School Days, School Ways?

IMG_4485Sometimes Romaniac HQ is like school. We’ve had ink-sodden paper bombs pinged from an end of a ruler, clingfilm stretched over the toilet bowl and drawing pins lurking in unsuspecting places.

I’m still trying to locate the one I sat on.

Then there’s lunchtime, when we all try and sneak a peak in each other’s cool bag wondering if their chocolate biscuit is better than the melted offering consuming the bottom of our own bag. And Celia always has THE best cake, and there’s always enough to go around.

We have a seating plan. No. We do. Just like in class, some of us have to be separated to prevent high jinks. I’m not going to name names, but I sit at the front.

With our heads down, we work well, inspired by one another’s efforts and ethics. The sense of unity and the knowledge we are working towards a common goal spur us on.IMG_4487

Unlike the days when I was at school and silence was king, if a Romaniac gets stuck, all of those in class will help. There is nothing like a healthy, often hilarious discussion to open up those neural pathways.

The reason I mention all this is because I was thinking about how my method of working is the same now as it was in school. I enjoyed lessons, except maths, I enjoyed sports, despite being one of those picked last for a team, and I loved the rapport with friends and teachers. I was a conscientious worker, who sometimes took a while to grasp a concept, but once it was lodged in my head, I was away.

I got things wrong, but I was keen to understand why, and worked to rectify it.

And my homework was never handed in late.

Recently, with Truth or Dare? preparing for publication, I completed my first ever round of edits. The editor’s report was clear and concise and I understood what I had to do. If what I produced is wrong, that’s down to me, and I will put it right, but I realised I was applying the same principles as I did at school. I worked hard, to the best of my ability, and turfed out those sprouting seeds of doubt – the same ones that poked their heads through the graph paper of my maths book when I was thirteen – I ploughed my way through those – I was less refined.

And I handed those edits in on time.

Packed lunches as they used to be

Packed lunches as they used to be

How early on are our values instilled? Did you enjoy school and have your working methods changed since then?

Laura x

Wannabe a Writer? Jane Wenham-Jones tells us how we can get there.

Wannabe A Writer TV Show Title Card

So you’ve written that novel that has been consuming your brain for years. Finally written it down and typed those magical words, The End. What now?

Or maybe you have written novel number 15, but still don’t have the courage to send it out to anyone for feedback.

Or even, you’ve written numerous novels, had other people read them and give you feedback, but still don’t know what to do with it.

If any of these scenarios describe you, then Jane Wenham-Jones is the perfect person to help you.

The very lovely, Jane Wenham-Jones

The very lovely, Jane Wenham-Jones

Jane has piloted a TV series called, ‘Wannabe a Writer.’ As part of this series, Jane takes an unpublished writer and introduces them to a top literary agent who reads their first three chapters and gives feedback. What an amazing opportunity! In the first episode, Delphine (the unpublished writer) is introduced to Carole Blake, of Blake Friedmann Literary Agency, and Carole offers some extremely important advice about Delphine’s manuscript. She highlights key points in Delphine’s story that are not working and tells her where it is going wrong. There is no sugar coating with Carole, but I loved that. As an unpublished writer myself, I don’t want to be blinded by happy smiles and ‘well done’s’ (although those are nice to have, too!) but I want to know how it really works. I want to be prepared for when I meet agents and be told just how blunt they may be. As Carole says in the film, she gets in excess of 20 manuscripts a day, so they don’t have time to think about how to say to someone that A,B and C needs changing in a nice way that wont hurt their feelings. That’s just the nature of the industry and that’s why every published author will say that you need to have the stomach for writing. So when I watched this first episode, I felt refreshed that it was putting forward an honest account of the writing/publishing industry.

Saying this, Jane does a very good job of making sure the writer feels supported afterwards. She is very encouraging and arranges a meeting with a bestselling author – I wont disclose who in case you haven’t seen the video.

Meeting the bestselling author was enjoyable to watch. She gave advice and tips to Delphine about her novel and answered all of her questions with expertise. I particularly liked the fact that Jane also got involved with giving advice and would throw in snippets as and when. So essentially you are getting two for the price of one! Fabulous!

Jane and Delphine

Jane and Delphine

The episode ends with Delphine returning to literary agent Carole Blake, with a revised opening chapter. Carole then gives her feedback on the new piece and is quite encouraging – showing that even though she was hard on Delphine at the start, it was all so Delphine could improve an already promising story.

Jane presents the programme extremely well. She is a very friendly person and this comes across on screen brilliantly. She is encouraging the whole way through the programme and makes the whole process relaxed and positive.

I do find sometimes, with things similar to this, that advice is sort of pushed upon you. You have asked for advice so here it is and you must listen. But with this programme, this is not the case. Advice and tips are offered constantly throughout but never at any time is it forced upon you. The bestselling author even says at one point about you having to use your judgement with the advice you’re getting and basically pick what is best for you and your work.

I absolutely love the whole idea of this TV series and I think it will do really well. There are so many people out there, like myself, who desperately want to break the barrier into being published and I think programmes like this are both informative and real and are exactly what we, as writers, need to help prepare ourselves better.

I asked Jane for a few words about her new venture and he is what she had to say…

It’s here! The fluffed lines, fits of the giggles and the marvellous moment where a certain best-selling author’s cat strolled into the scene, mewing, have been safely consigned to the cutting room floor and Wannabe a Writer – the TV Show is available on a youtube channel near you. This is a ground-breaking new concept I have been loosely billing as Come Dine With Me, meets Through the Keyhole with a dash of Britain’s Got Talent  – except designed to appeal to anyone who’s ever thought they might have a book in them, rather than those who want to sing or show off their carrot stroganoff  and  pecan pavlova.

We’re going to be pitching this to the TV channels this autumn, so we’d love you to watch, love you to comment, and love you to apply to come on a future programme (please also tell your friends).

This baby is the brainchild of me and my mate Steve – an ex- ITN TV producer– who I first met when he obligingly spilled the beans about how much tape Barbara Cartland used to hold her face up when she was being interviewed, for my book Wannabe a Writer We’ve Heard Of? (One way, for those interested, is to make news crews wait 24 hours while you bathe the room in pink light, get the florists on standby and use the aforementioned tape to hitch back your forehead.) Not that I am without sympathy, having seen myself in the opening shots, looking as if I have a particularly nasty hangover!

“I hope you’re bleaching out my wrinkles,” I’d squawk at Steve at regular intervals throughout filming. He appeared to ignore me  but was clearly listening. Hear that jaunty piece of music that plays as would-be author Delphine, and I board the train to London? It’s called “Botox Babe”…

To apply to be on the show, visit : www.wannabeawritertvshow.com

Thank you, Jane, we wish you lots of luck with it.

And here is the all important link to this fabulous show – enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kJWTbsjbR4 – Part One

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ycfeR3Zze0 – Part Two

Lucie xx

TUESDAY CHIT CHAT with SUE FORTIN: An Author with HarperImpulse

Sue Fortin profile

Laura: How do, Mme Fortin. So. You’ve been busy then?

Sue : Busy? So it would seem. 🙂

I heard YOU HAVE A BOOK CONTRACT!
Massive congratulations. This is fantastic news because it means chocolate cake will be abundant at Romaniac HQ ALL WEEK!

You must be so delighted.

Sue : Thank you! I am absolutely thrilled – I can’t wait to eat all that chocolate. Oh, and there’s the ‘small’ matter of the book as well – I am, of course, absolutely thrilled about that too!

Laura: How was yesterday, when you were ‘announced’?

Sue : It started off feeling ever so slightly surreal, then when it was actually announced, it was very exciting and then when I had to sit in the waiting room at the dentist, it was back down to earth with a bump. Didn’t my dentist know I was an author and had lots of authorly things to do?! (I think I may have just made a word up there.)

Laura: United States of Love will be your first book released by HarperImpulse. What can you tell our readers about the story?

Sue : The blurb probably sums it up better than I can …

Since splitting from her husband, single mum Anna Barnes is enjoying her new found freedom and independence.

However, she didn’t bank on working for Tex Garcia – or the sparks that fly between them. The gorgeous American chef is getting the locals hot under the collar and not just because of his culinary prowess!

One problem: Tex can’t commit and women pass through his life like dishes going out to service! Will it be the same with Anna? One thing’s for sure, this All American man is determined to break her self-imposed rule of never mixing business with pleasure – and add some spice into the mix…

USL HI

Laura: What else do you have lined up?

Sue : At the moment my current WIP has the working title of ‘Closing In’. It’s a mix of romance and crime. I’ve been calling it a ‘Cri-mance’. Did you see what I did there? Clever, huh?

Sue, we are so happy for you – each and every Romaniac is bursting with pride. (Whoever burst last, please clear up your mess.)

Vanessa: You are such a talented writer and I know United States of Love is going to be a massive success – I’m so proud and thrilled for you, Sue and I can’t wait to read it! xxx

Lucie: Massive congratulations to you, Sue. I am so so proud of you. It is a fantastic book and I wish you all the success in the world – you deserve it! Lots of love and hugs xxxx

Catherine: Sue’s writing is as bubbly & bright as she is! Wonderful news and very well deserved. I’m looking forward to this and Sue’s future books. xxx

Jan: A gem of a read by a gem of a writer! Thrilled to bits for you, Sue. As is our trusty HQ honk-o-meter. Massive Congratulations! xxx

Celia: Oh, wot they sed, in spades. So excited, proud and happy about this news – well deserved; a Romaniac star in the making, and a lady who knows how to live life to the full too. Holding up my glass to you, Sue (and hoping that yours will be held up even higher today). Much love xxx

Laura: Excellent work, Mme Fortin. 🙂 xxx

Sue : Merci beacoup, mes amis. Thank you so much for all your support my lovely friends and, yeah, clear that mess up – you’re worse than the children! xx

United States of Love is available to pre-order from Amazon here.

Size DOES Matter…

We’ve been talking a lot about size at Romaniac HQ recently (I’m talking about word count, OF COURSE!) with some of us having had recent successes on the short story and flash fiction front as well as the exciting book deals.

Vanessa's flash fiction in print: Winter's Kiss

Vanessa’s prize-winning flash fiction in print: Winter’s Kiss

I’m currently between edits of a book, which is about 95,000 words long. I began writing it just under a year ago and it’s gone through many drafts, but I’m hoping it’s nearly at the point where I can say it’s finished.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I tend to feel a bit lost when a book is resting between drafts – when I’m forcing myself to leave it alone for a week or two. To go from such intense immersion in a fictional world for nearly a year back to real life is always a shock, and I’m always keen to dive back into another fictional land as soon as possible. Real life is all about contemplating the chores I haven’t done for a year because I’ve been too busy writing, or it’s about filling in tax returns and doing accounts… No thanks.

But another book straight away is too much, so I turn to short fiction between drafts, the shorter the better. Flash fiction is my thing – 500 words and under, every sentence edited down to the bare bones to get a complete story across in just a few short paragraphs… after a seemingly endless and meandering journey from 0 – 95,000 words with a novel, having only 500 words to tell a whole story is a refreshing change, an icy-cold gin and tonic in the sun after a year of rich red wine in a dark room, a slice of key lime pie after a year of gooey chocolate cake… you get my drift.

It’s a tonic, it’s a change, it’s a chance to re-charge batteries and best of all – I can finish a whole project in less than a day! Flash fiction is also brilliant for editing practice – I wrote a story the other week I wanted to enter in a competition and it came in at just under 700 words, but the word limit for the competition was 500 words. It can’t be done, I muttered to myself, every word is VITAL TO THE STORY. But when I went back through it, I found there were actually quite a few words – whole sentences even – I could delete without ruining the story. And I ended up with a much stronger piece of writing. And all the time I’m writing my flash fiction pieces, new ideas for the next book are brewing nicely…

The size of story I struggle with is the short story – anything between 2 and 5,000 words. I like my fiction very short or very long. What I find happens with this length of fiction is it gets away from me – I can’t stop and before I know it, I’ve got six chapters of something never intended to be a novel. The first book I wrote started out as a short story idea that never really stopped, which I guess makes me a bit of an accidental novelist – Vanessa Savage: The girl who could not type The End…

I’d love to know what word count works for you…

Vanessa x

An Earthless Melting Pot, an anthology of prize-winning flash fiction and short stories, can be bought here.

Donna Trinder: How I Review

Donna Trinder

Book reviewing – how I do it.

Today we have the pleasure of welcoming Donna Trinder to Romaniac HQ, who has given us invaluable advice about book reviewing. Thank you, Donna.

The first review I wrote was a simple few lines for The Diary of a Mummy Misfit by Amanda Egan, I found I had really loved the book and wanted to leave a few words on Amazon as a recommendation to other readers. I have always read, and even as a child found myself analysing a book for a long time after finishing, I used to find if a book didn’t end satisfactorily for me I would simply make it up, that came in handy at GCSE level when we had to study Stephen King, I do like a conclusive and happy ending and found these did not come readily with the genre that I chose to study.

As time went on I found myself writing more and more reviews on Amazon, I had never realised before that just how much they do help the author and equally readers browsing in search of new reading material. In time I found myself composing more in depth and concise reviews which led to me developing my book blog.

When I started to review ‘properly’ I began by taking notes as I read, it enabled me to write a detailed account of what happened, but that also made me consider if what I was writing resembled more of a book report than a review. I found changing tack by pausing every few chapters or after an important event and noting my feelings on this worked as a better way to create a more natural and flowing review when I had completed the book; less than a breakdown of the story and more analysing the bare bones.

I prefer to stick to giving a brief synopsis of the plot now, still detailing the characters, the relationships, the holistic development.

My big issue is description. I have a good imagination, but it is a lazy one! I like a vivid description of a character, it’s environment, it’s personality. I hate to reach the halfway mark in a book and still not be able to picture the character fully, not know what hair colour he or she has, what accent they speak in, how they dress etc… this helps me build a stronger link to he or she. I find Joanne Harris a master of this craft, I feel readily transported into one of her novels with ease.

For me the very worst crime to commit as a reviewer would be to give away spoilers. If you have read and enjoyed a book, why would you want to deprive other readers of the ‘will they won’t they’ of a long awaited kiss, or the page turning suspension that will keep them reading way past their bedtime?

My top tips –

1) Accuracy. Always make sure you get names correct! Authors, characters, places…the actual book! Not only is this the height of bad manners, but it also undermines the review/reviewer (or hints at extreme tiredness on the part of the reviewer – a trap I have unfortunately fallen into!)

2) Try not to add too much detail. As I have said, it is best that a review should not be written as a book report, more as an indication of the plot and writing style. This is a common problem for me, especially if I loved a book, I find myself wanting to ramble on about it. Much self editing and restraint needed!

3) Give an introduction, details of the development and a conclusion, then evaluate. Describe what you loved, and possibly what let the book down for you.

4) On the terms of being disenchanted by a book – try not to be too negative if possible. Remember the blood, sweat and tears that the author put into it and that even if it wasn’t a winner for you, someone out there will probably enjoy it. Be constructive, explain why it wasn’t great for you.

5) Never, ever, EVER give away the ending, any plot twists, or anything that may ruin it for other readers. It’s fair to say that the plot was full of unexpected twists and turns, but don’t elaborate on them, no-one will thank you for that!

Just remember, if you can spare five minutes and you have enjoyed a book, always try to leave a few lines on Amazon. It’s a massive thank you to the author and a great way to introduce readers to a book that you have loved!

Twitter – https://twitter.com/donna_trinder

Blog – http://donnasroomforreading.blogspot.co.uk/

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/DonnasRoomForReading

Guest Post by Nic Tatano, Men and Sex – what they really think

I recently blogged about whether women could write sex scenes from a male point of view. (Click here for post) It caused a lot of interest and responses, mostly from women, although we did have one man join in the conversation.

Since then, I have been in touch with author Nic Tatano and he is here today, adding some light on the subject. Over to you, Nic …

So, the question was posed as to what men think about during sex. I can only imagine the eye rolls from those of you who may have had a relationship with a man who became molecularly bonded at the sub-atomic level to a reclining chair. (If you’re currently dating one of these human-furniture hybrid slugs, run.) But, as a guy who writes romance, I might be able to offer a little perspective.

Before said perspective, you should know the boundaries. I’ve been married to a wonderful woman for 24 years, and what happens between us will always remain private. But over the years I’ve come to realize there are two types of men: the relationship guys, and the sex guys.

You see, there’s a great dividing line when it comes to “guy talk.” Relationship guys never, ever discuss sexual details about the women they love. A relationship guy understands the sacred bond that goes with commitment and the fact that the woman he loves would not appreciate having her abilities in the bedroom plastered on the verbal equivalent of a bathroom wall.

Sex guys hold nothing back, because they don’t really understand the difference between having sex and making love. To them, the latter doesn’t even exist. (It should be noted that on rare occasions a sex guy can turn into a relationship guy when he gets through puberty and reaches the age of maturity, which is approximately thirty-five.) The sex guys think nothing of sharing the details of their own sexual prowess (which always approaches that of a porn star) and the attributes of the women they are dating (which always approaches that of a porn star.)

From high school locker rooms to college dorms to late night poker games, I’ve heard it all. While this chatter may loosely fall into the “kiss and tell” category, it lacks any romantic elements. Typical comments from sex guys are the following:

Describing a woman: “She has (wildly descriptive adjective) (body parts) better than (name of famous supermodel) and (other body parts) that won’t quit.”

Describing sex with said woman: “I tell ya, this woman could (service provided by prostitute) better than (metaphor possibly involving household appliance.)

Anyway, back to the original question. What are men thinking? Let’s get to the sex guys first:

TOP TEN THINGS THE “SEX GUYS” MIGHT BE THINKING DURING SEX:

1. Damn, her roommate is really hot. I wonder if she’d like to join us?

2. Did I set the DVR for the game?

3. If I close my eyes, I can imagine I’m with Nicole Kidman.

4. I think continental drift moves faster than she does.

5. You know, I always say I wouldn’t throw a woman out for eating crackers in bed, but I never knew getting salt in my crack would be this uncomfortable.

6. What was her name again?

7. I wonder if she has any beer…

8. I’m such a stud.

9. If I close my eyes, I can imagine I’m Henry Cavill.

10. She just called me by her old boyfriend’s name! Eh, whatever. I’m not gonna deal with it now.

As for what the relationship guy is thinking, there’s no answer. He’s simply in love with that special woman, eyes locked, the two becoming one for a few special moments, while the rest of the world does not exist.

But he still remembers to DVR the game.

winggirl

Nic Tatano‘s novel, Wing Girl was released by Harper Impulse.

Great post, Nic – I’m still working out if I feel enlightened or just had my suspicions confirmed!

Sue

🙂

Mark West on Writing Horror

mark-west

Today, Friday 13th, we are delighted to welcome Mark West to Romaniac HQ. Now, dim the lights, settle back, and listen to his story …

My name is Mark West and I’m a horror writer. I’m only mildly superstitious, I have mixed feelings about ghosts (though I’ve seen two) and whilst I write about things that go bump in the night, I think I’m quite an amusing bloke. I’ve been a horror fan since I was a kid (the old Universal horrors that would often turn up on BBC2 got me started), I still love the thrill of having a ‘safe scare’ and my love for the genre has never diminished, though I don’t read it exclusively. I didn’t used to write it exclusively either and during the 90s submitted three novels – they were ‘contemporary drama’, since ‘Lad-Lit’ hadn’t been invented then – they never did anything. All the time though there was this nagging feeling to go back to the horror field. I started again, in earnest, with short stories in 1998 when I discovered the small press which, at that time, was very vibrant and – since the Internet wasn’t widely available – meant that all of my early publishing successes were in zines, rather than websites.

Genre fiction, whichever branch, is maligned, but horror seems to come in for more than it’s fair share of stick. Whilst I can sort of understand it sometimes (I will defend my field against all comers, but I can’t stand the torture-porn films like “Hostel” and “Saw”), what a lot of people seem to forget is that it’s a rich vein of creativity and some of the greatest literary minds in history have dipped their toe in.

It’s a broad field, with sub-genres that range from quiet supernatural tales to all-out gore epics, but each of them carries its own expectations, often a little faster-and-looser than – say – the Romance field would deal with them.

As an example, earlier this year, to mark his passing, I read “Stir Of Echoes” by the great Richard Matheson (he also wrote the Steven Spielberg film “Duel” and the 1975 novel “Bid Time Return”, which became “Somewhere In Time”, my wife’s favourite film – and she’s no horror fan). It’s an engrossing novel, written in 1958 and yet still modern, that tells of an office-worker who is apparently ‘touched’ by psychic ability and finds himself haunted by the ghost of an unknown woman. It’s creepy and told in a sparse, dry style (it’s almost noir-writing) with no gore but plenty of wit.

Mark West The Mill

In contrast, between 1984 and 1985, a young Liverpudlian called Clive Barker published six volumes of “The Books Of Blood” and for me – as a sixteen-year-old horror fan who’d grown up on The Three Investigators (spooky mysteries) and Stephen King (everything else) – they were a revelation. Barker is a very intelligent man, his work speaks of the human condition in often sobering terms but he revelled in the gore back then, with lots of sex and violence, which I loved and which he carried through to his directorial debut “Hellraiser” (1987). His work was creepy but more often than not, it was trying to find out what made us tick by peeling back the layers of flesh to see what was underneath.

Last year, my friend Gary McMahon published the final part of his “Concrete Grove” trilogy, through Solaris Books. I loved all three volumes but they’re tough reads – bleak as hell, examining the human condition when it’s really been put through the wringer – filled with damaged souls and lost lives and no hope, whilst dealing with violence in a brutal, abrupt way when it’s required. Some of the writing is very elegant, the monsters are generally real people and the novels are plotted and told with an enviable precision.

All three are horror novels (though Matheson argued that his wasn’t), all three are completely different, all three are equally good.

Horror is difficult to categorise but I think the following is true. It needs recognisable and believable characters, who might not be like me but who will react to the supernatural the way I think I might. It needs to have a purpose – the ghost or monster needs to be there for a reason. It needs to have strong writing, to pull the reader along and make them empathise with the characters, even through set pieces that might be ghastly, ghostly, gory or gruesome. Especially if that strong writing can hide some red herrings that wrong-foot the reader. The book needs to have an internal logic, which might sound odd, but if it doesn’t – for the monster, at the very least – you’re going to lose the reader. There needs to be cause and effect because we need to believe that this threat can be vanquished, even if we can’t quite see how. If a monster can adapt itself to whatever the hero or heroine does and can’t be beaten, I can stop reading at page 10 rather than struggle past page 500. Finally it needs a suitable ending, which can be bleak or hopeful or sometimes a terrible mixture of the two (in that the hope for one means bleakness for another). A common misconception is that horror must end with no hope at all that’s not often the case.

At its best, a horror is simply a mainstream tale looking at people (you, me, our neighbours) and the world (especially the bad stuff that happens to decent, everyday people) through a slightly cracked glass, dressing up in metaphor and subterfuge what so many of us have to deal with in real terms.

When we, as readers, hear a sound in the dead of night as we’re just about to drift off to sleep, we might be worried but we know, deep down, that it’s the wind against the windows or a pile of Lego falling down in our sons room. The horror story takes that concept, grins widely and does a little dance, taking it a step over the line of reality – what if it wasn’t a pile of Lego, what if it was something creeping into your house? What if this thing was going to climb the stairs slowly, letting you hear every riser creak, every hiss as claws caught on the carpet and every *skrit* as long, sharp nails dragged on the bannister? What if this thing was going to come into your life and take it over, ruining you and making the future bleak for everyone who loved you? In other words, what if this horror novel – about ghouls and real people dealing with them – was actually about disease, or loss and showing us another way to deal with the blights that litter the human life?

My website is http://www.markwest.org.uk/Mark West Conjure

The link to my Amazon page is http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mark-West/e/B004RFZRI4/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

My latest novel is “Conjure” which can be found at Amazon here – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Conjure-Mark-West/dp/1909636053/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1378892203&sr=1-1