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

Saturday, 28 July 2012

One of the best things you can do to your romance readers

I was delighted yesterday to almost make someone cry. She had been kind enough to read my book The Sanctuary. Her exact words were, "I was touched by your story, to the point of tears." Now that could just have been because it was so bad, but I hope she was crying in a good way. I love a good cry at a book or at the movies. I remember sitting in a cinema and wailing over "West Side Story", it's heart wrenching after all that exuberance - singing, dancing and falling in love when it all comes crashing down after the shooting. Then, of course, there was the bit in Bambie where his mother gets shot. That was so sad. Plus, don't even mention 'Breakfast at Tiffany's', where they go and find that poor cat, soaking wet in the rain. Here's a link to that scene which still does it for me, every time! What films or books have made you cry I wonder?

FABULOUS London Olympic Opening Ceremony

WOW, FABULOUS, AMAZING, QUIRKY, CONFUSING, HILARIOUS - Danny Boyle's opening ceremony was all of those and more. An extraordinary hotch potch of everything that makes up Britain today. What a stroke of genius to congratulate the workers of the NHS who are so often villified when in fact most of them do a fabulous job. How lovely and quirky to see both a posse of Mary Poppins's as well as our WONDERFUL Queen not taking herself too seriously. Tears ran down my face when Rowan Atkinson was playing the fool. Other tears were inspired by Akram Khan's totally moving choreography remembering those who couldn't be with us, reflecting a somewhat darker side of terrorism which occasionally blights our wonderful city.
Security has been so tight lately, thank goodness. My home city was celebrated with superb views of the Thames and Tower Bridge and now a new landmark, the Olympic stadium. Was the Olympic opening ceremony relevant, did it reflect us? Totally. So much of it rang bells. Yes, I do listen to The Archers, my sister does live in a rural idyll with farm animals down the lane and my brother-in-law does play cricket on a village green. Dizzee Rascal's rapping does blast out of the streets of Croydon near where I live and work and yes, I have seen Rowan Atkinson filming in London. Yes, I do know someone who volunteered at the opening ceremony. Yes, that kiss between two women on the clips of TV and films reflects that I know more than a few couples in civil partnerships - those things reflect Britain today as did Danny Boyle's wonderful, chaotic, stunning ceremony. Well done Britain, well done Danny, well done athletes, well done London!!!
Here's Daniel Craig trying not to laugh!

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Beautiful Weymouth by the sea

One of the wonderful things about living in London is being able to get to other places easily. We have recently spent a couple of days in Weymouth, Dorset. What a fabulous place! I always feel inspired to write by the sea and have set many books, including The Sanctuary at seaside locations. By the way, it's still on summer sale at only .99 cents or .77 pence from Amazon. There's a donkey in my story which is about a girl who inherits an animal sanctuary. The donkey in the photo above is one of a group which gives children rides on Weymouth beach and I am indebted to writer Laura James who tells me that the lady who owns them has won awards - they certainly looked very happy as they mooched up and down the sands.
Weymouth is the quintessential English seaside location. Yesterday I kept on being reminded of the postcards of Donald McGill. There we were on the beach, roasting in beautiful sunshine, all turning into pink lobsters. There were fat people, skinny people, ladies of a certain age on deckchairs fast asleep, unwittingly flashing their knickers, children misbehaving and a punch and judy show. There was also the serious matter of the Olympic sailing which is coming to Weymouth this week. Another serious note were the many memorials on the seafront to the brave American and British troops who left from this idyllic sandy beach for the Omaha landings. Weymouth has a fabulous history and many beautiful Georgian houses as well as a peaceful historic harbour. Do visit if you get the chance. The other photo is of me swimming by Durdle Dor, a really fabulous ethereal location reached by walking along the cliffs. It was freezing but very refreshing. The three hour drive also gave me enough time to do some more editing on my next book with Astraea which I hope will be 'Take a Chance' a cosy crime set in an English country house owned by one Lady Margrave. Watch this space....

Sunday, 22 July 2012

The Sanctuary and other Astraea Press books only 99 cents or .77p

I've just had a wonderful review for The Sanctuary on Amazon which is really super. Here's the link. The Sanctuary is described as a warm and uplifting story in the review. What's more, my publisher Astraea Press are having a summer sale and all books are only 99 cents or just .77p. So, if you haven't already got your holiday reads on Kindle etc, do go and have a look today. Astraea do sweet romances, romantic suspense etc. Perfect beach reads. Enjoy!

Friday, 20 July 2012

How to write a pocket novel

I couldn't go to the Romantic Novelists Association conference this year. However, one of those who did attend, Kate Jackson Bedford has posted up a really useful blog about one of the talks. Maggie Seed who is the editor of My Weekly pocket novels gave a presentation about what she looks for in a pocket novel. I have had six pocket novels published by My Weekly and People's Friend. These include 'The Sanctuary' a romantic mystery with a rescue dog and a troubled teenager thrown in. This is on the special low price of .77p for the summer!!! Buy now! Like all genres, to keep up with the times, pocket novels are changing to include more mystery, murder and mayhem but essentially they are still heartstopping romances. Kate's blog gave a very good round up of what they're looking for in submissions. They are a wonderful antidote to Fifty Shades of Grey! You will also find tips at The Pocketeers Blogspot. Happy reading and writing! PS - the photo above is of Douglas Booth and outrageously good looking young actor who has been the model for many of my pocket novel heroes. Sigh...

Thursday, 19 July 2012

What a writing retreat can do for you.

A few years ago a friend of mine, Giselle Green - an incredibly talented writer - invited me to a writing retreat with her and a couple of friends. I was sceptical. How on earth would I cope somewhere which had no connection to the internet, no telephones and no TV. Did such places still exist on earth? Well, they do and they can be fabulous for a writer. It's an opportunity to get away completely. Most retreats are either in the country or by the sea. Our retreat is in amongst wonderful gardens and here they are.
Tucked away from the real world they are an opportunity to concentrate on your writing in a way you simply don't get at home. I wrote most of my book, The Sanctuary at this retreat. If you're sitting in front of a PC people never feel you're working and writing time can be so easily curtailed by a phone call or other work and pressures. We each have our own little self-catering room so that tea and coffee is on tap whenever you want. It also means that one of us cooks and invites the other over in the evening. So, after an isolated day writing, reading and making notes we can get together for a gossip and a laugh. I'm a very early riser and do my best writing between 5 and 10am but by then I'm pretty pooped. When I'm on retreat I can have a nap and then be ready to write again in the afternoon. I simply can't follow that pattern when all the demands of house, children etc crowd in on me at home. I had a truly wonderful time. I managed to iron out a lot of the difficult areas of the crime story I'm writing and now have only 10,000 words to go till the end. What's more I made a new best friend while I was there. That's his picture above. He's a red siberian pedigree cat with an amazing yowl of a miaow, and the skinniest cat I've ever seen. Anyhow, I should be off writing those 10,000 words now so, goodbye and if you get a chance to go on retreat, grab it!

Saturday, 14 July 2012

HAIL in July and how it can help our writing...

Hi - we have been having the most appalling weather in England. Here is a photo of hail which fell this week. It was so bad that people were getting up off the sofa and opening their front doors to remark upon it. One thing it did was make me think about IMPACT in writing. One of the things I do as a published writer, is to critique other peoples' manuscripts. If people ask me the one most common mistake new writers make, I would say that it is to have a novel without incident. We read novels because we want to see something happening, to feel something. I will give you an example. One novel I was required to critique was about a relationship which had happened years before and ended in divorce. The hero and heroine were thrown together again, she was forced to work for him. He had a small son from a different relationship who had nightmares. Part of working for him in his house was that they had to live together for a period. That, and only that is all I can remember of the novel. Nothing happened. There were no incidents of note, no heartstopping moments, no revelations. They just poodled along drinking tea and chatting and having the occasional meal. It was competently put together, the timelines worked, the dialogue was realistic, the characters were believable. BUT they had virtually no history that was revealed to the reader, they had nothing to drive them or give them motives. This meant that there was no incident in the book and therefore no impact. Looking at that hailstorm made me think how people in our road had reacted, they felt scared that we might be flooded and it had shaken them out of their routine. We read to experience that process of getting out of the ordinary. So, to make a novel interesting give it 'incident' make characters feel and do extraordinary things. They must be believable but they must also be extraordinary for us to be interested. Otherwise you risk ending up with 50 to 100,000 words which are, frankly, no more interesting than every day life. I thought of this only recently when I watched the film Million Dollar Baby. The heroine is totally driven due to coming from a poor background and having a hideous family. She wants to be a boxer to escape. She wins fights, she ends up terribly injured. The hero turns from being a curmudgeonly old misery to helping her on her journey and finally to taking a life changing step to help her in her bedridden plight. The film is full of incident and excitement, packed with backstory, it tugs at the heartstrings. THAT is what your book should try to do... In my book 'The Sanctuary' I have an inheritance, a family mystery and a marital breakdown THINGS HAPPEN. Make things happen in your writing and you are sure to be published. Good luck!

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Guest Blog: Welcome Carol MacLean!

Thanks, Cara, for inviting me to guest on your blog so that I can promote my new E-Book 'Wild For Love' published by Astraea Press. I am a writer based in Scotland, writing pocket novel romances for 'My Weekly'. As Cara's blog theme is writing, reading and living in London I wondered how I would make a link with my book which is set in Glasgow. Hmmm - yes, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee brought the whole country together in a very happy celebration (I didn't get quite as far south as London but had a lovely time in Yorkshire over the holiday weekend). Let's not forget that the Olympics will be followed by the Commonwealth Games to be held in Glasgow. So there are links. However when I re-read the blurb for my book I realised I didn't need to worry. The hero, Jake, is a Londoner born and bred. Phew! Here is the book hook: Polly is an ecologist, passionate and uncompromising about wildlife rights. Against her better judgment she falls in love with Jake, heir to a London media empire, whose development company is about to destroy a beautiful marsh. Can love ever blossom between two such different people as Polly battles to save the marsh? The story is set against the stunning scenery of Scotland as Polly learns to compromise for love and Jake finally finds the life he has always desired. I've written a few pocket novels now but Jake is my favourite hero - he's gorgeous and sexy and if I wasn't married, I'd love to meet him in real life. I'm very fond of Polly too - she makes mistakes, is hot-headed and opinionated but in the end, as the saying goes...love conquers all. If you would like to read Jake and Polly's story, you can get it straight from Astraea: www.astraeapress.com Or from Amazon Books: www.amazon.co.uk If you enjoy it, please review it on Amazon or leave a favourable comment on Astraea's facebook page. Thanks! carolmaclean.blogspot.co.uk

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

London, the Olympics, Hampton Court Flower Show etc

As all blogs have a theme and this one is about writing and living in London I thought I'd update people on what's going on in London at the moment. Well, of course the Olympics are dominating everything. All the underground signs in the centre of town are now labelled to cope with the hoardes of visitors and practically everywhere you go has dire warnings up about road closures. Greenwich for the showjumping, Box Hill for cycling, and Hampton Court for something I can't even remember. We went there last week for the flower show which is such a fabulous day. We got sun (amazingly) and I wanted to buy everything from a fishpond with perspex windows - not sure if that was so they could see out or we could see in - to a set of wonderful modular seating which was far too big for our tiny bit of green paradise. I so wanted it but if we'd got it we wouldn't be able to move in the garden. Anyhow, here are some photos of those gorgeous plants, food for the soul... Other latest news is that I have booked for the Festival of Romance, yaaaayyyyy! In November in Bedford, this is a wonderful chance to meet and chat to romantic novelists. I'm really looking forward to it!

Friday, 6 July 2012

Why did 50 Shades of Grey make it so big?

There are rumours that the delectable Ryan Gosling, my favourite actor may play Christian Grey in the film that will inevitably made of '50 Shades of Grey'. The 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon is a puzzler I was trying to explain to my 91 year old mum. She couldn't get her head around why a book which in her day would have been unthinkable in polite society had become so popular. What on earth has brought erotica slap bang (if that's the right phrase to use!) into the mainstream so that respectable grandmothers are buying it in Tescos? It is extraordinary that a very niche area of writing should suddenly sell squillions of books. So, I tried to explain. Firstly the author E L James worked in television first so had a background in PR and had built up a sizeable following on social media networks when she supplied her book initially on a print on demand basis. This meant that once it started selling, the publishers knew it was worth taking a risk. Then, her book was originally written as fan fiction, a genre I had to explain to my dear mama. This, I told her is where people cannot get enough of their favourite genre. Fan fiction is a sort of homage to things people already love like Dr Who or the Alien films. 50 Shades was a homage to the phenomenally successful Twilight series and so neatly jumped on that bandwagon. It was very clever of E L James to put together two protagonists - Christian who is a millionaire and into some seriously adult stuff with Anna who is somewhat virginal and unworldly. The two would be unlikely to get it together in just the way that the two protagonists in Twilight had their seemingly insurmountable difficulties. This is ideal for a searing romance. Give your couple huge differences and then find a way to get them together, it's classic Romeo and Juliet stuff. Why erotica? Erotica is already selling big time particularly with the advent of Kindles. E L James was extremely savvy to pander to that trend even though authors such as Kitti Bernetti , Lucy Felthouse , K D Grace and Kay Jaybee have been writing and selling it for years. I explained to my aged relative that 50 Shades is therefore a perfect storm which has come together in our interesting age of social networking, self-publishing and the advent of bookselling in the supermarkets so that you can now buy erotica with your frozen vegetables. I haven't read 50 Shades myself but have read reviews of it, good and bad. The amazing thing for me is what a fantastic story there is behind its success. Even that respected newspaper The Independent is running an article claiming 50 Shades might start off a baby boom. If you'd written a novel about a woman who decides one day to write a smutty book that would be read around the world by grannies and twenty-somethings, readers would never have believed it!

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Tom Cruise is 50

So, Tom Cruise is fifty. Everyone from the Huffington Post, to the New York Daily News is focussing on his marital difficulties. His fiftieth just made me think of how many of his films I have thoroughly enjoyed. My favourite with an 86% rating on the film site Rotten Tomatoes is Collateral. Cruise plays the mean, driven, psychopathic but at the same time incredibly attractive contract killer Vincent perfectly. The best thing about this film is the juxtaposition of Jamie Foxx's sweet, shy, thoroughly decent taxi driver, Max - a decent guy pitted against a ruthless one who has nothing to lose. Max, who is kidnapped by Vincent to act as his driver during a spree of killings has everything to gain. Right from the start, you are desperate for Max a warm but weak man to become stronger and conquer Vincent. It's a classic fairy tale like George and the dragon or David and Goliath. True, Cruise's character is the attractive, smooth-talking, brisk alpha-male and Max the mild-mannered taxi driver is totally beta in comparison. But as the story unfolds, Cruise's character forces Max into standing up for himself. Max NEEDS those lessons in life so badly and you know that without Cruise exploding into his life he would never have found the impetus to stand up for himself, grab the girl and attain alpha male characteristics himself. The film was an object lesson in good story telling. Above all, as we're saying Happy Birthday to Mr Cruise, it was a great acting tour de force from both men. A thoroughly satisfying use of two hours of my life which is all you can really ask from a film. As a writer, (my latest is The Sanctuary published by Astraea Press) this film was an object lesson in characterisation with two leads at totally the opposite end of the spectrum. I could watch it again and again. Thank you Tom, and Happy Birthday!!

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Moleskine - a few of my favourite things

I was thinking today about the essential tools of the trade of a writer. These are some of mine. Moleskine notebooks - I absolutely love them. The label on the front bills them as 'Legendary notebooks' and so they are. They are apparently based on a kind of plain black notebook once manufactured in France and used by artists, writers and thinkers on their travels. Oscar Wilde and Bruce Chatwin are famous possessors of the precursors to the Moleskine we know today. When the small French paper producers started going out of business in the 1980s, these essential tools looked to be lost to the world. Until that is, a company in Milan decided to revive them. Anyone who has seen the gorgeous paper and stationery available in shops in Venice will not be surprised that it was an Italian company which revived the tradition. Today, they come in all sorts of colours and sizes and there are online communities which worship these super little books. The Moleskines are a model of simplicity in design. Useful vessels for jottings down reminiscences and sketches they are also ideal for saving small souvenirs such as train tickets and receipts from memorable lunches. Moleskines can be all things to all men. Tiny scrapbooks, places to jot poems, they are slender and light. For me, they are somewhere to collect story ideas and newspaper cuttings. I ALWAYS keep a Moleskine in my handbag. At present I am using a red one for my notes on the cosy crime book I am writing and a pink one for the historical romance I am part way through. Many of the notes for my latest book, The Sanctuary available here from Astraea Press were jotted down in a Moleskine. Team them with a bunch of coloured pens and I am in stationery heaven. Long live the Moleskine!

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Inspiration in art - Royal Academy Summer Exhibition

There was some truly wonderful art at the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy in London's Piccadilly which I visited recently. These paintings evoked emotions and kickstarted the imagination - wonderful fodder for a writer. Hope you like them. It goes on until 12 August so you still have time to visit.
The still life was so beautiful, totally tranquil and a painting I would have loved to own. The house with the neat garden was fascinating. From a distance it simply looked like an impressive old house that you'd love to live in. When you got closer, you saw the decay, the smashed windows and the cracked walls. The whole set up oozed mystery. It would make the most wonderful cover for a book. For a romance (and now crime) writer I found both paintings inspirational in creating moods and ideas. Finally, the head which looked as if it should have sat on a Grecian temple was made out of matchsticks, brilliant and again, deceptive from a distance. I loved the whole exhibition and will definitely go next year. Have you found inspiration and ideas in art? You can buy my latest book The Sanctuary by clicking on this link.