Saturday, February 25, 2006


I was tagged by Michelle Styles to list my current stuff. Here goes: --

• current clothing: t-shirt, jog pants – comfortable writing clothes
• current hair: newly cut and unusually tidy!
• current mood: happy; I’ve delivered The Valentine Bride a whole day early, I’m already into the current book and I’ve finally got around to ordering a stationery cupboard for the Snap & Scribble. (And some “mud” mats!)
• current refreshment: water
• current annoyance: a dodgy knee that keeps giving out on me
• current avoidance: the garden; lots of clearing up to do and a heap of stuff to go through the shredder to make compost. A north wind is keeping me inside.
• current smell: roses – the entrance hall is full of the scent of Valentine’s Day flowers
• current thing you ought to be doing: working on the book instead of doing this!

• current thing or things on your wall: framed picture of my first cover, a white board covered with photographs and details of the wip, a corkboard with the US cover of THE FIVE YEAR BABY SECRET, a photograph of me with Jane Porter at Brown’s Hotel in Denver, a photograph of Bath Abbey, a much loved card sent by the dh with a picture by Rebeccsa Lardner of a couple of “oldies” dancing the tango, a picture of me – young and thin – in our garden in Kenya, TV licence, RNA membership card, dentist appointment, the RT review of THE MARRIAGE MIRACLE, an aerial view of Stourhead Gardens.
• current jewelry: wedding ring, a ring given to my mother on their ruby wedding anniversary by my father. Earrings given to me by the dh.
• current worry: the book after the one I’m writing – it’s going to be a toughie!
• current obsession: my little wood. Will the trees I planted last autumn actually have leaves on them?
• current love: the dh, my new handbag,
• current longing: for a pair of pink, flower-bedecked wellington bookts
• current disappointment: the wallflowers I planted last autumn; they are not performing to specification!
• current lyric in your head: I don’t listen to pop music much; the music in my head at the moment is a Corelli Adagio
• current favorite book: Sophie’s Bakery for the Broken-Hearted by Lolly Winston
• current favourite movie: not easy – there are precious few movies that I’d sit through twice and I think that’s the test; I recently watched The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (the last time was when it was new and I went to the cinema to see it with my Mum & Dad!) and it was still great. Looking forward to seeing The Constant Gardener, Brokeback Mountain
• current wish: that I could write faster; so many plots, so little time…
• current desktop picture: the lilies blooming in my garden last summer
• current plans for weekend: celebrate my daughter’s birthday

I post this picture as an awful warning about what happens to your figure when you stop having to run for the bus to work and instead stay at home and write! (The grey hair is hereditary, however, although old age might have something to do with it!)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


A colleague responded to my use of the word “crucible” in my previous blog, saying that she’d never heard the expression. This sent me to one of my early notebooks where I knew I had made a note on the subject. Sadly, I didn’t make a note of the source, although I must have read it in one of the first how-to-write books I bought. I’ve loaned (and never got back) or given away a lot of these and I’m unable to check exactly where it came from, but this was the somewhat cryptic note I made –

Keep them in the "crucible".


The dictionary definition of a crucible is: "a vessel, usually of earthenware, made to endure great heat used for fusing metals, etc…"

In writing it is the situation which holds the H/h together, such as duty, marriage, prison, a journey, an institution, which is the crucible; a situation which neither of them wants but which, hopefully, through endurance -- and no doubt considerable heat! -- will, in time, forge an enduring bond.

Alongside that, and written at the same time so presumably from the same source:

Character: The Ruling Passion. Determined, well-motivated, wilful. What could the character do that is more ingenious, dramatic, surprising or funny?

I also found the following useful comments, which I wrote down after my first meeting with Charlotte Lamb:

Keep it simple.
Make certain that the cause of conflict is clear.

And after my first editor commented that a book I’d delivered was a bit “episodic”, I added this quote from Aristotle’s Poetics:

“Of simple plots and actions the episodic are the worst. I call a plot episodic when there is neither probability nor necessity in the sequence of its episodes.” I added my own note to ram home the lesson: cause and effect. (The book, btw, was my second, A POINT OF PRIDE, if you want to judge for yourself .)

The notebook drew me in, reminding me of that first year as an “author”. There was the time-line I used for INSTANT FIRE, (book number three and reprinted last year) and notes of changes to the plot I made as I was writing. Window measurements (I only had one notebook!). Notes for a story that was eventually rejected as too plot heavy but which I later developed into a longer book, WILD JUSTICE, and sold as the first book of a trilogy. Phone numbers of the local newspapers and radio stations for publicity purposes; I was writing my fifth book before the first made it to the book shops.

There were revision notes for early books. Ideas for stories – some of them never written; ideas for titles; lists of possible names. A “to do” list which included changing addresses for things such as house insurance, driving licences (we were also building a house – where did all that energy go?) Notes of the teachers I had to speak to at my daughter’s school open evening in that important pre-GCSE year (she’s now working on her MA while holding down a responsible job). There is no date in the book, but it was a momentous year, so I’m not likely to ever forget that it was 1992.

Monday, February 20, 2006


I’m at that interesting beginning process of a new book and the big question is always … where do I start? I have my characters – well almost. I have a plot – or as much as I need for now. I know it will evolve and grow as I write, as the characters take me by surprise and I find myself asking myself – now why did he or she do that? With solid characters, there is always a reason; my job as a writer is to find it.

This time is a little different. I started this book in February last year. The first couple of chapters went off like a rocket, but there came a point when I ralised I was just having fun. Indulging myself. The heroine was terrific, as was the "mad old bag" neighbour who took pot-shots as the heroine’s cat with her spud-gun. The hero, however, having made an impact in the opening, had disappeared off the face of the earth. It might have been a great book, but it wasn’t a romance and HMB expected a romance. When I’d written thirty pages without the hero even putting in an appearance I knew I was in trouble and at that point I put it aside and got on with THE FIVE YEAR BABY SECRET. Then, inspired by a book of the world’s most beautiful gardens and a talk by Penelope Hobhouse on the Gardens of Persia, I wrote THE SHEIKH’S GUARDED HEART. After that I was asked to write the last book in a series to be called THE VALENTINE BRIDE – and who could resist writing a book with that title?

It stayed with me, though. Nagged at me. I loved the idea, I loved the characters, I just had to get them together on the page, interacting, falling over each other, falling in love. And I had to cut down all the complicated back story to bring them to the start of book. Prologues are useful for this, so I wrote a prologue. It was fun but at nine pages it was far too long. AND WHERE WAS THE HERO!

Then I had a brainwave and moved the heroine from her own little attic flat (overlooking the garden of the mad old bat) and put her into the hero’s house. (This is known in as a “crucible” technique. You stick them together in one place and give them no choice but to stay there. Cruel, but fun!) That worked. I no longer had to find ways to bring them together. But there was still too much exposition in that first chapter. Too much tell, not enough action. Too much heroine walking away from the hero – and the hero glad to see her go. (He may want her to leave, but you have to make it so that he’s begging her to stay – through gritted teeth if need be!)

And then I moved the time line around. One of the major story elements now doesn’t happen until after the story has begun. I ditched the prologue and dealt with the set-up in a series of brief, snappy emails that gives just enough information about the heroine, just enough about the hero to let the reader know who these people are. I can now use a bit of the prologue in a later scene. I can even make a scene of a brief reported flashback that I cut, using it in face-to-face interaction.

Some stories start at the right place and you just go from there. Some of them just need more work.

Just 46,000 more words to go…

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

I'm having an odd day. Fabulous roses arrived by messenger, a card made by the dh's very own hands was waiting for me when I staggered downstairs at some unearthly hour this morning for tea and the US cover of my May book, which is blissfully pretty, arrived in this morning's post. All wonderful. The strange thing is having nothing that I have to do except put my feet up and be fussed over and I'm not terribly good at that, to be honest.

The yawning gap has appeared because I finally I finished the book I've been working on since -- well it feels like forever -- last night. THE VALENTINE BRIDE has been a bit of a marathon, but I finally hit warp speed last week and despatched the finished book just before collapsing in front of the telly with a large glass of chianti yesterday evening. (Is anyone else addicted to Life On Mars?)

So today I'm wandering around, tidying up the office, catching up with the accounts, making an appointment to have my hair cut but not quite able to settle to anything.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Loads of excitement for the announcement of the Romantic Novelists' Association Romance Prize shortlist today. The nominations are:

Lucy Gordon - A Family for Keeps
[Harlequin Mills & Boon Tender Romance]

A man, a deserted Venetian palace and a heartbroken woman obsessed by her lost child - this one is something special

Kate Hardy - Where the Heart Is
[Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance]

Two doctors at the end of the world - in every sense. A three handkerchief weepy that makes even hard boiled editors cry.

Jessica Hart - Contracted: Corporate Wife
[Harlequin Mills &Boon Tender Romance]

Sensible woman marries for financial stability for her family and companionship for herself - and then loses her head.

Sharon Kendrick - The Future King's Bride
[Harlequin Mills &Boon Modern Romance]

Protocol versus passion: two people beneath the masks and the trapping, struggling to make sense of their feelings.

Valerie Loh - Hannah of Harpham Hall
[My Weekly Story Collection]

Historical set in Yorkshire - a rejected stepdaughter and a mill owner with secrets. Can they ever trust each other?

Elizabeth Power - Tamed by Her Husband
[Harlequin Mills &Boon Modern Romance]

Alone at sea together - he is a man with standards and she is a selfish socialite. Or is she?

I'd better go polish up the Rose Bowl!

Monday, February 06, 2006


We put out half a coconut the other day for the bluetits to peck at the nut but it was spotted by another garden visitor who didn't just nibble and run. He took the whole darned thing...

Ran off along the fence with it...

And then sat back and enjoyed his spoils.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Enjoy surfing romance sites? Love a challenge? Addicted to chocolate? Check out the Scavenger Hunt at The Romance Club

Have fun!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Okay, it's February. We all know what that means. Romance. Capital R.

Just to get us all in the spirit, the Cata Network is sponsoring one of its fabulous Scavenger Hunt. Loads of exciting prizes from your favourite romance authors -- I'm giving away a signed copy of my March Harlequin Romance, THE MARRIAGE MIRACLE -- so head over to today to enter. Dozens of prizes will be given and winners will be announced at the end of February.

I've updated the link, which apparently wasn't working. Everything is now GO!