LCOAW: Whose Head Is It Anyway?

 

Author Pic 2I used to watch a program called Whose Line Is It Anyway, where the contestants, usually actors and comedians, would improvise scenes, moments in time, and songs. It was much like me in my Theatre Studies A level class, but with skill and success. I was always impressed at how immediate the actors’ responses were to the instructions yelled out by Clive Anderson – they were out of one character and into a next within a blink of an eye.

Having finished book 3, What Doesn’t Kill You, I am venturing into book 4 territory, and I’m finding letting go difficult, as are my characters. Griff and Evie are determined to prevent Ash and Jo from moving in and occupying my (their?) headspace.

It was the same with Chris and Victoria from Follow Me Follow You.

I know exactly who Ash and Jo are – I’ve studied their personality types, I know their history, their basic fears and desires, what they look like, what body parts they love best – but still, as I sit down and type Chapter One, I’m having to nudge Evie aside.

Griff's Land Rover

Griff’s Land Rover

Evie, it’s time to go. Your work is done. Stop projecting images of Griff into my mind’s eye. Griff, with his strong, protective arms, his dark wavy hair, his sense of command …

Oh man.

And this explains why I didn’t go on to star in the West End. I’d have been a unique hybrid somewhere between Calamity Jane and Sandra Dee, singing You’re The One That I Want as, in my tight, black trousers and off-the-shoulder top, I rolled on over the plains on the Deadwood Stage, cracking my whip.

I might have to write that musical.

Talking of cracking the whip, that’s what I must do – make headway with my WIP – my work in progress – and I can only do that if I immerse myself in the world of historic secrets, TV presenters, and people who fight the good fight.

Griff and Evie Hendry, I love you. You’ve done a fabulous job treading the boards in my head, and I thank you for that. Now it’s time for you both to take a bow, and prepare for your next roles.

Ash and Jo – centre stage please.

Laura x

 

Gilli Allan: Life Is Not A Fairy Tale

Life is not a fairy tale…..

Gilli Allan Author Photo

Gilli Allan

When I was a child I was entranced by the idea of magic.  I believed in fairies (and Father Christmas) for far longer than is reasonable or rational.   I talked to the fairies in the garden and they answered me.  I admit I never actually saw one, but I suspected – because pansies have faces – that they lived in the pansies. So I talked to the pansies and they’d nod or shake their heads.  Proof.  And as I got older, even though I kind of knew it was all nonsense, I stubbornly clung to the faith, more because I wanted it to be true than really believing in it.

And, of course, my favourite reading was fairy stories.  I can still recall the smell and feel of those books.  I had a volume of Hans Anderson’s fairy stories – a Collins classic, with the dark green plasticised cover. And I had a volume of the collected stories of the Brothers Grimm.  This was a heavy, old hardback, with thick, deckle edged pages the colour of weak tea, and I suspect the famously ‘grim’ stories had been heavily expurgated, to make them more suitable for young minds. I don’t recall ever being frightened or disturbed, but I do recall being disappointed about the way many of these classic tales (Anderson’s and Grimm’s) concluded.

I was always making up stories, peopled typically with knights and ladies, princes and princesses, and fairies of course.  But I didn’t write anything down until I was nearing the end of primary school, and even then it was my big sister who gave me the idea. She was writing a Regency romance, and it suddenly struck me that writing it yourself was the perfect way to make a story turn out the way it should.  This is how I caught the writing bug.

Throughout my teenage years I wrote ‘books’.  I never finished anything.  But what interests me now, looking back, is why I was I writing the kind of story I was writing. I read Georgette Heyer, Daphne DuMaurier, even Jane Austen. Young Adult didn’t exist as a genre in those days and – other than adult fiction, which I moved onto fairly swiftly – historical romance was all that seemed to exist for teenage girls.  But unlike my sister, I wasn’t interested in writing in that style. I was far more strongly drawn to write darker tales, set in the present, of self-destructive bad boys, rescued and redeemed by the love of a girl who sees the good in him. I suppose I was influenced by pop music, films, TV and teen comics (although these were disapproved of in our house and I rarely read them).

In some ways, I think I still write in the same vein.  I am no longer romantically drawn to the haggard hero, at deaths door, either through his consumption of drugs or drink, or as a result of a horrific motorbike accident due to speeding. (This was never due to weakness or degeneracy, by the way. He would have been lured into these self-destructive behaviours to “forget” some tragedy in his life.)  But even though I’ve left these poor emaciated and emotionally damaged wraiths behind, I still prefer to write contemporary stories about people with faults and failings and emotional baggage. I write stories with an edge about real contemporary life.

I used to describe my books as gritty, but came to realise this conveys the wrong impression.  I’m not Martina Cole.  Despite my teenage tastes, I don’t write about ‘Crims’ and ‘Toms’ and seedy lowlife. I’ve never lived in that world and I don’t know it.  I don’t even watch East Enders.  But I don’t shy away from issues. I prefer to write as truthfully as I can about real people in a world I recognise, dealing with the stuff we all may have to deal with. A world where people don’t always make the right decisions – where actions have consequences – where we muddle along and sometimes, all we can hope for is the best. What I write is ‘romance for grownups’. This is not to say there are no happy endings.  There may not be a transformation scene, where the beautiful, but innocent and humble heroine is given the sparkly crinoline and marries her handsome, rich and perfect prince. But in my books there is hope, and a light at the end of the tunnel. There may not be a promise of happy ever after – who can guarantee that in real life – but, by the book’s conclusion, my heroine is always a good deal happier than she was!

 

FLY or FALL

Gilli Allan FOF CoverEleanor – known as Nell – thinks of herself as a wimp.  Even though her life has not been easy, she clings to the safety of the familiar. Married young and dependent on her teacher husband’s wage, Nell has stayed at home, in Battersea, with her children and her increasingly invalid mother.  Following the death of her mother the family’s fortunes suddenly change.  Trevor, is wildly enthusiastic about their ‘move up in the world’; he plans to give up teaching and move house away from London.  Nell, however, is gripped by a nebulous fear of some unknown disaster waiting to trip them all up, but her husband, steamrollers her objections.

Now in her early thirties, and living in an unfamiliar landscape away from old friends, Nell feels cast adrift.  She is increasingly aware that Trevor is no longer the man she married, and their young teenage twins, Jonathan and Juliet, are grumpy and difficult. The women she meets, Felicity and Katherine, seem shallow and promiscuous. The new house is unwelcoming and needs modernisation; she’s thrust into a continuing chaos of rubble and renovation.  Patrick, one of the men working for the building firm, is infamous as a local Lothario, but he doesn’t make a pass at her. At first she’s grateful – she’s not that kind of woman – but her feelings towards him grow increasingly confused and ambivalent.

When Nell takes a bar job at the local sports club, she is exposed to an overheated atmosphere of flirtation and gossip. Influenced by her new friends and the world in which she now moves, she begins to blossom and to take pleasure in the possibilities which seem to be opening up for her. She meets and forms a deeper friendship with the quirky, new-age Elizabeth, a very different character to her other friends.  As Nell begins to enjoy herself and to become enthusiastic about her life, it seems her husband is on a downward trajectory, on the opposite end of a cosmic seesaw.  When she is pursued by a beautiful and enigmatic young man, called Angel, she is tempted into behaviour she would never previously have imagined herself capable. The earthquake, felt as a tremor of apprehension at the start of the story, rumbles through her life and the lives of those around her.  When the dust settles nothing is as she previously understood it.

FLY OR FALL follows the dismantling of all of Nell’s certainties, her preconceptions and her moral code. Unwelcome truths about her friends, her husband, her teenage children and even herself are revealed.  Relationships are not what they seem. The hostility between brothers is exposed and finally explained. And the love that blossoms unexpectedly from the wreckage of her life is doomed, as she acknowledges the hair’s breadth between wishful thinking, self-deception and lies.

By the conclusion of FLY OR FALL everything has altered for Nell, the woman who doesn’t like change. But she has rebuilt herself as a different person, a braver person, and she has embarked with optimism on a totally transformed life, a life that offers the chance of love.

Biography

Gilli Allan started to write in childhood, a hobby only abandoned when real life supplanted the fiction. Gilli didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge but, after just enough exam passes to squeak in, she attended Croydon Art College.

She didn’t work on any of the broadsheets, in publishing or television. Instead she was a shop assistant, a beauty consultant and a barmaid before landing her dream job as an illustrator in advertising. It was only when she was at home with her young son that Gilli began writing seriously. Her first two novels were quickly published, but when her publisher ceased to trade, Gilli went independent.

Over the years, Gilli has been a school governor, a contributor to local newspapers, and a driving force behind the community shop in her Gloucestershire village.  Still a keen artist, she designs Christmas cards and has begun book illustration. Gilli is particularly delighted to have recently gained a new mainstream publisher – Accent Press. FLY OR FALL is the second book to be published in the three book deal. The first was TORN, published in 2014, and LIFE CLASS is coming out later this year.

 

Links

To connect to me:

http://twitter.com/gilliallan  (@gilliallan)

https://www.facebook.com/GilliAllan.AUTHOR

http://gilliallan.blogspot.co.uk/

Books:

TORN: MyBook.to/gilliallansTORN (universal or  http://www.amazon.co.uk/Torn-Gilli-Allan-ebook/dp/B00R1FQ1QE)

FLY OR FALL: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Fly-Fall-Gilli-Allan-ebook/dp/B00XXZJ43S/

Bee and Let Bee: Carol Anne Hunter

We are delighted to welcome Carol Anne Hunter, author of Project Me, to Romaniac HQ. Get your cake and coffee, put your feet up, and enjoy this beautiful story.

Let’s bee having you, Carol Anne …

Carol Hunter Author Pic

My novel, Project Me, a comedy about starting again at fifty, was published last year. I’ve received the usual feedback from friends and family but one two-para piece of romantic rambling about bees is regularly cited as a stand-out point. The thing is, I stole these two paragraphs from a random short story I wrote a couple of years ago, changed the wording a little and used them as a device to give my character hope when she was near breaking point. The ploy worked a treat. So in the hope of warming away your winter blues and giving you something to look forward to, here is the latest version of the whole story. Enjoy!

 Bee and Let Bee

Every spring they arrive along with the first buds to lodge rent-free in the air vent under the back steps.  They don’t ask for much except a place to commune and peace to get on with it, and I’m happy to oblige; to let it bee.  I’ll let you into a secret.  The lavender bushes under my windows were planted just for them.

Sometimes when it’s sunny I relax on my lounger and watch my ultimate flying squad bizz in and out.  I fancy the little ones are on their maiden voyage, newbees on a practice flight if you will, with a remit to ransack next door’s hanging baskets before being sent further afield in search of richer pickings to bring home as part of earning their stripes.  Poised on the latticed concrete grid it seems they’re calculating ambient temperature and wind speed whilst waiting for some in-built air traffic control to signal the all-clear for take-off.  This is no long runway lumber-up-to-speed, more a dodgy diagonal ascent, their bumbee tartan bobbing on the breeze like tiny paragliders struggling to stay on the flight path.  Some take off on their very own junket, others do a double-take when they catch a whiff of my lavenders and hightail back, dancing on the downdraft before they home in when they’ve sized up the source of the scent.

Then come the jumbos, the 747s with their black and yellow corduroy, bombing out of the vent in loose formation.  Maybe they’re scouts setting out on a mission – as Captain Kirk might say, to seek out uncharted flower beds; to boldly go where no bee’s gone before.

I well remember the day of The Great Fly-Past when a no-mark rookie went off-course almost tipping yours truly off her deck chair.  A swatting offence in my book, since I swear I heard the tiny wheeze of laughter.

Now, that there’s what you’d call a right cheeky bee.

Landings are an art form.  Their panniers full of fragrant pollen I watch them on the home stretch, circling the runway, waiting for clearance to land.  Then it’s one in, one out as another launches itself through the latticework and up over my head.  And I’ve never, ever witnessed a mid-air collision.  Then autumn comes around and they all buzz off.

Why people talk about the birds and the bees when referring to matters carnal is anybody’s guess.  These damsels don’t procreate therefore the hive is more workhouse than joy house.  Only their queen is fertile and reproductive, nurtured as she is with Royal Jelly provided by the wing-women who attend to her every need.  She also has the option to choose her offspring’s gender, something we humans with all our science and technology have yet to achieve, and she chooses girls over boys, who are kept dormant until their – ahem – services are required.  In this uber-sexist society the females work as a collective, much like Mormon sister-wives, and share the feathering of the nest, the raising of the nippers and the bringing home of the proverbial bacon.  The one thing they don’t have in common is a husband.

Get rid of them, friends advised, they’re a nuisance.  They aren’t.

They’ll sting you.  They haven’t.

They’ll burrow through the wall and get into the house.  They can’t.  I know; I checked.  They’re all talking out of their bumble.

So, all is harmonious.  They mind their beeswax and I mind mine.  Live and let live, I say.   Bee and let bee.

Roll on March.

-0-

I so hope I’ve left you with a rosy glow!

 

Carol Hunter Project Me CoverProject Me by Carol Anne Hunter is currently available from Amazon.co.uk at  amzn.to/1yea08M and Amazon.com at /amzn.to/122tym1

Email me at carolannehunter4@gmail.com

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/carol.hunter.357

Twitter page:   https://twitter.com/carolannehunter

Combined website/blog – www.carolannehunter.co.uk

 

Life Cycle of a Writer: Seeing The Light

 

*Blink* *Blink*

IMG_1236

I’ve emerged from my writer’s cave. It’s sunny, bright, and I’ve discovered spring has sprung, my children have each grown an inch, and so has my waist.

My third novel, currently titled, What Doesn’t Kill You, has left the building. I’ve spent quite some time with it, holed up in my cave, ensuring I delivered it to my publishers on time. I was in plaster when I started writing the book, having undergone ulna head replacement surgery December 2013, and was a tad impeded to start with, spending months in casts and splints. I had planned to complete the book in nine months, but it’s taken a year. That’s a record for me. My first novel, Truth or Dare? took a steady six years, (something like nine drafts from start to publication), and Follow Me Follow You took eighteen months. During those times, my children were younger and less independent, and I was my mum’s carer, so, like many writers, I wrote as and when I could, often sacrificing sleep.

I am beginning to wonder if there is vampire blood running through my veins.

IMG_5250What Doesn’t Kill You is the first book I’ve planned from the onset. I have a problem with timelines and find I always have to go back and rewrite because I’ve made a mess of the timing of the story. Often, the whole thing happens in a week, or less. I believe I’ve cracked it this time, but I guess the proof is in the pudding. I used different techniques and methods from those employed for the first two books. I put large sheets of static white paper on the wall and divided it into three, using the three act structure as the basis for planning; I wrote a brief description of each chapter, which I now call scenes, in a notebook, because I knew where the story was going, and at the very end, when I knew what needed to happen, but couldn’t fix the order in my head, I suddenly understood the sticky note method. My version is a little different in that I wrote down the pertinent points on a piece of paper, then cut them into strips and played around with the order until they worked, but I’m going to try the sticky notes method for book four.

I feel as if all the wonderful advice I’ve been given and the techniques I’ve been shown have come together on this book and I’m keen to put them into practice from the start of book 4. I think it’s fair to say I’ve seen the light in more ways than one.Planning Close Up

Perhaps I can write the new book in nine months.

While I mull over the ideas and characters for the next book, I’m going to take plenty of exercise, enjoy oodles of much-needed family time, and catch up with a few books worth of reading. I promised myself the reward of reading Celia’s Little Boxes and Rowan Coleman’s The Memory Book.

I’ll be in the library, on the rowing machine, with the children and Gajitman if you need me …

Laura x 

Dear Auntie Romaniac … How Many Drafts Is Enough?

 

Keyboard

Dear Auntie Romaniac …

I get anxious when I read about how other writers have deconstructed and reconstructed their work-in-progress several times. I tend to be a slow first draft writer and tweak as I go along. My inner editor loves to play, and I am compelled to rewrite sections of what I consider to be the first draft, before I’ve reached the end. I aim for my second draft to be the one I send out to my publisher.

IMG_6127

 

What constitutes a draft? Is it a draft only once I’ve written ‘The End’? I also wonder if rewriting it mentally and altering notes, scattered in pads, sheets of paper and on my phone, count as drafts.

Dear Auntie Romaniac – it’s a minefield. Please help me through it.

Thank you.

Laura x

Good morning, Laura!

I’m usually a fairly fast writer, but with very little time to spare at the moment, my normal style (of writing a couple of chapters and then next time revising/editing and so on) has had to change.

Recently, my WIP, with which I was seriously stuck, was given a hefty edit by the marvelous Mandy James, and she gave me so many pointers and hints to improve it, that I’m now bowling along at a cracking speed and trying not to get side tracked by too much in-between editing. 

The final product will probably have had at least six or seven complete edits and overhauls. I’m aiming to finish the first complete draft by the weekend and bounce it back to Mandy. She did the same job on Little Boxes, and her ideas for storyline revamps and tweaks are second to none.

My advice to anyone struggling with numerous drafts is to get a trusted reading buddy or editor. Our very own Jan Brigden is also a super talented typo queen, with a grasp of grammar that most of us can only dream about.

Wish me luck, and the same to all of you out there trying hard to get the words down before life gets in the way,

Celia

Lucie – I really feel your pain, Laura. I, too, have often wondered this exact thing. For me, I think you know when you need to edit. When I wrote my first book, I wrote it chapter by chapter and had it critiqued this way. This was because I was doing a writing course and so my tutor (who was the very lovely, Margaret James) was checking it as I went along. So my first book was slow to complete. And then, because it was my first book, it went through a number of edits; through the NWS, through private critiques and personally editing. It will still probably need another one when my agent sends her edits through to me. And then, if it is ever accepted for publication, no doubt it’ll have another edit with their editor!

However, when writing nowadays, I tend to find that there is less editing. I don’t know if it is because I know how to structure a story now and my writing, generally, has improved, but I tend to blast out a first draft as quick as possible and then begin editing. I try to get as much of the story down in the first draft so that I can concentrate on the edits. I find it easier to get the story down as a whole, keep the flow going, and then worry about fiddling with it after. I try to only read back a scene or two, before I start writing for that day, just to get back into the story, and then continue. If I thought too much about editing previous scenes before going forward, I fear I would be stuck in a rut, two steps back, one step forward.

So, I do think it is a personal thing. Some people edit as they go, some, like me, get the story down, typo’s and all, and then polish the rock into that diamond. :-)

Vanessa: I usually go for a dirty first draft that’s only around 60-70,000 words. I leave that to brew for a while and then go back for a more polished draft. I then look at structure and pace and plotting, kill some darlings and produce a third draft which is getting close to what I hope is the finished thing! (I say this, but I’m currently on draft four of my wip!) I think how we write and how we edit is going to be different for every writer and no way is the right or wrong way.

Debbie – Oh, Laura, this is a dilemma many will relate to and as someone currently on the fourth re-write of a WIP, I can sympathise.

I can hear myself saying, ‘Just one more draft and it will be complete …’  But one more draft turns into another, and another. Of course not every writer is a perfectionist, but it’s worth remembering that re-writing a novel has the potential to become infinite with rewrites, and remain ultimately unfinished. Only you can break a cycle of rewriting and editing your work in the constant battle for satisfaction. We’re all different, although most writers I know are of the same mould.

I went on an Arvon course last year. Uber experienced writers, Kate Long and Simon Thirsk were tutors. Simon did a reading from his novel, ‘Not Quite White.’ There were post it notes and red pen all over the pages of his copy and when someone asked why, he admitted that after every reading he did (despite being Costa Book Award shortlisted and bestseller) he could always find some word or line to tweak!

Since then I’ve stopped twiddling with my WIP as I go along. It’s hard, but when I start on a draft I keep writing – something, anything – until it’s finished. The aim is to get the main bones of the novel down. I’ve learnt that most writers, even the most accomplished, need at least two drafts (preferably with a few weeks or months ‘breathing space’ between the two.) Then, after, ideally, another two edits and read through, once you’re as happy as you can be, stop tweaking and twiddling and get a friend/writing buddy, or if you’re lucky enough to have an agent or editor, and let them read it.

Sometimes we can become bogged down with the intricacies of the story or become so close to it we no longer see blatant errors. Taking a step back can help see it in a different light or often a second pair of eyes from a trusted opinion and someone not too close to a beloved piece will help give an insight into some points we may not even have considered.

Take it from one who knows, if you wait until you’re completely happy with your WIP, it might never see the light of day. So believe in yourself. All the best to you.

 Great answers. Thank you.

How do you approach drafts?

 

Laura E. James, Inspired by …

At Romaniac HQ recently, the conversation of our writing influences and inspirations came up.  Although we all started off writing romance, our influences have come from the four corners of the writing page.  We thought we’d share them with you over the course of the coming months.

Laura is kicking off the feature this week …

 

Sheila O'Flanagan, Veronica Henry, Laura & Jill Mansell

Sheila O’Flanagan, Veronica Henry, Laura & Jill Mansell

Laura: It’s no secret I attribute the lovely Jill Mansell as one of my major influences. I adore the way her novels can make me laugh on page one and cry on page two. It’s a skill to which I aspire, despite writing ‘romance without the soft edges’. It was through Jill’s books that I discovered the RNA and subsequently joined the NWS. Had I not read and enjoyed Good At Games there’s every chance I wouldn’t have my own books ‘out there’.  Other influences are Sheila O’Flanagan, Joanne Harris, (I thought Blackberry Wine was genius) Alice Sebold, Erica James (another author whose writing has me in tears), and Jodi Picoult – I love how she tackles huge issues. I’ve been extremely fortunate to meet Jill, Shelia O’Flanagan and Jodi Picoult, and recently, with much excitement and a necessary degree of fangirling, I discovered the audio version of Follow Me Follow You shares the same narrator – Antonia Beamish – as Erica James’ Summer At The Lake.

Laura & Jodi Picoult

Laura & Jodi Picoult

Since joining the RNA, I’ve met so many wonderful authors whose work was new to me but who have helped and inspired me – Sue Moorcroft and Julie Cohen, who are not only skilled writers, but fantastic tutors, Margaret James, Rowan Coleman, Carole Matthews, Miranda Dickinson, to name a few, who are all accomplished in their art and extremely generous with their time and encouragement.
Outside of the RNA, historical novelist, Isolde Martyn, and my writing pals at Off The Cuff, have been a major influence, teaching me different approaches to writing, and continually supporting my efforts. Before Off The Cuff, I had no idea what Flash Fiction was, and now it’s one of my favourite disciplines.

And I love the wide variety of styles my wonderful Romaniac friends share, and the safety net they provide when it comes to writing outside my comfort zone.

Books that made an impression and stayed with me from my youth? Enid Blyton’s Folk of the Faraway Tree, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm, and George Orwell’s 1984. It would be interesting to revisit them and see if these

Paloma Faith

Paloma Faith

authors influenced my writing, or if it was the pure joy of reading such excellent books that put the cartridge in my fountain pen.

Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention Kate Bush, Stevie Nicks, Annie Lennox and Paloma Faith, whose music and lyrics are a constant source of inspiration, and in my humble opinion, examples of superb writing.

You are all an inspiration and I thank you from the bottom of my inkwell.