Christmas Past.

James juniors, many years ago.

James juniors, many years ago.

With my daughter and son growing ever closer to independence, and with Christmas drawing near, I find I’m in a reflective mood.

This time last year, I was gearing up for wrist surgery, knowing I’d be spending several weeks in plaster, including the entire festive season. I was called into hospital at short notice, and didn’t have time to do much in the way of preparation for the Big Day, but I needn’t have worried. Gajitman and one of my lovely friends made a beautiful job of wrapping presents, my daughter  baked an incredible gluten-free, vegetarian pie for my Christmas dinner, and with her dad, cooked the entire celebratory meal. My son made sure I was comfortable, and on the day, helped me unwrap my gorgeous gifts.

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I remember our daughter’s first Christmas. She wasn’t old enough to furniture cruise, but had learned to stand and lean. My parents bought her a walker that year. With a crash course in how to use it, she was soon pushing it around the living room. A few years later, it was passed to her baby brother, who was more interested in the mechanics of it. However, not long after establishing what the wheels were for, he was zipping around, careering into sofas, and belly-laughing at his new found, if a little hazardous, sense of freedom.

S

 

I love my children for who they were and who they are now, and wouldn’t want it any other way, but seeing photos of when they were younger evokes strong emotions in me – immense delight and happiness, tinged with a touch of melancholy.

It is a little like being taken back by the ghost of Christmas Past …

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Laura x

 

 

 

 

The Fear. What Does It Mean to You?

DSCF2621I’ve thought long and hard about whether or not to write this post, for two reasons: I’m concerned it could come across as an exercise in tooting on my trumpet, which isn’t the intention, and I’m admitting to something I’m not sure I want to type out loud. However, as a committed Romaniac, and a person who has gained valuable insight from other writers’ honesty, I’m going to put it out there.

I’m listening to Lily Allen’s The Fear, a song from a few years ago, and I’m interested in the thoughts behind the lyrics. Like most cleverly-written songs, it will mean something different to each person, depending on their individual experiences. To me, Lily Allen’s song is about the fear of being sucked into the world of celebrity and materialism.

I’d heard writers talk about the fear, but never understood what it was? Was it a worry the words would dry up? A deep concern the book wouldn’t sell? That your mojo’s having way too much fun sunning itself on the deck to consider returning from its winter cruise?

There’s another option: All of the above. And more.

At the beginning of September, my second Choc Lit novel was sent out into the big, wide world, as a paperback – my first. Follow Me Follow You, an issue-driven romance, went on tour courtesy of my publisher and through Brook Cottage Books.

It was a fantastic, positive experience, with the book receiving incredible reviews which blew my socks off. Follow Me Follow You was selected as an editor’s choice on Lovereading.co.uk  and was one of their featured books for September, Tome Tender Book Blog left me speechless with their wonderful words, and I’ve been overwhelmed by the Amazon reviews.

The book was and is out there doing exactly what I’ve asked of it.FM_new flat front 300dpi

Now, before this starts to look like the exercise I mentioned earlier, (although in reality, it would be a recorder, not a trumpet) let me explain.

As I sat at my desk, in the corner of my kitchen, fingers poised above the well-used keyboard, determined to continue writing book 3, I was hit by the fear. Only, I didn’t know it was the fear. It wasn’t like Lily Allen’s song – I wasn’t concerned by materialism or celebrity – I was hit by a truckload of ‘what ifs?’

What if I’d used all my best ideas in Follow Me? What if I’d already used every last drop of emotion I could muster? What if I couldn’t capture the reader’s imagination? What if I couldn’t find original ways for my characters to express themselves? What if I repeat myself? What if book 3 is rubbish?

And the biggie: What if I let the reader down?

I removed myself from the corner of the kitchen, plonked myself down in the living room and allowed the ‘what ifs?’ to zip round my head like they were driving the wall of death. After a while of getting nowhere, other than dizzy and anxious, I called upon my lovely, supportive Romaniac friends.

‘I think I’ve been gripped by the fear,’ I said. But I didn’t really know, because it wasn’t something I’d grappled with before.

Their individual and collective advice was, as ever, sound, sensible and solid. And, as ever, they made me laugh. I was instructed to get something to eat and take a little time out. My nose had been to the grindstone, and I needed a break. They were right. I had to ‘refill the well’, as the fab members of the RNA say.

Later that day, I spoke with Gajitman, who offered a considered and practical approach, and kind reassurance that none of all of the above was going to happen.

The next morning, I met with a friend for coffee, who hit the nail on the head, putting the fear into a succinct five-word statement. ‘You are afraid of failing.’

And there it was. I was afraid of failing. Failing the reader, failing my publisher, failing my family and friends, and failing myself.

I’d never experienced this. I’d been brought up to always do my very best and that was the reward, regardless of the outcome.

I will do my very best – it’s who I am, it’s in my DNA, but what if my very best isn’t good enough? What then?

And that’s my fear.

IMG_6127It was scary out there for a while, but I have settled back into writing book 3, and I’m pleased and relieved to say the fear has passed, and now I know the signs, I’m better equipped to tackle it should it dare to show its ugly face again.

In the same way we all take something different from song lyrics, I suspect the fear is different for each and every one of us.

What are your experiences of the fear?

Laura x

The Choc Lit Halloween Round Robin: Part 2 by Jane Lovering

Romaniac HQ is delighted to host Part Two woo woo of the spooky Choc Lit Halloween Round Robin, as told by Jane Lovering.

Jane Lovering with award

 Part Two by Jane Lovering

An amateur witch attempts to summon a new (and hopefully less gittish) lover using her grandmother’s spell book … what could possibly go wrong?

Each section of A New Love for Halloween will be told by a different Choc Lit author to create one magical story. You can follow the tale on five separate blogs from the 27th Oct to Halloween. You can read part one by Berni Stevens here. Here’s part two by Jane Lovering …

Part Two by Jane Lovering

Jo carefully opened the envelope and slid the red heart inside, her fingers fumbling with the fragile crepe paper. Little edges of it caught and tore against the thicker paper so she withdrew it again, sitting it on her palm and watching the sides flex and curl in the heat from the candle. ‘Now I come to look at it, it’s less heart shaped and more like a bum,’ she said, an annoyance at her own gullibility making her frown. ‘I’ll probably get another complete arse, like Gordon.’ Then, before she could rethink, she folded the little red heart down into a scarlet twist, jammed it into the envelope and dropped a blob of warm wax onto the seal.

As the first blob touched the paper, a strange breeze ran through the room. Jo couldn’t feel it against her skin, but it raised her hair and made the pages of the book flip and turn, as though something ghostly was looking through, searching for another spell. Jo felt her arms bobble into goosepimples and tried to stretch the sleeves of the T-shirt down to cover as much flesh as possible.

The front door banged again. Jo considered the possibility that Musketeer Dan had failed to find number twenty-nine and hurriedly pulled on the duffel coat that she’d left drying on the back of a chair. ‘Yes?’ She cautiously peered around the door.

‘Yeah, ah, um … sorry, do you mind me asking, have you seen another bloke dressed like me?’ He was wearing a full wig, sword, breeches and a tricorn hat.

‘Dan, you mean?’ She pulled the coat closer over her T-shirt. It was quite chilly out there.

‘Er. Yeah. Dan. He was supposed to be meeting us here but we’ve lost him.’

‘He came here about five minutes ago, got the wrong house. He can’t have got far, number twenty-nine is only two doors’ up, and across the road, just …’ Jo stepped outside, pointing around the corner ‘… past the green bin.’

‘Cheers.’ The second Musketeer swept his hat off and dealt her a long bow. ‘Loving the Paddington outfit, by the way.  Excellent.’

‘Oh, it’s not…’ Jo started, then realised that there was no possible way she could explain opening her own front door wearing a duffel coat, so she just grinned. ‘Thanks. Hope he turns up.’

‘Yeah, so do I, he’s got the car keys.’

Sword slightly trailing along the pavement, the Musketeer headed off towards number twenty-nine, a location that had become, in Jo’s mind, synonymous with lurid excitement and a vast number of men. She turned round to head back into her kitchen, to the single burning candle and the illicit spell book. She hoped neither of her recent visitors had managed to catch a glimpse of these when she’d opened the door.  ‘They’d think I was mad,’ she muttered to herself, then glanced down at her bare legs poking from under the damp wool of her coat and fringed with the dangling hem of the T-shirt.  ‘Well, madder, anyway.’

But before she could go inside there was another of those freak draughts. The handle of the front door she’d been carefully holding was whipped from her grasp and she heard the horrible, and definite, slam and click of the Yale lock engaging, leaving her outside on the doorstep with nothing but Muse and a moist duffel between her and the elements.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *  

Catch part three by Christina Courtenay tomorrow on Dark Readers, here.

Jane Lovering lives in Yorkshire with five children, four cats and two dogs! She works in a local school and also teaches creative writing.

Jane writes romantic comedies which are often described as ‘quirky’.

Her debut Please Don’t Stop the Music won the 2012 Romantic Novel of the Year and the Best Romantic Comedy Novel award from the Romantic Novelists’ Association.  Get in the Halloween spirit with Hubble Bubble, Vampire State of Mind and Falling Apart.

Twitter: @janelovering 

Jane Lovering FA_packshot copyCompetition

To win three Choc Lit paperbacks of your choice, collect each of our 5 questions (you’ll find one at the end of each story section) and email ALL 5 answers to info@choc-lit.com.

Question 2: Vampire State of Mind and Falling Apart are set in which city?

 

United States of Love: Happy Birthday!

United States of Love … HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

USL HI

‘It was so funny and romantic … (There) was so much romance and fun going on I totally loved it! A wonderful author who I hope to read more from.’ Amazon reviewer, Angela.

It’s a year since Sue Fortin’s HarperImpulse debut, United States of Love was released, and we at Romaniac HQ wanted to wish it a fabulous 1st birthday. It’s a great, romantic read with a handsome, hot hero, and a strong heroine who has many dilemmas to overcome.

I wonder what Tex is doing to celebrate. A big hog roast in his restaurant, perhaps, or a trip home to America see his family …

 

And with Sue’s second novel, a fast-paced, gripping suspense, Closing In doing well in the charts, it’s a double celebration!

Closing_in
‘I would urge anyone who enjoys a good, fast paced psychological thriller to read it – you won’t be disappointed!’ Room For Reading

Along with her novels, Sue is a contributor to Romaniac Shorts, a collection of flash fiction and short stories to suit all tastes. Her third book for HI is expected soon.

So it’s bottoms up, chin-chin and cheers.

Happy birthday, USL

xxx

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Pst … Who’s doing the bumps?

Cass Peterson: One Night in San Francisco

Cass Peterson: One Night in San Francisco

One Night in San Francisco by Cass Peterson - 500

 

A change of pace here at Romaniac HQ today, as I welcome erotic romance writer, Cass Peterson to the couch, to chat about One Night in San Francisco.

Here’s the blurb:

Nicky and Liam have only twenty-four short hours to find out if their instantaneous attraction can develop into something more than an electric mile-high fumble. San Francisco has everything they need to put their previous disastrous relationships behind them, but when they lose touch with each other almost immediately, fate seems to have other ideas. As the precious hours tick away, Liam moves heaven and earth to find the woman of his (filthiest) dreams before she leaves the city. Will he get to her in time?

 

L: Cass – welcome to Romaniac HQ. We’ve had a wild weekend, so please excuse the wine boxes and loose socks.

C: Boxers? Oo er Laura – so the rumours about Romaniac HQ are true?

L: That’s boxes, not boxers …

Without further contemplation or ado, tell me a little about Cass Peterson.

C: Hmm, I’ll take your word for it. Right, where do I begin? This novella started with a challenge from a friend who more or less dared me to see if I could do it. Cass Peterson is my pen name – Cass is after the late great Mama Cass Elliot, and Peterson from an old BBC Alan Plater series called The Beiderbeck Tapes, featuring Peterson; the man with no name. I love James Bolam, who played the main character (he wasn’t Peterson, just a rather grumpy secondary school teacher). It’s about jazz, love triumphing over cynicism and woodwork. Brilliant.

L: I loved The Beiderbeck Tapes. Barbara Flynn played the long-suffering wife, I recall.

Is One Night in San Francisco your debut? Are you able to reveal some of the story?

C: It’s my debut novella – around 20 000 words, some of them very naughty words too. The story begins on a night flight to America after lights out, when Liam realises what one of his fellow passengers is doing under her blanket to while away the time. Their friendship takes off very quickly (takes off – see what I did there, Laura?) Nicky and Liam seem perfectly suited but they only have one night before real life takes over, and they lose each other at the airport. It’s a desperate quest and a bawdy romp all rolled into one.

I’ve also written a couple of rather rude short stories published in anthologies; Smut By The Sea Volume 2 and Smut Alfresco.

L: I understand ONiSF is part of a series to which several authors have contributed. How has that worked? Please explain the process.

C: The series is called City Nights. Tirgearr is a wonderful publishing company to work with. They are based in Ireland but their editors also work from other parts of the UK and America so it’s a cosmopolitan, friendly organisation, and also very flexible. Authors were encouraged to send in their ideas for a ‘One Night In …’ Then cities were allocated, and I was lucky enough to get San Francisco. Paris, Boise, New Orleans and Rome nights have already been released, and the October and November ones are Amsterdam and Edinburgh. It’s a great concept, which could just run and run … There are a wide variety of authors with differing styles so it’s a very interesting project to be involved with.

L: On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being ‘Phwoar!’, where does One Night in San Francisco sit?

C: It’s definitely a 5, Laura. You’ll need a large gin in hand to read it.

L: The Romaniacs recently introduced me to gin. It’s the tonic water I enjoy.

As a romance writer, I know my novels must have a HEA or hopeful ending, and readers expect this, enjoying the journey the characters take. What do erotic romance readers expect?

C: Similar. Pure erotica is a whole different ball game (oops) but so far I’ve found that erotic romance needs to have a HEA ending or at least happy for now.

L: What advice would you offer to new writers looking to produce erotic romance?

C: Pour the gin, kick off your shoes and get in touch with your smutty side. It’s liberating, so long as nobody is reading over your shoulder …

L: Great advice, Cass. I attended a ‘Writing Sex’ course and found it fascinating. And enlightening. As a contemporary romance writer, my novels have scenes in that have a certain heat level, and I agree with you – I can’t write them if the kitchen is occupied by anyone other than me.

Now for our Romaniac Quick-Fire Round:

Y-Fronts or boxers?

Oh, boxers. I’m glad you picked up the ones off the floor though, there’s a time and a place for everything.

Musclebound or unassumingly athletic?

My hero in One Night In San Francisco (Liam) is lean and athletically toned rather than muscular, and he’s pretty gorgeous.

Oysters or chocolate?

Oysters for night time, chocolate for emergencies.

Indoors or outdoors?

Outdoors, under the stars.

Charming or cheeky?

Charming with a cheeky twist.

L: Thank you so much for dropping by today and congratulations on your new release.

C: It was a pleasure. Who made these fabulous cream buns?

Always good buns here.

Please do come again …

Laura x

Let Them Eat Cake …

Let them eat cake….

(And we’ll have some too!)

JWJ spotlight hi rez

Jane Wenham-Jones, author of the revolutionary new eating plan 100 Ways to Fight the Flab – and still have wine and chocolate, explains why every successful diet still involves a slice of what you fancy…

No Cake for YOU….

If I told you that you could never have cake again, what would you immediately fancy? Yep, a great big lump of Victoria sponge, or a rich moist coffee and walnut gateau, or a gloriously chocolatey brownie, or perhaps a fresh cream éclair…(insert your own weakness).  You may not even like cake (you strange creature) but if your downfall is crisps (as mine is), pizza, or fresh crusty bread with lots of butter, and I suddenly tell you that if you want to lose weight, it has got to go – ? Well, you get my drift…

There are two big reasons why all diets/eating plans/changes of lifestyle (a lot of books like to avoid the word “diet” to try to pretend you can still eat things you like) eventually fail. And that is, that unless you have a will of iron and a very high tolerance to emotional and physical discomfort (in which case you are probably already as thin as a rake and will already have stopped reading this and be necking down the cake anyway) they all involve feeling either hungry or deprived or both. It is no wonder that nobody sticks to a diet for long and the overweight have a whole shelf load of books promising dramatic weight loss, have tried them all, and are still waddling round the house with a doughnut in each hand. Because it is pretty dispiriting for anyone to face a future in which there is a stark choice between waving goodbye to the notion of cake for the next twenty years or getting your jeans up past your knees.

And if you are a writer, and have already experienced the problem of Writer’s Bottom ( a phrase I take full credit for coining, in my 2007 book Wannabe a Writer? ), you may already be struggling with the zip. But if you can get round those twin problems of hunger and feeling that you’re missing out, you can be the weight you want for ever. And you’ll find it much easier to cope with either one of them, if you do have to, if you know that feeling will be short-lived. Weight loss is a question of attitude as much as what you put in your mouth – a case, if you like, of mind over large quantities of matter.

JWJ Flab9781909520929_FC-1

So – you want cake? You have cake…. And you don’t put on weight afterwards: Here’s how.

1. Call it Lunch. I recently did just that. A friend had given me a huge slice of homemade mocha cake and it was just what I felt like. So I munched the lot. And did I feel guilty or concerned? I did not. Because  it is all about balance. The carbs were consumed early so there was loads of time to burn them off. In the afternoon I played tennis (I lost). I had grilled halloumi, with tomatoes, basil, and a huge crunchy salad for dinner (low carb), a few peanuts with my wine, instead of crisps (protein!), and a bit more dark chocolate (it just sort of rounded things off) and then, as I do when I have any inkling that the podge might be settling in, I went for a longer walk round the block before I hit the sack.

The net result was? My weight dropped slightly. I’d had: wine, chocolate, cake, bread, cheese, and nibbles. As well as essential vitamins and minerals, some green stuff, and tomatoes.

What’s not to like?

2. Eat Carrot cake and call it one of your five a day. Eat a carrot too. There is a theory that if you lived all day on carrots and champagne, you would get all the nutrients you need. This may be true (tho probably isn’t). All I know is that I would talk too much, think I could sing, and then fall over.

3. Eat a chilli pepper nextThe hotter the better. Chillies (http://100waystofighttheflab.wordpress.com/2013/03/24/hot-tip-no-1-a-chilli-a-day-keeps-a-lard-arse-at-bay/ )raise the metabolism and the more fiery they are, the greater the effect. Experts estimate that one can expect a 15% increase in calories burned for about two hours after eating a hot chilli sauce. (If you can face cake with chilli sauce – you’re laughing!)

4. Count its calories. If it’s shop-bought cake, it will say on the packet, if you’ve made it yourself you can do the maths, if it comes from that darling little shop you can’t resist, you can probably look up approx values on the internet. Then simply adjust round it. If you bought a cake at 2,450 calories, ate a slice every day for a week, plus 1200 calories of other foodstuffs spread over three meals – including fruit and veg – you would be perfectly healthy and lose weight. (Alternatively you could eat half the cake in one sitting, eat nothing else all day and take a vitamin pill.)

5. Enjoy it! Happy people look gorgeous whatever their shape, and skip through life with an extra zing. This in turn releases endorphins, raises the metabolism and helps burn the calories. So have your cake and eat it and if you do overdo things (a slice is fine, the entire eight inch sponge probably isn’t), some extra exercise and plenty of protein and veg will put things right tomorrow… Bon appétit!

JWJ 9781909520929_Cover

For more creative thinking on how to eat the things you like and still only need one airline seat, see http://100waystofighttheflab.wordpress.com/2014/07/21/express-newspaper-features-100-ways/ or bite the (fat-free) bullet and got straight to

http://www.amazon.co.uk/100-Ways-Fight-Flab-Chocolate/dp/1909520926/ref=tmm_pap_title_0

http://janewenhamjones.wordpress.com/

Many thanks for a fab, flab-fighting post, Jane.

 

 

 

 

Nine Essential Elements of Romance Fiction – Catherine LaRoche

NINE ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS OF ROMANCE FICTION

Catherine LaRoche

Catherine LaRoche1

I spend a lot of time thinking about romance fiction.  My mom reads the books, and I picked up the love of the genre from her when I was a teenager.  She always had a tottering pile of novels beside her bed that I’d rummage through for something to borrow.  Now I write historical romances and, in my day job, I’m a college professor of gender studies and cultural studies.  For the past several years, I’ve included romance fiction in my teaching while I’ve been writing an academic book entitled Happily Ever After: The Romance Story in Popular Culture (forthcoming in mid-2015 from Indiana University Press).

My students choose romances from a big box that I bring into class and write responses on them.  We do cut-up exercises with the novels to create alternative storylines.  We write a collaborative online romance with scenes ranging from suspense to spicy erotica.  I’ve set up a romance lending library in my office; my eight-year old son decorated a poster for borrowers to write down comments about the novels they check out.  As I draft my academic book, I workshop chapters with the students in order to get feedback.

I’d like to invite similar feedback from readers here, on some of the book’s conclusions.  I propose that romance novels have nine essential elements.  (I’m playing off Dr. Pamela Regis’s work in her wonderful 2003 text A Natural History of the Romance Novel.)  What do you make of my list so far?  Do you agree or disagree?  Am I missing anything?  All comments welcome!

The nine central claims made by the romance narrative:

  1. It is hard to be alone. We are social animals. Most people need and want love, of some kind. Amid all the possibilities for love as philia (friendship) and agape (spiritual or selfless love), the culture often holds up eros or romantic partner love as an apex of all that love can be and do.
  2. It is a man’s world. Women generally have less power, fewer choices, and suffer from vulnerability and double standards. They often get stuck looking after men or being overlooked by men.
  3. Romance is a religion of love. Romance entails belief in the power of love as a positive orienting force. Love functions as religion, as that which has ultimate meaning in people’s lives.
  4. Romance involves risk. Love doesn’t always work out. Desire can be a source of personal knowledge and power but also of deception and danger. Romance fiction is the safe, imaginative play space to explore the meaning and shape of this landscape.
  5. Romance requires hard work. Baring the true self, making oneself vulnerable to another is hard. Giving up individuality for coupledom requires sacrifice.
  6. Romance facilitates healing. Partner love leads to maturity. Love heals all wounds. Love conquers all.
  7. Romance leads to great sex, especially for women. Women in romance novels are always sexually satisfied. Romance reading can connect women to their sexuality in positive way.
  8. Romance makes you happy. The problematic version of this claim is that you need to be in a romantic relationship for full happiness. Here, romance fiction can be oppressive if it mandates coupledom for everyone.
  9. Romance levels the playing field for women. The heroine always wins. By the end, she is happy, secure, well loved, sexually satisfied, and set up for a fulfilling life. The romance story is a woman-centred fantasy about how to make this man’s world work for her.

Further information about Catherine can be found here: http://authors.simonandschuster.com/Catherine-LaRoche/407531852

and here: http://popularromanceproject.org/professors-writing-romance/

Thank you so much for the great blog, Catherine, and we look forward to reading your results.