Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Goals for 2009

It is the dying hours of 2008 and therefore, it is time to think about 2009 and what I want to accomplish.

1. Keep and maintain a regular programme of exercise. I love my Indoor Rowing Machine, but when I was so ill and the builders were in, I stopped rowing. I have started up again, but it is hard. Also I need to not be tempted to take shortcuts or simply do the minimum. This is about getting on top of my weight, rather than letting it control me.

2. Be more systematic about my approach to writing. I have been spending too much time frittering my writing time on the Internet. This is part of the reason why I did not write as much as I had planned to in 2008.

3. Revisit my writing goal plan and make sure I am on track. It is very easy to let things slip by without keeping my focus on what I want to achieve. It is about building a career.

4. Redo and update my website. After my computer crashed in September, this has been on my to do list. It has not been done and does need to be done.

5. Visit and enjoy Venice. The tickets are booked and paid for, so I am going. But I am determined to enjoy it.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Northern Lights

Yesterday, we watched Joanana Lumley and the Land of the Northern Lights. As my youngest's dearest wish is to go Svalbard, there was a vested interest. A number of his Christmas presents revolved around Svalbard, including a treasured map of the area. His savings fund is called his Going to Svalbard fund...The current screen saver on the computer is the Northern Lights. Thus we could not miss the programme.
It was a lovely programme and Joanna Lumley showed a genuine enthusiasm for her subject. Rather like my son, she had wanted to see the Northern Lights since she was a child. ( I saw them once when I was at university) At the end of the programme she had seen them and had also travelled to Svalbard. The extreme cold she experienced has not dampened my son's enthusiasm one bit.
My middle child immediately declared that she also wanted to go and had wanted to go ever since she read a book with a girl and a polar bear on the front. Cue mass angst as she could not find said book and decided to accuse my youngest of hiding it. As his cubbyhole in the attic could probably rival the ice hotel for warmth, she did not spend a long time searching...However she did find another book that she has been searching on and off for.
It did make me think about childhood dreams of places. I know I used to want to go to England where I now live. Pompeii lived up to its billing for me as did Crete. And I adored Rome.
I do think there are certain places which capture the imagination. And right now, my fingers are firmly crossed that my son will someday get to see the Northern Lights and Svalbard.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Memories of student life 1985

Over the Christmas period, the BBC screened the delightful Starter for Ten (2006) with James McAvoy, Dominic Cooper, Catherine Tate, Benedict Clumbatch and the man who writes Gavin & Stacey (James Corden?). It was a great ensemble piece. It show why Catherine Tate is such a good actress. Although most go on and on about Dominic Cooper from the History Boys, I have been very impressed with James Corden and his sense of comic timing.
It was set at the University of Bristol in 1985. As I was at university during this period (including being a Junior Year Abroad student), it did bring it back.
They did get the period right and the various different parties with the fancy dress and alcohol. At the time, it seemed to me that for some men, it was any excuse to dress up in women's clothes. There was a stage of Tarts and Vicars or Lumberjacks and Schoolgirls. I was sort of surprised that they did not show the ritual playing of Nellie the Elephant...And there are reasons why I came to prefer a quieter existence... And I would doubt a pre med from Minnesota would be over there as a jya. This is more because of the courses needed to get into med school in the US, but I thought having an American JYA was a nice touch.
It does seem strange that British nostalgia about student days has reached the time that I was a student. But it is a pleasant movie and the acting is good.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The dwindling days of 2008

We are now in the 12 Days of Christmas. It is as good a term as any to describe the period between Christmas and when the world starts buzzing again. Many people are off. Businesses maintain skeleton staff and people reassess their lives and what happened over the last year.
It tends to be a dreamy time as you are often not really certain of the day of the week. Far too much food is consumed as of course the new austerity will start in January and left overs need to be used up.

So did I accomplish my goals for last year? In some respects yes, but in others no. I did finish 3 manuscripts, but the second one is proving to be a pineapple. I predict with some degree of accuracy that I will see it come back for another visit...and hopefully this time I will understand what the editors are trying to say. And I had wanted to write 4 including a single title. The single title is proving problematic and I seem to keep changing my mind about what I want to write about. I think I have finally sorted it though.

But on the whole it has been a good year and a year to be proud of. I am moving into the middle part of my career as a writer. By no stretch of the imagination can I call myself new any longer. Yes, there are many who have been around longer than me, but equally there are many who are just starting out on their journey. I have a readership (which is hopefully growing and looking for my next book).

What it means for me is that I need to be very clear about my goals for next year and not simply let everything drift.

Anyway, here is to enjoying the last days of 2008, before worrying about 2009.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

10 November 1969

On 10 November 1969, I famously pulled a sickie from kindergarten. My best friend at the time, Tracey, also decided this was a good idea. She then convinced her mother that maybe I was ill and so she came over to visit. I cannot remember where our mothers went but we settled down and watched the pilot of a new show aimed at children -- Sesame Street. We had decided not to take any case it was not on at kindergarten. We were a bit like that. I think Tracey is now involved in school adminstration as a principal...which is slightly ironic.

A number of years later, one of us coughed to the incident.

I am reminded of this as my eldest gave me the dvd of Sesame Street Old School for Christmas and I rewatched that first episode. It brought back memories of sitting on the couch and waiting to see what happened next and who showed up. For some reason, I remember missing Big Bird. As I had only seen it in black and white, it surprised me that Oscar was orange.

Many years later, my children all watched Sesame Street when they were little. My eldest really enjoyed it. It is wonderful to think that it is still going strong...although I doubt anyone pulls a sickie from kindergarten to watch it anymore.

Friday, December 26, 2008

My husband and Mamma Mia

Those of you who are regular readers of this blog may recall in the summer when my dd and I went to see Mamma Mia, I thought it was not a film my husband would enjoy.
However, I was proved wrong. My dh loved the film and thus proved yet another reason why he is a keeper.
His only comment was that it had been far too long since we watched Educating Rita. When he was a mature student, he credits Educating Rita with keeping him in university and has been a huge fan of Julie Walters ever since.

BTW the boys flitted in and out of the room as they were building models of tanks and thus were not too interested in the film. They however enjoyed Love Actually which we watched last night...and perhaps there is hope for them after all...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

It is Christmas eve and everyone is busy getting things ready for the Big Day tomorrow.

The presents have all been wrapped, the cards delivered and all that remains is to wish everyone who happens on this blog -- a Merry Christmas.

Many thanks for all your support this year.

May 2009 be absolutely fantastic.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Winter solstice

We are now deep into mid-winter. Since time immemorial, many civilisations had mid winter festivals or festivals of light to coincide with the solstice. There is a theory (and it makes sense to me) that Stonehenge is not a mid summer site but a mid winter site as once you know when mid-winter happens, you can count the days/moon cycles to planting. Mid summer does not tell you much about the planting/harvesting cycle.

The reason why Christmas or the Mass of Christ's birth is celebrated when it is, is that it was offered as an alternative to Saturnalia or other light festivals. The Coptic Christians used to celebrate the feast of Christ's birth in May and this sort of date makes far more sense given when the Romans did their census taking...New Year for the Romans on the legal side of things was April. January as the start of the new year was religious.

The early Christians were quite good at providing alternative festivals and making things easier. In this case, the celebration that Christ was born to bring light into the world. The whole point was not take over fesitvals but it make it easier for new Christians...It is just through time that people began to assume that Christ was actually born on that day. And does it truly matter? It does give people a pause for thought and a chance to remember and reconnect with others. I think whichever priest first thought up the idea deserves a vote of thanks and praise as it is one of those inspired brilliant ideas that has captured the imagination and has enable people across the centuries to take time to remember the story of the nativity and what happened.

So however you celebrate, (and hopefully you do celebrate in some form), take time to think about all those people many thousands of years ago who were celebrating the same thing.

In other news:

Kate Walker brought to my attention that Mills & Boon India are running a contest to find an Indian author for the Modern line. I think this is a wonderful opportunity. Also I would urge any would be entrant to read Kate Walker's book -- 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance if at all possible as it is full of tips and hints for any would be Modern writer.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


As several people have asked, my cold is nearly gone. I feel far more human and ready to take on the world. It has taken about three weeks.

Luckily I am blessed with lovely children who helped and a husband who when he was not busy dying from The Cold also helped.

Nell's suggestion of honey -- a teaspoonful taken every time one begins to cough really helped.

My hope is that the family will be well for Christmas. There have been rumours of the Winter Vomiting Bug in the village... My fingers are firmly crossed that we avoid it. Been there, done that one about seven years ago.

Currently I am busy working away on my latest wip. I ended up abandoning the one I start before the flu in favour of this one. But it is starting to come on and I am excited about writing it, even if it is slightly morphing.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

revisiting Myers-Briggs

One of the things I have been doing in recent days is to re-read David Keirsey's Please Understand Me II about the Myers-Briggs system of personality typing. I go through various stages of using different personality typing to help develop my characters. Often I will go to ennegrams and occasionally astrology or birth order but I have used Myers-Briggs in the past.
Because Myer Briggs is Jungian based, it dovetails well with the Joseph Campbell/Christopher Volger theory on the hero's journey. Ennegrams are more Freudian based.
Switching things around helps to keep me on my toes. And I suspect that with this current wip, I will be using Jungian philosophy more to develop the characters.
There are two ways you can go about using Keirsey -- one is to create your characters and then use the personality test taken from the Point of View of the character to help determine the character's personality and how they would react in a given situation. Or you can chose one of the 16 personality types and mould your character around that. There are pros and cons to both approaches.
When you are integrating into a Vogler framework, then you also need to make sure you are aware of the archetypal role the character will be playing and how that role will effect the personality or vice versa. Every personality type can play every role but they will do so in a slightly different way as their world view is different. For example if a character has a Rational Architect type personality then they will approach the role of guardian of the gate in a different manner than if they have an Idealistic healer personality. Guardian of the gate is Vogler's way of saying that at some point along the journey, a character is going to point out to the hero all the problems they face and why they are not equipped for the journey. For example in Romancing the Stone, the publisher takes on this role when she tells Joan Wilder that she has problems negotiating department stores.
Anyway, I am enjoying going back and re-reading these things to see if I can polish up my characterisation. It is one of those things. Writing is not about standing still. You (or at least me) do not reach some magic plateau where all your skills are honed and you never need to think about craft again. It is always the polishing up of the clock face, practicing and relearning of skills so that you can use them better.

In other news:
Having had my dh decide to play a Christmas elf and do wrapping, we ran out of tape. The tape situation has now been sorted and I can make further inroads on the present mountian. Currently I am hoping that I have enough paper...The worst is when you suddenly discover a stash of things that you carefully hid away in the early autumn and then promptly forgot.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The annual Christmas wrapping fest

A roll of tape sits on my desk. Piles of wrapping paper lie in the room. It has come -- the great present wrapping day. Somehow, the role of Christmas present wrapper has devolved to me. My dh early on declared that as he never wrapped gifts professionally, he does not have to do any except mine...It has been no good me protesting that at I Magnin's mostly all I had to do was put the gift in a box and tie a ribbon and it was when I was a teenager. There again, the amount of tape he uses...
For a number of years, I tried to interest him by bringing up all the presents and wrapping after the children had gone to bed...BUT no luck. It is just easier to do it during the day with the carols on full blast and a cup of something warm by my side.
Thankfully, I only tried making my own wrapping paper one year -- potato prints on wall paper lining paper. The children were all under ten and had a great time making paper for Daddy's presents. It is though a rather messy job. Now I stick with the store bought paper.
The other snag in the system is that he likes the presents to appear as if by magic on Christmas Eve. This means not only do I have to wrap them. I have to make sure they go back to their hiding places/find new hiding places...There was the year where I forgot some of the hiding places...
The children break up from school tomorrow so the deadline is fast approaching.
Of course my characters are talking to me, whispering their stories to me, so I keep having hold that thought moments...which can be difficult when you are wrestling wrapping paper into submission...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Kick starting writing

Kate Hardy has found a new toy to help concentrate your mind when writing the first draft --Write or Die Note to Kate whose soundcard does not work: it is a grating sound and you are forcibly reminded...

The basic premise is that you set your word count, and time. Then you set Dr Wicked as either gentle -- a small reminder, normal -- blazing lights and sound, or kamikaze -- will eat your words. You type your words into the box. When you falter for more than a few seconds, you are met with your reminder. The only way to stop it is to start writing again. Apparently there is a surprising demand for the kamikaze mode. So a step up from the alarm clock trick as it actually senses when you are not typing.
This is all about writing, rather than editing.
Bad pages can be fixed. Blank pages need to be written.

Does it work? Short answer: yes, it focuses your attention and forces you to write rather than worrying about the correct word. However, when you are a terrible typist like me, it comes as a shock that you just have to keep typing and not worrying about the spelling etc. It does make for interesting editing, but once I got the hang of it, quite enjoyable.
I am going to try using it for my current wip and seeing if it helps bring some of the joy back into writing as I was amazed at how much time I spend editing, rather than simply writing after doing the exercise properly. But it is only a tool. And it is only good for the first draft.

In other news:
After being ill for two weeks or so, yesterday, I finally started rowing again. Even though my time was slow, it felt good to be doing something again. The Cold has really knocked me around.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Newsletter contest winners

I pulled names out the hat this morning.

Avi J won the first prize of a hardback copy if Impoverished Miss, Convenient Wife plus a paperback of A Question of Impropriety.

Vic W won a signed copy of one of backlist.

Judith Dennis won the writer's prize of me critiquing a partial and generally being a sounding board.

All winners have been contacted.

My cold is much better and I am starting to feel human again. However, waking at 3:30 am with my head buzzing about a story is not quite what I had in mind. Still, I did get quite a lot of plotting done. Sometimes, plots just happen and the knowing why is good.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

At Risky Regencies today

Nearly forgot to say but Risky Regencies is having an Unusual Historical weekend. I am posting over there as is Ammanda McCabe and Michelle Willingham. There are three books -- a copy of each of ours latest up for grabs. So please stop by and say hello.

Christmas Tree 2008

Yesterday as the builders finally removed all their bits and pieces, we trimmed the tree. For once my dh heeded my plea and bought a shorter tree. Even still, things needed to be done to it -- bottom branches cut, and the trunk trimmed so that it could fit in the Christmas tree stand. Why does putting up a tree cause so much angst? It is in tight and is not about to topple over or lean... The saga of the leaning tree has happened more times than I care to remember.

The carols were put on the cd, and the ornaments were put on. So many are old friends. The children, despite their advancing years of teenagerdom, were excited as well. A variety of ornaments have been given to each one. They were determined to put them on the tree and to make the others knew which ornament belonged to which. When it came for putting on the chocolates and candy canes, the children decided they needed to be sampled...someting never change
My youngest decided Chile the Labrador needed a friend and so took this picture. The Santa Claus was made by my mother --starting in the early1970s and finally being finished in the late a present for my youngest. He is now carefully stowed away and comes out at Christmas. I am not sure where his shoes have gone or his sack that used to be filled with chocolate...but it is a welcome sight and proof that projects can be finished!
The Cold is getting better but this could be because I actually spent yesterday morning in bed asleep and have been taking neat honey at regular intervals as per Nell Dixon's advice. My chest no longer feels as tight and I have actually started to think about story ideas again...

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Cold

After hearing a number of reports including from Julie Cohen, and India Grey I have decided that this cold is not just any cold but The Cold, something worthy of a proper title. It is easy to scoff, but it starts with aching limbs, a sore throat of cut glass proportions, a sinus headache and as a final insult a chesty cough and runny nose. It is the sort of thing that sends grown people to bed for weeks on.
I have been battling through, thinking I was getting better and then my chest started to ache like a nasty chest infection is coming on. I did try my aunt's sightly odd suggestion of putting Vicks on the soles of my feet as it is supposed to help with a cough. It made my feet nice and warm but I am not so sure what happened with my cough...every so often it wracks my body...
I have now read Rubenhold's The Covent Garden Ladies which examines the milieu of Covent Garden in the mid 18th century -- looking at the rise of the high class bordello/nunnery as well the life a courtesan. Fascinating stuff. And some men did marry their mistresses... Rubenhold is definitely a non fiction author to watch.

But right now, I simply want to be well for Christmas.
We are supposedly getting our tree tomorrow which means suddenly Christmas will be in high gear.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

E harlequin open house today!

It is the 7th annual Open House for Eharlequin today. The Harlequin Historical post party has already started and you can find it here. Through out the day various authors will be popping in and out. The UK edited lines also have post parties as does the single title MIRA/HQN/Luna. Please come and join the fun. There will be book prizes for random posters and just generally a lot of good cheer.

Later, there will be live chats from the US edited lines. It gets fast and furious, but it is an event not to be missed.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Guilty Pleasures

Last night on BBC 4 Stephen Fry hosted a lovely programme about the little things he enjoyed, entitled Guilty Pleasures. One of the things he listed was Georgette Heyer novels which he loved for her use of language. I will agree with him about Heyer novels but do think he should expand his reading to include more Regency novels...
However, I digress. The programme got me thinking about things I enjoy and take simple pleasure in. Indulgences if you will. They are not especially worthy, but all are fun and there is a certain frisson of excitement when I indulge.

So I am going to list seven.

1. Mills & Boon Romance/Modern/Historical -- Yes, I know I write for them but it is because they have always given me so much escapist pleasure. I love the whole escapist reading and reading for pleasure. When you hold one in your hand and you know, you are going to escape somewhere nice for a few hours. And the fact that my mother used to sigh and wring her hands, telling me that I would never do anything in my life if I read them, only added to the pleasure.

2. The Smithsonian magazine -- my very lovely sister started me on this and I love it when it arrives. I can sit down and read its plethora of interesting and intriguing articles. Bits of information that I may never use again but is fascinating none the less.

3. ripe olives -- I have always loved them. A can of open olives in refrigerator does not last long in this house.

4. A box of chocolates -- assorted -- either Thorntons in the UK or Sees in the US. I love the whole concept of choosing a chocolate, passing the box and hoping against hope that by the time it returns to you, you will still be able to find a chocolate to match your mood. I am never sure if it is fair to look at the guide that comes with the box or simply to dive in. There is a certain frisson about -- did I choose right or will I get the brandied cherry nougat ( a sort that always seems to be included but one that I have never enjoyed)

5.Scrabble -- this a firm favourite of all the family, and brings out the competitive spirit. It does not matter how many times it has been played before..what matters is the fun.

6. A cup of hot cranberry juice or hot Ribena. There is something so comforting about drinking it. It warms you down to your toes. My dh does not understand its appeal but he has never been able to break me of the habit. It says comfort when you are cold.

7. A girl's night in -- an evening with a rom com movie. My dh and the boys really prefer action adventure movies and so generally we watch them, but occasionally my daughter and I have a girl's night in with a fun movie, and more than likely we eat in front of the tv. It could be clam dip or sharing a tub of lemon sorbet...but it provokes a certain amount of illicit pleasure. As to even hint at such a movie would bring howls of agony from the masculine quarter.

If anyone wants to do their own list of indulgences on their blog, I would be interested to read them... Just tell me in the comments... Life should be about taking joy in things.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Thinking about casting a hero

Right now, having pitched the idea to my editor and had the vague approval, in addition to writing my single title thriller thing, I am currently thinking about my next M&B H. It is going to be Robert Clare's story. Robert is the son of Simon Clare and the nephew of Diana Clare. He has a big role in both A Question of Impropriety and Impoverished Miss Convienent Wife. When my then editor first read QI last year, she kept going on about how she loved that little boy. Well, now I get to have him grown up. I am a bit over excited about this.

It is just as well that I have made a timeline and I have kept notes. I want this new wip to happen in (or at least start in Sorrento/theKingdom of the Two Sicilies). I had initially thought about using the making of the first railway in Italy, but when I went back and checked my notes, the timing would have made Robert slightly too old at 35. I want him around 30. Luckily another way of doing this (an even better way to my mind) came to me yesterday. It will make far more sense and will mean that I can have a very fiesty heroine as Robert is such a strong character.

My other problem is that having used Richard Armitage as inspiration for Simon, Robert's father, I now need to find an actor who reminds me of him but is different. Cue the Sunday papers and I discovered Edward Norton who is the new face of Breil Watches.
Now all I have to do is to discover an actress who can inspire my heroine...

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Streaming colds and contest

I am currently suffering from a bad head cold. I blame my dh as he caught the cold first. It has been a long time since I have had one this bad. I have been inhaling Vicks and generally trying to keep my liquids up.

One very good thing was that the long delayed parcel from Donna Alward arrived yesterday and I was able to spend the afternoon in Larch Valley, Canada instead of thinking about how truly dreadful I felt. Her hero Brody was very melt worthy and she has a real sense of place with this book. The end of the book was truly magical and I can't wait for her next Larch Valley.

Thankfully being a critique partner has a few priviledges and so I can bug Donna and ask her to make that certain characters get a mention... I do think that Donna keeps getting better and better.

My Q&A should be up on Unusual Historical today. It is a leave comment and be put in for the draw type contest. The prize is VWUW but I am always happy to send one of my back list.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Exploding lightbulbs and other mishaps

Yesterday, my life was being its generally chaotic self. The children are all involved in the local high school's play --Return to the Forbidden Planet and had all gone down for the performance. My dh was busy dying from a cold and I was attempting to clean the kitchen, when the lights went out and there was a loud bang.
The street lamp was on, so it was us. I figured my dh must have switched something on that was not earth properly. I began to isolate things on the circuit board as he swore he had not done anything. I go to switch on the hall lights circuit and there is another bang. My dh who is trying to get the head torches swears there was green flash from one of the hall lights.
Right I figure -- time to blame the light bulbs as one of the hall lights went this morning. It must be the other one as lights with dead light bulbs do not work. The first light is very hot and I use rubber gloves. The second light ( the one that went out in the morning), I change and then go to put the glass light shade back on. The new light bulb explodes in my face, literally jumping out of the socket. Luckily all the shards go into the glass light shade. I swear at the terribleness of light bulbs, go and get a new packet and change the bulb, making sure it is firmly in place.
Then I turn on the hall lights. Another explosion and a green flash of light.
We go to plan B.
I keep the hall lights off and go to the play -- planning on calling the electrician in the morning.
My dh stays home, nurses his cold and makes supper. I arrive back to the news that the refrigerator is off. Was the motor blown by the fun and games earlier? Were we faced with eating a ton of smoked salmon? This is easily solved when I check the circuit board and see I hadn't switched on some sockets. This is after I change the fuse, read the manual and swore...
A hurried phone call to the electricians this morning. They come out and discover that somehow the wiring has worn away and the earthing wire is now touching the live wire. For some reason it burnt through. It has now been rewired and I am thankful that we did not have a fire!
Moral: if a light bulb explodes, or you get a green flash and the mains is tripped, it is probably serious and best left to the experts.

In better news,
I had a lovely review from Chrissy at Romance Junkies for Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife. Among other things she said: 4.5 ribbons Ms. Styles’ storyline depicts much of the lifestyle present during this particular time period including some folklore and Viking laws. Incidentally, the laws regarding children brought tears to my eyes – but I’m sure you’ll understand why when you read this book. VIKING WARRIOR, UNWILLING WIFE is a book I’d highly recommend for fans of historical tales – especially if you enjoy reading about Vikings.
You can read the rest of the review here.

I am blogging today at Totebags about cyber holiday traditions. Basically I blame the exploding lightbulbs if it doesn't make sense. There is a contest with it though.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Impoverished Miss, Convenient Wife copies arrive

My author copies for IMCW have arrived! It is always interesting to see the cover for the first time. It is the sequel to A Question of Impropriety btw.
The blurb reads:
His unexpected bride…
Wealthy landowner Simon Clare shuns Northumbrian society. With his son gravely ill, the last thing Simon needs is an interfering woman assuming command of his household and nursing young Robert – no matter how sensuous her figure, or how tempting her luscious lips.

Phoebe Benedict knows what it is to struggle, and finds herself drawn to the badly scarred recluse. Despite his tough exterior, she knows that Simon is a father who yearns for his son to recover – and a man who misses the tender embrace of a woman…
And the teaser at the front reads:
Will you be silent?’ His hands gripped her shoulders. The heat of him burnt through her clothes. ‘Or do I have to stop your mouth?’
‘Someone has to say these things.’ She stared at him. His mouth was inches from hers. His mouth swooped down and claimed her, branded her, and she knew her words were a lie. She did want something else. Phoebe stilled as warmth pulsated through her. Searing her with its fierceness. His lips called to something deep within her, turned the warmth into a raging inferno. Her hand sank into his hair and held him there.
The kiss lengthened, deepened. Her lips parted and he feasted, devoured her like a starving man. This was no gentle persuasion or chaste kiss but the sort of kiss a pirate captain might bestow. Plundering and taking. And she wanted more. His arms went around and held her body against his, her breasts crushed against his chest. Her melting softness meeting his body. His lips trailed down her throat as he entangled his fingers in her glorious hair. Held her there.
The mantel clock chimed the hour, bringing them back to reality. He stepped away from her, a stunned look on his face.
‘Miss Benedict...I...’
Phoebe looked at him, turned on her heel and fled.
It is my tenth novel for M&B. Hopefully it will do well...

Genius v grinds

One of my problem with the movie Amadeus is the notion of the grind v the absolute effortlessness of Mozart. It belittles Mozart. Mozart may have had the ability but that ability was honed and polished by his father. From about the age of five, all Mozart did was play music. He grew up in a household where music was played and encouraged and that helped him.
The music flowed from his fingertips because he practised. He practised and played music because it pleased his father and because he had an aptitude for it. If Saliari had practised as much as Mozart and had grown up in the same environment, it is more than probable that he would have achieved the same level... In other words, Mozart worked hard, harder than most people realise and he did not just pick up a violin one day and compose music.
I can remember reading the autobiography of John Denver where he attributed his success at music to the hard work he put it. He spent hour upon hour during high school playing his guitar. He then toured and toured. This is not unique. Time after time when you really look at someone who has been a great success, you see that they may have had the predisposition towards something, but they were also willing to put the hard hours in.
Malcom Gladwell has recently written a book called Outliers: Is there such a thing as pure genius? You can read an extract of it here. But basically, he concludes that once you have the desire much of success stems from determination, dedication and discipline.
Twyla Tharp in her book, The Creative Habit also touches on this. The prima ballerinas always are the ones who are the first to the barre and who constantly practice and practice. They do not take their success for granted. It is a question of clock face polishing and striving to improve.
So what about romance writers? If you speak to any successful romance writer, they will tell you how hard it is. All the romance writers I know write because they love writing and reading. They have put the hard hours in. Some of it includes reading the genre and understanding the demands of the genre.
It is what gets me so cross about programmes about writing. Or having a go at writing a M&B. Do those presenters realise how long and hard the top talent have worked at it? Or how hard they do work at it? One of the reasons for M&B's success is that they have very hard working authors who are working to tell stories to the best of their ability. It is all about putting the hours in and honing your writing.
Over the long term, there are diminishingly few grinds.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Snow and moles

There is a light dusting of snow on Mt Molehill this morning. Even my dh who is partial to moles has agreed, it is time to call in the mole catcher. At least a quarter of the lawn has now been turned over to the mole's excavations...

My dh's one condition is that I wait until the cold snap is over. So we continue to level the hills and I hope Mr Mole decides to find a new place of residence. Of course, he could be busy inviting his friends and relations in for the holidays as well...

The new wip (which is not a M&B) is going slowly. As it is a bit more plot heavy, I have had to do a lot of thinking and rejigging.

This has been compounded by the fact that I discovered Lady Worsley's Whim An Eighteenth Century Tale of Sex, Scandal and Divorce by Hallie Rubenhold. It is thoroughly fascinating account of one of the first celebrity divorce trials and happening as it did at the end of the American Revolution and with one of Lord North's most loyal supporters embroiled in a sex scandal, it may have influenced when the end of the war came.
My imagination has been sparked in many directions, BUT this is also when I have to apply discipline. There are other ideas who are screaming to be written. On the strength of this book, I did get Rubenhold's other book -- The Covent Garden Ladies which tells the tale of the Harris Book of Courtesans and its beginnings. Research can be fun. It is one of the reasons why I write historical romance.

Monday, December 01, 2008

VIking Warrior Unwilling Wife published (officially)

This is the official date of publication for Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife in North America -- although I understand that it has been spotted in several places over the weekend. I gather that Harlequin Historical are in a better place than usual. This may be another sign that the historical genre is doing well.

I have sent out my latest newsletter which has details of the TWO contests -- one for readers and one for aspiring writers.

I will be at Unusual Historicals on Sunday, Tote Bags on 5 Dec and just confirmed Risky Regencies on the 14th as well as the E harlequin Open House on 11 Dec. There will be a chance to win a signed copy of one of my books at each of the places.

Also on 10th December my excerpt from A Christmas Wedding Wager will be up on the Writer's Vineyard. It is out this month in Australia as part of A Yuletide Invitation with Blythe Gifford's The Harlot's Daughter. There is a chance to win some of my books there as well. I like the cover but it is not very Christmasy. I think I preferred the UK Christmas by Candlelight cover or the US A Christmas Wedding Wager cover.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

No longer a decorating refugee

I have moved back into my study, but still need to figure out which pictures go where. I am also waiting for the curtain rail to go up. The room does look far warmer and I do like coralline as a colour. It contrasts nicely with the white and gives a lovely classical feel.
Coralline was popular in the Kingdom of Naples. The royal palace at Casserta is painted coralline on the exterior, for example.
My current wip is going slowly and I made the mistake of reading a research for another time period. Immediately my daemon started whispering story ideas. But it is also a ruse as my daemon dislikes hard work at times and sometimes, dangles the prospect of a lovely new story, unsullied by words that do not turn out properly. I have learnt to resist such blandishments. BUT I have learnt a lot...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving plus cranberry sauce

Happy Thanksgiving.
Today is one of the days that I stop and pause and reflect on how many blessings I have in my life. There are so many things to be thankful for -- my family, my friends, the people who read my books, and the people who read my blog. It is so easy to overlook the good things in life.

Some years, we have a big dinner and have lots of people around on a Saturday but not this year. This year, it is just the family and we are having the feast on Thanksgiving.

This year like most other years, I have made cranberry sauce. I learnt to make cranberry sauce when I was five. The produce man from the local supermarket visited my kindergarten to encourage the children to learn about vegetables and to try something fresh. The supermarket had just opened and they had a big fresh vegtable section. He mentioned cranberries and how even children could make cranberry sauce. When I got home, I begged and pleaded with my mother and was allowed to try. A tradition was born -- despite my brother's protests.
Cranberry sauce is very easy to make and you make it -- sweeter or more tart depending on the amount of sugar. The recipe makes more than enough for one meal.
Take one packet of cranberries (at the moment in the UK, they are 300 grams in weight)
Place same amount of water -- 300 ml (approximate 1 1/2 cups of water) and 100 grams (1 cup) sugar in a large saucepan. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a boil for about five minutes. Add the washed cranberries. Move to a lower heat and bring to another boil. The cranberries will begin to pop. Allow to boil for about five more minutes. Take from heat and pour into a glass bowl. Allow to cool. The sauce will set.
If you prefer a smooth jelly (my brother did), you can push the mixture through a jelly bag but for me this always seems like too much fuss and I like the berries.
Fresh cranberries also make great bread and cranberry apple pie is fantastic. I use the left over cranberry sauce in making a cranberry nut bread.
Wherever you are -- may your blessings be great and your troubles few.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Submitting and changes

Sometimes unpublished writers ask -- if they ask for the full manuscript, does that mean I can edit the first three chapters?

ANSWER: Yes, you want to submit the strongest manuscript possible. If in the interim, you have discovered a better way to show the readers in the first three chapters, go for it. It is vital that the first three chapters grab and hold the reader.

When I get revisions, can I make major changes like the backstory? Cutting characters? Moving scenes etc etc?

ANSWER: Yes, if it makes the story stronger. Revisions are all about making the story as strong as possible and sometimes the problems lie within the backstory or within the structure of the story. The types of revisions you are given is often dependant on the editor's perception of your skill as a writer in doing revisions and the way she can see to fix some of the problems. When you are given revisions, it is because the editor believes in you and your ability to write.
Always ask yourself -- what is the editor truly asking here? And what is the problem that she is seeing? And why?

Ultimately the editor wants the strongest possible book to go out into the world.

Strong stories that speak to readers should be the goal of every writer whatever their stage in their career.

Right now, I hope I write strong stories...My fingers remain crossed that I did the revisions correctly. And I am hoping my new story will be truly powerful. Ah, my old friends -- The Corws of Doubt have come circling.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Secondary characters

Because I have started writing something a bit different, I have gone back to the beginning with looking at craft books etc. I am reminded of the clock face Twyla Tharp mentioned -- how craftsmen have to polish up one skill, and then the next. Anyway, I started to read Donald Maass Writing the Break Out Novel Workbook AGAIN and not just going for the bits I like butthinking about some of the other bits and thinking about how I can apply this. It has highlighted so many areas that I need to work on, areas I thought I knew instinctively. It is the old things you think you know syndrome. And it is helpful to go back to basics.
Last night, I happened to be looking at secondary characters. All too often, Maass point out secondary character's main motivation is to say their lines and get off stage as quickly as possible. He says that it is impossible for a secondary character to take over, but I am not so sure about that -- nearly having had Simon Clare take over A Question of Impropriety. But I do know what he means -- secondary characters need to have a life. They need to have conflicting qualities, extra dimensions and larger than life qualities. They simply have to do in less space. Sometimes a lightening quick sketch can give a lot of insight.
The exercise about choose a character who aids your protagonist got me thinking. How can I add an extra dimension? How can make the motivation different from the easy one? Why is this character with his hopes and dreams going to become real to me? And how can I use him to add colour to the world?
One of the good things that I have done this year is to look at different lines. Some lines have far more characters but about the same line count. It has been interesting to see how a few deft words can really create an impression.

The decorating continues. The plastering is done. The first coat is on in my study. And I like the colour (always a bonus.) BUT it does mean the living room has to be cleared now...

Monday, November 24, 2008

On being a decorating refugee

It is happening today. My study is being repainted. Properly. The painters are arriving. They will also be doing the living room and the sun room (one the builders depart). They have promised to be finished before Christmas. But everything is out of my study and the computer now occupies a corner of my dh's study. It is a cold corner, next to the window and the Arctic air is seeping through. There have already been mutterings about piles of papers and books. So it is the computer and that is all.
Why do we get painters in? Basically, painting and decorating disasters we have known. From spending weeks hanging wallpaper only to discover that we should have taken the old wallpaper off first as it kept falling down to general calamities with paint which meant I have hung up my paint brush. With relief, I might add.
There is a reason these people are professionals and I am not.
So I will suffer the inconvenience and the cold, knowing that I should have a beautifully painted study for Christmas. It is going to be coralline -- a peachy pink coral colour and should be a warm colour. Blue is too cold for a room that never gets any sunlight.
The living room and sun room will stay the same colour, but will be brighter.
Then the entire house should be in theory finished. But first I need to get through this.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife has a book widget

I was very pleased when I learnt that Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife was going to have a book widget. Although the passion lines in the US have book widgets, HH normally doesn't and it is thanks to the very lovely Kim S that VWUW does. It means you can read the entire first chapter before you buy!

It is a lovely idea. Hopefully, they will start putting ALL the Harlequin Historical offerings as book widgets.

Kim has also put seven writing tips from me on the Harlequin Historical my space page. I believe she will be putting them HH facebook page as well. And I know Kim has all these wonderful things planned for December -- fantasy dinner parties and the like. So if you have not checked out the Harlequin Historical page on my space or facebook, you might like to do so. Kim is doing a marvellous job.

One upcoming event I should mention is the annual eharlequin open house on 11 Dec. There will be lots of free prizes for random posters. Basically, you show up and post a message. HH is having an all day board as are other lines like Presents, Romance, and Medical. This is because the authors are scattered all over the world and they want to be able to attend. Mainly US based lines like Nocturne or Intrigue have intense one hours chats in the evening. Anyway, it is a great time and a great way to celebrate Harlequin and Christmas.

It is Arctic conditions here and this is testing my resolve not to put on the heating. I do remind myself that many people have survived without central heating before and it is not as if we have several feet of snow on the ground...But it does make the early morning interesting, and hot water bottles have suddenly developed a premium in this household...

Friday, November 21, 2008

November Reader contest winners and December contest preview

I drew the names out of the hat today. Jane Armstead won the first prize of her choice of a hardback copy of either A Question of Impropriety or Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife. And Gina won her choice from one of my paperbacks. Both have been notified by email.

I will be running a contest in my December newsletter where the first prize will be a hardback copy of Impoverished Miss, Convenient Wife as I should be getting my hardback copies then. I will also be offering a critique of a partial for aspiring writers.

This week, I was really pleased to learn that the partial I critiqued for the winner of last year's December contest has gone to revisions on the full. Apparently the editor said much as I had and she is excited at the opportunity. Hooray for Kathleen G. Kathleen has also promised me a copy of her first published novel and I am holding her to it. She has a lovely voice.

My contests are open to anyone who subscribes to my newsletter...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hugh Jackman -- Sexiest Man alive

Thanks to Carrie Lofty (whose debut book What A Scoundrel I am eagerly awaiting from Amazon), I discovered that People Magazine have voted Hugh Jackman -- the sexiest man alive this year.
Daniel Craig is number two.

I do think that a number of romance writers, readers of the Pink Heart Society etc would easily agree.
NB, I must remember to use Hugh Jackman as inspiration sometime.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cookbooks and me

Natasha Oakley has written about the joys of cookbooks on thePink Heart Society today.

I will cheerfully admit to having too many cookbooks. However, I also find it very fun to get new cookbooks. I like to have cookbooks from places I have visited (or want to visit).Cookbooks from restaurants I have been to (or sometimes want to go to). Cookbooks from certain television chefs. Cookbooks that celebrate certain types of cooking -- we have a lot of Mexican/New Mexican books as Middle Eastern and Italian cookbooks. Because my husband has gone through a curry making craze, we also have a load of Indian cookbooks.

I also tend to cook with the cookbooks. My husband uses the books for inspiration purposes but I tend to follow recipes. I also like reading about the history of recipes or an area.

My latest acquisition Francesco's Kitchen details a lot of Venetian cookery plus has a lot of interesting info on Venice. We are going to Venice in March, so I am interested in learning about the city. I have also been reading John Julius Norwich's History of Venice (but that doesn't have any recipes) and am about to start A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi which apparently does. However, as that book has been lent by a friend, I shall have to be careful. It is one of her comfort reads.

I do not tend to get general cookbooks or how to cook cookbooks.And therefore do not have any Nigella or Jamie Oliver. A good cookbook is one where I can two or three new recipes...

Anyway, I believe my husband has decided that we do have too many cookbooks...that is until I happen to find the next one...

Monday, November 17, 2008

Philistine with a capital F

When I first came to the UK as a Junior Year Abroad student, the professor in charge of the group used to say that we were philistines with a capital F. In other words, we were so ignorant about culture that we could not even spell the word philistine correctly.

The phrase came back to me when I read Barbara Ellen's column in the Observer yesterday. She went on about how disappointing Pompeii was and how when she went she wanted to see the plaster casts in situ and all there was was a few crumbling frescoes etc. Really dull and why would anyone want to go.

Her remarks were up there with the 18th century traveller who complained that there were no dancing girls or gaming and thus little to hold his interest!

She obviously did not go to Herculaneum as there are bones in situ -- and they are almost unbearable to see. Three people -- a man and a woman aged about 20 and a boy in his teens -- all found together in an upper room. The woman's head was resting against the man's chest when the volcanic mud over took them. We do not know if they were slaves left behind or the children of the house. They were about the only bodies found in Herculaneum until the discovery of the 250 plus in the boat houses. The boat houses are not open to the public. You can just make out the bones in this picture, but trust me when I say that I was glad to leave the room.

Personally I found it very easy to imagine the people in Pompeii and had no wish to be ghoulish. The plaster casts in the locked up area were enough. There was one where the man had sunk down and put his hands up in front of his face. Another was of a dog. But I was glad to leave them behind and to explore the site.
The major problem with both sites is the looting. Even today when people should know better, it is possible to see places where unknown individuals have tried to lift mosaics. I understand that a large museum is planned for both sites, but this is Southern Italy and these things take time. But all you have to do is look with half closed eyes at the great and terrible beauty, then back up at the Destroyer glowering behind.

Neither Pompeii or Herculaneum are dull, but they do take a modicum of imagination. I note that Ms Ellen is also not overly fond of Mills & Boon books either.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Reading like a reader

One of the reasons why I became a writer is that I love to read. However, because I wanted to know a lot about the process of writing, I also learnt to dissect writing. I love craft books. I love learning how and why writing works (or how or why someone thinks writing works). It became a rare book that I could read without dissecting. And I valued those authors highly. Reading on the whole became less enjoyable and this was not good. Why did I have to make a choice between the two?
But when I was at lunch with my then editors last year, it was pointed out to me that editors are trained to read as readers first. To paraphrase Isabel Swift -- they are looking at the doughnut and not the hole. It is only after they have their reactions as readers that they try and dissect and discover why their reaction is not the correct one. Could I do that I wondered? Had been far too focused on what was wrong? Or what techniques were used?
So I have been busy retraining myself. I read first and capture the enjoyment of reading. THEN, I dissect. Reading is an exercise in feeling and tension. Later, if I need to, then I go back and see why I had those feelings. But sometimes, great writing isn't technically perfect. What it is about is those feelings that are engendered and the page turning ness of the read.
So now rather deciding if I am reading as a writer, or simply reading to learn more about the craft, I read first as a reader and allow the story to sweep me away. If it works, why should a writer fix it? If it falls flat, then that is another case entirely.
The other thing I have been doing recently as I am in the prelims and early stages of my next wip is to go back and read Donald Maass and other books on craft that made sense. are they still making sense? Have I become complacent about my skills? It is helping to make connections.
A major bonus is that I can enjoy reading once again.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Cataromance Review of A Question of Impropriety

As regular readers of this blog will know, I wait for Julie Bunello's reviews. I know that Julie loves romance, in particular series romance, and is a highly experienced reviewer. Her reviews are always a joy to read. It is part of my ritual when I get my author's copies to send one off to Julie and wait for her verdict. She never fails to disappoint.
The part of the review that I loved was:

A Question of Impropriety is another terrific novel from a writer who never fails to deliver dramatic, evocative, enthralling and poignant historical romances. Michelle Styles can make an era of history come vividly to life and in A Question of Impropriety she once again sweeps her readers off to the Regency and makes them fall in love with her gorgeous hero and lovely heroine!
Spellbinding, passionate and captivating from start to finish, once I started A Question of Impropriety, I couldn’t put the book down and I ended up devouring this delightful concoction of intrigue, adventure and romance in a single sitting!
4.5 stars.

It is wonderful to think of any reader devouring one of my books in a single sitting, let alone Julie. So this was a real boost to my day. You can read the whole review here.

Yesterday, I had a lovely time at the RNA Northumberland Christmas lunch. One of the chapter members kindly told me that she had been shopping in WH Smiths when she noticed the woman in front of her buying my latest. She lent over and told the woman that she knew me. The woman glowed and said that she loved my books and had read every single one! It is moments like that makes writing worthwhile...Writing is a lonely profession and so often the author does not hear about the pleasure her books give.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Article in the Hexham Courant about me and my books

As a result of the BBC Radio Newcastle interview, a journalist from the Hexham Courant contacted me and a piece has appeared in the paper. The article is positive and the photo cheerful. You can see the new bookcase in the background.
It appeared on page 3 of the news section rather than in the arts section.

Mole reaction

When informed of our velvet coated gentleman caller, my husband became absolutely delighted. He is hoping to see Mr Mole...In the meantime, we shall just be stamping down the molehills. As my husband pointed out, the lawn can never be called perfect... How long this state of affairs lasts, we shall have to see... there again can a mole do more damage than a flock of free range ducks and hens? As long as Mr Mole keeps out of the veg patch, I think he will be left in peace.
My youngest saw a barn owl on the way up from school. My fingers are firmly crossed that we have one in the village and I get to see it. We do get tawny owls, but barn owls are something special.

Ginger Simpson kindly included me on her I love the blog roll of 7 blogs.
7 blogs that I read every day include:
Unusual Historicals
Tote Bags
Pink Heart Society
Carrie Lofty
India Grey (who is currently trying to choose a new hero)
Donna Alward
Nell Dixon

I also read other blogs but these will do for the moment.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


I have just opened the curtains and a horrible thought struck me -- a mole has invaded the garden. The back lawn now has several piles of fresh dirt. Mole hills. You could never say that the lawn is prestine -- the ducks and hens are often on it, but we have never had a mole invasion before. It is slightly disconcerting to have a velvet coated gentleman come to call.
The question will be how to discourage his return visit. I have no wish for Mr Mole to set up a permanent residence in the lawn. It is supposed to be a lawn after all.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Indoor Rowing update

It has been nearly three months since I started indoor rowing. Somehow the Olympics seems a long time ago. This means six weeks to Christmas is a blink of an eye btw -- a very scary thought.

So what has happened since August? My energy levels have gone up. I am losing inches and have started to fit into jeans that I had given up on. I have stopped weighing myself. I dare say that I could lose more weight, but I like to eat. I have noticed that my appetite in general is less greedy and I am less likely to start raiding the fridge when I am working. The fact that my clothes are either getting looser or are starting to fit again, shows that my over all body shape is going in the direction I want it to go in.

My mind is working less sluggishly. And there is a certain amount of satisfaction in rowing.

It was hard in many ways to come back after being holiday. Getting an airplane cold did not help. But I did noticed the increased energy level on holiday and want to keep up the rowing.

The other good thing is that because we are keeping our central heating off, I have found rowing raises my core temperature. This means not only am I warm during the workout but I feel warmer for hours afterward. Surely this is a good thing as well.

Because I have a bad back, I have kept the resistance low (3) on the machine and this appears to work. I am getting a lot of benefit from it. Too often I think people are tempted to put the resistance up, thinking that they will get a better workout. Low impact workouts that involve aerobic exercise can be great. The key is NOT to get injured.

Also I would advise getting the deluxe padded seat. It may be plastic, but goodness, it does help.

The key to this getting fit is in finding something that I am willing to do often. I am very aware of how easy it is to give up on things and to let things slip. So it is onwards towards Christmas.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Turning in revisions the second time

Yesterday, I turned my revisions to the latest Viking in -- please God let me have closed all the plot holes and not made any ones. Please let me have made my characters strong and compelling enough. This is a prayer from the heart.

Personally I think the book is a far better one now and I can understand why my editors saw what they did. It is always far better to have someone point out the problems...

Today I am going to attempt to get my latest newsletter out. I wanted to get it out last Friday but really the revisions took up a lot of my time.

The house is a complete and utter tip though. And there are unconfirmed rumours that Christmas is about 6 weeks away.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Remembrance Sunday 2008

Today is Remembrance Sunday. It is 90 years since WWI ended on the 11 th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

It is good to stop and consider those who paid the ultimate sacrifice so that we might live in freedom.

I know when I went to Monte Cassino and saw the huge Polish graveyard and then the British Commonwealth cemetery, the magnitude of the sacrifice was brought home to me. You can just make out the cross shape of the Polish cemetery from this picture.
Many of the graves had simple words -- like died without a stain on his character, or we will remember him. At one grave, someone had placed a picture of the man and the fading photograph of a brave young man in WW2 stared back at me.
Death in war is equal opportunity. Some of those who fell and were buried there were majors, and lt colonels, others were privates, several were simply listed as drivers.

When my eldest went to the WWI battlefields last year, part of the school project was to look up those who fell from our village. Again, they came from all walks of life, but most were farm hands. One had gone out to South Africa but returned when his country was in peril.

There are only at most 31 villages in England who do not have war memorials from WWI. These are the villages where all the men and women came home and they are called the Thankful Villages. 24 have been positively identified. None are in Northumberland. The sheer scale is impossible to comprehend sometimes. But when you realise the norm was for villages and towns to have lost someone, then it starts to become clear. Equally I think finding out about one or two who died helps. It means that they cease to be just a name or just a memorial. And visiting one of the cemeteries also helps bring home the sacrifice these men and women made.

There are many brave men and women who are fighting now and I salute them and hope they all come home.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The unexpected

Yesterday, I finally watched Consuming Passion: 100 years of Mills & Boon. What the BBC did was to look at three women's lives and the way M&B books made an impact. The stories were intertwined. They followed the real life story of Mary Boon (which I thought became the most interesting), the fictional account of an unmarried woman in 1974 whose disappointment in love leads her to become a M&B author and in 2008 a university lecturer who is teaching M&B books in a course on the romantics. All three women end up becoming empowered by their experience and their lives take a different direction.
However, I let out many excited squeals of delight when the opening credits rolled. The producer/art director had cleverly used real book covers with the actor's names in place of the authors. Suddenly I saw my book -- An Impulsive Debutante. The actor O T Fagbenle was listed. I had thought perhaps it was because he was a newcomer and therefore it was a slight inside joke, but have looked him up and see that he has been acting professionally since age 14! He has also appeared in Dr Who and something called grown ups. Anyway, he did play his part of the provocative love interest to the university lecturer quite well. (Although I will admit to wondering -- what else did the Emilia Fox character see in him, what was it about him that challenged her) But I was very honoured to have his name on my book cover as it were. And I suspect that he will have a very long career in front of him.
Later in the programme, the Emilia Fox character gives a lecture using M&B covers to illustrate how the heroes have changed. It was lovely to see Anne MacAllister's cover for The Nanny and the Playboy (Anne's latest has just been released in the UK btw) and one of Kate Hardy's.
It is a fun programme and so fingers crossed that it is repeated on BBC 2 and on BBC America.

Realms on Our Bookshelves have reviewed A Question of Impropriety. The reviewer said many lovely things. But one of the things I was proudest of was: I used to enjoy historical romances like these but have been sidetracked by intricate and intense historical, contemporary and paranormal romances. Reading this book I remembered what true Regency is all about and I enjoyed it immensely. With Michelle Styles’ keen eye for historical details like clothing and food and her knowledge of subjects typical to the time-period, like horses and engines, she took me on a journey back in time to the 19th century.

Regular readers of this blog will know how hard I worked last year on the book, and the revisions. So I am very pleased when I am to connect with readers and reviewers.

My newsletter should go out in the next couple of days. but currently I am trying to get the revisions done for the latest Viking. Right now I am far happier with it. I really want this one to be totally excellent. It should go to my editors on Monday.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Excursion from Sorrento: Capri

To get to Capri from Sorrento -- you take a ferry from the Piccolo Marina. The Piccolo Marina is the larger of the two marinas and it is where the cruise ships, yachts and ferries go in and out of. But because the Grande Marina was there first, it gets the grander title.

The state run ferry is slower but much cheaper. When we took this ferry, it was supposed to arrive at 9:25 but eventually came in at 10:30. The sea was very rough indeed. We took the smoother, faster more frequent ferry back from Capri.

Capri reeks of glamour with numerous boutiques and restaurants for the well heeled. It has long been a favourite holiday destination for the rich, famous and eccentric. The mad Roman emperor Tiberius had his villa here and there is a rock where he apparently dispatched people who displeased him. For Noel Coward -- in a bar on the piccolo marina, life called to Mrs Wentworth Brewster. Even the taxis are glam -- convertible limos. The sea is the most wonderful torquiose blue and air is softly scented with citrus and flowers.

From the ferry, one can either walk, or take the funicular up to the main square. There are 995 stairs on the pathway to Anacapri. Although the central piazza can be come crowded, it is relatively short work to get away from the crowds and head down one of the winding lanes towards the piccolo marina. Along the way, one passes the house where Gorky lived in 1910 -1913. Lenin and Stalin (amongst others) visited him here. And it seems incredible that they dreamt of revolution in such an idyllic place.

The Piccolo Marina was basically empty and looking back up, I was struck how much like Portmerion (where the cult tv series -- The Prisoner -- was filmed) Capri is. The lanes are far too narrow and the people for the most part seem to go around in carts. There are lots of lovely tiled signs, many hand written by artists. Some point the way to a variety of walks, others simply give the name of a hotel or house further up the lane. But they are always in yellow, blue and green, showing the Spanish influence.

We took the bus back up to the main town. The route went along the Via Augusto which the industrialist Krupp built. When our bus met another bus, it was very a tight squeeze indeed and it was immediately obvious why most people leave their cars on the mainland.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Excursions from Sorrento: Herculaneum

We took a guided tour to Herculaneum, partly because I did not know the site as well and it is a far smaller site. Plus, the costings were not too bad.
Now, Herculaneum is in what is now one of the poorer parts of Naples. In the 18th century, it was the glitzy part -- the so called Golden Mile where neo classical palaces were built and furnished, mainly with items from the various digs. In fact, it was when in 1709 Prince D'Elboeuf, an Austrian purchased some land for a villa and had an artisan well dug. The digging of the well uncovered some fragments of the theatre and thus, Herculaneum was rediscovered.
On the way out, we saw the bags and bags of garbage lying in the street. Naples still has its rubbish collection problem...But the site itself is clean.
Unlike Pompeii, Herculaneum was covered in volcanic mud. This means it is far harder to excavate, but certain things like wood were preserved. Also, Pompeii's covering was far less. Herculaneum lies under something like 25 -30 metres of tufa. In some places, white hot lava from the 1644 eruption also lie on top. There are no plaster casts from Herculaneum as such things only happen when people/animals are covered in ash. There are bones (mostly discovered in the boathouses) and some other organic matter survived in the sewers. Thus, a clearer picture of what life was actually has appeared.
No one is quite sure how big Herculaneum is. They know the south boundary was the sea and they have found the western wall, but the north and east lie under a built up area. And while tunnels have been dug, not all is revealed.
One of the most famous early excavations -- The Villa of the Papryii still lies underground. After initial investigations, the tunnels were sealed in 1765. They were reopen and the are was re-excavated in the late 1980's. Among the finds are the carbonised remains of one of the greatest libraries in the ancient world. The Hewlett Packard foundation is working with the Italian government and it is hoped that some day, some more of the scrolls will be able to be read. The whole thing intrigues me -- what is there there? Why were the tunnels sealed? The Getty Museum in LA is a reconstruction of the villa.
Anyway, what is there is magnificent. Staircases remain intact. Roofs have been reconstructed. Many more frescoes are there. The mosaics glitter with brilliant colours. The photo to the right is a mosaic.
You can tell a shop, rather than a dwelling as there were grooves in the stone where the sliding doors were shut at night. Good ideas stand the test of time. The left photo is of a fast food shop, Roman style.
Again, like Pompeii, Herculaneum surpassed my expectations. I would not like to have to make a choice between which of the two to visit, but suspect that Herculaneum is more digestible.