Thursday, January 31, 2008

Writng for Presents 4 - Heroines - and Mice

Heroines - and mice?

I can almost see the newspaper comments now.

"Romance Authors think that their heroines are just mousy little creatures, submissive before the power of the masculine, patriachal force that is the hero."

Er . .. no.
Let me say that again - louder - No- No - NO

Quiet as a mouse

Timid as a mouse
Dull, brown and drab as a mouse

Do you remember how when I was talking about heroes, I suggested that you go over to Anne McAllister's blog - and to read the comments. One comment there was by Lidia who said:

Please don't laugh, but all of this brought to mind the old fable/fairy tale of the lion with the 'splinter' and the mouse that removes it. In some respects that embodies an alpha's partner. The woman appears to be meek and yet she is strong in many unseen ways and is not 'scared' for the big alpha. Did that make any sense?
To me, yes that made perfect sense. I'll admit that my memories of the 'Lion and the. . .' fable are slightly different -
Lion with thorn in paw - Androcles and the Lion

Androcles was a runaway slave who found a lion suffering because it had a thorn embedded deep in its paw. Gently and carefully, Androcles too the thorn out of the lion's paw so that it healed. Later, Androcles was recaptured and sent to the arena in Rome where he was to be thrown to a hungry lion. But when the great beast came into the arena, it didn't attack him - instead it ran up to him and gave his face a great lick. It was the same lion that Androcles had helped before. The two of them were released and the lion went to live with Androcles and they lived happily ever after.

Mouse helps lion - The Lion and the Mouse - Aesop's fables.

Once when a Lion was asleep a little Mouse began running up and down upon him; this soon wakened the Lion, who placed his huge paw upon him, and opened his big jaws to swallow him. "Pardon, O King," cried the little Mouse: "forgive me this time, I shall never forget it: who knows but what I may be able to do you a turn some of these days?" The Lion was so tickled at the idea of the Mouse being able to help him, that he lifted up his paw and let him go. Some time after the Lion was caught in a trap, and the hunters who desired to carry him alive to the King, tied him to a tree while they went in search of a waggon to carry him on. Just then the little Mouse happened to pass by, and seeing the sad plight in which the Lion was, went up to him and soon gnawed away the ropes that bound the King of the Beasts. "Was I not right?" said the little Mouse.

Now it doesn't matter that Androcles was male - in this story he, like the mouse, is the less powerful creature, the one that could be swatted by the lion with one sweep of his paw. And then eaten for good measure. The same with the mouse. But neither Androcles nor the mouse runs away. They both face the situation and use their own abilities to handle it as it is. Androcles uses kindness and gentleness and removes the thron that is injuring the lion and the mouse plays it safe, apologising and conceding to the King of the Beasts. But neither of them is passive, neither just lies down and lets the lion kill them. They do what they can in the circumstances.

They both survive

And then they both show the big fierce, domineering lion a new way to live, a way of sharing, and in the case of the mouse biting through the ties that hold him, restrain him, imprison him, they free him to share that new life with them. But they sometimes have to work on this slowly and carefully - like that mouse gnawing through the ties that imprison – slowly, steadily. A small creature tackling something big.

Over on eHarlequin there has been an interesting discussion of ‘strong heroines’. There’s a difference between ‘kick-ass’ heroines and the ones that are quoted in a great set of sayings that are not ‘strong women’ but ‘women of strength.’ A quiet heroine can be a woman of strength as much as - or more than – a more openly defiant one. Strength in a heroine isn’t shown by aggressiveness, by abusive language or shouting. Strength has many ways of showing itself. It can be open defiance, it can be refusal to go along with someone’s demands – or it can be in the understanding that right now the odds are stacked against you and so biding your time, waiting and seeing, can build the strength that will be needed to win through in the end. And that’s why, although I’ve written some of those quieter heroines, I’ve never actually ever written a passive one.

It’s that mouse/Androcles and the lion thing again – in those stories the lion (or the hero) might be the strong, roaring, macho male - but without the mouse or Androcles he would be lost and defeated. Deep down inside he’s vulnerable even if he’s not yet prepared to show it. The heroine comes along when he’s at his most vulnerable – and he’s at his most vulnerable because of her and the way he feels about her - and she not only rescues him by removing the ‘thorns’ that are poisoning his life. Or gnawing through the ropes that imprison him. She then gives him back a life that is very different from his old, lonely, single existence.

As Lidia said – just like the mouse, the heroine can appear meek - but she is strong in unseen ways. When the tiny, timid little mouse is gnawing away, slowly, patiently, at the ropes that trap the lion – which one then is actually the strong one?

Romance writers know that readers love the strong, Presents hero, but one thing that sometimes gets forgotten in all this is that just as the alpha wolf seeks out and mates with the very best females in his pack, so the Presents hero needs a heroine who can match him and prove a worthy mate, not just submit to him.And the wonderful Robyn Donald said in Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women

The strong, domineering hero of the romance novel has long been the subject of criticism. What critics don’t realize is that the hero’s task in the book is to present a suitable challenge to the heroine. His strength is a measure of her power for it is she who must conquer him.

Every good romance heroine must have a hero who is worthy of her

And every good romance hero must have a heroine who is worthy of him. So don’t sell your heroines short – don’t make her a wimp or a doormat, but at the same time don’t make her a shrieking, aggressive harridan. She is the woman that your hero is going to want to spend the rest of his life with, the woman he will be proud to have at his side. Make her an 'adventurous woman' - a ‘woman of strength.'

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Coming soon . . .

When it comes to new years, I always think that I actually do better with the Chinese one.

The Western New Year comes too close to Christmas, too close to my son's birthday. It's over-hyped, over-emphasised and the whole things just seems altogether too much.

But the Chinese New Year comes a little later on; when you've had time to take a breather after Christmas. Time to clear up the chaos that December 25th leaves behind - take down and store the decorations, recycle the Christmas cards - er - pay the other sort of Christmas Cards - ie the bills that mount up on the credit cards.

This year the Chinese New Year starts on February 7th and apparently it's the Year of the Rat and the Year of the Rat is said to be " a time of hard work, activity, and renewal. This is a good year to begin a new job, get married, launch a product or make a fresh start. Ventures begun now may not yield fast returns, but opportunities will come for people who are well prepared and resourceful. The best way for you to succeed is to be patient, let things develop slowly, and make the most of every opening you can find. "

All of which fits more with my mood right now than it did on December 31st.

So, as I'm planning and looking at upcoming projects, I thought I'd just give you some advance notice of things that are coming up .

So - for February we have:

The return of the now annual and so 'traditional' joint contest the Anne McAllister, Liz Fielding and I run together. That means that you'll get to see this logo again as it's Here Come The Grooms again - or Here Come the Grooms the reprise. The contest is to celebrate Valentine's Day, and the publication of 3 more of our books - Anne's great One Night Love-Child which I wrote about yesterday, Liz's The Bride's Baby - which is a very important book for Liz (more on that later) and my own Spanish Billionaire, Innocent Wife.

This also means that those darn grooms will probably be back, taking over blogs when they can and generally causing bother. And as the groom in my book is Raul - remember Raul? - this means that you'll get to see a bit more of this guy who helped me with my research - that was a tough job, I remember how hard that research was.

And talking of Valentine's Day reminds me that I'll be helping Aussie author Nicola Marsh celebrate Feb 14th with her special Be My Valentine 14 day promotion - you'll have a chance to meet 14 great romance writers, win daily prizes - and there's a grand prize on 14 books to be won on th 14th itself.

More numbers - of course on the 12th of February I have my 12 Points on the 12th over on the Tote Bags 'n' Blogs site. And this month I have some exciting news about my 12 Point Guide because you see . . . No - I'll just keep that to myself for a little bit longer.

I have a Pink Heart Society post to write - and I get to do that on a really special date. Because 2008 is of course a Leap Year and my next PHS post is scheduled for Leap Year's Day itself - Feb 29th. No one else will be able to write on that date for the next four years.

And next week I'm heading for London for a big event to mark the official start of the celebrations for this very special year for my publisher. Because on February 7th there is a party to mark the start of this wonderful centenary year for Mills & Boon. 100 years of publishing, 100 years of success and 100 years of being a household name - can't be bad. I'll be meeting up with lots of friends, fellow authors and editors for this and I'll bring you a report - and hopefully pics - just as soon as I get back. We'll be celebrating on the actual day of the Chinese New year too which, considering how I started this post, seems appropriate.

Is that it? Oh no - I forgot - I also have a deadline to get my next book in - as well as all this, that new story is supposed to be on my editor's desk by the end of the month . . . no pressure there then!

But at least with this being a leap year, I have one extra day on the 29th to complete it!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Two Good Books and more on heroes

The Babe Magnet is a generous man - he likes to share. And what he's shared with me recently is germs. He had a nasty stomach bug that flattened him all of Saturday and Sunday - so, having had that passed on to me, I was flattened some of Sunday and all of yesterday. And it was not fun
Oh well, I needed to lose some weight

But there are silver linings to being flattened - because I couldn't do anything else, I could at least read. I have a batch of books to read and judge for the RITA contest but as I was feeling so rough I thought I'd indulge myself and so I read so tried and tested favourites, thinking that quality reading would distract me from the other unpleasantness of the day.

I was right. I read two great books, relaxed and enjoyed myself - and if you have to be sick then being sick in the compny of Michelle Reid and Anne McAllister is not a bad thing at all.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I make no secret of the fact that no only are these two authors two of my favourite friends, they are also two of my favourite romance writers whose books I have enjoyed longer thatn I've actually had the warm friendship of both of them in my life. In fact they are the proof of the fact that most authors whose books I've loved turn out to be people I like too - and Michelle and Anne are perfect examples of that.
Michelle Reid hasn't had a book out in a while - The Italian's Future Bride was out in January 2007 and since then I've been getting withdrawal symptoms. So it was a real thrill when Michelle gave me a hardback copy of her upcoming book - The Markonos Bride. And as with all of Michelle's books, I opened the first page, sampled a line or two - and then found that hours later I emerged, blinking into the real world, reluctantly leaving behind intense, sexy Andreas Markonos and his vulnerable but feisty estranged wife Louisa. Reading a Michelle Reid is like being swept along on a tidal wave of emotion - her heroes may be strong to the point of ruthlessness, autocratic and sometimes domineering. But she leaves you in no doubt about the vulnerability underneath that power, and the need that drives these men to behave in this way.
I'm not going to give away spoilers for this - or the other book - but knowing that Andreas and Lousia have been torn about by a tragedy in the past, a tragedy that left scars on both of them, you know it's going to take time to heal and rebuild what they had before when the only thing that seems to be holding them together is the intense physical passion they have always shared.
Which is much the same sort of journey that Flynn and Sara have to go on in Anne McAllister's One Night Love-Child, the second of the books I devoured yesterday. I was in 'at the birth' of this book - or at least as part of its gestation when Anne and I toured Ireland last February and it was fun to see the way that our travels, and our stay in Ballyvolane House Translated into Dunmorey - with the constant, pouring rain as well. But a book by Anne is a very different sort of experience from a book by Michelle and Flynn Murray is a very different dort of hero from Andreas Markonos.
He's every bit as strong and intense - he feels the same passion for his heroine - but his campaign to win her back after 5 years' absence is - as he describes it - a process of 'courting' rather than confrontation. Flynn needs to prove to Sara that this time he's here to stay and that can't be done in the blink of an eye and with a protestation of love - no matter how ardent.
Flynn has his own demons to fight - demons that had made him the man he is - and the demons of the other dermands that life makes on him. For some he might not be the expected sort of Presents hero - he has money worries that he struggles with, he's not confrontational or autocratic and - oh yes, he's Irish, not Greek or Italian or a Sheikh. But he is strong and honourable, determined and loving - and those are the things that make a true hero in anyone's book.
But in the true strength and scope of the Presents line there should be room for both types of her - and more. The Alpha hero is not, as I have said so many times before, Alpha because he's cruel or snarling or a bully or domneering - in fact, quite the opposite. An Alpha hero is the man the heroine can rely on the be there for her through thick and thin, cold and heat. The man whose strength will support her, whose courage will defend her and whose love will be with her now and for the rest of their future together 'for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.'
And that's another reason why I enjoyed both these books - because, reading them with the current Instant Seduction Contest in mind, I was thinking of so many questi0ns I've been asked about creating an Alpha hero and how to make him hard and forceful and have the impact a hero needs - without losing the vital sympathy that is also needed to make him a hero for the reader too.
These two very different books show just how to do that - and they go a long way to prove that there is no right way or wrong way to write a hero - but that it is, as the late great Editorial Director of M&B Jacqui Bianchi once said to me - if you create the hero who excites you, who you could fall in love with, and you communicate that excitement and that attraction then the reader will fall in love with him too.
I think that in many of the attempts at writing for M&B, in the scripts I've read and commented on, too many people aim for the 'Mediterranean Billionaire' hero - I'd almost say the 'Hard Cruel Bastard Billionaire' - and forget that these guys are also men that the heroine is supposed to fall in love with - and hopefully stay in love 'till death do us part.'
In The Markonos Bride and One Night Love-Child, there isn't a hint of revenge - there's no blackmail, no forced marriages, no suspicion that the heroine might be a gold-digger, or in some other way 'no better than she ought to be' - the only 'traditional' Presents theme is the 'secret baby' - that one night love child in Anne's book. But both of these books pack an emotional punch that is what the Presents line is all about - the intense, emotional punch that comes from two people wrenched apart by the past coming together again and needing to rediscover each other, to find out what love is really all about, in order to go into their future together.
And so for my money anyone wanting to enter the Instant Seduction contest could do no better than to read these books so as to see that there is more to that much sought after 'emotional punch' than threats and suspicion or demanding retribution. The real emotional punch comes from seeing the chasm of distance that has come between two people who should have a future together and wondering just how the hell they are ever going to bridge that yawning gap so that they can find that future together. That emotional distance can stab as sharply to the heart every bit as much as - in fact more so - than any ferocious anger or callous demanding of retribution.
Thank you Michelle and thank you Anne for two great reads that absorbed and delighted me even under the rather difficult conditions that were yesterday.
The Markonos Bride is published in M&B Modern and Harlequin Presents in May 2008
and One Night Love-Child is published in Presents in March and M&B Modern in April.
PS I have no idea why the paragraphing and the spacing of this is all to pot - I've tried and tried to correct it, but Blogger is just not having it!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Writing for Presents 3 POV

For the third in this random and irregular set of notes about writing romance, I'm answering a question that was asked me over on the IheartPresents blog and one that was raised on eHarlequin. Both are on that tricky topic of POV - point of view

This is the first question: (from IHeartPresents)

The Presents guidelines ask for male or female pov but most of the books I read seem to have both, so that is what I am aiming for.Is there any editorial advice out there on this? Thanks…

And here's my answer:

As an author for the Presents line, the only editorial advice I’ve been given on this - and most other editorial questions ! - is to write the book the way that makes it the best possible story.

So if I feel that giving the hero’s POV will add something to the story, deepen the conflict, reveal more about a character, whether the hero or the heroine, then I’ll write it that way.

There are some stories where I have needed to show the hero’s thoughts and mind process to increase the tension, and other times when leaving him as an enigma works better - as the editors so often say. ‘It’s all in the execution’.

It is very definitely a personal preference for the way the story is developed. Some readers prefer only to know the heroine’s viewpoint - others prefer to learn more about both characters as the story develops.

The other point is that when the hero’s POV isnt given through the story, then often the last chapter or so involves a long explanation of ‘why I did this’ or ‘what I meant then .. . ‘ Which could make for quite a slow ending.
I suppose it really comes down to whether you want to read a book about a woman falling in love or a book about two people falling in love - personally, I’m fascinated by what brings two people together, their mistakes and misapprehensions and the ways they learn the truth about each other.

But I’ll always approach the telling of it from that very important angle- the one of making it the very best story, exciting, intense and emotional, that I can.

Question 2 - which was asked over on Presents Paradise thread on eharlequin

Is there a set rule with regards to the amount of POV changes in a chapter? How many is too many?

And heres my answer:
One again - to emphasise - there are no set rules about changes of POV . In fact there are no set rules about anything!

As one editor said to me, the only 'rule'is that you write your book in the way that makes it the best story possible.
POV though - the advice I'd give is

1. Make it clear just whose head you are in - people think 'headhopping' is changing POV lots of times in a scene. It's not - it's changing POV lots of times in a scene without letting the reader know whose head you are in. Any confusion from the reader and you've made a mistake

2. Make sure that the person whose POV you're using only knows things that that person would actually know - that sounds obvious but I've read some real mistakes where the person whose POV it is knows that their own eyes are clouded or their face is pale . . .

3. The POV that you need to be in is the one that gives this particular bit of the scene the most drama, tension and impact. If you are in a POV that will give away secrets, explain things too easily etc then you're wasting tension. A POV change isn't just to show you how 'the other person' is thinking. It's there to increase the drama and add to the tension

4. But also you have to be very careful that you do't just give his feelings in his POV - and neglect to have him tell the heroine anything. The reader might know but not the poor heroine - and she's not a mind-reader.

Now perhaps I should add one final extra point here. I know that a lot of authors - and some editors will say that there should not be many changes of POV and particularly not within a scene. Some editors have told me that any change of POV within a scene is head-hopping and that the only change of point of view should happen at the end of a scene when they believe it is allowed.

What I'm talking about here is my experience and what I've learned after 20+ years of writing for and being edited by Harlequin Mills & Boon out of the offices in Richmond, UK. And in all those years and all those books the only 'rule' has ever been to write the book in the way that makes the best story possible.

That's a rule I'm happy to follow - and as with everything else - it's all in the execution. And what I'm talking about is the Presents contest and that is being edited from the Richmond UK office.

And if you want to read some more on POV - or anything else - it's all in my 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Observer - a correction/addition

Now that I've had time to go out and buy a copy of The Observer to read, I've realised that if you read the article by Francesca Segal on the internet - there is a paragraph missing - and, for me personally,it's an important one. It also explains why I am suddenly 'Walker' in the internet reproduction of the article as this names me as Kate Walker. I did wonder what had happened to my full name on the internet!

So in the interests of accuracy - here's the article with the missing paragraph replaced.

Who said romance was dead?

In the time it takes you to read this page, Britons will have bought 100 novels by Mills & Boon, now in its centenary year
Francesca Segal
Sunday January 27, 2008

'Men are so beaten into submission these days,' says Jilly Cooper. 'They're so wet and worried and confused that one simply has to reach into romance novels to find a proper hero.'That prince of sales figures, Harry Potter, has shifted 400 million books in his 11-year career. But when you realise that 200 million Mills & Boon novels are sold worldwide every year, it's all too obvious that Jilly Cooper has a point.

A Mills & Boon paperback is sold in a UK bookshop on average every 6.6 seconds. Compare this to our domestic market for literary fiction, where some critically acclaimed novels sell so few copies that the author might well have been better to bypass the publishers and knock them off on a photocopier. As it reaches its centenary, Mills & Boon is a truly astonishing phenomenon.In 1908, the company was launched as a publisher of general fiction, as well as etiquette guides and manuals for modern living. One contributor wrote under the rather progressive pseudonym of 'Gentleman With a Duster', but its list also featured Jack London, PG Wodehouse and Hugh Walpole. It became clear very quickly, however, that romances outsold all else. The character of the list has changed immeasurably, but if the company has retained anything from those first years, it is its policy of encouraging new writers alongside its stars.

It was Charles Boon who realised that the future of the company lay with women's fiction and during the First World War, as life became harder and men more scarce, he began to focus on the escapist romance novels for which the house is now known. And yet there has always been a pervasively sneering attitude to them, the name synonymous with saccharine sentiments, prehistoric gender roles and risible sexual euphemism. Why, with 3.2 million devoted readers in the UK and 50 million worldwide, has such snobbery persisted?

'I think it's partly because they're cheap,' says Joanna Bowring, co-curator of the Mills & Boon centenary exhibition at Manchester Central Library, 'and also because they're considered disposable literature. And they're almost exclusively read and written by women and so have never been taken very seriously.'

Mills & Boon is a very serious business. Its highly stylised category romances are published in 12 distinct series, whose content ranges from the innocent to the explicit; from cosy, domestic love stories to glamorous international dramas. A reader picking up a hot-pink Romance novel will never be subjected to the graphic, lust-fuelled scenes in a flame-covered Blaze story. Some follow the quaintly traditional path most associated with the novels - virgins, chaste kisses and wedding bells, while others have evolved to represent their current readers and show single mothers, divorcees and mistresses, the complex structures of modern families and relationships.Their specificity is astonishing - one series, Medical Romance, is peopled entirely with hunky doctors and pretty nurses, while Modern Romance is filled with an alternating catalogue of Greeks, Italians and Arab sheikhs. Nocturne, launching later this year, will focus on the improbably narrow niche of paranormal passions.

Read one you enjoy and the colour of jacket will guide you to the others in the same series, sharing enough elements that you will never be disappointed. It is this repetition of both plot and characters that inspires criticism, but it is also what keeps readers reaching for the shelves or, in the case of subscribers, the letterbox. Committed readers receive up to 70 books a month by post and such is their faith in the consistency of the brand that they simply take what's new rather than selecting individual titles.

Like Disney, everything in the Mills & Boon universe is tightly controlled. Fans have learnt that they can depend on them completely for the security of a happy ending. As one subscriber from Fort Worth, Texas, explained: 'They give faith when you need it. You know everything will be all right and the man is not a swine.' They tap into a fundamental need for reassurance, a small domain of predictability in a world where bad things happen. This is the awesome power of the romance novel and the reason why the relentless attacks of literary snobs on both the prose and the frequent use of cliche is redundant. No one believes they're great literature, nor do they need to be. They're cherished for their simplicity. Sometimes, all we want is a break from wondering what's going to happen next.

'Romance novels provide a glimpse of what we feel life could be,' says another fan from Australia. 'The heroes are always thoughtful and confident and can always take care of the women they love.'

Over the years, a frequent objection has been that romance novels cause women to become dissatisfied with their lot, encouraged to expect a Lancelot when they ought to be happy with a more readily available Don Quixote. It is only when talking to Kate Walker, one of the company's most successful authors, that I notice the subtle sexism implicit in this concern and, indeed, in many of the oft-repeated attacks on the novels. Does romance encourage women to foster unrealistic expectations? Does science fiction give men unrealistic expectations about inter-galactic space travel?

'I think,' corrects Walker, 'that the readers are aware of their escapist value - and that we've never actually met a sheikh or a Greek billionaire. And in any case, the problems that I give the characters are familiar ones that can't be solved with money or power. In that sense, it's the same issues your plumber could have with his missus, but in a glamorous setting.'

Walker has been applying this formula since 1984 and in that time has sold more than 12 million copies of her books in 67 different countries. But, like a great many Mills & Boon writers, she began 'because it's a job that a woman can do to support herself for independence while having a family. There are very few publishers that have such a strong female history. Even the heroines have traditionally been working women, not housewives. Yes, it was a company started by men, but the women have sustained it'.

Just as, in turn, it has sustained the women. 'A friend of my mother's had been abandoned by her husband,' says Walker, 'and she made a life for herself and her two kids by writing Mills & Boon novels. As a company in which women have always been so important, strong and professional, there isn't one to match it.'

But feminist critics have long attacked the books, citing retrogressive plots, passive women and the reinforcement of the dominant male. 'It means they haven't read one since the Sixties,' explains Walker. 'I couldn't write a passive woman if I tried. Yes, the men are strong, but my heroines give as good as they get.'

While the heroines have evolved since the early days, the heroes remain much as they were a century ago. 'There's always been a subtle undercurrent of force throughout the books and that's never changed from the earliest ones. Even later, when other aspects are influenced by feminism and the shifting attitudes outside the novel,' observes Joanna Bowring, 'the men are masterful and stern.'

This was expressed rather less subtly by Violet Winspear, a popular writer who caused a furore in 1970 when she declared that her male characters 'must frighten and fascinate. They must be the sort of men who are capable of rape'. A shy spinster who lived with her mother and a cat, it's easy to dismiss Winspear as out of touch with her contemporaries and her books did have unusually darker elements. But a quick glance at the titles of current releases in the racier and more cosmopolitan Modern Romance series suggests that dominance is still dominant. The Greek Tycoon's Unwilling Wife; The Billionaire's Captive Bride; The Desert Sheikh's Captive Wife; Surrender to the Sheikh; Taken by her Greek Boss - all of these are 2007 publications.

Stories in which male dominance remains the norm stand accused of setting back women's emancipation, our hard-won rights to a partner instead of a ruler. They are considered outdated, no longer representing what women of today really want, but none the less encouraging such desires to linger. The fundamental flaw to such an argument is that Mills & Boon has always been a minutely sensitive gauge, polling relentlessly and reacting instantly to the changing tastes of their readers. Whatever appears on the pages is there because the readers want it.

This goes to the heart of what makes Mills & Boon's success so remarkable: while many of the details have evolved over the years, the core of the stories has remained the same. Every reader I spoke to expressed a similar sentiment - they reached for a romance novel for its promise of a happy ending. It's all there on the back of one of their earliest paperbacks - 'Your troubles are at an end when you choose a Mills & Boon novel. No more doubts! No more disappointments!'

It has been calculated that dedicated modern Mills & Boon readers will have seen their characters sharing some 30,000 embraces and tripping merrily to the altar at least 7,000 times, more than enough happily-ever-afters to cheer the most jaded of readers. Jilly Cooper puts it best: 'After all, life's bloody tough. Mills & Boon is much better than binge drinking.'·

Readers, Writers and Romance, an exhibition celebrating Mills & Boon's centenary, will be staged in Manchester Central Library from June, before touring the north west into 2009

In the papers

There has been a lot about Mills & Boon in the UK newspapers this week or so - inevitably, because of the interest in the Centenary celebrations for 1908-2008. As I've already discussed, some of the coverage has been less than wonderful - by that I mean less than accurate and written by journalists who either haven't read a Mills & Boon novel in their lives, or, if they have, have read one that dates back to about 1978, rather than anything published recently. And the comments by critics have been equally badly informed.

So it's good to be able to report a better, more balanced and at least better researched couple of articles that have appeared recently.

There was an article in The Times on Friday on How To Write a Mills Boon Novel. If we pass on the ridiculous illustration at the top of this page - a dreamy lady on a settee (where else ? I'm just relieved it wasn't a chaise longue) drafting her novel with the aid of a purple feathered quill pen. For the purple prose, one assumes. Right! The real romance novelist is probably far more likely to be like me - hunched over the computer keyboard at stupid o'clock, still in my pyjamas, hair uncombed, slightly bleary eyed (can we just say sick husbands with stomach bugs do not make for a peaceful night's sleep) - dreadline looming and no time to breathe.

Add this to the rather stupid first paragraph :
There comes a moment in every unpublished novelist's life when she wonders, is it time? Time to change her name to Valerie Lafayette, take to bed with a box of chocs, a dreamy smile and a big pink notebook and begin her career as a romantic novelist for Mills & Boon.

- and I didn't hold out much hope of a reasonable report here either. (Oh if only I could take to my bed with a box of chocs - now that would be a romantic dream!)

But after this inauspicious beginning, the rest of the of the article ain't bad. The editors come across as human and professional ( though knowing them I suspect that a little poetic licence has been taken in the description) and the tips for aspiring novelists might actually help someone who is thinking of writing for M&B.

Then yesterday there was a two page article in The Mail's Weekend magazine. (sorry - I can't give a link for this). Passion Under the Covers screams the headline above a blow up image of a cover - from 1986 of course! This article starts with the infamous quote from Violet Winspear claiming that her heroes need to be men who are capable of rape. But at least there was some justification for this in that the piece was talking about the history of Mills & Boon and the writers who formed the foundation of the company's success back in the first half of this century of pulishing we're celebrating.

Along with Violet (born 1928 and who lived in Leigh-on-sea in Essex) the article mentions Anne Hampson who is still alive and 'a bit more' than her late 80s. Anne wrote 98 books for Mills & Boon from 1969.

And the other novelist the article discuss is was the brave and charitable Mary Burchell ( real name Ida Cook) who wrote in 1930/40s, earning around £1,000 a year. She also "began sponsoring Jewish refugees fleeing Nazism, also helping them to smuggle out their jewellery and furs.' Together with her sister Louise, Ida is believed to have saved up to 60 lives and were honoured as Righteous Among the Nations by the Holocaust remembrance organisation Yad Vashem. Personally, I love the story of the way that they explained why they were trying to get som many furs and jewels out of the country :

"We had one standard answer to frontier officials who wanted to know why we had so many jewels and furs - we were a couple of nervous spinsters who didn't trust our family, so we took our jewels with us."

That just sounds to me like a wonderful symbol for M&B books as a whole - dismiss them as dotty females, who flutter and are overcome in the face of a strong male, and you'll never get to see the real strengths they are concealing inside that 'pink and fluffy' exterior.

This article does had one small last paragraph quoting executive editor Tessa Shapcott pointing out how much the books have changed and moved with the times, so the modern balance is added, although the overall impression to anyone who just glances through it would be to assume that the books are just the same as when Violet, Anne and Mary/Ida were writing in years gone by.

Finally, today we have the latest article - and this is one that I had a hand - or rather, a voice - in. I meant to mention that I had been interviewed by a journalist from The Observer - other things intruded and pushed it from my mind - but today the article by Francesca Segal is published.

And when I tell you that the article is headed Who Said Romance Was Dead? you'll get a hint of the positive tone of this one. I knew that Francesca Segal had done her research on this as the interview was extensive and I asked her straight out if she had read any M&Bs - she had. I also know that she interviewed other M&B authors (so I was suprised to see that they weren't quoted) and a Senior Editor at HMB (ditto) - but as a result of that research she's written a balanced and informative article (and that's not just because she quotes me several times!). She does, unfortunately, mention that quote again (How I wish that dear Violet who never had sex with any man in her life had kept her mouth shut!) and she implies a control by M&B that denies the authors their creative value and freedom and really just does not exist. Certainly, I've never encountered it.

Such a comment denies the fact that the authors who write for M&B do so because they love the books, they love to read them as well as write them, and they write to tap into the pleasure gained from the books by the numbers - the huge numbers - of women who read and enjoy them, worldwide.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Go and read . . . .

I have so much to do before I can write a full post this morning, but while you're waiting why not go and read some great blog posts that are already there and waiting for you out in cyberspace this morning.

For a start there's Anne McAllister's wonderful discusssion about What Makes a Hero on her blog, Great stuff - I don;t know about her writing her current hero Seb's story as a book - I'm happy just reading the Anne and Seb instalments right now.

And I love this quote:

"Having a hero is like having a teenager -- you can't tell them anything. They have to go through a learning process. Go on a journey if you will. Start out one place and end up somewhere else. And they have to figure things out for themselves."

While you're there don't miss the great comments too - for today's post and the ones on January 21st and 22nd too. There's a lovely comment there by Lidia about the lion and the mouse - great image - I'll come back to that.
Then if you want to read more - and it's Saturday, you don't have to rush to work, so you've got the time -

Go to Trish Wylie's fabulous rant about fantasies over on Tote Bags 'n' Blogs.

This one had me standing and cheering too. But then It's only what I'd expect from Trish. She's a great writer, a great person - and of course she is responsible for starting the brilliant Pink Heart Society which is going from stength to desrved strength .

And if you don't already know about the Pink Heart Society - you don't know what you're missing. Go on over to the PHS Blog and read all about why today is special for all romance writers and readers 'downunder'

There - my work is done - you have plenty to read and I don't have to think of a new post for myself.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Writing For Presents 2 - Some thoughts on Heroes

Thank you all for your lovely warm and sympathetic messages about Spiffy - they have warmed and supported me through the day and helped so much.

Thank you.

I know that I had promised some more comments on writing for Presents but life sort of drove all that from my mind. But over on Anne McAllister's blog she is hosting a fascinating and absorbing discussion about Heroes and what we most want from them. Well worth a look and a good read.

This discussion reminded me of another one over on where Natalie Anderson was discussing Alpha heroes with humour and charm.

I'll admit that I was surprised to find that the 'humour and charm' bit was written as if it was unexpected and unusual for an Alpha hero - as if being an alpha male meant that a guy had to have a charm lobotomy and a sense of humour by pass before he could become an alpha hero

As many of you will know, I have this personal campaign to get people to understand what the real alpha is - and that's not the sort of bullying, domineering type that so many readers - and, I'll admit, some writers seem to think he is.

Over on the I heartPresents blog, the Presents editors talked about the alpha male and reminded everyone that this guy is the ultimate nurturer. He's the one with the great sense of responsibility - the one who feels he has to lead, to take charge, to sort things out - to take care of people and things - because nature and circumstance have put him in that position.

That's the position that the alpha wolf is in - one of the places that the term 'alpha' comes from.
But - I've said it before, and I'll say it again and again - this does not make him a bully or domineering or cruel. If a hero is portrayed as bullying, domineering and cruel - then that's because he's those things - by nature he's a bully and cruel - not because he's an alpha. And if by nature he's bullying and cruel, then I for one can never believe in any sudden 'about face' and declaration of love at the end of the book. And I think that any heroine who believes in it is deluding herself . Loving and caring is not just one great big declaration -one huge apology for being a pig and then saying 'I love you.' Love is showing that you care in many - and often very small ways. I've met a lot of men (women too) who behaved like pigs - declared they were sorry - it would never, ever happen again - they were changed for life . . .
And then went straight out and behaved in default monster mode the minute they were tested.

One of my favourite books is Wuthering Heights - but I can never ever imagine any sort of Happy Ever After ending for that book because no matter how much Heathcliff (And Cathy for that matter) declare their 'love' for each other, it's a selfish, demanding, controlling sort of love. Not a love of giving and equality - and of honour.

Because, for me, although the Alpha hero is often arrogant, and yes, controlling in the circumstances in which he finds himself, , deep down he wants to do the right thing. He's good at heart, not evil - he can just seem to be that way when he comes up against the heroine in a situation that has distorted reality and made him doubt the truth of what his instincts are telling him.

The clashes that come into the stories should be clashes between the hero and his heroine when he totally believes he's doing what's right - and she sees his actions in the exact opposite light. Not that he is in fact doing something cruel or wrong - but because circumstances have led him to believe that what he is doing is the right - the only thing. And circumstances have led her to believe that he's doing wrong.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again - It's that core of honour that makes a hero and is vital to any man who's going to be written as a hero, Without it, any man who goes back on his word or uses his strength to dominate etc just because he can, is not a hero - never mind an alpha - in my book.

And in my book too any alpha should be capable of oodles of charm and humour - it's just that in the circumstances of the story, when this guy is focused on dealing with the situation that has arisen, one that he feels he really has to put right, no matter what it takes, sometimes he puts that part of himself aside to bring forward the part he feels can cope best right now.
Like Natalie said:

The mistake that some readers make is thinking that the alpha in fight mode who appears in the books is the one and only side to the alpha there is. And the mistake some writers can make is in making it appear that there is only this one side to him, and never ever letting the real character of the man show through. If they don't then they don't show a real alpha - they don't take the time to explore the real depths and the different strengths - the emotional, loving, caring strengths this man has too.

I've already discussed this in some detail in my 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance and I feel so strongly about it that I'm going to be adding to it and developing it in a new edition coming up - but more on that later.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Gallant Gentleman Cat

Yesterday was tough. Monday January 21st was officially declared the be Black Monday - the most depressing day of the year, but yesterday had it beaten. And it wasn't helped by having been there before just a few months ago. Because yesterday we lost another cat. The next eldest after Bob and losing two old dear friends in 3 months is hard.

When Bob died in September, Anne McAllister wrote about him on her blog, She also mentioned the other cats and described black and white Spiffy (a bi-coloured magpie cat, he would have told you) this way:Spiff is kind and gallant and that about summed him up really. But Spiffy had been having trouble breathing and when x rays and examinations revealed a tumour blocking his windpipe and another growing in his chest, his age (16) plus the fact that the position of one of them meant that it couldn't possibly be removed meant that it was time for a gentle exit. One that fitted the gallant and gentle cat he was.

16 years ago the Offspring was helping out in the local RSPCA. When he came home he told me about a beautiful white kitten needing a home. Inevitably, I ended up in the RSPCa a few days later, planning on adopting the white kitten. I didn't. Inevitably the beautiful white kitten had already gone to a good home. But there, on the top shelf of a row of cages was a tiny, scruffy, smelly little black and white kitten, looking almost too small to cope with life. He had been found with his brothers and sisters in a sack in the river and only just rescued in time. 'That's the one' said the BM who was with me. And so Ivan came home with us.

Yes - Ivan. At that point that was what the Offspring named him. The Spiffy bit came later. He might have been tiny (then), too tiny even to really know how to wash himself properly, which was why he was bit smelly, but he grew. And grew and grew. He soon outstripped Bob who was just a year or so older. And he became a brave and loving cat - pretty Spiffy as the BM said. And the name stuck. So much so that when we took him to the vet the first couple of times there was some confusion. I had taken the originally named Ivan for his first injections, later the BM took him for necessary operation and said he was Spiffy. So for a while the vet thought we had two identical cats - one who had had all his injections and the other who had had 'the snip'.

But Spiffy was the name that stuck, the name that suited him. He was always second cat. Bob was the Alpha and all cats in the household knew that. But Spiffy didn't care. He was more than happy in the lower ranks. No responsibilities, no worries. He was free to be the gentle, easy going purrer that suited his nature. He was a warm and genial host to all vistiors, coming to greet them as soon as they arrived and investigating their shoes. Spiffy loved shoes - and feet - if he could sit at your feet and rub his head all over your shoes then he was happy. And if you had a handbag as well then he was in ecstasy.

Not being Alpha cat also meant that he had no trouble with new arrivals - there was young Poppy who later ran away because she hated the house move we made (a move that Spiffy of course took in his stride), there was Dylan and Sid. It was Spiffy who brought Sid into the house in the first place. We opened the door and Bob came in, then Dylan - and Spiffy with a (then) strange black tabby. You could almost hear him saying 'This is my friend Sid - it's OK if he stays isn't it?' And you just knew that outside, where they'd met, he would have told Sid, 'Stray are you? Well, not to worry - my humans are good with waifs and strays, they'll find room for you.'

Spiffy was also the schoolchildren's cat. The kids who walked past up the road towards the school were always greeted warmly by him and he knew just when to go outside in the morning and again in the afternoon to get the maximum number of strokes and head rubs from the maximum number of children. He could take any amount of love and fuss. When three special friends, Anna, Julie and Biddy, first came to stay and were all sharing a room, he soon worked out that if he visited when they were in bed, and lay across the middle one then he could also get the best possible attention from each one at either side. He was in bliss.

Spiffy loved a box - or a bin. It didn't matter if it was big or small, high or low, somehow he folded himself up into it and purred his delight. He loved Christmas when he could get out of his head on catnip and then sleep it off afterwards with his best friend Bob. He was the one cat who would accept things like wearing a fancy hat as part of the Christmas card - if his Mum wanted him to wear a hat, then that was fine with him. He was good with little people too - when Julie Cohen's almost one year old visited at Christmas he was there to greet and entertain. He understood that small people don't yet quite know the ropes and tolerated having his head patted and his tail grabbed with gracious equanimity.

Four years ago he was poisoned by something he ate or drank. He was very ill for a week but Michelle the vet looked after him and he came to adore her. Each time he went for check ups, booster injections, if he heard her voice he was up and out of the cat carrier. rubbing his head against her hand, wanting more fuss. Even yesterday, when he was struggling, as soon as he heard her his head came up and the purrs started. So it was a comfort to know that it was 'his vet' who could do the last thing he needed and help him out of his distress.

If we're talking of heroes then Spiffy was no James Bond sort of cat, no adventurer or handsome devil may care playboy. He was a Gary Cooper sort of cat, big, quiet, laconic and a perfect gentleman. A very gallant and gentleman cat. Even aging and ailing he welcomed Flora the Flirt into his home and tolerated her bouncing kisses, her pouncing on his tail with - I swear - an understanding smile. Yesterday when he wasn't in his bed by the fire, first Sid and then Flora went looking for him and were obviously worried when they couldn't find him.
I'm not surprised. They'll miss him as much as we will.

Second cat he might have been but never ever second best.
As the BM always said, he was a top shelf sort of cat right from the start.

Pink Heart Day

I have a rather fraught morning ahead of me today so the next writing for Presents post will have to wait until I have various things sorted out.

But in my role as a columnist for the Pink Heart Society, I'm blogging over at the PHS site today. It's Temptation Tuesday so I'm talking about one of my own favourite vices . . .ahem - one of my favourite ways of doing research.

So maybe I'll see you there?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Thank you Fay Weldon and Kathy Boswell

I'll come back to look at more about writing for Presents later but I just wanted to mention a couple of interesting things I found as soon as I logged one.

Firstly, there was a balanced, and reasoned comment on the Mills and Boon Centenary by novelist, playwright and screenplay writer Fay Weldon that was in the Sunday Telegraph this weekend

You can read the whole article here - but I'll quote three particular paragraphs that I feel are worth reading:

I daresay it is true of Mills & Boon tales that they perpetuate female folly by suggesting that love and marriage is the answer to a woman's problems, and not the beginning of them, but I hardly think it is any worse than that. Are we not entitled to a little wishful thinking? Is it not better anyway to read, than to sit in front of TV watching East Enders shout, snarl and rape?

As Chesterton put it in 1901, writing about the rise and fall of the Penny Dreadful, "The simple need for some kind of ideal world in which fictitious persons play an unhampered part is infinitely deeper and older than the rules of good art, and much more important. Every one of us in childhood has constructed such invisible dramatis personae, but it never occurred to our nurses to correct the composition by careful comparison with Balzac." Nor should we literary folk try comparing Come Back to Me with Atonement.

Any novel takes a certain slice of life and deals with that. No novel can take on the whole pie chart of our existence and deal with all human experience. The more "literary" the novel, the wider the slice that is attempted, and the more likely it is to fail - and bore. The genre novel contents itself with dealing with a certain slice: the thriller deals with that part of our experience that involves danger; the detective story with our curiosity; sci-fi echoes out alienation in space and time - and so on. The genre novel "takes us out of ourselves" while the literary novel keeps us firmly and sometimes painfully in our own lives, informing us as to our own natures - which is why it is taken seriously and gets reviewed. The Mills & Boon novel takes a peculiarly narrow slice of female life, and so tends to get despised. But it sells

I could argue with a couple of points in this comment - one is that (yet again) the title of a M&B book quote - Come Back to Me - is one that dates from 1990 - and so is over 15 years old. The other is that M&B books suggest that "love and marriage is the answer to a womna's problems" - because the books don't actually do that. What we do is write about a very specific and very narrow stretch of time in which a set of particular problems are faced by our heroines - emotional and very personal problems for which, for that woman and at that time, finding out that she is loved by the man that she loves and that he wants to commit himself to her is the answer to the set of problems she has been contending with through the story of the small slice of her life we show. - Remember the marriage/happy ever after ending is what the readers want not the one that we 'suggest' to them as the ideal. And that the 'happy ever after' is basically meant to be as happy as you can be through the years with a loving man by your side to share with whatever life throws at you.

We don't idealise marriage - I have never thought that any of my heroes and heroines are setting out on a road through life where there will never be a cross word or a problem they have to face. But they will face it together - as a partnership of equals. I hope I set my characters up for a good marriage - with all the ups and downs that that entails. But I suspect that those feelings about marriage as an institution come under the heading of the things that we bring to our reading of a book from our own life experiences and so some will see marriage as the beginning of a womna's problems rather than the start of a new pilot with a co-pilot alongside. (And as the brilliantly managed emergency landing at Heathrow last week showed a brave and competent co-pilot can be a wonderful partner in a time of crisis)

And Kathy Boswell?
Well, Kathy is a reviewer over on The Best Reviews and this morning I received a review from her for The Greek Tycoon's Unwilling Wife.

Yes, I know it's a bit late - the book came out in November - but it's still around and when I read the review it brightened my day - in spite of the rain bucketing down outside again. The bit that made me smile was this:

I have never read a book by Kate Walker before but if this is an indication of her superb writing, I will have to find more of her books to read. I truly love reading about strong heroes and the women they decide to get involved with. I also enjoy books about other cultures and nationalities. I highly recommend this one.

You can find this review at The Best Reviews

It is such a great feeling to read that someone who has never opened one of my books before, read this one and says that she will have to find morew of them to read. Checking The Best Reviews site, it is obvious that Kathy reads so many books - not just series romance - and to know that The Greek Tycoon's Unwilling Wife grabbed her like this and gave her such enjoyment is the reason I write at all - and it's far far better than and 'literary review'.

It also armours me againsy the critics and those snipers who demand to know why I, a woman with an MA, am not writing 'a proper book'.

I am - I'm writing books that readers enjoy - that make readers say 'I will have to find more of her books' - that's what I always hoped for. And it's wonderful to know that I've done it

So thank you to Fay Weldon and to Kathy Boswell for brightening a dark and gloomy January day and for getting my working week off to a great start.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Time to Vote

What was your favourite romance of 2007?

CataRomance is asking for nominations and votes for your favourite reads of the past year. You can nominate a book as your overall favourite of 2007 - and you can also nominate your favourite reads from all the lines over the past 12 Month.

So if you have a favourite Harlequin Presents, Romance, Medical, Historical . . . and what about the Silhouette lines as well? . . why not head over to the Voting Booth on and nominate your winner - or vote if someone else has already nominated it?

Make sure you scroll down - because right now, the only nominations have been for the book of the year and there are plenty of other lines to add in your favourites. It's not a real poll unless lots of readers join in! So why not make sure that your favourite is nominated.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Writing for Presents 1

Ever since the Instant Seduction Contest was first announced over on the I heartPresents blog, people have been writing to me, asking for advice about their entries. Not to read them of course - I just don't have time for that and I wouldn 't be able to do it because if I did it for one person, I'd have to do it for all - so I don;t do it!

(Pause for a quick aside her - just in case you live in the UK and need the reminder. If you want a professional critique on your manuscript, don't forget the Romantic Novelists' Association's New Writers' Scheme. Join the RNA, and as an unpublished writer (ie New Writer) your fee includes a reading fee for the NWS. But get in there quick - like now! This scheme sells out fast and there is only room for the first 200 entries to sign up to the scheme for 2008)

OK - so I feel the same about giving advice for the contest as for reading mss - if I'm going to do anything for anyone I have to do it for all. So I'm not going to answer individual letters - but I will put up a couple of posts here that are for everyone to read. There is just about a month to the closing date for the contest so there's still time to take another look at your work before you send it off.

The first question I was asked was: what is the most important thing to think about when writing a Presents novel?

Many people who know me would believe that I would answer, without hesitation - the characters. And yes, that was my first thought.

But I'm going to slightly amend that - the real answer is that in any novel, for me, the most important element is the characters. You need to know them inside out, through and through and that's why in my 12 Point Guide I have given a double page Character Questionnaire - one that delves deeply into the charactres and what makes them tick.

But why I paused to think here is that we're talking about writing for Presents (Modern Romance) and so you need to consider what it is that sets the Presents novel apart from the Romance line etc. I've been asked, or I have asked this question so may times and just about always the answer comes back - or is expected - that it's the sex that makes the difference in a Presents novel.

The Romance line has very little description of the moments 'beyond the bedroom door' , while Presents novels deal with that in much more detail and far more explicitly.

So the sex is what makes the difference - right?

It's not the sex and it's not the money. It's not that the hero is a billionaire - or the fact that he's Italian or Greek or Spanish or A Sheikh . . .

It's not the sophisticated international settings . . .

Or the much vaunted, terribly misunderstood and badly misrepresented at times Alpha Male . . .

Yes, a Presents novel is made up of all of these things - but what marks it out from so many other lines can really be summed up in two words - EMOTIONAL INTENSITY

It's the emotional intensity that makes a Presents novel - and to create that emotinal intensity you need to have a strong and emtional conflict.

Again, if you read the 12 Point Guide, you'll see that I have a problem with the word conflict as it tends to make people think of characters arguing, arguing, arguing - throwing insults and abuse at each other until they finally buckle and say 'I love you.'


A good conflict is one where it springs from the characters' values, from their inner thoughts and feeling and clashes with the feelings of the other person. A conflict thatdeep down, in their heart and soul really matters to the hero and the heroine - one that is worth being at oddds over. One that matters enough to be worth running the risk of losing the love of your life over.
One that will get deep inside the characters, into their hearts, souls and minds, and create a real deep, life altering , emotional change in them by the end of the book.

It's not silly or petty or mean. It's not being angry for the sake of being angry. It;s not blackmail for the sake of getting a plot going. It's not taking revenge out on the wrong person . .

It's something that matters, and that creates the need to fight - if not for the characters' lives, then for their emotional lives. And that is what creates the emotional intensity that is the hallmark of a Presents book.

Friday, January 18, 2008


No, not me - but this week the UK Romantic Novelists' Association announced the short lists for their two awards for 2008. So here they are

Shortlist for RNA Romance Prize 2008

Breakfast at Giovanni's
by Kate Hardy
(Harlequin Mills & Boon)

Driving Him Wild
by Julie Cohen
(Harlequin Mills & Boon)

English Lord, Ordinary Lady
by Fiona Harper
(Harlequin Mills & Boon)

Her Parenthood Assignment
by Fiona Harper
(Harlequin Mills & Boon)

The Mediterranean Rebel's Bride
by Lucy Gordon
(Harlequin Mills & Boon)

The Secret Life of Lady Gabriella
by Liz Fielding
(Harlequin Mills & Boon)

Shortlist for Romantic Novel of the Year Award 2008

One Last Summer
by Catrin Collier

Pillow Talk
by Freya North
(Harper Collins)

Silk and Steel
by Catherine King
(Little Brown)

Silver Bay
by Jojo Moyes
(Hodder & Stoughton)

The Leaving of Liverpool
by Maureen Lee

Young Wives' Tales
by Adele Parks

I have read all the books and friends in the Romance list - in fact, all of them! - so I'm not going to express any preference for any title. I'm just going to say Good Luck to each and every author nominated and I shall be fascinated to see who wins. Sadly I won;t be a ble to be at the RNA Awards lunch this year - as it's held in February, not April, and in the same week as the important lanuch of the Mills & Boon Centenary Celebrations, going to both would mean having to be in London for a week - which is time I just can't afford away from writing with this dreadline looming. But I shall be keeping my fingers crossed for everyone and cheering loudly from my desk when I find out who wins.

I'll have to admit that I haven't actually read any of the shortlisted Romantic Novels but I shall be fascinated to hear who wins that too - and I shall try to fiond time to read that one too . . .dreadlines permitting.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Seven Things - for Teagan

Teagan Oliver tagged me to write seven things about myself . And as she was also kind enough to say that she is a great fan of mine, I am feeling so kindly disposed towards her that I can;t not oblige.

I'm assuming that these have to be
a. Things I haven't written much about on this blog before

b. Different from the 'Six wierd things' I wrote about here way back in 2006 when tagged by Kate Hardy.
(Seeing as Teagan has said that she'd like to find out more about me - and for anyone else who's interested - you might like to check out that previous blog entry as the 6 things listed there still apply)

Hmm - so 7 things - wierd or not

1. My very first ever kitten of my own (as opposed to the innumerable family cats we collected over the years) was a dark grey female with white chest and paws. She came from the local convent - the nuns who taught me at school and I called her Misty. As girls growing up, my sisters and I 'married' her to our other cat Bumble - and big black and white tom who had decided to adopt us.

2. Growing up in Yorkshire I lived in a house that was built in 1870 - it was half the house that had been built for the local millowner's son (carpet mills) and the half we had was big enough - the whole house would have been huge. It was also reputed to be haunted by a little boy and occasionally, coming up the stairs, I would be convinced that I had seen someone disappearing up the next flight of steps.

3. Abby Green insists that I am more Irish than her. Technically as both my parents were Irish, my father born in Dublin and my mother in Clones, I am by blood Irish - but as I was born in Newark, Nottinghamshire, I am officially English.

4. I've probably mentioned this before now - but Teagan won't know it - I am the middle child in a family of 5 daughters. I was supposed to have been a boy which is why my family nickname is Carly - a version of Charlie which I would have been if I'd been male.

5. I have to sleep on the side of the bed nearest the window and away from the door. Which is a little illogical as I feel the need to sleep facing the light (window) but that means turning my back on the door. Oh well, there's the BM (Babe Magnet, in case you didn't know, Teagan) between me and the door so I'm OK

6. Another illogicality - I like my coffee strong and my tea weak - with the tea bag just waved over the cup as Anne McAllister would say. But neither of them must have any milk or suger in them.

7. I love beautiful notebooks - and would buy a new one every day if I could - but then I freeze at the thought of writing anything in them! My handwriting is so appalling that I don't want to sully the pristine pages with it - and I'm always convinced that I should wait until I have some really great thoughts, carefully planned out, and neatly arranged to write in the lovely notebooks I have. So I end up scribbling in a tatty ring file notepad. Pens, though, that's a diffferent matter - I love using new pens, even on the tatty notepad.

And here's a fact that Teagan doesn't know - Teagan, Sid picked your name out of the people who commented on my Tote Bags and Blogs blog for 12 Points on The 12th last week and so you've won a copy of the 12 Point Guide and The Greek Tycoon's Unwilling Wife - or another of my back list books if you've read that one.
So please email me to give me your snail mail address so I can send you your prize?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Dear Editor . . .

Dear Editor

Yes, I am working on my new book. I know that the deadline is approaching - in fact it's starting to loom on the horizon, far too close.
So I am working on the new story - believe me, I am. But I have to say that I'm having some problems with my computer.
Well, not so much with my computer, as with the screen.

You see, when I look up at my screen I can't see anything I have written - in fact all that I can see is this:

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Looking forward

Hmm - does the fact that I started this post on the 9th, tried again on the 10th, and am now back trying again today tell you something? Let's hope I get this written today.
OK so - coming up in 2008 . . .

Well, as you'll probably already know, 2008 is a very important year for Harlequin Mills & Boon. Because this year marks the company's centenary of the day on which Mr Gerald Mills and Mr Charles Boon founded the company that they called - naturally enough - Mills & Boon. All sorts of celebrations and special events are planned throughout the year and as soon as I know about them then I'll pass the information on to you. And anything I actually experience, you'll get to hear from me too. I was interviewed yesterday as part of the newspapers' interest in this event and again I'll tell you more about that when I can.

There will also be a special publishing programme to mark this centenary - so I think that publishing and books coming up is a very good place to start looking at what's coming up for me this year:

The books I have scheduled for 2008 are:

3 in 1 By Request, Just the Three of Us is in the bookshops this month. This collection has a reprint of my 2001 book - His Miracle Baby in it.

Spanish Billionaire, Innocent Bride - published in M&B Modern in March/M&B Sexy in Australia in April and Harlequin Presents in June 2008

In August, my novella The Duke's Secret Wife will be reprinted in the special M&B 100th Birthday Collection. These books are just starting to appear and they will all have a retro look cover so look out for them.

And finally - I think - The Black Angel aka Bedded By the Greek Billionaire will be published in M&B Modern in September and Presents and M&B Sexy in October 2008

Oh yes - and I have some exciting news about another book - but this time my non-fiction. I heard from the publishers of the 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance and the book has just about sold out! The last I heard there were only fice copies left and as Amazon has some on order, they might be the last ones available. So I'm working on a brand new 2nd edition of this book. It will be brought right up to date and . . . well, more on those plans later.

But talking about the 12 Point Guide reminds me that I must tell you about a new project that I'm starting with Lee Hyat over on Tote Bags 'N' Blogs. A while back, Lee asked me to do some workshops on her My Tote Bag site but we weren't sure how much interest there would be - so, with reference to my 12 Point Guide, we came up with this idea to see how things go. For 2008, I will be writing a blog on the Craft of Writing once a month - 12 Points on the 12th. And as today is January 11th, tomorrow will see the first of these blogs. See you there?

And that reminds me that I wanted to ask you a couple of things about this blog - and the Tote Bags one . If there is somethign that you'd like me to blog about - or topics you'd like me to discuss, then please let me know. If you don't ask, I can't help. One of the things I have coming up is to tie in with the Instant Seduction Contest over on the I Heart Presents web site- and talk a little about writing for Presents. The contest doesn't close until Feb 14th so we have a little time to look at that. For example, I had an email from someone who asked me what I thought was the most important thing to think about when writing Presents . . . .

What else is coming up in 2008.

Deadlines - several deadlines. Although I hate them when they're looming, deadlines are a good discipline - they keep me writing, make me concentrate and focus my mind - so the first one of those is coming up at the end of February, and then there will be some more throughout the year. And of course, deadlines mean new books so I hope to be able to tell you about more acceptances and more new titles coming out in the future.

Next - the three Cs -

Contests -
I may not have the 50th book celebrations this year, but I will still be running some contests. Contests to celebrate the publication of new books, the now traditional Tote Bag of Books coming up in the summer- and the other 'traditional' contest - well, that will be running for 2 years! - with Anne McAllister and Liz Fielding - when we run our Valentine's contest. Remember Her Come the Brides last year - and the time that the Grooms took over the blogs? Well, who knows what will happen this year.

And talking of Liz Fielding reminds me that I have to say Congratulations to this lovely lady as she reaches the wonderful milestone of her 50th book and her 50th M&B this year. And another golden girl who will be celebrating is Jessica Hart who also reaches that magical 50. I shall be helping both authors celebrate on their blogs through the year. And I'm also guest blogging with Nicola Marsh in February - and of course there will be my monthly commitment to blogging over on the Pink Heart Society once a month. Phew! That's more than enough blogging for anyone.

At the moment I'm not actually booked to run any courses this year - not weekend ones anyway. Sadly, I won't be able to make it to Caerleon Writers' Holidays this year and it looks as if the Winter Weekend won;t run in 2008. But I am booked for a workshop for Lincoln Book Festival in May and that will be followed by a Romance Event in the evening as part of those centenary celebrations for Mills & Boon. Several writer friends of mine have said they'll be joining me there too - so I'm really looking forward to that. So if you live anywhere near Lincoln, I do hope you'll come along.

July- August is conference time, and as well as the Romantic Novelists' Association Conference in July, the BM and I hope to be travelling to the Romance Writers' of America's National Conference in San Francisco at the end of July and start of August. It's a long time - too long - since I met up with my friends from America - and some from Australia who will be coming to SF too - so I can't wait for that. and maybe I'll get to meet some of my blog readers - if you're coming to the conference or the literacy signing, then please some up and say hello.

I think that's it - for now. Of course all this doesn't take into account anything that the BM will be getting up to - for example he has some more books in the Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths series coming up - remember that research trip to Dublin? The book that results from that will be out in April - and there's a book on Hauntings in Yorkshire and . . . there will be more - I've just lost track of exactly what!

And of course there will be more about Sir Sidney and his Flirtatious Feline Mistress - Flora. Which reminds me that I haven't told you anything about my other animal friends for a while - the big cats - the lions and tigers adopted through the Born Free Foundation, the Guide Dog For the Blind (and I have news there!) And of course before we know it, it will be Spring and the Hecks will wake from hibernation in the hedgehog house.

And I'm sure there will be lots of other things to talk about and tell you about.

But this will do for now.

So now it's over to you - what do you want to know about?
Would you like more about writing romance?

Regular writing blogs?

Regular reading blogs?

Regular Sid blogs - he thinks you must be feeling deprived because there isn't the Sid Calendar any more.
There won't be a Great Big Blog Party in the summer this time - so we'll have to find plenty to fill the space!

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