Monday, December 28, 2009

Game Plan

The last week has truly felt like a holiday, even though I haven't taken any leave from the day job. This is thanks to the sunny, warm weather we've enjoyed here in Johannesburg, long days spent beside the swimming pool, and the fact that I haven't written a word for a week.

In the meantime, my new story and characters have been sitting in the back of my head, quietly letting me get to know them. In the first week of January I'll start putting words on paper again and I've decided to do my own mini-Nano in January and February to write and polish this manuscript. I'm giving myself three months to send off a partial to 'my' editor at Mills & Boon. Which is going to be complicated by the massive job that has just come in at work and which will include lots of travel, but as the saying goes: where there's a will, there's a way. Thanks to Nanowrimo 2009 I know I can do it.

Roll on 2010 ...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Season's Greetings

Best wishes for the holiday season to everyone out there in Blog-land. Whether you're celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah or the Solstice, summer or winter, I hope you enjoy a glorious week!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Contest Feedback

This will be a very brief post because I've got to be up early tomorrow to be on set for the LG film shoot.

I got personalised feedback from the contest! The editor said she loved the intensity of my voice, my dialogue and my hero, but she also pointed out the weaknesses in my contest entry (namely the cliched setting, and the fact that I committed Sin #6 - see here). So she doesn't want to see more of this manuscript, but she has asked me to send my next partial for her attention. Whoopee, I'm out of the slush pile!

So "The Prince's Secret Mistress" has been filed away in File 13 and now I need to decide whether to re-look "The Playboy Duke's Reluctant Bride" (which I received a luke-warm critique on through the RNA New Writers' Scheme) or whether to hurry up and write something completely new.

A wise friend (thanks, Mandy!) has advised that I take a little holiday from writing until after Christmas, then make my decision. I'm going to do just that.

But right now I'm going to sleep. Good night, all!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Work is kicking my butt at the moment

This is only the second time in my career in advertising that I've had a shoot this close to Christmas. On Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th December we'll be filming a TV ad for LG South Africa, so this blog is likely to stay quiet until then.


In advance, congratulations to the winner and runners-up in the Harlequin Presents 2009 contest, whoever they may be, and both commiserations and congratulations to everyone else who entered. You took a big step and got your work before an editor, and that's what counts. Here's hoping you all get requests from this contest!

Friday, December 4, 2009

A little light inspiration

Just because it's a hot and sunny Friday afternoon (and nothing at all to do with the fact that I have nothing to say), today's blog post is nothing more than a couple of inspiring pictures taken during my September trip to the Greek island of Corfu.


This is how the other half live ... or more specifically, the other 0.05% who don't have to work for a living ...those billionaire heroes we all love.


Mandy: I hope that after looking at these, the word counts for your Greek hero start to climb!

Monday, November 30, 2009

I'm a winner!


I'd rather be writing these words in relation to the Harlequin Presents contest, but for now I'll be happy that I've won Nanowrimo 2009.

Congratulations to everyone who attempted Nano this year. You're a winner just for trying and every word you wrote is a word more than you had 30 days ago, whether you achieved your goal or not.

Now roll on the edits!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Dirty Drafts

I notice that some writers call their first drafts 'dirty' drafts and I'm starting to understand why. I'm so close to the end of this first draft, with just the HEA left to write, that I should be dancing around with joy. I have a novel!

Or do I?

The bare bones are there, but the manuscript has gaping holes, weak spots and whole scenes where I'm not entirely sure what the scene's point is. I'm pretty sure the motivations are there, but sometimes they waver, a bit like a mirage.

I also have, as one of my CPs frequently points out, a tendency to write lots of short and rather unsatisfying love scenes. I need to consciously go back and add quality rather than quantity.

Then there's the fact that my heroine is a bit of a ballbreaker and needs to be made more sympathetic, and my hero is sometimes a little unloveable or doesn't behave like the true Alpha he is.

Dirty draft indeed. I can see its potential, but between real life, kids coughing all night, Nanowrimo and the Twilight saga, I'm so sleep deprived right now that I don't have the energy to even think about what I need to do to fix this.

So what fond name do you give your first draft?

Friday, November 20, 2009

More about kittens


Because I'm concentrating my writing efforts on Nano rather than on updating this blog, today's post is short and sweet, and all about the wild kittens living in our garden.



We haven't seen much of them all week, thanks to the wintry spell that hit Johannesburg on Monday and which has just gotten worse all week. Today, looking out at the constant rain and the solid grey-white sky, I could easily be in England rather than in Africa a month away from the midsummer solstice!


Monday, November 16, 2009

Twilight

Usually I prefer to read the book before I see the movie, but just this once I did it the other way round. In anticipation of the new movie coming out I decided to (finally!) read the books.

I loved the movie version of Twilight, struck by its passion and intensity ... but the book is even better. My Nano word count suffered a little as I read the book cover-to-cover this weekend, but it wasn't a loss because this morning I felt invigorated and my word count has started to soar once again. I feel as though I've finally captured the spark that's been missing in my current novel.

As a writer, there were two things I took away from Twilight.

The first is that writing a readable story is worth its weight in gold. Stephenie Meyer's story is gripping, but the reason I kept turning pages (PTQ, as Kate Walker refers to it) is that her writing is so easy to read. Not once was I pulled out of the story to wonder why she'd used a certain word or to think about her phrasing. I was hooked from beginning to end. The prose flowed seamlessly, as though she'd paid just enough attention, but not over-analysed. I sometimes think that aspiring writers, particularly in crit groups, tend to over-analyse, until the wording is correct but the heart is lost.

The second, and even more important, gem that I took away from reading this novel was its focus. The hero only makes his appearance on page 16. From that moment on, he is never off the page, even though the entire story is told in first person from the heroine's perspective. Even when the characters are not together, the focus is so strong that you're barely aware they're apart.

I've often heard it said that it's important in category romance to get the hero and heroine together as soon as possible on the page because these novels are so short. I discovered this weekend that it has absolutely nothing to do with the length of the novels, but with the intensity. At around 400 pages, Stephenie Meyer did not have to worry about condensing her love story into 50,000 words. She kept the focus on the hero and heroine so tight because that is what gives the book its passion.

And this is why I love category romance. Because unlike chick lit, which can meander in different directions with a mosaic of secondary characters and sub plots, I love the unrelenting passion of category romance. For the entire length of the novel, the writer focuses you on the spark between two people. What is truly awesome is that Stephenie Meyer, with so much happening in her novel, manages to keep that spark front and centre throughout.

Thank you Stephenie for writing a book that has given so much enjoyment, and for helping me to find the spark between my hero and heroine again. Now I'm going to get back to writing, and I think my treat for completing this first draft is going to be New Moon, the second book of the Twilight series.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Stray Kittens and Wild Roses

Over the week-end we discovered three gorgeous kittens living in our garden. The mother is a stray who lives at the school across the road, but she probably chose our garden as we're the only house on the block with no dogs. We think they're old enough to be weaning and they're already wild enough to hiss whenever we get too near.

We've decided to try to tame them while they're still young enough, but as I've only ever had domesticated cats before I'd appreciate advice on how to earn their trust. At the moment we're just letting them get used to us being around so they feel less threatened, and we're leaving out milk and food. Any other suggestions?

In writing news, this afternoon I finally sent off my revisions for Let's Misbehave to The Wild Rose Press, so I am now waiting on two submissions (counting the Presents contest as a sub!).
A huge thank you to all my CPs who have helped me get this far - you know who you are!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Nano Progress

No sterling results, but at least I've consistently managed to keep just ahead of the daily targets for the first three days. If I can just keep this up, and the day job doesn't suddenly spiral out of control, I should have a completed novel by the time Harlequin announces the winners of the 2009 Presents Contest. Is it just me or has a month never seemed like such an eternity before?

Friday, October 30, 2009

I did it!

With a fluttering in my stomach, I hit send on my contest entry for the 2009 Harlequin Presents / Modern Romance competition. Less than an hour later I had an acknowledgment of receipt.
So now it's done and there's nothing more I can do but wait.

Thank heavens NaNo starts on Sunday!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Euphoria

In my comments section this morning Amanda Holly mentioned joining me on the euphoria trip of getting stuff on your 'to do' list done. She is so right!

It feels so good to be in the flow of writing again, even if it is just polishing and critting. Each achievement, small as it may be on its own, adds to that feeling of euphoria and you feel so good you want to keep feeding it. So you do more and before you know it, you've ticked all the items on the agenda and have a smile on your face that even the shittiest of days can't erase. Now I just hope this feeling stays with me all through November!

Now come on all of you, flex those writing muscles. Do a little every day and soon you'll be in the flow too and sharing the euphoria. Bring on NaNo!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Week-end Progress

With NaNo rapidly approaching I've been feeling the pressure of all the things that need to be done to clear my plate. Happily, I ticked a lot of things of the to-do list this week-end.

  • My first chapter and synopsis for the Presents contest are now finished. Cutting it fine, but allowing a few days for crits before I hit 'send' on the entry.
  • The revisions for Let's Misbehave are done, though on the suggestion of my new crit partner I'm thinking of adding a scene or two to flesh out the story a little before I re-submit to Wild Rose Press at the end of this week.
  • As my on-line crit groups will see, I'm finally clearing that folder on my computer and putting in my two cents' worth.
  • And I even managed to read an entire novel this week-end! Fiona Harper's Invitation to the Boss' Ball, which was one of the best M&B Romances I've read in far too long.

Now if only the rest of my life were falling into line as the writing has done. Right now I feel like I'm on quicksand and my life is being dragged down into an abyss that is not of my own making. The only good thing I can take from the knocks I've had these last few days is that it'll make good fodder for conflict in some future novel ...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

RNA Feedback

A couple of days ago I received my feedback from the RNA New Writers' Scheme. The response was very timeous (8 weeks from acknowledgement of receipt) even though I submitted only just before the deadline.

I am extremely grateful for the opportunity offered by the RNA. The NWS is unique.

I have to admit however to being a little disappointed in the feedback I received. Three and a half pages in which my reader points out a lot of inconsistencies with the characters and the plot, and yet doesn't really mention the 'larger' issues (in my opinion) of structure, character conflict and writing technique.

The opening paragraph points out that my novel is not yet ready for a second read (and clearly therefore not for submission to a publisher either) but then doesn't really say why it wasn't good enough or point out where my writing needs improvement. Apart from some valid points about my hero's motivation and his attitudes towards the heroine, the majority of the comments appeared to be pointing out quite minor (again, in my opinion) inconsistencies. Such as that I had two characters both with names starting with the letter 'A' which would confuse lazier readers, or the hero's job title, or that it's unlikely the characters would take the route around London that I had them take.

Despite re-reading the report a few times I haven't yet found anything much that's positive to take away from it. My first impression was 'oh my goodness, it was so awful she couldn't find anything nice to say' and 'she had to point out these plot inconsistencies because my writing style is just too terrible to comment on'.

With a little distance, I've realised I may have overreacted a tad to start with. The fact that she hasn't commented on my writing voice or style (eg. POV shifts, showing vs telling, sagging middle, boring story etc) must mean that I have the basics okay. Though the little voice of doubt in my head then wonders why the novel wasn't worthy of a second read if these aspects were okay.

Anyhow, I have other priorities right now, so The Playboy Duke's Reluctant Bride is going to be put away in a drawer for a while. Once I've sent off my requested revisions to Wild Rose Press and completed NaNo, I'll dust off this manuscript, make the suggested changes and submit to Richmond, to take my chances with that slush pile once again.

P.S. Oh dear - and I nearly forgot that I have a Presents Contest entry to finish and polish!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Santorini

At last, the final instalment of my holiday in Greece ... the volcanic island of Santorini. The island is actually the 'lip' of an enormous volcanic crater and part encircles a massive caldera (the basin of the volcano, now filled by sea). At the heart of the caldera lie the two youngest landmasses of the Mediterranean. This picture below was taken on the larger of these two barren landmasses, looking towards Santorini:


Santorini is an incredibly popular tourist destination, but where Corfu was very much a family and package tour destination, Santorini attracts a different type of tourist - clearly the kind that has more money to spend because everything here was more expensive. Tavernas in Corfu add chips to every meal. Tavernas in Santorini create works of art.


The charm of Santorini is not its beaches, but rather the quaint pedestrian walkways, the awe-inspiring views and the blue-domed churches that epitomise Greece. White-washed villages cling to the rim of the volcanic crater, accessible to the harbours below only by hundreds of steps carved into the mountain side. At the capital, Thira (pronounced Fira), tourists can take the cable car or a donkey ride to reach the harbour at the cliff's base. We did both, to the kids' delight!


We stayed in the smaller town of Oia, famous for its sunsets. Words cannot describe the beauty of Oia (pronounced Ia). I'll just have to let the pictures speak for themselves ....



Saturday, October 3, 2009

Interrupting this travelogue to announce ....

Great news! While I was on holiday, I picked up an email from Wild Rose Press, asking for revisions on Let's Misbehave. My first ever revision request!

The revisions all make complete sense. They are mostly historical inaccuracies that need to be fixed, rather than writing issues, though the editor has asked me to make the POV shifts fewer and clearer. It's very clear what needs to be done - but that's still easier said than done.

The editor's letter was very positive and encouraging, and just reinforces everything I've heard about the wonderful people at Wild Rose. I so hope this story finds a home there ... and the next one ...

Now that I've done jumping up and down and celebrating with cheap Greek wine, I'm going to concentrate on my opening chapter for the Harlequin Presents contest and let these revisions stew in the back of my head. Then I need to knuckle down and complete them before Nano starts!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Corfu

I chose to visit Corfu to experience two things: the setting for Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals and the famous Corfiote beaches. I grew up in a seaside town and hated going to the beach - we looked down our noses at the tourists who flocked to the sea to do nothing but sit on the sand. Now I'm one of them!

I knew that Corfu is now a top package tourist destination and has become really built up. I also knew not to expect the island to still be anything like what it was in the 1930s when the Durrell family lived there. Even so, I wasn't quite prepared for the urban sprawl of Corfu Town. The run down buildings seemed to sweat in the heat. I was disappointed.


Our apartment was in a resort in the built-up town of Gouvia, with an amazing swimming pool but no real beach to speak of. The kids loved it. Gouvia itself was a little seedy, with empty shops and too much litter, but it had character and it was on all the major bus routes.

A day trip into Corfu Town revealed the charming old town, presided over by two Venetian fortresses. Narrow alleys, colourful shop windows, street cafes and horse drawn carriages ... this town is well worth a visit.

The town's charm lies in its lively atmosphere, grand Venetian architecture and leafy streets, and enables the visitor to overlook the dilapidated state of the buildings.


But the best thing about Corfu isn't the main town. It's the small villages and the lush vegetation that you find when you get away from the built-up areas. And the beaches. The best sandy beach we visited was at Paleokastritsa, a series of coves with dramatic slopes covered in trees dropping down to the crystal clear sea. The beach is shallow and the waves gentle, so it's ideal for kids. Boats take visitors to the sea caves that dot this section of coastline. Paleokastritsa is also so popular that the tourists busses arrive in droves.

My favourite place on Corfu, though, is without a doubt the quiet and unspoilt village of Kalami. And not only because it is the area immortalised by both the Durrell brothers.

Though the village now boasts dozens of holiday villas and several souvenir shops, you can still easily imagine how Kalami looked in the halcyon days of the 1930s. Perhaps it's because the village is at the base of a steep slope and not accessible to tour busses. Or perhaps it's the fact that the beach offers few boat excursions or water sports. Or the fact that the beach itself is made up of large pebbles and impossible to walk on without shoes. For me, all of these things are bonusses - and the best thing of all is that you don't get sand into everything!


At one end of Kalami beach lies The White House (pictured below), Laurence Durrell's former home and now a taverna that makes excellent seafood. I highly recommend the swordfish.


I left Corfu with a lovely brown tan, infinitely more relaxed and happy than I arrived. Our next stop was Santorini, perhaps one of Greece's most popular tourist destinations. But I was sad to leave Corfu. There was still so much of this island I hadn't yet seen and still so much of that lazy, friendly island life to soak up. Oh well, next time ....

Monday, September 28, 2009

What I love about Greece

For those who've requested pictures, you'll have to bear with me. I haven't got the digital pics from my husband yet and I still use a film camera, which means I need to get the negative processed, developed & scanned before I can share them with the world. I know it's old-fashioned but I just love the quality of real film!

Now here are the 5 main reasons I love Greece (and most particularly the Greek Islands). I know that one tends to experience a place differently when you're there on holiday, but I still think that if I had the means I'd move there tomorrow!

1. FRIENDLY. The Greeks are the friendliest nation. Everywhere we went people smiled and made conversation. And the Greeks love children. So many people chatted to my girls, patted their heads, offered them cakes and sweets ... not exactly what I want to encourage in this dangerous world, but in Greece you truly feel that it's well-intentioned.

2. EASY-GOING. Despite the legendary Mediterranean temperament, the Greeks are so laid-back. The atmosphere feels so unpressurised and relaxed (and I don't think it's just because I was on holiday and relaxed!). I never encountered any aggression while in Greece. Far from it. Considering the narrowness of the streets, drivers are incredibly patient with one another. I watched a bus waiting as a taxi dropped its passengers and luggage and the bus driver did not hoot once. Here in Johannesburg drivers are very quick to hoot - for example, if they think you haven't taken off quickly enough at a traffic light. I know that the metals in the earth here in Jo'burg add to the aggression levels, but the Greek Islands really are at the opposite extreme.

3. SAFETY & SECURITY. Coming from South Africa, it is a real novelty for me to be able to walk around the town streets alone at night and still feel safe. And theft seems to be almost unheard of. With the assurance of a local we once left all our towels and bags unattended on the beach while we went off to a taverna for lunch. It was all there when we got back. I would love to become trusting once again and lose that urban suspiciousness.

4. SUNSHINE. The sun in Greece has a wonderful golden quality to it, so different from the bright whiteness of our African sun. Rather than an intolerable heat that burns, the Greek sun turns the skin brown. And apart from a little rain and wind, we had amazing weather throughout. Let's face it: this is the Mediterranean. Even the winters are bearable in comparison with many other places on earth.

5. NO MALLS. What a great place to raise kids. There are no shopping malls and virtually no strip malls, at least on the islands I've visited so far. I actually watched as a group of kids gathered in the town square in Oia (Santorini) on a Friday night to play with a skipping rope and ride bikes. No getting dressed up in brand name gear to hang out at the mall, where drugs and predatory grown-ups abound.

Next post ... Corfu.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Heaven on Earth

I'll post more in the following days, with pictures, but for now I'm just popping in to say "hi". This deliciously long and lazy holiday is now nearing its end and I'll be back to the day job on Monday. In the meantime, I'm still feeling so relaxed and deeply contented thanks to my stay in paradise.

As much as I love travelling, I haven't really been to that many places. The only continents I've visited are Africa and Europe, unless the Arabian peninsula counts as one these days. So I guess I really should be visiting new places when the opportunity arises (which isn't every day when you have kids and live at the back end of nowhere, geographically speaking). But I'm so glad I've revisited Greece instead of exploring somewhere completely new.

Five years ago my husband and I honeymooned in the Greek Islands, and it was simple luck and the roll of a dice that we landed up here rather than Mozambique, Mauritius or Spain. Now I'd be quite happy never to visit any other place on earth, because Greece resonates with my soul.

My next blog post ... what I love about Greece.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Greece, here I come!

This will be my last post for a couple of weeks as I'm off to the Greek Islands for a very long-awaited holiday. One week at Oia on Santorini and then one week on the island of Corfu, which I've wanted to visit since I was a girl, thanks to Gerald Durrell's books.

For the first time in as long as I can remember I'm travelling without my laptop, so that I can have a real break. Right now I'm so exhausted I could cry. I absolutely cannot wait to get there so I can lie on the beach with a book or sit in a Greek cafe and sip a cocktail while watching the sun set.

I'll upload pics when I get back, but in the meantime here's a little something from the internet to whet my appetite (and yours!). This is where I'll be next week:


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

His name is Alexis Georgoulis


As a follow up to my previous post, this is the gorgeous Greek god of My Life in Ruins. I'm not a big fan of Greek heroes and have no foreseeable plans to write one, but this man could change my mind ....


Can you tell that I'm trying to get away with very little writing in my blog posts?


Monday, August 31, 2009

Chick Flicks

There are some really great movies for women (and all other hopeless romantics) on circuit at the moment.

The Proposal has received coverage this last week over at Pink Heart Society. Despite the fact that the cinema had awful sound (at least we got free movie tickets afterwards to make up for it!) I loved this movie. It's definitely one for the keeper collection, and Ryan Reynolds is very drool-worthy.

The other recent movie I saw is My Life in Ruins. We chose this for the simple reason that it's set in Greece and we're off on holiday this coming week-end to a Greek island. I'm so glad we did! The movie was fun, full of both laughs and sighs.
Early on in the movie I had a few concerns about the leading man. Could they have not found a good-looking Greek actor for the role? Then about half way through he emerges bare-chested from the sea and I thought "Okay, so that's why he got the part! But couldn't they have at least found someone with a prettier face?" Then in the final scene he appears in a suit and I just knew why he'd been cast in the role. Yummy!


Monday, August 24, 2009

My manuscript has arrived!

The Playboy Duke's Reluctant Bride has safely arrived with the organiser of the New Writers' Scheme. Whew! What with the deadline just a week away, and postal strikes both here in SA and in the UK, I was starting to get a little nervous.

In the meantime, I've been working on a number of projects: a new 'cute meet' for Date With Destiny, my latest 1920s historical and the synopsis of my next manuscript. All while trying hard not to think about my short story that's sitting with an editor at Wild Rose Press and which I've started to panic about: did I send it to the right line? Should I have targeted Scarlet Rose rather than Vintage Rose? OMG, I need a drink ....

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A good day

I feel like I actually achieved something yesterday. I critted several chapters for various crit partners and wrote 640 words on my historical short story. The word count may not seem impressive, but it feels so good to be writing something fresh again rather than just editing. I woke up tired this morning but with a smile on my face.

I'm interested to know what your average daily word counts are. Do you manage to write consistently every day, or just on days when the day job, family, other commitments allow it?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Website for SA Romance Writers

My friend Amanda and I have created a site for all writers (and readers) of romance in South Africa. Please pop in and take a look at www.romancewriters.co.za.

We hope that this site will become a community meeting place, so we welcome all feedback, ideas, suggestions - and articles on writing and book reviews.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

RNA submission packed and ready to go

The Playboy Duke's Reluctant Bride is now printed, packaged and sealed into its padded envelope, ready to be sent first thing in the morning. It's such a relief to have it done as I feel like I've edited this manuscript to death. Now I've just got to hope that the South African post office doesn't stuff up and mangle or lose the parcel. There are just 18 days left to the deadline, so I really don't want to find out a week or more from now that it's gone astray!

The timing is just right as I had a job confirm at the office today, so after more than a month sitting around, the day job will be swinging back into action and I need to give it at least a little attention. (Also, I really need the commission!). This is a two day shoot for BP and wouldn't you know it, the shoot overlaps with my planned holiday to Greece. Lucky I haven't confirmed those flights yet!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Ultimate Gift

Late one night recently I caught a delightful movie that I'd never heard of titled The Ultimate Gift, starring James Garner and Drew Fuller (better known for his role as Trevor Leblanc in Army Wives). Abigail Breslin, currently on screens in My Sister's Keeper, also appears.

The critics apparently panned this movie, but it's had huge success as a DVD and I can see why. It's one of those feel-good movies that also delivers a moral, has a romantic story, and leaves you thinking about your life afterwards. I cried through the entire second half of the movie (though maybe that was also due to the lateness of the hour!)

Jason (Drew Fuller) is a spoilt rich kid who stands to win a huge inheritance - but only if he first completes 12 tasks set for him by his late grandfather (James Garner). Each task is designed to teach him values: the value of money, of friendship, of family.

The movie left me wondering just what values I rate highest, and what I would like to pass on to my children. I think for me, honesty and respect would figure quite high on the list. What values do you rate highest?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Trilogy

I've been researching the region in which I've set the fictional principality for my next novel, The Prince's Secret Mistress, and got carried away putting together a fictional geography and history. This research lark is so much fun!

But as I've started to get to know the characters better, the Prince's two younger brothers have now started demanding books of their own. I think the only way to shut them up might be to put their stories down in synopsis form and hope they leave me alone long enough to get Phoenix and Max's story out of the way before Nano.

Being men, they're not that good at sharing information and I'm having a little difficulty discovering the name of their principality. I'm going to need some help, so I'll be dropping bits of intel here over the coming months and hopefully one of you loyal blog followers will be able to help me find the missing clue.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Dating the Rebel Tycoon

This is Ally Blake's July novel, published by Mills & Boon Romance. I seldom review books publicly, but this novel was just so awesome I have to share it with the world.

The reason I love the Romance line is that I tend to be more heroine-centred than hero-centred. I also have a strong preference for heroines who are feisty, mature and confident. I like the idea of heroines who've lived a little, such as Nina Harrington's heroine in Always the Bridesmaid, also this month from M&B. Ally Blake's heroine, Rosalind Harper, has her flaws. Like all of us she has doubts and insecurities, but she is also well educated, has a kick-ass profession (she's an astro-physicist!), is well-travelled, and best of all, she's sassy.

Of course I love a good hero, too. I understand their importance in a romance novel. But I'm going to confess: I don't often fall in love with them. I like them, I can see their attractions, but if I met most of them in real life I doubt I'd swoon over them. Cal is swoon-worthy. Here is a hero who can make my heart beat faster and fuel my fantasies. He's a true Alpha male - dominant, assertive, confident, but with none of the swagger or arrogance of a Modern hero. He's flawed too, but remains kind and warm throughout.

If I haven't already sold you on this novel, then maybe this will: this novel is a guaranteed feel-good read, written in a fun and flirty style. The snappy dialogue between the characters put a smile on my face, but the style is still more than that ... Ally Blake brings a lightness to this story that is reminiscent of chick lit while at the same time having all the emotional punch that the Romance line promises.

If I can some day produce a novel as vibrant, rich and un-put-downable as this one, I'll be happy.

Monday, July 27, 2009

All Quiet on the Southern Front

I would love to say that my life has been as quiet as this blog, but in fact the last three weeks have been an emotional roller coaster ride.

So much for thinking that my manuscript was done ... my on-line crit group picked up some major flaws in my final three chapters and I've had to dig deep and do some difficult re-writing. At last it looks like it might just be strong enough to withstand the RNA reader's scrutiny, but any hope I had of sending it off well in advance of the deadline is now well and truly shattered. But as one of my crit partners wisely said, it's better to be at the back of a long queue with a better novel than rush a weaker novel to the front of the queue.

These last few weeks have been difficult for me on the personal front, but I am truly humbled by the realisation that when you make hard decisions and experience tough times, life hands out unexpected gifts to help you cope. In my case, the unexpected gifts were courtesy of Nina Harrington and Wild Rose Press.

Nina Harrington (http://ninaharrington.wordpress.com) is Harlequin Romance's debut author. I entered a launch contest on her blog and actually won something! The bonus is that I really enjoyed her novel. Her heroine is different from the norm, with a whole life lived before her story even starts. If you enjoy Harlequin Romance, check out Always the Bridesmaid.

A couple of blog posts back I mentioned that I sent off an historical short story to Vintage Rose. I hadn't received the expected automated response, so I emailed again last week to check if it had been received. Almost immediately, I received a lovely email requesting that I re-submit - and just one day after I resubmitted, I received a request for the full manuscript.

I'm floating on air - not just because they're interested in Let's Misbehave, but also because of the charm with which they replied to me. I'm really happy I chose this publisher, if they treat all queries with the same promptness and enthusiasm.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Finished


Another late night, but tonight as I finally close the laptop, I have the satisfaction of knowing that "The Playboy Duke's Reluctant Bride" is done. It's now in the hands of my crit group and then the RNA. Time to let go.

Unexpectedly, I'm heading off tomorrow for a week-end in the bushveld. Short though the break will be, I can't wait to head somewhere a little warmer, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, somewhere I can breathe fresh air and listen to the silence. Not quite as exciting as being at the RNA conference this week-end, but the trip will go a long way to easing my regret.

Have a great week-end everyone!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I've hit Send!

This afternoon I submitted the 1920s short story I wrote last year to Wild Rose Press. Another wait begins.

So far this story has been rejected by Harlequin's Historical Undone (for which it was written) and by Samhain Publishing. I'm hoping the old saying 'third time lucky' holds true.

I was planning to only send it after I'd mailed off my full manuscript to the RNA, which is a much bigger deal as it requires so much more effort than just hitting send on an email (if only!) but somehow today just felt like a good day.

The deed is done.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Progress

I'm exhausted.

What do you give up first when you want to be a published writer but need your day job? Sleep! It wouldn't be so bad if only my girls would also sleep for the same 6 hours that I do, but no, between the two of them I'm awake every hour on the hour.

Happily the long hours spent on my novel this past week are paying off. I've received crits and done some editing, finally got over the hurdle of the black moment, and all I have left is 1,300 words in my final chapter and it will be DONE.

My intention is to mail this manuscript off to the RNA before 15th July. Then I plan to take a holiday from writing long enough to catch up on some sleep. Pure bliss! I can hardly wait.

Now if only the weather would warm up, I'd be really happy. It is so freezing cold at the moment. Winter takes South Africa by surprise by winter every year and we suffer for it. Then again, why bother to install central heating for the one month of the year that it is so bitterly cold?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I'm published!

Those who follow this blog might remember my excitement and disappointment a couple of months ago when a short story I entered in a contest (run by local Essentials magazine and Mills & Boon) first made the Top 20, but then didn't win.

So I was very surprised today to get a message via Facebook from someone who'd read my story in the latest edition of Essentials!

It is so amazing to see my writing in print (though there was one misprint) and I'm hoping this is the start of great things to come ...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Winter Solstice

Tonight is the longest night of the winter and from tomorrow we start heading back towards summer. Just as well, as my skin has already had enough of this cold, dry highveld air.

It was also Fathers' Day today so we went out for lunch and enjoyed the lovely winter sunshine sipping Pimms fruit cocktails while the girls ran wild in the playground. A pleasant solstice weekend, yet I'm feeling such guilt in anticipation of going back to the day job tomorrow. Because I did absolutely no writing at all the whole weekend - not even the many crits I've got saved and ready on my computer.

I'm a working mom so guilt is an everyday feature in my life. I can handle this. I've just got to get the guilt working for me! Roll on the new week, and roll on the summer.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Quick update

We had a public holiday in South Africa today and I spent it as I wish I could spend every day. In the morning I met with my local writing group for breakfast and a writing session, I spent the afternoon with my daughters and the evening after the girls fell asleep editing an earlier chapter.

Unfortunately it was just one day. Tomorrow it's back to the grind stone and the day job is becoming a little more demanding of my time as I have a shoot at the end of next week. At least this one is local.

The progress has been slow but I'm finally within sight of the end. Chapters Eleven and Thirteen still need tweaking and in the meantime I'm sending the completed chapters out to my online crit group. That RNA deadline is looming and I plan to beat it.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Blinding Insight

You know how, in that magical moment of time just before you fall asleep, you suddenly think of the most incredible plot developments and dialogue? Or you get a sudden insight into something and with your half-asleep brain wonder if you'll remember it in the morning?
I had an incredible lightbulb moment at 1am this morning.

My brother and I are very different people. With an age gap of 5 years, living half a world apart, him being male and me female, and him having a Doctorate in Quantum Physics and me being a university drop-out, on the surface we have very little in common. But there are odd moments when you can tell we were raised by the same parents.

My brother is President of Software Freedom International, a non-profit organisation that promotes free software for all. I'm virtually computer illiterate so you might be wondering how this shows how alike we are ... I'm getting there. I will make the point eventually ...

I am a great believer in giving people access to information, and nurturing and developing people. This is one of the reasons why I love eHarlequin and the romance writing community in general. There are so many great writers who give back to their community. However, I live in a country where writing is a very solitary occupation. There are no organisations to join, no conferences to attend, and very little in the way of support or encouragement. To the best of my knowledge, there is one company that provides writing workshops - but they do it solely as a business and their fees are steep.

So if my brother can make the effort to bring free software to developing nations, I think I can make the effort to make information and support available to all romance writers in this developing nation.

Do you belong to any form of writing association? What benefits do you make most use of and what features would you most want from a writing organisation?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Nervous Insecurity

On the radio recently I heard a piece about the composer Sergei Rachmaninov. Apparently, just before he composed his Symphony No. 2 in C Minor (one of my favourite pieces of classical music) he suffered from something known as “Nervous Insecurity” which prevented him from composing. He dedicated this symphony to the hypno-therapist who helped him get over it.

In writing terms we call it “Writer’s Block”. I think I prefer the musical term because let’s face it, that is exactly what happens when we get writer’s block. Our insecurity keeps us from writing.

I find a lot of hope in this story. After overcoming his block Rachmaninov went on to write perhaps the greatest piece of music of his career. May we all have such luck when we overcome our insecurities.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Lesson Learned

Until now, whenever I've hit a blank in my novel, I've jumped ahead to another scene and written that instead. That's how I keep myself interested in what I'm writing.

I've now discovered a flaw in this.

For the last week, I've had only about 4,000 words to go on my wip. I've been writing about 1,500 per day all week, and I still have 4,000 words to go. Why?

Because as I write, subtle elements change and suddenly whole scenes I'd written previously just don't work anymore. I've deleted just as much this past week as I've actually written. The story feels stronger, but I'd have saved a great deal of effort if I'd written this in a linear fashion.

From now on I'm taking Jackie Ashenden's advice. If I get stuck or bored with a story, I'm going to 'jump' to a completely different manuscript instead of jumping around inside the same one.

It's just been a demoralising way to learn the lesson.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

99% Hard Work, 1% Inspiration

Don't under-estimate that inspiration. It can move mountains.

As anyone following this blog knows, my word counter has been static for far too long. I hit a bit of a wall towards the end of the middle section. I'd written the end, but somehow the transition from (sagging) middle to Happy Ever After eluded me.

That's where the Hard Work bit comes in. With my husband out of town on business the last few nights I've sat in bed every evening with the laptop in my lap and forced myself to write. It was a slog. The words came very slowly. Then at about 11pm on Tuesday night the hard work paid off. It was like a veil lifting. Suddenly I could see clearly. I knew what I had to write. Inspiration had struck.

Alternatively, it might just be that I was already so exhausted at that point that my characters took over writing their story and did a much better job at telling their story than I was doing. Either way, I'm not complaining. Even though the changes meant I had to delete an entire scene, the word counter is finally moving again.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A rose by any other name

I know I should be thinking about my current novel, not the next one. But that would make this blog way too dull. So to liven things up around here, I'm going to hold a vote to look for a suitable name for my new hero.

He's a European prince who has lived in the States for several years. He's fun and easy-going and adventurous. Now he has to give up his nice life of freedom to return to his duties in the principality, which lies between France, Germany and Switzerland, so names that suit any of those cultures are ideal.

I love the name Sebastian, but used it for the hero of an erotic short story I wrote last year, and though the characters are poles apart, I'd like this one to stand alone. Anyone have any thoughts?

Here are the options up for vote:
A - Sebastian
B - Christian
C - Tristan
D - Fredrik (Rick)
E - Nicholas (Nick)
F - Any other suggestions?

And this is the inspiration for my prince...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Revisions

I have finally waded through all the comments from my wonderful on-line crit group and am doing revisions on the first three chapters of my wip. Already the story feels so much stronger.

To my inexperienced mind they almost feel polished enough to submit. But as I'm submitting to the RNA's New Writers' Scheme rather than HMB, three chapters is just a drop in the bucket. Is that a whip I hear cracking?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

RNA Conference

With great reluctance I've finally decided that I won't be going to this year's RNA conference in Cumbria. I was really excited about going, especially as I'd planned to couple it with my sister-in-law's birthday party and a visit with my oldest and dearest friend.

But as much as I really want to go, even I have to admit it would be supremely selfish of me to leave my kids for yet another 10 days, having already been away from them twice this year for work.

I keep reminding myself that there will be another conference next year. And my dearest friend will be visiting South Africa in June for the Lions tour, so I won't be missing too much. I will just have to satisfy my curiosity by devouring every blog post I can find by anyone who attends this year's conference (hint, hint).

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Back in business

I'm back home and mostly recovered from last week's film shoot, so now it's back to business. It seems I've been missing some interesting conversations on various blogs and forums that I need to catch up on.

My self-imposed deadlines are all looming so I really need to make a final push to finish the wip. Problem is, I'm bored with it already and want to move on to the next one. First step I think is to go back and re-read all that advice I received a while back on how to fall in love with your story once again.

I know this is not the most exciting blog post ever, so to spice it up, here's the setting of my current scene, courtesy of the website of Adventure Balloons in the UK:

Friday, May 8, 2009

One more sleep

Just one more 'sleep' and I will be home with my babies! As a writer, I should be able to put my emotions into words, but I can't.

I've worked such long hours these last two weeks that I haven't really had time to spare on missing them. But now, knowing that by lunch-time tomorrow I am quite literally going to be holding them in my arms, I just cannot wait.

Right now I am doing everything else but the one most important thing, which is working on my novel. In this last week I have only written the grand total of 2,000 words.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Have you ever?!

I've done long shoots before. I've done some very long shoots before. But this one takes the cake.
Six shots in 13 hours is not good going, especially when the shots are not that complicated. (A usual 14 hour day is good for at least 10 or 12 setups.) I like this wine farm, but not enough to do a 24 hour day and still have to drive an hour to get back to my bed, and certainly not enough to watch my profit share being haemorraged away on overtime.
Thanks for letting me rant.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Atlantic Marina

This is where I'm currently staying in Cape Town. My apartment is in the building on the extreme right of this picture.

The entire complex is high security, ultra modern luxury. Each apartment has views over the marina and each building has a penthouse apartment. There are gardens and pools and walkways everywhere. Definitely a location that inspires romantic fantasy.






And this is the view from my colleague's apartment:

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Smiling again

Today is the first day since I arrived in Cape Town that I haven't worked a full day. I managed to sit out for an hour or so this evening on my balcony overlooking the marina and watch the sunset as I hammered away at the keyboard. And the words just flowed!

1,256 words in just a little over an hour. I sincerely hope that means the drought is over and my creative juices are flowing again. I feel pumped enough to keep going but unfortunately I'm expected to do dinner out with the clients tonight.

Please keep all fingers and toes crossed that the words keep flowing all week. I just might crack the end of this first draft if I can keep it up until then. And I'm sending an even bigger prayer skywards that this ad shoot runs without a glitch so that I can turn my attention to James and Ally's Happy Ever After.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

AWOL again

Anyone who follows this blog will know that I've been unusually quiet. Simply, it's because I'm back in Cape Town and working silly hours. Next week we're shooting cheese commercials for Europe.

The apartment I'm staying in this time around is simply amazing. The buildings are modern and stylish, with views over the yachts in the marina. It is the ideal location to set a Harlequin Romance. So far I haven't seen much of the place in daylight, but I plan to take a few photos before I leave and I'll try to upload them here for everyone to have a drool ... all in the interests of writing of course (to get those creative juices flowing).

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

It's been a very long time since I last read anything other than category romance, but I finally pulled this one from my TBR pile and I'm so glad I did.

This book was written by Swedish journalist, Stieg Larsson, the first in a trilogy that has taken the world by storm. Sadly, Stieg Larsson died young and never lived to see the phenomenon his books have become.

The story starts slowly. The various characters are introduced, the premises are set up and the reader settles into the pace as the book unwinds. The novel was very different from what I'm used to: emotion and passion are noticeably absent, and the writing style has a factual, journalistic quality to it. Nevertheless, the story is gripping, especially in the final third when the plot starts to take unexpected twists.

Mikael Blomkvist is a disgraced journalist hired by an elderly corporate legend to solve a mystery. Aided by a fascinating anti-heroine, the girl with the dragon tattoo, Blomkvist investigates the disappearance 40 years previously of teenager Harriet Vanger from an island sealed off from the rest of the world.

I'm happy to say that I solved the mystery early on, which is somewhat unusual for me. But that did not detract at all from the tension and thrill of the novel and its absorbing characters. There were twists I did not foresee, and a dark Val McDermid-style thread running through the story. These layers make this book an awesome read. I can't wait to get my hands on the next in the trilogy.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Ups and Downs

Thanks to a cold, I've been feeling down all week-end. Not the best frame of mind to pick up the May issue of Essentials magazine to discover that I didn't win their writing contest. In fact, I didn't even make runner-up.

Part of me is saying "Cheer up; at least you made the top 20 shortlist." That same part reasons that it's only a short story of 1,500 words and maybe short stories just aren't my thing.
A rather louder voice in my head is saying that maybe my writing is just crap and there are many others who write better than I do. I've consumed rather a lot of Haagen-Dasz Belgian chocolate ice cream in an attempt to silence that voice. Lucky for me, the ice cream is working.

On the plus side, my company has bought me a brand new laptop to work on. It's very nice but I can't get too comfortable yet as one of the bosses is now toying with taking this new one and letting me have hers. In the meantime, I've taken Jackie's advice and started re-reading my manuscript. And she was so right - I'm rediscovering my passion for it. Though the new story is burning to be told, I've written a rough synopsis for it and gone back to the WIP. So far I have 6 chapters I'm pretty happy with, three of which I've circulated to my crit group. I plan to keep on editing in the hopes that as I go along I'll see clearly how to tie up the ending.

Now more than ever, with this fresh rejection pushing me, I want to finish this manuscript and send it off to the RNA. I need a fresh and objective opinion to tell me if the voice in my head is right or wrong.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Falling in love again

I really should be concentrating on the current novel. The one that is so close and yet so far. And yet I can't stop thinking about a new heroine I really want to write. I'm falling in love with the idea of a 'rock chick' heroine - a tough, kick-ass modern woman who needs nothing or no-one - or so she thinks.

She doesn't quite fit any of the stories I've been toying with writing next, which means I might need to come up with a completely new story just for her. Is this just another excuse to procrastinate rather than write?
Probably, but it sure is fun!

Meanwhile, the WIP is suffering from the Seven Year Itch. Does anyone have any bright ideas on how to recapture the romance for a story that's nearing its end?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Marigold

Flicking through 101 TV channels with nothing on, I stumbled across this delightful Bollywood movie. If you can find it, I highly recommend it - especially if (like me) you love a bit of song and dance and some heart-warming romance.

Marigold is an obnoxious Hollywood actress who arrives in India to make a movie, only to discover that the film has been cancelled and she is stranded. She gets a job starring in a Bollywood movie and so begins a journey of discovery. The Indian hero has all the conflict and intensity of the true romantic hero, and I can really understand why Harlequin is doing a drive for stories set in India if this is the type of feel-good romance they produce.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A blessed Pesach and Easter

My brother & sister-in-law will be arriving in Johannesburg tomorrow and spending four lovely days with us. It's been a little more than a year since we last saw them (they live in Cambridge, in the UK) and heaven only knows when we'll see them again, as they're moving to Hong Kong in a few months (at the time of the RNA conference) so I plan to make the most of this week-end ... and for once that doesn't mean writing.

To everyone out there: have a wonderful long week-end break and a festive Pesach / Easter - and lots of chocolate!

Monday, April 6, 2009

A fresh start

Cranio-sacral therapy is amazing.

I have absolutely no idea how it works, except that it has something to do with the energy fields of the body - but it works! I met the therapist through my daughter's Moms & Tots group and started seeing her a couple of months ago because I was continually falling asleep with the kids at about 8pm and still waking tired the next morning. My energy problems have been sorted. (At least I no longer wake feeling like a zombie.) For a few weeks before the laptop crashed I was even waking earlier than usual to get some writing in before work.

Some sessions are just really relaxing. Others (like the one I had on Friday) are really intense. You learn things about yourself that you know, but never wanted to face. Your eyes are opened to things that are really obvious, but which you hadn't you noticed before. My Friday session ended with the therapist asking me "What are you afraid of?"

Then she went on to tell me that the reason I haven't been writing recently has nothing to do with technology failures and everything to do with me holding back out of fear. So what is it I'm afraid of? It's taken me a day or two to identify that I have a fear of not being good enough. Acknowledging that has set off all sorts of lightbulbs in my head. I don't intend to give in to it.

Today is a fresh start. From now on I plan to repeat this mantra every day: "I am good enough. I will be published. I can do it." Or in other words, "I think I can. I think I can."

On a completey separate note, Laptop 4 crashed and died on me last week. I am currently back on Laptop 3 which is only temporarily on loan to me. The good news is that my Executive Producer insisted the company buys a new laptop for my use. Hopefully within the week I can install all my back-ups, start a new email history and get my life back in order.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Another week, another laptop

There are so many interesting things I could blog about. The fact that I attended my 20th year high school reunion on the week-end. Or that after 3-4 weeks of not writing, my characters have become strangers and I'm struggling to remember their names let alone feeling able to write their story. Or that even though my youngest has been saying the word "Mommy" for nearly three weeks, it still makes my heart skip every time she says it.

I could blog about all these things.

But really all I want to do is have another whinge about how technology has failed me yet again. The powers-that-be at work decided to take away the Mac I had last week and replace it with another Acer laptop. My fourth laptop in as many weeks. This one is second-hand too, but seemingly in good working order. And it feels a lot more familiar than the Mac, so I work quicker on it. And it's a Ferrari model, which really should make me happy.

But I'm very far from happy.

I've just discovered that the archiving the previous IT whizz did on my email program actually didn't work. I've been merrily looking forward to recovering the last 6 years of data, only to discover that it is unrecoverable. And now I've even lost last week's emails, so for the third time I'm starting with a blank slate. Which is not as pleasant as it sounds. I'm just beginning to realise how much of my life, both work and personal, is conducted via email.

So right now I am feeling completely unmotivated to do anything except surf the net. I'm going to catch up on reading everyone else's blogs and hope no-one out there mentions the word 'computer'.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Computer News

The powers-that-be at my day job have decided that I'm not worth a new computer, so I've been given a seond hand Macbook to use. Having never used a Mac before, my productivity has dropped dramatically.

As this is entirely a work computer, I've decided to keep it at the office and not to use it for my personal stuff, so my word counts are also going to drop until I can afford a new computer of my own. And the new one is going to stay my own. No more being carted to and from the office every day. No more being lugged onto film sets to get scratched and bumped and jolted around and powered by dodgy generators. And it's going to be hot pink.
(Rachael - thanks for the idea!)

At least I'm back in business and in touch with the outside world. The writing will follow soon enough because I firmly believe that where there's a will, there's a way.

Happy writing to all of you out there and may your technology never fail you.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Whoopee!

At the end of last year I entered a short story contest run by local Essentials magazine together with Mills&Boon. As I hadn't heard anything from, I'd pretty much decided that meant I hadn't won. Out of interest I picked up the new issue this morning - and discovered that I'd made the shortlist of the final 20!

Next month's issue will announce the final winners, so please keep all fingers crossed for me. Apart from the fact that the first prize is a laptop (which I now desperately need!) two of the judges are Mills&Boon editors, so this might be the first slow step to getting out of that slush pile.

This little piece of good news has made all the stress and strain of the past week fade away. Now I can't wait to get back to that last 8,000 words on my current WIP!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Checking in

The bad news is ... a cold front has descended on Cape Town and it was seriously cold on set today (out in the open air in a park).

The good news is ... I don't have time to pine for my girls as I'm too busy to think. After a couple of 15 hour working days I'm so tired I fall into bed. At least I don't lie awake missing them.

The tragic news is ... my laptop hard drive crashed on the weekend. I'm working on a borrowed machine at the moment but everything takes twice as long, as I'm not used to how this one works and keep hitting all the wrong buttons. No idea what I'm going to do for a replacement when I get home to Johannesburg, but I guess I'll leave that to the big boss to decide. The company can either buy me a new one, or save a few pennies and pay me to sit and stare at the walls all day.

The really awesome news is ... my baby is actually talking to me on the phone. It's not intelligible talk, but she responds when I call to say goodnight. And her older sister is getting almost chatty on the phone - though she still has a tendency to nod in answer to my questions.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Adios

I'm off to Cape Town in the wee hours of Friday morning for an international commercial shoot next week. I'll try to check in on various blogs and update this one, but no promises.

If this is anything like the last away job I did, I'll be working 16 hour days and falling into bed too exhausted every night to think of blogging. And there's that little matter that I only have about 8,000 words to go on my first draft, so that is definitely going to be my first priority when I'm off the clock.

I am really going to miss my little girls over the coming week. They're sleeping at my mother's tonight so I haven't even left yet and already the thought of them is bringing tears to my eyes. I'll just have to close my eyes and imagine that wonderful place where I'm a published writer and able to quit the day job (or alternately, go back to freelancing and choose when and where to work). Eyes closing now ...

Sunday, March 8, 2009

External conflict as a motivator

As my WIP has started to take on a life of its own, I'm beginning to worry about the balance between the external and internal conflict. Category romance is all about the internal conflict and too much external conflict is a quick route to rejection. But I wonder if external conflict is acceptable as a motivator of the inner conflict, if it provides a character with the incentive to change?

The situation is this:
My hero is an extravagant playboy who takes nothing seriously. My heroine takes everything seriously. He has inherited a multi-national corporation and she is constantly telling him he needs to step up and be more involved in the business. They uncover an attempt by the board of directors to oust him and he has to decide how to deal with this, whether to avoid confrontation as he usually does or to stand up and take responsibility as the heroine wants him to.

What do you think? Is the business angle simply a plot device or is this external conflict motivating the inner conflict - and does this make it acceptable?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Why I love Jeremy Clarkson

Okay, so he's not likely to feature any time soon as the hero of one of my novels, but the Top Gear presenter is definitely one of my all-time favourite celebrities. I love his irreverent, tell-it-like-it-is style and quick humour.

But today he really put a smile on my face. Check out this link to see why.
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/jeremy_clarkson/article5821586.ece

Sunday, March 1, 2009

To sleep, perchance to dream

I attended a talk by Irish writer Cathy Kelly in which she was asked what question she hears most often. Her answer: where do you get your ideas from?

Since then, as I've 'come out of the closet' as a writer, I've been asked the same thing a few times. Every time it amazes me, because I cannot believe that other people don't feel it the way I do. For me, coming up with story ideas is like breathing. There are stories everywhere, too many to write unless I get blessed with a lifetime of a few hundred years or Nora Roberts' prolificness.

The majority of my stories start as dreams. Not day dreams, but real dreams, so absorbing and so vivid that I just have to write them down as soon as I wake up. Often, the dream gives me the characters, the setting and even the basic plot. I am nothing more than the story's scribe.

As I've begun to hone my storytelling skills, I've begun to find new stories everywhere: in the newspapers, in overheard conversations, even in songs. The difficult part is having to sit down and write them.

I wonder how other writers come up with their stories. Is it easy or difficult? Where do you get your inspiration? And do you have vivid dreams?

On a completely separate note, I haven't remembered many dreams lately. Maybe because a night of uninterrupted sleep is rare, and most nights I'm sleeping with my nose jammed up against the empty cot beside my bed, while the 'baby', who is already 18 months old and big enough to take up half our bed, jabs me in the back with her feet.

Now I'm off to bed and looking forward sweet dreams.

Friday, February 27, 2009

A Community of Writers

No matter how much support you get from friends and family when you set out on your journey to become a writer, it is still a lonely experience. The best-intentioned of relatives is simply not going to understand when you want to discuss issues like how to fill in back story, or how to increase the levels of conflict between your hero and heroine.

This is why it is vitally important that writers find (or build) themselves a community. Whether it is a formal organisation, an online crit group, a few writing friends who meet regularly, or joining a web-based discussion forum, I highly recommend getting yourself a support system of other writers.

For me, my writing friends have become so much more than crit partners. They are my soul sisters, my own personal cheerleading squad and my hardest taskmasters. Without them, I would probably not have finished an entire novel. They set an example of what could be done (Liesl, you know what a star you are!) and pushed me to keep going.

Thanks to all my wonderful crit partners, past, present and future ...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

New Format Oscars

The absolutely best thing about the New Look Oscar ceremony has to be Hugh Jackman. A whole evening spent with a gorgeous man in a tuxedo is hard to beat.

My feelings on the new design are somewhat indifferent, but three things did stand out for me:
  • In recent years it seemed as though the show had become nothing more than a parade of celebrities, so dropping the number of presenters has, in my opinion, made the show much easier to follow and put the emphasis back where it belongs: on the award nominees.
  • The 'In Memoriam' section was unwatchable. With the camera constantly moving, and many of the names illegible, it seemed almost disrespectful to those being honoured. (I was saddened to hear that Roy Scheider had died during the last year. I'd somehow missed that news.)
  • The final montage for each of the films nominated for Best Picture was certainly creative, with related clips from other movies mixed in with footage from the nominated film, but I hope this was a once-off because I believe the emphasis should be on this year's nominees, not every movie that has ever gone before.
My heartfelt congratulations to all those who worked on "Slumdog Millionaire". I love it when movies made outside the Hollywood juggernaut get the recognition they deserve.

So what did you all think about the Oscars' new look?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscar Night

In the early hours of this morning (SA time) the Oscar awards were held.
I have a ritual on Oscar day: I avoid all news broadcasts and cover my ears if anyone dares discuss the winners around me. Tonight I'll cuddle up in bed, hopefully with some chocolate and red wine, and watch the entire ceremony. I'll laugh, I'll cry (the In Memoriam bit always gets to me) and I'll finally go to sleep feeling inspired once more.

I have to admit that my passion for all things movies has waned over the years as my interests and my priorities have changed. But as a shy teenager, with dreams of being on stage, I composed the acceptance speech I would one day make on the stage at the Academy Awards. There's not much chance I'll ever get to make that speech (and I'm perfectly happy with that, as my dreams have changed a great deal since then) but now that I have my own little platform on this blog, I've decided to share this bit of genius with the world anyway.

"As a child I used to watch this award ceremony on TV and dream I'd one day be standing here. I'm here tonight to tell every young person watching out there that you can do it! Follow your dreams. Don't let anyone tell you it's too difficult. Don't give up. You're the only one who can make your dreams come true and you start by believing in yourself."
Then I'd go on to thank my parents for believing in me and encouraging me before making a gracious exit. No long rambling speech and definitely no tears.

Whew! Now I'm feeling inspired. I'd better take advantage and get working on Chapter Ten.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A new beginning

I'm new to the wonderful world of blogging, so I'll start with a bit about me.

I am married, and have two inspiring young daughters. I live in Johannesburg, South Africa, where I work as a film production manager for a company that makes television commercials. And that is not as glamorous as it sounds.

All my life I have been a writer. I still have schoolbooks from my earliest school years in which I wrote down my dreams and stories. My first class teacher told me I'd amount to nothing, because I spent all my time day dreaming. Well, I still day dream and I'm happy to say I'm pretty pleased with how my life has turned out. (So there!)

It was my husband who made me sit down and write. At the time I was working for a very small film company and we were experiencing a quiet patch, so I spent a lot of time in the office researching Arthurian history and legends (still a passion of mine). Exasperated with my obsession and how much of my time it monopolised, my husband asked why I didn't try to make some money out of it.

Five years and one baby later and I still had barely a third of my great Arthurian novel written. So I went on a novel writing course that changed my life. I learned so much, met a wonderful group of friends, and began a new 'practice' novel. That first completed novel taught me so much. Mostly that it was completely unpublishable, but also that I could actually finish something I'd started (a bit of a first for me).

Thanks to that novel and that wonderful group of new writing friends, I discovered a passion for writing romance and I haven't looked back. I submitted my second novel to Harlequin Romance. By the time I received my first rejection letter I had again learned so much that I knew exactly why they rejected it.

I'm now busy with my third full length novel. It's a struggle, as anyone who has ever tried to write a novel can attest to, but it's a sweet struggle. Every novel I write teaches me so much more. It strengthens my writing, grows my confidence - and it's just plain fun!

So this blog is my way of sharing what I learn with the world. As I struggle to write (and hopefully get published) along with an entire community of wonderful women writers, I will share the joys and hardships, and the lessons I've learned, with all of you.