Monday, July 19, 2010

The Week That Was - updated!

Now updated with the pictures I wasn't able to upload last week thanks to a dodgy internet connection...

On Monday I left Greenwich, and with a day to kill in London before heading to Cambridge with my brother, I spent the day going up and down the river taking hundreds of pictures of buildings along the Thames.

Tuesday was spent in idle content with my sister-in-law in the quaint and quiet village of Horningsea outside Cambridge. I needed a lazy day to recover from the excitement of the RNA conference.

On Wednesday I met up with my oldest and dearest friend and we headed back into London, where we visited the rare few sights I'd somehow managed to miss in all the years I'd spent in London: Harrods and Hyde Park Corner. That evening we had a Girls' Night Out, meeting up with another high school friend for a magnificent Thai dinner and 'Hair', the Broadway revival showing on the West End for only a few more weeks. The show was incredible, and the energy of the performers astounding. My only regret about the show was that the most gorgeous male on the cast (in my humble opinion) was the only one who didn't strip naked!

Then on Thursday I headed down to Surrey to meet my dear friends the Bambers. As Terry was playing stand-in to Honor Blackman at an awards ceremony, Sue and I had a delightfully chatty pub dinner together. [Note: the Running Horses pub at Mickelham in Surrey seems to have a higher than average number of good-looking patrons]. I caught up with Terry the next morning before yet another pub meal, then I made the long haul trek back up to Cambridge for another pub dinner with my brother & sister-in-law.

All pubbed out, I spent a quiet Saturday roaming Horningsea village outside Cambridge and outlining a new contemporary romance. (Which will have to bide its time in the queue!) On Sunday, Marcelle took me out for morning tea at The Orchard, a must-visit eatery at Grantchester that was once frequented by Rupert Brooke and Virginia Woolf, amongst others. Cue another story in my head (and notebook) but this time a new 1920s novella idea. That afternoon I wandered through the extensive house and grounds at Anglesay Abbey, before getting lost among a maze of footpaths in the Cambridgeshire fens.

All in all it has been a non-stop roller coaster ride of a week, but the adventure continues...

I'll be going no-mail and no-internet for the next three days, which also means I won't be able to moderate comments here - though please feel free to leave comments for when I get back. It'll make me feel very loved to get back online and see messages!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Greenwich - last day

Once again, I've been adventuring rather than blogging, but here, at last, is my take on the last day of the RNA conference.

The first talk I attended on Sunday morning was by far my favourite of the whole conference: Sarah Duncan's talk entitled 'Mind the Gap: how to get your manuscript across the publishing divide'. Sarah presented ten points that are essential for hooking the reader, and ended by looking at how to add Pizazz to your writing. Her talk was dynamic, easy to follow, and she illustrated every point in ways that made the talk memorable.

After a coffee and breakfast / snack break I attended Adele Geras' talk on 'Young Love' and writing for the young adult market. I enjoyed the talk, though with a combination of tiredness and the fact that I have no immediate plan to write for teenagers, this was the first talk in which I didn't take serious notes.

Then back into the large auditorium (which was packed!) for Joanna Trollope's key note speech. I was struck by how gaunt she looks, but her words certainly pack a punch that belies her apparent frailty. At one stage in her prepared speech I found myself shifting in my seat and thinking 'I'll have to agree to disagree' as she had some quite uncompromising things to say about romance novels and novelists, including talking about a "poverty of ambition" among women writers. However, she ended her talk on a rallying cry that had me cheering for her and determined to do all I can to raise the public image of women's fiction and women writers.

After the lunch break (and the most delicious chocolate brownies!) I attended Diane Pearson's First Line Workshop which opened my eyes not just to the importance of the opening line (who doesn't know that?!) but to just how much can be conveyed with those opening words. It also made me realise how poor all my opening lines have been so far and that I need to up my game in this respect.

As Fiona Loakes (aka Fiona Harper, though it took me ages to make the connection) was unable to attend the conference for very sad personal reasons, I had a gap in my schedule (much-needed by this point!) and Lorraine Minx and I headed out for Ben & Jerry's ice creams before parting ways. Tempted as I was to have an afternoon nap, I then headed back to Queen Anne Court for the closing talk of the conference: an informal chat session with author Judy Astley.

Thank heavens I still had the pub dinner at Wetherspoons to look forward to, so I didn't get all maudlin over the fact that the conference was now over. The inimitable Gemma Jackson kept me entertained all evening, and it's impossible to be maudlin in Gemma's presence!

I'd like to say a massive thanks to conference organisers Roger Sanderson and Jan Jones for all their hard work in organising such an amazing and seamlessly well run conference.

I'll still be away from home and enjoying a jam-packed holiday schedule for another week but once I'm home and back in my rut (well actually a new rut inspired by the conference) I'll type up my conference notes. If any of you would like notes from a particular talk (or all of them!) just leave a comment here on my blog with your details, or email me through the Contact link on the right, and I'll send them to you once they're ready.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Greenwich - Day 4

Though I'd left the gala dinner reasonably early (and still sober) the night before, it was an effort to drag myself out of bed and back to Queen Anne Court on Saturday morning. I should have planned my holiday for before the conference rather than after, though waking to my first ever book review (and such a fantastic one) did give me some impetus.

Another hot and sunny day began with jay Dixon's talk on Adding Colour to your Novel, which covered exactly that: the meanings and uses of colours, especially important in historicals. jay's tips on making use of colour associations, and carrying a colour through your novel (for example, to represent a secondary character) really stuck with me.

Sadly I then had to miss Nell Dixon's talk on Believable Secondary Characters as I had an appointment to meet the editor from Mills & Boon who requested a new partial from me after last year's Presents contest. (Sadly? I met my editor!) The interview went well, with the editor complimenting the interaction between my hero and heroine, and the dialogue. She also gave me a few points to ponder, so I went away with ideas tumbling through my head.

Then on into Kate Walker's talk on Conflict, which started on a high (See left and you'll know what I mean!). A lot of what Kate covered wasn't new to me, but it's an important topic and always worth reiterating. Best of all, coming on the heels of my editor appointment, what Kate shared with us helped to resolve the jumble in my head.

Lunch was followed by a talk by various Mills&Boon editors on 'How to increase your Page Turning Quality in the 21st Century'. Sounds like a mouthful, but really the gist was simple: they're looking for fresh voices and fresh ideas. The insight given into the new directions their contemporary lines are taking was very exciting so it was an inspirational hour.

Imogen Howson's talk on publisher Samhain (pronounced exactly as it's written and not with the original Gaelic pronunciation) was equally inspirational, as much because of Imogen's enthusiasm and encouragement as the idea of an author-friendly publisher hungry for stories and going places.

Liz Fenwick and Kate Johnson's chat about Social Media and how to use it for promotion was a delightful end to the day, informative but not too much on top of the saturation of information in my head.

My co-Minxes and I then got so caught up in chatting that we arrived a little late at the evening barbecue where we carried on chatting ... and we carried on chatting back in our accommodation long after the barbecue. I still find it amazing that we hit it off just as well in person as we had on-line.

Below are Minxes Lorraine and Jo with Romance writer Nina Harrington at the barbecue.

PS: I neglected to mention that I managed to spill champagne all over my dinner companions at the gala. Sorry, ladies!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Greenwich - Day 3

For me the third day of my adventure, but really this was the first day of the RNA's 50th anniversary conference: the Industry Day.

The day (in fact the entire weekend) was blessed with sunshine, though the sultry heat was occassionally overwhelming. The speakers of the day were mostly publishers and agents, giving us writers the insider view on publishing - fortunately not all doom and gloom. Again and again the message was reinforced: even though fewer titles are being bought and publishers are taking fewer risks, a good book still has every chance of being published.

After registration and Katie Fforde's welcome introduction, we were straight into the first talk of the day, by Charlotte Bush and Rob Waddington of Random House. The major gist of their talk was the importance for writers to understand their market.

Next up was David Shelley of Little Brown who spoke about changes in the market place, including the rise of supermarkets and digital, as well as current trends.

Then after lunch editorial consultants Jane Eastgate and Sally Cummings spoke about what writers can do to make their work stand out for an editor. Sadly they didn't really have the magic answer of 'what is the X-Factor?'

Then my personal favourite of the day: four writers published in the US (two of whom live in the US) spoke about the differences between the UK and US markets in an open Q&A session that was both lively and informative. Thanks ladies!

[From left to right: agent Erin Niumata, writers Janet Mullany, Nicola Cornick and Rosemary Laurey]

The working day ended with another informal chat session, this time with 5 writers each representing different decades of the RNA, and obviously focussing on the RNA itself in this anniversary year.

The day was not by any means over yet. We dressed up in our glad rags and hit the Trafalgar Tavern for a delicious dinner, with champagne, conversation and speeches at the historic Trafalgar Tavern. I'll admit to falling into bed with exhaustion that night.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Greenwich - Day 2

[Okay, so anyone who knows what day of the week it is will know I'm a few days behind, but please bear with me - I'm having so much fun!]

My first full day in Greenwich was actully spent doing touristy things, and I was blessed with a gloriously warm and sunny day in which to do it. I wandered through the market and then visited the part of Greenwich that I'd somehow missed on nearly half a dozen previous visits: Maritime Greenwich.

Christopher Wren's complex of buildings are grand and awe-inspiring. The chapel and Painted Hall (a dining hall built for retired sailors) are both incredible in their detail and sumptuousness. Most of the buildings are now occupied by the University of Greenwich, but one is used by the Trinity College of Music. Words cannot describe how it feels to stroll passed, with the Thames glistening silver on one side, a fgraceful tree-lined avenue on the other, and to hear the sounds of beautiful music drifting down from the windows above.

I also visited the Queen's House, a small graceful villa built for the early Stuart queens. Now an art gallery, it is still possible to imagine the rooms as they once were, filled with ladies in waiting in gorgeous dresses and, later, lords and ladies in powdered wigs and frills. In one room I stumbled onto an interesting surprise: among all the naval paintings was one of a pretty young lady, a painting that looked familiar. It was Emma Hamilton. And the painting beside it was of a young man with an attractive but serious face and the label 'Horatio Nelson'. I've only ever seen portraits of him older (or dying) but suddenly seeing these two side by side I could understand how they fell in love.

And on that romantic note, I promise that my next post really will be about the Romantic Novelists Association conference!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Greenwich - Day 1

I'm here! When I get the chance I'll upload a few conference photos.

I'm actually going to start this series of blogs at Day -1: my flight. I flew to England on Wednesday, on my first ever day flight. What an amazing experience! It is unbelievable to be able to look down on Africa from such an unusual viewpoint, seeing rivers and mountains.

Perhaps the most awe-inspiring part of the journey was flying over the Sahara. For the first time I grasped the scale and the sheer desolation of this desert. For approximately 4 hours the plane just flies and flies and below us was nothing but a constant sea of sand, broken only by the shadows of the couds beneath us and the lines that edge the windswept dunes.

Sunshine over the Sahara, over the Mediterranean coastline, mountainous islands in the sea of blue, the Alps with sno-covered valleys that seem untouched by humans, the fields of Frnace - and then, as we hit the channel, a solid blanket of cloud - both below and above us.

London was surprisingly hot and humid, and it took me hours to get across town to Greenwich. And that's where I'll pick up tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Let's Misbehave

Today is release day! You can now download Let's Misbehave from for your reading pleasure.

As you read this, I'm currently in mid-air on my way to London to attend my first ever romance writing conference (the RNA's 50th anniversary conference at the University of Greenwich). If you'd like to find out more about Let's Misbehave, visit my alias' blog at

From tomorrow until Monday I'll be running a contest there, and you could be the one lucky winner who wins a free copy.