Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Single to Rome

As soon as I discovered this book, I had to have it. Firstly, because it's written by Sarah Duncan, whose talk at the RNA conference in July was my favourite of the whole conference. Secondly, because it's set in Rome, and as followers of this blog know, I had a brief sojourn in Rome after said conference.

Sarah Duncan began her RNA talk by asking the audience if any of us had ever had a Shirley Valentine moment. You know, that moment when you're on holiday in an amazing place and you think "I could chuck it all in and just stay here for the rest of my life". Most of us stood. She then asked everyone to sit, unless they'd actually done it. Only a handful of people remained standing. Those are the people readers want to read about, she said. The people who not only want to change their live, but who do.

A Single to Rome is the story of a woman who changes her life. However, the story doesn't start at the moment of change (where Natalie loses her job and arrives in Rome). It starts about 5 or 6 chapters before that, and I'll admit those opening chapters did not grab me.

My other very clear memory from Sarah's RNA talk was her telling us that readers invest not only money but (more importantly) their time in our books, and in order to ensure they want to spend their time on our stories, we should imagine being stuck in a lift with our characters. Is this character someone we'd want to be stuck in a lift with?

My answer to Natalie in the opening chapters of this novel was a resounding 'No!'. She spends the first few chapters alternately crying for or cringingly chasing the boyfriend who has dumped her. Happily, Natalie not only grew on me, to the point where I really sympathised with her, but two thirds through the book I suddenly realised: Natalie is me!

Okay, so I didn't run away to live in Rome because my boyfriend dumped me and I'd lost my job. But my brief trip to Rome changed me in similar ways to how it changed Natalie.

In the beginning of the story, Natalie has a good job. She's successful, respected, good at what she does, and she earns good money. That could be me. But through the story [Spoiler alert!] Natalie discovers that material success isn't enough. It is more important to love the work you do, and to find meaning in it.

This is the challenge I've faced this year. I no longer believe in what I do. I want my work to have greater meaning. And though this feeling has been slowly building over many months, it was in those few precious days in Rome that this truth dawned on me. Like Natalie, I discovered the meaning of my life in Rome. I discovered that friends and family are more important than any lifestyle, and that being true to yourself and your principles is more important than any pay cheque. (Though I'm not so far gone that I don't realise life can be bleak without a decent income!).

Aspiring writers are usually told to bring the hero and heroine together as early as possible in the story. And in most romances it's pretty clear from the start who the hero is. Sarah Duncan keeps the reader guessing until mere pages from the end of the book. Which man does Natalie end up with?
You'll have to read the book yourself to find out.

I still think that every single thing that Sarah Duncan shared in her talk is valid. But here's another truth I've now learned from her: as long as you can get your characters to resonate with the readers, you can break any rule. Yes, the heroine started out heartsick and a little pathetic. Yes, the story started at a slow point rather than at the moment of change. But none of that matters, because this book is firmly staying on my keeper shelf and I anticipate reading it many more times before it finally falls apart.

So in the end my only real complaint about this book is that it ended. I quite literally turned the last page, saw that the page ended half way down and I wanted to cry out "I'm not ready for this to end! I want more!" Which has got to be the best compliment any reader can give a book.

Now just in case I haven't already made it clear: Read this book!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Thank you to New Voices

I'll admit to feeling a tad disappointed when I saw The List on the New Voices contest site and not only did I not make it, but none of my CPs or online friends did either. (And by the way, you were all fantastic!)

On the plus side, this contest has been an awesome experience for me, because it introduced me to a whole new bunch of aspiring South African authors. For more information on the South African entrants and other entries set in Africa or with South African characters, you can view the list here:

Our country is a little backward when it comes to genre fiction, and until now most romance writers battle away quietly on their own while lots of fuss gets made about literary authors and poets. So we're not going to win any Booker or Nobel prizes (which have both incidentally been awarded this last week, in case you've missed the news) but we are steadily growing in numbers and in strength.

Just watch this space: we South African romance writers are going to take on the world!

Finally, I'd like to congratulate the Top 10 New Voices Finalists. Their second chapters are currently up at, and there is still time to vote, so please head on over and support these new writers. Good luck to all of them!

I've read all ten and voted, and I'll admit it was a tough choice. There were some really good entries. I would, however, like to do a shout out here for my friend Leah Ashton, who has broken the mould with her very yummy bartender hero.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

To sub or not to sub

While over 800 aspirant writers anxiously await The List (for those who aren't as obssessed by the New Voices contest as I am, this is the list HMB have promised us of entries they want to see more of), I have a question to pose: 
If HMB does not request your contest entry, do you plan to stick it in a bottom drawer or to sub this story elsewhere?

Of course, I'm one of the 814 hoping this is not a situation I'll have to face, but even so I know exactly what I'd do: the bottom drawer.

Because when I do sell to HMB one day (and I'm determined to!) I want to have a whole bunch of manuscripts ready to be re-worked and re-submitted. I'm hoping that by then I'll be more experienced and know how to 'fix' them, so that instead of making just the one sale, I'll be able to sell a whole bunch more to my dream publisher!

But I also realise that there are times when submitting to A.N. Other publisher might be a better option for a manuscript. If you know the story doesn't really fit the targeted HMB line but it'd break your heart to change it to fit, then you need to follow your heart.

There are also times when the validation of having an editor say "I love this and I want to buy it" is more important than sticking to the longer term dream.

So if Harlequin Mills & Boon is your dream, what would you do?