Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Final #NaNoWriMo update

Waking up in Vegas is complete!

I collected my official winner's certificate on 27th November, which was just as well since this last weekend was manic and not another word got written.

The best thing of all about this NaNo is that, though I wrote fairly slowly and didn't achieve the lofty word counts of some of my friends and team-mates, this first draft is quite a clean draft.

Since I did a fair amount of planning in October, and then broke the cardinal rule of Nano by editing a little as I went along, the first 30k words are in good shape, and the task of editing that last 20k is not nearly as daunting as it could be.

I cannot thank my Team Khara team mates and all the lovely people at Savvy Authors enough. They not only inspired me to keep going, but they made this NaNo the most fun I've had writing in a long time.

Well done to all of you who finished NaNoWriMo 2012, and for those who didn't, I hope you at least have more words than you started the month with!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Shouting from the rooftops: NEWS!

For the first time ever I get my own name on a book!

The Minxes of Romance have released an anthology of eight scorching hot stories featuring the fire fighters of Coombethwaite.

This book was a fun collaboration that started as one of those silly ideas that happen late at night, but which turned into something with a life all its own.

Please, please buy a copy, read and review it. I guarantee that there is something for everyone in this book, from sweet to sensual to scorching, light and flirty to downright intense.

 Blaze is available from Amazon and Amazon UK.

Also on the good news front, I'd like to congratulate Jennifer Drogell for her So You Think You Can Write win. Well done, Jen, and I can't wait to buy my own copy of The Divorce Party.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Kernel ideas and dreams

Two of the blogs I follow have both had posts recently that dove-tailed together really well to remind me of just what inspired me to write my last two stories.

Bob Mayer did a post on the kernel idea of every story, and Sue Moorcroft has also been running a series of guest posts about dreams to celebrate the release of her latest novel, Dream a Little Dream.

The characters of my Nano novel, Waking up in Vegas, first came to me in a dream back in 2009 in which a Prince made a stirring coronation speech, and watching in the crowd was the great love of his life, a very ordinary young woman. Yes, very Prince & Me.

Once Upon a Time, my previous book, also began as a dream, in which a young woman with a super rich Daddy works for a charity that occupies space in her father's building and who is very 'off' men as she is constantly being hit on by men who only want her for her Daddy's money and favour. The story changed a good deal from there, but the characters remained the same.

What is the kernel idea of your work-in-progress? What image, idea or dream kick-started the story?

Friday, November 16, 2012

#Nanowrimo Progress Update

I'm guesting over at the RNA blog today. Please stop by and say "hello".

We're half way through Nanowrimo and I've reached the halfway point in Waking up in Vegas. I'd love to be further along, but really, what with a day job and kids, I should apreciate how far I've come in such a short time!

The best thing for me about #Nanowrimo 2012 is the help I got up front from the Entangled Press editors. Having a clear idea of the story, the characters, and their conflicts and motivations before I even started has not only prevented me from going wildly off track as I have in previous years, but it's also kept my interest and motivation up. Because I know where I'm going, I'm not staring at a blank page and freaking out.

I'd like to thank my team-mates on the Entangled Smackdown. You ladies motivate me, and I won't let you down.

Also, to all the ROSA Bootcampers - your friendly support of each other is so inspiring, and some of those word counts are truly awesome.

Keep it up!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Next Big Thing

Freda Lightfoot, bestselling author of family sagas and historical romances, invited me to take part in a blog event entitled THE NEXT BIG THING - a series of questions and answers about what’s happening next in my writing life.

The Next Big Thing 

What is the title of your book?
An Innocent Abroad, which went on sale yesterday!

How did you come by the idea? 
This novella started life as a single scene: a young woman standing at a window, looking out through a curtain of rain at an Italian landscape. The scene is still in there, though the landscape became a seascape.

What genre does your book fall under?
Historical Romance

Which actors would you choose to play your characters if it were a movie?
Ooh, this is a hard one, and I don't really know. 
Isobel is blonde and blue-eyed, and very young, sweet and innocent. Stefano is a little older, rugged, typically Italian and swoon-worthy.
Perhaps my blog readers could offer up suggestions?

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A young English woman travels to Italy to stay with relatives, and instead of falling in love with the eligible aristocrat her parents have chosen, she falls for an enigmatic Italian.

Will your book be self-published or traditional?
The book is traditionally published as an ebook by The Wild Rose Press.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
To be honest, I started this story so long ago that I no longer remember!

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
This is so hard, since romances set in the 1920s are few and far between. Recently I read a book entitled Vixen by Jillian Larkin, the first in her Flappers series, which also features young people, cocktails, jazz music and forbidden love in the 20s.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?
I wanted to write something hotter and more risque than anything I'd written before, so I pushed myself to go beyond my usual comfort zone with this one. I'm not sure if that counts as inspiration or motivation, though?

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The book is set in Italy in 1922, just months before Mussolini's March on Rome. It was a turbulent time, but the ex-pats enjoying the Italian sunshine mostly remained far removed from the hardships faced by their host nation.

So who's next in the chain? I nominate Louise Rose-Innes, Kathy Bosman, Rae Rivers, April Vine, Kiru Taye and Jennifer Shirk.

PS: If you're history obsessed, do check out Freda's blog. She's a mine of fascinating information.

Friday, November 2, 2012

To prologue or not to prologue

In the build up to Nanowrimo, we had a discussion on the South African romance writers' Yahoo loop about opening scenes and the use of prologues.

At least one member admitted to skipping prologues completely. I tend to read them, but then I read everything, even the fine print on cereal boxes. Which is probably why I wear glasses.

The discussion reminded me of the one prologue that was not only well worth reading, but a must read. Two friends independently recommended the book to me, and both also commented on the prologue, so of course, I had to read it.

The book is Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase.

It's the only time a prologue moved me to tears. It gives the back story in a way that hooks you in so completely you cannot put the book down.
Don't believe me? Download the sample chapter from Amazon and see for yourself.

While I do like a good prologue, don't get me started on epilogues. If the book ends with hero and heroine a year later cooing down at their newborn baby, I feel an urge to throw up.

Fortunately, no two readers are alike, so I'd love to know - do you read prologues and epilogues? What do you think of them? And have you read Lord of Scoundrels?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Tropes, Archetypes and Stereotypes

Since this has become a discussion among both the Entangled Smackdown and Minxy groups, I thought today I'd clear up the difference between tropes and archetypes.

A trope is a concept, while an archetype relates more to character. So as an example, 'Reformed Rake' might be the trope, while 'Bad Boy' would be the archetype. A cop or sheik might be an archetype, but their story could be any from the lengthy list of tropes, for example, Boy Next Door or Stranded.

And this is exactly why I think the romance genre will never be boring or formulaic. There are endless combinations of characters, settings, conflicts and tropes, so every story is different from the one before. Add in the author's own voice and no two stories are ever really the same.

However, just as a trope can head into cliché territory if not handled properly, so weak writing can turn an archetype into a stereotype. The line between the two is thin, but very clear.

An archetype is a universal character type that your reader can immediately identify.

Examples include:
  • the young man on the rise (Luke Skywalker)
  • the wise grandfather (Obi Wan)
  • the court jester (C3PO)
  • the damsel in distress (Princess Leia)
  • the lone ranger (Han Solo)
  • the sidekick (Wookie)
  • the evil villain (Darth Vader)
Written well, these characters are complex, well-rounded people, even while representing certain character types we can all immediately identify.

A stereotype, on the other hand, is a cardboard cut-out. This is where the writer has used a character type as a shorthand rather than developing a true-to-life character, and often it signifies laziness (or ignorance) on the author's part.

Examples include:
  • the timid secretary
  • the villainous boss
  • the blonde bimbo
  • the dumb jock
  • the Mary-Sue
And the ultimate of all stereotypes - Prince Charming in Disney’s Cinderella – the poor man doesn’t even get a name!

Have any questions, good examples, or even want to disagree? Please leave a comment,and keep teh discussion going.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tropes in Romance

Image courtesy of Harlequin Junkie

I've signed up to do the Nano smackdown with Savvy Authors and Entangled Press and scared as I am that I've bitten off more than I can chew, I'm already glad I signed up.

Aside from meeting the lovely group of writers who'll be holding my hand through Nano, the Entangled editors are already helping us focus our conflicts and get our plots, characters and GMC sorted. If only we could have editorial feedback this early in the process on every book!

Entangled are very big on being clear up front what tropes your story contains. Since I've never really thought of my stories in terms of tropes, this has been a steep learning curve for me, and I spent the weekend researching them.

For those who, like me, were wondering what the hell a 'trope' is: it's a convention, or a familiar plot line or set-up, that is instantly recognisable to readers, a kind of 'shorthand' that helps both writer and reader identify what the story is about.

While I would hate to give any ammunition to those who say that romance is formulaic, every romance reader will recognise these tropes. And let's face it, we all have certain types of stories we love and some we hate. Done badly, they can become cliched, but haven't we all read a book that gives a new twist on an old trope and thought 'Wow! Wish I'd thought of that'?

Harlequin Junkies also has this fabulous post on romance tropes.

With some help from my fellow Indulgence Smackdowners (especially Amalie Berlin who has done a similar post, broken down beautifully into categories) here is the list of tropes I've compiled so far. Please feel free to leave a comment suggesting any I may have missed.

List of tropes:
  1. Accidental Pregnancy
  2. Across the Tracks / Lovers from different worlds
  3. All grown up
  4. Amnesia 
  5. Arranged marriage 
  6. Athlete / Sports romance
  7. Baby makes three (the classic epilogue scene where the happy couple add a baby to the family)
  8. Bait & Switch (hero or heroine thinks the other is someone else)
  9. Beauty & the Beast 
  10. Betrayal 
  11. Billionaire/Millionaire hero
  12. Blackmail 
  13. Celeb crush
  14. Childhood friends
  15. Cougar (older woman / younger man) 
  16. Cowboy / rancher hero
  17. Damsel in distress / Knight in Shining Armour
  18. Enemies to lovers (Kiss or kill) 
  19. Fake relationship
  20. Family feud
  21. First Love
  22. Fish out of water 
  23. Forbidden love / Off limits
  24. Forced proximity / trapped together (see Stranded below) 
  25. Friend’s big brother / little sister 
  26. Friends to lovers
  27. Friends with benefits
  28. Girl/ Boy Next Door / Love thy Neighbour
  29. Guardian / Ward 
  30. High school sweethearts
  31. Honey Trap
  32. Impersonation
  33. Jilted
  34. Love at first sight
  35. Love triangle 
  36. Make-over story / Ugly Duckling
  37. Marriage of convenience 
  38. Masquerade (one of the characters in disguise) / Becoming the Mask
  39. Matchmaker
  40. May / December romance (also known as Cougar Romance if a woman is the older partner)
  41. Military
  42. Mistaken identity / Hidden identity / Disguise
  43. Mysterious past 
  44. Nanny to wife 
  45. New in town
  46. New old flame
  47. Not blood siblings / Flirty step siblings
  48. Office romance / Working together
  49. One night stand 
  50. On the run / Flirting under fire
  51. Operation Jealousy
  52. Opposites Attract 
  53. Political Scandal
  54. Pretend marriage / fake engagement 
  55. Rags to riches / Cinderella
  56. Redemption
  57. Reformed rake / Bad boy reformed
  58. Reincarnation romance
  59. Returned to hometown
  60. Reunion / Reunited lovers 
  61. Revenge 
  62. Royalty
  63. Runaway bride / groom 
  64. Second chance at love
  65. Secret 
  66. Secret baby 
  67. Secret crushes 
  68. Secret romance / marriage
  69. Secret royal / Secret billionaire / Secret heir
  70. Slow burn
  71. Soul mates / Fate
  72. Stranded / snowbound 
  73. Sudden parenthood (eg. Doorstep baby, inherited baby) 
  74. The Bet 
  75. The one that got away
  76. Tortured hero(ine)
  77. Twins (secret twins / impersonation) 
  78. Undercover as lovers
  79. Unrequited Love
  80. Working with the ex

Monday, September 3, 2012

How to succeed

The inimitable Bob Mayer has started a blog series on Special Ops (the elite military units of the US).
In his Warrior Writer course (which I highly recommend to anyone in need of a swift kick up the derriere to get writing) Bob teaches the principles he learned in Special Ops to help writers to achieve change in their lives in order to become 'the elite'.

In this blog post, he talks about what it means to be 'elite', and in the successful 5% of the population. This bit especially resonated with me:

"One of the most difficult aspects of living a successful life and being elite is that often you must go against the norm and the mass of other people’s opinions about the way you should live.  There is a strong power in society trying to pull you into the ninety-five percent of people who live in fear and with mediocrity."

For me, not getting sucked into the modern urban mind-set of "must have new car, must have trendy clothes, must have big house, must put work first" syndrome has been hard. But I've done it.
I'm now in the 5% that sets my own values. In no particular order - time for my family, time to write and be with other writers, and the chance to travel.

That was Stage One. Stage Two is turning breaking the mould into being a success. Into being part of that 5% elite that actually fulfills their dreams.

Who is going to be brave and take the risk to join me there? Are you breaking away from the other 95% in order to follow your dreams? If so, please leave a comment and let me know so we can hold metaphorical hands and be brave together.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Sunday Conference Feedback

This is the final instalment of my adventures at Penrith 2012. Normal blogging will resume next week.

Jane Wenham-Jones – What a Way to Earning A Living 

Whatever I expected of this first session of the day, it wasn’t what I got. It was better!

Jane is so entertaining she could do stand-up comedy. For an hour she regaled us with stories from her life (including her visit to Erotica UK, the time she appeared on Kilroy, and an unfortunate yoghurt and cucumber incident at an Egyptian spa) as well as the upsides and downsides of writing (including suggestions on how to avoid Writers’ Bottom).

There were some valuable suggestions to take away from this talk too. Jane said “nothing you ever do is wasted”. It is all material for our writing. Her whole career has been a knock-on effect, and she recommends we take every opportunity that arises, as we never know where it might lead.

Most uplifting of all, she says the best thing about being a writer (and I completely agree!) is that this is the one job in which every day could be the day your life changes, and in which anything is possible.

There’s a delightful report on this session on the RNA website here: What a way to earn a living

Anne Ashurst – Towards Zero (all about back story)

The title of this talk comes from an Agatha Christie book, Towards Zero, in which zero is the murder that is committed. The journey towards the inciting incident is what matters.

Anne held her audience riveted as she used example after example (including one of her own books) to illustrate the importance of back story and how back story can be drip-fed into the present story.

She also gave practical advice on using flashbacks, and effective writing processes to build the story before even setting pen to paper.

This was perhaps the most useful talk I attended at the entire conference. I have more detailed notes which I’ll gladly share with anyone who is interested – just leave your email address in the comments below.

Chaim Potok: “Everything has a past. Everything – a person, an object, a word, everything. If you don’t know the past, you can’t understand the present and plan properly for the future.”

Sonia Duggan – Getting to where you want to be 

I ended the conference with this workshop by life and writing coach, Sonia Duggan. My full report on this session is now up at the RNA blog, but for me the best things about this workshop was focussing my goals for the next few years and making a new friend. (Hi Brigid!)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Saturday Conference Feedback

Here is the summary of my Saturday at the RNA conference at Penrith.

Talli Roland – On-line marketing for writers 

Talli opened the session by looking at the differences between marketing (identifying readers and how to satisfy them) and sales (“Buy my book!”).

She recommends that authors first figure out their brand, and suggested a good way to start is to choose three adjectives that describe your writing. Use these words in your signature, and remember them in all promotions and communications.

She gave blogging, tweeting and Facebook tips, and recommended using social media as a ‘circle’ – feeding through from one unique platform into another. She also discussed Goodreads, Amazon, Google Reader and newsletters. Talli ended by saying that marketing is a long term exercise, not an immediate solution.

Kate Harrison – A Woman’s World: The Future of Women’s Fiction 

Following the negative headlines late last year about declining book sales (based on print figures only, interestingly!) Kate decided to do a survey of women’s fiction readers. Her background is in television, where consumers are heavily researched, so she decided to use her skills to try to understand book consumers (readers).

This talk was an analysis of the responses. The survey covered reader habits, reader types, as well as a survey of authors and book professionals. The one thing that struck me above all else was the number of readers who said their favourite books are those that are thought provoking in some way. Kate will post the results on her website soon.

Juliet Greenwood – Working with an editor 

This talk focussed on Juliet’s experience working with an editor at Honno, the Welsh Women’s Press. She shared the advice given by the editor on how to revise the book, resulting in a vastly improved time-slip book which was then published by.

One thing Juliet said stuck with me: “Follow your instincts and have the courage to do what you know needs to be done.”

Gillian Green – Boldly going where Ebury has not gone before 

Ebury used to be a mainly non-fiction imprint with a heavy BBC tie-in, but started publishing fiction in 2010 and have gone from strength to strength since.

Gillian Green discussed what they’re not looking for, and showed a selection of their books as an idea of what they are looking for.

Ebury has three divisions: Rouge Romance, Black Lace for erotic fiction, and the Del Rey imprint for Sci Fi and Fantasy which launches in 2013. These are all new lists so they are very open to submissions. She ended her talk with a big push to promote traditional publishing and Ebury in particular, after saying she appreciates authors now have a choice.

HMB Editors – At the heart of Harlequin 

The four editors started the talk by presenting sales facts & figures, then ran through the various lines published out of London.

Regarding the Riva line: in February 2013 Riva will be launched in the US as ‘Kiss’. The imprint’s purpose is to attract new readers to M&B and after conducting a survey they’ve chosen to go with more chick-litty covers.

They ended by repeating exactly what Gillian Green said, kind of like the airline attendants who say “thank you for flying with us, we appreciate that you have a choice.”

The talk ended early and they opened the floor to questions, at which time I slipped out for my one-on-one appointment with Kimberly Young of Mira.

One-on-one with Kim Young 

My ten minute chat with Kim Young flew past very quickly. She was complimentary about my writing, and I came out of the chat inspired and re-invigorated. She gave me a valuable feedback on When September Ends, but the over-riding thing I took away from this chat was that Kim feels my voice is definitely suited to M&B’s Riva imprint and she strongly recommended that I do the revisions they requested. I'd better get working!

Mira Editors: Women’s fiction with a romantic twist 

The talk by three editors from Mira was centred around lists of ‘Ten Things’, starting with Ten Things Authors Hate About Harlequin (an interesting acknowledgement!), then Ten Things They Hate About Us, and finally Ten Tips for Being Commercial.

Kim Young acknowledged their position is more tenuous than in the past, and that authors have more choice than before and that the barriers to entry are less difficult than ever. They ended with a list of all the things they offer and why we should publish with them. (Are you seeing the pattern yet?!)

For my summary of the final day of the conference, check back here on Thursday.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

My promised RNA conference feedback

I promised detailed conference feedback here on the blog today, but since I've only just cleared my Inbox, it's heading towards midnight as I type this, and I've just opened an email from my boss telling me to "hit the ground running" tomorrow as they've allocated me to a big project with a tight deadline, this report is NOT going to cover the entire conference, and you're going to have to keep coming back here for the rest!

The conference started for me on Friday afternoon, arriving at the train station in Penrith and meeting a veritable crowd of romance writers on the platform. We shared taxis to the campus and were soon 'checked in' and happily enjoying a cup of tea together. The noise level during the tea breaks was something to behold. Can you imagine 160 romance writers all talking at the same time?!

Just as the Irish Road Trippers (including our own Sally Clements) arrived, the conference started with the welcome talk, practical notes (including a demonstration on how to work the showers!), a sharing of general good news, and a formal handing over of the newly engraved awards presented at the Summer Party earlier this year. Jane Lovering's acceptance speech was certainly memorable!

We then had a panel discussion by four authors (Nicola Cornick, Ruth Long, Janet Gover, Henri Gyland) and agent Carole Blake. The discussion was lively and informative, focussing mostly on the differences between writing for the UK and North American markets, foreign translations (Henri's area of expertise as she translates books into Danish) as well as smaller foreign markets.

With the formal business of the day over, we Minxes retired to Minx House for a Kir Royale cocktail and a natter, before heading to the pub for a drink in the sunshine. It may well have been the last sun we saw all weekend, but at least the weather stayed dry for the conference.

Dinner was a noisy, fun affair, the food pretty good, though the late nights (the sun only set around 10pm) still threw me. After dinner, Sally and I joined the Irish Contingent in their kitchen where (unsurprisingly, since this conference could well be nick-named the Fifty Shades of Grey conference) we ended the night with a lengthy and lively discussion on BDSM. And more champagne.

Check back here next week for my report on the main day of the conference. And I'll even try to include pictures.

I will be typing up my detailed notes from the talks I attended, and you're welcome to contact me for them, though I must include the following disclaimer: since many of these conference speakers make a living from teaching, I'll be very cautious about who I share insider information with.

What is not insider information, were the three talks I attended by various publishing houses (Ebury Press, Mills & Boon, and Harlequin's Mira division). Fellow Minx Lorraine Wilson has already created a blog post which will go up on the Minxes blog tomorrow sharing all the major points made by those publishers. Check it out!

Monday, July 16, 2012

RNA Conference Inspiration

Today's post isn't so much about Inspiration, but following this weekend's RNA conference in Penrith, I am certainly feeling inspired!

I'm blogging over at Minxes of Romance about my conference experience, with pictures, and there will be more to follow here on Thursday.

In the meantime, here's a quote from one of the fortune cookies which was my contribution to the conference goodie bags:

You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.
- Wayne Gretzky

Thursday, July 12, 2012

My UK trip so far

My UK jaunt started with a pub lunch with the London chapter of the RNA, followed by three days of sitting around chatting, drinking tea and watching telly - see my post earlier this week on the Minxes blog.

Chapter leader Jean Fullerton arranging the next get-together

Pia Fenton, who celebrated her newest release by bringing along chocolates and champagne

 Then late on Monday I moved to Bishops Stortford on the Essex / Hertfordshire border to spend a few days with my oldest friend (not oldest in age, but in how long I’ve known her).

The highlights of the week so far, apart from more chatting and more tea, was a visit to Audley End (the house itself was closed, so we wandered the gardens, servants’ wing and stables) and a day out in London featuring afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason, cocktails at Duke’s Hotel, and ending with blisters and Les Miserables.

Front facade of Audley End

The Jacobean stables at Audley End

The clandestine Pond Garden, which sparked a new 1920s story for me ...

Tomorrow I take the train up to Penrith and the real reason I’ve travelled half way round the world: the RNA Conference. More on Monday.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Magic and Castles in the Air

Yay – I made it!

I’ve spent a delightful couple of days in England, in spite of the dense cloud and chillier temperatures than back home in wintry South Africa. Catching up with old friends, being treated to a Sunday roast complete with Yorkshire pudding, and even a couple of hours of sunshine have got this holiday off to a fantastic start.

My blog post over at the Minxes of Romance today is all about just one of the things I love about England. Please pop over there and feel the magic with me.

And because today is Monday, and I’m sure we all need a little inspiration to kick start the week, here’s a quote from yet another Huletts sugar packet:

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; 
that is where they should be. 
Now put foundations under them. 
- Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Yay - a Minxy sale!

I'm behind the times with the news, since the whole world has known about it for a full week, but at last I'd like to congratulate my Minxy CP, Joanne Pibworth, on her sale to Harper Collins.

Jo's book The Lighthouse will be published under the pen name Jodie James, and the lovely people at Harper Collins are running a contest on their Authonomy site to find the book a new name. You can find out more here.

Jo's call story is up on her blog, but the post that touched me most was this one she did for the Seven Sassy Sisters.

We Minxes shared the ups and downs of Jo's journey, but what's really moved me about her success, is what I've learned from her along the way.

I love that in spite of multiple rejections from her publisher of choice, having to re-think her career as a writer, then the 21 agent rejections she received on this book before it sold, she has remained strong and cheerful. Those rejections stung, but she never let them get her down. She kept faith in her story, and she never gave up. And that positivity and resilience has been rewarded.

Thanks Jo, for teaching me the value of hope!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Dear Julia Launch Wave - last stop

Welcome to the final instalment in the Dear Julia Launch Wave.

Thank you to all the lovely authors who’ve hosted this wave, and to all you readers who’ve followed the story and tweeted.

Here is the full list of participating blogs:
Stop 1 - Minxes of Romance
Stop 2 - Sally Clements
Stop 3 - Rachel Bailey
Stop 4 - Scarlet Wilson
Stop 5 - Olivia Miles
Stop 6 - Jennifer Shirk
Stop 7 - Suzanne Jones
Stop 8 - you are here!

* * * 

Dear Julia is set in the English countryside in the early 1920s, and is part of the Love Letters series from The Wild Rose Press.

Read the opening extract here.

Extract Eight

On the first sunny day after the rainy spell, she dressed in her prettiest frock, a frosty pink silk and lace concoction, and set off across the fields towards the Manor. The sun warmed her bare head and arms, birds sang in the trees, and her spirit soared.
Her objective was in sight.
The Manor lay beyond the village, hidden from the road by a veritable forest of trees. It seemed isolated, cut off from the village by a will of its own.
Whatever she expected, when she rounded the curve in the drive and the house appeared before her, she wasn’t sure. But it wasn’t this.
From Mrs. Ferncroft’s description of the “big old house,” she’d expected a ramshackle Elizabethan sprawl, something draughty and dilapidated. Instead, she faced a stately double-storey Georgian house, gracefully symmetrical, with bay windows on either side of a porticoed entrance. The windows stood open to the sunlight. A neat lawn ran from the last of the trees right up to the door, cut in two by the straight gravel drive. In the bright morning sunlight, the house’s stone walls turned a mellow gold. It was the most welcoming house she’d ever seen, and not at all what she’d imagined as the home of two confirmed bachelors.
She pulled the old bell pull beside the door and chimes echoed behind the door, then slow, measured footsteps. At last, the door swung open.

* * *

If you enjoyed this extract, you can buy the full story at Amazon, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, All Romance eBooks, and direct from the publisher, The Wild Rose Press. You can find out more about this novella here - and don’t forget to tweet your feedback using the hashtag #DearJulia.

I’m also running a contest on my Rae Summers blog. Answer a simple question about this story, and you’ll be entered to win a copy of Dear Julia. Entries close Sunday night, and the winner will be announced on Monday.

I hope you’ve all had as much fun following this wave as I have!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Dear Julia now on sale

My new 1920s novella, Dear Julia, released yesterday through The Wild Rose Press. To celebrate its release, I'm running a contest on my Rae Summers blog where you can win a free copy.

Tomorrow is Launch Wave day. I'll be sharing the opening chapter, spread across 8 blogs. Check back here to follow the wave, which starts at Minxes of Romance and ends right here.

* * *

About Dear Julia

The discovery of a long-lost love letter in a house she’s redecorating sends Rosalie Stanton on a quest to find its rightful owner.

Since his return from the Great War, William Cavendish has lived as a recluse. His peaceful existence is shattered by the return of the letter that once held all his hopes — and by its bearer, the irrepressible Rosalie, who bears an uncanny resemblance to his lost love.

As Rosalie sets out to lure William back into society, she realises that in him she might just have met her match.

You can buy the book at Amazon, Amaxon UK and direct from The Wild Rose Press.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Monday laugh

It's Monday morning and if you feel anything like I do after a not-so-restful weekend, then you need a laugh to start the week. So how about this?

It's a sign I saw outside a shebeen (informal, unregistered pub) on Saturday. And a Zonkey, is a cross between a Zebra and a Donkey. You can see one here on this Minxes blog post.

For those who need a little translation, the sign says:

The shebeen is available for functions, parties, and happy time (i.e. happy hour).

Welcome to South Africa!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Hopes and Heartbreaks

If it were not for hopes, the heart would break.
- Thomas Fuller (1608-1661)

Our local sugar manufacturer, Huletts, prints inspirational messages on their sugar packets. This is one I opened recently, and I've kept it in my purse since because it really resonates with me.

Since most followers of this blog are aspiring writers, I bet you already have hopes of living a rather different life than the one you have now. It probably involves seeing your name on the cover of a beautiful hardback, cashing in substantial royalty cheques and being feted at book signings.

Much as I'd like all the above, my dream is far simpler: to be a stay-at-home writer and full-time mom. It's what keeps me going and without it my heart would break.

I cannot imagine how people stay on the treadmill of traffic, bosses, end-of-the-month financial woes, and the guilt-ridden feeling that your kids deserve more of you than an anxious hour at the beginning and end of every day, without having a dream.

So for today's Inspiration, I'd like to suggest that we share our dreams, and remind ourselves of what we're hoping for and living for.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Positivity and a great anti-stress tip

A very belated post since I'm just back from a wonderful weekend away in the Natal Midlands. A few weeks ago I blogged some tips on how to stay postive, and today I have three more.

  1. Follow positivity on Twitter. We all know the saying that if you want to be successful you surround yourself with successful people. The same thing goes with positivity. In order to stay positive, surround yourself with positive thoughts. A couple of my favourite mood uplifters on Twitter are Tiny Buddha and Inspirational Quotes. Please feel free to share any others you find. We can never have enough joy!
  2. Dance. Put on some bouncy music and get moving. If you have young kids, dance around the room with them. Dance like no-one is watching. Better yet, dance when no-one is watching. Guaranteed, no matter how silly it feels, you'll be getting exercise and by the end of the song you'll feel great.
  3. Breathe! When we get stressed, our breathing becomes shallow. This is natural fight-or-flight behaviour, but the scary thing is that it's a vicious cycle. In our busy, modern lives our bodies are constantly under stress and shallow breathing becomes the norm. Only after my cranio-sacral therapist (don't ask what that is because I don't know - except that it works!) pointed out that I need to concentrate on breathing, did I realise how badly I breathe. When you start to feel stressed, breathe deeply from your stomach. Just three breaths and you'll start to feel less stressed. Guaranteed. I use it it now as a de-stress technique in traffic. I have a short fuse and am a road rage candidate, so the fact that I now handle the morning commute without wielding a baseball bat is proof that focussing on breathing in deeply can make a massive difference.

And just in case you need a little more than music and fresh air to feel happier, maybe this will help. This was my view throughout the long weekend we've just had in South Africa:

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Lucky 7 Meme

Three of my lovely CPs, Sri Pammi, Joanne Pibworth and Suzanne Jones, have played the Lucky 7's game, and even though their excerpts are tough acts to follow, I thought I'd join the fun.

Go to the 77th page of your work-in-progress, 7th line down, and paste the next 7 sentences. Then tag 7 others. 
Consider yourselves tagged.

Here's mine, from my never-ending single title WIP, When September Ends. The heroine, Vivian, is sitting under the bleachers at her old high school with her one-time best friend and boy-next-door, Ryan:

“Nothing happened.”
“Maybe it should have. Then maybe you wouldn’t have been such an ass on prom night.”
“I didn’t want Serena. I only ever wanted you.”
Vivian raised the joint to her lips and inhaled deeply. There was only half left and yet she still didn’t feel relaxed.

I've now read seven further Lucky 7 contributions from Julie Cohen, Kate Hardy, Kate Jackson, Nicola Marsh, Rachael Johns, Liz Fielding and Teresa Ashby. They're all fascinating, but I still think Jo P's is the best of all. Click on the links, and let me know what you think... and if you have a blog, I've shown you mine, now you can show me yours!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Revisions in my Inbox!

Last week I blogged a teaser tribute to my critique group, the Minxes of Romance. If you haven't yet heard the exciting Minxy news that followed: Maya Minx sold to Harlequin Presents!

It's been a busy week for us, as Sri Minx has finished and sent off her revisions (Yay, Sri!) to Harlequin Presents, Sally Minx is busy with her contracted book which has an imminent deadline, and on Sunday night I received a detailed revisions letter of my own for my New Voices 2011 entry, Once Upon a Time.

The revisions are pretty massive, to the point that the editor even took pity on me and offered I could send her something completely new instead. Since I don't have anything new that I'm ready for outside eyes to see, I've opted to do the revisions.

So this is me heading to join my other fellow Minxes in the Revisions Cave. It's warm and well lit, and we keep it stocked with plenty of coffee, lucozade and chocolate, but no other distractions are allowed. Wish me joy.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Book Review: Brief the Sun of Summer

This is less a book review than a shining example of how we can all realise our dreams.

Brief the Sun of Summer is a poignant, lyrical story set in northern England duirng World War 2, published in 2010 by Vanguard Press. It's a mostly true account of a young English girl falling in love with a Polish fighter pilot, set against the backdrop of sweeping events. The story is slow, beautifully written, and is sure to entrance.

But for me, the two best things about this book have nothing at all to do with the story. Firstly, I know the author. Her grand-daughter was my closest childhood friend and is now the godmother to my eldest daughter.

Secondly, the author published this book at the age of 91.

She is the living proof that you are never too old to follow your heart and live your dreams, and that publishing is the one industry in which age is no barrier to success.

Irene Hunter Steiner wrote and sold two romance novels in the 1970s, then after a long hiatus she wrote this novel - on a typewriter, since she still hadn't learned to use a new-fangled computer. She's now working on the sequel to Brief the Sun of Summer. I look forward to seeing it on the shelves.

The only obstacles are the ones we imagine. So no more excuses, we can all realise our dreams. And we will.

Monday, March 26, 2012

March Mash-up

Here's a mash-up of interesting and inspirational articles I discovered this month:

Reasons why romance readers should watch The Vampire Diaries Yup. I agree.

An insightful article from the Huffington Post on why romance novels are good for us. (Thanks to author April Vine for this link)

Don't give up: How it took one crime writer 133 Rejections to get published

And this useful advice on finding time to write from South African crime author Jassy Mackenzie.

Finally, I'm going to leave you with this inspirational TED talk from Ellen McGirt:

Monday, February 20, 2012

Monthly Mash-up

I first heard of mash-ups from Kristen Lamb, and I think it's a great idea. (Not least of all because it's an easy blog post to put together since I surf the net way too much.)

So today I'd like to share a few websites I've stumbled across that have inspired me:

This one gave me chills. A fantastic reminder on what our priorities in life really are.
The top 5 regrets people express on their deathbeds

Britt Michaelian shares inspirational tweets on Twitter as @MamaBritt. I really love this blog post from her:
How Inspiration Influences Your Success
The post has some useful practical tips on how to practice inspiration.

I bookmarked this sweet, humorous post at the beginning of the year, and would now like to dedicate it to the many, many wonderful wise women who inspire me (and yes, that includes YOU).
Barbara Scully's Wise Women

And finally, one from Kristen Lamb herself, with great tips for Publishers on how they can avoid a serious collision with the future:
Bracing for impact: The future of big publishing in the new paradigm
I love the idea of ordering your print book, going off for a coffee (or shoe shopping) then coming back to fetch your book. Sure beats my fancy local book store (with its own glossy coffee shop) which never has any of the books I want in stock!

What websites have you found that you'd like to share?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What I learned from The Vampire Diaries

Aside from the comeback of mood rings, and the fact that there are even scarier things around than vampires, most of what I've learned from the addictive CW television series, The Vampire Diaries, is writing-related.

It's been a year since I blogged about what we writers could learn from The Vampire Diaries over on The Minxes blog, and there is still so much more I'd like to share with you. So pull up a comfy sofa and a glass of your favourite drink, and get ready.

First, here's a re-cap of the posts I've already done:

The first posts were about the earliest lightbulb moments I had while watching Series 1. You can read An Awakening - Part One here, and Part Two here.

My next blog post was on Motivation - the importance of ensuring that the actions and decisions of each and every character are well motivated.

Then came Character Arcs - using examples from The Vampire Diaries to show how characters can change and grow.

Next was a post on Acting out of Character - the importance of keeping your characters consistent, as well as examples of when it's okay to have your characters act out of character. I'd still love ideas on just why the PTA mom absconded to Vegas. Feel free to leave your comments below.

Finally, I blogged about my personal revelation in Innovation. That was back in March last year, and it really helped formulate my writing style for the rest of the year. I stopped over-thinking what editors and agents might want from me, and just wrote, and the immense change it has brought about in my own writing has been phenomenal.

In my next post I'll be looking at POV. Yes, POV exists even in an omniscient TV series. Want to find out how? Check back here next week. Same time, same place, and I guarantee next time there'll be eye candy too.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Writers' Excuse Book - 101 excuses you've heard before

I've heard a lot of excuses from wannabe writers about why they don't write. There's not enough time. Life is too hectic. The day job is too demanding. I need to do house-work. I don't have space. I'm too young. I'm too old.

The excuses are usually followed by 'when'. I'll write when I have more time. I'll write when the kids start school. I'll write when the kids leave school. I'll write when the house alterations are done, or when I have my own desk.

If you're really looking for all 101 excuses, you'll have to find another blog. I'm bored already.

The thing is, excuses are not the real problem. They're just symptoms.

It's like when you're stressed at work but won't admit it, so instead you get headaches, stomach aches, the common cold. And no matter how many antibiotic prescriptions you get, you still stay sick. Why? Because you're not dealing with the core issue, which is whatever is causing your stress.

Do you really want to be permanently sick, or tired, or depressed? Or do you want to be successful?
You can't have both.

Do you want to be a writer or an aspiring writer? We move from being the latter to being the former jthe moment we stop with the excuses and start with the writing.

Ane here's how we can do it: right here, right now I want us to stop everything and take a moment to examine WHY you're making excuses. What are we afraid of?

Take your time. I'll wait.

So any ideas yet? And don't give me that 'fear of failure' or 'fear of success' nonsense. That's an easy answer. I want you to dig deeper.

Are you afraid people will laugh at you? Are you afraid of pissing off your family by taking time for yourself?
They won't. Because they love you and they want you to succeed every bit as much as you do. [And if they don't, they're not people you want to know anyhow]

Are you avoiding your mansucript because you think it'll bite you? Or because you think your story sucks? (Of course it sucks - because you haven't actually written it!)

In the interests of transparency, I'll admit that my usual excuse is that I'm too tired. And usually by the time I sit down to write, I am. Because by that time I've wasted precious time doing everything else BUT writing. Why? Probably because laziness is one of my worst qualities, and I'm afrid of work. And until I actually get back into writing, I forget that it feels less like work and more like fun.

Okay, so now we've worked out what excuses you're making. And we understand why we're making them. And I bet anything we're now sitting there looking at our excuses and thinking "That's just daft?"

I hope so, because now we can get back to doing what we love: writing.

PS: On Friday I blogged over at The Minxes about my new guru Kristen Lamb. She has even more butt-kicking blog posts along these lines, which you can read here and here.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The art of being selfish

Those Victorians have a lot to answer for. Their determination that every member of society should walk the 'straight and narrow path' (while a noble attempt to raise us all to the moral high ground) has left most of us in the western world with a damaged psyche.

Strong words, I know. After all, why shouldn't we have higher morals and strive for a better world?
Well, of course we should.

But not at the expense of our own selves.

More than a hundred years after Queen Victoria died, we still feel guilty if we put ourselves ahead of others.

I'm here to tell you right here and now that this guilt is CRAP. Yes, I just swore. That's how strongly I feel about this.

We can't look after others if we don't first look after ourselves. We can't give strength to others, if we aren't first strong in ourselves. You can't give financial aid to others, unless we first pay our own bills.

And we can't teach our children how to be whole, confident, successful individuals if we give up our own selves, our hobbies and our passions, to serve them. I have two daughters. The best lesson I can teach them is that they need to give me space to be who I am.

Yes, it's selfish. But how else am I going to teach my daughters to reach for their dreams if I don't reach for mine?

I spend quality time with them. But when I close my door and sit down at my laptop to write, that's when I get quality time with ME. They have to respect that. I have to respect that. Because if I don't, then I'm teaching them it's okay to let other people trample over my dreams. I would be teaching them that I am not as worthy of my own time as they are. And in turn, I'm showing them by example not to value themsleves, because I don't value myself.

It's been a hard lesson for me to learn, but I've learned it. I'm selfish, and I'm not ashamed to say it out loud.

We are the generation that can break those ties to our Victotian ancestors. We can let go the ropes that moor us to the earth, and we can soar. And continuing the analogy, we are the generation that can reach the stars, and enable those who follow to fly even further, beyond our wildest dreams.

Being selfish isn't bad. It's a beginning. Because once we have selfishly built ourselves up, we can build up others. We can raise our entire community and society to that high ground the Victorians so valued, a place where all of our dreams can come true. (Who knows, maybe even the dream of world peace might come true?)

So what are you teaching your children about following their dreams? Do you want them to do what you do, or only what you say? Show versus tell?
Do your children respect your ME time? Do you?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Discovery of Witches

I discovered this book through Goodreads, and checked it out because I liked the title. When I read the blurb and realised it was set in Oxford, where my brother and SIL both received their doctorates, it became an autobuy. And I'm so glad I bought it!

Deborah Harkness' book gripped me from beginning to end (and cost me two whole nights' sleep!). It might be a paranormal, but A Discovery of Witches is no teeny bopper romance. This is an intelligent story with an adult heroine and hero (who just happen to be a witch and vampire respectively). The mix of realism and magic was skillfully woven, and I loved the varied settings - from the dreaming spires of Oxford, to the richness of the Auvergne countryside, to the homeliness of New England.

A Discovery of Witches reminded me a great deal of AS Byatt's Possession, and it's even easier to read. The author's knowledge never feels forced or like a lecture. She threads history, biology, science and philosophy so seamlessly into the story that it doesn't feel like you're learning anything, but trust me, you will. I suspect that every reader will take away something different from this story.

I eagerly await the next book in this Trilogy. I hope I've caught up on some sleep by then, so I'm ready!

If you've read this book, please share your opinion in the comments. If not, check out this really detailed and informative review by Bibliophile Jen. And if we've convinced you to try the book, you can find it here on Amazon for Kindle and as a paperback.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Inspiring Women

It's Monday morning and not only is it Back to Work day, but it's also the first day I start The Great Commute to take my daughters to their new school across town. Far from letting any of this get me down, I'm cheering. Because for 2012 Mondays are Inspiration days here on my blog.

Last week I posted this picture, and opened a brainstorming session, asking blog readers to share their inspiration of what lay behind the door. If you haven't yet had your say, please leave a comment.

This week I'd like to pay tribute to women. To all of us, because we are incredible.

We are stronger than we think. We hold down demanding jobs, raise children, run households (and sorting insurances, car service, grocery shopping, and general maintenance is a full time job. Ask my PA. Ha-ha.) We support each other, not just our friends and families, but sometimes strangers too.

We are often faced with really tough situations that aren't of our own making. And it amazes me again and again ust how strong and resilient women can be. My fellow Wild Rose Press author Kellie Kamryn is hosting a series on her blog, featuring women who've survived abusive marriages and come out the other side.

Far from being depressing, these are stories of brave women, starting with Kellie herself, who are survivors and examples to us all of just how amazing we women are. Please visit Kellie's blog to read both her story and this first post in the series. Thanks Kellie, for offering support and encouragement to the women who need it most.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

We can do it!

My good friend Mandy and I are planning to start teaching novel-writing writing courses soon. Here in South Africa there's a dearth of courses aimed at writers (or aspiring writers) of commercial fiction. Here, if you're a poet or write literary fiction dripping in political angst, you've got it made. Write commercial fiction? Not so much.

Another reason I see a huge need to pass on what I've learned over the last few years is that I really believe anyone can write a novel. (Can anyone publish? Well, that's a whole other blog post.)

But I very strongly believe that anyone who wants to write a novel can - and should.

We all started at that place where we said "I want to write a novel one day". Some of us did it because we had the discipline and focus to make ourselves sit down and write. Some of us needed a bit of a shove from friends or family. All of us discovered along the way that we had a helluva lot to learn. And hopefully, like me, most of us discovered that the learning is just as fun as the writing.

I'd particularly like our courses to be for those who need that nudge. I would absolutely hate for people to never follow their dream and end up regretting that they didn't do it, when all they needed was that little shove in the right direction.

Some people start with greater advantages and get there a little quicker. Some of us take a little longer to get there. But no matter how long it takes, we can all get there if we learn and we persevere. Don't believe me? Check out author Helen Lacey's call story.

The next part of why I want to pass on what I've learned the long, slow, hard way is, in Bob Mayer's words to "Write it forward". If I can help speed up someone else's journey just a little, I'll be happy.

So now I'd like to learn more about you. Were you a self-starter, or did you need a nudge to follow your dreams? Or are you still in need of a shove?

Monday, January 2, 2012

How NOT to make new year resolutions

There are a few basic rules to making resolutions at the start of the new year. This isn't ground breaking stuff, I know, but I need to remind myself.

1. Don't keep them to yourself, as no-one will keep you accountable unless they know what you want to achieve.
DO make your aims public.

2. Don't make resolutions that rely on other people making things happen (eg. my publisher of choice will request a full within the next 3 months. Yeah right.)
DO list things you can do yourself.

3.  Don't be too general. "Write more" might be an achievable goal, but it's also very broad.
DO make your goals specific.

4. Don't aim low. I have a sign at my bedroom door that says "Aim for the moon. Even if you fail, you fall among the stars."
DO push yourself with your new year's resolutions.

Susan Meier has done a really wonderful series of blog posts on goal setting which you can read here.  She points out four more important elements for effective goal setting: they should be "1) clear, 2) specific, 3) measurable, and 4) time bound."

So in that spirit, here are my resolutions for 2012. It's quite a list this year!
  • Complete both my current WIPs by 1st March (thanks lovely Twitter friends for giving me a date and a swift kick in the derriere)
  • Submit a partial of When September Ends to at least 4 of my A-list agents before the end of April.
  • Write at least one full category-length manuscript aimed at RIVA between March and December.
  • Write The Orchard, my next novella-length 1920s story, between March and December.
  • Keep up with my blog(s) all year!
  • Get my new German passport sorted before April
  • Promote the pants off Dear Julia when it releases in June
  • Attend the RNA conference in Penrith in July
  • My friend Mandy and I are planning to start teaching courses together. I'd like to get the first underway no later than March.
  • Go to the gym at least twice a month this year. Every month. 
  • And finally, I have a few friends I've neglected terribly this last year. In 2012 I'm going to make a conscious effort to stay more in touch.
It's do-able, and if I achieve all of that I'll be a very happy bunny.

Have you made any resolutions?