says among other things: An intriguing novel, I found the details of Roman life fascinating. I had no idea that such strict values were enforced at that time. The love story between Silvana and Lucius was mildly complex, leaving the reader with a satisfactory sensation at the end of the novel. I truly enjoyed this story. Rating 4
So that made my day and helped to banish the Crows of Doubt.
Crows of Doubt always seem to flock fiercely when I am starting a new work. I think it may be because I can't just go back and edit, but actually have to forge ahead. At least, I know that my writing does touch readers eventually...but it is hard work.

Oh and my copy of India Grey's The Italian's Defiant Mistress has vanished from my TBR pile as my dd is busy avidly reading it. She is really enjoying it and was nearly late for school this morning because of it.

Monday, July 09, 2007

A Romance Pioneer dies

Kathleen E Woodiwiss's son Heath has announced that his mother died ater a battle with cancer. The family and her publisher are currently working on her last book.

Kathleen E Woodiwiss was one of the pioneers of modern historical romance. Her sprawling epic, The Flower and the Flame, published in 1972 spawned a movement within romance -- namely the sex scene. An initail print run of 500,000 rapidly became 2.5 million copies sold. Books such as The Wolf and the Dove were rapidly snapped by an eager public and were labelled --bodice rippers.
Her prose style was colourful and her historical accuracy sometime dubious BUT she wrote absolute cracking stories. I loved and adored her when I first read her books as a teenager. And I have never seen anything wrong with being labelled a bodice ripper -- the story is KING in these books.
If you read her wikipedia entry, you will see that her road to success was not without its rejections, but once she submitted to Avon, her potential was realised.
The entire romance genre -- from publishers to writers and most especially readers owes her and her imagination a great deal of gratitude.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

North and South, Richard Armitage and me

A confession -- now that I have the title thing working. Until last week, I had not seen the BBC production North and South with the wonderful Richard Armitage. I had seen Richard Armitage in Monet, and in Robin Hood. I knew about the obsession that he tends to engender in some women, but had slightly missed it. My editor when she asked me to do this regency duo, said that oh I could have an industrialist as a hero -- you know use Richard Armitage again.

I thought I had best actually watch the series. It is compulsive viewing. I was going to be good and watch one episode per day. I watched the first episode on Thursday and then had to watch ALL the remaining episodes on Friday. The last episode is -- wow.
The major reason for watching it is Richard Armitage. The part of Jack Thornton could have been played by Sean Bean as well, but Richard Armitage did a great job. In fact he was totally gorgeous. And as I know Phillipa Astley sometimes reads this blog -- Pip I now understand why you were compelled and why he has fuelled so many fantasies.
I don't know if Gabe will end up being based on Richard Armitage or not. For one thing, John Thornton is far too near to my Jack Stanton, the hero of A Christmas Wedding Wager. Gabe needs to be different than Jack. Gabe has to be his own man. Gabe is the second hero in the Regency duo. But I do like the hard integrity of RA in North and South.

But if you have not seen North and South, and you like alpha males, see the series. He really is a hero to die for. SIGH.

The trouble with titles


For some reason the title bar is not allowing me to give this post a title. It did not allow me yesterday. I am putting it down to a quirk of Blogger but can not be bothered to do the necessary investigations.

The GMC workshop has finished and you can find the worksheets here. Hopefully, it has helped someone. It is difficult to say how much such things help, because each individual's writing style is so different. And you can hear something several times and ways before it actually sinks in.

I now no longer have an excuse not to begin my latest one. My editor is off to the RWA Nationals and we agreed that I could have her thoughts after she gets her mind back from the conference. It will give me the chance to be gain some objectivity about Tristan and Lottie. Personally, I find I can do revisions much easily IF I have started the next one. Of course, last time, after doing revisions on the Viking's Conquest I had to completely redo TD as I had made the same sort of error. Also my muse was screaming for me to write the story I wanted to write instead of trying something hooky that was rapidly verring away from what I wanted for that particular set of characters.

The rain appears to have stopped for the moment. Friday night saw flooding as the hole in the wall block, water built up and gushed through the new gate, breaking the latch and streaming through the garden and duck pens.
This is all down to the faulty storm drain/collection area that Northumberland County Council Highways department have been promising to fix for ages. Last December after we had the firemen pumping out the dam, the civil engineers did give certain undertakings.
More letters to write. But it was rather spectacular as I had to wade in thigh deep water to unblock the hole.
Because of the water that went down the stream, the high school was flooded and they had to call the fire brigade out to pump.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Taken by the Viking -- cover

The cover for Taken by the Viking is up at Amazon.co.uk. I personally think it is lovely.

The back cover blurb reads:

A Viking raid
They claimed they came in peace, but soon Lindisfarne was aflame. Annis of Birdoswald fled in fear, but she could not escape the Norse warriors.
An honourable captor
One man protected her - Haakon Haroldson. The dark, arrogant Viking swept Annis back to his homeland, taking her away from all she held dear.
A new life – as his mistress!
Now Annis must choose between the lowly work that befits a captive, or a life of sinful pleasure in the Viking's arms!
England and Norway 793 AD

Read the excerpt

It is available for pre-order. And my contest to win a signed hardback copy closes on 15 July. You simply need to email me the answer to the following question:

What are the names of the hero and heroine of Taken by the Viking?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Influences and seed for The Roman's Virgin Mistress

Twyla Tharp in her wonderful book The Creative Habit speaks about seeds or influences. Basically she makes the point there are no new ideas under the sun. Get over it and think about the combination of ideas to make something your very own. Ideas and seeds for books never come from just one place. Tharp also makes the point that if one keeps going back to the same source, the well rapidly runs dry and creativity ceases.
So what are the influences that I know about for The Roman's Virgin Mistress.
Tom Holland's book Rubicon, in particular his chapter on Baiae and its contribution to the fall of the Republic first made me want to write about this city. I wanted to write about it since I wrote GH. Regular readers will know that I wrote two other books between GH and TRVM. These books have yet to appear in the North American Market.
I was particularly intrigued by the role of the Queens of Baiae, the society hostesses who controlled the access to power. Unlike Rome, women were far more in the ascendancy here. Baiae had this very loose reputation. More divorces had happened on the sands of Baiae than anywhere else for example.
Catullus's poems to his Mistress also provided some inspiration. But I did not think and still not think I could write a jaded woman without any morals. ( I may to try sometime as a challenge) I wanted something else.
Then I happened to read again about Anna Nicole Smith and her fight against her late husband's son for her inheritance. This made me wonder what if -- my heroine was more sinned against than sinning and simply notorious for having married. I had a heroine that I could work with. And yes, I know the virgin widow is a stock character, but I like to think that I made Silvana a bit different. It is also a sordid fact of life that many women have been married to old men. Catherine Howard and Henry VIII is another example. Was that marriage actually consummated? By the time Henry VIII married Katharine Parr, Katharine is simply a nurse.
The book The World of Lady Jane Grey also I suppose was an influence as it shows quite clearly the sort of precarious world Katharine Parr lived in.There is no guarantee that had he lived, Katharine Parr would have been Henry III's last wife.
Also was an unconsummated marriage a real marriage and would the wife have right to inherit? What if she needed to inherit? What complications would being a virgin then cause? So I had my heroine or at least an idea of how I could make her. And I know some people groan at the thought but the character really intrigued me. What would it be like to have everyone think you are a whore and to know that you are not, but because of other considerations, you did not dare say.
But what about my hero and my premise.
Why would any one want to get involved with Silvana? And how could it be made worse?
Baiae was the sort of place that made men and destroyed them. I wanted my hero to be of the establishment and someone for whom being involved with Silvana would be fraught with peril.
I knew also that I wanted Baiae to resemble the Regency. There are far more obvious similarities with the Regency time period than say with the Medieval time period, or even the Celtic period. There are plenty of parallels with our own period. I happened to be rereading Faro's Daughter when things fell into place. Excellent book by the way. Read it if you haven't.
What if I used a senator who had to disentangle his young nephew from the clutches of this Society presumed whore? It is an excellent stock in trade premise and one that Roman themselves used ad nauseum -- upright and often uptight man being charged with getting rid of undesirable woman discovers she is actually not as she seems and falls in love to the dismay of his family. These sort of stories were notorious for deus ex machina by the way. The normal situation was for a god or goddess to appear and revel that the woman in question had been mixed up at birth or to hand her a large fortune or whatever.
As an aside: a fun thing to do sometimes is to see if you can up with the basic premise for a story and see what fable/fairy tale/myth/saga it relates back to. There are no new premises under the sun, just twists on old ones. A good working knowledge of folklore and myth is a useful thing. Ovid's Metamorpheses is a good place to start.
There are other seeds as well, I know Fortis's reaching out of his hand at the very start was inspired by the movie of Howl's Moving Castle. I loved Christain Bale's voice in that movie and he helped to inspire Fortis. I wanted someone who had been through the mill and had a reason to protect his reputation, but who also knew the score, knew how Baiae operated.
And if I think I am sure there were other seeds. But hopefully will give you some idea of the main influences. The ideas really come from everywhere but it is the combo that makes them your own.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

July contest

As those of you who get my newsletter know, I am having a contest. The main prize is a signed hardback version of Taken by the Viking. This is a book that my daughter has been unable to put down. It is a very strange experience to see one's offspring reading and rereading one's book. She also demanded to read the unedited version of The Viking's Conquest, plus keeps trying to discuss the next two books in the quartet. Apparently I am supposed to write a grand epilogue at the end of the last book and put it on my website a la her other current fave Eloisa James.
I have a Regency duet to write before I get to them. It is most disconcerting as I want to concentrate on my current characters.
The second prize is one of my backlist books.
To be in the draw, you need to email me with the answer to the following question: What are the names of the hero and heroine of Taken by the Viking? The blurb and the excerpt can be found on my website.
I will be drawing the winner on 15 July.
My newsletter also has special contests just for subscribers.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Workshop on Goal Motivation and Conflict

All this week, I am leading a workshop on Goal Motivation and Conflict and upping the stakes.

You are more than welcome to join me here.

I am just hoping that I make a certain amount of sense.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

TV North East New piece

Under the title Romantic Romans, the piece that Tyne Tees filmed about me went out on this evening's news programme.
The producer,Derek Proud did an excellent job! Lots of pictures of the covers, plus I did not do that bad of a job. All in all I am pleased that I did it. Hopefully it will mean increased sales. I feel quite the glamourous author, but could hear the slight quaking in my voice.
The children all said how American I sounded.
It was certainly somthing that I never ever expected to experience.

Coffetime Romance's Review of TRVM

Coffeetime Romance has reviewed The Roman's Virgin Mistress. The reviewer gave it 5 cups. According to their rating system, it means: Ultra Rare Extraordinary Read
Not many books will be rated a 5. This is a book you would like to tell everybody about because you just can’t say enough about it.
My favourite bit of the review was: An amazing read and one filled with interesting historical facts. Ms. Styles has done the research for this book extremely well and makes it an entertaining read. I loved the strong willed and equally strong tempered character of Silvana. Fortis is equally arrogant and strong willed, but short to temper. That makes him a wonderful alpha male in my book. The suspense of the story will have you holding your breath, while the love scenes will make you melt. This book is a must read for anyone who loves historical romances with just a dash of suspense. Ms. Styles is on my author watch list after reading this marvelous book.
You can read the whole review here.
I have just had a phone call from the Tyne Tees news producer. Apparently they are going to use the piece about me TONIGHT! The video is poised and ready. Cue massive nerves.

Women's names in the Roman Republic

Okay, I have been rather expecting to do this blog but really waited until someone brought it. And someone did bring it up on Dear Author. Basically is Silvana Junia's name correct? It doesn't appear to go with the accepted Roman nomenclature.
In official documents (and really official documents are all we have to go on) women are referred to by one name -- the name of the family that their hand belongs to. It would sort of be like always being called Ms Styles. I gave my hand in marriage when my dh and I wre married, thus my husband's family has *control*.
In most cases in the late Roman Republic, a woman's hand stayed with her birth family. Sold and Seduced goes into this somewhat. She does not strictly belong to her husband's family. It is why the Rome tv series is sort of wrong when they call Servilia -- Servilia of the Junii. Her guardian (and thus ultimate control of her money) stayed within her family the Servilii. Atia's fortune stayed with the Atii. Livia with the Livii etc.
From reading Cattalus's poems to his mistress, it becomes quite clear in my mind that he probably calls Clodia Cynthia to her face. Or otherwise, why use that name? Circero refers to the same woman as *Ox eyes*. And if you read Roman gravestones there is some indication that pet or nicknames were used for women, even if they did not appear on official documention. We also know that slaves were given names. If slaves, horses and dogs have names, why don't free women? Surely within a family which has more than one daughter, people would call them by different names and not just Big and Little.
Anyway, I decided that Silvana would have a pet name. It was one that her lover, her family or very close friends would use. In all official documents, she would appear as Junia but she thinks of herself as Silvana. Silvana is slightly less traditional because she is a notorious society hostess.
Simarily, in S&S, Lydia is the pet name for the heroine in S&S. I needed the heroine to have a pet name because control of her hand changes and her name would change in official documents.
I put both Silvana and Lydia before the family name to show that they were pet names and would not therefore be on official documentation.
It is also for ease of readibility. It could become very confusing to the reader very quickly. And the last thing I want to do is to confuse the reader.
Anyway, I think it works, and more importantly I know WHY I did it. it bothers people, I am sorry but it worked for me.
Authencity rather than 100% accuracy.
And if anyone does know with absolute certainity what Cattalus called Clodia when he spoke to her, I would love to know as well.