Tuesday, June 28, 2011

19 JULY...

The 19th July is a big day.

It will be the twentieth anniversary of the day I signed my first publishing contract with Mills and Boon.  And FLIRTING WITH ITALIAN, published in December, will be my sixtieth story for them. (The Wilds were with another company!)

Clearly I'm going to have to celebrate it some way.

Dinner with the Best Beloved? Certainly.. A trip? Maybe. But there'll have to be something for you, too. The fans who've supported me all these years. Bought the books with your hard earned cash. Spent valuable time writing reviews, leaving comments, sending me messages.

I've got my thinking cap on but if you've got any ideas to make it the best party ever online, then let's hear them.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


“…do your characters take on a life of their own, so a story veers off in an unexpected direction? Do characters say and do unexpected things? And how do you keep track of everything and everyone...?"

There are a number questions there and a number of answers to all of them (when aren’t there?) but they are all about temperament. And not of the character, but of the author.
Some authors plot out an entire book before they write it. They have an index card for each character with every detail of the their life. Birthday, education, family. Height, weight, eye colour. Their place in the family, and a whole lot of complicated stuff involving personality traits.
The main character arcs will be described and there will be different coloured post-it notes plastering their office wall (or bedroom door) for each scene (and a lot of other stuff that I don’t know about.) They will laugh to scorn the idea that a character can take over and run with a story.
How I envy those authors. How comforting it must be to have everything plotted out. To just turn up each morning, consult the notes, write the day’s quota of words and then go and have some fun. And if you believe that I've got a nice bridge I can sell you.
Okay, maybe some people can do that. Some of the time. (James Patterson, maybe?)
I can't. 
I’ve tried it.
I’ve spent hours working on lengthy outlines – I’ve never got as far as the post-it notes (because you need an outline before you can move up to that). Sadly, the finished book bears about as much similarity to the plan as a pineapple to a pear. They’re both fruit, but that’s all you can say about them. Worse, on those rare occasions when I’ve written a perfectly realized plot summary I lose interest in writing the book. Why would I bother when I know what’s going to happen?
While I do sometimes begin with a place, an image that sparks an idea, romance is character led and that is the place to start. With a character, a stranger who will keep me on my toes, thrill me, charm me, infuriate me, delight me. And with motivation.
She will have a driving passion, or be sideswiped by a moment of change that disrupts the even tenor of her life. It’s not about plotting moves, shifting characters about, it’s about cause and effect. Real people reacting the way real people do. Irrationally. Stupidly. Their heart and soul engaged.
How do I know what my heroine will do until her hero turns up and turns her life upside down. She will grow, she will learn, she will change over the course of her story, in unpredictable ways.
So do characters do surprising stuff?
Well, yes and no. (It’s amazing how that is so often the answer in writing!) Sometimes I find myself typing dialogue that appears to come out of the blue, explaining so much about the inner conflict, motivation of a character, but as we go on this journey together, I get to know her, get under her skin, get to the tender, unprotected heart she keeps hidden.
That moment of truth doesn’t come out of a black hole, no matter how much it may feel like it at times. I have to admit, though, that when it happens it does feel like magic.
So that’s how it goes. The characters, their story, develop as I write. If one of those out-of-blue moments mean that I have to go back and fix something, I do it there and then. I can’t move on until I’ve got that straight. I’m not a dirty drafter. I can’t bash out the raw story. I constantly rewrite, changing, fixing stuff as the story develops and. when I get the last line, I’m done.
And how do I keep track of everything without those index cards and post-it notes, or even notebooks filled with ideas? (My notebooks are mostly filled with facts, scribbled research notes, useful urls and are never going to be snapped up by a library’s archivist.)
This is deeply scary, but the truth is that I hold everything in my head, which explains why, at the end of the day, I often feel as if my brain is too full for my skull.
It’s not a comfortable way to write, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone and this next bit comes under the don’t-do-what-I-do, do-what-I-say, heading. Go for the detailed outline and the post it notes if you can manage it. Organised. Sensible. No panic. You have a plan and you tick off the scenes as you go.
Productive authors, the ones who leave you gasping at their output, mostly — but not invariably — use this method.
But it isn’t a black and white, one way to the other, scenario.
Most authors use a combination of the two, fine fettled to suit their own way of working. Some have scenes in their head. Glimpses of the journey they are about to take. That’s me. Some write an outline that they feel free to abandon without a backward glance. Sometimes that’s me, too. Occasionally I forced myself to write down the major points that are essential to the story; usually when I’m struggling. It helps to focus the mind.
I’ll find them, weeks later, when I’ve finished and I’m clearing up the mess of research books and CDs and bits of paper I’ve scribbled words on. I’ll look at it and think, Was that what I was going to do? Oh, well…
The thing is — and I’d like you to say this out loud now — there is no right or wrong way.
Don’t waste energy trying to fit into a box invented by someone who has written a book of rules (it’s probably the only book they ever wrote).
And out loud again — there are no rules.
Okay, one rule — I do insist on the proper use of apostrophes and any mistakes in my blogs are because they are written in a hurry in time stolen from writing my books, and not because I don’t know my ’s from my s’.
Just get your character on the page, set her in motion and — if you’re lucky — you’ll have to run to keep up.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Door...

Usually, in my books, there’s a house that has a big part to play in the story.  In Tempted By Trouble, it’s Elle’s home, the one she’s fought so hard to keep together for her family.

The village of Longbourne was already familiar to me since I’d set the Five Year Baby Secret there.  It’s a big village, with an out of town garden centre and a plant nursery growing prize-winning Fuchsias.  There’s a shop, a post office and a primary school. (The older kids take the school bus to the High School and College). People want to live there, not just because it’s pretty, with a great atmosphere, but it’s near Maybridge, a large town with a growing business park and great shopping. It’s also within commuting distance of the city of Melchester. 

I knew the village green and the common land by the river.  Could see it, walk through it in my head - they are all taken from the towns and villages I grew up around – but what would Elle’s house look like?

It’s a bit vague to be honest.  I think readers just need a few details to allow them to imagine it for themselves. The kitchen quarry tiles scrubbed so many times that the colour has all but gone. The mess in the hall left by teenagers in a hurry. The lilac tree in the back garden. Part of the magic of reading is that we bring our own pictures to the party.  

But this is the picture I started from. At the front door where it all begins, where the roses dropped pink petals on Sean’s head and shoulders and Elle’s life was changed forever.

Tempted by Trouble is now available at the Mills and Boon website in Australia and has a truly lovely cover – this time it’s Sean’s meadow that provides the backdrop. Unfortunately I haven't got a copy to scan yet, and I can't download it from the Mills and Boon website to share with you but you can take a look here

Thursday, June 16, 2011


At a time that's seeing a huge growth in the market for romances that don't focus on explicit sex but on the relationship between the hero and heroine, fellow HR author, Donna Alward, is writing an article for Romantic Times BOOKclub magazine about the very special appeal of Harlequin Romance, the series that started it all.

For those of you who don't know this, many of the books published in the Cherish and Riva series (including my own) are published as Harlequin Romance in the US so, like Donna I'm eager to hear exactly what it is that, no matter what other books or Harlequin series you read, you still come back to Harlequin Romance, or Cherish or RIVA authors such as Jessica Hart, Nina Harrington, Fiona Harper and myself.
You can leave a comment here, or email me on liz @ lizfielding dot com.  I will need an email addy so that Donna can contact you for permission to quote.  Or you can go direct to the source on the eHarlequin website and leave a comment here

Wednesday, June 08, 2011


“What comes first, character or plot? And do either of them take on a life of their own, so a story veers off in an unexpected direction, or characters say and do unexpected things? And how do you keep track of everything and everyone, so runaway bride way back on page 10....?" 

(That's Elle from Tempted By Trouble, btw!)

As with my earlier post on openings, there is no single answer to this question.  It isn’t even a one author/one method solution.  The genesis for each story is different.  And sometimes, I have to admit, it would be hard to pin down exactly where is came from.  A few, though, are absolutely clear.

Maybe, because inevitably it had a long gestation, I know exactly where the ideas for my first book came from.  It started with location.  Africa.  More specifically a safari camp I’d visited many times when we lived in Kenya.  Add to that a Clive James/Patrick Lichfield documentary about shooting photographs for a motor parts company calendar.  Add in a feminist demonstration at a Miss World competition and you have the background.  And from that, inevitably, I had a photographer hero and a feminist heroine. Plot took longer.  It started out as a revenge book, but the editor who picked it up didn't think the conflict would carry the book and asked me to think again.  Same characters, same location, but it became an "oh heck, I don't want to be here, or at least not with HIM because the last time we met...well, I don't want to think about that" book.  It was mostly about the growth of the heroine - because back then the book was totally in her viewpoint.

Another instance is very clear to me.  I was driving with my husband through Gloucestershire when I saw a small manor house high up in woodland.  We all know the phrase “Who would live in a house like this?”  Writer's instinct suggested a grumpy recluse.  And I could see my heroine pulling the old-fashioned door pull and said grumpy recluse answering the door - grumpily, but nothing else.

It was a couple of years later when my editor mentioned that the perfect title would be “The Bachelor, The Bride and the Baby.”  Every hook in the book.  And there is was, the conflict.  My heroine, tugging at the doorbell, was days from her wedding, the bachelor who opened the door - carrying a baby - is expecting her aunt, his old nanny.  She's been bamboozled.  He just wants to hand over the baby.  The best laid plans...  By then, the “perfect” title had been snapped up and mine became THE BRIDE, THE BABY AND THE BEST MAN.

Occasionally, an idea comes from Editorial who decide to run a mini series.  Marriage of  Convenience, Runaway Bride, What Women Want ...my editor had a list of ideas for that one including "being thin" which I thought was pathetic. But then I saw this plump, lovely girl, hiding away, heartbroken by a louse needing to stand by her lovely thin sister on her wedding day. Celebrities, a Hugh Grant-type actor as best man and well, The Bridesmaid's Reward (or the one with chocolate as it became known) was nominated for the RNA Romance Prize.).  It was the character that led all the way on that one.

Baby on Board, High Society Brides and, most recently, Escape Around the World are other themes.  That one gave me the chance to return to Africa and the Botswana book I'd been itching to write.  It wasn't just the setting, though, I already had a character in search of a story, a secondary character from THE BRIDE’S BABY. You don’t have to be a published author for that method to work for you btw.  You can use any mini series title for inspiration.  In fact it’s probably a very good idea since they have a built in hook and editors love a good hook (I refer you to the Bride, Baby and Bachelor scenario!)

One of my favourite ways to build a story is with a character I already know.  Like Josie, in A WEDDING AT LEOPARD TREE LODGE, Amy and Jake in THE BACHELOR’S BABY, Veronica and Fergus in A SUITABLE GROOM (my editor said any woman with that much “cool” deserved a book of her own), had all played their part for other characters.  Sophie had appeared in two earlier books before she was given her own happy ending in A SURPRISE CHRISTMAS PROPOSAL.  When you know your character, all you have to do is put her in a situation where she’s out of her depth, struggling.  (When I say “all”, I’m leaving you to fill in the hollow laughter.)  But that's the same with every book.  Take an ordinary girl and put her into a extra ordinary situation. Remove her props - what they are will depend on who she is - and send her out into uncharted territory.

Then there’s the book that it’s impossible to pin down.  It grows out of a throwaway line in a soap opera.  A memory.  A photograph in a magazine.  Something your mother said thirty years ago (in my case it was a friend who had three daughters all with the same initial letter in their names... "That'll cause trouble when they're older..." muttered my mother - godmother to the youngest.  A tiny spark that just grows into character.   A story that seems to spin, like magic, out of thin air.  And I’m sorry, I don’t know how to make that happen, except by reading, watching, absorbing everything you hear and see.  Filling the well.

The important thing to remember about all of these “starters” is that an idea is not a plot, a setting is merely background, that romantic fiction is character led.  Not cardboard cut out characters that you move across the landscape — if you find yourself wondering what you can make them do next, you are in deep trouble — but real people with a solid, heart-wrenching conflict keeping them apart.  The emotion must be deep, sincerely felt.  The reader has to understand why they resist, empathise with them, weep with them, long for their happy ever after.

Did I say there was more than one answer to this question.  Wrong.  While a place may inspire an idea, it is character that leads the way.  I could have set my Kenya book anywhere - I saw a second Clive James/Patrick Lichfield photoshoot documentary and it was set in Moscow in mid-winter.  Those poor naked girls!  And while Botswana lent an added extra dimension to A Wedding at Leopard Tree Lodge, I could have written that story set in a stately home or castle in the UK and the setting would still have been spectacular.

And how can you have a plot if you don't have a character?  You can have hook - ordinary princess, abandoned baby, but it's what the heroine (and the hero) do when challenged that makes it a story. 

I’ll get to the second part of that question next time.    


Thursday, June 02, 2011

Thank you!

A big thank you to everyone who bid on Pink Society items at the Brenda Novak auction.  The Kindle and book bundle donated by the Harlequin Romance authors made $340, which is amazing and the Pink Society tote bag filled with books, the critiques and the all the books and jewellery on offer made it a real success.  Brenda's son suffers with the really tough version of this terrible affliction, but the dh has Type 2, so it's a cause close to my own heart.

Here's hoping the money raised this year - along with the $1 million dollars already raised by Brenda's efforts and the generosity of the romance community - will go a long way towards finding a cure.

Meanwhile, do you like that cute lolly pin?  I've just treated myself and will be wearing it at the RNA Conference in July!

I've been sending out loads of books to winners in the last week or two, I hope they all arrive safely.  There are still one or two people who haven't contacted me with their snail mail addy, so do check to make sure you're not one of them.

I'll be back next week with Ask the Author 2:  What Comes First - Character Or Plot?

PS - I've just been taking a look at my Clustr Map to see where you all are before this years stats are archived and I start with a clean world, so to speak.  Lots and lots of new visitors this year - welcome to you all; it's lovely to get to know you.  But I couldn't help noticing that I'd had a couple of visits from the Maldives.  You don't think ... no ... that couldn't be the new Duchess of Cambridge...  Could Kate Middleton have read The Ordinary Princess?  I can dream. :)