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.

Monday, June 26, 2006


Last week, because anything is easier than writing a book, I updated my “ideas” folders.

The green one contains newspaper clippings, (I particularly like the one with the headline “Godiva Was Too Bare for the Fair” – ModX possibilities there?), magazine articles about interesting people, interesting ways of making a living, It also has snatches of story ideas, some of them really old. There’s one that I’ve never been able to let go of that begins: “The first bone was so small that it might have been that of a cat...” I have two pages. One day I’ll write the book.

The purple one is more formal. It has proper dividers labelled “Ellie”, “Trilogy”, “Desert”, these are ideas whose time has come and are books in the process of production. But at the back is a section labelled “Later”.

This is where I file away the first braining-storming attempts at stories. The bits that aren’t right for the book I’m working on, but could be developed into a different story. And a growing portfolio of minor characters who really should have their own story, some of whom have been waiting too long.

There’s a trio of difficult teenagers who are all grown up by now --

• Carenza, from Baby on Loan. The one who, to raise money to go backpacking in Europe, let her uncle’s house while he was away.

• Sadie, from The Baby Plan, who jealously sabotaged her Dad’s plans for a happy ever after.

• Princess Katerina – escape artist extraordinaire – from The Ordinary Princess

Then there’s the more mature Blanche from The Marriage Miracle, perhaps not a lead character, but definitely in line for a little TLC as a sub plot. A new “Old Cottage” book there, I think.

And not to forget the potential heroes just hanging around waiting for a suitable heroine to get them into trouble, there were two of them in His Desert Rose –

• Simon Partridge, the injured warrior and aide to His Highness Prince Hassan al Rashid, Emir of Ras al Hajar, and
• Tim Fenton, Chief Veterinary Officer of Ras al Hajar and brother of the lovely Rose, now the Emir’s wife.

Then there’s Zahir al-Khatib from The Sheikh’s Guarded Heart; he’s been on a tight leash for a couple of years and he’s ready to make hay.

And now I’ve added Stacey, sister of the heroine from my latest Romance (still untitled); what secret is Ellie keeping for her?

Why haven’t I written their stories before? It’s hard to put a finger on any specific reason. Shortage of time, mostly. Other projects have been louder in demanding my attention. Sometimes, too, the passage of time has dimmed the enthusiasm, the connection has gone. But these are all great characters and I think I might take them along with me to Italy later this year, sit them all on a warm stone terrace when the sun has set and see who comes along, whose pulse rate lifts...

In the meantime, I’d better get on with Belle and Ivo Grenville’s book or I won’t be able to go to Italy in September.


I’ve installed a little gizmo on my blog – on the sidebar at the right; scroll down a bit and you’ll see a teeny map of the world. This will show where in the world visitors are from, which – I hope – will help me convince M&B how vitally important it is that I know (in advance) where my books are being published. If it disappears in a day or two, you’ll know that they all came from the same place and I’m here alone...

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


The book I delivered before I went to Holland has gone through without a single revision. To say I'm stunned is to put it mildly, but to celebrate I'm posting a little taster here. Not the opening, which has a surreal comedy all its own, but the "meet"; that moment when Ellie's world collides with Ben's...

I was also going to post a picture of the totally gorgeous Ben, but Blogger is playing silly beggars again, so that will have to keep.

‘Good book?’

A deep, velvety voice penetrated the cold, swirling mists of the Yorkshire moors, jerking Ellie back into the twenty-first century.

Not an entirely bad thing.

She’d started the afternoon with the intention of giving the study a thorough bottoming. Keeping on top of the dust in the rambling old house she was “sitting” while its owner was away was not onerous, but it did require a schedule or she lost track; today it was the study’s turn. Unfortunately, her attention had been grabbed by the unexpected discovery of a top-shelf cache of gothic romances and she’d forgotten all about the dust.

But then again, it was not entirely good, either.

Being startled while perched on top of a ladder was always going be risky. On a library ladder with an inclination to take off on its tracks at the slightest provocation, it was just asking for trouble. And trouble was what Ellie got.


Losing her balance six feet above ground was bad enough, but her attempt to recover it proved disastrous as the ladder shifted sideways, taking her feet with it.

Too busy attempting to defy the laws of gravity to yell at the fool who’d caused the problem, she dropped her duster and made a desperate grab for the bookshelf with one hand -- while clinging tightly to the precious leather-bound volume she’d been reading in the other.

For a moment, as her fingertips made contact with the shelf, she thought it was going to be all right.

She quickly discovered that she’d been over-optimistic and that in lunging for the shelf – the laws of physics being what they were -- she’d only made things worse.

Her body went one way, her feet went the other.

Fingers and shelf parted company.

Happily -- or not, depending upon your point of view - the author of her misfortune took the full force of her fall.

If she’d been the wraithlike heroine of one of those top shelf romances – or indeed of her own growing pile of unpublished manuscripts -- Ellie would, at this point, have dropped tidily into his arms and the fool, having taken one look, would have fallen instantly and madly in love with her. Of course there would have to be several hundred pages of misunderstandings and confusion before he finally admitted it either to himself, or to her, men being a bit dense when it came to romance.

Since this was reality, and she was built on rather more substantial lines than the average heroine of a romance - who wasn’t? - she fell on him like the proverbial ton of bricks and they went down in a heap of tangled limbs. And Emily Bronte gave him a cuff round the ear with her leather binding for good measure.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


I’ve just started work on a new book. It’s going to be part of a trilogy written with two of my favourites authors, one in America, one in Australia and I’m really, really excited about it. The opening scene is written, I’ve outlined to somewhere around Chapter 5 and things generally were going rather well. Then I decided I hated the name I’d given my hero. And the one I’ve given the heroine’s sister doesn’t fit. And then, although I keep a record of main characters names and check to make sure I haven’t repeated any – it doesn’t always work – I suddenly realised why Grafton sounded so familiar. Sebastian Wolseley, hero of The Marriage Miracle, was Viscount Grafton. Back to the drawing board...

I find this sooo hard. It’s not just finding the perfect name to match a character, his background, that I haven’t already used. It’s the unknowables that make it such a treacherous game; suppose I choose the same name as some buffoon or sleaze-ball character in a show I’ve never seen? Or pick one of those names that I guess every country has; the kind used as an adjective to describe a certain kind of person – not usually as a compliment. (No, I’m not stupid enough to give examples!)

Names are evocative. My mother, for instance, never met an Eric she didn’t like. She even married one. For her it was a name that could do no wrong. (Didn't she have great taste!)

And that’s the problem. Names produce a reaction in the reader, set up preconceived notions – national as well as personal. I can judge, fairly well, what kind of response name will receive from the British reader, but I’m writing for an international market. Translators can and do often change them – presumably because of this very issue -- but the English speaking market just get a different cover on the same book. So how will Benedict be received in the mid-West? As the son of intellectual parents, or will he just be viewed by the browsing book-buyer as some poncy Englishman and rejected out of hand without a second thought? Has Harry had his day? Is Kim perceived as masculine or feminine? Have flower names gone to seed?

I’ve recently read the lovely Susan Elizabeth Phillips MATCH ME IF YOU CAN, adored it, but the thing that sticks in my mind is that she gave the name Trevor to a baby.

Is this a “cute” name in the US? One whose time has come in the name fashion stakes? Like Harry, Jack and Arthur in the UK? Part of that struggle of parents to find a name that not every other kid on the block will be answering to? Or, because of her much-deserved popularity, will it be resurrected from cardigan-and-slipper wearing middle-age and become the next year’s favourite?

Okay, I'm putting off yet another trawl through the lists of baby names in search of something that will project exactly the right impression of this man who is about to occupy the next three months of my life. I will not hold my breath...

Sunday, June 11, 2006


The very talented and extremely generous Kate Walker is, this month, is giving away not one of her own books, but a couple of bookbags filled with titles from those of authors she admires.

There's something for everyone. Modern, from Michelle Reid and Anne McAllister, Modern Extra from Julie Cohen, Historical from Michelle Styles and Medical Romance from Kate Hardy. Since I have the good fortune to be included in her must-read list, there's also Tender Romance from me.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


I've been nobbled by a cabbage. No, honestly...

I've had a couple of freaky accidents this year. The first was when I caught my toe in the lead from my mobile phone -- which was on charge -- and nearly sliced my ear in half on a CD box as I hit the floor. (You feel so stooopid!)

Now I'm having to type with seven fingers instead of eight.

It shouldn't have been possible. All I did was open the fridge door and reach for a bottle of something crisp and white to go with the ham I'd cooked in the morning.

The something crisp and white I got was the cabbage. (You are not to laugh!)

It tumbled off the top shelf when I pulled out the wine. I tried to catch it -- one handed. Big mistake. Those suckers are heavy. And hard. And I was never good at ball games.

I now have a swollen finger, a blue fingernail and the certainty that this injury is only going to raise a howl of laughter. I might even use it in a book when the pain has faded. In the meantime, when I can use my hand properly, it's coleslaw...)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


Finally, blogger has loaded a picture, so here is a belated holiday pic of me gritting my teeth into a smile on a very windy day at a factory where they make ... well, you guess!

It was one of those whistle-stop tours when you check out the place they make cheese, visit a windmill and buy some painted clogs.

Well, it rained a lot!

Sunday, June 04, 2006


I know, we've been there, done that, but there is a painful point to this blog. Marcy – bless her – posted the following at eHarlequin on the 100 reads challenge:


"Sebastian Wolseley attended the reception for his college friend's marriage blessing ceremony. He'd only planned to make a showing since he'd come directly from a family funeral and wasn't in the best of moods. He hadn't expected to be drawn into a conversation with an intriguing woman sitting alone while everyone else was dancing.

"Matilda Lang has been in a wheelchair for the past three years since an accident cost her the use of her legs. She's sassy and witty, but she also uses humor to hide her vulnerability. She hasn't felt feminine in three years, but Sebastian makes her feel things she's afraid to feel.

"My post doesn't do this book justice. It was a wonderful, emotional story. Though I haven't read it yet, apparently Matilda was introduced in the book, A WIFE ON PAPER. It's the story of her cousin Fran, whose blessing ceremony reception starts this book

In response, Fake Frenchie posted the following:

"This sounds good. But I'm wondering, is the miracle the obvious one that we might expect? Cuz if it is, that might be problematic for people in Matilda's situation. Just a passing idea."

She has a valid point.

The problem is right there, in the title. That word “miracle”. It suggests all kinds of things that aren’t in the book, which a wheelchair-bound reader wrote and assured me got it right for her. About as much praise as any author can take, let me tell you, without going pop with happiness.

The book was a tough one to write simply because it did have to be based in a world where miracles did not happen. This was not a "pick up your bed and walk" scenario and believe me, I hated that title. And when I saw the UK cover, with the heroine standing straight and tall at the altar, I cried. Next time, I swear, I'll stand up to marketing and threaten to pull the book unless they listen to me.

Saturday, June 03, 2006


I'm writing a Brides of Bella Lucia short story for eHarlequin. Five thousand words. So far I've written three thousand ... one thousand five hundred of my first effort ... one thousand five of my second attempt...

Already, I want them both to be whole books.

Maybe I'll do better tomorrow.