Monthly Archives: March 2010

Love Writing

I was lucky enough to have Love Writing entered into the Amazon Vine Programme, where the book is circulated to many independent reviewers. I’m chuffed to bits that the overall rating, after 23 reviews, is four-and-a-half stars. Woohoo!

My spikethecat question this week was about how characters materialise in my mind. It would be easy to say, ‘Dunno. Ask them!’ But maybe not helpful. So, here we go.

I often get a picture in my mind of how a character is going to be. It might be an actor (Ratty in Starting Over came to me after watching Kevin Kline as the pirate king in The Pirates of Penzance) or a pastiche of people (Justin from All That Mullarkey is a mix of actor Bryan Brown, motor cycle racer Carl Fogarty and tennis player Fabrice Santoro). But Diane, from Want to Know a Secret? began as the woman in front of me in the post office queue who had a long plait of hair that swung about as she talked and gesticulated. The crosser she got, the more the plait wiggled.  A real stressometer.

Appearance, however, is just a detail.

I need to know what makes characters tick. So I begin a book with scribbled notes about each character in turn. It’s necessary for central characters’ conflicts to impact upon one another and, often, for the motivation of one to prevent the resolution of the conflict of the other. When writing romantic fiction, this takes the form of creating obstacles that will keep the hero and heroine apart. So I think about that quite early on. Inborn or bred-in character traits come early, too – a laid back hero might allow a heroine’s impatience some rein, whereas if both of them were impatient they’d never be together long enough to have a conversation. Likewise, if one is stubborn, that’s fine. If two are stubborn, they’d spend the book ignoring one another. Yeah, right, like that’s going to work …

Starting Over

Character history is pretty important, too. In Starting Over Tess is wary of men because her last dumping was particularly humiliating – and this has consequences throughout the book. I question my characters, too – why did you do that? How did his action make you feel? Why? Why? Why? Without those building blocks of writing, why? and because …, plots tend to fall apart because there’s an absence of logic. So character development and plot development are inextricably linked.

Characterisation is a bit of a jigsaw. The picture becomes clearer as I progress and my pile of notes about a character grows and grows. When I have a big enough pile of notes and about half a book’s worth of plot points (remember the dot-to-dot plotting?), I begin.

And that’s when I really get to know my characters. When I’m with them on a daily basis.

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Writing … research

Research is very much on my mind as I have two research trips planned in April in connection with The New Book. I really want to begin The New Book, not because I’m not enjoying doing the copy edits for All That Mullarkey or the revisions for Want to Know a Secret? But because I always want to start a new book. I could be the world’s most prolific new book beginner – it’s writing the middle and the end that takes a bit more out of me.

So – research. Research can be easy – in fact, it’s worrying that I can learn, via the Internet, how to euthanize, make bombs or synthesize drugs. Not that I want to but I could, if I did. The Internet has revolutionised research for writers and saved us enormous chunks of time. It’s worth remembering to validate and corroborate anything you get from The Net, though, as anybody can put anything up on there. Although there have been cases of a mistake being perpetuated as articles are used for research, for the most part you’re reasonably safe if you can find similar information on several sites. And the more reputable the site you use ie information from a university or professional body, the more likely the information is to be sound. Your research should permeate your story but not swamp it.

If you have anything in your story about the police – and you’re not as lucky as I am in living next door to a detective superintendent – there are books written for writers concerning forensics, police procedures or science and these can be easily obtained from bookshops, either High Street or on-line. Crime writers use them a lot!

Occupations are something many of us have to research and can be a good starting point for a story – I once asked a class to research an unusual occupation, give it to a character and write a story about them. We had some great stories! My favourite was about a mortician’s beautician who had to prepare her best friend’s body for burial.

One of my April research trips is centred around an occupation – I’m going to meet Steven Hooper, male model. It’s a hard life, isn’t it?

Steven has kindly agreed to chat with me about his work as a model and an actor – he was on Coronation Street a week or so back.

As I happens, I know Steven’s mum, writer Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory, and she said to me, ‘Would you like to borrow my hunk?’ Well, it would have been rude to say, no, wouldn’t it?

Or maybe poor Steven didn’t get a chance to say no to me. But I’m really grateful and keen to learn as much as possible.

Steven Hooper

When you have research to do it can seem pretty daunting to find somebody who works in the area you want to write about but, in almost all cases, I’ve found that people, like Steven, are very helpful.

Especially if you know their mum.

And even if you don’t, just ask. They don’t normally say no. (Except helicopter pilots – they seem to be able to say no really easily, once they realise that you want to know how to crash. See Want to Know a Secret? for the result.)

Steven Hooper

Steven Hooper

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Writing … plots and plans

Because I received a few questions about the very first steps to planning a book, I thought I’d blog on it, even though it’s a similar subject to the last post.

What is a Plan?

A plan is anything you want it to be.

For some people it’s finely and fully structured. They begin with a blurb, expand it to an outline of several pages, divide it into chapters, and when they begin to write they know exactly where they’re going.

Others devise a kind of flow chart a-z arrangement of the story on a large piece of paper.

Some like to write key points on cards and then they can shuffle the cards around to study under what arrangement the story makes the most sense and has the most impact.

I prefer to study character, and let each character tell me their story. I have a starting point and a rough idea where their story might go. But that often changes. I take a large piece of paper, write down my starting point and then ask that character a series of questions that begin, ‘What if?’ It’s also very useful if you can give your major character/s a ‘quest’. This may be something particular and purposeful, to discover what happened to the character’s missing husband, for example. But often is more general, such as to recover from a bereavement or get away from a failed love affair.

Where do I Start with My Plan?

A good start to your novel is to ‘let it brew’. Make notes about characters as they occur to you, let them inhabit your mind, and write down the things you see your characters doing/saying/believing/enjoying/hating/wanting/remembering. Some people find it helpful to make these notes in the first person, taking the role of each character in turn. You’re not overly concerned with plot at this stage, just getting to know your characters well enough so that their actions will suggest the story. It’s useful to remember that a character’s past can suggest their future.

So give your characters a past! It’s not enough to know that your central character is a divorced man of 35 – you need to know who he was married to, where they met, how happy the marriage was and what ended it. Was it his foul temper, was it her nymphomania? If you decide he’s going to meet somebody new this history will be factors in how he will act and react as he travels through your book.

A few early decisions might save you a lot of rewriting and head scratching later on:

– Viewpoint and viewpoint characters

– Central characters

– Time structure

– Genre

– Audience

– A point to begin your novel – try to think drama, think change, think impact, think about hooking your reader in and making them reluctant to put down the book.

However some writers never plan! They feel hamstrung by a plan and bored by knowing the story. Planning may not work for you, either, but before you decide that, I strongly suggest you try it! A good plan can mean a good structure and good structure can prevent your novel from being loose and padded. If you know where your book is going it helps to keep the story moving forward.

Christina Courtenay and Sue Moorcroft (with kind permission of Christina C)

And, also, the RNA Lunch

I attended the Romantic Novel of the Year Award on Tuesday. You can see me here with Christina Courtenay, also of the Choc Lit selection box. And you can read her full report at the Choc Lit Author Blog.

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Writing … dot-to-dot plotting

I’ve recently begun to contribute to the Spike the Cat writing blog’s Ask the Author spot. As I’m asked so many times about planning a novel, I thought it would be an idea to post my latest Spike contribution on my own blog, too:

I’m quite a messy planner, or plotter. I used to simply begin at page one and let the characters take me but, sadly, I found that they weren’t rational or logical and would insist on doing things that simply had no impact on the thrust of the story. They would forget their quests, ignore black moments and miss their turning points. It was a bit like telling a class of eight year olds, ‘Take me from Birmingham to London!’ They might have been to both places but would simply race into the world with bags of enthusiasm but no map-reading ability or logic.

I don’t think that it’s any coincidence that my first book that got published, Uphill All the Way, was the first book that I had a reasonable plan for. Not a chapter-by-chapter plan but a story arc that had a lot in common with one of those dot-to-dot puzzles I used to love as a kid. I knew the plot points. All there was left to do was join those points up.

I’m now in the very first stages of planning a book. I have other projects that I need to complete in the next few weeks but then I’m going on a research trip and beginning the new book in earnest. But it has been bubbling in my mind for weeks and so I know the two central characters and that the heroine is an American woman, Honor, who has come to a British seaside town to find her British mother (so that’s her quest and it will drive the plot). I have answered some questions on her behalf – why her mother left her, how her father felt about it, how far through the book she’ll a) know who and where her mother is b) the reader will know the same information When Honor and her mother will meet. How this impacts upon Martyn, the central male character. These are some pretty major dots in my puzzle, or story arc.

I know a lot about Honor’s background – both known and unknown to her – and I know a lot about Martyn, who is, on the face of it, more of a ‘what you see is what you get’ character. But, of course, the face of things can be quite deceiving – so I think I still have a lot of ‘dots’ to come from his story. His family has a certain dynamic that will affect Honor’s story. And he will affect Honor.

So that’s my plotting process: dotty.

All That Mullarkey

Publication date for All That Mullarkey comes ever nearer . It should be in the shops on 27 May – probably earlier in the airports. But it’s already available for preorder at Amazon.co.uk and thebookdepository.com, amongst others.

On the real thing, the butterflies are silver, which I think is very cool.

Choc Lit have done a great job with the cover and you can read a taster at their site.

Or you can read what the Choc Lit authors think of the heroes of Formula 1 – amongst other things – at www.blog.choc-lit.co.uk

Starting Over

And good news from Smashwords – Starting Over is half price until until Saturday 13th. You must remember to use the code at checkout.

You can purchase through and for your iPhone but must have the free download of Stanza (available from the Apple store) running.

There has been a sudden spike in download sales, perhaps because of an excellent review at Dear Author, which you can read here. They don’t pull punches so to have a mainly positive review and a B rating is great.

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Writing Industries Conference 2010

Lynne Connolly, Sue Moorcroft, Mary Nichols

Brilliant Writing Industries Conference at Martin Hall, Loughborough University on Saturday – I really enjoyed it.

The conference theme was how publishing is changing and ‘new media’ was the buzz phrase. I had never attended a conference quite like this one. I’m used to a lot of ‘how to’ workshops but this conference was aimed at understanding and analysing the publishing industry and where to find a place within it.

I chaired a panel from the Romantic Novelists’ Association – myself, Lynne Connolly and Mary Nichols. Mary is a prolific Mills & Boon historical romance writer and also writes mainstream women’s fiction, presently for Allison & Busby. Her books are released in print all over the world and now, of course, also in ebook format.

Lynne writes historical romance and paranormal erotic romance for Ellora’s Cave, Samhain and other epublishers. Although her books are available in print, too, the main of her sales comes from ebooks. The publishers are American and, as Lynne makes money from her work, ebooks are probably more widely accepted, there. In our audience, only two people said that they read ebooks.

With panellists from two such different areas of romantic fiction, the discussion was wide ranging. Although Mary writes in a traditional area, Lynne at the cutting edge and me, with romantic fiction, kind of in the middle with novels from Choc Lit and ‘how to’ from Accent Press, we had a surprising number of things in common. We write for a living. We all have more than one publisher. We work hard. We place the majority, if not all, our work without help from an agent.

I think we took the audience a little by surprise with our emphasis on getting published for money – bless our commercial little hearts. And, yes, we would still write if we weren’t paid for it. But we’d be submitting for paid publication all the time. Art for art’s sake is lovely as a hobby but doesn’t pay the bills.

I would hate to have to get a proper job and only be able to write evenings and weekends.

A panel I enjoyed as part of the audience for on community journalism and blogging.

Each of the panel members, John Coster, Al Needham, James Walker and Susi O’Neill, are involved in community news collectives in Nottinghamshire or Leicestershire – the Leftlion, Citizen’s Eye, Soar Magazine and Creative Nottingham, in print and online.

It was an entertaining panel and I chose to attend because I didn’t know what community journalism is. I was impressed by the energy and vision each panellist brought to their work but the question that had been burning through me as I listened was voiced by the guy in front of me – a journalist. ‘How do you make money?’ Ah, well. Money didn’t really come into it. They covered their costs. They had grants. They didn’t actually take much out in the way of wages – each of them earns money through day jobs, such as journalism.

I admire their community spirit and altruism.

Closer to my heart was the panel about commercial fiction: Nicola Monaghan, writer,  Alan Mahar, publishing director of Tindal Street Press, and Lorella Belli, Lorella Belli Literary Agency.

I fell in love with Lorella for stating stoutly that the end of the print era is not upon us. It’s still the mainstream popular choice of the reader. The book is the starting point, ebooks are ‘just another format’ and have a number of formatting issues to perfect and she can’t see ebooks taking over from paper. Phew! I was beginning to think I was astride a dinosaur. In fact, she said that her agency had a fabulous year last year – although this was partly due to work selling well into translation markets as high street sales in fiction have dropped 7-10% for fiction, more for non-fiction, and serial rights to magazines by as much as 50%. The market for travel writing and coffee table books has slumped.

If you’re sending work to Lorella, you will probably have to try harder than ever before as publishers are concentrating on fewer writers but giving more support. Check out what she represents before sending it to her, do all your research, be market aware and professional. If you’re sending non-fiction your proposal will need to be more comprehensive than previously. She agreed that we do need to adapt to current trends but publishing is by no means all doom.

Alan said that small publishers were finding advantages to the current economic downturn – picking up good writers that larger houses had dropped! Good on you, Alan. He’s a fan of Waterstones and the 3 for 2 deals but mourns the declining number of independent bookshops. Tindal Street publishes literary fiction, a division of general fiction and, emphatically, still gives writers editorial support. Prize listings are important to Tindal Street, as are reviews. Alan suggests that anybody who wants to write for Tindal write the very best book that’s within them, without accommodating market trends, which will have changed by the time that the book is published, anyway.

Nicola Monaghan didn’t suggest that she had been affected by the recession. She’s with a big publisher, Random House, and seemed quite happy to be so.

With so many examples of writers still writing and editors and agents still doing their thing, too, I’m wondering where all the people who predict doom and gloom get their information from … From the dropped writers and the redundant editors, I suppose.

My favourite part of the day was a keynote speech from Graham Joyce. It wasn’t unduly optimistic but Graham is a great speaker and he made me laugh, especially when he pretended to be his dad. Maybe I was meant to take more away from a great speech delivered with individualism but that’s what stuck in my mind.

Oh yes, and that writers, to make a living, should be prepared to not only embrace new media but draw their income streams from many different sources.

So I’m doing something right!

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Single Titles review

If you like book review sites, have you tried the famous Single Titles site?

They happen to have given Starting Over a stonking review here – but that’s not the only reason I love them, honest! It’s just a great site, full of interest for readers and writers.

But it is a stonking review. So I love them more than ever …

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Writing Industries Conference

Just a quickie – I’m leading a panel about the development of romantic fiction in the digital age at the wonderful Writing Industries Conference at Loughborough University on Saturday (the 6th). My fellow panellists are Mary Nichols, who writes Mills & Boon romances and also mainstream women’s fiction, and Lynne Connolly, who writes paranormal romance.

Hope to see some of you there!

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