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.

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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*

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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.

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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.

 

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.

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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?