Wednesday, June 28, 2006

I started this as a “comment”, a response to some of the comments on my previous blog, but it got too long, so help yourself to a slice of toast and make your comfortable.

Ally Blake said:

"Even before I ever started writing for publication I used to collect things like this, as I always found they took me somewhere else, to an emotional place or back to the time when I first found them."

My ideas files are full of memories, too, Ally. Some of the clippings are very old. “BP” (Before Published) old. Flipping through them never fails to brings back that vivid enthusiasm, eagerness, the thrill of embarking on the new. Then, back in the 80s and early 90s when I had decided that writing for Mills & Boon was the next step on my writing career ladder, everything I read, everywhere I looked, there were possibilities for a story and I thought that I could re-invent the wheel. If I hadn’t had that belief, that innocence, I would never have written AN IMAGE OF YOU.


A lippy heroine who hung out with the homeless, took part in “demonstrations”, handled a night in jail without shouting for Daddy’s lawyer to bail her out? Today she’d seemed like a fairly run-of-mill heroine. Back then she was anything but.

In the early 90s, romantic fiction didn’t go in for humour. Romance was angst-ridden, sexy, soul-torturing stuff. When the hero made his move on the heroine and the “earth moved” it wasn’t because the tent had collapsed.

Back then, there was no ‘net, there were no online boards where a new writer could run ideas past experienced authors, editors, be warned that some themes were less likely to sell than others. Back then I just wrote what appealed to me, which is probably why, before that first acceptance I’d had books turned down because of under-aged sex (legal implications), because of sexual abuse (our readers wouldn’t like it), attempted murder and amnesia -- and those last three were all in the same book! My first attempt was turned down because it just plain “wooden”. I didn’t have to look up the letter -- yes, I still have it. That one criticised my writing rather than my plots and we never forget the words that really hurt.

I made it with my fourth book because it landed on the right editor’s desk at the right moment. Timing and luck are as much a part of this business as talent; I was about three years too soon to be writing about sexual abuse. With IMAGE, I was still out on a plot and character limb, but this time it was the very difference, the freshness, that caught the editorial attention and made it attractive.

I’ve probably pushed the envelope as hard as most in my career. I’ve never been afraid to take a risk, do something different. An editor recently commented on the proposal for my latest wip that I “...never make it easy...” for myself. Well, no. What would be the point? If I’m not challenging myself, taking myself somewhere new, how can I expect to captivate the reader?

But the pay-off for experience is, if not caution, perhaps a certain loss of innocence. I know what will make the editorial lip quiver in panic and I no longer have time to make mistakes. That is why new writers will always be needed to carry the genre forward to the next generation, keeping it alive, taking it in new directions. Writers who haven’t learned that there are things you can’t do. Exciting new voices like Julie Cohen and Historical author Michelle Styles, whose Gladiator heroes are so far out of the “box” that they can’t even see it, but who serendipitously coincided with the screening of “Rome” on British television (see earlier comment about timing!)

Writers who are, even now, pouring their hearts out onto paper, hoping that this will be the one that makes it.

Keep the manuscripts coming. We need you.


Sharon J said...

Blimey! I can't imagine your writing ever been anything even close to 'wooden'. How your style must have changed :)

An interesting post, Liz. Thanks for that. It helps to know that even those one considers to be 'the best' haven't had it come easy.

allyblake said...

Great post, Liz, especially the bit about me ;). I feel famous!

You really are making it very, very hard for me to continue with my revisions. Now my tatty old green folder is screaming at me to take a look.

Liz Fielding said...

When I wrote that first book, Sharon, I spent all my time thinking "what can they do next"... Cardboard cutouts being moved across the stage by the author.

The huge lesson I learned from writing that book was that I could sustain an entire book. Get 55,000 words down on paper in a continuous narrative. (Before that my longest was a 600 word children's story). That gave me the confidence to try again.

It was perhaps unfortunate that before I started the second book I read Dean Koontz's book "How to Write a Bestseller". I ended the book with a fabulous scene in which the heroine narrowly escaped murder at the hands of her stepfather and then killed him. My biggest mistake, I suspect, was that she saved herself; the hero was left chasing in her wake, picking up the pieces. -- g --

The learning curve is steep!

Michelle Styles said...

A lovely post, Liz.

The important thing is that you learnt and grew into such a great writer.

Persistence is such a great quality.

GH was my seventh completed mss btw.

Sharon J said...

Yes, I can see how 'moving characters around on stage' would be a problem. Definitely something to think about. I've just sent my first three chapters off and am really pleased with myself for actually finishing a book. I've written lots of part manuscripts but never ever finished one until now and it feels good to know that I can do it. I'm now about 20% through the next one and thoroughly enjoying it (far more so than the last one).

Your final scene sounds intriguing. I'm sure there would have been a market for it somewhere, just not Mills & Boon :)

Trish said...

Liz! This post and the last one inspired me to go back and find a story I started four years ago and dropped in favour of another... You know, thinking to myself - I can re-jig that, that might do for my next book...

OUCH. Some of it really is painful to read! But I have a very large pair of cyber sissors at the ready... Mwahahahahaha....

And aren't the new covers gorgeous??

Danica/Dream said...

Liz! Very inspirational!

Nicola Marsh said...

Great discussion, Liz.

One of the great things about being a writer is getting inspiration from all sorts of weird and wonderful places.
I feel a big flick through my articles folder coming on....