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Louise's current project is to make all her sweet romances available on the internet.
Look out for her new Regency romance, Regency Fortune, coming soon!


Saturday, 28 February 2009

Advice from Simon Cowell

We watched the X-factor round at an addict's house, and being aware that Simon Cowell has a reputation for being some kind of horned fiend, I was amazed to find that I agreed with everything he said. Round at someone else's house (there are a lot of addicts) I saw him conducting auditions for an American show. 'What shall I do?' asked one hopeful contestant. 'Tell me what you want. I can take direction.' Simon Cowell stirred into life. 'That's the worst thing you can say as an artist. You should know what you're about,' he said.

I've been thinking about that ever since.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Nothing on an Editor's Desk - anywhere

Suddenly realised that I have nothing out at all. No irons in the fire. Zip. The one true thing about writing is that no one is going to tap me on the shoulder and invite me to become a successful writer.

Fired off an email to someone who advertised on the RNA's cyber chapter that she wants a novelisation of a film and rang up D. C. Thompson to find out the name of the new editor of the People's Friend Pocket Novels. I wrote a book about a florist who hurtled around London in a little green van. The old editor liked the first three chapters, but wasn't satisfied with the end of the book. It's been in a drawer for months, but with some distance I can see exactly what she means, and more importantly, how to fix it. Decided to get my head down over rewrite and EVERYTHING can go hang until it's in the post.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Writing Historical Fiction

Another out of print book. I don't think the advice dates. Although I've compressed the notes I took, they still seem relevant and helpful.

Martin is quite interesting about negative space. In Kabuki, for example, the moments where the rapid action stops and the actors hold the pose and freeze have the effect of impressing that moment on the mind and making the action sharper. Or, if you think of the way painters use shadows to highlight the foreground and figures. Scenes of high drama and deep emotion need moments of comparative tranquility to give them emphasis. The RAP RAP RAP of fast action can be wearing. In moments of extreme stress, tiny details such as a flower, a touch, a smell do take on significance, and can balance the pace.

Martin talks about the reasons for setting a story in the past - and I think she's right in saying that the only good reason is that the story couldn't have happened anywhere else. The past is great for romances because the hardest thing is to find good reasons why two gorgeous people who are absolutely made for one another stay apart for a whole book. There were so many barriers in the past that have now fallen: class, divorce, wars, politics, especially family feuds and acceptable behaviour for women. Class still exists of course. In the reality TV programme Undercover Princes the prince from Sri Lanka had to marry a bride from a noble background so he ditched the girl he'd been dating. What a sap! I could have written a much better ending than that!

Anachronisms. When I wrote a Black Lace novel, The Barbarian Geisha, set in historical Japan, I got Andy to proof read before it went to the publisher because he has the kind of logical mind that spots extras wearing watches in historical movies. I had committed all kinds of howlers: the heroine let off steam, and felt as if she were standing behind a pane of glass. She jogged along the beach. People feared germs. Pluto got a mention. It's very difficult to remember what your heroine couldn't have known.

Good advice is to keep an eye on realities of time within your created past. Think of cycles of the moon, how hard it would be to travel in winter, and characters ageing. I read Jane Eyre & Tess of the Dubervilles as part of my college course and became fascinated by how important natural light was to them. We are blinded by electricity - but back then they noticed Jupiter shining 'yellow like a jonquil' and the exact moment when the candles had to be lit. Balls were planned around a full moon so people could travel more easily. Everything was planned around available light.

Martin talks about describing your characters right away so you don't annoy readers who formed a different picture, and mentions the tension between what the characters say, and what they truly think (the scene in Annie Hall where they are chatting one another up with cartoon captions of their true thoughts above their heads has to be the best example of this?) Then there's a few snippets on revealing character, how to handle infodumps and choreography. Overall, a useful book.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Sunday, 15 February 2009

A Reflective Essay

Last year we had to do a reflective essay and the tutor said: just write down what you did and what you thought about it. We all dutifully just wrote down what we did and what we thought about it. We all got Cs, because that's not what the university wanted. This year, when the (different) tutor said: just write down what you did and what you thought about it, I said, 'Oh no! No more Cs for this student. That's not what the university wants.' He went off and checked and came back saying: 'Well, you can reference it, if you want to,' which left me no closer to knowing what to do.

So, what is a reflective essay? These days I usually ask Google to enlighten my ignorance, and as usual, Google came up trumps. I was fascinated by the first answer, which is that a reflective essay is something that a website staffed by people whose first language is not English (and whose syntax suggests a more than passing acquaintance with bank scams) is willing to sell you on a sliding scale of fees. If you are so desperate for this essay that you need it within 1.5 hours, the shortest time possible, it will cost you more than if you are organised enough to place your order four days ahead of the deadline. There's room for a piece of investigative journalism there - could you possibly gain a degree from a British university by submitting essays from these sites? I'd like to think not, but there's so many of websites I'm forced to believe they have customers.

There was plenty of other information kicking around, and after a couple of hours note taking, here's what I came up with:

Writing a Reflective Essay
In a nutshell, you should provide a thoughtful analysis of the work you just completed and give some sense of the importance of your experience to your educational development.
Identify and comment on selected issues and give examples of the work you just did (here’s where you reference).
You are observing yourself as you study. You should describe your actions and your response to your actions, and then place them in an educational context. The focus should be on how you have changed.
Try to:
1. keep a balance between describing specific aspects of work and making general statements
2. show clear connections between a topic and what it made you think or believe
3. describe the good and bad aspects of the finished project or module
4. show that you are aware of how subject knowledge and understanding are developed
5. show that you recognise difficulties and demonstrate your approach to problem solving.
6. be nuanced – you are evaluating percentages, not giving fixed absolutes.
Aim: to compare and contrast the experience you had against the course goals and evaluate how the work you just finished helped you, or not, to reach those goals.
* state module aims
*give a statement of the general view you gained from the experience - describe incidents that helped shape that view
Body of essay:
*describe the process you followed and the experiences you had while completing the course work
*something that went well
*something you misunderstood
*something you consider crucial to your understanding of the topic.
*the main things you learned or developed.
*any skills you learned or improved (why/how)
*say how you reacted/felt/behaved re the list above
*describe which significant material or issues made you reflect and think deeply
*say how the experience changed or affected you
* talk about the less/most enjoyable aspects and say why.
Talk about any course aims you will think further about or any issues where you changed mind. Give that percentage of improvement (or not) towards the learning goals. Say if you have been prompted to go on to any further knowledge, or to learn any more skills, and say how you will continue.
If you were to repeat the course, what would you do differently and why? What do you think now compared with what you thought when you started.

No 'Just' about it.

Saturday, 7 February 2009


Here's a piece from the RNA:
Romantic Novelists vote Richard Armitage Sexiest Thing On Two Legs.
British actor Richard Armitage has leapt from last year’s 4th place to this year topping the ratings in the Romantic Novelists’ Association 2009 Valentine’s poll, to take the title of Sexiest Thing on Two Legs, beating top Hollywood stars to the number one spot. Johnny Depp, who topped last year’s poll, was pushed firmly into second place, with Hugh Jackman and George Clooney mere also-rans. "Richard Armitage took 20% of the vote, more than double the count of any other male on the list,” said the RNA pollster. “He was a clear winner from the off.” The RNA is not alone in admiration of the actor, as numerous online Richard Armitage fan sites will testify. The ardency began with North and South, grew by leaps and bounds with the leather-clad baddie in Robin Hood, and shows no sign of diminishing as Spooks takes to the airwaves. ‘It’s a coup for Britain,’ said one starstruck writer, ‘not just for sexy Richard.’ According to romantic novelists, the sexiest male celebrities of 2009 are:
1 Richard Armitage
2 Johnny Depp
3 Hugh Jackman
4 George Clooney
5 Daniel Craig
6 Sean Bean
7 Alan Rickman
8 David Tennant
9 Pierce Brosnan
10 Gerard Butler
Who is number one? I have heard of most of them - 6 is over half, but how did I manage to miss something so exciting?

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Great Textbook

This was the first good book on writing fiction that I came across - I made so many notes at the time that it's taken me days to go through them and precis them. Watts says that drama is from a Greek word meaning a thing done. Stories are about the actions of human beings when faced with obstacles - not things that happen by chance, not things that are done by others. The example he gives is this: Do kids buy (and read) books called 'Mummy Rescues Danny' or 'Danny, Champion of the World'?

To make a book interesting, the author has to raise questions and delay the answers. Suspense looks forward because the answers are in the future. Mystery looks back, because the answers are in the future. Watts says that the best stories raise questions on three levels of conflict.
  1. Inner - an uncomfortable emotion which prevents the main character from reaching their hearts desire.
  2. Interpersonal - the main character wants one thing and the villain has another completely incompatible aim.
  3. Environmental - Physical as in car chases or war and mental as in the disapproval of social groups.

Then you need to think about another three things:

  1. Your subject matter - the tangible reality. It's a book about a zoo or a circus or whatever.
  2. The thread - a line of thought that runs through the entire story - bravery, perhaps.
  3. The thesis - what you think about the thread summed up in a single sentence. Fools rush in? A brave man only dies once?

And finally you get to work on structure:

  1. Stasis - everyday life where the tale begins
  2. Trigger - an event of any kind which is beyond the control of the main character and starts the story rolling.
  3. Quest - generated by the trigger
  4. Surprise - otherwise known as 'get out of that one'. Conflict made concrete, always moving the story forward.
  5. Critical path - to continue on her quest, the main character has to decide how to deal with the problem. This will reveal what kind of person she is.
  6. Climax - the decision made manifest. The pattern can be minor (scenes), major (acts) or grand (the story as a whole). If the surprise was a burglar breaking in, the decision would be flight or fight, and the climax would be shooting the intruder.
  7. Reversal - the surprise/decision and climax must make the main character's life be different (fairy tale poor to rich) otherwise why should we care? Aristotle talks about 'spectacle' otherwise known as 'bring on the dancing elephants.' Why are some car chases boring and others not?
  8. Resolution - plots must have causality and result in significant change in order to satisfy. Here we need a fresh stasis that result directly from the main character's actions.

I find subplots difficult to craft. Watts says that they can be used to slow down the main plot and they should involve minor characters who circle the main character with spotlights, showing aspects of them that we otherwise wouldn't see, and the story should resonate with the main plot or, in the case of comedy, directly contradict it. Which book is this? The main plot charts the rise and rise of the hero, but all the subplots chronicle disaster after disaster.

When it comes to description and exposition, Watts says readers are interested in the truth of a thing, not piles of dull detail. Readers make pictures in their minds - if you write 'tree' they will picture a tree drawn from their knowledge, so if you then add that it was an elm tree, they have to unmake their picture and accept yours - and Watts warns that readers hate that. If you are going to be specific, give the details first. Say: 'I was there and it was like this.'

He also advises using stage make up and gestures. I once watched an interview with an actor who'd won an Oscar for a performance he kept thinking was over the top. He said, 'I kept asking the director if I should tone it down a bit. I thought I'd get panned for being a ham.' It's an interesting line, because that can happen, but too much veracity is dull. I've been asked to tone books down, but they have been bought, so probably too much is better than too little because anything dull comes winging back with a note saying: 'not for us.'

There is tons more good stuff in this book and it's one I would recommend.