Thursday, September 30, 2010

Important Birthdays

This is actually a republishing of a blog I first wrote for the Pink Heart Society back in 2007 when as a brand new columnist for the blog, I was supposed to write about my favourite category romance.

I make no apologies for reprinting it here because I want to mark the birthday of a very special lady, a very special writer and a very special friend all rolled into one Sara Craven

I have to admit that I'm not totally sure of the exact date of Sara's birthday as she hadn't told me that. But when I was with her at the Presents Authors' dinner, the night before AMBA, she told me then that her birthday was 'in two weeks'. So, as that was 16th September, and today is two weeks from that day, I'm hoping that I'm at least coming close to the important day.

I want to mark Sara's birthday as she has been important to me as a writer both published and as a student of romance, as a reader, and as a personal friend. I still can't quite believe that I can count her as one of my friends and if someone had told me, when I was trying so hard to get my first book ever published 25 years ago that one day I would be able to invite her to dinner and greet her as that friend, I would have felt that that would be a dream come true. (It was actually - very special.)

So, as I said - without any apology - here is my 'Favourite Romance' writer post from the PHS 2007:

My favourite category romance? Uh – no - can’t do it. Just can’t do that. My one working brain cell has fizzled and fused just at the thought. I mean – one favourite category romance in an umpty-ump year lifetime of reading category romances . . .

OK then, I can tell you about a favourite category romance author. A writer whose books I snatched off the shelves if I found one in a bookshop in the days before – and after – I was first published. When I got my first rejection letter from Mills & Boon, the then Senior Editor Jacqui Bianchi advised me to read certain authors who she felt wrote the sort of book I could write - and then try again. I read those – and saw what she meant. They were romances I could write. But then I picked up a book by Sara Craven – and I read the sort of romances I wanted to write. Sara Craven’s romances reached out, grabbed by the heart and the brain and they just made me want to be part of the company who published her work.

Sara was one of Mills & Boon’s stars back then in 1984 – and she’s still one of the big names in the Modern/Presents line up today. Incredibly, she’s been writing for M&B since 1975. That’s an amazing 35 years of writing top class contemporary romances - and she’s still selling. I’ve lost count of just how many books she has actually written.

I have a collection of older Sara Craven novels – starting with The Devil at Archangel in which Christina Bennett takes a job on an island in the West Indies where she meets the disturbing and charismatic Devlin Brandon. But having been warned to ‘Beware the Devil at Archangel’ - can she possibly trust him?

But the two books of Sara’s that really live in my memory, etched there from the moment I read them – so much so that I don’t even have to go and fetch my elderly and battered copies to remind myself about them – are the 1980 title Fugitive Wife and the wonderful Comparative Strangers that was published in 1988.

Fugitive Wife is singly responsible for my addiction to romances in which the couple are snowed in, trapped in an isolated cottage, cut off from anywhere else. In Sara’s story Bryony, a rich man’s daughter, young, (so young she’s fresh out of school!) falls for and marries the older, cynical, foreign correspondent Logan Adair, but the marriage fails and she runs to her Aunt’s isolated Yorkshire cottage to lick her wounds. She’s there all alone, determined to recover from the break down of her marriage when in the middle of a wild snowstorm another key turns in the lock, the front door opens,

. . and then the hall light clicked on and the words shrivelled and died on her lips as she looked down into the face of the man standing below her.

For a moment they stood in silence, staring at each other.

Then, ‘Hello, wife,’ said Logan with no expression in his voice whatsoever.

Oh dear – just writing that makes me want to go and read it all over again. I know what happens after that – how the snow comes down even more heavily and they are stuck in the small house together and they have to face the strains and the problems that wrenched them apart in the first place. And how Briony has to do some growing up – fast - both physically, as Logan insists that she shares his bed, and emotionally as she discovers the truth about her husband’s relationship with sophisticated Karen Wellesly.

But if you really forced me – at gunpoint – to choose just one, desert island, absolute favourite Sara Craven novel, then it would have to be the brilliant Comparative Strangers. It’s a book I bought twice, once in the original printing – and then sadly lost it. So I was overjoyed when in 1993, the story was reprinted as a Best Seller Romance and I was able to replace my missing copy with this new edition.

Comparative Strangers opens with Amanda, the heroine, on the verge of suicide, feeling she has nothing to live for because she has found her fiancé, Nigel in bed with another woman. She is rescued by Malory Templeton, Nigel’s older half-brother. And here’s where Sara Craven’s brilliance is shown – because to Amanda Malory isn’t the man who is so stunning that women fall at his feet as soon as they see him - to Amanda he has always been a ‘vague disappointment , because she supposed she’d been expecting an older edition of Nigel, with the same outgoing charm and rakish good looks.’ Compared with his younger half-brother, is shorter, paler - Amanda even sees him as ‘colourless’.

At first.

Because from the moment that Malory rescues her, stopping her from jumping off a bridge into a river, he takes charge of her life. When in order to save face in front of Nigel, Amanda declares that she is going to marry Malory instead, he reacts quite calmly, but with total control.

“It’s quite simple,’ he said. ‘You’ve told the world, through Nigel, that you’re going to marry me. So – marry me you will. ‘

From then onwards Malory grows in stature and strength on every page. Subtly, but irreversibly, the reader is brought to change her opinion of this quiet but charismatic man, just as Amanda comes to see his strength and his qualities, his understated sexual appeal – until, when Nigel reappears he seems flashy, immature and downright shallow in comparison. Virginal Amanda had never wanted to sleep with her first fiancé before her wedding night, but he responses to Malory are much harder to suppress.

And this leads to the two scenes that etched this book forever into my brain so that I can almost repeat them word for word. (A skill I discovered that both Sophie Weston and Sharon Kendrick share with me – as we share a love for this book.)

Unable to hold back any longer, Amanda decides to sleep with Malory , but innocent and naïve, she reaches for him touches him intimately, ruining his careful control. As a result her first sexual experience is painful, disappointing and forces from her the stunned question ‘Is that - that – what all the fuss is about?’

There will never be another time, she declares.

But Malory has other ideas. A few days later, he sets himself to a determined and skillful seduction of Amanda, teasing all her senses, awakening all her untried sensuality, bringing her to her very first orgasm. And then, when she is still reeling . . .

. . .The shock of finding herself deposited back on the sofa woke her sharply from her dream. His hands were brisk, almost businesslike as he ordered her dishevelled clothing, pulling her dress into place and reclosing the zip.

Then he got to his feet. He said quietly and evenly, ‘Now that – that – is what all the fuss is about. Goodnight Amanda.’

Perfect. I remember almost cheering out loud the first time I read it. It was the memory of that line that had me grabbing the book to buy it a second time when it appeared as a bestseller - in the treasured copy that Sara Craven signed for me as a fellow author and friend when I met her in person for the second time at the RNA one day Seminar in Bath about 15 years ago.

And to judge by the cheer of delight that greeted Sophie Weston’s recounting of that scene at an RNA Conference, almost 20 years after it was first published, it still has the power to hit home.

Not many authors can take a ‘colourless’, ‘vague disappointment’ of a man and make him grow inch by inch, page by page, into the perfect, powerful, forceful, sexy Alpha hero. I’m not sure if any one could get away with it in these days of Signor Tall, Dark and Instantly Devastatingly Handsome Presents-style heroes. But I know one thing, if there’s anyone writing today who could still pull it off then it’s Sara Craven herself – still writing wonderful romances just as she was over 30 years ago.
Michelle Reid and Executive Editor
Tessa Shapcott with Sara

HAPPY BIRTHDAY Sara - I hope I've got close enough to the real date to mark the occasion properly

While I'm at it - Happy Birthday too to the Pink Heart Society - 4 years old already. Thank you for all the wonderful posts - and here's to another great year coming up!
And on a family note - happy (slightly belated) birthday to Flora aka Princess Flora Floozibelle who was three on September 27th

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Free Books

Now that's a headline to delight any reader. And now that the first flurry of excitement about the New Voices has died down just a little (expect it to build back up again from October 11th when the next chapters are planned to appear) how a bot a little time to relax and enjoy some good rfeading?

The team at M&B has done it again and is offering another set of 12 free books for people to download. One from each series. So you can read your favourites, try a new line, sample something you've never tried before . . . and all for free.

You can download them at is a great chance to see what the current series are all about. There is also Michelle Reid's Mia's Scandal which is the first installment of the Balfour Legacy mini series. The total value of all the books on offer is over £50.

So what are you waiting for?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

New Voices revisited

So the Top Ten entries in the New Voices Contest have been announced and congratulations are in order.

Congratulations for the 'winners' ? Well, yes - but for me the emphasis should be the other way. The first congratulations should go to the total of 822 entrants all of whom are, in my mind, winners. Winners because in a world of people who want to be writers, they put their words where their mouth is and wrote.

And, as the saying goes 'Writers write, everyone else makes excuses.' (Jack Bickham)

So everyone who submitted a chapter fulfilled the demands of being a writer by sitting down and writing a chapter aimed at a particular market. Well - yes - OK - some of them clearly were not aimed at the market that was being offered, and some had a strangely distorted view of just what that market was looking for - but they all wrote 2- 3- 4,000 words. Because being a writer means writing - not being published. That's being an author. Writing is what writers do. I was writing for almost thirty years before I was published. I have written for publication for 25 + years (the + bit being the times when I was writing for publication and getting it rejected regularly) So let's say I have been writing and been published for 25 years - writing for publication a bit - add on a couple of years.
And if it all ended tomorrow then I would keep on writing. I'd be telling stories - I have to - it's what I do.
Being an author? That's different -and more difficult. It depends on other things, like market forces and individual publishers and individual editors within individual publishers.
But the current editors have chosen a top ten - ten writers who they feel they could work with to build on those chapters submitted, take them further and hopefully turn them into the next stage on - another chapter, the development of a plot, the building of characters. The telling of a story. As the editors said : "We weren't looking for a perfect story . . . but we were hoping to find fresh voices and raw potential.' The editors' comments on why they picked each individual entry are going to be one of the most interesting parts of this contest.

And they are the bits that writers who really want to be authors for this particular company can learn most from. Where they can learn what these editors are looking for, why they like something when they see it. What reached out and grabbed them, lifting this entry out from so many many others.

Did I have the same Top Ten? No - but then I've not had time to read every single one of the 822 chapters ( kudos to the editors who did - it's no mean task!) But the ones I felt wouldn't be there weren't.
What mistakes did I find that stuck out?
Chapters that hadn't done their marketing homework - writers who submitted work that just wasn't what this very specific publisher is looking for
Showing not telling
Narrative . . .. lots of it without the dynamism and drama of dialogue
Chapters that were trying to be too clever for their own good - that 'cute meet' thing .
Chapters that were pale versions of stories that had been published so often - the advice was 'don't imitate - innovate'.

I hope the 812 writers who are not in the selected ten will find lots to help them in the posts in the next few days. Information about what the editors are looking for, advice about what works and what doesn't. It's going to be intriguing to see how the next stages of the process work - how the chosen chapters are worked on, developed . . . turned into a story - or not. Because for me the important bit is that.

Because there are writers and there are writers who are storytellers. And telling a story so that people want to read it takes a different set of thought processes from just putting down and opening that you feel is going to grab an editor's attention. It's not the same thing as refining, editing, polishing a clever chapter till it squeaks. There are reasons why an editor's job is very different from a writer's and for me the difference is right there in that 'story tellling'.

So some of these top ten might make it. Some might not. Some of you 812 could very well (as Maisey Yates did) go away, complete your novels and turn them into a book that might not have the 'best' opening chapter but tells a story that reaches out and grabs people so they want - have to read on. I hope so. Because a chapter is a chapter but a story is a book.

As a result of my last post on this subject, I received an email from one of the entrants to the New Voices contest. She was reading one of my books - Sicilian Husband, Blackmailed Bride - and she wanted to tell me how brilliant she thought the opening was. (Thank you Jennifer if you're reading this) I was complimented, honoured, obviously - but as a writer/storyteller/author what meant most to me was the next bit 'I wanted to tell you that you're queen of opening chapters and I am riveted to this story.'

That's where the real compliment is - that's why I write. To have readers wanting to read the story.

So congratulations to the 10 whose chapters were chosen this time. I hope this is the start of your journey towards becoming a published author and writing stories that people want to read. Congratulations to all the writers who submitted a chapter - I hope this is the start of your journey towards doing more with your writing, submitting again, finding the story you want to tell, 'winning' first chapter or not.

I can't give you the 'secret', the 'formula' to being published - because if there is one then I honestly have never ever found it in the past 25+ years - or the 30 before that! - but I can tell you the one thing that will guarantee that you'll never ever be published and that is if you give up now. If you can't take the risk of rejection, then you're making sure you'll never know the joy of success.

Thinking about my 25 years of being published and the books that have my name on it, I'm also well aware of the 'ones that got away' - the stories that never made it into books. The ones that were rejected. But did I let them stay rejected ?

But that's a different story. Today, I've rambled on for long enough and -

Writers write, everyone else makes excuses

I have writing to do - and (I hope) so do you.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Versatile Blogger Award

While I was away in London, Teresa Morgan awarded me the 'Versatile Blogger' Award.

Thank you so much for this Teresa - specially as it says that you will have awarded it to me as one of the bloggers you have recently discovered and think are fantastic - that's a real compliment.

Linking back to Teresa's blog, you can find her here.

So, I've done the first part of this list of how this works -

Thank and link back to the person who gave you this award.

I apologise in advance because I'm only going to do part of this - the excuse is time or, rather, the lack of it. Plus the fact that the only new 'blog' I've discovered recently has been the M&B New Voices site. I am already far too tempted to read too many blogs that I've been interested in for a long time - but if I was listing 15 blogs worth reading/ that I visit regularly then they would be (in no particular order)

1. Anne McAllister

2. Liz Fielding

3. Pink Heart Society

4. I heart Presents

5. Tote bags 'n' Blogs

6. Jessica Hart

7. Julie Cohen

8. The Heroine Addicts (Now that is a new blog I've just discovered )

9. Sarah Duncan

10. The RNA (Romantic Novelists' Association)

11. Kate Hardy

12 The Harlequin Blog

13. Michelle Styles

14. Donna Alward

15. Stephen Wade (can't leave out the Babe Magnet!)

"Contact the bloggers you've picked and let them know about the award."

Pass - they aren't new to me and time is far too precious right. If they visit here and want to grab the award - they are so welcome but I'll bet that half of them have been awarded it already -
Share 7 things about yourself.

Oh dear - 7 things I haven't already shared . . . I 'm sorry Teresa, I can't guarantee these are new . . .

1. I am one of a family of five girls. The middle one to be precise

2. My writing name comes from my maternal Irish grandmother

3. The reddish tint in my hair comes from her too.

4. I'm afraid the whole Twilight thing has passed me by. I tried - read the first couple of books, watched the films . . . no - it doesn't touch my imagination

5. I am hopelessly addicted to Coronation Street

6. I am SO looking forward to going to see John Simm as Hamlet in Sheffield soon

7. I sometimes do joint talks with my husband as 'Crime and Passion'

PS Like everyone else - or, certainly all the entrants to the New Voices Contest, I'll be watching the New Voices web site to see whose first chapter has made it into the Top Ten this morning.

Once again good luck to everyone who entered.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Favourite romantic novels?

Over on the New Voices website - while you're all waiting for the announcement of the top ten submissions to the contest , the editors are talking about their favourite romantic novels.

So far,
Gone with the Wind
Cross Stitch
Wuthering Heights
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
The Devil's Cub
Lady Chatterley's Love
The Mists of Avalon
The Far Pavilions
These Old Shades
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveller's Wife

. . . are all on the list

And I have to admit to putting my vote in for - from this list - Jane Eyre, Devil's Cub, These Old Shades . . . Not Wuthering Heights? I can hear the questions already. I love WH as a novel - But for me it's is not a love story - passion, possession - yes - but love?? There is a love story in the second half - young Cathy and Hareton but most people don't think of that. The book is the story of Cathy and Heathcliff - but for me it's not a love story.

Other romantic novels I've loved and re-read again and again and would have to include in my Top Ten list would be the Game Of Kings (Lymond Chronicles - All 6 books!) by Dorothy Dunnett and the book that hooked me into reading everything Mary Stewart ever wrote - The Moonspinners. . .

What about you? If you had to choose a favourite romantic novel, what would you choose?

PS For those of you who would like to see more photos of the post-AMBA party with Mills & Boon editors and authors, editor Lucy Gilmour has posted a selection over on I(heart)Presents.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Good news

A special thank you to everyone who commented on my post about the New Voices yesterday. I was really just thinking aloud but I'm thrilled that it touched a chord in so many of you. One of the things I truly believe about this writing business is that any writer who forgets what it felt like to be at the beginning of things, nervous about sending in a submission, and struggling to deal with rejection, is one who risks becoming complacent and complacency risks putting you on the slippery slope to failure - or, worse, selling your readers short.

And yes - as several other published writers also commented ( thank you Michelle and Phillipa) the blood sweat and tears that go into writing very rarely disappear even after one, two, three . . . fifty eight published titles. And much as I sometimes wish they would, there's another part of me that acknowledges that the blood sweat and tears - and the fear of rejection - is what keep me on my toes, hopefully keeps an edge on my writing and stops me from selling short - because I'd hate to disappoint my readers.

And now for the good news.

Every now and then a short search of the internet book stores etc reveals things I don't know are happening - books I didn't know about or, even better, good news I wasn't aware of.

So yesterday's trip around the web sites that sell my books brought an unexpected collection of news for me.

For a start there are some reprints coming up that I had no idea about:

Mediterranean Tycoons: Alpha Collection - with Michelle Reid and Sarah Morgan. That's in February 2011. And your guess is as good as mine about which book is in this collection - but what great company to be in.

Then in May there's:
One Night in Madrid with Jennie Lucas and Diana Hamilton - no idea what book of mine is in this collection but it's obviously one with a Spanish hero. . . or is it one with a Spanish heroine ?

Another book I knew was coming but didn't have a date for yet is the 3rd edition of the 12 Point Guide To Writing Romance- and I now find that that's listed on Amazon too, with a definite date for its publication. It's still at the same price but now it will be published by Aber Publishing, no longer Studymates.

But the biggest and best piece of news was when I went over to the Mills & Boon web site, looking for copies of my July book The Good Greek Wife? so that I could direct a reader who has been hunting for a copy to the site. Imagine my surprise - and delight when I found that the reason she's been having difficulty finding this book is that it's officially sold out and there is now only the ebook version available. I checked with my editor and it's tue - the print editon is totally sold out. That's just made my day.

Obviously it hasn't made my reader's day but it is still around on Amazon and - I think - the Book Depository if you're still hunting for it. And for the American readers it will soon be out - 19 days from now - in Presents EXTRA so you shouldn't have any trouble finding it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

New Voices - first stage

As the clock ticks down to the time when the first round of the New Voices contest closes, and the preliminary judging begins, I know there will be a lot of nervous writers chewing fingernails, crossing fingers (if you can do both at once), worrying and very probably praying.

I know how you feel. Or, rather, I know something of how you feel. Believe me, I remember only too well just how it felt to submit a first attempt at writing a novel, the stomach-churning panic that went with it, the fear that my efforts would be totally rejected, and yet knowing that the only possible way ever to have a chance at publication was to have gone down this route.

What I didn't have to endure was the thought of having to upload it on to a public site where the world and her husband could read it and comment and judge it. The idea of putting it in front of an editor was bad enough.

I've said before that I have ambiguous thoughts about the public arena bit of this contest. It has been fascinating to visit the New Voices web site, see the number of entries grow - 728 the last time I looked! I've dipped in to some of the entries, admired some, wondered at others - has the writer even considered the sort of story that Mills & Boon publish - or are they just using the contest as a public display for their work, to give it a large audience, appropriate or not?

And the comments - some have been kind, some partial, some hyper-critcal and some - well, not kind. I really hope that everyone who has submitted, whether they got oodles of praise or the exact opposite remembers that these are only personal opinions. Anyone who progresses any further, anyone who ever publishes anything anywhere, will have to get used to having their work appraised, commented on and criticised. In my writing career I've had praise, great reviews, Romantic Times Top Picks - and critical, hostile reviews that have torn the books to pieces - usually for the same stories. You can't please all of the people all of the time. But I know it's the critical review you remember most. That's how I feel too.

In the end, with the aim of publication in mind, the only opinion that matters is that of the editors who will decide on the next stage of the contest. But even if your work isn't selected for the second round, that isn't necessarily the end for you. I'm sure that entries that have caught the editors' eyes will be followed up. As the stories of previous entrants show, winning isn't eveything - there can be a writing career ahead of the runners up, the ones who are not 'placed' anywhere.

And for the 'chosen few' -this is where the real hard work begins. As I've said before, it's one thing to turn in a cracker of an opening chapter that delights just about everyone who reads it. Quite another to take that chapter and develop it into a fully formed novel, with a conflict that works, characters that readers empathise with and care about, a story that has a begining a middle and and end, with pace and excitment and emotional punch - and a wonderful, satisfying, fulfilling ending. Reading around the internet, looking at blogs from those who have entered in the past, been place - won even - there are plenty of them still struggling, still trying to make that move from winning chapter to completed, polished, publishable book.

And I'll let you into a secret - there are published authors, multi-published authors, who go through the same struggle at times in their writing lives. Because every first chapter, however wonderful, is just the tiny seed that is the start of what you hope will turn into a book. But it needs to be nurtured, worked on, sweated over . . . wept over . . . sometimes even abandoned and replaced by something new.

The problem with published books is that you can't tell from looking at them on the bookshop shelves which one had weeks, months, years of blood sweat and tears poured into them - and which ones just fell off the writer's fingers and onto the keyboard like a dream. But I'll bet you their authors remember. Personally, there are books on my own shelves that I feel should still be wringing wet from all the tears that into writing/rewriting/re-rewriting them.

Good luck to each and every one of you who has entered. With so much competition there's going to be a lot of chapters that won't make the second round - but do remember that whatever the result, none of this writing is wasted. If you learned to drive, you know that you needed to practise, drive miles with stops and starts, learning to get to understand the controls, then to work out how to use them all at once, how to accomplish the necessary manoeuvres - and to travel down the long and winding roads. Some of you might have managed that quickly and easily some (OK - I admit it - me) took longer and needed to try again and again before we got the idea. Writing's like that. And each time you try you get closer to 'passing your test.' But even then that doesn't mean you can set off on a round the world trip, navigating and dealing with everything that gets thrown at you.

I'll be looking forward to seeing which chapters the editors have selected. I have my own list - and I know it's not going to be the same as lots of the commentators on the site, or possibly the same as the editors will choose. They only have ten places - and there are more than ten entries that deserve to continue. So I hope those of you who don't make that top ten won;t give up now. You've only just started. You've taken that all important first step.

And what is it Lao Tzu said - the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Trying to be a writer is a journey and if the end of the journey(publication) is all you're looking for then I'm afraid there's going to be a lot of disappointment on the way. But if you settle down to enjoy the journey then you can get such a lot out of it. Whatever stage you're at - and whatever stage you'll be at when the contest results are announced - I hope your journey is a great adventure - with, as in all the best romances - a very happy ending.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

To catch up . . .

A few things that I need to catch up with since I've been away -

1. I was thrilled to discover that the ebook version of The Good Greek Wife? was the #1 bestseller over on at the end of the week. Many thanks to everyone who bought a copy to put it there. The print version will of course be available next month,

2. As a result of two people having to back out of the Advanced Course on Romance Writing at Fishguard in February 2011, the course, that was full, now had two places available to anyone who would like to book - if you're quick! (I think someone may plan to book one already) These places are meant for students who have already attended a basic romance writing course that I have taught. ( I need to make it clear that the price of the full weekend is £209 - and the £39 mentioned on my web site is the cost of booking an extra night before or after the course. Full details are to be found here.)

3. I have been asked a couple of times about the short story contest that was run jointly by The Lady Magazine and Mills & Boon - in connection with the National Trust. The results have actually just been announced and the name of winner and her story are published in this week's (Sept 14th I think) The winner was Emma Ward with her story Passions at Polesden Lacey.

4. Also coming up soon - I will be taking part again in the Calderdale Libraries Writers' Roadshow in Halifax Central Library on Saturday 9th October when I'll be running a 2 hour workshop on Writing Romantic Fiction.

5. Also in Calderdale, as part of the Readers' and Writers' Festival, the Babe Magnet and I will be talking about our writing as 'Crime and Passion' at Todmorden Library on 30th October. Full details here.

6. And don't forget that the closing date for first time entries to the New Voices contest is 22nd September - not long to go so if you want to enter, get your chapter in now!

Monday, September 20, 2010


It's Monday so I must be back from London . . . right? I think I left part of my brain in the capital as it has taken me till now to catch up with all I have to do.
And I had such a great time meeting up with friends old and new and talking and drinking a little wine . . .
Let's see, Wednesday afternoon was spent settling into the hotel, making a mad dash to Oxford Street to find a book for the Babe Magnet - I told him his History Magazine wouldn't be enough to read - but I think that was just an excuse to make sure he 'needed' to raid the bookshops. Then we met up with Michelle Reid and Sandra Marton and had a wonderfully relaxed evening with them. At RWA Sandra always invites everyone to a pizza party on the first evening and although this wasn't RWA we continued the tradition with pizzas for all. Great fun and an opportunity to talk . . . a lot.

Thursday was the day that Sharon Kendrick had invited some of us to lunch in her home so I met up with American authors Lynn Raye Harris and Jennie Lucas who were over for the AMBA meeting, and Abby Green who was over from Dublin and we all made our way to Winchester. We had a brief tour of the city, including the Cathedral where - for the first time ever (what a confession for a romance writer) I was able to visit Jane Austen's grave there.

Thursday evening there was a dinner for what seemed like a roll call of Presents/Modern authors - Sara Craven, Sandra Marton, Michelle Reid, Abby Green, Natalie Rivers, India Grey, Jennie Lucas, (these two are pictured here) Lynn Raye Harris, Christina Hollis, Sara Morgan.

Friday was of course the date of the AMBA lunch itself. I took my camera and then got completely involved in talking with friends - I was lucky enough to be seated next to lovely Liz Fielding - forgetting to take any pictures most of the time. The same with the Mills & Boon toast to their writers which was held after the event. So I'm indebted to Kate Hardy for this pic of myself (centre) together with Sophie Weston (in brown) and Joanna Maitland at the 'toast' . (Kate also has more detail on the venue and food on her blog if you'd like to see it. )
Among the things talked about were the New covers - which are now appearing on the bookshop shelves all ovder the country - the New Voices contest, and the upcoming Leander Rowing Calendar which will be appearing on the M&B site in the next few weeks - so watch out for that.
Special thanks have to go to Natalie Rivers and Sharon Kendrick for organising the event so efficiently and making it so enjoyable.
By the end of the evening, I was just about talked out and my feet were protesting at being in smart shoes all that time. So with the Magnet, Michelle Reid and her husband and Brigid Coady who came to join us after the 'toast' we headed for a casual dinner at an Italian restaurant.
Saturday morning, we just had time to share breakfast together - Michelle, Sandra and I and our husbands - before sadly packing up and heading back home. It was a fantastic few days and I'm always astonished and delighted by the warm friendships that are forged in spite of living in different countries and hundreds of miles away from each other - as a result of this job of writing romance that we all share. It's something that I never anticipated when I started out, but it's one of the very best benefits of the career I've had.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Kate's Corner and AMBA

I'm busy planning and packing . Yes, I'm on the road again. Or, more accurately, taking the train this time. I've barely had time to breathe, turn round, unpack my case and do the laundry after the trip to Durham and NAWG, and now I'm off again.

This time I'm heading for London and the annual meeting and lunch of the Association of Mills & Boon authors. I'm so looking forward to meeting up with old friends, making new ones, and learning everything that's been happening since we last met. This time several authors are coming over from America so tonight I'm having dinner with Sandra Marton and Michelle Reid. And tomorrow I'm heading for Sharon Kendrick's lovely home to have lunch with her and Lynn Raye Harris, Jennie Lucas, and Abby Green. Then that night we're having dinner with another of my own personal romance writer heroines and favourite authors - Sara Craven and a whole bunch of Presents writers. I'm getting excited just thinking about it.

But as today is the 15th of September (is it? How the heck did it get to the 15th already?) I have my regular post for Kate's Corner over at We Write Romance's blog. So that's where you'll find me today while I dash around here flinging things into a suitcase and wondering just what to wear.

Oh, and while you're there why not check out the great review for The Good Greek Wife?

Monday, September 13, 2010

My First Kate Walker - Sarah Morgan

I'm a bit late with this - OK, a lot late !

As you know, I've been doing an occasional series of My First Kate Walker (or My Top Five Kate Walker books) from my writing friends and readers to mark my 25th anniversary of being published. The lovely Sarah Morgan wrote me a blog on this topic back in July and I've only just got around to posting it.

But I was in the middle of the posts on Conflict at the time - and I'm realy quite glad that I didn;t post this before now because it means that I can post it now and mark not only a special time for me (that 25th anniversary) but also a great moment for Sarah herself.

If you've been visting the I heart Presents blog recently, you'll have seen that as well as the list of Presents authors whose books have appeared on the USA Today bestseller list in the past week, two authors, have had their books hit the Top 50 on that list. Those authors are - Penny Jordan and my guest today - Sarah Morgan with her current Presents title One Night . . . Nine Month Scandal.

So Sarah, many congratulations on your brilliant achievement - and thank you for writing a post to share your first Kate Walker.

My First Kate Walker

It's surprisingly easy to list My First Kate Walker because it has stayed in my head (and on my shelf!) for years. It was called Constantine's Revenge. The heroine was called Grace and the story took place on a Greek island (I love Greece) but what I remember most of all was the intensity of the emotion and passion which sums up the essence of the classic Presents read and also classic Kate Walker, an author who knows exactly how to keep the reader reading long after she should have switched off the lights and gone to sleep. Another book that is firmly on my keeper shelf is Bedded by the Greek Billionaire (clearly I have a 'Greek' thing going on here.......) It was one of those books that makes your stomach swoop because the emotions were so up and down - fantastic.

Kate doesn't just understand her craft, she is able to pass on her skills to others, a quality I really admire because I am completely unable to unravel how I do what I do and the thought of passing on tips about my messy creative process to others makes me want to shrink with embarrassment. My writing process reminds me a bit of my children's attempts at cooking - it's a giant mess at the time and there's a lot of cleaning up required, but it all turns our fine in the end (usually). However there is no getting away from the fact that my best advice to an aspiring author would be 'whatever you do, don't write like me'. Kate, however, is a great teacher, a fact proven by the undying popularity of her book 'The 12 point Guide to Writing Romance'. If you're an aspiring writing and you don't have it, then buy it. If you're a writing who hates her process and would like to change it, you should buy it too.

Thanks for having me here, Kate, to celebrate your 25th anniversary. May you continue to pass on your wisdom and write beautiful stories for another 25 years.

Love Sarah

Sarah also writes Medicals and Dr Zinetti's Snow-Kissed Bride is released in November.

Thank you so much Sarah - and congratulations all over again.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

New Voices Thoughts

Yesterday I received a very special gift. A book containing the very first venture into print - in a short story - by a dear friend. I have a wonderful collection of these 'firstborn' now - the wonderful signs of the earliest success (hopefully only the first of many) from writers I've known, in many cases worked with, encouraged, supported and had my fingers tightly crossed for over the years. Many of them I've met through the RNA, others through courses I've run or workshops I've given. Often they've said how much the 12 Point Guide has helped them too.

And that makes me feel wonderful. I love the thought that I've helped some new writers on their way towards achieving their dream of being published. Although I'm coming to the end of the year of celebrating my 25th anniversary of being published, I still remember only too well what it felt like to send off a manuscript to a publisher and then put myself thorough the waiting game. Waiting and watching - in those day, watching the postman because I had no email and my submissions were full manuscripts in great big padded bags.

So I know too just how the entrants to the New Voices contest are feeling as they prepare, polish, and finally post their entries to the New Voices contest page over on I think this takes an extra sort of bravery - not one that I feel I would probably ever have managed, when I was starting out. It's one thing to submit your work to a trained editor for assessment and critique - quite another to mpost it up on to a public forum for anyone and everyone, friend and foe, to read and judge and criticise.

I've visited the New Voices website several times. It's been interesting to see the number of entries - 175 the last time I looked - growing as more and more are added. I've been intrigued to see the different styles and subjects of the stories, the ones that have stuck to the tried and tested sort of romance, the ones who have tried something different.

What I haven't done is try to judge and specially not to vote or comment. I have to admit to knowing several - quite a few - of the entrants and even though my university training and the work I do for the RNA has taught be to be as totally objective as I can, inevitably, I will have favourtites. Besides, as I've always said, it doesn't matter if your mother and your sister and your aunt and your best friend love the story - the opinion that matters is that of the editors.Ask any author writing today, whether at the start of their journey to publication or after 25+ years and 58 published titles. It's the editor's view that counts. (That's the bit that means I still remember how nerve-wracking it is to send in a new submission - because it still happens every time I do it -now!)

But I'll admit that some of the entries have intrigued me. For several reasons -

One, I'm with Liz Fielding on this one - and her post on the importance of grammar. Like her, I was frequently - far too frequently - thrown out of a good read by the bad grammar in the entry. Like Liz, I use language, style - and, yes, grammar with deliberate effect . An effect that sometimes sends the grammar/spell checker on my word programme into a flurry of red or green underlining as if it can't quite believe what it's seeing - but there's using grammar and there's neglecting or just not understanding it. And one of the problems with the latter is that if it pulls your reader out of the story then it's damaging your writing and weakening your chances.

Two - I have read some very clever, very intriguing posts - but some of them have seemed just a little too clever for me. They read like writing exercises - examples of how to create a 'cute meet' - to 'open with a bang' - or the response to 'write a first chapter in the style of a particular genre' - in this case, obviously romance. They have real spark, no doubt about that - fizz, style, plenty of it - but I'll admit I did sometimes wonder how the story would continue. How the characters would grow and develop into people who came alive on the page and held my interest for another 45,000 words or more.

I hope that the authors of all these first chapters have not just written them in isolation, with a view to hooking a reader rather than to open a story. And I hope that they will build into a story that holds the reader right through to the Happy Ever After moment. I'll be only too happy to see it happen - but I suspect that this is a problem with a contest that needs a first chapter submitting rather than, say the 3 chapters and a synopsis that forms an normal submission. Or the way that I used to submit way back at the beginning of my career - by sending in the whole story so that the editors could see how it worked. I still work that way now - not by selling on proposal, but by sending in the whole manuscript.

And it's going to be a problem for entrants, I think. Because I know from experience that it's one thing to create a good - a great - first chapter. Quite another to take that opening and develop it into a full story. One with peaks and troughs, with pace and emotional punch and emotional devlopment. In my computer I have more opening chapters than I'll ever have published books. Chapters that are fine as they stand - but that never developed into fully grown stories with a hooky beginning, a pacy middle, emotional punch by the bucketload - and a satisfying, sigh-making happy ending.

But then that's an editor's job - to work with a writer and hopefully pull out of them the story that grows from that beginning. I'm not an editor (can I just add here - that heaven!) It's a difficult job, specially when the honest truth is that as they often say they don't know what they're looking for until they see it. These first chapters are, literally, only the beginning. There's a lot of travelling between these submissions and a printed book. Again - ask any published author!

But I admire of the authors who have submitted. There's a lot of hard work in those first chapters, a lot of writing blood sweat and tears that has gone into creating those entries and a great deal of courage in submitting and exposing their 'baby' to the cold, harsh winds of being read and commented on, and judged. It's the only way forward if you hope to be published. You can never get any further unless you take the risk of submitting first. You just have to close your eyes and jump . . . And if you don't succeed this time, you have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again.

I'm just coming up to the anniversary of the date that I heard from my then editor that the revisions I'd done on my very first book had worked , that they were buying The Chalk Line, and my novel was actually going to be published. To be honest, I'm still amazed that I ever had the nerve to send it in. It was a scary, frustrating and often long drawn out experience. But I'm so glad I found that courage.

And I hope that so many of you who have had the bravery to enter the New Voices contest will end up feeling the same way too. I know what it feels like to have that very special dream - and I wish you every good luck for the hope of it coming true.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

NAWG Festival

The Babe Magnet and I had a thoroughly enjoyable time at the National Association of Writers' Groups Festival of Writing at the weekend. The weather was warm and sunny and so we grabbed a chance to spend some time in the lovely old city of Durham where we walked around by the Cathedral and the river before heading to Collingwood College where ther Festival was being held.

I wrote a book - Give and Take - set partly in Durham way back in 1991 and so lots of memories came back as we wandered around - hard to believe that it was actually 20 years ago!

The Festival was busy and buzzy with each of us doing 4 workshops from the Friday evening to the Sunday morning. Thanks to everyone who came to my workshops - I had a lot of fun as well as some really interesting discussions. Specially on the Sunday when the Writing a Sex Scene workshop was so much fun. Thanks to everyone who joined in, coped with 'sex changes' and even got involved in a threesome (on paper only) .

Saturday evening there was the celebratory dinner where we enjoyed the company of the delightful novelist Denise Robertson and her charming husband. The food was great and the staff of the college were warm and friendly. Our thanks to Nicolette Ward the chair of NAWG, Steve Bowkett and all the members of the committee who were so welcoming.

But on a personal note my favourite moment was when one of the college cleaners spotted my books on the Festival bookstall and was thrilled to discover that one of her favourite romance authors was in Durham. It was a joy to sign some books for her and to receive a great big, enthusiastic hug of thanks for the pleasure my writing has brought her.

Now that's just why I write and the best possible reward for slaving over a hot (or at times not so hot) keyboard.

Monday, September 06, 2010

New Voices and Pink Hearts

I'm back - but as always when I've been away I'm rushing about catching up with things. 'Exciting' things like washing and accounts . . .

So my blog today is one I prepared earlier over on the Pink Heart Society blog where I'm talking about inspiration in the shape of the lovely David Morrissey.

And as it's September 6th - the M&B New Voices contest opens today and the new site is up here.

So while I catch up here, why don't you go and catch up there? You'll find there are entries starting to appear, notes from editors, and a video of M&B authors discussing their favourite romantic books, heroes and films.
Note to the winners of the name my new column contest - your prizes have gone in the mail to you. But I think a couple of you haven't yet replied so please tell me which prize book you want.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Finally . . .

I'm sorry about the delay - the demands on my time just don't get any less - but I finally - finally! - have a winner for the suggestion of a name for my monthly column next year. I know I posted the contest back on August 15th but I needed to chat with the editors of the site to see what they thought of a name for the column and they agreed with me so -
The winner is - Laney with A Date With Kate
Laney came up with so many suggestions that I'm going to file them away for future reference!
(At this stage, I can't guarantee that this is exactly what the column will be called but it's our favourite at the moment.)

So Laney wins a prize - but - as no one entered the other mini-contest where I asked which of my books opens in York with the heroine leading the Ghost Walk ( the answer was The Duke's Secret Wife) I have spare prizes to give away. So to thank everyone else who came up with a suggestion for the name of the column, I'm giving away a prize of a backlist book to all of them too.

So- Laney

Please all contact me (kate AT ) with your postal address and choice of books from this list:

At the Sheikh's Command
Bedded By The Greek Billionaire
Cordero's Forced Bride
The Konstantos Marriage Demand
Kept for Her Baby
Spanish Billionaire, Innocent Wife
The Greek Tycoon's Unwilling Wife.

And I'll organise your prizes. It might be after I get back from the NAWG Festival of Writing but I'll get straight to it after that.

Oh yes - and because some of you have been asking - now that it's September, The Good Greek Wife? is available early on eHarlequin as a print book as well as an ebook - details are here
It's in the shops on October 12th


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