Thursday, March 30, 2006

Going AWOL

Sorry folks!

I don't have time to post today after all - I'm going away for a couple of days to visit Julie Cohen and celebrate the launch of her first two books

Featured Attraction and

Being a Bad Girl

which are out March and April so BABG is on the shelves with my Italian

Normal posting will resume when I ger back - and have recovered from the party!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Growing a book - 2

Okay so – here is a book-
The Italian's Forced Bride
- 53,000 words
- 184 pages
– 14 chapters –
and it all started from a seed.
And that seed was a single line.

Let me go off at a tangent for a minute. Yesterday I was saying that so many people think romances are ‘all the same’. They see those uniform style covers and they believe they cover uniform style content. And yes, it’s very, very, very difficult to write something new and original and amazingly different in a romance – they’ve been published for years and years (Mills and Boon was founded in 1908) and there are only so many variations on a theme you can come up with.
So what can you do to make your story that bit different/.memorable/appealing?

You concentrate on the characters.
Characters are people
(excuse me for stating the obvious but sometimes people both readers and writers forget that. Some writers create cardboard figures and then move them around to fit the plot they’ve created. And some readers say ‘I didn’t like it when he/she did that without realising that that’s exactly what makes a good character. We all meet people every day who do things we don’t like – that’s what makes them human.)
People are infinitely varied and fascinating and different. They are all pretty different from each other – and most of us are even different from ourselves at varied stages of our lives.
So you may only have a limited number of plots but you have an unlimited cast of characters.

To go back to my ‘seed’
There I was, getting dressed one morning. When I get dressed I always have the radio on – BBC Radio 4 - there’s always someone talking about something on there. Sometimes I listen with a lot of attention, mostly I wander in and out and pick up bits here and there, snatches of conversation. And that’s how I heard my ‘seed’.

A man was being interviewed. He was an athlete (I think!) You see I missed the beginning of the interview and if I heard who he was I’ve forgotten (my apologies to him – it’s not that he wasn’t memorable, but once I’d heard this line, I wasn’t listening any more, I was planning, thinking, dreaming.) He was talking about his baby son. And he said: “I looked at him and I thought – that child is the one and only person in this whole world who has my blood in his veins.”

Which is what set me off – the questions just kept coming:
Why would that be the case that the baby was his only family?
How could that have happened? Why?
When had it happened – that he had lost the rest of his family?
How would it make him feel?
How would he react?
How would he behave towards women?
. . .etc . . .etc . . .

By this time, my mind was buzzing with ideas. The what ifs were coming thick and fast – what if he found out that an ex-lover was pregnant with his child? How would he behave then?
And what if . . .

Ah, but that’s the bit I’m not saying because it gives away too much of my plot. But it’s where my own life experiences came into the book and I wrote about something that made me feel very emotionally involved with what I was writing. I must have put that emotion into the book as well because my friend and fellow romance writer, Michelle Reid, who has read this story already, sent me a note that said ‘You made me cry in the middle’. ( I was thrilled when I read that – I’m mean, I like to make my readers cry!)

So that’s how this book got started – that serendipity factor. If I hadn’t switched the radio on that morning, or if I’d got up half an hour earlier – or later – or I’d walked out of the room to get something from the bathroom and I hadn’t heard that line, maybe this book would never ever have happened. Which is quite a scary thought. Because as I write this, it’s sitting on my desk, 53,000 words of a story I’m proud to have written. (And – no, to the NZ journalist I mentioned yesterday, it was not written to a formula, it was not written cynically, it was a challenge and I very very definitely enjoyed writing it. )

People are always asking me that question – the ‘Where do you get your ideas from’ one. Most of the time I just have to reply ‘life’ because it’s life and people and their stories that inspire me. But this book, I could very definitely date from the moment of its conception and the second that that ‘seed’ was planted in my brain. From there it grew into first the details of a character, then the woman who was to be his heroine – then into their story at which point they took over and turned it into a complete book. With a beginning, a middle and an end.

The way I wrote the ending was interesting too – but I’ll have to come back to that. Maybe tomorrow.

You see, I have a book to write . . .

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Growing a Book - 1

If I had a pound for every person who asks me if I’m still ‘churning out’ books, I might not be in tax exile, but I’d be able to buy myself a very nice present. The other way this question can be phrased is that my romances are just ‘dashed off’. Hah!

I wish.

I have studied literature for years, have two degrees, a qualification as a professional librarian and I ran a children’s library for four years – all of which were easier that writing a successful short novel – and then repeating the success of the first one again and again and again. Each time with a set of the same basics – hero and heroine, reasons for conflict. Working through the conflict, character development, resolution, - a believable resolution – and Happy Ever After ending. These are the demands of the romance genre – the expectations a reader has when she comes to the shop to buy a Harlequin Mills & Boon romance – and they all have to be wrapped up in no more than 55,000 words.

And each book has to be different. I know it’s popular to believe that romances are all the same – that they are written to a formula or even, as someone once told me in all seriousness, ‘churned out’ by a computer that is programmed with names, ages, nationalities, occupations of hero and heroine, a formulaic ‘plot’ – and a set number of scenes.

If only it were that easy!

I don’t make claims for my books being great literature, but I do know from the letters and emails I get from women of all ages, all over the world that many many people think them a great read. And romance readers aren’t fools. They know if you’re ‘churning them out’ – not bothering with character development, not troubling to think of any new variation on a plot –

Here's how some critics think it works : -
Take one basic plot:
He’s a rich, powerful, successful man – she’s a poor, weak, virginal doormat of a Cinderella – beautiful but sad, no job, no friends, no life. He believes she’s nothing but a gold-digger and so treats her appallingly – but is proven wrong when he sees the true beauty of her soul - so he begs forgiveness for his wicked ways, tells her he loves her – and they all live happily ever after.
Change the names and nationalities and repeat as required . . .

Hmm – now why would any woman – let alone millions and millions of them, the world over, be happy to read something like that again and again and again?

And why would a woman with an MA enjoy writing that again and again and again?

I met a journalist in New Zealand once – he came to the Romance Writers of New Zealand conference there – who was convinced that I – and my fellow authors – were working a cynical trick. That we had no belief at all in what we were doing but that we were cold-bloodedly manipulating our audience of ‘sad, sad women’ – his words not mine! - by feeding them total pap – and getting rich as a result, so taking the money and running.

I was quite intrigued by this image of myself as an evil-minded, manipulating Svengali figure – a very new side to myself! – But I was furious at his portrayal of the millions of women who are romance readers as ‘sad’ and needing to be spoon fed pap to distract them from the realities of everyday life. This same journalist also refused to believe that I found any challenge, any interest – and least of all any enjoyment in what I write.

More fool him.

Every day I sit down at my computer to write, I face a new challenge. I have to create a vivid, interesting, sympathetic pair of characters who are born to be together and to love each other, put them through the emotional wringer as I keep them apart for as long as I can, then give them believable reasons – reasons that fit those characters and are not just the hand of God coming down from the clouds to sort things out - for resolving all those difficulties, recognising their love for each other and starting out on the road to happiness together.

Because that’s another point - the point in the book where I write ‘The End’ isn’t actually and end at all – it’s the beginning of that couple’s joint live – the point at which they actually become a couple and head out into the future together. So really it’s not The End . It’s The Beginning.

Liz Fielding, the brilliant, multi-award winning writer for Tender Romance sums up perfectly what it is about romances that keeps the reader coming back again and again:

People are complex creatures, bundles of neurosis and emotional angst. They can
be damaged by past affairs, may have lost the ability to believe in their own
happy ever after, may not believe they deserve to be happy. They do things for
the wrong reason, make mistakes, act stupidly often for the best of reasons.
Their story is not that they fall in love, but how they get to the point where
they can acknowledge their feelings, embrace them, risk their heart; it is that
emotional journey which rewards the romance reader and brings her back time
after time.

(Read the rest of this great discussion on Liz’s blog on eHarlequin this month – and while you’re there, congratulate her on being short listed again for this year’s RITA awards)

So if I don’t just sit down and ‘churn out’ a book – how do I go about it?

Well, Usually I start from a very tiny seed – of which more tomorrow when I’ll tell you the tiny seed that my newest book - my April release , The Italian’s Forced Bride – started from.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Competition Results

What's that famous line? - 'Houston, we have a problem. . . '

Problem one- when I promised a photo of Sid doing his stuff and picking the winners - I forgot that I had loaned my digital camera to The Offspring. So the big event has had to take place without record. But the next time - or maybe I'll do a mock-up of the name choosing ceremony with bits of paper and cat crunchies - I don't suppose Sid will mind.

I mean - here's Sid - does he look like he'll mind posing for the cameras again and eating a few more crunchies, just for your delight? I think he might manage it.

So - the results - and here's problem two
Memo to self - never let Sid choose the winners when he has just come in from wandering the garden for half the night and so is starving - or at least, that's what he tells me.

I had the contest entry names - I had the crunchies - I had a pen and paper ready to note down names - I had (most importantly) Sid the Cat. A hungry Sid the Cat.
And he snarfed down, not three but five - five - crunchies before I could blink. And I have no way of knowing which ones went first - or even second or third.

But then I thought, well, I don't win 'Best Modern of 2005' everday - so as I'm celebrating, I'm going with what Sid has decided. And he has decided the five winners will get signed copies of The Antonakos Marriage - and the winners are:

Sharon Francesca
Sharon J
Stacey Taylor
Rachel Bellerby

I'll be emailing you all anyway, but if you spot this first, please let me know your postal address by email and I'll get the book in the mail to you.

Thank you to everyone who entered. Look out for more occasional blog contests when I get the chance or the reason to hold them

Friday, March 24, 2006

Foreign editions - books for free!

Great post this morning.
No, I don’t mean that as a comment on what I’m posting here – but the postal delivery that arrived at my door just a short time ago.

When the postman rings the doorbell that means – usually – one of three things

1. A delivery of a parcel of books that either I or the BM have ordered from Amazon or some other on-line book source. These do arrive with great regularity as we both have bad book habits

2. Work of some sort involving books – proofs for one of mine or one of his.

3. Delivery of a parcel of books written by one or other of us – these are either author copies, or , sometimes, foreign editions of the books

This morning’s parcels were both - some paperback editions of my next UK release. That’s The Italian’s Forced Wife and officially it’s out on April 7th, though I know from experience that it will very probably start appearing on the shelves next week.

Then I got a bundle of foreign editions. These tend to arrive in batches - a bit like buses. You don’t get any for a while and then several appear all at once. The books I got today were two Japanese translations and one Spanish. I always like seeing foreign editions – apart from the obvious fact that this means the books have been brought out in more countries and so, hopefully, more sales will bring in more income, I’m always fascinated by the way that the books are produced and packaged in the international out lets. They’re never exactly the same – even the English speaking markets like UK, Australia and America, have very different cover designs. – You can see those on my web site.

But today each one of these translations had that little bit extra which made them even more interesting

The Spanish Amor en Venecia is a reprint of a book first published in 2000 - Her Secret Bridegroom – this time it has come out as part of a special mini-series called ‘Amor en . . .’ and as there are only going to be 6 of these published, I’m honoured to be one of the ones chose. Each book is accompanied by a tourist guide to the city where it is set – so, obviously, my book has a guide to Venice. Checking the Spanish Harlequin site, I see that the cities that will be covered in this way are : Paris, Venice, Lisbon, New York, Athens, and Istanbul.

Japanese book 1 is a translation of the second book in my Alcolar Family trilogy – The Spaniard’s Inconvenient Wife. But this book also has a little extra – it includes a print version of Wife For Real which was a short story I wrote for the eHarlequin web site and which wasthe story that began the whole Alcolar Family series. I’m really happy to see that this story is included as when the trilogy came out in America I had hundreds of enquiries from readers who wanted to know where they could find a copy of Wife For Real to read. If you’re one of those who is still looking for it – then the M&B Site has it here.

Finally, Japanese book 2 is another reprint – this time of an even older book – one that originally came out in 1990. This is The Golden Thief and it’s reprinted in the Japanese Classics series. It’s great to see older titles coming back again - and, hopefully, earning again!

But the other thing about these foreign editions is that I always get at least two copies of each - sometimes more. And although I like to keep one copy to add to my collection of all the editions of my books, these do mount up. Only yesterday I was thinking I would have to do something about the collection that is amassing – and now I have 3 more to add to it. Every now and then I try to have a clear out – some have gone to libraries with language collections, some to college where the languages – such as Spanish or Italian – even Japanese - are taught. But still more keep coming.
So here’s a blog-opportunity for someone.

If you are reading this blog and you live in one of the countries that I have translations from - any of the countries listed below – then email me and give me a. the language you want a book in and b. your postal address and I will send you a copy of one of the foreign edition books for free.

The languages I have available right now are;
Italian - 6 books
Spanish - 3 books
Japanese – 2 books
German – 1 book
Afrikaans – 1 book
Greek – I book

This will be strictly on a one book per person and first come, first served basis.

And if you know of any deserving cause – an International women’s group – or a library that wants particular languages, or if you teach languages somewhere and think some of my translations might help - let me know . I’m always glad to find good homes for my books!

And maybe this will let me see if this blog is being read by anyone in any of those countries.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Last call for contest

You have just two more days to enter my special blog contest and have a chance of winning my award-winning (I love saying that!) book The Antonakos Marriage.

Sid the Cat is getting excited about the fact that on Saturday he'll be let loose on the cat treats so that he can pick a winner of this contest for me. In case you've not visited my blog or my web site before, what happens is that all the names go on pieces of paper on the floor and all the pieces of paper have a cat crunchie on top of them - then in comes Sid . And the names on the papers of the first crunchies he eats are the winners.

So if you want a chance of Sid picking you out - all you have to do is to answer this question:

What are the names of the hero and heroine in The Antonakos Marriage?

Answers to me by end of Friday. I'll be letting Sid at the crunchies on Saturday morning - UK time.

If you need any clues you can find them on my web site.

And here is a pic of Sid looking forward to Saturday

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Double Trouble

Twice the fun – or twice the trouble?

At the moment, I’m working with 2 heroes at once. This is because when my editor asked me what I was working on now, I foolishly opened my mouth and told her. I’m writing about a Sicilian hero, I said. Oh great, she said, I love your Italian heroes. Is it going well?

Er – yes – but, you see, this guy has a brother. . .

Now don’t ask me why this particular Sicilian hero has to have a brother. After all, some heroes have brothers – some don’t. Theo in The Antonakos Marriage doesn’t have a brother and neither does another Italian hero – Domenico in The Italian’s Forced Bride, the book that’s coming out next month. But Malik, in the book after that, very definitely has a brother – in fact, he’s the one who causes all the trouble . . . But that’s another story.

So some heroes have brothers and some don’t. And some heroes have brothers who are just content to stay in the background, while for others their siblings, while waiting politely enough for Joe or Fred to have his day, and his story, then insist on moving centre stage themselves and having their story told as well please!

This is what happened when I wrote The Alcolar Family trilogy. I started with a short story – an internet on-line read on and a hero called Alex. Alex Alcolar. Alex started out nice and simple – or so I thought. There was just him and his heroine Louise – and a villain who was not related to either of them. At least that was how it worked when they were in England.

But then they moved to Spain. And in Spain, it seemed, there was not one but two brothers for Alex – half-brothers, if I’m being strictly accurate – and a sister. Joaquin, Ramon and Mercedes. And before I knew what was happening, Joaquin, Ramon and Mercedes had all demanded their own stories asap. And so The Alcolar Family was born.

Since then I’ve had nice, uncomplicated families for my heroes. Well, not emotionmally uncomplicated, but uncomplicated by any would –be heroic brothers – or would-be heroines in their sisters. Theo, Domenico, Malik, all had their stories written quite easily. There were no ‘extras’ appearing stage left and threatening to take over the whole thing.

Until Guido came along – and brought his brother Vito with him.

I should have known they were trouble from the start. After all they have always been a ‘package deal’ ever since a lovely lady – a reader of mine (waving to Lori in case she’s reading this) – gave me permission to use her brother’s names for two of my heroes some time. So ‘Guido and Vito Corsentino’ is how they’ve always been known. And it’s been a struggle to split them up to write one story first.

They didn’t like that! With the Alcolars I knew bits – an important fact about Ramon’s wedding day which was like a pebble thrown into pond, and sending ripples flowing outwards from if, affecting everything that came before and after. I knew that Mercedes’ hero had to be English and that he was some way connected to Ramon’s English mother (the Alcolars really are a complicated family!). And I knew about Joaquin’s ‘Twelve Month Rule.’ But I also knew a lot more about Joaquin and he was the eldest after all. He wanted his story told first – and Ramon and Mercedes were prepared to wait until it was their turn.
Not the Corsentino brothers. Each one had a story and already they’d told me so much about themselves that I could have sat down and started on either book. Guido’s or Vito’s - it didn’t matter which. In fact, I couldn’t decide which one I wanted to write most. They both fascinated me.

So I opened my mouth and told my editor about the fact that they were brothers. Would she mind, I said, if I wrote one brother’s story first – and then the second? Mind? She grabbed at the idea.

So now I am writing two linked books about first Guido and then Vito Corsentino. But as they’re linked, they have to come out close together and that means I have to get them done fast so they can go into the scheduling together. It’s a challenge. But I like challenges.And luckily, right at this moment I’m enjoying writing the books too. Once I let Guido have his head he took on the role with enthusiasm, and marched into the church where . . . But no, you’ll have to read the book to find out about that.

And why Guido first? Well I could say that he’s the elder and so is pulling rank, but it wouldn’t be true. It was when I ‘saw’ him walk into that church and I ‘saw’ the reaction of a member of the congregation – not his heroine – that I realised Guido’s story had to come first and Vito’s will follow after.What was that reaction? Well again you’ll have to read Guido’s book to find out – and then you’ll have to read Vito’s story to have it all explained.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Back to books - and great news

I'm so happy to be able to announce that my December 2005 Mills And Boon Modern Romance - The Antonakos Marriage had won the Best MB Modern of 2005 Award on Cata Romance

I spotted the news in their special 'slideshow' presentation last night just before I switched off the computer and this morning I checked out their printed list on their Awards page and then thought it was all a dream as my title wasn't there! But I'm assured this was just a typo that will be put right asap . And another check of the slideshow presentation shows it's still there!

I was also delighted to see the names of some dear friends on the list too - The Consultant's Christmas Proposal by Kate Hardy won Best Harlequin Medical -
Best MB Tender went to The Marriage Miracle by Liz Fielding (both very deserving wins in my book)

Other M&B wins were -

Best MB Medical - The Doctor's Special Touch by Marion Lennox
Best Harlequin Presents - His Wedding-Night Heir by Sara Craven
Best Harlequin Romance - Contracted: Corporate Wife by Jessica Hart

So I'm celebrating! And when I celebrate I like to share - so I'm running a special Blog contest with a chance to win one of two signed copies of The Antonakos Marriage.

All you have to do is to tell me the name of the hero and heroine of this book. It's not difficult to find out the answer - just check out my web site where you'll find the details you need.

Then email me your answer from here or from the web site and Sid the Cat will pick the two winners. This may be your only chance to grab a copy of the UK edition at least as that sold out on the M&B web site even before December was over.

American readers - The Antonakos Marriage is coming your way later in 2006 - in August I believe.

Good Luck!

As promised - Ghost Towns Live - Part 3

The Halifax Piece Hall in the snow

What a difference a day makes. We went to sleep on a freezing but clear night and woke to snow. Inches of it lying thick on the ground and white flakes whirling around in the sky, looking for somewhere to land. The roads were covered, the trains weren’t running – it was

just the sort of weather I remembered from when I used to live in the Pennines and that I was grateful to have moved away from. West Yorkshire towns are all built on hills – steep hills – and the combination of steep hills and deep snow is lethal.

So that changed a lot of plans.

My plans – because I wanted to visit some of the places where I have happy memories of Halifax –My plans – because I wanted to visit some of the places where I have happy memories of Halifax – Shibden Hall and the house and area I grew up in. That wasn’t a good idea in the whirling snow storm.

The TV production plans. They had also thought of going to Shibden Hall but the travelling conditions, specially at night made that difficult. And then several of the experts couldn’t turn up. Add into the confusion the fact that there had not been any ‘Doorstep divination’ on the previous night and you had a producer scrambling round to make sure he had enough to fill the three hours, The BM had a frantic phone call during the day to make sure he would be able to attend – and did he have any ghostly experiences of his own in case they were needed?

By the time the evening came around, we were old hands at the TV experience. Even the waiting around seemed to fly by as we chatted to presenters and crew, the people we’d come to know over the past nights. Graham the sound man explained how bouncing the sound off satellites work and how they made sure that certain microphones had clarity at just the right moment – all the time conducting a conversation with the invisible person in some other part of the building who had spoken in his earpiece. Liz arrived cuddled up in polo neck wool jumper, jacket and scarf and emerged from makeup having changed into a lightweight blue-grey tunic dress and – hang on - were those black leggings? Oh dear, now I know I’m getting older when I see fashions like that coming back again.

We watched Derek Acorah meet the prizewinners from a previous Ghost Towns Live Contest. They hung on every word he said, brought books to be signed, and one man presented him with a sculpture of the medium’s head.
Then Tracey, Ken and Aaron whose home had been the subject of the last investigation on the previous night turned up, more than happy to talk about their experience. ‘Could you see how scared I was?’ asked Aaron, a stunningly handsome young man with black curls. ‘I was really scared.’ That had been my own worry as the programme ended. One of the spirits that supposedly haunted the cottage was a former owner – someone who had had the property when the now barn conversion had been just a barn and he wasn’t happy with the way they had changed it all as they modernised. If spirits could be disturbed then this one had been stirred up by the investigation too. But the whole family felt that things were so much better in the house this morning. It had felt so much warmer, calmer, happier, they assured us. They were delighted by what had happened. And when Derek Acorah had connected up with an old lady they had known too, then he had ‘talked just like her – that was just the way she spoke!’

Because there are a couple of experts missing, my seat on the front row has now moved up several spaces and I am now in one of those chairs where on past nights people have claimed to have felt things. I’m determined to be rational and calm. The atmosphere is warm and relaxed – we know what we’re doing – there’s that line again – ‘300 paranormal fans’ – applause . . .and the show is off again.

One of the things about a live show is that you never know quite what will happen – so when one of the investigations, in a nearby restaurant in the mill complex takes off then the cameras stay with it. And this is where I can answer one of the queries I’ve had in a letter asking about the experience:

What surprised us is that he (the BM) and Richard weren't really asked much
about history... it was all very much brushed over. No corroboration of facts or
what have you. I know you can't do a huge amount live but even so...

The point about Ghost Towns live is in it’s shout line – ‘Your ghosts – your stories – his connection!’

It’s about investigating the places that the public have come to tell the programme about. Private homes, shops, restaurants, not the ‘big’ stories of history. Those tend to be covered in the companion programme that started the fascination with the paranormal and with Derek Acorah – Most Haunted. There they match the ghostly investigations with looking into the history as well. In this programme, often the smaller places are much less easy to investigate. The names that crop up are much less possible to track down on the night. The BM and I were discussing the fact that for historians it would be fascinating to have follow-up programmes when, having had time to do research, they can report back.

Watching the medium running, skipping – almost dancing around the room total blackness while somewhere else and expensive light display crashes to the ground is better television than a couple of experts talking, even if they do know that children who worked in those mills would have used their lunch times to play – and that there are reports of the death in 1876 in those mills of a young boy of nine, the approximate age of the ghost child the restaurant manager thinks he’s seen.

Watching the screen playing out the shadowy images, I suddenly realise that my left hand is very very cold. So is my arm. And there is a definite cold draft between me and Paul Bellenger. I check if he can feel it too – he can – and so we spend the next ad break looking round, standing up, checking to see if we can find any reason for it. All I can say is that we didn’t find one. There was no door behind us, definitely no windows. I don’t know where it came from – or why it went away again . I just know I felt it. And I've no idea if it meant anything or nothing - I'm just fascinated by the fact that ti happened in those seats.

Too soon the end of the evening arrives, the audience files out. Once again, the investigation is still going on out in Halifax – we shall have to wait until the show is repeated on TV or another Ghost Towns Live reports what happened. I take a last few photographs. And we start to pack up. We finally get to meet the researcher who started all this by contacting the BM a couple of weeks ago, having read his book. His name is Hassan but he has a broad Scottish accent – I love that sort of cultural mix that creates a blend of countries and languages. We thank him for his major part in giving us this unexpected and fascinating experience.

Out again into the cold, snow covered town. We make our way back to our hotel where we sit and talk and talk and talk over a bottle of wine. From being terrified at the prospect of appearing on TV, the BM is now buzzing with how much he enjoyed it, how he would love to do it again. But for now it’s the prospect of the drive home, and the normal routine. I must get back to my desk and the current book, and the BM must head for the University to teach Writing Narrative . . .

But you never know. Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths in Halifax is not the only book of true crime/local history the BM has written – there’s one on Bradford, Newcastle, a book on Lincoln and one on Lincolnshire Murders are coming out this year . He’s busy with FDSD Liverpool right now.

Watch this space . . I’ll let you know if anything comes of it.

PS I did try to include some more photographs in this - but Blogger is not co-operating. So I'll try again later.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Happy St Patrick's Day

An Irish Blessing

May God give you...
For every storm, a rainbow,
For every tear, a smile,
For every care, a promise,
And a blessing in each trial.
For every problem life sends,
A faithful friend to share,
For every sigh, a sweet song,
And an answer for each prayer.

PS Ghost Towns Live Experience Part 3 follows soon - I'm deeply involved with a Sicilian hero!!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Ghost Towns Live Experience Part Two

I didn’t really finish off day one. Perhaps that was because once the show started, the time just whizzed by. Large chunks of it were very little different from watching on TV – the huge screen showed us what was going out on air, we watched . . . The Liz did her links or announced the competition . . . The Advertising breaks came as both moments of boredom (so what else is new?) and great relief – the audience could only nip to the toilets in those moments. Ben, the Floor Manager would keep a running check on that. ‘We’re in a break, Ladies and Gents. . .four minutes . . .three minutes . . .’ If you did venture to the loo, then you had to tread warily in the half darkness, watching for cables, flagstones, uneven flooring.

Some people in the audience were saying they felt ‘cold spots’ or their hands were burning . . . Many people seemed to want to be affected by the atmosphere as well as the investigators out in Halifax. One woman sitting next to me kept saying that her right leg was getting cold – hardly surprising as she was sitting in front of a badly fitting, old door where there was a gap of at least an inch and a half between it and the door. But one set of chairs, in a line from the back to the front of the ‘stalls’ consistently produced reports of a cold breeze where no breeze should be – more of that later!

Live TV isn’t neat and tidy. The second investigation of the night – in the Lost Workers’ Room in Dean Clough Mills runs way past the midnight cut off point and on the screen, the camera recordings are still running as the audience files out into the darkness of the night. The BM and I need to collect coats, etc from behind the scenes and we spend some time chatting to lovely Liz Bonnin and other experts, members of the crew. Liz turns out to be a romance reading fan so I promise her some of my books the next day. With the investigation finally wound down, Derek Acorah comes past, shakes both the BM’s and my hands, says ‘I hope you enjoyed that.’ He looks tired, and distinctly unlike the rather dramatic figure he appears on screen . His face is more finely drawn, his handshake firm. I never once saw any ‘big star’ behaviour in all of the three nights.

Finally the BM and I make our way to the car. Five minutes down the road, our small hotel – right next to the Piece Hall – is already locked for the night. But the night porter lets us in and when we realise that we haven’t eaten since 2 that afternoon (it’s now almost 1am) he organises pizza for us. We wolf that down, with a bottle of wine, talking and talking over the events of the night.

Day two is a day for some nostalgia and revisiting familiar places for me – walking round Halifax, recalling how as a child, a teenager, I used to think that ‘going into town’ from my home in one of the outlying villages was a major event, is fascinating. Here is where my mother bought my school uniform (horrible, itchy gymslips and striped cotton summer dresses). Here in Fred Wade’s bookshop, where they now display my husband’s Halifax book and the second one he wrote about Bradford, is where a family friend bought me the wonderful present of a brand-new, hardback ‘Famous Five’ book by Enid Blyton. In the Piece Hall while the BM hunts through shelf after shelf of second-hand books, I find a treasure – a book I adored in my childhood and I add that to his pile.

Saturday night is when my son and his girlfriend are joining us as guests on the show so we meet them at four, and, learning from last night’s experience, grab sandwiches before the show. The Offspring and Helen have to be at the theatre early to collect their tickets and this time the queues are even longer – dozens of people are prepared to try for ‘standby’ tickets in the hope that maybe there will be a seat going if someone doesn’t turn up. They’re out of luck. Everyone who has tickets claims them – later, I’m stunned to realise just how far some people have travelled for this. I talked to one woman and her husband who travelled from Catterick, then later I learn that one couple travelled for seven and a half hours to get there – and will travel the same back . . . And they aren’t even guaranteed a sight of the star other than on the screen.

In the green room there’s the gathering of experts again – Richard, Paul and the BM from last night and Craig Bradley, local writer who grew up in Illingworth where one of the investigations is being held. There too are Stephen and Teresa, the couple who were the subject of the previous night’s ‘Doorstep Divination.’ For those who have never seen the show – this is when Derek Acorah goes out into the streets of the town and does a live instant ‘reading for members of the public. Anyone who is interested in having this happen, puts a poster up in their window and he chooses the house he feels drawn to. Last night it was Stephen and Teresa’s house. They look as if they are still slightly in shock at being chosen as well as at the accuracy of some of the tings he said. Tonight they are here to talk to Liz about their experiences.

Mark the producer comes in with information about the plans for the night – Heath’s Bar in the centre of town – part of the Dean Clough Complex – the FMill – and a place just known as ‘Tracey’s Cottage’ – a private home on the edge of the town where the family has been troubled by apparitions and noises. He also has possible questions that all the experts will be asked so they can prepare. But in the end, once the show gets underway, much of the preparation goes to waste, the investigations take their own turns, unplanned and unchoreographed, and the questions they’re expecting never appear. Outside in the Theatre, the warm-up goes on – cheers, whoops, applause – soon it’s 8.30 and we are lead out to the seats in the front row again. And this time the BM is smiling, looking forward to the night rather than dreading it. The theme music starts up again – Liz says our cue ‘300 paranormal fans’ – we applaud . . . And the show starts all over again.
Within minutes, Richard Jones and the BM are deep in discussion about the site of the first investigation, on screen, Derek, Nicola and Angus are ‘bringing down the lights’ in Heath’s Bar and starting to explore the place in complete darkness and Ghost Towns Live is on air.

Once again, the night flashes by. There is one sticky moment when the 'Doorstep Divination' doesn't work - in spite of the fact that there is a poster in the window, and a light on in the house, no one answers the door. And as this was the house that Derek felt drawn to, there isn't a 'substitute' waiting in the wings. So that leaves Liz and the production team scrambling to fill in the empty minutes - more time with the experts - with Teresa and Stephen - with Ken who, with his wife Tracey, lives in the cottage they are investigating soon. That investigation is the last of the night and it is still going on when the show comes to an end. All the team are still out, and we later learn that they stayed out for quite a while.

So we collect coats, bags full of reference books . . . Meeting Liz again I give her copies of The Spaniard's Inconvenient Bride and The Antonakos Marriage and receive an enthusiastic hug of thanks. 'I am so going to read those on the train home!' she says.

Then we find The Offspring and Helen, take some photos of the set, head out into the freezing night air. Tonight, being Saturday, the hotel bar is still open and we manage more sandwiches and a few glasses of wine before we are 'wound down' enough to head for our rooms.

Out in the night, in Illingworth, Derek Acorah, the team and Tracey and her son Aaron are still dealing with their invisible visitors - we will learn more about that the next day . . .

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Town Crier

Annoyingly, my photo of Les Cutts, the Halifax Town Crier wouldn't upload to this blog when I wrote my post - but I promised Les I'd put his picture up because as he didn't get a chance to say a word on the show, no one saw him!

So here he is - Les Cutts - Halifax's Town Crier in full regalia

PS - The BM - an explanation

I should have said - for those of you who don't know- specially Sharon - the BM is my DH - but he's been given the nickname the Babe Magnet at so many romance writers' circles that it's sort of stuck and he is known affectionately as the BM as a result

The Ghost Town Experience - Part One

Well that was fun – and fascinating – and exhausting – and exhilarating – and . . .

I’m back! And I had a great time - it may take me a while to recover though - I'm also worn out – we didn't get back to the hotel much before 1am for three nights - and then our minds were buzzing so much we couldn't sleep!

It’s true what they say about TV work – that there’s a lot of sitting around, waiting – and waiting . . . We had to be at the venue - the Viaduct Theatre in Halifax. for about 7pm each night. The audience had to be there from 6 to collect their armbands. Then they waited. The programme went out live from 9pm each night of the weekend so there was a longish time to hang around before they even got into the studio. But there was a bar where they waited – once inside they couldn’t eat or drink – no rustling, crunching, slurping to spoil the broadcast!

300+ people crammed into the small, stone flagged theatre. Dean Clough was once one of the world’s largest carpet mills and the Viaduct theatre is underground in the part of the old mill complex. Already dark and atmospheric, with rutted, uneven floors, bare stone walls and low curved archways, it was given added atmosphere by smoky effect, blue and red lights and monochrome netting ‘posters’ of Derek Acorah himself hanging suspended at various points and swaying in the draughts. An extra, unplanned touch was added by the occasional drip of water down the old walls – something not put in deliberately but which added a real dungeon-like sound effect! The main set was just a circular stage with padded benches for the presenter and interviewees to perch on, dominated from behind by a huge screen on which first the clock counting down the time to the live broadcast, then the titles, and finally the actual investigations conducted each night were projected as they were happening. This way, we could see what was happening beyond the theatre and what the TV audiences were viewing.

The experts and their guests were squirreled away behind closed doors where the friendly members of Ruggie Media provided us with drinks, and information as to what was going to happen. Here we met Mark, the producer, researcher Kufena, and Assistant Floor Manager Helen who all made us wonderfully welcome. As I was just there to observe and didn’t have to worry about my part in the event, I was able to sit back and watch people coming and going - the presenters Angus Purden and Nicola Wheeler who join Derek Acorah on his investigations and studio presenter Liz Bonnin and finally Derek Acorah himself as they headed into makeup and were fitted with mikes etc.

From the theatre we could hear whoops, laughter and great rounds of applause as Helen warmed up the audience, getting them into a relaxed and enthusiastic mood, and rehearsing them in when to applaud etc. Meanwhile the BM chatted to his fellow experts – Folklore writer and lecturer John Billingsley, Local Ghost Walk organiser Paul Bellinger, and Town Crier Les Cutts.

Ghost Town’s regular expert on haunted place and history is the lovely Richard Jones. Watching the BM meeting and then getting to know him was a delight. They have so many similar interests and through the show they were sparking ideas off each other and talking and talking and talking . . . Richard was even generous enough to bring the BM’s book Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths in and Around Halifax onto the set with him and put it prominently on the table they shared where it could be caught by the cameras. So in the same spirit – if you’re interested in Haunted Britain etc – check out Richard’s web site

Okay – so where have I got to?? From 8.30 everyone was in the theatre, rehearsing, rehearsing, rehearsing – applauding to order, watching Ben the Floor Manager for a sign when to bring up the applause and when to tone it down, learning our cue ‘300 paranormal fans’ to be ready to applaud. Watching Liz go through the opening again and again. It’s a strange feeling watching someone just in front of you (all the experts and guests were on the very front row) apparently talking g to herself then realising that she’s communicating with the production team who were in another building.

Count down begins – ‘Ten minutes to on air, Ladies and Gents.’ ‘Five minutes . . .’ ’45 seconds . . .’ The titles and the theme music had been played and played and played . . . but then suddenly it was ‘5 seconds . . ‘ and this time when the titles came up it was for real! Derek Acorah’s Ghost Town’s Live – Halifax – was on air and we were live to the country – parts of the world! We applauded on cue – some people whooped and cheered – we were introduced to Nicola and Angus – Derek Acorah himself came on to talk about how he was looking forward to the night. Then he went off to get into the car to go to the first destination.

For those of you who don’t know the show – the Ghost Towns bus parks in the centre of a town and people who live there come to tell their stories of sightings and moving objects and things that go bump in the night . . . Then the production team decide which ones they want to investigate and that’s where they send Derek – but they don’t tell him anything about the place or even where it is. We’d been told – very quietly – the day’s destinations – but the doors between our meeting with the producer and the room where the medium himself was were very definitely closed.

Saturday’s main destination wasSaturday’s main destination was The Piece Hall a wonderful, spectacular building right in the heart of Halifax. When I lived there, this beautiful building had been allowed to fall into some disarray but in 1976, the whole place was cleaned up and now looks wonderful.

So the investigation team headed out to the Piece Hall – and then experts were introduced. Suddenly the moment that I knew the BM had dreaded was here. Liz spoke first to Richard Jones and then smiled at the BM as she introduced True Crime Historian Stephen Wade . . .I held my breath . . . heard him make a joke – and the ice was broken. After that he was – as the production team later said – ‘a natural’! When I look back at the recording, I can see he was nervous at first , but he soon warmed up, relaxed – and enjoyed himself.

Okay, that’s part one – there’s more – lots more – but guess what – right now I’m off to watch TV – there’s a programme on called Derek Acorah’s Ghost Towns that I want to watch – it’s going to mean so much more to me this time!Back soon.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Back soon

I'm off of the interesting weekend with the BM the Maybe Media Star so have a great weekend yourselves.

And if you get a moment - my great friend - and a wonderful writer - Anne McAllister has just had her first cataract surgery two days ago. She says she can't stop looking at things because they are so clear and vivid so why not drop by her Blog and send her some nice messages to see with her wonderful new sight.

Be back on Monday

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Interesting times Part 2

Okay - so I said I had some fun news about the BM for this weekend - I think it's just about definite now, so I can tell you more without jinxing fate! On cable or satellite TV there is a ghost-hunting programme called Derek Acorah's Ghost Towns on Living TV and this weekend they are doing a 3 night special from Halifax West Yorkshire where I grew up. Now, amongst other things (lots and lots of other things!) the BM writes local history books on true crime etc (with the glorious titles of Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths!) and he wrote one on Halifax. As a result of this, a researcher for the show contacted him and he has been working as one of the consultants for this show - so they know where to investigate etc. They were also discussing whether he would appear on it. We just heard today that they would like him to be there, probably only on stage for one night - we don't know which yet - but hopefully at least one! And the Offspring and his partner and I all get free tickets to the recording and get to see how the show is put together and maybe mingle a bit!

So if you do have that channel then 9 - 12pm Friday Saturday, Sunday - you might spot the BM somewhere.

Now I've told you this, they'll probably not ask him a single question! But I'm going to have a fun weekend, visiting my home ground and seeing how the show is put together and how it all happens. It’ll be great research if nothing else.

Don't really have the time to spare from these books - but who cares! Whatever happens, it's going to be a fascinating weekend.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Cats - but bigger ones

Anyone who has visited my web site in the past will know that I am passionate about cats – and not just my own four furry tyrants! Wild cats, big cats matter too. Well, the truth is that I’m passionate about wildlife – but cats are my special creatures. Which is why I came to adopt a wonderful tiger and two lions.No, I don’t have these beautiful creatures prowling my living room or sunning themselves in my garden (that would give my cat-hating neighbour a bit of a shock!). I’ve adopted them through the ‘Born Free’ organisation which rescues wild creatures from captivity and settles them in special game reserves where they can roam and enjoy life fully.

Every so often, I get an update on ‘my’ big cats. This came today and it brings both good news and bad news.

Good news first – let’s look at Roque (pronounced Rocky) the beautiful tiger.

Roque was rescued from a Spanish pet shop where, as a cub, he was living in a just a glass fish tank ! He is now seven years old and he lives in a special forest kraal in Bannerghatta Tiger Sanctuary in India. He is said to be very friendly with people he knows and trusts and loves attention from them. He loves his special territory where he prowls around, scent marking his special trees (very like my own cats!) , basking in the sun or sleeping out the heat of the day in the shade or soaking in his pool, set high in the rocks. He’s a happy, healthy creature.

Sadly though both ‘my’ lions – Raffi and Anthea are not so healthy. But both these lions are now getting on in life for lions – they are both 18. The conditions in which they were found will also had created some of their health problems – they were geld captive in a tiny cage in top of a Tenerife restaurant, with only intermittent access to water and fed on dog food. So now Raffi has chronic kidney problems - which many domestic cats can have too – and so gets very dehydrated – and Anthea is getting frail just as a result of her age

But the great thing is to know that these two fabulous creatures, who are like an elderly married couple and have been together almost all the 18 years of their lives are still eating enthusiastically and are very affectionate and loving with each others. And as you can see from this picture, Raffi is just as likely to forget his dignity when he’s enjoying a snooze as my Sid is (see post below). Thanks to the Born Free Foundation, they have spent the last 13 of those 18 years in freedom and comfort under South African sun in Shamwari Game Reserve.

If you want to know more about the work of the Born Free Foundation or perhaps adopt an animal for yourself – you can choose lions, wolves, chimps, elephants . . . then check out Born Free here. And while you’re there, please read the information about the campaign to stop the use of wild animals in circuses and consider signing the petition. I hope that just looking at Roque, Raffi and Anthea in their freedom will make you decide to do so.

Thank you!

I just looked around my office and spotted four contented furry bodies lying around – Bob is on the settee, with Spiffy sprawled out beside him and Dylan and Sid are curled in their beds. They’ve just breakfasted and as it’s pouring with rain outside have come in here to settle down for the day so the air is full of purrs! I love their quiet companionship as I start my writing day.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Interesting times

There is a Chinese curse that says ‘May you live in interesting times.’ Sometimes I wonder why this should be considered a curse - I like being interested. I like interesting times. The truth is that I can’t really recall the last time I was bored or wondered what to do, I always have something that is calling to me – usually too much. And I love it that way.

Recently I did an interview about ‘My Writing Day’ for a UK writing magazine and I had to give an idea of how I work. Some bits of it were easy - Most of the time, life jogs along at a fairly steady pace – I have a three book contract so the next twelve months divide up nicely into Preparing/Planning/Writing/Panicking/Revising if necessary/line editing/proof correcting for each book. And then I weave in other things - teaching workshops, going to conferences, reading for the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme. I’ve been used to this for a while and it works for me. I can juggle those things most of the time. Occasionally I drop something but not often. I've even managed to add in an extra here or there if I thought it was worth it.

Then sometimes life throws things at you and you have to rethink everything. The juggling gets more complicated and you have several more things to keep up in the air. And you really can’t drop any of them. But there’s really a bit too much to manage – that’s when interesting times become a bit of a curse.
Why do the ‘interesting’ bits all have to come at once? One now, and another when I’ve dealt with this one would be nice . . .

I started this last week in position one – as I described in the second paragraph – jogging along – then things started to happen. A plan I suggested to my editor for two linked books was grabbed at – but the two have to be in in less than one and a half deadlines, not the usual two. Then we got some exciting news. Not for me, for the BM, and I can’t say much about that yet until it’s all sorted and finalised – but it involves an experience that I can join him on and there’s no way I’m going to miss it if it really does happen. It will also be fascinating as research so that’s another reason I’m not going to miss it.

That’s next weekend – and of course that means that I shall have three days taken out of the time between now and the first deadline. So it’s going to be nose to the grindstone all week to make sure I get a good foundation down before the break.

And I just know what will happen. I’ve been feeling my way into this book and going through the ‘warming up’ process that comes with getting to know my characters, feeling what they feel, understanding why they are here, where ‘here’ is and where they/we go from here. By next Friday, I expect that if the usual way of going about things happens, that I will really feel we’re on our way together and I’ll be looking forward to writing down their story, as they dictate to me – and I’ll have to leave it to go somewhere else for three days . . .

And all the time I’m involved in something else, those characters will be nagging at my thoughts, telling me things, letting me see scenes that I didn’t know were going to happen but suddenly now have to happen to tell this story right . . . While at the same time, I will be trying to observe lots of other things and make notes, mental or physical and learn and enjoy and just experience . . .

Of course I’ll have a notebook with me – I always do – and I’ll have my Dana for when I can get a chance to write up the ideas - or the research . .. And I know I’ll have a wonderful time . . .And I know that when I’m forced to take a break like this I always come back invigorated and with ideas buzzing because I’ve had that ‘thinking time’ that is so vital to letting a story ‘brew’ inside my head. And so when I get back home, the story will write itself quicker and possibly better for taking the time out.

But right at this moment, all I can do is think of everything I have to do between now and Monday morning next week . . . And the panic buttons start being pressed . . . And that’s when I wonder if ‘living in interesting times’ might well be the double-edged sword that the Chinese saying has it.

But I also know that, come hell or high water, I’ll cope. I’ll have an experience of a lifetime – one I never thought I’d enjoy – I’ll write the book – and I’ll live to tell the tale. I’m sure I’ll have a great time. I just wish it didn’t all have to happen at once.

So if the blog postings are a bit sporadic over the next ten day - don' t be surprised. I'll be living some really interesting times.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Contest prize winners

Sid the cat is sleeping off his treats, having eaten quite a few crunchies as he chose the winners of my February Mr Wonderful Contest

The answers to the questions were –
The titles of my next two books to be published are

The Married Mistress in USA
The Italian’s Forced Bride

in UK

Thank you to everyone who entered - And the winners are:

Ellie Lewis Albuquerque, New Mexico
Susan Wise Lanesborough, Massachusetts
Fiona Waterworth Sunderland UK

They all win a signed copy of their choice of my backlist, a Kate Walker bookbag and of course, their very own mini-hunk, Mr Wonderful.

This contest is now closed – but I will be planning another one very soon. Just as soon as I can decide on the prizes.
As Easter is coming up, I suspect that chocolate may have to be involved.
And keep your eyes open for special blog-only contests as and when I think of reasons to run them.


Today is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 90. She was born in Clones County Monaghan in Ireland - the same place as the boxer Barry McGuigan but years apart. She was, quite simply, an amazing woman. But then I would say that – wouldn’t I?

But that little girl born March 3rd at a time when Ireland was torn by deep divisions and violent rebellion, grew up to become the young woman who won not just one but three different scholarships to Trinity College Dublin, but was unable to take even one of them up because she became ill with tuberculosis. In order to recover, she went to live in Davos, Switzerland where she met, amongst others, the poet Llewelyn Powys. The truth is that she wasn’t terribly impressed by him as a person, but I have several books he gave her that are signed to ‘a beautiful young poetess’ – so he seems to have felt differently about her!
The outbreak of the war brought her home to Ireland and to marriage to my father. She had met him in Dublin, when her brother brought a friend along when they went to a production of Julius Caesar starring James Mason. She spent most of the war years in England, looking after children in a nursery and becoming the Warden of ‘a club for directed women workers’ in Newark, Nottinghamshire. Later, she and my father moved to Yorkshire. She had five daughters, of which I was the third.

Sadly, as I’ve already mentioned, my parents’ family broke down. She moved out and started training to be a teacher, gained her teaching qualification, a degree, became a teacher, then the deputy head at a junior school, then a counsellor at the local Catholic High School. She worked tirelessly for the local church and community and finally became a female deacon, being awarded a Papal Medal by John Paul II in 1981. She was deeply involved in bringing together differing faiths and communities and even travelled to Pakistan as part of a group wanting to strengthen links between them. When she died we had a dozen different priests of different denominations who all wanted to take some part in her funeral because they valued her so much.

And that’s the briefest summary!

Cancer took her from us too early, just at the very start of my writing career, but at least she did know about it. In the same summer that we learned she had the terminal illness, I got the letter (we didn’t get ‘The Call’ then!) from Mills & Boon to say that they wanted to buy my very first book. It came just in time. I was able to tell her that I had achieved my dream of becoming a published writer and in the last few months of her life to show her the contract when the revisions were accepted and the book finally bought.

Sadly, she never read that book – she wanted to wait, to see it in print and read a published copy, but died six months later without ever having seen it. But she did know about it and for that I will always be grateful.

My mother taught me to read. She instilled in me a love of books and reading. Because of her there were always books available at home to feed the reading hunger she created. She also dreamed of being a writer herself and had several poems published in her early twenties. I have one hazy memory of her sitting at a writing desk we had in our Yorkshire home, writing away on what I thought were letters, but later, discovered that in fact she was working on some children’s stories. I don’t know what happened to those tales – which is such a pity as I think she would have been a magical story teller herself. My sisters and I spent many happy hours listening to the stories she told us as we settled in bed, ready to sleep. None of those stories came from books but were the creation of a vivid imagination that wove long, fascinating stories about ‘Toodie in Booland’ - a place where Rosa and Fanny Rosa lived in a cottage by a pond, with their friend Duck - and ‘The Land of The Beeweedonians’!

I have no doubt that listening to those stories and then drifting off to sleep with them in my head, I took the first steps on the road to becoming the writer I am today, with a storytelling skill learned, literally, at my mother’s knee! Though I have to admit that I always say that I got my first book published when I mentally told my mother to go away and stop peering over my shoulder when I was trying to write.

She never actually did, of course, but it was just that thinking about her - or anyone else - reading what I'd written - was terribly inhibiting and stopped me from writing freely. So I had to put all thoughts of that out of my mind. But I would have loved to have seen her holding and reading that very first book of mine.

Thanks Mum – and Happy Birthday. I wish you could see the books that are lined up on my shelves now – and I wish we could be celebrating your 90th together.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Something wonderful

This isn't the post I was planning to write but -
I'd like to share with you three very special pictures

- first of all here is Saranya who lives in India

And here is Bisola who lives in Africa

Don't you just love those wonderful wide, brilliant smiles on their faces ? - I'll come back to that in aminute

And finally - here is little Hassan in Bangladesh. He's a little more solemn because he's a bit too young to realise quite what's happening.

Why these pictures? Well, those of you who visited my web site before Christmas will know that as my Christmas 'card' to my readers, I used the money that could have bought cards and paid for postage to do something that I believed - knew - was worthwhile.

In the past year, I've had surgery to remove cataracts from both my eyes, and it's made a wonderful difference to me. I can see to read, to cross a road safely, to drive, and of course, to write. And because of the NHS, I had the skill of my wonderful surgeon at no cost at all to me. So when I learned that I could actually fund the same operation or one to repair the damage of trachoma and so give the gift of sight to someone who needed it, in a country where they didn't have such advantages, I knew that was where I wanted some of my 'Christmas card' money to go. And that's why Saranya and Bisola are smiling so brilliantly - because they can see the photographer who is taking their picture. Little Hassan too has been saved from blindness, even if he doesn't quite realise the importance of that just yet. The company (Good Gifts) I used to send these donations have sent me the photographs of the children whose operations I paid for and I've been sitting here with tears in my own newly repaired eyes as I looked at these wonderful pictures.

And would you believe that it cost me just £27 each to put that smile on those faces? Damn good value if you ask me.

That's why I had to share them with you. And for another reason too - all the readers who've bought my books have helped me afford to give this special gift to these children - so I want to thank you all too for your part in this very special moment. So just take another look at those smililng faces and, even though it's now March, think that that's what Christmas is really all about!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Beginnings . . .

So it’s March the first. The beginning of a new month. According to tradition, March is supposed to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb. Here in Lincolnshire, there isn’t much sign of any savage weather or storms at the moment. But it’s freezing – and there’s always time! The forecast says strong winds, blustery showers, possibly of snow – so that’s possibly fierce enough to be leonine yet.

And at the beginning of this month, as I begin not one but two books (as they are planned to come out as a duet, I need to work on both at this stage so they link together well) that thought about the beginning of March seems to fit there as well. Because in a Modern/Presents romance novel, the hero has to ‘come in like a lion and go out like a lamb.’ He has to stride on stage, if not actually roaring from the start then certainly shaking his ‘mane’ and making his presence felt. And when he learns to love then he becomes as gentle as a lamb to his beloved. Not that he ever loses his leonine qualities - a real hero stays strong and powerful to the end but he uses that fierce strength and power in a very different way – to protect and nurture, as the Alpha lion in a pride has to defend his family from other predators.

Which of course makes me wonder if the natural astrological sign for any Alpha hero is obviously Leo. But there are many different ways for a man to show his power and strength, that Alpha Leo pride being only one of them and perhaps one that is overused in many romance stories. The major problem I have is when people will describe an Alpha hero as ‘arrogant’ when the truth is that because he has such supreme self confidence (until the realisation that he isn’t all that well qualified in handling matters of the heart hits him in the face) he can appear arrogant to someone who is feeling hostile towards him and who doesn’t yet know quite why he is acting that way.

Which brings me to my favourite word of all tine when it comes to writing fiction – that all important WHY things happen, WHY someone behaves in a particular way.

Months don’t have to worry about things like that – they just begin how the forces of nature have programmed them to begin and get on with it. And we have to take what we get. But with a hero I have to know precisely WHY all that roaring and mane- tossing is going on. Any man who indulges in it for no good reason and without any justifiable background to it is going to appear just a jerk, not anyone’s hero.

So yesterday I spent a lot of time writing in the old-fashioned way, with a soft HB pencil (the sort my mother always used to call a ‘thinking pencil’ ) and a note pad. I roughed out the ‘backstory’ to both these books – all the stuff that will (mostly) not be included in the book I actually write but which I must know all about if I’m going to write that ‘what as well as the how. And today I think I’m ready to let at least one her move on from his opening ‘like a lion’ to begin his journey to the point where, if not actually becoming a lamb, he’s certainly ready to lie down with one.

March 1st seems like a good day for such a beginning.
Happy St David’s Day!

PS I have a contest running onmy web site that officially closed at midnight Feb 28th - but if you're reading this blog on March 1st and you'd like to enter for a chance to win your very own Mr Wonderful the mini hunk like the one above, who can be relied on to say all the right things- just check out my contest page and send me an answer - put 'Blog Contest entry' in the title of the email - and I'll let you have a day's grace to enter.

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