Those Were The Days My Friend

‘I thought they’d never end’, (Mary Hopkin)

Once the new year celebrations were finished and we had all regrouped at Romaniac HQ, we found ourselves reflecting over the past 12 months, taking stock of how far we had come and how far we still had to go with our writing careers. Naturally, the conversation turned to how it all began. Not surprisingly, our love affair with writing began at an early age for us all and we took a trip down Memory Lane, thinking of the influences and experiences that have shaped us. We thought we would share our nostalgia with you.

We would, of course, love to know where your writing aspirations began and what your memories of that time are.

Laura 1979 - 1980

Laura: The late seventies and early eighties are the years I remember well. I loved music, and I became aware of the world around me. 1979 was the year of the UK’s first female Prime Minister, in Margaret Thatcher - that was a big deal, especially for women. We lived under the threat of nuclear war, there were bombings in Nothern Ireland, Sid Vicious was found dead from a heroin overdose, and China introduced their One Child Policy. As a twelve-year-old, I worried about how the world would survive. I yearned for the power to put everything right. I was going to be a doctor, or a child psychologist. Maybe a speech therapist – something that helped. Failing that, I’d entertain – become a singer. I realised songs were miniature stories and became fascinated with rhymes, patterns and words. I loved reading, but looking back, my love for writing began through songs.

The world changed during my formative years. Whether or not one agreed with Thatcher’s policies, women had a positive role model. I loved Blake’s 7, a Sci-Fi programme with a strong female character in Cally, Gloria Gaynor was belting out I Will Survive, and my mother, bless her, by this point in my life, was a single parent, who had successfully secured a mortgage in her name alone. Not easy. Is it possible these childhood factors led me to writing issue-driven romances, with strong female characters? By producing stories, my desire to entertain is fulfilled, my love for words is put to work, and I create my own worlds where ultimately, everything will be all right.

I’m beginning to think it was inevitable I would become a writer.

sue 1982

1983

Sue: Being roughly the same age as Laura, I can identify with all the things she mentions above. The early 80′s saw me knocking on the door of my teenage years when I was living in a rural village and had a very free rein on what I did with my time. All the local kids used to hang around together, but to be fair, that didn’t actually amount to many – put it this way, in my year at school there were only three girls and six boys. I look back on those days with fondness as age didn’t really come into it and we all mucked in together. Sometimes we’d have a big game of football or cricket, other times we would swim/paddle in the river or generally hang out, usually at the bridge. I’m not sure what the attraction of the bridge was, but we spent an awful lot of time just congregating there. Having said that, living in a small rural community did mean it often had its dull moments and my answer to the boredom was to take myself off somewhere far more exciting via a good book, courtesy of the mobile library which visited us once a fortnight.

Me with my eldest brother circa 1973.

Me with my eldest brother circa 1973.

With regards to the larger world outside of this Cambridgeshire village, I have very clear memories of things like Shopper bikes for girls, Chopper bikes for the boys, Bermuda shorts, Haircut 100, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Ultravox, Grange Hill, Crackerjack (‘It’s five to five and it’s Crackerjack!’), Why Don’t You, using a cassette player to try to record the Top 40 on a Sunday evening, deciding I’d give up on my dream of marrying Nick Skelton and set my sights on Adam Ant instead. It was around about this time I received a Silver Reed typewriter for Christmas and began typing up my stories; making them into books; illustrating them and designing the cover. Today, I am still trying to do pretty much the same thing (although the Adam Ant dream has gone the same way as the Nick Skelton one).

Jan: The late seventies evoke such fond memories for me too. We had lots of children living down our road and a great crew of us would play in the street (not nearly so many cars to worry about then!) racing each other up the road when we heard the tinkle of the ice cream van. We had a huge street party for the Queen’s silver jubilee celebrations with long trestle tables groaning under the weight of food and fizz. One of the neighbours set up some speakers in their hallway and played DJ for the duration, blaring out the likes of Abba and Stevie Wonder. I can remember our milkman and postman turning up, flares swishing, and hardly recognising the pair of them out of uniform. They were doing the rounds; such was the camaraderie amongst everyone in the area.

This is me in the early seventies, clearly deciding I wanted to try on my cousin’s Cub cap & tie!

I always took an interest in anything creative at school, from writing stories and poetry, to singing in school choirs and auditioning for Christmas and end of term plays. I can see my Dad now, three rows back, big cheesy grin on his face, trying to make my best friend (a notorious giggler) and I laugh, Mum nudging his elbow and giving him “the look”. Ever since those days, I’ve loved writing in all its forms, so to now be working on my debut novel really is one of my dreams come true.

Celia: Well, I’m a little bit…ok, quite a lot…older than the other Romaniacs, so my teenage and pre teen memories go back to the earlier seventies. By the time the redoubtable Mrs T was in her element and nuclear war was threatening, I was a young mum, panic stricken at the world I’d brought my daughters into but not really quite ready to be sensible. On a more cheerful note, I remember oodles of Motown (still can’t help dancing to ‘Needle in a Haystack’, in fact I brought the New Year in to it), lusting after Roger Daltrey, The Osmonds – all of them, I wasn’t a fussy teenager – and David Bowie. I was sure David, Marc Bolan, Freddie Mercury and Elton John were straight, and I’m still not convinced otherwise, so don’t try to mess with my dreams, ok? My favourite songs, as with Laura, inspired my writing, in fact my first book had song words at the start of every chapter. They took me ages to choose. Shame the book itself was so awful, really.

The past year has been a roller coaster ride for me. The downs were a very long way down but the highs were incredible, and I am so grateful to the Romaniacs for being there with me. Group hug? Left over mince pie anyone?

Debbie; Ahhh, the seventies. What lovely memories my fellow Romaniacs have evoked. It was a happy, carefree time for me as it was for many children back then, (other than bread strikes and having to queue at the stand pipes for water.)

I remember long hot summers, days that never ended, going off on my Raleigh Shopper bike (I had one Sue) with my ‘cozzie’ rolled up in a towel alongside some limp sandwiches in the front basket to the local park where there was a paddling pool. The rest of the time I’d be in the back garden, playing in my Wendy house, making ‘perfume’ from rose petals and lavender crushed in a couple of coconut shells with water added until it became a putrid mush. I also remember spending hours alone in my bedroom with my dolls and teddies playing teachers, being a Librarian, or pretending to do book signings. It’s strange now, looking back how I even comprehended that writers wrote and signed books at that age, but I remember it clearly. All my solitary activities revolved around books. As well as the pretend ‘classroom,’ the library and book signing, I spent hours in the bedroom simply reading and sometimes writing my own little stories.

It was, as they say, written in the stars, that I might pursue a career in writing…M3391M-1010

Tuesday Chit Chat with Anna Jacobs

Good morning to all!
It is my privilege to be joined by the prolific international and award winning writer, Anna Jacobs today.

Welcome, Anna. I hope it’s not too early for you (or is that late over there in Australia?) Anyway, pull up a chair and make yourself at home. I’ve been looking forward to this. I’ll get the chocolate croissants out and put the kettle on. What’s it to be – tea, coffee, herbal – how do you usually start your day?

I’m happy to be here, Debbie. We’re eight hours ahead of the UK here in Australia, which makes it ‘interesting’ to do business sometimes. I don’t mind very early mornings, as I wake at 5am bright and alert, but by 7pm I’m getting tired. Oh, how I’d love a chocolate croissant. Sadly, I’ve become cereal intolerant (not just wheat) so can’t have croissants any longer. And I’m a low calorie cordial girl. I’ve never in my life drunk tea/coffee or even herbal, because they taste so bitter.

I start my day by tiptoeing out of the bedroom and leaving my husband in peace, then stroll across the house to my office where I’m queen of the quiet morning world inside and out. I love that time of day. I then answer my emails, which come from all over the world.

The Romaniacs and I would like to congratulate you on your latest publication, The Trader’s Dream. How has the launch been?

Thank you for your kind words. The Trader’s Dream has gone bravely out into the world and is selling well, which means people are wanting to read it, which is what matters most to me. Strangely, I’ve never had an actual book launch, even though my 60th novel comes out next year. I know regular readers have been waiting eagerly for the next Trader book. This is No 3 and No 4 (The Trader’s Gift) is written and in preparation at my publisher’s, but I haven’t even begun to write the last book in the series yet.

With all the books you’ve written over the years you must have seen many changes in the marketing side of things since you first set out on the path to publication. How do you feel about self-promotion and the different hats a writer must wear in today’s market? Do you find self-promotion daunting?

I don’t find it daunting to do promotion, but I wish I didn’t have to spend so much time on it, because I’d far rather write more stories. However, people are so nice when I give talks, etc, that I end up enjoying myself. It’s nice to get out of the house sometimes.

I didn’t do any promotion when I was first published. My publisher did a few things without me. Now, I do guest blogs, run a readers’ email newsletter (approximately monthly) and have a huge website.

What started you off down the road as a writer and how long did it take you from concept of your first novel to publication?

LOL, I got the idea for my first novel on my way to book my wedding, way back when. My mother and I were sitting on the top of a double-decker bus, and saw a narrow little back street in Oldham called Salem Street. I wondered what the people were like who first lived there. My story is about imaginary people in a similar street, of course. I didn’t write it for twenty years, but I never forgot the idea. That turned out to be Salem Street the novel, which was published in 1994 and is still going into reprints, I’m delighted to say. It wasn’t my first novel published, but it was my first ‘real’ idea for a story.

I started telling myself stories when I was two. I guess it was born in me. When I wrote my first novel seriously, not just dabbling, it took me two years to finish it and it didn’t get published for another ten years, after a major rewrite. Writers’ early skills aren’t always up to scratch, and they need to write a lot to practise, just as an athlete can’t do the Olympics without a great deal of training.

 You’re very supportive of new writers and an active member of the RNA. If you could give one piece of advice for a wannabe writer, what would it be?

Don’t rush out and self-publish your first novel as an ebook. Keep it for later and write another. Most first novels are learning pieces and you’ll probably cringe when you read yours in a few years. But you’ll have better skills to polish it later, so it won’t be wasted. Think of writing as a long-term career, identifying and developing the skills needed, preparing yourself in every way possible. Editors don’t do this for writers nowadays; you’ll have to do it yourself.

Having read MANY (it must be over twenty) of your historical/saga books, I think I could pick up any without a cover and know it’s you who’d written it. Looking back to your first novels; Persons of Rank (1992) and the first of your sagas, Salem Street (1994) how would you say your writing style has developed?

I’m glad you’re enjoying my books. Do you know, my husband and daughters say exactly the same thing, that they could recognise my ‘voice’ as a writer anywhere. I think my writing style has become more polished, though, and I write shorter books.

My first book published was ‘Persons of Rank’, a regency romance in the style of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. I wrote it for fun, but I didn’t continue in that genre.

I write shorter stories these days that dive straight into the action. No more 140,000 word tales, but 80-100,000. I think I craft the story better and get my point across more skilfully. But there’s always something to learn or improve where novel writing is concerned, which keeps me interested.

I also write modern novels these days. A story recently published is one of my own favourites: ‘Winds of Change’. The paperback should be out soon for that.  

To what extent has the RNA helped you?

I was already published when I joined, but the companionship has been invaluable – and please don’t undervalue that. I live in a small country town in Western Australia, one of the most isolated ‘advanced’ countries on earth. It’s even a long way from the rest of Australia! It’s a lonely life anyway, writing, but more so when you’re a long way away from meetings, etc.

The other good thing from the RNA is that I can keep in better touch with the UK publishing industry via the people on the chat list and via other things the organisation offers. That is so helpful.

You seem very much a family person. That must have meant a fair bit of juggling; writing, managing home and family, and I read that you have several health problems, including M.E and Arthritis. Over the years how have you managed to do it all, and to produce three books a year, especially living with chronic illness?

Family are the most important of all. I love mine very much.
You can live with chronic illness and ignore/manage it, or you can sink into a self-pitying heap. I’m not letting anything stop me from writing, so I push problems into the background. Anyway, the ME is well under control these days, thanks to an innovative group of doctors here who treat patients by rebalancing the body chemistry. Mine was haywire. The ME only shows up when I’m stressed, and I get fuzzy brained, so I avoid stress as much as possible. Arthritis happens to most of us as we grow older, so really, it proves that I’m doing well! I’m still on the right side of the grass! And I’m still writing. I don’t need to be fit enough to run races – well, I never was sportingly active. Pitiful is the best way of describing me trying to catch or hit a ball.

I understand you live some of the time in Australia, and the northern hemisphere summers in Wiltshire. What took you to Australia? And do you tend to write differently or have different projects on the go, depending on what part of the world you’re in, or write for different markets?

We emigrated to Australia for a better life – the usual tale – and also for me to avoid snow, which I hate with a passion. But it’s lovely to enjoy both countries – as long as it doesn’t snow in summer in the UK.

We’d wanted a holiday home in the UK for a long time, but couldn’t find something it was safe to leave for half the year. Then one day I found a leisure village in Wiltshire, sent my sister along from Bristol to look at it, and she said it looked good. We bought a block and ordered a house the next day. It sounds impulsive, but we’d been looking for years and knew exactly what we wanted.

When I’m in the UK, it’s harder to find as much writing time, as I have a sister there, and my husband has a brother and sister. So we socialise more frequently. But being there also helps with my research and with getting in the UK mood for my modern novels, which are set in both Australia and the UK. The experience of living in two countries enhances our lives greatly and we both love it. Mind you, I try to write my historical novels in Australia, as I have my big reference library there, and my modern stories in the UK. But it isn’t always possible.

I hear you’re as big a reader as a writer. What’s on the bedside cabinet and do you read alongside when you’re plotting and writing?

I read three novels a week. What I don’t read much is sagas, since I spend two-thirds of the year writing them. Enough is enough. I read a lot of modern novels, especially by American authors like Robyn Carr and Sherryl Woods, who write such warm complex tales of families and friends.

I like reading cosy mysteries – Miss Marple type, not gruesome or super-violent ones. I think Jacqueline Winspear is my favourite writer of these, but I like Lillian Stewart Carl’s gentle Scottish mysteries too.

The Trader’s Dream, your latest book is almost your sixtieth novel!  And you write three novels a year. How do you work it – do you have more than one book at a time on the go, and how do you keep coming up with all these ideas?

I can’t write more than one book at a time, so I just work till I’ve finished one. I prefer to write every day, to keep ‘inside’ the story. I could push myself and write four novels a year, but I have a life outside writing, so I don’t. I have a gorgeous husband, two daughters, son-in-law and grandson, and some very lovely friends.

I find it refreshing to write different types of book. For instance, though I write historical novels for two of my three publishers, one requires novels set in Australia and the other isn’t allowed that, so I set them mainly in Wiltshire. My modern novels can be set in either country.
As for ideas, they well up all the time. I wish I could write faster to keep up with them.

I used to write fantasy novels as Shannah Jay and I miss that, but there are only so many hours in the day. My Shannah Jay novels are on sale from my website, by the way.

Oh, and I’ll never be remembered for my dusting or ironing, as I don’t do such silly activities. I was born without any domestic genes and pay other wonderful people to do those chores. I’d rather write.

  The third in your Traders series, what’s The Trader’s Dream about?

Bram Deagan dreams of bringing his family from Ireland to join him in Australia, where he now runs a successful trading business. But when a typhus epidemic strikes Ireland, it leaves the Deagan family decimated. And, with other members of the family scattered round the world, there is only Maura Deagain left to look after her orphaned nieces and nephew.

Forced to abandon her own ambitions, and unsure whether she is ready to become a mother figure to three young children, Maura recognises that their only hope is to join Bram in far-away Australia. So they set sail on the SS Delta, which will carry them there, via the newly opened Suez Canal.

It is only when a storm throws her and fellow passenger Hugh Beaufort together that Maura realises this journey may also give her a chance to realise a dream she set aside years ago – to have a family of her own. That is, until someone from Hugh’s past threatens to jeopardise everything.

 
I’ve waited ten years to write a story with the background of the opening of the Suez Canal. It was such a fascinating event. You can find out more about the story and the research behind it, and read the first chapter, on my website at www.annajacobs.com

There are no doubt other projects already in the pipeline. So what’s next?…

I have already written Book 4 in the Traders – The Trader’s Gift. There will be five in all.
I have a modern novel coming out at the end of January. A Place of Hope is set on the moors just outside Littleborough, Lancashire, and is on one of my favourite themes – people making new lives for themselves. People of all ages do this all the time in real life and I’ve found it leads to some fascinating tales in fiction.

And I’m just starting a new series of Wiltshire sagas. I’m having fun setting up a tale that will cover three books.

I tell myself, one day, if I ever get that book deal, I’m going to employ a cleaner and gardener! Finally, as such a successful and prolific writer, you’re in the enviable position that you must earn a reasonable living for it to be your main ‘day’ job. What little perks or ‘luxuries’ has writing afforded you?

Writing has paid for our second home in England, because we’ve always been moderately careful with money. Writing allows me to buy any book that takes my fancy – to me, that’s riches.

I’m not much interested in jewellery or fashion, especially not the ‘daft’ fashions like walking on stilts that some women are doing these days. They call them shoes, I call them stilts, and don’t they give the wearers an awkward, ungainly gait, like limping camels!

We’re not rich but it’s nice that we’re comfortable enough to be able to pay school fees for our grandson. I do most truly believe in education, because your brain is what guides you through life, so it needs good training and exercise because it’s going to have a lot to cope with over they years. I love that my own writing means research and creativity, which means keeping my brain alive.

Well, I guess we’re coming to the end of our time together … unless you’d like to stay for lunch? …

I’d love to stay for lunch. LOL. But you’d have to get a list of my food allergies first. Drives me mad. I love that there are lots of Indian restaurants in England, and pub lunches with jacket potatoes, because I can’t do bread/pasta stuff.

Oh, I can imagine that must be tricky for you. I can’t imagine a life without pasta!  

Anna, my mum, best friend and her mum are also huge fans. I’ve already bought my copy of The Trader’s Dream and suspect if we meet any time soon, I shall have to buy a few copies of your latest novel and ask you to do a mass signing.

I’m happy to sign books any time. If you’re ever in Wiltshire . . .

Thank you. I might just take you up on that. I do hope we get to meet you one of these days. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your hectic schedule to be our guest today. We wish you every success with your current novel and, of course, all those still to come…

Anna Jacobs is published mainly as Anna Jacobs, writing historical sagas and modern novels alternately. Some books are set in the UK, others in Australia, or both countries. She used to write fantasy novels as Shannah Jay and these are available again as ebooks.

You can find Anna at:

Web address: http://www.annajacobs.com/

Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/pages/Anna-Jacobs/190765660967982?fref=ts

Buy the latest book here on Amazon Or The Book Depository also send books anywhere in the world, postage free: http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/Traders-Dream-Anna-Jacobs/9781444711318

And January’s book, A Place of Hope is now listed here on Amazon, available for pre-order.

If you’re interested in being kept up to date with information about Anna’s books, you can sign up for her email newsletter. You’ll receive news approximately every 4-6 weeks and be the first to hear the news of coming books and what she’s currently writing.

To join click on:  Join email newsletter  and send a blank email.

Sound the Trumpets!

We’re many things here at Romaniac HQ: Zany, Dotty, Forthright, to name a few. We’ll let you add your own description below, but we have another to add to the list. And this one deserves capitalisation. ‘Cause here at Romaniac HQ, it turns out we’re TALENTED! Last Friday we found out that not one, not two, but SIX of us have been shortlisted for the Festival of Romance New Talent Award. We’ve been slightly blindsided by the whole thing. We’ve started talking faster than usual, carrying out spontaneous bursts of dance and repeating using Victor Meldrew’s line: ‘I don’t believe it!’ Here are our shortlisted first chapters. We’re adding them here in the hope it’ll sink in:

Little Boxes by Celia Anderson

Once Upon A… Secret by Sue Fortin

Follow Me by Laura James

Baby Number Two by Catherine Miller

The Perfect Life List by Vanessa Savage

Smiling Through The Pain by Debbie White

Celia, Laura, Sue, Debbie, Catherine & Vanessa

We’re all delighted to have been shortlisted and looking forward to cheering on the authors from the other grown-up categories as well as cheering on the New Talent winners.

If you’re interested in setting up an online group like this one, The Romaniacs will be giving a talk about it on the Sunday at The Festival of Romance. Our group sprung up from the FOR last year and I think we can safely say the support and encouragement we give each other seems to be working.

We’d also like to make a disclaimer. If perchance one of us does get selected for a mention at the gala dinner, we cannot be held responsible for our actions. We’d also appreciate it if you could withhold from video recording the fainting/crying/whooping/fainting again and placing it on You Tube.

Fingers crossed until then,

Catherine x

PS: We’re scraping modest from our list of qualities. Well, it’s not often this kind of thing happens!

Join me…on 42nd Street!

Shhh… Today is my birthday…

I intend the celebration to be somewhat muted. Except tonight. Tonight I’m going to the theatre to see 42nd Street.

And as I tread over to the wrong side of fifty I can’t help wondering why I find the theatre such an entrancing place to spend an evening. Is it simply the romantic novelist in me or am I in good company?

Since I was a young girl I’ve always loved musicals. I enjoy ballet, opera and plays too but particularly love musical theatre with the combination of songs, spoken dialogue, acting, and dance. It’s been fun over the years – impersonating a nun to go and see the Sound of Music and wearing a Basque and heavy eye-liner to join the camp frivolities of the Rocky Horror Show. Nevertheless, it’s dressing up to the nines which gives me most pleasure and perhaps it’s because I can’t afford to go very often that it’s a treat when I do.

Even thinking of theatre buildings evokes my romantic side, from Amphitheatres, introduced by the Romans and Elizabethan timber-framed open-air theatres to the modern day Art Deco splendour of the RSC Stratford or the Barbican in London. However, my most memorable experiences of theatre stem from my time as a young girl at the wonderful City Varieties in Leeds. (Some of you may remember it as home of the BBC television programme, ‘The Good Old Days,’ a recreation of old-time music hall.)

Imagine the musical halls you’ve read about in stories; an intimate, doll’s house interior; rectangle shaped with boxes separated by cast-iron columns along the sides at circle level; seats and plinths covered in plush red fabric and gold gilt; swags of red velvet curtains everywhere; illuminated interiors showing off dramatic, sculptural decoration; carved plaster forms conveying deep shadows and pronounced surfaces; the rich sitting apart from the rest of the audience in prominent box positions enabling them to be seen and admired in all their finery and jewellery – the ladies in their long evening gloves, opera glasses posed to look at performers more closely and fanning themselves to keep cool in the heat of the theatre…

You see, I told you I was a romantic when it comes to the theatre!

I’m pleased to say Leeds City Council and the Lottery must be too as the music hall recently underwent a £9.9million refurbishment to preserve the Grade II listed theatre that was built in 1865. They have preserved it, largely unchanged.

Photo courtesy of City Varieties, Leeds

Since I’ve embarked on my writing ‘apprenticeship’ I find it interesting the parallels (as well as the differences) between the written book and plays or musical theatre.

When reading, we only take in one impression at a time. In the theatre, however, we respond simultaneously to the words, the movement of the actors, their expressions, their voices, the silences, the sound effects, the lighting, the scenery, the costumes, the gestures, the groupings of characters, the rhythms, the space, the atmosphere, and so on. All elements carefully selected, unified, and honed by the collaborative effort of actors, director, playwright, designers, and technicians.

The principals of a good book and a good production are much the same because the first job of every play or book – musical or not – is to tell a good story. In the same way as a novel, a musical book must keep the story line clear and easy to follow, create characters that are easy to relate to, without resorting to stereotypes.

If you’ve seen a musical, you’ll be familiar with the two-act format with an intermission in the middle. There’s a common theme through them all when I think about it…

With Little Orphan Annie, we’re left wondering if she’ll find her long lost parents. Les Miserables, you can’t help musing how will the many characters we’ve met in Act One get through the imminent revolution. And as Liza Doolittle dances off with the scheming linguist Zoltan Karparthy in My Fair Lady, will her secret be exposed and Professor Higgins’ work ruined?

The first act does not have to end with a cliff-hanger, but we’re curious to see what happens next and want to return to our seats to watch Act Two. It’s much the same when we write – we try to hook or make a page turner at the end of each chapter and encourage our reader to continue.

The end of Act Two is even more important. It is what audiences walk out with, and a powerful final scene can make up for a lot of shortcomings earlier in the show. Having a great song helps – many shows reprise their strongest ballad – but in the same way as the book writer wants to pack a punch at the end, bring everything to a satisfactory conclusion and tie up all the ends, the play/musical writer must structure the production so that the last scene packs a genuine wallop.

For example, thinking back to orphan Annie, can you not help but cheer when her long-lost pooch, Sandy pops out of a gift box on Christmas morning. And is there not a tear in your eye when the Von Trapps escape to freedom over the Alps as a chorus of nuns sing “Climb Every Mountain” in the Sound of Music?

Over the years, as the discerning theatre goer has expected more, so musicals have adapted and nature rules the stage in all of its often tempestuous glory. More and more plays and musicals have become a kind of melodrama. The theatre goer wants to be convinced. The play and set up have evolved to present an illusion of reality with moveable props and scenery, flying, trap doors etc.

More and more focus has centred on characters, just the same with writing novels. We have to like the main characters. We have to care. There’s usually a main protagonist who’s strong of character and often succeeded because he or she was true to his or her feelings or gut emotion. It’s always clear in a melodrama who’s good, what is good and who and what is bad or evil. With the most popular theatre, there’s generally a sense of poetic justice: good guys win, bad guys are defeated. Even if a good guy dies or whatever, he or she still manages to make the world right.

For me, what makes good musical theatre is the soul and heart a performer puts into the performance. Top of my list is Phantom of the Opera, closely followed by Les Miserables. Isn’t it the same when writing a novel? The best novels are written from the heart, with soul, with a huge dollop of romanticism..

So what’s your favourite musical theatre performance?

Debbie

xx

Through the Wilderness

I think a lot. Some might say I’m a serial over-thinker with my tendencies to analyse, deliberate, cogitate, and ruminate.

My brain hardly ever shuts down. Even when I go to sleep, I’m prone to stirring through the night and once awake, my head whirs into action and off I go again, mulling over the day or the day to come, fretting about my personal life or on occasions, a character or scene from my WIP robs me of sleep.

Having been paralysed by writer’s block for the last eighteen months I became hung up on that and spent countless hours considering how to overcome my inability to write. Somehow, I managed to get a partial in to the NWS for the deadline and last week I received the most supportive and positive feedback imaginable back from my ‘Reader.’ I’ve already made the suggested tweaks on the submitted chapters. My reader helped re-affirm that I can write and how much I want to be published, so much so, that their words of encouragement made me take a step back and re-evaluate what I’m going to do to get there. After all, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” And the solution came as somewhat of an epiphany while I was out walking the pup a few days ago…

I realised that instead of thinking about writing all the time, rather than the actual writing, and allowing the other personal and domestic matters to interrupt my creative flow and frazzle my brain, I need to get a grip, free my mind and do what writer’s do – WRITE!

There is plenty of time for thinking when I’m in the bath, swimming, driving or out walking the dog. I need to compartmentalise my time. And I need to stop procrastinating! So I intend trying, if I can, to use the ‘dead’ time, like when I’m swimming my lengths, to benefit my writing ideas – maybe mull over characters or scenes. Then, seeing as some of my best work is done when I’m ‘at one’ with nature, I’m going to make the most of that too.

I’m blessed to live where I do. Being a huge countryside and nature lover, there is something about gazing at a sunset…

…and the stars at night and seeing the combines make tracks in the field. Walking the puppy in the rain and clomping along. Studying the birds on the bird table. They all inspire me. The trouble is, despite having a view to die for and all of these things around me daily, there are too many distractions. Like for example, my eldest son blasting out music or playing the Xbox if he’s not working a shift, or the neighbours popping their heads over the hedge for a natter, or the housework.

So guess what I’ve been doing for the last couple of weeks which seems to be working?

I’ve taken to getting in the car and driving to a peaceful place for some solitude. It’s a National Trust valley with lunar views of the South Shropshire Hills and a babbling brook only a few minutes drive from where I live. My car loaded with all the essentials – a fold up chair, blanket, water, my laptop, fingerless gloves in case it’s cold – I set up and write for a few hours without no interruptions except an occasional sheep or hiker walking past. If it’s too windy or rainy, like it is as I write this blog, I sit in the car, push the seat back and perch my laptop on my lap. No internet, no mobile phone connections, no people, no noise. No thinking. Just writing.

My own little outside office.

Perfect.

Yes, it may sound a little extreme and my friends would think me eccentric if they knew, (but then they probably know I am already!) but so far, it seems to be working. Even if it is only short-term or until the weather gets too cold to sit in the car, I’m being productive now.

It won’t be easy. Fear of Writer’s block hasn’t left me, and how do I find time and space in the day when I’m (to all intents) a single parent. Mummy duties, being a taxi driver, head chef, gardener etc have to be worked around if I’m going to get my novel re-written and off to the agent who’s waiting to see it. This will require all my powers of determination and being more single-minded. And if it doesn’t work, I may have to re-think…

So where do you do your writing ‘thinking’ time? And do you ever find you have to get away from it all in order to focus.

Debbie

xx

How to ‘find yourself’ on-line dating

The last time I dated, I was a fickle fifteen year old, snogging a different boy at youth club every week.

It’s tough being a middle aged, mother of two, starting out on the dating scene again. For starters, where am I supposed to meet a new man when the highlight of my week is a trip to the supermarket or the local Parish Council meeting? And another thing; do I really want to subject myself to all the treading on eggshells, getting to know each other business that goes with the whole dating malarkey?

A few good friends and my brother found their partners on-line and encouraged me to have a try, saying the worst that might happen is I won’t find ‘the one,’ but I might have some nice coffees, or meals, and some decent male company, and it might make me feel alive again!

Put like that it didn’t seem a bad idea. I knew what I wanted and definitely what I didn’t want! I felt ready for the next stage of my journey and hadn’t given up on the possibility of finding love again altogether. And so I decided it might be good to see if I could find some ‘virtual’ company to while away the long, lonely evenings when the boys had gone to bed.

A few months down the line and it’s been interesting to say the least. On-line dating doesn’t have the stigma it used to these days. It’s safe, private, you simply punch in your pre-requisites, how far you’re prepared to travel and ‘search’ to find your ideal matches. The computer does the rest for you.

It’s been a bit of a roller coaster if I’m honest. It’s certainly not for the faint-hearted. Self-promotion goes with the territory for a writer but it’s a different story altogether selling yourself to a man, highlighting your good points and trying to make yourself sound vibrant, funny and stand out from the crowd.

When I first started, there were times when it felt quite gloomy, scrolling down the laptop at endless profiles of Hagrid look-alikes or topless men, half-blinded by the flash as they pointed their mobiles phones in the bathroom mirror. And you’ve never seen so many men who want to straddle their motorbikes or proudly show off their polishing prowess on their Ford Capri’s.

It can be daunting, mustering the bravery to send your photo to some gorgeous guy who you never hear from again or chatting to someone on-line several times only to find they disappear as quickly as they showed up. However, other times, I’ve found the whole psychology of it fascinating. On-line dating is like doing the lottery. It has to be fate or serendipity that makes your cursor hover over a particular profile that on first appearance has no photo and no written profile other than the basics. And how does it happen that a guy who lives a few hundred miles away finds you when he was looking for someone in a twenty mile radius of his home and ten years younger? One of my friends found her husband on-line and discovered he only lived a few streets away!

It’s hard to know what makes us connect with a particular person. I confess. When I first started, I admit I probably viewed most men as a prospective husband. However, I’ve had messages from men I’d probably never have contacted myself yet they somehow found me and turned out to be lovely and within no time we’re messaging each other most days. Now, I simply enjoy the company and since I’ve made some friends along the way, my pre-conceptions and ‘ideal’ criteria have fallen by the way-side.  Lots of men share the same values as me and can make me laugh and if nothing more, it proves that genuine and lovely men do still exist.

In the same way each of my friends give me different things, I’ve found different qualities appeal. It’s not necessarily a physical attraction that makes me connect with someone. I’m not shallow, so looks-wise as long as they’re somewhere between Shrek and Brad Pitt, I’m happy. Sometimes I find the lure of an open, sensitive face irresistible , or soulful eyes draw me over the laptop screen. Then there’s the clown who makes me laugh out loud with a funny quip, or someone has something in his profile that strikes a chord. I’ve even had a couple who have written me poetry!

It’s funny how you find people. People come into our lives for a reason. Some stick around. Some flit out again; butterfly friends. They all teach us something, if we’re open enough to learn from them… because one thing’s for sure, you can’t find your soul-mate if you haven’t found yourself…

Ahh, I can hear you all asking – have I found any soul-mate prospects?

It struck me in a very short space of time that about ninety percent of men on the site mentioned the ‘S’ word. Finding a soul-mate to spend the next twenty-three years with may prove harder. It’s what most of us on the site are probably searching for, and yes, I’ll let you in on a secret. There is one potential but we’ve only been on one (nine and a half hour!) date so far.

The trouble is, it’s not just about finding ‘the one.’ The timing has to be right too. For both parties. It’s important to be about the same distance along your journey. And then there’s the distance in miles, and all the practical stuff, like kids, and homes, and lives. Hey, I told you this dating malarkey is a lottery.

On-line dating is somehow symbolic. It’s as if by registering, you’re declaring to yourself, ‘It’s time to move on. I’m ready.’ Of course some of us are, and some of us aren’t ready. Yet. It’s progress. Baby steps. Giant leaps. It’s as much about finding yourself as it is finding a new relationship. Time will tell and I promise to keep you all posted!

In the meantime, I’d love to hear how you met your ‘soul-mate’ and especially if you have experiences (or tips) for on-line dating!

Come on then, spill the beans. This is the stuff of books, you know! I’m certainly enjoying the research and storing up some of the material…

Debbie

xx

Dear Writers. Can you help?

Dear fellow writers and friends

I have a conundrum. A crippling problem that seems impossible to overcome, try as I might, these last months.

It appears I’m suffering a huge dose of writers block. No, not just some temporary glitch in creativity. It’s a ruddy great chasm that’s growing bigger every time I look.

Other than the occasional blog or two, the most writing I’ve done lately is to complete the application to send to Jan Jones for the RNA Summer Party! Yes, this is serious and that’s why I’m here, appealing – no, pleading – for help and advice.

It seems these days I’m more barren than rain in winter or a tree in February, yet despite my over-analysing tendencies, the reason isn’t clear. You’d think I should be flying through the re-write of my WIP, knowing an agent (Jane Judd) is waiting to see my full MS following last year’s Festival of Romance New Talent Awards. Maybe that’s the trouble. Maybe I’ve become so intimidated by the thought that an agent of this calibre might want to see my novel, it’s putting me under pressure to create some sort of giant masterpiece and has interrupted my flow of creative juices.

Perhaps it’s the other stuff that’s going on in my life at the moment that have contributed to my lack of self-belief or confidence. With divorce imminent and on-going health problems, it’s hardly surprising my pen doesn’t flow freely. My writer friends humour me, telling me writing will be my salvation and a distraction. I might even find it cathartic, but bottom line is; it’s not happening, it hasn’t been for months and if anything, it’s getting worse.

You may think these are excuses for the weak, un-disciplined and un-motivated but I promise you, I used to be the most motivated, disciplined person ever. So where has it gone?

This is my third full re-write of this WIP and I won’t give up but I don’t have chance to let it rest in a drawer for a few weeks. I can’t give up, knowing I have an agent who wants to read the finished MS. Every day I switch on the laptop, re-read the latest section I was working on and tweak and twiddle. Then I twiddle and tweak a bit more… then delete. Somehow I’ve developed this huge monster who has crippled my fluidity and no matter how many times I try to give myself a good talking to and get a grip, nothing works. In fact in six months, I’m still on chapter three of the re-write and can often spend a whole day on a particular sentence or paragraph, or research, trying to get it right.

I know it’s pathetic, especially considering there are still another thirty chapters to go. Writing is as much about the mind as it is the pen. But how do I conquer whatever’s causing the drought in my writing, and splatter the crows that sit on my shoulders some days, pecking away at my confidence and self-belief, and get it back on track.

Do you have any answers? If you’ve been here, did you feel the same; as if you had forgotten everything you’d learnt about the craft of writing?

A lot about WIP’s is self-belief and I can see my story in the ideal shape and form in my minds eye yet I can’t get it down on the screen or onto paper.

I know what they mean now about a ‘labour of love.’ Should I continue labouring, keep up this persistent modifying in the hope that I’ll seize the very sentence or scene that will inspire me and drag me by the eyeballs to speed across the page, furiously typing away, and progress to the next chapters and beyond. Or should I stop taking myself so seriously, forget about judgements, lighten up, write drivel if necessary, which can then be honed and fine tuned at a later stage. Well, ‘Writer’s Write.’ If only it were that simple.

Come on fellow writers, RNA members, aspiring authors or anyone interested in the creative word. Can you give any advice/snippets to help answer this rookie writer with the question ; is there such a thing as ‘writer’s block?’ And does anyone have any pearls of wisdom on how to push through the pain of re-writes on a WIP?

Yours in hope

Debbie

xx

Hero or Anti-hero? Help me find Mr Right

Well, I thought I’d finish the week as we started it; with a post about ideal men.

I think about men quite a lot these days, obviously when I’m writing, but also because I’ve found myself single again after twenty-two years with someone I thought was Mr Right. After months of sorting practical matters, soul-searching and re-discovering the girl I used to be, I’m coming through the other side. Being an eternal optimist and true romantic I realise not all men are swines or lack scruples and integrity. So here I am; a peri-menopausal, middle-aged old bird, with two sons, a cat and Labrador puppy, about to start contemplating whether I’ll find my ideal man again.

According to friends, I’ll discover him in the most unlikely of places and when I least expect it. If all else fails, Sainsbury’s on Friday night (‘singles night’) is a sure bet. It seems a little drastic to go browsing for more than just food and hit on some poor unsuspecting guy who happens to pass me along the frozen food aisles. What am I meant to do – somehow bump trolleys, check him out while giving the inside of his basket the once over, to see if it’s full of microwave meals for one and thus make him a prospective beau? Really, I’m not that desperate.

I admit; I rather like being single, being able to do as I please. So it’s going to take a rather special man to get me to give up my independence, persuade me to hand over the remote control and switch off the electric blanket that stays on all night if I choose! And just say I did go to the supermarket to pick my ideal man off a shelf. What would he be like? I suppose there are some basic pre-requisites;

-          Somewhere between Shrek and Pierce Brosnan would be good.

-          No grease monkeys – and he must have clean hands and short nails

-          Clean shoes. (Yes, you may laugh but my Nan always told me you can tell a lot from a man by his shoes, and I don’t just mean the size of his feet!)

-          A man with the same values as me

-          A man of integrity

-          Patience and understanding are imperative; especially as it’s probable at our stage in life we’ll both have baggage and children.

-          The ability to make me laugh. Give me laughter over looks any day. Well, dashing good looks, charm and the appeal of an Alpha Male are all well and good if it’s simply going to be a fling or dalliance, but if I want a man to spend the next twenty-two years with, I’ll want one with a bit more substance.

Perhaps it’s my own experiences that have made me more realistic, but I’m not expecting, nor do I particularly want, whisking away by a knight in shining armour on his white horse for a lifetime of happy ever after. I think like many women these days, and certainly the Romantic Novelist, the idea of the predominant Alpha Male has evolved somewhat over the years. We writers focus more on the psychological and spiritual aspect of our heroes in order to make them true to life and want our readers to be intrigued and have sympathy. We’ve developed the structure of a story so the main character has more of a clear character arc and changes throughout the course of the novel, until the climax shows him to be a true hero at last.

Like the hero character of Romance novels, my ideal man will have emotional depth and flaws. Give me a tortured soul over a brave heart any day. Flaws and the complexity of the character are what will hook me and really get hold of my heart. Imagine a man who has the propensity to bruise my heart or make it bleed and truly hurt you…

I know put like that it sounds a frightening prospect and you may think having been hurt already it seems a rather macabre way to look at a potential suitor, but perhaps it illustrates the point better if I tell you the first hero character I fell in love with in a novel was Mr Rochester from Jane Eyre, closely followed by the fathomless, brooding and unforgiving Heathcliffe in Wuthering Heights.

Neither of them might be instantly loveable, yet they both have the ability to grab me by the heart and pull me to them in a heart-stopping, emotion-wrenching, all-consuming kind of way with their complex characters. Mr Rochester might be horribly flawed but I see his vulnerability and forgive him, knowing he is trapped by his predicament in a wretched life.

It’s ironic that by the end Mr Rochester shows he’s the archetypal Alpha male and redeems himself when he saves his mad wife from the attic, in the process losing his house and to the peril of his own well-being. Do you see what I mean? How could I not love him?

Is it simply something that captures my romantic, creative mind about the anti-hero? Or is it the same for you? Don’t we all just love the underdog? And isn’t it the case anyway that lots of men might look perfect from a distance, but beneath it all they are probably an anti-hero, or at any rate a struggling knight-in-the-making. It’s when you get close enough to touch them that their flaws become more obvious, just like the rest of us.

Well, I’d better get back to my quest to find my own terrific hero and happy ending. Perhaps instead of  looking for Mr Right, I’ll try for Mr ‘Right Enough.’ Or maybe I’ll do what was suggested to me by a friend.  She said if I kiss enough frogs, one day I’ll find a Prince!

Bye for now

Debbie xx

 

PS – We’d love to know what your ideal man is like, both in life and the kind you like to read about.

Is it the anti-hero with the troubled persona or the charismatic hero who always gets it right?

 

 

Introducing… Debbie White

Sperm are determined.

And swallows. Look how they fly thousands of miles from South Africa to make a nest and raise a brood in the eaves of our barn just because it’s where they nested last year. It’s their natural instincts to do so. They travel to whatever lengths, face whatever challenges and jump whatever hoops to achieve their goals.

As humans, we’re just as determined in the way we live our lives. Sometimes we’re driven by instinct, although more often by our upbringing, or our own goals and plans for life. My Nan brought me up and taught me the mantra, ‘There’s no such word as Can’t’  from an early age. It’s her legacy that made determination my middle name, so you can imagine how it affected me when I had to retire from my job as a Bank Manager due to ill health when I was only thirty-three.

After spending weeks in hospital over the next couple of years my health stabilised, and I eventually grew bored of watching daytime TV and the continual stream of mum and toddler coffee mornings. I needed something for me; something to strive for, to make me feel alive again. So I started a small business, hand crafting and painting personalised keepsake gifts but a few years later, my health got the better of that too. I hated the thought of giving up again but I couldn’t keep battling the flare-ups in my hands and wrists.

It didn’t take long for the familiar cloak of boredom to weigh heavy on my shoulders again and for my restless brain to crave stimulation. Not being one to sit around moping, I considered doing an Open University course. I’d always fancied myself as a bit of a writer and wished I’d stayed on at school and studied English and been a teacher. But then one day, I came across a notebook in a drawer and I read the pages of a storyline I’d written while on maternity leave with my second son. It was funny, but I’d forgotten all about that notebook.

A little like Gwyneth Paltrow in ‘Sliding Doors,’ do you ever wonder if you’d done one tiny thing different, whether the end result might have changed completely? Well, as I sat and read through the story I’d jotted down it came to life in my mind’s eye and I felt compelled to write it, even though I had no idea how to write or structure a novel. Armed with a copy of Jane Wenham-Jones ‘Wannabe a writer’ I booked myself on an Arvon Course. Now three years down the line, I’ve served a fulfilling apprenticeship learning the craft of writing and am currently on the third re-write of the novel.

Charles Darwin famously said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

Living with an auto-immune disease and being in chronic pain has meant I’ve had to adapt and re-invent myself several times over the years. It’s meant compromising but it doesn’t mean abandoning my dreams. I still have dreams. They are what keep me going some days.

Sometimes I feel like a salmon – another determined little breed – with the constant feeling of swimming against the tide, travelling upstream. However, one thing I do know is I’ll never ever give up.

I have to write. When I don’t, I feel restless and unfulfilled. Writing is the milk in my tea; the fondant on my cup cake, the ice-cream on my jelly. And with the support of my amazing friends and family, the RNA and my wonderful writer friends on the NWS, I know I’ll get there in the end…

Hopefully, you will follow my writer friends and me on our journey.

Until another day

Bye for now

xx