Saturday, January 31, 2009


None of my family is buying my explanation of a poltergeist/ghost with regards to the ongoing electric problem. My husband is convinced that the electrician was simply lazy. The children roll their eyes where once they would have believed without question.
According to the electrician who showed up yesterday afternoon, the cable was too long and that was why the earthing wire touched the live wire. Surely that would have been obvious when he put up the lamp not two weeks ago? It is most perplexing (and frightening). Before this problem started in early December, the lights had been up for 8 years without incident. The electrician has no explanation as to why the wires should have suddenly burnt through... At the moment, we seem to be calling them out to deal with the problem on a nearly weekly basis. The firm is highly reputable. Fingers crossed. But the whole thing is odd.
The children have also been told to stop being rogue elephants when they walk up and down the upstair corridor...

Friday, January 30, 2009

Harlequin is 60

Yesterday the venture that the Bonnycastles started to keep the presses rolling turned 60!

To celebrate Harlequin released 16 books from its backlist as FREE downloads. One book from each line currently published in the North American market. I found it impossible to get on yesterday and thought that people from outside North America could not download the books, but this morning, it was not a problem. The list showcases books that the editors feel represent the Best in the Line from recent years. So for historical, there is Elizabeth Rolls His Lady Mistress. For Superromance there is Janice Kay Johnson's Snowbound which won the Rita last year. For Kimani, there is a Brenda Jackson. I am looking forward to them and to trying a few of the lines that I have not tried. You can get the downloads here.

All sorts of other events are planned, including the draw for a Diamond necklace to celebrate the Harlequin Romance Diamond Brides series.

In other news:

I fond a hen's nest yesterday. A dozen eggs. I tested them -- dunk in cold water, see if they float. All stayed firmly at the bottom so all are good. It is a matter of a surfeit of eggs again. Baking appears to be the order of the day. The children have not had egg salad sandwiches recently so this might do as well. I forget if they like egg salad sandwiches. They did once but may have rebeled. The problem with a surfeit of eggs is that you know the hens and ducks will keep laying given the time of year...

The mole continues to elude me. The mole hills are less frequent. Sincerely hope that this does not mean the mole is preparing to give birth...apparently they go deeper then...Much easier to think of the Mole as a he than a pregnant she.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Discovering new music

For a birthday treat, my lovely friend Kate Hardy sent me a cd of John Garth -- Six Concertos for the Violoncello, soloist Richard Tunnicliffe, played by the Avison Ensemble. She enjoys surprising people. As luck would have it, the day it arrived, the Lit and Phil notes arrived also. A new biography of Avison is about to be published and the Avison Ensemble are playing at the Lit and Phil. So I was like-- who is this Avison? And more importantly is the music any good?

Anyway, John Garth is an 18th century composer who worked primarily in Durham. Durham with its Prince bishop was the centre for political power in the north east until 1839. Empowered by the monarch, the Prince Bishop was able to enforce legislation, mint his own coins and control the courts. Around Durham, there are several fine country houses dating from the period. It was also a centre for music. Well, religion does lend itself to that. Garth at one point served as the organist for the Bishop of Durham. These works were first published around 1760 and make for fantastic listening. Garth was forgotten entirely until someone was working on his Phd at Durham University and rediscovered him. The Lit and Phil holds several important scores.

I was so impressed that I ordered two cds of Charles Avison who worked in Newcastle around the same period. Avison was incredibly successful during his lifetime and has been called the finest English concerto composer.
Again, played on period pieces with a warm earthy tone, the music is easy to listen and inspiring if one happens to be writing a Regency.

All kudos to both the Avison Ensemble who are playing the music of these forgotten English composers and to the composers. Hopefully others will discover them and discover what centres of culture both Durham and Newcastle were in the late 18th/early 19th century. I am also looking forward to reading the biography of Charles Avison.
Sometimes a small gift can open windows into worlds that you never dreamt of.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Mole and I

I am now in the midst of trying to catch the mole, a beginning mole catcher facing a cunning foe as it were. The mole is fairly intelligent or perhaps I am not a good catcher. It has managed to back fill the holes where the traps are and go around. The back lawn bears a certain resemblance to trench warfare. You need cunning to catch a mole and you also have to move away from the mole hill and pick a run between two hills. Moles are good diggers and the holes they make are well constructed. Traps need to be checked daily and kept free from clogging dirt. The mole (or something) has sprung one or two traps, but have I caught it? I live in hope. Some day. Its days in the back lawn are numbered...

Kim S who does the Harlequin Historical My Space is doing a contest until 31 Jan where one of the possible prize is a copy of Viking Warrior Unwilling Wife. She also writes about her own inspiring life and her struggles after a car crash. You can read about it here.

I am working on my single title historical romance. It is fun to write but this paranormal keeps calling. It is a matter of taking notes. I am over page 100 with the single title and I hate not completing stories when I get to that point. And yes, I know both my critique partners' whips are out.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Boss and me

I have been a Bruce Springsteen fan since 1980 when my brother brought a copy of The River home from university. So it was no surprise that my lovely husband went out yesterday and bought the newly released Burce Springsteen -- Working on a Dream for my birthday. Neither should it be a surprise that I put it on. But for a number of reasons, I did not get to the end and had to keep stopping the cd. Neither had I looked at the words as I wanted to hear the music all the way to the end before concentrating on the lyrics. The cd was sealed and as far as I know my husband had not looked at the lyrics either or had listen until the end. Finally my husband sat me down and said 'Listen to it, you know you want to. It is your birthday. Indulge.'
He went off to get me a glass of wine and I started from where I had left off. My husband handed me a glass of wine just as the song Surprise, Surprise started its first verse. The words go: Today is your birthday, we have travelled so far we two. So let's blow out the candles on your cake and we'll raise a glass or two. I am afraid I nearly spilt my wine -- surprised doesn't even come into it. Totally shocked.

My husband was absolutely thrilled as he could not have planned it better. He swears that he had no idea. And the look of disbelief on his face was priceless. He grabbed the pamphlet out of my hands just to double check we had not misheard the words.

But it was a wonderful gift and the timing was fabulous.

The rest of the album is good, but for obvious reasons, Surprise, Surprise is my current favourite.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Birthdays, revisions and reviews

Today is my birthday. I am halfway to 90 and very happy with my age. It has been a quiet birthday. My husband insisted on celebrating over the weekend so I had a gift each day -- books in the main.We have also had several nice meals. I had a lovely cake this morning, followed by cards and a few more presents. It is good to be remembered. As the card that my sister sent said: birthdays are the icing on the cake of life.

I sent my Viking in again today, hopefully for the final time. It is a far better book and I do agree with the tweaks that I was asked to make. In the end, if the story flows, that is the main thing and I park my ego at the door...It is Ivar's story in case anyone was still wondering. And I was bound to hit a book like this. Tomorrow, it is back to the word mines and writing the mainstream single title.

My ego took a boost over the weekend. Jayne from Dear Author posted a B review of Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife. As I remembered from her review of Taken by the Viking that the Viking period is not one of her favourites, I was pleased that she liked it. You can read the full review here.
I have thought and thought about why the cover for Viking Warrior Unwilling Wife is not my favourite. I love the background. The woman is quite pretty. But the man neither engages the reader with his glance, nor does he engage the woman. Instead he appears to be lost in his own world and is not inviting the reader in. The picture on the inside front cover is much nicer and shows a tender moment where the coupl are actively engaged with each other. However, there is nothing to be done about it and I am allowed to have favourites.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Pleasure that is E. M.Delafield

Yesterday, India Grey reminded me about The Diary of A Provincial Lady by E. M. Delafield.
It is a wonderfully dry and witty book about the trials and tribulations of a lady during the 1920s/30s. I read at in my final year of university and adored it. Luckily EM Delafield wrote several sequels including The Provincial Lady in London which was given to me as a graduation gift and I can dip in and out of that one. Both India and I agree that when we go to London for a Literary do, is impossible not to feel like PL.
If you have read Delafield, you can tell where Helen Fielding got some of her inspiration. If you enjoy PG Wodehouse, you should like EM Delafield. If you are a Mother with Children, it rings true. However, unfortunately, she has fallen out of fashion. She should be rediscovered.
Recently, Jilly Cooper did a marvellous article on EM Delafield in the Guardian. It is worth a read if you want to know more. Suffice it to say that Jilly Cooper is a fan of the books. Better yet, try to find a copy and read EM Delafield's words. They resound through the ages.

Still working on my revisions and they are going well. And I shall be Good and not reread PL until I have finished them and my rita books...

Friday, January 23, 2009

Duck nests

I went out and discovered the duck nest under the thorn bush in the sunken garden. 3o eggs. Intellectually I know the duck could not hatch that many and that it is way too early.. but the thought of 30 ducklings made my blood run cold. The eggs have been disposed of. The duck protested loudly but has accepted the loss of its nest. It decided to be a good duck and go to bed with the others.

The mole does not have a nickname. Any creature that I might have to dispatch does not get a nickname. It makes it harder. One more day of curing in the compost heap and the mole will be engaged in battle.

The revisions are coming on. It is now a matter of going through and making sure everything is how I want it. There were some parts that my editor did not mention directly but it was obvious the emotional intensity needed to be upped and the stakes needed to be raised. And there were a few sentences that once God and I knew what they meant, but now only God knows. It will be a better book...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mole update

Or why the back lawn is looking like a model of the Somme. I did try to phone the mole catcher. He did not return my phone calls. I have now turned to mole traps after doing research online.
My traps are currently curing in the compost heap so that they can have the proper earthy smell. They need to smell like the earth. Moles are known to dig around traps...
On Saturday, I will find the mole run, put the set trap in, and carefully cover over the trap. Then I wait, having marked the trap with a stick. You apparently can lose traps. Also it takes practice. I am hoping to catch the mole alive and be able to give him a happy home, somewhere a long ways away from the back lawn. If the mole dies, then unfortunately it has happened.

After doing the research, I discovered that vibration does not work, nor does pouring Jeyes fluid down the holes or a host of other methods. The best answer is to trap them. Then you know. You want more than one trap. Persistence.

And I need to discover a duck's nest as the white duck was out again last night. No quacking until about 7, but it was still out of the duck house in the morning.

Revisions are coming on. It is little tweaks to increase emotional intensity.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The third time

Yesterday, my Viking came back. The editors still had a few loose ends they want tied up. Although, it would have been fantastic if I had had everything right on the first time I appreciate the chance to put right the problems they see. There is a problem with foreshadowing. And they were worried that some things might not be clear.
Now I could curl up in a ball, but I really want this story to be strong. I sometimes find the third story to be the weakest. Some of the problems are of my own making as I threw out 90% of the story after the first revision letter. This was mainly because I wanted to and thought it would work better. It has in one way but other problems remain. Sometimes, you just get a book like that and hopefully the pain and suffering on my part will make for a better read. Ultimately it is about getting the best read possible for the readers. It is my name on the front cover and if the read is substandard, then can I ask readers to trust me with the next one? Better to make the changes now.
It is minor tweaks but then I do get to use Iolite as well. Kate Hardy told me about Iolite in December and I vowed if I got a chance, I would add it. It was used as the Viking's Compass -- the world's first polarising filter and used to determine the position of the sun. Determining the position of the sun becomes important when you realise that during the summer solstice, the sun never sets and you cannot rely on stars. Lief Erickson used one to find the New World.
So third time lucky.

In other news:
It was late night fun and games as one duck had not gone to bed. At about 1 am, it began quacking down in the lower pond. So after being nudged by my dh, I rose, pulled my hiking boots and a coat on over my nightdress, grabbed a torch and went out to find the duck. My dh is useless when it comes to putting the ducks away. Luckily the torch helped the white duck to decide that it did eventually want to go to bed with the other ducks and not stay hidden under various bushes or be quacking in the stream. The dogs aided just at the end, but I worried Joss the border collie would start barking and really wake the neighbours. The children slept through. I suspect the duck has a nest and I will have to find it. But climbing down the muddy slopes of the dene in the dark without a very solid reason is not on.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Getting things out of my head

Certain people sometimes think this blog is a code. Unfortunately I am far too tactless for that. Yesterday's post was an attempt to get something out of my head after reading a book. I could have written a post on addiction and the hero but need to think about how to approach it as I do not agree that an addict makes a good hero. No subtext here -- just that Nicola Cornick's blog made me think about things and the ever present why.
Sometimes things just strike me between the eyes. One thing is that the necessity of tying up subplots, particularly when certain things have been foreshadowed. Readers do wonder.

Readers do want the emotional payoff. They also want to believe that people are capable of being redeemed.

I know that I avoid bleeding on the page because it hurts. It is the old 10 percent rule -- the vast majority of readers will only get 10 % of the emotion you put in the book. In order to make sure that emotions are fully engaged, the writer needs to bleed. If you do not care passionately about characters, how can anyone else? It is something I do struggle with and when it is brought home to me, I go -- oh. it makes perfect sense now. Whether I can actually execute on that is another question. And each time I write, I do wonder if I will give enough blood.

Last evening I watched a programme we had taped about Sir John Mortimer. Like many driven people, he worked hard. When he was a barrister, and indeed I think for most of his life, he rose at 5:30 am and wrote. He also wrote before court. In other words he worked hard. His success was far from effortless, although he did like to pretend.

As some may know, he had a secret child. An affair with the actress Wendy Craig resulted in a baby boy who grew into a man before John Mortimer ever met him or indeed knew of his existence. He only learnt when a biographer interviewed Wendy Craig and she felt the need to confess. His son was grown and it turns out they get along very well. My dh turned me and said that he thought such things only happened in romance novels... I remarked that he had forgotten Peter and Dan Snow. Secret babies do happen. It annoys me when people say they are unrealistic... It is the motivation that is interesting.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Happening on stage

Sometimes as a reader, you need to see things happen on stage. Important bits of info, even though it might not be the main action need to be there or the reader feels cheated. I was reading a book at the weekend and this fact really struck home. There was an important heart wringing subplot that was tied up offstage as it were and it had been something that I was interested as a reader to see. Cue disappointment and the reinforcement of an important lesson. Readers do ask questions and wonder, particularly when things have been set up...
I do need to remember that opportunities for good narrative action should not go to waste. Subplots should also always feed into the main plot. Climaxes in important subplots need to affect turning points in a profound way.
Also -- motivations should grow and change as the plot progress. This helps to show character growth. Turning points should change characters and their relationships.

Writing can be such fun at times. And I know with my own writing -- I may know the concept and good practice, but then why don't I apply them? Why do I like being nice to be my characters? Sometimes there is a temptation to not want to bleed.
This week I need to write. Last week my progress was not good.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

John Mortimer: An Appreciation

Sir John Mortimer died yesterday at the age of 85. He had been fading for awhile I believe, but he was a National Treasure. His most famous creation --Rumpole is truly one of the great characters in English literature. The books are best savoured like fine wine. They bear rereading and I believe are destined to become classics. It is the gentle humour, combined with the acute observation of human nature that makes the stories. And John Mortimer has long been one of my favourite authors. Thankfully I have a few signed copies of his books. I also have an apron with She Who Must Be Obey emblazoned on the front and a tattered cookbook from the Rumpole Society that has recipes for Dodo MacKintosh's cheesy bits...
I loved the way he could turn a phrase, or describe a character with a few well chosen words. He also had a wonderful work ethic -- rising at 5 am to write and did say in an interview that he hoped to be writing until he died. I hope he was.
Back in 1986, my husband (then boyfriend) sent me a copy of Paradise Postponed for my birthday. I have clear memories reading it on a snowy Minnesota day. It provided an insight into popular British culture that proved invaluable when a few years later when I moved permanently to the UK. Yes, it is satire but wonderful satire it is. It is the little things that are hard when you first move to a country. And when my children were little, I went and found Biggles they were supposed to be good...
But it was the Rumpole stores where his genius took full flight. In many ways, he described a vanishing world where eccentricity and independence come to the fore. Rumpole was a great advocate for the independant Bar and the indivdual. I, for one am pleased that Sir John decided to write as well as practice law.
And if you have not read the Rumpole books -- read them and enjoy. Sir John Mortimer's words are his greatest legacy.

Friday, January 16, 2009


Yesterday was a day of small milestones. My eldest finally got a cheque book and learnt how to write cheques. He is going off to Moscow and St Petersburg at the end of March with his school and given that he has his own banking account, we felt the time was right for him to take responsibility for paying. He is looking forward to the trip and the parents' meeting was last night.

Mostly I sat there and let him get on with it. He is over 18. He will be the one doing everything but it did feel odd. Last time he went on a school trip, I was the one who filled out the cheque and handed over the passport etc. But it is all about letting go and that can be hard. It was not so many years ago that he was small.
It is also a reminder that 2009 will bring a lot of changes as he will be going off to university. But as I was saying last night to some parents I have known since our children were in toddlers, I have no desire to go back to that age. I am busy enjoying my children at the age they are...

The other thing that is happening is that they are FINALLY changing the railway gates at the level crossing. The old wooden gates were some of the oldest operating gates in the world. The line was completed in 1837 and I am not sure if they were ever changed -- just repaired. I believe they have been bought by some collector. They were terribly picturesque BUT they were also a pain. Being stuck for 20 minutes before a train arrives is no fun, particularly when you are late for an appointment. And sometimes in the wind, they would swing back slightly...after being closed. I think they caused a bit of a headache for the maintenance people. Every so often, the crossing would be closed on a Saturday night/Sunday while they tried to repair the gates. Necessary BUT it also meant that living up the Bank, we were cut off and had to find different routes. Not so bad when you are going, but when you forgot and were trying to come home... I understand that the signal box is staying...
And yes, before Donna says anything -- I do need to write. One thing that has not changed is the desire to tell good stories.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The terrible urges of the daemon

Yesterday my box of Rita books arrived. It is one of the great perks of being a member of the RWA. Lovely new authors to read, and books that I might not have picked up on my own. I always reacquaint myself with the judging standards as well.
The only trouble is that my daemon sees the pile of books and goes -- oh good, a chance to play. Michelle won't want to write. Or whispers of stories will start to come in my brain.
Luckily currently BOTH of my critique partners are sitting with big whips. They do not take many prisoners either and have explained where they think I have gone wrong. It is now up to me to FINISH THE STORY.

Focus is such an important quality for a writer. You have to be able to cut out distractions. You have to be able to concentrate on one story at a time. I tend to be a monogamous writer. Some writers are polygamous but then my daemon goes skittering off. I do believe there is ALWAYS one story I want to tell more than the others. Sometimes the pure physical work of writing down an idea helps. In this case though, it is an idea that I have been toying with on and off for the last nine months. I know a bot more of how it would be done, but what I don't know far outweighs what I do know. The mythology may be in place but is the story?
I need to finish the current story. And probably write another story and then maybe I will have time.
Focus means that I get my word count done and that I actually work on furthering my knowledge of craft and the business. But without more stories for the shopfront, there is little I can do. Story is king and being distracted from my current wip is not good.
So it is a small matter of upping the stakes and making sure the tension really sings.
It is also giving myself permission to write crap and really meaning it. In other words not letting my words harden to the consistency of cement but being open to taking taking flight. So it is a small matter of resisting the terrible urges of the daemon.

In other news:
My dd's mocks came back as expected. She will be working harder on her French. She knows what she needs to do. They are pointers only. And a bit like her mother, she spends far too much time reading romance rather than acutally studying and making sure things are perfect. My eldest is taking his next exam today (not a resit) but thinks he knows the math. he has learnt the value of studying the hard way. It is terrible to look at a math paper and think -- I knew this 25 years ago but now it might as well be Sanskirt.
The electrician has taken away the hall lights and is rewiring them as it appears to be a fault with the wiring. Nothing to do with the leaking shower then.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Rosetta stone and GCSEs

Following on from yesterday's post, I should say that I have not been overwhelmed by the GCSE course in foreign languages in general. The teachers know the languages and are enthusiastic. However, the students are very much taught to the test and at times, because of the requirements of the exam board, it has been choose something from column a and then b and then c. The exam board is changing the exam next year and hopefully this will help.
I also truly believe that children should learn another language (and that does not include American) unless for some reason they have difficulties with their own language and need remedial help. Learning a foreign language opens so many more worlds and ways to look at the world.

However, particularly after my eldest's AS level results in Russian, I did not feel confident. I gave in my son's request to get a Russian Rosetta Stone. He paid for it with his savings, so I suppose that I did not have a choice. But I had resisted for years, thinking that the school would provide a solid enough grounding. My son however was determined to properly learn the language and to get an A at A level. He decided that he needed help and that at worst, it would complement. So it was duly ordered and he started from the beginning.

Rosetta Stone in case you have not seen the magazine adverts is a computer programme which is geared towards the immersion principle. When you are learning the language, there is no other language involved -- just pictures. The programme also analyses the student's voice so the accent can be improved. It is fun. I did try a lesson or two in Russian and was surprised how quickly I could pick things up.

Anyway, within a few short weeks, my eldest's confidence with the language improved and he finds Russian much easier. There were just bits that somehow he missed. And it is probably more of a reflection on him than the teaching. In order to secure a predicted A, he went to the department and resat the test he had completely messed up. This time, he passed with flying colours. The department has predicted him an A and recently his teacher commented that he seemed far more secure with the language.
I was so impressed that my daughter was given the French version as part of her Christmas presents. Again she started from the beginning. Rapidly it became not review but learning things -- somehow she had completely missed the whole formal you bit and now knows the tenses much better. Her accent is improving as well. It is not that she was bad at the language. It was more that I felt something was slightly missing. Perhaps it was an underlying confidence. Teachers often do not have the time to discern the precise problem and it can be difficult to say -- is this student reaching her full potential.
I can remember thinking this when she was learning to read and working with her with a phonics programme, even though she was reading far beyond her age. I had thought she was just a good guesser... Her then teacher was amazed at suddenly how much more solid she seemed. So perhaps it is just the re enforcement. The physical act of doing if you will.

I also learnt that private tutoring is expensive and if you look at the Rosetta stone in relation to the cost of a good private tutor, it works out to be a less expensive option. The key is getting the children to use it. Luckily it means going on the computer and so this is an incentive, plus the confidence grows. My daughter who before Christmas was about to give up on French and accept whatever grade she received is now determined to get an A. Little and often...

My youngest wants to take Spanish at GCSE. Unfortunately the high school is dropping the Russian option due to lack of qualified teaching staff as some of the teachers are retiring, so eventually we will get another Rosetta Stone. After my experience, I have become convert to the programme.
And in case Donna or Sue are wondering -- yes I am working on my wip.
And my son felt his first resits went well. We shall see...Certainly the effort he put in has been far greater.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


What is worse than going through resitting exams yourself? Watching one of your children do it.
My eldest more than likely did not study as well as he should have done for his AS levels last June and is now resitting some of the exams. He has spent hours studying and does admit that he knows it much better, but I still worry. The exams start today and go over the next week or so. Fingers majorly crossed.
High school over in the UK is very different than the US as you do have the GCSE and then the A levels. In the US, it is grade point average and SATS. Here it is how well you have done on the course. Luckily with AS, there is a chance to resit the exam but it does add an extra work load...
One other thing I discovered this week is that BEFORE choosing GCSE courses, parents and students should investigate the university degree courses and their requirements. Several of my eldest's friends were rejected from Edinburgh because they had not read the fine print and did not know that they needed to have a foreign language GCSE. Because I believe in the importance in being able to speak a foreign language (however badly), it was a given for my children, but there will be students (and parents) who did not realize the importance of continuing with a foreign language. Many of the Scottish university science courses have a year abroad programme in an EU country. It is all about keeping your options open.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

reader feedback

I was very pleased to discover in my post yesterday morning an email from Coffeetime Romance about Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife. I have a lot of time for Coffeetime and their policy (along with several other review places) of sending the author the review is a good one. It makes it easier for me to send the review to my editors. The part that did my ego good was: Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife has all the greatness that surrounds an excellent read. The dynamic characters really light up the pages with their actions and emotions – reaching out and grabbing the reader, pulling them into the drama. Michelle Styles pens a terrific mesmerizing tale. Sela is a powerful character who grows more forceful as the story continues. With great pacing, a star-studded cast, and well-crafted plot, this story is awesome. There were times I could visualize the whole events as they came into play, especially the scenes with Sela and Vikar. Weaving in the ailing father, and the small child, really made this story dynamite. Action-packed, with intriguing romance, and energy charged moments, left this reader wanting more of this dazzling read..

I also recently had a review from Merri about Gladiator's Honour. Again it made my day and made me remember why I loved writing that book. Merri has recently started another review hub -- Book Illuminations. It is the bring together of several independent book reviewers so that they can review a wider range of books. I wish them all the best in their endeavor.

I love getting reader feedback. It is great to know that there are readers out there enjoying my books. I always try to pass on the reader feedback to my editors as well as they are always interested. With series books, a certain amount of sales are automatic, and they do like to know which stories hit home etc. It helps with future marketing. In fact, Harlequin Mills &Boon maintains special panels of readers in order to get feedback and so they can market the books better.
Sometimes after reading the letters, I worry about the next book -- will it be strong enough. Will it give the read that readers expect when they pick up the book? Will they be able to escape in the world I have created for a few hours? And the letters do spur me on to try. Other times, I just bask in the fact that the hard work has paid off. Also I am not so egotistical to think that my books will speak to everyone. So many factors can go into whether or not a book appeals. It is also interesting to see what people pick up on...
Anyway I do always to try answer emails or even personal letters.

The problem with the electric has come back and I will have to get the electrician out again. This time, the hall lights have not blown, but they do keep blowing the mains if switched on. Rather worrying that.

And I am starting to lose weight again. It takes a long time but indoor rowing does work, plus we have not been having as many treats. It is all about lifestyle changes rather than dieting. One of the things I have been doing with the intervals is one quick interval followed by a slower one. It does make legs become jelly but I think it works. Apparently it burns two different types of sugar. The other good thing about rowing is that afterwards, my core temperature stays up for awhile and as we are in the dark cold days of winter, this is a bonus.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Working away

In an effort to divert Donna's attention, I have done a contest on Tote Bags. And for Sue, I sent her three chapters. But they both carry mean whips so I am working away, writing this wip.
Actually I am having fun writing.

The Telegraph today (pages 10-11 Review) carries an article about the publishing industry, implying that it is not all doom and gloom. Generally speaking for most people, books are not luxuries but necessities. Yes, second hand booksellers are up but certain types of books are not down as far as one might suppose. The charts editor for The Bookseller apparently discovered his reasonable remarks about the non death of the celebrity memoirs, being edited out in favour of the high profile flops so that more doom and gloom could be spread.

Unfortunately I could not discover the article on the Telegraph's website or I would have linked to it as it is interesting.In fiction, the general thinking is that depressing is out and escapism is in. During the 1970's genres such as romance and fantasy thrived. In the 1930s, Penguin pioneered the paperback and cosy detective fiction was popular. Helen Fraser of Penguin points out that unfortunately the price of paper is going up, but they are hoping to offset with the cost of typesetting going down. She does not see this as heralding the dawn of the e-book though.
I have done a lot of thinking about ebook readers and whether to get one or not. I dislike reading books on the computer. My major problem with them (besides the expense) is the lack of being able to share. My dd and I both read romance. I often have to go and fish the books I thought I was reading out of her room. She may have her nose in one, with another ready to read. With an ebook reader, you can only be reading one book at a time on the reader and you can not share the books between readers. With the mysteries, up to four people in the house may be reading them( My youngest is currently gone on polar exploration. ) So for me and my family, it does not make sense as we share books.
A friend who I was speaking to about this problem also commented that she liked to bump into books -- so she had a book on the go upstairs and one for downstairs. Carrying a reader around seemed somehow premeditated and she would lose that guilty pleasure...
Anyway, the best guess is that e-books will reach the size of the audible book market in about five years time. They are a niche market.

Right, Donna's whip is going to be looming and I have promised chapters, so I shall work.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Whip cracking

Both of my critique partners have cracked their whips, so this will be short.

I have discovered the Mira blog where they will be discussing books on Fridays. Five books, five Fridays. One of the things I did last year was to help set up a reading group at the local high school and Mills & Boon were very supportive. They very kindly sent out a few copies of Maria V Snyder's Poison Study. After reading it, I became a firm fan as has my daughter and a number of Year 9 boys. Anyway, the discussion about Poison Study on the Mira blog will be next Friday. It is one of those books that after reading, you just want to discuss. Snyder plays around with a number of themes. And my daughter keeps reminding me that Fire Study is published on the 16th and we are waiting to see how various things such as the carved stones play into the overarching story. Also the contrasting societies which explores the whole concept of freedom and totalitarianism. It reminds me of Persian Empire v the Greek democracies -- where were people more truly free?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Moles don't hibernate

I gave the mole a reprieve over Christmas as he sent a card via my dh. I even thought the cold weather would mean hibernation. No, he has continued to dig mole hills. I do have the number of the mole catcher. He will be phoned as the back lawn is now a series of excavated hills. I have bought my dh a stuffed mole as they do far less damage...

Melissa from the Romance Reader Connection did a lovely review of Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife which I got to see this morning. TRRC has just revamped its website and it looks great! Instead of having an author of the month, they have a new blog where authors will be appearing. Anyway, I do enjoy TRRC so I wish them all the best.

The part I liked best about Melissa's review was: The depth of characterization combine with the scope of the story and provide the reader with a profoundly rich historical romance experience not always found in the Harlequin Historical line. The author has quite a flair for strong females as well as noble and compelling heroes, each character right for their time and space.

It quite made my morning!

And as I haven't mentioned it -- Philip Glenister who did provide the inspiration for the hero of Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife has a new tv show out -- Demons. His accent is somewhere over the mid Atlantic, but he is supposed to be an American mentor to an English high school student who has a talent for fighting demons. Wonderful Saturday night fare for the entire family. Or at least my family enjoyed it.
It will be interesting to see how the characters grow and develop and the mythology used. Yes, I know that Buffy the Vampire Slayer etc has gone before, but hopefully they will be able to take this new directions. Actually as I do rate Philip Glenister as an actor, I think they will be able to. It is just going to take time for the relationship between the two main protagonists to grow. Part of the thing that carries a tv series like this is the relationship and conflicts between the characters. It is what brings people back.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Harlequin is 60

This year it is Harlequin's turn to celebrate!
Celebrations include the opportunity to download 16 free books. This opportunity may be limited to North American readers only. But it will include one book from each line. (None of mine though) The ones I have heard about are excellent choices.
There will be an exhibit of front covers at the end of May in New York.
There will also be reprints of the first series books by best selling authors. This should be a highly collectable series.
A variety of lines are planning special things as well.
IN other news, I would like to congratulate Kate Hardy, India Grey, Jessica Hart and Fiona Harper for making the shortlist of the RNA Romance.
And Mills & Boon's tie up with English Rugby made the front page of the Guardian newspaper. My dh came up after Newsnight, and woke me up with the news. It looks to be a wonderful continuity based around rugby and attempts to tap into the female rugby following. Having played rugby at university and indeed married a man that I met through the rugby scene, I do have a fondness for the game. Be sure to look out for India Grey's contribution.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Bee History

For Christmas, my sister gave me an absolutely fascinating book on the honeybee -- Sweetness and Light, the mysterious history of the honeybee by Hattie Ellis.

It was amusing as the book was inspired by a visit to the Chain Bridge Honey farm in North Northmberland and my sister found the book near her home in the US.

The book is a treasure trove of snippets about bees as Ellis blends natural history, history, religious symbolism, literature and biology. It was first published in 2004 and so does not touch on CCD (colony collapse disorder) but does deal with the problems of the varroa mite and some of the other difficulties that the modern bee keeper faces.

It needs to be remembered that modern bee keeping, with its movable frames and recognition of the bee space and bee line only dates from the mid 19th century. We really do not know if beekeeping on an industrial scale is truly possible over the very long term, or whether bees are better as a cottage industry. The one very good advance is that bee keepers no longer kill bees to get honey and that honey can be extracted by centrifugal force. The extraction of honey came about when an Austrian army officer noticed what happened when his son played with a bit of comb, and a pail on a string. Before this, the comb had to drip through a cloth and be squeezed.

Until reading the book, I had not realised that neither Australia, New Zealand nor North America had native honey bees who existed in hives. Australia had solitary bees. American Indians called honey bees -- the white man's fly.

I found it very interesting that John Harbison brought the honey bee to California, and basically created the California honey industry. He was also responsible for inventing a process so small squares of honeycomb could be harvested and sold. Growing up, I can remember my mother buying squares of honeycomb in the super market. In the UK, you do not tend to find honey comb on sale in that fashion.

What was also interesting was the changing perception of bees. From its very high status in religion to a symbol for industrialisation and disaffection, and finally once again to the idea that the bee is in fact natural and part of nature. And that honey, particularly local honey which has not been heat treated is useful in treating a number of ailments and diseases. The Greeks believed oil on the outside (remember there was no soap) and honey on the inside did much to promote health.
Anyway, it was a totally charming read where the subject matter is not presented in an overly technical matter.

Saturday, January 03, 2009


One of the things I have been doing over the holidays is to make beeswax candles. I had not used up the beeswax from this year's harvest, and we were getting low on candles. There is a certain amount of satisfaction in making candles. Melting beeswax releases a wonderful perfumed scent and its fun to pour the wax into the mould and then the heart stopping moment when you know the candle is set but perhaps not quite ready to come out but you are going to try any way. Soft warm wax is very tactile.
I only managed to ruin one candle this year, and the wax was easily remelted.
It is a timeless process. Beeswax has been used since time immemorial, just as honey has. Cave pictures have included honey/beeswax hunting representations. However, it was not until the mid 19th century that modern beekeeping was born.
Until the invention of whale oil and then paraffin, beeswax was the clearest light. It does not smoke like tallow. Its light though is yellower than the white-blue of paraffin. And when it burns, beeswax releases the most wonderful scent.
I tend to make taper candles as they fit into the candle holders.
Beeswax is also used in a number of products from cosmetics to furniture polish. The cleanest wax from commercial beekeepers tends to cosmetics and the worst for furniture polish.
Because the bee uses the very efficient hexagonal shape, it does not produce much wax and pound for pound, beeswax is more expensive than honey.
Anyway, when I look at my candles and my store of honey, I am very pleased to keep bees. It is a worthwhile hobby and hopefully one which will grow in popularity. However, despite bees being one of the most studied creatures through history, we actually do not know that much about them and the dangers the modern world/chemicals/practices present.