In the past two years, I’ve grown and changed as a writer. Now its time for this blog to reflect that too. All the old posts will still be there, but in future, I will be concentrating on what I write, and what inspired me to write it. From time to time I will post about what I am reading. There will be a research section for those of you, who like me like their facts to be accurate. Along the way, I will be happy to answer your questions.
So from now, the focus will be more on the writing process, ice dancing, Bergen in Norway. Vikings and Viking beliefs.
I presented an author talk on Friday The Art of Publishing a Romance and it was lots of fun and I think the audience enjoyed it too.
Then we came to the questions and answer session and the first question was the one that all authors expect and at times dread.
‘Where do you get your ideas?’
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? If only we could say ‘well, I pop down to the ideas store and see what they have saved for me.’ Wouldn’t that be fabulous? A store of ideas curated just for you.
So how do you explain the creative process, or more specifcially ,your own creative process?
For me it is partly research, looking at things that interest me, but equally it could be daydreaming..That aimless, letting your mind run free. It could be a tv program that I watched ,or a snippet of conversation I heard.
Ages ago I asked New York Time Bestselling author Natasha Lester a similar question.
‘How do you know you have enough of a topic to make a novel?’
Her reply really resonated with me.M/s Lester told me that she took two unrelated ideas and combined them. Four very successful books later, her latest being The Paris Seamstress AKA The Paris Orphan in the US I know she has a winning formula.
It followed that advice when I combined ice dancing and Norway with a time slip romance with a Viking age past that led to my book Fire & Ice.
So, ideas need to permeate, they need to resonate and then suddenly you realise that you have the right idea and that you are eager to write.
You may not have heard the term Vanity Publishers and they themselves don’t advertise as such, but they are out there and are a danger to both your self-esteem and your bank account.
What are vanity publishers and how do they differ from hybrid or assisted self – publishers?
Quality Control- is totally unselective with vanity publishers because their business model isn’t about the quality of your writing or its saleability. That doesn’t matter as a vanity publisher would happily publish your shopping list and tell you it was great if you paid them. They often approach you directly and you think you have hit gold. How do they find you? Maybe you won a contest or signed up for a course or a newsletter.
I personally signed up for a free writing course, a week of writing prompts and interaction with the course leader. She was a personable and engaging personality. The course was interesting, and some exercises worked, but then the hard sell began. There was a contest for a mentoring spot. An ‘associate’ called me to say that unfortunately I’d not won, but I had placed high, and I had so much potential. They could offer me a spot at a reduced price of $3,500. I politely declined saying that while I was sure it was an excellent opportunity it was way out of my budget and comfort zone.
It didn’t end there. There were a couple more phone calls, a blend of flattery –‘you have so much going for you,’ to warnings, ‘time is running out,’ and ‘we can’t hold a spot for you much longer.’ The price was reduced to $2000, and it was suggested that maybe I had savings or could take out a loan. Warning bells ringing loud and clear I thanked them but still said ‘ no’.Their final call offered me the whole course for $ 397. They said it was bargain I couldn’t refuse. But I did refuse, and I haven’t heard from them since.
This is the kind of intense pressure which encourages people to sign up with a vanity publisher. Vanity publishing is all about selling you, the writer, a service at inflated costs. As well as persuading you to buy tons of copies of your book. They don’t need to bother with marketing your book, because they made their money from you. Getting out and promoting the book is up to you. They may offer to put the book up on Amazon, but you can do that yourself if you self- published.
If you can, check out other books from the publisher, what’s the quality like? Also, be careful as their contract may take away your copyright and author rights. Buyer beware! Contact their authors and ask about their publishing experience.
The American Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association keep an updated list of publishers to beware of- it doesn’t hurt to go online to check it. Even if you simply do an internet search for Vanity publishers you will find that a heap of names come up.
Hybrid and subsidised publishing are legitimate and do charge you for partial costs but as always you need to be careful and compare costings and even research the company name to check complaints about them.
As always if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is! Save your dollars and your peace of mind by doing a little checking.
For some reason, September was a slow reading month for me as I only managed to read five books. There was another non- fiction which I gave up on so let’s not talk about that!
I also dipped into a childhood favourite Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree in preparation for an author talk I am presenting later this month. That threw up many memories as well as reflections on how life had changed in the intervening years-. Then the children were routinely expected to help around the house and garden and were served bread and jam and milk for tea.
The other books were a mixed bag of recommendations and whimsical choices
The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen.
I spotted this at the local library and having read her On Her Majesties Secret Service was inspired to give it a try. Set in WW1 Britain it offers a glimpse into a forgotten time. For whatever reason, it did not have the same bite and light touch of that series. The story focussed on Emily and Australian pilot Robbie lovers met only to be parted. It focussed on how the privileged young woman defied her parents and went on to make a life for herself. I was a little sceptical that delicately reared Emily could fit so easily into the back-breaking work of a land-girl. That her parents would disown her for defying them was more easily believable. Knowing the British class structure her gradual friendship with Lady Charlton was quite credible. In the second part, of the book, Emily is living in what is known as ‘the witch’s cottage ‘ and practising herbalism.
Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham
Deserves every ounce of praise it received. An intriguing story and one that explores the many preconceptions we have about people. I found some of the details a bit grisly but the major characters ( Cyrus and Evie )both fascinating and I wanted to know more about them. Thinking all the time how did they survive the traumas in their lives? A bonus for me was it was set in Nottingham the former home of skaters Torvill and Dean and had a bit about ice skating too.
Everything Publishing by Karen Mc Dermott.
Subtitled the Ultimate publishing guide and it is. All your publishing questions are answered here and explained in simplified form by someone who knows what she is talking about and who has indeed built a successful publishing empire.
Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Reid Jenkins
Allegedly based on Stevie Nicks from Fleetwood Mac, the book reminded me of the movie A Star is Born. Although Daisy Jones started out having it all, looks, money and attitude. Through the multiple perspectives is an interesting way to tell a story. Each tells their own version of ‘the truth’ so the lies, evasion, jealousies are all exposed to scrutiny. And of course, as readers we ask – are they revising as they go? is this the truth as it was then? The songbook at the end of the book adds another layer of authenticity. I kept flicking back to read the songs as they were referred to and imagined them being performed, Camilla Billy’s wife doesn’t appear much in the book, but there is a sense of her presence in the background and perhaps she was the strongest of them all. It reads true. Did the book live up to the hype? In my opinion, yes it did.
A Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison
It’s never too late to have a happy childhood. This is a mid-grade children’s novel. I would have loved this book as a child, and I enjoyed it now. The Widdershins sisters are a force to be reckoned with. Don’t you love the choice of name? They are brave, resilient and resourceful. They face challenges that are quite a bit worse than they and perhaps we would have liked. I especially liked the dual timeline story and how the two timelines merged.
The classic definer of a love story is the film Love Story starring Ali Mc Graw and Ryan O’ Neal. It is based on the popular book by Erich Segal. It is a real tearjerker, with the beautiful young couple parted by death. It is a tragedy and almost all of the love stories considered great have sad or tragic endings.
Here are some examples taken from films and books. Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Boris Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, filmed and updated as West Side Story.Othello. More recently Iain Mc Ewan’s Atonement, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.JoJo Moyes Me Before You, M.C Steadman’s The Light Between Oceans. And Cecelia Ahern’s Ps. I Love you, and of course ,my all-time favourite Casablanca.
Romances are different- they promise a reading experience or viewing experience that focuses primarily on the relationship between the couple or as Romance Writers of America says, “Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.”
Or in simpler terms you are pretty much promised a happy ending and if not a happy ever after, at least the reader gets the happy for now ending.So if we know the ending why do we read romance?
We read for the journey, for the twists and turns of the relationship. A happy ending may be promised but getting there is half the fun. Who doesn’t love a flawed hero or heroine? Or beautiful couple too blind to see that they are destined for each other? Real-life can be dull and bland, but romances are exciting, sexy and fun. It’s far safer to have a fictional lover than a real one. Romance writers are endlessly inventive and contrive new ways for couples to meet and fall in love.
Examples of romances are Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and of course, it’s spin off’s Bridget Jones’ sDiary by Helen Fielding and the films Pride andPrejudice and Bride and Prejudice as well as the Bridget Jones trilogy of films. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is a great read and has been filmed several times The fairy tales Cinderella and The Sleeping Beauty.
Some romance movies are Romancing the Stone, Breakfast at Tiffany’s( but not the book which ends differently) Moonstruck, Brokeback Mountain( a guy to guy romance) Ella Enchanted and a real oldie but a goodie It Happened One Night.Another of my favourite films Love Actually spans both genres as it has both love stories with sad ending and romances with happy ones.
Why do you read romance and who are your favourite authors? Let me know!
Many people are unsure of the difference between a love story and a romance. So often what we think of as romances are actually love stories or stories with love story elements
I began to realise this when I watched that great movie Casablanca, it has stood the test of time, and many people reference it as one of their favourite films. It was one of my parents and now it is one of mine. The film was made in 1942- when the outcome of the war was uncertain.it is often referred to as a romantic drama but in my opinion, it is a love story.
The dialogue is crisp and often witty, ( written mostly by the Epstein brothers) the music haunting ( As Time Goes By) but most of all its the way the story plays out that gets our pulses racing. Rick ( Humphrey Bogart)loves Ilsa,( Ingrid Bergman ) Ilsa loves Rick, they met in Paris the most romantic of cities. Unknown to Rick Ilsa is married to Victor Laszlo( Paul Henreid), a resistance leader, who she believes is dead. Rick waits for Ilsa at the Paris railway station as promised as the Germans enter Paris, but Ilsa never arrives. Rick escapes and ends up running a bar in Morocco. It’s a shady place where expats, smugglers, locals and Germans all socialise. Worldly wise and cynical Rick is shocked when Ilsa who is with Lazlo asks Sam to play ‘As time goes by’ a song Rick never wanted to hear again. He storms up to Sam and sees Ilsa. Laszlo and she are trying to get to Lisbon but need visas and Rick’s is the place to get them.
Will Rick allow the woman he loves to leave again? Has she stopped loving him, was it all a lie? She wants to be with him, but Laszlo loves her too and would be devastated to lose her. After a night when Rick & Ilsa may or may not have got back together,(unclear thanks to US censorship at the time.) it’s up to the audience to decide. Will Rick and Ilsa be together as he has led her to believe? In the final scenes at the airport, Rick has the names Mr & Mrs Victor Laszlo written onto the visa. Will he walk off with Ilsa leaving Laszlo to his likely fate? He gives Laszlo the visas and tells Ilsa ‘We’ll always have Paris’ and that Laszlo and she are fighting for a much greater cause and if she left with Rick, she would always regret it.
With its bittersweet ending, Casablanca is a love story. If it was a romance the relationship of Rick and Ilsa would be centre stage to the exclusion of all else and they would somehow end up ‘happily ever after.’
While the romantics might wish it, it would be a far less compelling piece of cinema and would not appeal to our higher natures in the same way.
While I would have loved to share images from the film I could not breach copyright. You can easily find them online anyway.
Other love stories are Wuthering Heights, Romeo and Juliet, Gone with the Wind is historical drama with a love story element as is the film Titanic.
Currently, I am writing romance and romance comes with the promise of a ‘happily ever after’ or at least ‘ happy for now’. This isn’t to say that a romance cannot have problems and complexities, indeed it should, but to say that in a romantic story love must always triumph.
There are numerous writing events run throughout the year and I believe that as a writer you should attend at least some of them. Of course, pick and choose those that appeal to you. A book talk by a favourite author, a convention or a workshop.
What are the benefits of attending such events?
1.Information– you don’t know what you don’t know!
Perhaps you are confused by the term ‘Show Don’t Tell’– you’ve heard explanations but are still unclear- and then you attend a talk and the presenter explains it so well that suddenly it makes sense.
Maybe Goal Motivation and Conflict are difficult to implement and then an explanation clarifies the concept. This was clarified for me at the recent Rockingham Writers’ Convention. Natasha Lester author of The French Photographer/ aka the New York times bestseller The Paris Orphan presented a workshop made the whole concept clear and accessible.
An incident happens because of an action taken by someone, they took that action because of an emotion they felt to try and achieve a goal and they want that goal because it satisfies a need. Obviously, the goal is not easily achievable, and the events and challenges are what adds complication to the plot and keep us reading. We want to live the story – experience the emotion, it’s the reason most of us read fiction. Knowing the concept is one thing now to try and apply it to my own writing.
I also attended a talk called ‘Trouble is Our Business’ presented by Guy Salvidge. This presentation was about crime writing. Now I don’t currently write crime, but I do read it, enjoying Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks series. Michel Robotham’s recent hits including his latest Good Girl Bad Girl. as well as Robet Galbraith’s Corman Strike series and Ann Cleeves Shetland series. I may one day decide to write crime although I prefer the cosy end of the spectrum In that spirit, I attended this informative talk.
Writing crime is definitely Guys’ passion and he led us through the tropes which make up the genre. There is a cornucopia of crime from the Golden age (1930s- 40s) to domestic noir to cosies to psychological crime.an offshoot could be considered is legal fiction. Then there are books written from the perspective of a detective, a police officer or even from the criminal themselves. There are even light-hearted crime novels such as Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. Guy reminded us that crime fiction has its own rules of genre and that you will need to research carefully if you set your book in an earlier era. Crime is not just about the crime-its about place and person and atmosphere. Readers know their genre and know what they expect.
Apart from the informative talks, it’s the mix and mingling which contributes to your learning. You find out which contests are worth entering or which publisher is accepting submissions, as well as learning of less than stellar experiences with editors and publishers. Sadly, every business has its sharks
Connection. Writing can be a lonely business. Just you alone in front of the screen talking to your imaginary people. To write about life you need to live it. An event is an opportunity to meet people- to talk, to laugh, to share. Even if you are writing futuristic fantasy – there has to be something that resonates with your human readers.
3 Encouragement. Hearing success stories boosts your morale and your intentions to do more and to be more. You realise these people faced daily challenges too, such as carving out time to write, battling self – doubt, taking children to school, or even working full time. They have dared to follow their dream and you can too.
For me the most encouraging and inspiring presentation was that of Josh Langley, talking about ‘Findingyour Creative Mojo.’ He developed this talk from his book fo the same name and geared it specifically for writers. He’s living the life he once dreamt about and shared how as a double high school dropout he achieved his dreams. We laughed, we empathised and we came away engaged and inspired.
Not officially billed ,but as much a part of the presentation was Andy Macleod. Josh’s long-time life partner, business partner and friend. When he spoke about going to university as a mature aged student, I really connected. It’s what I have done, and I found it a life-changing experience. The courses I took opened my mind and gave me the tools to express myself.
Andy’s quote from Joseph Campbell has stayed with me
‘The cave you fear to enter has the treasure that you seek.’
Finding your creative spark is all about ignoring the inner voice, the critic, and entering that cave.
Attending events reinforces your sense of identity as a writer. You have found your tribe. Others recognise you, ask about your work, talk about theirs. You may make a connection that lasts a lifetime or find a critique partner to exchange work with. By being visible you remind others of your presence and your work. This may lead to other opportunities to collaborate with someone, to speak on a panel, or to give an author talk Equally importantly you can share any information you have gained along the way with less experienced writers. Be generous, remember who helped you and thank them.