Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Reviews, revisions and ghosts

My revisions for QI arrived yesterday. And they are what revisions should be -- challenging but achievable. They are going to help make this book so much better. Ultimately it is about giving the reader the best possible read and making sure their experience with that book means that they can't wait to read the next one.
My editors have done a fantastic job of detailing what works and what does not work. Quality editing. It is now up to me to find the solutions -- basically increasing the underlying emotion and making the hero more Alpha, so that the focus is firmly on the couple.

Why is it that I feel far more satisfied with a long revision letter than a short one?

Red Roses for Authors has done a lovely review for Taken by the Viking. Anne thinks my Viking books are even better than my Romans. Personally I think that my writing is still growing...

Today is Halloween which means it is the day that various spirits were supposed to walk the earth. This area of Northumberland is replete with its tales of grey ladies, burning eyed dogs, and mysterious knocks at doors. One ruined castle is supposed to have hidden treasure which a lady in white will reveal if only she can get someone to follow her. The son of one of the owners did try one night, but was discovered hanging on by his fingernails over a pit, a quivering wreck the next morning. He never fully recovered...
The Haydon cemetery is a peaceful place most of the year, and my walk with the dogs normally takes me past it. But with the great avenue of overlapping yews, and its quiet situation, it is a place to be avoided this evening. Cruel Sykes burn which runs quite near it once ran red with Scots blood when a battle was fought here. Some say that you can hear the cries of the dying in the murmur of the yews on Halloween. I have no wish to put it to the test!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Latest Romance Stats

The November edition of the RWR has the latest romance reading stats. I found them interesting.
Romance had 26.4% share of all market categories. It was only surpassed by the religion/inspirational category. Romance fiction sales were $1,370 million compared to Mystery sales of $422 million or Sci fi sales of $495 million. You do the math. In my view the basic reason why so much more advertising is spent on mystery etc is that far fewer mystery books are published as opposed to the 6,400 titles of romance that were published.
In the new technology of ebooks, the trend continues. According to Peter Wayner writing in the New York Times last August, early ebook lists were dominated by sci fi and other genres favoured by men, but now the lists showed romance and women's fiction were coming to dominate. This fact should not surprise anyone as according an AP/IPOS poll, women read more than men -- nearly twice as much. On average women read nine books per year while men only manage five. Women are also more likely to read every major category of books. And of people who read books, one in five reads romance novels.
As a general rule of thumb, men are more likely to be early adopters of technology. The shift in the ebook lists could be interpreted to mean that ebooks are here to stay. BUT the amount spent on ebook, despite doubling in 2006 remains tiny at $24 million. Print is not dead yet.
The leading sub genres of Romance appearing on the best seller lists were suspense, historical and paranormal. Harlequin remains the top Romance book publisher, according to Simba estimates. The leading US romance novelists were Nora Roberts, Sandra Brown, Catherine Coulter and Debbie Macomber. All of whom started out by writing category. I think they were all with Sil, Debbie Macomber is the one I have a question about as I can't think of which line she wrote for. Super? Nora Roberts and Sandra Brown were SR and Catherine Coulter was SIM. Shades of my college free time reading...
If you look at romance books published -- 40% were series romance. 17% historical single title, 16 percent were contemporary. Paranormal accounted for 9%. This shows the massive increase in the paranormal romance market in recent years as not so very long ago it was under 5% of books published. The big unanswered question is how large is the paranormal market and has it peaked.
For 2007, sales of romance fiction are expected to hold steady. The projected increase in book sales (2.6%) is down to the last book of Harry Potter hitting the stands.
Anyway, I thought it very interesting.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Back from Malta

Let me say at the outset that Malta was never somewhere I planned on going. It was an island in the Mediterranean and a lovely lady who reviews my books lives there. I also knew of the connection with the Knights of Malta and that the Romans called it Melita or Honey Island.
A friend of the family's mother is Maltese and they recently acquired a flat which they generously allowed us to use.
We arranged transport through Percius who were very friendly and efficient -- picking up at the airport at 3 am etc. And I would certainly use them again.
We arrived in a horrid thunder and wind storm. The plane rocked as we landed and the rain was horizontal. Negotiating the stairs proved tricky and I had to cling on to both railings.
Malta is generally limestone which means when it rains, the water runs off quickly, creating streams and floods in the valley. The trip to the apartment went through several floods, and in the dim light, cascades of water could be seen, pouring off the hillside.
The first day was spent in and around the Paceville/St Julian area where the flat was located. Paceville, in particular Portomosta is where some of the best restaurants on Malta are located. The Hilton Portomosta complex looks as if it belongs in HM&B Presents novel -- private marina, marble, turquoise blue water. We ended up going to the Blue Elephant (a very upmarket chain of Thai restaurants -- you can get packets in Waitrose of their spices --Tom Yam soup with prawns and ginger is really good). The service is fantastic and the interior setting recreates a Thai garden. The food is to die for. We also went Buffalo Bill's ( steakhouse with Maltese sides) where the steak was some of the best I have had in Europe (on a par with some of the meals I had in Colorado). It is difficult to get a bad meal in Malta. The other area where we went out was the Spinola Bay with two restaurants standing out -- Terrazza and San Guilano's. San Guilano's has a reputation of being a place that film stars visit when they are filming in Malta. The Mediterranean Film Studios are famous for their water tanks. We did not see any stars (or at least none that we recognised but there again we didn't look too hard!) The service and food, however were excellent. Below in the marina, brightly coloured boats with the Phoenician eye bob in the waves.
The Maltese buses are picturesque. They date from the 1960s and 1970s and bright yellow. My dh remembered travelling across India on a Leyland bus... Because of Malta's position, the waters are exceptionally clear and many people go diving. We did not -- the children went swimming instead.
M'dina and Valletta proved to be our two main sight seeing areas as we spent most of the time at the beach. Mdina is also known as the Silent City and is one of the best preserved walled medieval cities. The Mdina catherdral is reputed to on the site where Publius the Roman governor who witnessed StPual's miracles in 60AD lived. Malta has one of the oldest communities of Christians in the world and they remain very Catholic. The silence fills up the streets of Mdina and it made me jump to hear the rumble of horses hooves and carriages along the pavement. Out side the city walls is a Roman villa with excellent mosaics. It made me quite nostalgic for my Romans.
Valletta is the main area of commerce in Malta and is the city that the Knights of St John Hospitaliers built after the 1565 siege when they defeated the Turks. They ran their famous Sacred Infirmary here until Napoleon kicked them out in 1798. He melted down the silver plate that they used for the patients to finance his Egyptian campaign. The populace rebelled and fought the French until finally the British came to their aid. The British then ruled the colony for 150 years. During WW2, the ENTIRE nation was awarded the George medal of honour for their collective bravery. We visited the Larcaris War Rooms which are deep within the bowels of Valletta where the Allies planned the invasion of Sicily. It was very evocative.
After my experience in Malta, I would urge any who enjoy good food, good weather, the beach and many 1000s of years of history to visit the island. Most of the Maltese speak English. The language of Malta is the only Arabic language written in the Latin alphabet.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Up and away

I am off to Malta for a week. From everything I hear, Malta is lovely and I am looking for to exploring it. Apparently driving in Malta is not for the faint hearted... Normal service on this blog will resume on Monday 29 October when I am planning on recounting my adventures.

For your viewing pleasure, I am posting some of my hero inspiration for my last several books. ( And an upcoming one...)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Two types of time

There are two types of time both in novels and in real life. There is linear time which is measured through the ticks on the clock and there is emotional time which is filtered through a person's emtional state. Of the two for the novelist, the second is far more importnat as a novel never happens in real time. It always happens in emotional time. In times of stress and great tension, time appears to slow down. When you are relaxed and happy, time speeds up.
For the novelist, to replicate this state, it means she should expend the greatest amount of words on those times when time appears to stand still (ie those moments of high tension). In other words, unless there is tension in the scene, skim over it. Don't allocate the word space. Low tension indicators include: drinking or eating food, travelling in a car, dating. I can hear the screams now -- Dating, but isn't that what romance is all about? NO, romance is about emotional tension combined with sexual tension. When people are dating, they are relaxed and happy. time speeds by. It can be lovely, but unless there is another source of tension, the reader is also going to want to skim. In order to make a scene worthy of spending words on, the tension has to be there and the emotional clocks have to be slowed down.

I first read about time and its problems for novelists in Vanessa Grant's Writing Romance. Donalad Maass alludes to it in his low tension scene problems, but Swain has a really good section on the nature of time.

I know tonight if the Rugby match is close, it is going to take an eternity. But hopefully England will be able to dig down deep. And India, the Hexham Courant has a photo of Jonny just before he went off to the World Cup. Personally I think he looks better with slightly longer hair...

Friday, October 19, 2007

Blinding flashes and cat's paws

Sometimes insight into a book comes in blinding flashes and sometimes it creeps in softly on cats' paws. And you only realise that it is there when the cat gives a loud purr and nearly knocks your mug of tea onto the keyboard. You grab a pen and hurridely jot down a few lines because that insight is already starting to slip away again.

However, it came, I am very glad as I had felt like I was writing thick porridge for the last few days and my mind wouldn't function. Now things make sense. I simply need to tweak the heroine's back story slightly.

And all will be well. It also fits into the first story better.

There were little hints in the first story, and I may need to tweak them slightly but it will work.

The best thing is that my mind feels like it is functioning again -- just in time for half term... but I do feel like the veil has lifted and my muse has allowed me a peek into the uplands and I know where I am headed...

Courtesy of Philippa Ashley...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Focal v Viewpoint Character

Last evening, I briefly read Swain's Techniques of A Selling Writer and discovered a chapter on feelings and transmitting those feelings to the reader. It is one of the reasons why I do like going back over writing books. I know I have read the chapter before because some of the jokes irritated me. HOWEVER the substance of what he had to say was important. And for some reason this chapter resonated with me last night in a way it hadn't before.
The main way readers view events are how they affect the focal character. The focal character provides the emotional compass for the reader and the focal character is the character that draws a series of unrelated events together. In order to understand the events of the story, they need to be filtered through the emotional lens of a character. The character is the character that the reader identifies most with and there is generally just one in a story. The focal character does not have to be the viewpoint character, although it is easier if the majority of the POV is in his/her POV simply for identification purposes. Swain uses the example of Sherlock Holmes. Holmes is the focal character while Dr Watson is the viewpoint character. Personally I would argue some of Watson's emotional colouring and compass does effect the way of the reader views the story, but that may just be me.
With my books (and the vast majority of romances), the main focal character is the heroine. The reader needs to be able to identify with the heroine and her struggle. It is her interpretation of events that is the driving factor in the story. The hero is her hero. In Taken, the main focal character is Annis with Haakon being the second focal character.
It is all about creating emotions and feelings. Events that happen can either be good or bad depending on the emotional justification. The raid on Lindisfarne is an event. It is the reaction of the characters to that event that colours the novel. Without the emotion and the emotional compass of the main characters, readers can not interpret the events. To put in McKee terms, the events apply the pressure that force characters to make choices. It is through those choices that the deep character is revealed. And as McKee points out -- readers are always looking for a character to identify with.
Anyway, I thought it interesting.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Breast Cancer Awareness month

October is Breat Cancer awareness month. And if you had not read Day LeClaire's account of her bout with breast cancer on PHS, it is well worth a read. Hopefully, it will make someone stop and think. The piece is also very inspiring and tells how one woman fought to get her creativity back. And I for one am pleased she did as I did enjoy her books before she became ill.

One thing that I am very proud of is how HM&B donates money every year -- 10p from every Modern or Modern Extra from the October publication cycle sold will go to support breast cancer research. Modern happens to be the most popular line.

There is very little else I can say, but read the article...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Dear Author Review of Taken by the Viking

Jayne from Dear has penned a thoughtful review of Taken by the Viking. I always enjoy reading her reviews as she makes think how I can improve the book I am working on.
My cp, Donna Alward, will be nodding her head at the comment that the villian went too easily with Annis towards the end. She had mentioned this to me. I sort of ignored it because I didn't agree, and there was no way that Annis was going to allow him to do anything else. She does enjoy being proved right.
Jayne also mentions Johanna Lindsey's Fires of Winter -- a book I enjoyed way back but I have to agree with Jayne. I think now I would find the rape scenes disturbing. I know in 1970 Violet Winspear famously proclaimed that she could not write a hero that was not capable of rape. But that was way back when. I know in my heart of hearts that I could not write a hero who WAS capable of rape. Forced seduction -- yes perhaps but there would have to be good reasons., The key word here is seduction and it implies consent and the woman is eventually a partner in the scene. Rape implies something very different and that the woman has no desire or wish to participate. I like to have the sexual tension building before the actual act. One of the revisions I had to do for Taken was to move the first sex scene to later in the book. I had had it too early and it felt off and the tension had decreased. Luckily my lovely editor spotted the problem and suggested a neat solution. The revisions I did on Taken actually stretched me quite a bit and I think made me grow as a writer.
Anyway, I have been very pleased to read the reviews and to hear what readers think about the story.
Don't forget to visit Unusual Historicals for a chance to win a signed copy of Taken.

Bits, pieces and ennegrams

First and foremost, Philippa Ashley has a very inspirational (and illicit) photo of a certain Richard Armitage. Hint he has his shirt off. It is worth taking a look.

Yesterday, I dragged out my book on ennegrams again. I wanted to make sure that I knew my main character better and understood why he had behaved in a certain fashion. He is a five with a six wing. Basically, he attempts to control his life by concentrating or focussing on certain technical projects and avoiding hurt that way. Fives will often know all there is to know about things in their chosen field but really very little about the things that they think they are not good at. In this case -- relationships. It explains why he basically ignores his son for example, preferring instead to spend time perfecting an engine. The description fits Simon, so I was pleased about that. Knowing what type he is means that I make sure that his growth arc follows a certain pattern. A five under stress behaves in a similair fashion to the domineering 8, so I should hopefully have no problem with making him alpha and keeping him true to his character type.

One of thegreat things about enneagrams is that they do allow me scope to expand my characters and to explore different types.

The heroine at the moment seems to be a 3 with a 2 wing. Charming, concerned about others and good a t social situations.

My author copies of A Christmas Wedding Wager arrived yesterday, just after I did a massive posting of review copies of Christmas by Candlelight. In the flesh as it were, ACWW is very Christmassy with a green back.

The ducklings are fine and the weather continues to be unseasonably warm. Grain, in particular wheat prices have been going up and so suddenly feed is much more expensive -- about 30% more expensive. There again, it has not gone up in price for years. I foresee more expensive food prices in the weeks and months to come. The harvest was not good in the UK due to the strange summer weather conditions.

Monday, October 15, 2007

October contest winners!

The winners from this month's newsletter were

Jo Major who wins a copy of Christmas by Candlelight.

and sauble who wins a copy of one of my backlist books. Both have been contacted by email.

Unusual Historicals is running a draw for a signed copy of Taken by the Viking. You simply need to post a comment to be put in the draw.

And I will be running another contest in November to celebrate the publication of Christmas by Candlelight. Details will be in my November newsletter.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Falling off horses and other bits of extreme research

My post about Taken is up today at Unusual Historicals and Delia asked about research. This reminded me of the lengths I went to do my research for Taken by the Viking.

When I was in Iceland last year, not only did I visit museums, but I also went riding in the lava fields with Is Hestar. At the end of the 2 hour ride, the horse decided to make a run for the stable and I fell off. Totally my fault I should add, and the people running the stable were lovely. If anyone is interested in the Viking period, I would certainly recommend going to Iceland to ride one of the Icelandic horses. The horses are direct descendants of Viking horses and have an unusual gait.

I also tried on Viking armour and lifted a replica sword. The picture of my youngest, doing the same, mainly because my children objected to their mother having her photo taken. But I thought it was important to gauge the weight of a sword and how cumbersome a shield might be. This came in useful when I was writing the opening chapters of Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife.

One of the great things about being a novelist is that it does give me an excuse to go out and try things.
Ho and hooray for England on beating the French. Jonny Wilkinson's boot proved golden in the end. But the game was very tense. And now, England are in the final. Can they go all the way? Certainly the 30 men of the squad think so.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Christmas by Candlelight books arrive plus duckling update

One of the things I have been anxiously waiting for -- my author copies of Christmas by Candlelight have arrived. The postman rang the doorbell at about 8 this morning with the parcels.

It is wonderful to hold the book in my hand and reread the Dear reader letter and the dedication as well as seeing the back pages. Christmas By Candlelight is one of M&B's Special Releases, and so there is not a list of upcoming historicals. One of my great pleasures has been to see what is coming out way in advance. But not this time. Although Silent in the Grave -- the Mira book that appears on 21 Dec sounds excellent.

I will now get to read Helen Dickson's Wicked Pleasures as the book is a duo. I am a fan of Helen's books so I am really pleased to be twinned with her.
I now need to get the review copies sent out.
The hero of ACWW is Jack Stanton and he was not based on Richard Armitage. Although having watching North and South, I can see the resemblance. I just knew I wanted to do a self-made hero. And he is one of my favourites for a number of reasons. My fingers are very firmly crossed that readers like him just as much...
Tomorrow I am blogging at Unusual Historicals and a signed copy of Taken by the Viking will be given away to one lucky person who comments. I do ship anywhere in the world.
For those wondering about the ducklings. Last night was an experience. The choice of three houses completely flummoxed the ducks. Three of the ducklings decided to go into the stream and become lost. My eldest had to borrow the torch and fish them out while I prevented more escapes. Eventually, the ducklings went into the A framed duck house and several ducks went into the oldest duck house. The remaining ducks had to be caught with a fishing net and placed into the newest house. An operation that was not without difficulty and escape attempts.
Ducks like their routine. They are easily confused.
All seem well today. We shall have to see tonight.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Duckling Photo

As promised -- a photo of the ducklings today.
My dh is convinced that they were being trampled in the duck house, so he has bought another house. He and my youngest put it together. It will be my task tonight to ensure the ducks go into the correct house. It should be interesting...

Ducklings in autumn

Much to my dismay, we have ducklings. 11 at last count. We lave lost two. My dh assures me that we will lose more.
How could this have happened?
It is not the right time of the year for ducklings. There are reasons why ducklings are born in the spring.
I am not running a duck farm and we have far too many ducks as it is.
The ducklings however are very cute and fluffy. But totally unexpected. I hadn't even bothered searching for nests because you don't get ducklings in autumn, but obviously you do.
Evidence of global warming? Or how awful the summer was? Should I take this as a prediction of a mild autumn?
Watch this space. And yes, I will try to get a photo. Currently we have 2 yellow ones and 9 brown ones with yellow bibs.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Making a Meal of it

One of my latest research books is Making a Meal of It -- Two Thousand Years of English Cookery. ISBN 9781850749717

It is a compilation of English Heritage pamphlets about how food and food preparation has changed over the past 2,000 years. Prior to the Roman invasion, there is actually very little solid substance to how food was prepared or cooked as the society was not literate.

The book focuses on seven main times periods -- the Romans, the Medieval period, the 17th century, the Georgian and the Victorian periods. It looks at food was obtained, how it was prepared and how it was eaten.

Examining the eating habits can tell you a lot about a society. Food -- the getting of it, the growing and the consuming is one of the chief preoccupations of much pf society. The type of food stuffs can also tell you about the relative wealth of a society. For example, examining how tea becomes a staple in England and gives rise to a whole new industries (eg the making of tea pots *g* )

For example, at the beginning of the 18th century, the hostess did most of the carving. By the middle, both the host and hostess did the carving. And at the end of the 18th century, the food was carved outside in the kitchen and served by servants.

Breakfast in the 18th century for the upper classes was generally taken about 9-10 am. It generally consisted of chocolate, coffee or tea, toast and hot sweet rolls. However, by the early Victorian period, the cooked breakfast was becoming more popular, in particular with men.

The reason for using silver in the early 19 century for servers, spoons, forks and knives was because steel was consider to spoil the flavour and was easily corroded. Forks were introduced chiefly by Thomas Coryate publishing an account of its use in 1611.

I had not realised until I read the book that prior to the early 19th century, ladies entered the room first in order of precedence, followed by the gentlemen so that the sexes were seated separately. In the early part of the 19th century -- promiscuous seating happened -- ie gentlemen began to escort ladies into the dining room and were seated next to them. However, ladies still had to be served first, and the custom arose of a gentleman serving his lady before himself. As a lady could not ask for wine, he had make sure that she was served with the wine she preferred.

The book also details when various food stuffs were introduced into England. For examples, tomatoes began appearing in recipes in the late 18th century, but were not eaten raw until the end of the 19th century. Garden rhubarb was introduced from Italy in the 17century but not made into tarts until the late 18 th century. Favourite fruits in the 18th century were damsons and gooseberries, with the favourite garnish being the lemon.

Things not introduced until well into Queen Victoria's reign include -- quick acting yeast, baking powder, and self-raising flour, custard powder, bottled gelatin, bulk produced cheeses, sweetened condensed milk, and dried packet soups. Canned baked beans do not appear until after the would my dh and youngest have coped?
Smoking and salting meat remained almost the sole way of long term storage until a cheap way of making and storing ice was discovered in the 1860s.
Anyway, the book is full of interesting information and has a variety of recipes at the back.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Reviews for Taken by the Viking

Okay I will admit it. I love getting reader feedback, and I enjoy reading reviews. Taken by the Viking has just been reviewed on Cataromance and the PHS review site.

One of my favourite bits of the 4.5 starred Cataromance review was

Readers looking for historical romances that are densely plotted, meticulously researched and highly evocative ought to look no further than Michelle Styles. Blazing with all the passion and intrigue that she has become renowned for, Michelle Styles’ latest Mills and Boon Historical Romance, Taken by the Viking is a sensuous tale that will beguile and captivate romance readers everywhere.
In Taken by the Viking,
Michelle Styles combines courageous heroes, valiant heroines, powerful romance and heart pounding action in an unforgettable tale that will captivate, beguile and enthrall.

And on the PHS Review

Michelle Styles is a wonderful historical novelist whose spellbinding tales of romance, adventure and intrigue never fail to hold readers spellbound from beginning to end. Writing with plenty of skill, style and alacrity, Michelle Styles paints a vivid picture of the Viking era and makes her readers feel as if they are living the story next to her characters rather than just reading it.Michelle Styles combines history, passion and suspense in an engrossing tale that cements her position as one of the finest writers of the genre.

Minding beeswax

Now that the honey has been all gathered, and the apistan strips to protect against varroa mites are in the hives, my attention turns to the wax. I already rendered down the cappings wax a few weeks ago, but now I need to take all the broken comb and the bracing comb of the various frames and melt that down.
Beeswax pound for pound is more expensive than honey and is an important by product of keeping bees.

There are different grades of wax -- the lighter, the more prized. Capping wax because it tends to be nearly white is the sort that is used in cosmetics. The wax that comes from the old brood combs is probably only good for polish -- although I have been known to make it into candles but they don't burn as well I don't think.

Anyway, I now have candles to make -- generally the tapers as they are the most useful. This can be quite fun, but it is also time consuming. Disheartening when the mould topples over and the wax spills out. But fantastic when the new candle emerges. And I did not really get any candles made last year. My dh is now making noises about having very few candles left...

I use a variety of moulds. Thornes which is the biggest British beekeeping supplies store also has a sideline in candle making equipment. They are always very helpful. And their products are top quality. But be warned -- they have a wide variety and there is a lot that goes into candlemaking.

As an aside, the coal industry in the Northeast used tons of candles in the Regency period and several fortunes were made supplying the tallow candles. Until I really started looking into the Northeast during this period, I did not realise how diverse the industry was and how many different things were needed to support the coal mines. Interestingly, the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire owed a lot to the tax on seacoal. The Northeast was the primary supplier of coal to London. I am currently reading Peter Ackeroyd's new book -- Thames and it is full of interesting facts about trade, docks and the general importance of the river. Thames may be a prehistory word.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Beginning anew

Today marks the real start of my next wip -- The Proper Response. I will not hear from my editors about A Question of Impropriety until the end of October and I do like to be a good way into my new wip before I hear. This allows me to have objectivity. It is just the way I work.
However, it does mean starting a new story and it is always for me like standing on the edge of a new Black run when one is skiing. You know you need to kick off and do a few turns, get your rhythm but still it is the tantalizing mystery. What lies ahead? So many routes down the mount to choose from. Should you go down the steepest bit, or the more gentle bit, knowing this whole slope is labelled expert for good reason and what looks easy and gentle is often not. Equally, if one chooses the wrong route, one will often have to make adjustments.
Then I think of a book I read years ago about skiing -- Skiing from the Head Down and realise that actually I just need to start and trust my instinct. The longer I linger on the edge, the more fearful I become. I may fall.I may have to retrace my steps.The bumps that look so large from up here are really steps to help me get down the slope. And best of all, because I have some idea of craft, I know I have the skills to get me out of difficulties. I have been down other black diamond slopes of novel writing and have successfully reached the lodge.
Anyway, I have to start today as this wip needs to be wrapped up by 20 December...

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Digging Deep

Yesterday the England Rugby squad, aided by Jonny Wilkinson's boot dug deep within themselves and beat the Aussies. Later it was the turn of the French to get a bit of desire and determination and beat New Zealand. I have no idea on the odds that the bookies would have given for both the Aussies and All Blacks to go out at this stage and against such opposition. Both England and France did not have the best start to their Rugby World Cup campaign. England had been within one game of having the worst defence ever of a WorldCup. No longer.
As one of the players said -- no one outside the thirty players in the England's dressing room may have thought they had a prayer, BUT the thirty inside the dressing did. They were convinced of it and went out and played. Played and won.
Self belief is truly important. Self belief means you can put the last match behind and concentrate on the next one. Self belief means that you look forward and do not keep going over past mistakes. It does not mean that you do not try to learn from your mistakes, simply that you do not let those mistakes haunt you. You have to make your job/work as strong as posisble so that you withstand your opponents.
Self-belief is the determination part of my mantra. In order to succeed as a writer, I need to have desire, determination, discipline, dedication and perseverance. It is what makes luck, just as England and France made their luck on the rugby pitch.
Today it is the turn of South Africa v Fiji and Argentina v Scotland. And it will be interesting to see which team digs deep and preseveres. The smart money is on South Africa and Argentina. But then yesterday showed that in rugby, sometimes, the smart money is wrong.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Hooray for Carrie Lofty and Redeeming Will Scarlett

Carrie Lofty who organises the Unusual Historical blog announced yesterday that she had sold her first novel to Kensington. Redeeming Will Scarlett (title to be confirmed) will be released as a Zebra Debut in Sept 08 or thereabouts. It should appeal to all fans of the Robin Hood era.

I raise a glass of cyber champagne in Carrie's direction. She has worked tremendously hard and it is fantastic that she has received this contract. She can be congraulated either on her blog or on Unusual Historicals.

Speaking of Unusual Historicals -- it is Crime and Punishment month and the vast majority of the posts are looking at different aspects of crime and punishment through the ages. Carrie has been tireless in reforming UH and there are plenty of exciting things happening there.

Speaking of Robin Hood -- the 2nd series premieres tonight. Although the newspapers and the like still tout Robin as a heart throb, my daughter and I will be watching for Richard Armitage. He just somehow exudes more Alpha maleness, even though Sir Guy of Gisbourne is a seriously flawed character. But for what ever reason, Robin Hood is a much watch and does fill the Dr Who slot nicely.

Friday, October 05, 2007 and my books

My daughter suggested that I go on (Amazon Canada) and see which of my books were there. Interestingly, they are carrying the entire M&B historical range and so for example Taken by the Viking is available to order (if you want to wait 4-6 weeks). I am not sure about the differientials in posting etc. but am merely bringing this up as an opportunity.
Currently I understand that her school is busy trying to block various sites such as Amazon, and ebay in all country urls. Do not ask me how she knows this.

Official Publication of Taken by the Viking

Today marks the official publication of Taken by the Viking. And to celebrate I am running a contest over at Totebag blog. I also wrote a post on how I had to change my heroes to reflect the time period.
I will also be doing another blog launch on Unusual Historicals, so you have several chances to win a signed copy. Taken will eventually be released in the North American market but I am not sure when.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Postal Strikes and Lemon Whisky

Today is the start of basically a week long postal strike in the UK. They go on strike at noon today. Go back to work at noon on Saturday. Go back on strike at midnight on Monday. Come off strike at midnight Wednesday. Yesterday, I had neatly packaged up all my Rita and RNA Romance prize submissions from the books I currently have, but ran out of packing tape. Being overtaken by events, I didn't go out and buy more. They will now have to stay in my study for another week. ARGH!!!! And I am waiting for a cheque...
Postal strikes affect large numbers of businesses and individuals. They can have the consequence of driving them to the wall. There should be a way of making the workers' feelings known without actually harming unrelated people. Whatever happened to neither sleet, nor snow nor dead of night will keep the postman from his appointed round?
People depend on the post.
There has to be another way to solve this dispute and address the various issues in good faith.
To find when postal strikes are on in the UK, the Royal Mail site is the best place to check as it has the most up to date info.

One of the things I have been doing is dealing with damsons and sloes. Basically, this means making sloe and damson gin. A very simple process of washing the 8 0z of sloes or damson, pricking all over with a silver fork, putting in a glass large jar, adding 2-3 tablespoons of sugar and about a pint of gin. Then storing in a cool dark place and shaking every so often. After several months, decant and allow to mature (or alternatively drink). Sloe gin is light pink and tastes of almonds. It is also very sweet.
I also made damson cheese. Another 19th century favourite and it goes well with strong cheese such as stilton. I believe it is called butter in the US. It is a very thick paste, made from puree and sugar. It has to mature several months before accompanying stilton.
Ratafia in the 18th century was the name for a liqueur based on peach or apricot kernels and brandy. By the Regency, it had come to mean any brandy based liqueur. here are two simple recipes that I recently rediscovered that will enable you to recreate the taste.
The first is Lemon Brandy or Whisky. Feel free to use house whisky or brandy in these recipes as the sugar and flavourings do change the taste and it would a shame to waste the really good stuff.
Lemon Brandy was the original secret ingredient in Bakewell tart, and it is absolutely delicious in custards or cakes. It is also quite nice as a cold remedy or after dinner liquor.
Take 2 lemons -- wash and using a vegetable peeler, peel rind thinly. In a bowl, place peel and 1 pint of whisky or brandy, cover and allow to sit for 24 hours. Discard peel. In a saucepan bring 1/2 cup/ 1/4 pint/250ml of waters and 2 0z/1/4 cup/50 g sugar to boil. Boil for about 5 minutes. Then allow syrup to cool. When syrup is cold, add to brandy and re-bottle mixture. This can be used right away.
Orange brandy may be made in a similar fashion. Or you can peel the rind off the oranges, cut into small pieces. Add the peel and 4 oz of sugar to one pint of brandy or whisky. Seal jar and store in a cool place for 1-2 months, shaking periodically. Strain before using.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Authors and Editors: Collaboration, not confrontation

Yesterday, my copy of the Society of Authors' magazine, The Author arrived in the post. It is often a curate's egg as the SOA is open to all genres of published authors from learned academics to sci-fi. From international best sellers to writers who sell only handful of copies.
The articles therefore cover a wide range of interests.
This month there is an article about working with editors and making the process less confrontational. Basically because of the scope, many of the tips and/or problems do not pertain to me or anyone published with Harlequin. One of the biggest flash points is when the author is a senior academic and objects to having their words -- dumbed down. Or if the project manager is perhaps inexperienced.
Two tips do pertain and I shall pass them on as they tally with my experience. Problems can really arise when authors are unused to the editorial process.
1. If you are new to being edited, ASK the editor to explain the process. Editors are quite willing to share what stages the manuscript will go through and when for example you can expect to see it back. Or when you might have to answer various questions. Once they buy your book, and it is put into the schedule, the timing is relatively set. Every book goes through certain stages. So if you don't know, don't suffer in silence. ASK.

2. And this is perhaps KEY. DO NOT refer back to your earlier copies when you are presented with a typeset document. Comparing and contrasting will result in more fights and much heart ache. Read through the clean copy and see IF it makes sense. Mark up things that don't sound right or jump out at you. What you are looking for is -- does the book flow? Does it make sense?
If it makes no sense or gives the wrong sense, then change it, or at the very least query why -- and suggest what you think is right. Editors will explain if something is House Style and their reasoning behind it.
Remember it is the Line Editor's job to decide whether or not to take the copy editor's suggestions. Part of an Editor's job is that make sure the script fits with the individual publishing house's style aand preference for punctuation, length of paragraph and preference for active or passive voice. If you ask, editors are quite happy to tell you which style manuals they use.

Only working from the latest clean copy also makes doing the final proof reading much easier.

I know some people who say that they want to learn from their mistakes, so that they won't make them again. Therefore, they have to compare and contrast. Nonsense! It is a recipe for disaster.
If you are truly serious about perfecting your stylistic skills, take a course in grammar or read a book on grammar. There are a number of them about. Some are more interesting than others. I prefer Strunk and White, and do occasionally look back at it as one falls into bad habits. I forget which one Harlequin Mills and Boon uses, but they do use a specific style book. Learn from that book, and use your knowledge to craft the next story.

After all, at that point, the book has been bought -- mistakes and all.

It is the STORY that editors buy, not perfect punctuation or spelling. Punctuation can be fixed and it does not require talent or imagination or creativity. These are all part of the WRITER's province.

I was pleased to see my view echoed. And it is a point I feel strongly about. And I do realise that other people feel differently. But for me at this point, it is all about delivering the best possible read for the ultimate reader.
Once a book has been accepted for publication, it is a collaboration between the editor and the writer as we both want the same thing. Quality editing is NEVER a threat to my integrity as a writer. It enhances it. And it is really all about Quality Editing. (We won't mention the other sort...)

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Interview on Cataromance

Cataromance published an interview with me. In it, I speak about Taken by The Viking. I do hope you enjoy it. I found the questions were quite challenging to answer.

October Contest

To celebrate the publication of Taken by the Viking, I am running a contest.

To enter email me the answer to the following question:

In what year does A Christmas Wedding Wager take place? (Hint the answer is on my website)

The winner will recieve a copy of the UK version of A Chrstmas Wedding Wager -- Christmas by Candlelight. This is a duo and also includes Helen Dickson's Wicked Pleasures. The runner up will receive a signed copy of one of my backlist.

Please put October ACWW contest in the heading as I get a lot of spam.
If you are not a member of my newsletter, you will be invited to join my newsletter. My newsletter gives behind the scenes looks at my books, news, recipes, as well as writing tips.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Monday morning musings

This weekend was spent with a cold. I retired to bed and managed to finish the Bridgeton series by Julia Quinn. All of them are enjoyable, but my favourites were The Viscount who Loved Me and To Sir Philip with Love. I know On the Way to the Wedding won the Rit, but it was not one of my favourites. Quinn is a great story teller and her Regency World is a fun place to visit, even though she has a lot of unknown unknowns in her work. It is a strength of her story telling ability that one is willing to overlook them when in a lesser storyteller, they would have grated.

Slowly but surely I am working through my admin. The newsletter with a contest to win Christmas by Candlelight -- the UK version of A Christmas Wedding Wager than includes Helen Dickson's Wicked Pleasures will be out shortly. I also have to send off my Rita entries and my RNA Romance Prize entries.

6 October marks the return of Sir Guy of Gisbourne or is it Robin Hood to the BBC? My problem is that Robin is a bit wet for my tastes and last season there was very little sexual tension between Marian and Robin, but when the screen sizzled when it was Marian and Sir Guy. Should Richard Armitage have played Robin? Should someone else have played Robin, somone who is a far stronger personality than Jonas whatshisface?
Actually it was this realisation that led me to change the hero slightly in the ms that I just turned in. I knew Simon, the hero of the one I am starting today was going to be based on Richard Armitage, but he is such a strong character that he dominates. Brett had to be based on an equally strong character but a different ilk -- so once I changed actors to James Purefoy I was fine.
It is not so much that I base my characters on the actors but rather that I could see them playing the part. An actor brings a slightly different approach to each role. And sometimes, a lot can be achieved by firing your actors and hiring someone else for the part IF your characters are not behaving as you wish.