....welcome to my blog on writing, reading and living in London ......

Friday, 23 July 2010


Back in May, I sent off a) an idea to a magazine for a serial b) a short story and c) a completed draft of a pocket novel to My Weekly. Then, I sat back and waited....and waited.....and waited. Also I checked my e-mails not just every day or every hour but yes, practically every minute. But it wasn't just days which ticked by with no news, but weeks and then oh horror of horrors, months. Two to be precise. Obviously my precious manuscripts hadn't arrived. Was it too soon to chase? If I chased would I be seen as a troublemaker, a stalker, a pain in the a"*+! I'd spent so long sitting tight. I must be a failure, no one wanted my rotten stories, I should just give in and give up. That was whispered in the cold dark hours by the horrid gremlin who sits on all writers' shoulders whispering sour nothings in our ears. But instead of listening to him, I shoved the little devil off my shoulder and into the mud where he belonged. Then I stamped on him and ...... got out my laptop and started something new. Because that's what you have to do when you're waiting. Luckily I had the RNA conference to look forward to. And, it was while I was there that my gorgeous husband 'phoned me to say that a package had arrived. Yes, it was from the magazine I'd sent the serial to. 'Rip it open, take a look,' I urged my husband. 'They liked it,' he said, 'they want some revisions. Nine in fact. But they liked it!' Hurrah. Then, lo and behold, also while I was at the conference an e-mail came through to say that My Weekly had accepted my latest novel, 'Tango at Midnight.' Double hoorah!!!! But, the moral to this story is that I kept writing, even when I thought all my efforts had turned to dust and that editors hated me. You've got to keep that wagon rolling even when you think all is lost. Because it's not. What's more, even if I'd have had rejections which I would have felt rotten about, I'd have still had something new to keep me going. Here by the way is a photo of me at the RNA gala dinner at this year's conference in Greenwich sent by my good, good friend Penny. And there also looking very serious is my gorgeous husband who loved every second of attending the Greenwich dinner and, as one of the few men at the conference, basked in having been given a round of applause by all the girlies on our table, simply for being there!

Monday, 12 July 2010

A tale of two Elizabeths.....

I was really delighted to be at the Romantic Novelists Association 50th anniversary conference to be able to see Elizabeth Fearon win the Elizabeth Goudge Trophy for her short story. The theme was based around an anniversary and Katie Fforde who is in the photo presenting Elizabeth Fearon with her trophy said that the story made her cry - wouldn't we all love to be able to write fiction that inspires such a reaction?! Apparently the standard was extremely good this year so a hearty cheer to all those who entered. I can't wait to read Elizabeth's story and look forward to seeing it in print as soon as she's placed it. Also in the photo is Jan Jones who deserves our congratulations for being one of the main organisers of what was a wonderful, wonderful conference.

50th Anniversary Romantic Novelists Association Conference

What an absolutely superb conference! Jan Jones and Roger Sanderson who have quite enough to do being successful writers also run this show every year. This 50th anniversary conference in beautiful Greenwich surpassed all the others I have been to with a superb location and wonderfully hot weather. Also the talks were superb. One particular one which I enjoyed was that given by Sarah Duncan whose 'A Single to Rome' and 'Kissing Mr Wrong' I shall be rushing out to buy. I'm sure she writes as well as she speaks, with boundless enthusiasm and huge energy. I'm summarising her points here for anyone who didn't make it to Greenwich. She runs writing courses and I would urge you to look them up at http://www.sarahduncan.co.uk because for me, her talk on its own was worth the cost of the conference. Sarah covered the following points:

1. Dreams - how many of us have dreams of starting our own business or moving abroad? How many of us do it? THOSE are the sorts of characters people want to read about - characters who take action.
2. Caring - think about the people in an earthquake thousands of miles away that you read about in the paper, and think about a close friend who has maybe had an accident. Who do we care about more? We care about the person we know and that is what a good author has to do, make their reader care.
3. Emotion - Go deep into your characters' emotional state. Your characters have to be fighting for things the other people ie. your readers care about. The film 'Gladiator' was given as an example (and any excuse to watch that again is a good one!).
4. Qualities - If we overheard a conversation about ourselves, what would we want people to say about us? That we were loyal, honest etc. Give your characters similar qualities BUT no one is a cardboard cutout. We all have shades of good and bad. Likeable characters however, ones that people want to read about have redeeming qualities, they are self aware and they make amends.
5. The lift test - when you persuade someone to read a book, you are stealing their time. Think about your characters. Would you want to be stuck in a lift with them? Think of the people you could be happy being stuck with and write down why. It is those sorts of people your readers will be happy to spend time with.
6. Cherries and cake! - No one likes a cherry cake where all the good bits have sunk to one place. Think about where you pleace your good bits in a novel and don't chunk them together, spread them about a bit.
7. Suspense - make people wait. Don't set up a problem for your protagonists and then solve it on the next page.
8. Ending your chapters - when you read bedtime stories to children chapters often end with them all snuggling happily to go to sleep because that's what the parent who buys the book wants the child to do. We don't want to send our readers to sleep. We want to force them to start a new chapter and keep reading so they have to buy lots more of our lovely books. Think carefully where you put your chapter breaks, encourage that page to turn!
9. Tea drinking - there can be too much of it, try and keep your characters active.
10. Flashback - be very wary of it. It can act like the accelerator or worse, put the action in reverse.

Well, that, in a very small nutshell was Sarah's talk, but I do urge you, if possible to go and hear her, she's a new speaker to me and one of the most absorbing ones on writing fiction I have come across.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Surrey or the South of France

This glorious field of lavender is a fairly recent addition to the countryside just outside London at Banstead in Surrey. Or is it? I've only tried one historical novel but historical references are all around us and this is one of them. This part of Surrey was once famous for its lavender fields which would have supplied the lavender sellers on the streets of London with bunches of the fragrant flower. Resonances of the past are all around us but often only apparent to us in our busy daily lives if we really look for them. Lavender sprigs are depicted in the area in Wallington's Christmas lights and on Mitcham borough council's coat of arms but it's a long while since the flowers have been grown in this area en masse. The 25 acres of lavender fields at Mayfield lavender www.mayfieldlavender.com are stunning this time of year and well worth a visit. They've also given me a nice idea for a book which when I've finished the one I'm working on I shall tackle and I have a feeling the research, being surrounding by the evocative scent of lavender will be sheer joy!

Friday, 2 July 2010

Society of Authors reception

Today, on one of the hottest days of the year, I went to the Society of Authors new members' reception. They are based at 84 Drayton Gardens in Kensington, one of the loveliest parts of London. It took me a while to join the Society of Authors because I wasn't sure what benefit they would be. However, today's reception was well worth the price of entry - I am easily swayed by a nice array of nibbles and lashings of wine! But, of course as with all these things, it's all about meeting people and talking about things of mutual interest. There were so many different authors, the fiction ones being in the minority at this particular reception. There were quite a few art historians having a lovely time researching in places like Venice. There was also a psychotherapist who'd published her third book on child psychology and there was a guy who wrote comedy. So, a pretty mixed bag. The most useful thing about the mixture of individuals for a fiction author I found was that there are times when you need just a few nuggets of specialist knowledge to make your characters come alive. I would take bets that the Society of Authors has representatives from practically every profession on earth and being a member will I'm sure be a useful way to find someone if I ever need to make contact with - say - a landscape gardener or a specialist in musical instruments. They were a really friendly bunch and they run regular seminars on things like e-publishing. An incredibly useful service offered by the Society is that they will, for free, look over any publishing contract clause by clause. That alone I'm sure is worth the cost of membership! They can be reached at http://www.societyofauthors.org/ .