Category Archives: Writing craft

The Write Stuff in Dundee

After a winter when not much was achieved, I hoped to kickstart my creativity by booking myself on to The Write Stuff, an afternoon about writing and publishing arranged by Literary Dundee at the university there.  There were around 150 people in attendance; many of them students, as Dundee runs an M Litt in Writing Practice and Study.

Three of their recent graduates were there. Oliver Landmead, Claire MacLeary and Sandra Ireland all read extracts from their works. They all said that reading work aloud was key; initial discomfort at reading to fellow students was excellent training for doing readings from their books at festivals, and reading your work out loud to yourself could make you aware of areas needing improvement. Claire added a query letter should have three paragraphs; what it’s about, whom it will appeal to, and a little about yourself. Jenny Niven spoke about her career organising literary festivals, which has taken her all over the world, ending back at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

David Stenhouse’s talk about the BBC and the written word was fascinating; I hadn’t thought before of how much work it would be to fill all those hours of radio. As he said, if you can be an answer to someone else’s problems, you’re halfway there already. 404Ink were inspiring; their story of how ‘Nasty Women’ came to be published showed just how much they were willing to take on to make it and their publishing venture a success. The last two speakers were Laura Waddell, a writer and children’s publishing manager, and Claire Wingfield, a literary consultant and editor. Both had some great advice and suggestions which I need to follow up on.

There’s going to be another Write Stuff event next year. Would I go? Absolutely. At £3, the tickets were a bargain and the goodie bag was great!

Royal Ascot contest

Beau Monde badgeI’m really excited to announce I’m one of the four finalists in the Royal Ascot contest for Regency authors, run by the RWA’s Beau Monde chapter.

I entered at the end of March only in the hope of getting some feedback, so this is wholly unexpected and very encouraging. Now I have to wait until the middle of July to find out, but I’m not worried – because with my memory I’ll probably forget about it within a few days, and the result (whatever it is) will come as complete surprise!

If you haven’t come across The Beau Monde before, there’s a blog and a free monthly newsletter you can sign up for, which gives Regency snippets and details of new titles. There’s a fun series of articles about Georgette Heyer’s novels to celebrate 80 years of the Regency novel that I recommend: Victoria Hinshaw, who writes about ‘Pistols or Two’, Heyer’s only collection of short stories, has picked my two favourites to write about at

Vision boards

Pink CardiganI’ve already said I don’t do New Year Resolutions, but I came across an interesting alternative just before Christmas last year. Instead of what are often quite negative resolutions: “I’ll give up….”, a Vision Board lets you picture what you want in your life in a positive fashion. You use words and pictures to create a vision of the goals you want to achieve, and look at it often.

That’s it.

Hmm, I thought, I can’t see how it will work but it won’t cost anything and it might make a difference, so why not give it a try? I found some cover art images online and added my name and book titles along with the words ‘Write’ and ‘Create’. Uncomfortably aware that I tend to get bored with projects, and start something new, I added the word ‘Finish’ alongside pictures of pink and green cardigans (knitted but not sewn up). That patchwork I started in 1979 – nope, not finished either. A picture of someone lecturing to an awestruck audience, beside ‘Expert’. A suitcase and ‘Explore’. Add in a photo of money (hey, why not!) and a picture of a Starbucks cup, inspired by Joanna Basford’s story

And so far? Well, I’ve finished the pink cardigan (pictured) and nearly done the green. I’ve been asked to lecture in June, and I’ve got one trip booked and another on the horizon… although I’ve haven’t gone back to the patchwork yet. And the best thing about vision boards is that you don’t need to wait till the New Year to create your own. So give it a try. After all, it doesn’t cost anything and it might make a difference.

And if you need some ideas, there’s a good article on vision boards in the Huffington Post

Romance as an academic subject

If you write romance, or even simply read it, you might find it enjoyable, but struggle to defend its value and significance. When the RNA began in 1960, the founding members were mocked for their work (not proper writing) and that attitude is still around today. But over the last few years there has been a growing interest in romance as an academic study, and more and more universities are running courses which offer a serious study of the genre. There’s even a peer-reviewed journal on the subject and, unlike many journals, it’s available free online. The Journal of Popular Romances Studies now has eight issues up for viewing, and each includes several articles and reviews.

It requires a strange mental contortion to view some of the books I’ve read and enjoyed in the context of the textual criticism and analytical deconstruction familiar to any student of English. But it’s a very interesting exercise, and it made me see some of my favourites in a new light. There’s an excellent essay by Laura Vivanco  on Georgette Heyer’s ‘The Nonesuch’ (one of her quieter works, and a favourite of mine) which links it to Walter Scott’ ‘Guy Mannering’ and other contemporary works, and makes a claim for it not just as an enjoyable read but as a clear moral guide to the times. And an even more academically titled article is  ‘Who the devil wrote that?’: Intertextuality and Authorial Reputation in Georgette Heyer’s Venetia. If you’ve ever played the same game yourself, you’ll enjoy the analysis of Damerel and Venetia’s conversations.

The one thing good criticism will do is drive you back to the book, to consider it again in a fresh light. I’m already making a note of books I want to reread. And I might even find a new favourite if I tried A Masculine Romance: The Sentimental Bloke and Australian Culture in the War- and Early Interwar Years
by Melissa Bellanta
 or one of the other intriguing articles available on the website.

Little and Often

Crochet SquaresAt the start of the year, I shared photos of some of the squares I crocheted for this year’s craft project. My ambitions was to have 121 squares made by the end of the year – made, but not necessarily sewn together. Well, look at the picture! We’re now into August, and so far I’ve made 80; comfortably on track to finish 41 more by the end of the year, if I make 2 or 3 a week. I’m just making them, you understand; I suspect sewing them together will be next year’s project!

I’m pleased with my progress so far. Tackling bigger projects is always made possible if you divide what you want to achieve by how long you think it will take. That’s how I manage my writing too – just now, I can’t write more than 500 words a day during the week, but that will add up to about 10,000 by the end of a month, or a novel at the end of the year.

“Little and often” means that I can keep on at something, and in the end achieve what I might have thought wasn’t possible – and that’s very encouraging. It means I can tackle the next project, confident that it too will be achievable. Genius might be ‘One per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration’, but also needs a healthy dose of application. So if you’re struggling with something, I wish you every success.

RNA Conference 2015

Queen Mary University of London

Queen Mary University of London

It’s astonishing to think it’s a year on from my first RNA Conference; time really is flying. This year’s was held at Queen Mary University of London, but unfortunately I was only able to attend the Saturday programme this time. I arrived in the cool of the morning to find these great big letters standing on the lawn in front of the main building; later I realised they had been set out for this year’s crop of graduates to use as photo props, which I thought was a great idea. Maybe the RNA could try it next year, and I could drape myself elegantly against the slope of ‘R’ or perch on the bar of ‘A’?

I attended a range of talks; some were personal reflections of a career in writing and books, and some were practical workshops – all in all, a good blend. Hazel Gaynor gave an excellent talk about promotion, stressing that writers should seek to engage their audience, rather than flat-out trying to sell their books; sales should emerge if readers feel engaged with the author and her work. Rowan Coleman was lovely; she has such a pretty voice I could listen to her for hours. She spoke about ‘Five Reasons Novels Fail’, the first one being they never get finished… valuable advice when things start to drag and you wonder why you started this writing lark in the first place.  I’ve managed to get through sloughs by telling myself firmly I owe it to my characters to let them reach their resolution, wich seems to work for me. There was a very good workshop at the end of the day, from Liz Harris, on plotting, with a superb handout to make you really work at understanding your characters.

It was lovely, too, to catch up with some writing friends, and hear how they were doing. The current economic climate, and the seemingly unstoppable rise of ebooks, means there are problems and opportunities like never before, and it was interesting to hear how many people were moving to take more control of their careers by self-publishing. Lunch was excellent (always a plus) although there were constant calls for water jugs to be refilled as it was very hot. I could hear air-conditioning throbbing away, but it didn’t seem to make a dent in the temperature. We were fortunate, however, not to have met the previous week, when London sizzled in 95 degree heat.

I enjoyed my second conference very much, and am already looking forward to next year’s, which takes place at the University of Lancaster. Unfortunately it clashes with the Romance Author and Reader Event in Edinburgh, which takes place on the same Saturday – but I’ll have to pick the RNA conference, as I enjoy it so much.

Choosing what to read

What do you like to read? I had a discussion on Twitter recently with @JYNovelist about novellas. I explained I didn’t tend to read them because I liked longer books in which I could immerse myself – but when I looked over my recent reading on Kindle I discovered that I’ve actually read quite a few recently. In my defence, they were a series, with the same main characters, so I could still get that immersive feeling.

I think I’m probably quite lazy as a reader. If I finish one book, I like to start on the next in the series since I’ve already gone to the bother of learning all the people and places. I can enjoy the story without trying to remember if Julia is the colleague or the sister, or work out what people mean when they refer to the heroine’s ‘work’. Yup, bone idle, that’s me. Although it does mean that once I’ve read up to date in that particular series I have to make a real effort to find something else I want to read, as I haven’t exercised my selection muscle for a while.

Naturally, I enjoy historical romance – but I don’t always feel comfortable reading it when I’m writing my own. If I were sounding ‘writerly’ I’d explain that’s because I want to retain my own voice, but to be honest it’s because I’m left depressed that my stuff isn’t half as good. So that’s a long list of authors who are out when I’m in the middle of a creative spurt.

I’ve developed quite an enthusiasm for cozy crime instead; I don’t really care about solving the murder mystery, but I enjoy finding out about the main character’s family, friends and surroundings. Cozy crime seems especially popular in the USA, where you can find series based in a particular place, round a hobby or even a particular job. UK writers include M C Beaton (Hamish MacBeth and Agatha Raisin) and Lesley Cookman, whose Libby Serjeant mysteries are well-worth looking for. And with e-readers, it’s even easier to find them.

I still don’t read short stories though – I find them too frustrating, with their one tiny vignette on someone’s life.

What do you like to read – and why?