Thursday, October 23, 2008

Lacryma Christi

Because we are getting ready to go to Sorrento, my dh brought home a bottle of Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Bianco by Terredora. It was a lovely bottle of white wine with a smooth honeyed citrus taste.
The grapes used include an ancient varietal -- coda di volpe, named by Pliny the Elder -- Cauda vulpium (fox tail) because of the way it grows in clusters.
The grapes are grown in the cinder soil of Vesuvius, and Lacryma Christi is one of the more imitated wines of the region.
The legend is that when God found a little piece of heaven that Lucifer had stolen at the Bay of Naples, God wept with joy and from God's tears sprang the vines.
The Campania region reached the height of its fame back in the Greco-Roman times when Falernian wine grew along the north coast. Even in the 16th century the wines were famous with Pop Paul III raving about the wines of the Kingdom of Naples. However, they began to decline with the fall of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies in 1860.
However, if the bottle of Lacryma Christi we had is anything to go by, they should be rediscovered. Truly nectar.

I leave tomorrow morning for Sorrento, Italy and this blog will get back to normal service on 1 Nov.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Done, Dusted and a 4 from the Romantic Times

I have sent off the latest manuscript. Undoubtedly my editors will discover its current flaws and help me to make it as strong as humanly possible. I know the Viking is going to be coming back for a repeat visit. Sometimes, a second round of revisions is a necessary thing. The worst thing is to have a manuscript published where years later you are kicking yourself.

Much to my surprise and delight, I discovered that Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife received a 4 from the Romantic Times. The headline reads: A family in conflict, an ambitious hero bent on vengeance and a bold woman hiding a secret quest for salvation combine for a heady, tension-filled, passionate sequel to Taken by the Viking.

And was therefore very good for swatting The Crows.

I do hope people enjoy the book. I loved writing Sela and Vikar.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ian Fleming and Simenon on writing

Because the programme on Ian Fleming intrigued me ( and I am in the final stages of edits for this Victorian), I went in search of his 1964 article on thriller writing. What I also found was an account of when he visited the great French writer --Simenon who wrote the Maigret books. And I do agree with Fleming that Maigret reads much better in the original. I went through a Maigret phase in my senior year of high school...
Although I doubt I could ever incorporate their methods into my way of writing, it makes for interesting reading. Both men enjoyed writing short books and I thought it was interesting that Ian Fleming was the person who invented/popularised the modern technique of anchoring -- namely giving product placement or real details so that the fantastical seems to be real and the reader is able suspend disbelief more readily.

Blake Snyder has an excellent post about five questions to help you determine your spine. The spine in a romance btw -- is the growth of the emotional relationship between the two protagonists. It is not the individual growth. If you focus on individual growth, you (or rather I) lose the focus which must be the relationship...

My goal for today is to finish putting the edits on. I did a 156 pages yesterday and have 156 pages to do today.

Monday, October 20, 2008

At the coalface

I am currently doing the final edits to the Victorian governess wip. It apears to be moving in the correct direction.
On Friday, I am going on holiday for a week -- Sorrento, so there is lots to be done before that.

Yesterday, there was a lovely TV programme on about Ian Fleming on the BBC. Joanna Lumley was so obviously a fan of the books and the lifestyle. (Personally I have loved the books ever since as an 11, I discovered them in a used book near our cabin in Sierra Nevadas and snuck them home. ) It was interesting to hear how he worked -- 2k every morning for 3 months a year in Jamaica. Also, that he was highly receptive to his editor's suggestions. And some of his notebooks were shown. Sometimes it would a snatch of dialogue. Sometimes just a word or two. Quantum of Solace appears as just a phrase. I believe you can watch the programme again iplayer if you are in the UK.
Sebastian Faulks discusses some of Fleming's style which is suited to action writing. Lots of active verbs, hardly any adverbs or adjectives, short sentences and very few semi-colons. It is the sort of prose one learns from being a journalist.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Do index cards work?

As I am nearing the end of editing, I am trying to see if the index card thing has helped. Cetainly I think this ms is a stronger one.

Obviously, the proof will come when revisions hit. Did I make a mistake with the structure? Etc etc. If you compare the top picture of the board with the bottom. You will see that I now have far more yellow cards -- ie things progressing the relationship, rather than external things. A number of scenes ended up being cut as they did not really help. So this is good. I was also able to see holes more easily. All in all, I can see why index cards and boards are used. I think they can be a valuable tool. I know that I will keep the cards until the revisions are completed, just in case things need to change. And I do think colour coding has helped.
And I rather suspect that had I done this with my Viking, I would not have had to rewrite the thing and would have spotted the major flaws...Currently I am wondering IF the Viking will be returning for more happens when one does major rewrites.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Daniel Craig in GQ

November's GQ features an interview with Daniel Craig, plus a number of photos to get your pulses racing. I had never considered a cardigan with a collar very sexy or sauve but there again I had never seen a black and white photo of Daniel Craig wearing one with jeans before. The interview is also interesting.

Additionally, in the magazine is an advert for Davidoff's Adventure aftershave featuring Ewan Macgregor. It is definitely a good photo of Macgregor -- rugged and outdoorsy. You can also view a short advert on you tube.

If you are short of inspirational men, you could do worse than to choose to pick up a copy of November's GQ.

In other bits of news:

Mills and Boon are once again involved in the Breast Cancer Awareness campaign. They are donating money from the Modern and Modern Heat books and in conjunction with AOL are doing a giveaway.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

HBHS Reading Group

One of the projects that I am doing for the National Year of Reading got underway -- a reading group for the local high school dedicated to reading for pleasure and escape. Mills & Boon have been wonderful about supporting. They have provided goodie bags, cover flats and books to get the students started and enthusiastic about reading.

This week was more of an intro and trying to get things started. Hopefully, next week more people will turn out and get turned on to reading for pleasure. Several of the staff also said that they would join in..if they did not have any students in detention...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

More on podcasts

I was very honoured that Isabel Swift enjoyed my blog on Tote bags so much that she reprinted it on her blog. She had contacted me before to let me know and I was totally thrilled.

Liz Fenwick had asked about the donut and the hole posts, plus Isabel's comments and they can be found in early March 2008. Some day, I will figure out how to do links to individual posts and do a greatest hits thing.

But the bottom line about the podcasts is that they are a fantastic education in series romance (as well as romance and writing in general). They should be required listening for any aspiring author or indeed for any author who is currently writing. You can either listen via your computer or download them to your ipod/mp3 player. All the ipods in my house belong to the children, so I listen through the computer.

And once you become started on podcasts, you will realize how easy they are and what a great auditory learning tool they are. They do say that there are four different types of learning styles -- visual, auditory, kinetic and my mind has gone blank on the last one... But podcasts are a chance to exercise the auditory.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Impoverished Miss, Convenient Wife blurb

My editors have just sent through the blurb for the sequel to A Question of Impropriety -- Impoverished Miss, Convenient Wife.

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…

Personally I think the blurb captures the essence of the story and hopefully people will enjoy it when it comes out.

My current wip continues -- let's hear it for repetition and difficult to follow backstory. I need to layer in more emotion, but I think the bones are there.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Rowing again

I have now been doing indoor rowing for about 8 weeks, and according to the monitor have rowed over 200,000 meters. My times are slowly but steadily improving. My weight is again slowly improving (hooray) and my measurements shrinking. My stamina is also improving. I have far more energy and I do think my mental capacity has been improved. Certainly, rowing is great for relieving stress levels.

There remains a long way to go but I did manage to find a swimsuit at bravissmo and so am set for my upcoming holiday. There are tangible rewards to exercising. Bravissmo is wonderful for the well endowed woman. Tops rather than being cut like tubes actually have a bit of shape to them.

The wip is coming on and will be finished before I go on holiday. It suffers from a failure to precisely decide the back story before completeing the first draft and a lot of repetition. In other words, I am working on toning its sagging middle. But I need to keep my eye on the doughnut and not the hole.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Taming of the Shrew

Yesterday, my daughter and I went to see the RSC's production of The Taming of the Shrew. As with any RSC production, it was excellent. Fantastic acting, directing and setting. Stephen Boxer made an admirable Sly/Petruchio and Michelle Gomez played Marion Hackett/Kate to perfection.

It is a problematic play though as it deals with the battle of the sexes and there are some who argue that it should never be performed. The RSC, unlike many, performed the whole of The Taming of the Shrew. The part that is generally performed is the play within the play. The framing device about the drunken Christopher Sly who refuses to pay for damages and therefore needs to be punished is generally left out. The actor who plays Sly also then plays Petruchio, and the woman out for the damages plays Kate. At the end, Sly is left with very little indeed. But I can understand why it has been often staged without the framing device as the device is a bit clunky and it was not quite clear what was going on. The reason for the clunkyness could be that this is one of Shakespeare's earliest plays, if not the earliest.

The play also can be a problem for feminists as Kate is seemingly transformed. Both my daughter and I feel that Kate knows about the bet etc, from the servant and the way the request is formed, and thus is playing along, rather than being truly tamed. But it does make for several uncomfortable moments when she is being totally submissive. Her closing speech about male dominance and the need for female submission is a case in point. I kept wondering why is she doing it - -does she love her husband? How could such a vibrant woman become a doormat? Did he truly break her? And if he did, did he ever long to have his sparring partner back?

According to the programme notes, the play owes a lot of the Commedia Dell'Arte. In fact of the first uses of pantaloon in the English language occurs in the stage directions for Taming. There is reason to suppose that the first time Shakespeare saw women acting on stage was in a Commedia Dell'Arte performance. It is known that at least two women ran troupes. Identifying the sources for the play have been difficult and complicated by a rival play called Taming of a Shrew which is broadly similar in structure but does not have the framing device.

Anyway, the play is worthwhile seeing. Very bawdy and laugh aloud. Not boring or stuffy. It travels to the Novello Theatre in London from 12 Feb to 7 March. Go see it if you can.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Workshop recap

Despite the horrid weather, the drive up to Berwick was lovely. My daughter and I went the scenic route. And the countryside in North Northumberland is fantastic at this time of year -- in a very wind swept Wuthering Heights sort of way. Berwick is, of course, a walled town and boasts a magnificent railway bridge.

Berwick library itself is about 8 years old and suffers from some lack of planning about the facilities...But the staff could not have been more helpful.

The people who attended the workshop were truly lovely and welcoming. They are starting a romance writing group and so were keen to hear what I had to say. The first half was a general overview of the genre, and the second was much more specific. Basically I spoke for two hours straight. Hopefully, one day one of the people who attended will become published. Certainly the atmosphere seemed good.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Workshop tonight

This evening I will be giving a workshop at Berwick Library about writng romance. This is part of my year as the writer in residence for the Northumberland libraries. It is a 2 hour long talk. Hopefully the people attending will find it enjoyable. Apparently, it is well subscribed.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Blogging away etc

Today is my day for Tote Bags and I blogged about the Harlequin editorial podcasts as they are one of my procrastination tools.

Realms on Our Bookshelves tagged me and I responded with 8 facts about me. Realms as you may know is a European website that allows readers to discuss books in their own language, even though they may have read the books in English. The women who run the site are dedicated to the romance genre.

Currently the Aga is off as it is about to have its service. This makes the house colder.despite the recent decline in oil prices, it remains too expensive to run the central heating. The fire in my study is working well and the room becomes quite cosy. I have not succumbed to throwing the index cards into the fire and my board is looking quite pretty. My daughter thinks I should have photos but that is too much like hard work. The proof with the board will be when the revisions hit.

The code for the board is blue = hero, pink = heroine, yellow = relationship, green = anything else.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Hands and other body parts

Writing a sensual scene is not just about broad shoulders or faces. It is about using the entire body. This is why it was lovely to find courtesy of Donna Alward, a website devoted to Hands. In particular it is devoted to hands of male celebrities. So there are several lovely pictures of Hugh Jackman, James Purefoy and Mads Mikkelson for example. None, however of Richard Armitage or Philip Glenister -- and this is an oversight. It has to be.
But seeing the hands made me realize that I ha gone wrong with my current hero. I needed to recast him. He was in the process of being recast anyway as he went from being a plain Mr grandson of a baronet to a Viscount. But I knew I would need that Regency arrogance (my editors keep going on about this), that I own the world look. Someone who smoulders. Jason Isaacs worked -- even if his eye colour is wrong. But now at least I know the type I want to play my hero.
So when you are riting ssual scen, think of the less obvious. It may give you whole new insights.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Donald Maass's The Career Novelist -- for free

About a year or so ago, I wrote to Donald Maass thanking him for writing such interesting books, in particular The Career Novelist. I had had trouble getting hold of it but Anne Macallister came to my rescue and sent me a copy. The book made me feel far more comfortable about what I wanted to do with my career and where I wanted to go.
Mr Maass in his gracious reply said that there were no plans to update the book, but there were plans to put it on as a free download. The free download has FINALLY become available. Many thanks to Nina Harrington (Ray Anne) for alerting me to it. Even though, some bits are slightly out of date, it is a solid primer on the business of publishing, the way certain agents act, and where the money is made.
I would urge every author who desires to know more about publishing and writing novels for a career to read it. It has advice for all stages of the career -- from just starting out, to mid career and beyond. His advice on PR has so far proved spot on.
Here is hoping that the book he was writing at the time -- something about Fire in Your Belly also comes to print soon. His books are ALWAYS worth reading.
Donald Maass's advice is second to none. He is also on my dream list of agents to query -- whenever the great agent hunt begins. But I have to write and complete my single title before that happens. A career is not built overnight but slowly.

Salsa Verde

Yesterday, my husband decided the time was right and he and the boys harvested the vegetable garden as well the greenhouse.
I the kitchen, we now have piles of chiles, a few pumpkins, marrows and tomatillos. Pounds and pounds of tomatillos. They are a relative of the cape gooseberry, and the best thing to do with tomatillos is to make salsa verde. This is a cooked green chile sauce with tomatillos, chiles, onions, vinegar and coriander and cumin.
My husband has also pointed out not unreasonably that I am the person who does all the preserving.
Salsa verde is relatively easy to make, if 1. you have a food processor to chop things (mine bit the dust in September), 2. a hot stove (the Aga needs to be shut off later today as it is getting serviced tomorrow) so this means it needs to be done today. 3. time -- I have a to do list the length of my arm. SIGH. It will get done...
Why is it whenever you are busy, more things keep being added?
Roll on Sorrento at the end of the month.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Using the Board and croquet's history

I went out and purchased my bulletin board -- a lovely blue felt cover board, a box of push pins (called toggle pins by the lady in the shop) and a set of coloured index cards. I did map out my story and I did see where the holes were. Thus far I would that it does help.

I had thought that I would have my characters play croquet or possibly pall mall. However, I then began to do my research. Contrary to many text books, pall mall and croquet's only relation is that they were played with mallets and balls. Pall mall is more likely to be a precursor of golf. Croquet is probably more like a cousin than a direct descendant.
Despite being popular with Charles II, pall mall fell out of fashion in the 18th century and disappears from English society. Croquet appears in the 1850s.
Croquet seems to have to been developed in France, brought over to Ireland in the 1830s as Crookey and then brought to England in time for the Great Exhibition of 1851 where Jaques of London displayed the first complete set. Jaques as a company dates from 1795 and still sells some of the best garden game equipment around.
Anyway, I decided that as the story is set in 1837, it is probably best if they play bowls. The first bowling green in England dates from 1299. Lawn bowls remains a popular game today. Hexham for example has a lovely bowling green.
Does this mean that people who reference pall mall in Regency books are wrong? It was not a popular sport, but people have had a tendency to like to hit things through hoops. As for me, I am sticking with bowls.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Upcoming workshop and editing plan

Next Friday -- 10 October, I will be going up to Berwick upon Tweed to give a two hour workshop on writing romance as part of the National Year of Reading. Apparently the ticket sales are going well. So I guess it won't be just the librarian, my daughter and I...
Anyway, I am looking forward to it, but also feel a bit like I have just emerged blinking into the sun after doing my revisions (or more accurately rewrite)
I have also started revising/editing my Governess one. I am going to try to be methodical about this one. I am tempted to get a Story Board and a stack of index cards. Is this a procrastination technique or merely a reaction to not having seen a huge hole before I submitted the Viking?
Or will I get the cards, decide that it is too much like hard work and go back to the method that works for me? Because my books tend to be about 15/16 chapters long, it should in theory be easy to divide the board up my way.
Several of the big flaws with the Viking -- were the hero/heroine leads, and the laying of way too much pipe. In other words I over complicated the back story and made the main characters react to events rather than cause them. Characters in a book make their lives happen. Would I have realised this with index cards?
I know that such measure are not good when I am writing the first draft. There is really very little that can come between a writer and the blank page. Writers eventually have to write. But after that, lots of things can be done. I figure that I might as well give it a go. I know several writers who swear by such measures.
In other news:
The honey has been harvested -- 22 pounds. It was a poor year. The beehives now have to be made ready for winter -- with mouse guards and the annual treatment for varrora.
The pumpkins are about ready to be harvested as are the tomatillos. Tomatillos are green tomato like fruit that are used in making green chile sauce. They are very sharp in flavour and very easy to grow. The chile crop is decent this year but again because of the lack of light, the plants did not fruit as well.
And I have started to have fires in my new fireplace. Instead of having blue hands as I type, the fire now crackles merrily. Of this could lead to procrastination -- stirring the coals, putting more fuel on, burning index cards etc etc.

Friday, October 03, 2008

First Lines/First pages analysing

My google alert system brought up an interesting blog where an aspiring author is reading a handful of Harlequin Historical novels, including Taken by the Viking as an experiment. Hopefully she will enjoy all the books, but then I love the line. She happened to do a mixing and matching of first lines as there is the old saying about first lines hooking you in.

Personally, I do not know how true that is. I tend to buy books based on back cover copy and possibly teaser. Once I start reading, I will give it a few pages, if not a chapter or two. Also I know that Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is often touted as having a killer first line. I nearly did not read it because of the first line and always found the Dursley section the least interesting bit. I persevered and rapidly became entranced. I read HP just as the hard back of the second book came out, so there was not the hype. I had picked it up at the school book fair for my eldest. But that is me, and as a reader, I am allowed to have my own quirks.

With Taken I would argue that the first line is not so much -- Annis pressed her lips together, but 8 June 793 Lindisfarne, Northumbria Annis pressed her lips together. 8 June 793 being the generally accepted date of the Lindisfarne raid. What I was attempting to do was to show the contrast between the people getting on with their lives and chaos that comes later. The calm before the storm as it were. It is a small point and I know that the vast majority of readers will probably not even know the date. But when I was writing it, that was my reasoning. Thus by the end of the scene, the bells are ringing and the raid has begun. Whether or not it works for a specific reader depends on the reader's quirks. It worked for me and I was able to write the rest of the book.

Personally I prefer to look at the first page rather than the first line when trying to analyse. Perhaps this says something about me as a reader, but I don't tend to linger over first lines.

Anyway, the big thing you want to do with the first PAGE is to give the reader a reason to turn the page and a reason to turn the next page and so on. It is about creating questions in the mind. And once a question is answered, a new one springs up. It is the entire first page that hooks the reader.

When are you analysing a first page from a published book, you need to look at how you respond as a reader, but also why did the page hook the editor. What is it about the page, even if it does not speak to you, that appealed to the editor? Can you see where the questions are raised? Why or why not would you want to turn the page? What clues do you have to the style and substance? What promise is the writer making?
Sometimes I think it is easier to analyse books that I don't love. It enables me to be more objective.

The first page has to do a lot, but its ultimate goal is to get the reader to turn the page and the next one and so on.

As a writer, the first page is often something that gets revised and tweaked. I might not even know the first scene until the last scene is written. Sometimes, I start with what I can, somewhere to hang my hat.

My revisions were turned in yesterday. Personally I think the story is far stronger but we shall have to see what my editors think. Next up is the editing of my Governess story. After doing the edits for the Viking, I know there are lots of places where I can up the tension and the pace. But I do think it has potential. And yes, Donna, before you ask I am also critqueing your chapters...
Lots of things fell by the wayside as I tried to complete this Viking.