Monday, January 18, 2021

Writing, street teams and tortoises... oh my!

Like every other person on the planet, I was very ready to put 2020 behind me. The year was a write-off for me, though probably not in the same way as for most people. Since I'm a homebody who was already working online from home, lockdown didn't affect my lifestyle, my job or my income, for which I will be eternally grateful. But it was a bad year mentally, and my productivity and my writing suffered.

2020 started with the release of my book My Best Friend's Royal Wedding. I really loved writing this book, and loved the characters. The challenge of writing characters who start out essentially unlikeable and slowly growing to like (even love) them, and watching them fall in love, is what makes writing such a special experience for me. Unfortunately, many reviewers didn't feel the same, and this book received a LOT of negative criticism, much more than any book I'd previously written. I thought I was tougher and could take it, but my confidence took a big knock as I questioned whether I really know what I'm doing. (Impostor syndrome much?!)

Then we went into lockdown and I turned into a tortoise, retreating into my shell. My shell is my happy place, and in a good year I'm more than happy to stay tucked away inside there. But even inside my shell, healthy and with my loved ones safe and close, I couldn't block out the anxiety of the world around me. You were there. You know what I mean, right?

Then my kids started e-learning. Both my daughters have dyslexia and ADHD, the two learning difficulties that are not conducive to having to self-motivate, self-discipline and read online for hours at an end. Supporting them, reading their classwork to them, trying to keep them from breaking under the increasing pressure and negativity placed on them by teachers who were either indifferent or who found them "too much hard work" (actual quote), became a full-time job.

Through all of this, I started a few stories, had a few ideas, but nothing stuck and by year's end I was no further along than I'd been at the end of January, when My Best Friend's Royal Wedding released.

That's going to change in 2021. I'm feeling motivated again, and inspired to write again. This tortoise is emerging from its shell.

Image by ykaiavu from Pixabay

My first step, aside from finishing my follow-up Tuscany book (which is now way overdue!) is to get myself organized. I have a detailed plan for the year, and I've started a street team.

What's a street team? For those who haven't yet heard the expression, it's a group of readers who get special access to an author, including being the first to hear about new releases, receiving inside info on the author's books that others don't get, free advance review copies, and other bonus treats. But there's a catch - being on a street team isn't just about getting free stuff, it's about supporting that author with things like reviews and social media shares.

If this sounds like something you'd like to be a part of, please sign up for my street team by clicking on the linked image below. And if that's not your cup of tea, then just sit back and watch this space - there will be something new to read in 2021, I promise!

Monday, March 2, 2020

The ADHD Chronicles Part 1

The ADHD Chronicles

Being a single mom is a tough job. Having ADHD is a tough job. Put them together and what do you get? Me.

Midnight, Sunday - I'm feeling like a goddess because I remembered to pack snacks and water bottles for my kids before going to sleep.

7am, Monday - I'm awake. I've had coffee. I give my daughters their lunch money for the day. I'm rocking this mom thing. Go me!

7.10am, Monday - my 70yo mother (the highest functioning member of our household) says "It's raining. Don't forget that the girls need to take their umbrellas to school."
"Yes, yes," I reply, juggling keys as I unlock our fortress to get out to the car, and shouting for the girls to hurry up or we'll be late.

7.15am, Monday - I finally manage to wrangle my daughters into the car. We're already five minutes later than we should be, the wet roads are likely to make us even later, and my youngest has a test in first period.

7.45am, Monday - we scream up to the school gate just as the bell rings. The rain is now bucketing down. And where are the umbrellas? Still at home, more than a half hour drive behind us. My daughters have to get through at least 300m out in the open before they'll reach the shelter of the school building.

I am now stressed and guilt-ridden imagining my youngest completely flunking this test because she is wet, cold and uncomfortable, and her ability to focus is bad enough when she isn't any of those things. Geez I'm a bad mom.

Monday, February 3, 2020

My Best Friend's Royal Wedding now only 99cents

My publisher has dropped the price of my new release, My Best Friend's Royal Wedding, to just 99 cents (US). If you haven't already got your copy, grab it now, as I'm not sure how long they'll keep it at this price.

And if you have already bought and read the book, check out the books Pinterest board to see some of the behind-the-scenes inspiration for the characters, places and even the foods and clothes in the book.

What are the reviewers saying about My Best Friend's Royal Wedding?

"This was absolutely amazing and I loved it from start to finish! Couldn’t put it down. It has insane chemistry, hilarious banter and fabulous characters that totally were perfect for each other."
Melinda, Goodreads

"Love love loved this book! If you like Hallmark movies or rom-coms, you'll love this."
Katie Brewer, Goodreads

"Enemies-to-lovers romance is my favorite trope in a rom-com…You can read through this one super quickly and it will give you all the feels :)"
Erica, Instagram

"Just like a movie! Romantic, delicious, sizzling and funny. Loved it!"
Petra, The Pages and Ink

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

A troubled family history of complicity

My grandparents lived in Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 40s. I never had the chance to discuss that time with them (my grandfather died before I was born, my grandmother when I was still too young to think about asking) but I know that they were ordinary people trying to raise a young family during a terrible time. I imagine they did not want to ‘rock the boat’, or draw unfavourable attention to themselves. I understand that they chose not to risk their family or their freedom (such as it was) by standing up against the Nazi regime, but with hindsight I also understand that their silence was a form of complicity.

I grew up in Apartheid South Africa, and was blessed with parents who were liberal thinkers. They taught me tolerance, not just in word but in deed, and they opened my eyes to the wrongs in the system that surrounded us. But what they believed inwardly and what they lived outwardly did not match. They were both government employees and were too afraid of repercussions to share their opinions publicly. They were too afraid to risk their jobs, their freedom or the benefits they received as a result of that system of oppression, to stand up and speak out for what they believed. The vast majority of white South Africans did the same. Afraid of repercussions they kept quiet, and that is why Apartheid lasted as long as it did. The greater part of the population, through their silence, were complicit in keeping Apartheid in place.

As an adult, I have often wondered what I would have done had I been in their shoes. Would I have been brave enough to stand up for what was right, or would I too have kept my head down to avoid repercussions?

I am sure we all think we would do better. I certainly hoped that under the same circumstances I would choose differently, but sadly I didn’t. The year before Nelson Mandela was released from prison, I was barely eighteen and a student at Wits University. There were constant protests on campus. Did I join them, did I stand up for what was right? No. I was annoyed because the protests occasionally interfered with my lectures. I chose the status quo. I chose complicity.

My coming of age took place against the backdrop of South Africa’s first free and fair elections and the end of Apartheid. My entire adult life has been spent in a country undergoing radical transformation, and in the process I too have been radically transformed. I now know better. Now, when I ask myself the question “will I be brave enough to stand up for what is right, or will I keep my head down to avoid repercussions?” I’d like to believe that my answer would be different from what it was at eighteen.

This past week, that belief was tested. The storm surging through RWA (Romance Writers of America), which I will not comment on here, has forced me to face that old dilemma.

It would certainly be easier to hide my head in the sand, to stay out of the fight, to keep quiet and avoid repercussions. It would be safer and less exhausting, and as a white, privileged person who is not personally affected by the RWA’s issues, I have the luxury of being able to choose to stay silent. But silence is complicity, and now that I know better, I plan to do better.

Could standing up for what I believe is right draw the wrong kind of attention? Yes.
Could I be inviting personal attacks by stating my opinions publicly? Yes.
Is it a risk to my career to take a public stand and state my opinions? Yes.
But still I have to do it, because I cannot do anything else. My conscience tells me that I have to learn from my personal family history, and I have to do better.

Digging further back in my family history, I have one heroic ancestor I can look to for inspiration. Christiaan Mauritz Botha Murray fought for the Boers as a double agent against the British in the Boer War, and was caught and imprisoned at the Diyatalawa PoW camp in Ceylon. He was not afraid to take risks or do what he believed was right. I’m going to channel his spirit and find the courage to stand up for what I believe.

So I am stating here, for all the world to see, that I believe all people are equal, all people are deserving of love, and all people should get their Happy Ever Afters, both in real life and in stories, irrespective of gender, sexual orientation, race, religion or ability. I acknowledge that not all people receive fair and equal treatment, that both overt and covert discrimination exists, and I acknowledge my own privilege. I accept that I need to learn, to listen, to provide a safe space for those who are marginalized, and I will try to check my own privilege. I will actively work towards levelling the playing field for those who have been or are discriminated against. I will not be silent and I will not be complicit in perpetuating discrimination of any kind.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Limited time offer: ROSA's anthology is only 99c for the next few days

The ROSA anthology, Wedding Season, in which my short story The Fire Inside appears, is on sale for a short time only at 99c / 99p. If you haven't already got your copy, grab it now!

Wedding Season is the first anthology produced by ROSA (Romance writers Organisation of South Africa), a collection of romantic short stories, all themed around weddings, and written by ten of ROSA's published members. ​

The proceeds of this anthology go to ROSA's scholarship fund and the Read to Rise literacy charity, so this is also a good cause worth supporting.

Monday, September 10, 2018

North and South

A couple of months ago a friend loaned me her DVD box set of the BBC drama North and South. It's been more than two decades since I read the book in high school, and all I remember is that it was bleak and depressing, and that I had to write an exam on it. So I'll admit, I left the DVDs sitting for ages before I finally thought I should get it over with and watch them so I could give them back to their rightful owner. I am extremely grateful to that friend for making me watch North and South. (Thanks, Andrea!)

The advantage of two decades having passed is that I no longer felt like I needed to sit an exam at the end of it, and the story felt completely new. For the life of me, I couldn't remember how the story was going to end!

At seventeen I didn't appreciate Elizabeth Gaskell's artistry. Now, as an author and writing teacher, I finally understand the skill that went into creating this book (and yes, maybe the BBC, Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage had a lot to do with bringing it to life for me too).

When I teach writing, I teach that character growth and change are the core of every story; that the transformation of the characters is what hooks readers. The skill of this novel is that it isn't only the main character who experiences a transformation, but rather three central characters: Margaret Hale, John Thornton and Nicholas Higgins. These three characters are inter-twined, each affecting the other and bringing about change in one other.

When I read this book in high school, I was taught that it was a 'social novel', all about the industrial revolution, class, and a society in change. Even though I went to an all girls high school, no one thought to mention that it was, first and foremost, a Romance. And no one made a point of the fact that Elizabeth Gaskell wrote her book about a strong female main character long before it was fashionable, or even acceptable. Maybe that was a good thing; maybe our teachers wanted us to think that it was quite usual for women to be the central characters in good literary fiction, that women had just as much right to respect in literary works as men.

I'm not so naive now. I know that even today, in the 21st century, books with female protagonists are dismissed as less important than those featuring men. And any book even remotely tainted with the label of Romance is seen as inferior and somehow unliterary and insignificant.

How anyone can believe this, when authors such as Elizabeth Gaskell have been creating books like this for more than a hundred years, is beyond me. North and South is primarily a love story. But it's also social and political commentary, with a hefty side dose of philosophy. It's deep and tragic and moving and thought-provoking. It is the proof that there is nothing inconsequential about Romance, and that women absolutely deserve their place on the literary stage.

Margaret Hale (Daniela Denby-Ashe) and the ultimate brooding hero, John Thornton (Richard Armitage)

Friday, July 27, 2018

My impressions of the 2018 RWA Rita Awards' Ceremony

Disclaimer: There’s a lot of talk happening on Twitter and elsewhere about the Rita Awards’ ceremony and particularly about Suzanne Brockmann’s lifetime achievement award acceptance speech - most of it by authors way more qualified to give their opinions than I am. I didn’t attend the actual event and only watched it via live stream, and I live in South Africa rather than the US, so you might well wonder why you should read my opinions on the event. My answer is that I’m an RWA member and a romance writer, and that’s all the reason I need to add my voice to the din.

* * *

A week ago, at the RWA’s national conference in Denver, Colorado, the 2018 Rita Awards’ ceremony was held. I set an alarm for 3am local time to watch the event live on the RWA’s website in support of my friend Natasha Anders who was nominated for her contemporary romance The Wingman.

Natasha’s category was the second of the night, and I was sorely tempted to power down my laptop and go back to sleep after the winner of her category was announced (sadly, Natasha didn’t win, but I hope she knows just how awesome she is for having been nominated!). I’m glad I didn’t, though, because the rest of the show was well worth watching.

There were three things that stood out for me at this year’s awards ceremony:
  1. Acceptance Speeches: I called this ceremony a ‘show’ and since I was watching it at home on a screen, it felt very much a TV show. Like any awards ceremony, all those “I’d like to thank my editor, my agent, my parents, my kids and my fans” speeches can get a little dull, important as they are. Same for the little video inserts of writers talking about their writing friends, which all got a bit ‘samey’ after a while and didn’t really add value for me as a viewer. The moments that stood were those where the authors got personal: the winners who shared the trials and hardships of their journey, and who used their speeches to motivate other writers, like when Helen Kay Dimon said that “writing is a solitary business, but surviving it isn’t”. But I think my personal favorite was Stephanie Rowe’s speech, as read by Trish Millburn, about fighting through the tough times in our lives, which felt as if it was directed right at me!
  2. Suzanne Brockmann: So much has been said about Suzanne’s acceptance speech for the Nora Roberts’ Lifetime Achievement Award. I won’t re-hash it all here, except to say that she rocks. Her speech was passionate, honest, challenging and brave, and I admire her so much for standing up for what she believes in. She urged the audience to choose right over nice, to be brave. It inspired me, made me feel stronger, more determined and more courageous. You can watch it here - it's roughly at the middle of the video. 
  3. Kristan Higgins: Suzanne’s speech came in the middle of the ceremony, and afterwards the program returned to more awards being given out and more acceptance speeches. Watching from my bed in South Africa, unable to experience the mood of the room, it seemed as if everyone was vehemently trying to ‘carry on as normal’ and ignore the elephant that had been released into the room by her speech. I was disappointed. Was everyone going to ignore her stirring words and pretend it hadn’t happened? Did they not know what to say? Did they disagree? Were they too afraid to comment? Sure, some of the winners weren’t American and maybe felt that it was not their place to address the issue, but as members of the human race, and as members of RWA, I’d say this is an issue that affects us all. Then Kristan Higgins won the award for best mainstream novel with romantic elements. She was the only winner other than Suzanne Brockmann to use her platform to make a difference, and to speak out for marginalized authors. I was already a Kristan Higgins fan before her acceptance speech, but now I’m an even bigger fan.

Watching online it was impossible to tell how these speeches were received by the audience, but I gather from friends who were there that the response was mostly very supportive, though I gather there were some sour faces and a few walk outs. (Really - romance writers who took offense at the idea that everyone is worthy of love?!)

Suzanne Brockmann at the 2018 Rita Awards

Clearly, I only follow authors on Twitter who share my views, because I haven’t seen any negativity following the ceremony, but I gather that a great many RWA members have spoken out against Suzanne and Kristan getting ‘political’ at the awards ceremony. Should anyone be reading this post and agreeing that politics and romance should be kept separate, I’d like to say three things:
  • Romance novels are about relationships between people. That’s not political. That’s part of being human. So authors talking about the relationships between people, about the way that other authors are treated, about the way that our characters are treated, is not politics. It’s part of what we do and what we are. Our books do not exist in isolation. They are a reflection of the wider world, and we should be concerned with how we reflect the world in our books. Again, that’s not politics, that’s part of being a romance writer and a decent human being.
  • On the other hand, everything we do is political. The choice to people our books only with white, straight characters, or to include a diverse range of characters, is a political decision. The choice to frame people who are different from us as friends, allies and superiors, or as foreign, subservient or villainous, is a political decision. Even when we think we’re not being political, we are.
  • Neither Suzanne Brockmann nor Kristan Higgins advocated voting for a specific party or candidate. They therefore did not ‘get political’, in my opinion. They called on their audience to vote for what they believe in. That’s a call to action, and one I ferociously defend. I live in a country where people died for the right to vote, where people were exiled and imprisoned for fighting for the right to vote. It is a basic human right that is still denied in many parts of the world, and it saddens me that too many people in democratic countries take that right for granted and do not exercise it. I support every person, whether they’re a politician, an author, a school kid, or the person I pass by on the street, who promotes this call to action.

I whole-heartedly endorse the RWA’s push to be more inclusive and to repair the mistakes of the past. I encourage them to ignore the naysayers and to stand by their convictions, and I would further encourage them to re-affirm their support of outspoken members like Suzanne Brockmann by inviting her back to speak again at the RWA national conference in the near future.

The RWA (and other organizations like it) have so much more to gain by being inclusive, by standing up for the right of all its members to be treated with equal respect and fairness, and by embracing diversity, than by appeasing those who resist change.

Sure, they may lose members who find it offensive to give equal opportunities and respect to people of color or members of the LGBTQ community or other religions, but personally I don’t count that as a loss. Besides, that loss would be offset by the gain of large numbers of new members who previously felt marginalized and excluded.

If the RWA gives in to pressure from members who want to keep the organization white, straight and Christian, and returns to that ‘safer’ time when they avoided anything that might be divisive or cause offence, they have so much more to lose: loss of members who believe in basic human rights such as equality and dignity (me included), loss of their role as representatives of and advocates for the wider writing community, and loss of respect in the global writing community. They will lose their relevance as well as the majority of their financial support.

However, if they stand by authors like Suzanne Brockmann, Kristan Higgins, and all those many, many marginalized LGBTQ and non-white authors, the RWA has so much more to gain: international respect, the ability to claim that they represent the entire romance writing community, and a much wider financial base.

As an RWA member, and someone who has faith in what this organization stands for, and what it can achieve, I hope they choose the latter course.