Sunday, 28 February 2010

The Vancouver Olympics

I'm probably the least athletic-minded person on the planet, so it comes as a total surprise to me that I've actually been watching the Olympics this past couple of weeks and enjoying them. Granted, they're being held in my country, and I am fiercely patriotic, but I'm surprised at how excited I get when I'm watching. I actually had tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat watching the Canadian men's team pursuit speed skaters win (my apologies if I got the name of the sport wrong) And don't even get me started on how jazzed I was to read that the Canadian women's hockey team had won gold. I actually wished that I'd caught the game (and not to sound like a bad Canadian, but I never watch hockey--I leave that to my brother.;o) ) So don't be surprised if I sit down and watch the men's game tomorrow. How thrilling--Canada vs US. I better have my tissues ready. Whether Canada wins or loses, I'm going to get weepy.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Adventures in Paradise.

Where do these characters come from? The ones inside our heads? Who are they? How much of them is in you? Or are they what you want them to be. Is that a statement or a question. As a question it's different to a statement.

It's time for all those visiting to address these thoughts and give your opinion.

Go on and tell us what you think.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

How to write a Romance Novel

I started writing romance in Nigeria when I had more time on my hands. We had a housegirl, a gardener, a swimming pool, a tennis court, a special school for our kids and for a gal that had been working her butt off to keep a husband in university, a kid in preschool so she could work her butt off, and little time to breath. Some people just sat around in this little glass bubble of expatriates. Squandering their time.

But that isn’t me. I don’t sit around doing nothing. My brain constantly buzzes and skims around for activities and thus with my trusty little blue plastic typewriter two layers of carbon paper, the pages mounted on my first romance novel. My guide was a mountain of Mills and Boon which was very popular in Nigeria for both men and women and readily available.

I also had a friend who also loved romance, and perhaps it was she that sparked the awareness of a need for writing and for the genre.

My road to romance writing halted while I took time out to study and to write and illustrate picture books for children. But, in that space of time, I think I really did learn my trade and came back to romance because by nature I am a romantic soul. And of course from the early days of little blue typewriters I was lucky enough to be part of a generation that benefited from the blessings of the computer age. Carbon paper leaves a lot to be desired.

I do love comedy and so comedy and romance sat very comfortably on my shoulders. I can watch Sleepless in Seattle and Pretty Woman ad nauseum. Love Jane Austen to distraction.

I never really thought about writing an historical novel until my brief for The Enchanted Faerie turned up. I discovered, since I have an abiding love of research, historical novels can be fun. The essential to writing historical, indeed any novel is convincing world building. The setting must be very believable. World building in any genre is terribly important because the reader must quickly forget the real world and be suspended. Next step for me is Regency. This genre lends itself so easily to my forte – comedy so watch this space.

So what are the rules of a romance? As far as I can think, they are exactly the same for any other kind of genre.

Convincing world building. . I’ve often wondered what idiot said blue and green should never be seen, only on the faerie queen. That is stupid. I’m sitting looking out the window and there’s that tree I love, and a perfectly blue sky behind it.

Lovable Characters. Second most important thing is to make characters lovable enough to want to pursue them in whatever adventure they are undertaking. Even if they really are awful, make them lovable. One doesn’t want to spend time hating the main character/s. My characters all end up as friends by the time I’ve finished a manuscript.

Consistency. Make sure your characters stay the same. I don’t mean that they can’t suddenly discover God or that they are undergoing life changing experiences, but make sure they react in a way which is believable and the way they really would behave because leopards don’t change their spots.

Be clear and precise. Plant the facts for the reader in a logical way so they don’t have to work hard to remember the plot direction. You do not want them having to double back because they’ve missed something.

Never take the reader for granted. There is absolutely nothing wrong with loving romance novels. They sell more books than anything else. The reader will smell an author who is treating them like idiots from a mile. Don’t write down to the reader as if they are a moron. If you don’t like romance then don’t write romance.

All the normal needs of any novel, plot, arc and ending, goal, motivation and conflict are all important just as they are in any other kind of novel worth its salt. The basic premise of a romance is the conflict. The demands of GMC – goal motivation and conflict. This basically is translated into: He/she wants – because – but. You must have this to make a story move.

Know your target audience. If you have a specialist genre – paranormal, time travel, contemporary, comedy, suspense then of course you will have to know what publishers of that genre require. That means you should know what publisher/s you want to target. Specially important because the readers will be expecting a certain standard and they will be very tough on judging anything that doesn’t convince them in their belief systems. You are suspending belief in a believable manner and unless you fulfil this then forget writing because neither agent, nor editor, nor reader will even be slightly interested.

Probably the best piece of advice I, as a writer, has ever been given is this.

Make every work you do your best. Never just let a manuscript drift because it’s good enough. It will end up in a bottom drawer and you will cry over rejection slips. And also be your own harshest critic. Of course every time you start a new manuscript it will probably be the inheritor of your skills getting better.

Edit, edit, and edit again. Be your own harshest critic. Don’t be precious about a piece you really know shouldn’t be there. The best novel doesn’t waffle on. If you are at a party listening to a drunk waffling on about nothing you soon get bored. So what’s different about a reader?

Make sure you have a good hook system. Hooking is important because it’s grabbing the reader’s attention. First line of the novel is important, but hooking throughout the novel is also important. Between point of view changes, and chapter changes.

Which does remind me to mention the importance of establishing the main characters. I have seen some people introducing so many characters in the beginning of the novel that it’s almost like trying to remember everyone’s name at a convention in the first day.

And there’s the biggy. Show not tell. This has been discussed by aspiring writers and authors constantly. What it means is simply don’t fall into a trap of boring description. Keep the writing vital and fresh. Don’t waffle on. Let’s say the character is lighting a cigarette.

Sam wanted a cigarette so he reached into his pocket and pulled out his cigarettes and red lighter.


Sam’s craving was strong. An irresistible urge he’d been fighting since he was twenty. Fingers danced impatiently and finally gave in to the urge for a cigarette.

I don’t need to mention the pocket. That’s a given and not really important where what and how he accessed them.

So really, what I am saying is that there aren’t any special rules for a romantic novel. It is simply a genre like all novels and employing all the rules of good story writing. Weave your spell, make it magic and make the reader extremely sorry they reach the end because they love it.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Howe to Konfeuze a Speltcheker.

I am a long term lover of the development of language which is logical since I love all things written - books are very huggable.

In her excellent blog, Miss Snark's First Victim, (which you will have to Google because for the life of me, I don't know how to create an automatic link) raises her theory that there are extra vowels. I blogged on the subject myself, but for anyone reading this blog (if you aren't then you'll need a note!). Basically my comment on the extra vowels she claims as Y and W and presents her argument with which I heartily agree, I believe the rules of vowels and consonants is too one size fits all.

English is mashed potato. The rules we know today are tampered with, and made as one size fits all. They are wrong, wrong, wrong. First of all I became aware of sounds when I studied Pitman Shorthand. Without realizing it I was learning to use symbols rather than letting the printed word block my linguistic sensibilities.

Basically consonants and vowels are floating entities. Consonants are hard sounds. The ‘l’ in look is a hard sound. The ‘l’ in could is a soft sound. Of course this sound is lost on us today. But once it was a vowel sound. A crude attempt at capturing a sound it was meant to convey.

Firstly may I recommend you go directly to Amazon and order yourself a copy of THE ADVENTURE OF ENGLISH. A BIOGRAPHY OF LANGUAGE by MelvYn Bragg. He talks of English in a section on which he describes as GVS which means Great Vowel Shift. He says that printing largely fixed spelling pre GVS but that took place after the setting of words. Thus a language which is in turbulence with its printed equivalent ends in the two being out of sync.


“When properly read aloud, the fourteenth century English of Chaucer sounds strange to modern ears in a way that, on the whole, the late sixteenth century English of Shakespear does not. For example, Chaucer’s way of saying “name” would have rhymed with the modern “calm”, his “fine” with our “seen”; he would have pronounced “meet more or less as we would pronounce “mate,” “do” as “doe” and “cow” as “coo” (as it is prounced in parts of Scotland).
“In the years between Chaucer’s birth and Shakespeare’s death, English went through a process now known as the Great Vowel Shift. People in the Midlands and south of England changed the way they pronounce long vowels… (held in mouth long time) (meet, street) rather than short vowels (met, mat). Unquote.

He goes on to say on this subject that the invention of printing had an impact on language and the written word. Gutenberg in Mainz invented printing (press) in Mainz in 1453. And Caxton started printing English in 1453. The first dated book printed in England in English was Dictes or Sayengis of the Philosophres 1477. Caxton also printed romances, books of conduct and philosophy, history and morality and the first illustrated printed book in English was “The Myrrour of the Worlde 1481. Caxton worried about how to achieve a common standard. Caxton wrote “Certaynly it is harde to playse every man by cause of dyuersite & chaunge of langage. For in these dayes euery man that is in ony reputacyon in his counter, wyll vtter his commynycacyon and maters in suche maners and termes that few men shall vnderstonde theym.”

So really the vowels and consonants are loose translations for modern logics of today. They crude. Logically a consonant should be a hard sound. And a vowel a soft sound. I learned Hebrew and I find that – apart from being a neater language – its written word illustrates the vowel sounds apart from the hard sounds. Almost the way Pitman symbols do. Of course to a native Hebrew speaker they would read words out of familiarity much the same way we English speakers read and are not disturbed by words such as could, would, wrong, write etc. And understand how one mouse turns into two mice, while one house turns into two houses, but that’s another whole chapter isn’t it. Sheesh who’d want to learn English!

But basically, your suspicions on lurking vowels is very very logical and we are all heading up the garden path where the sign says THIS IS HOW YOU MUST GO AND DON’T ARGUE WITH ME. But you know better.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Graphic Novels, Mastiffs and Dribbling.

Well, might you ask, what has all of this got to do with the other?
Nothing actually, but it got you reading this hasn't it!

I've been illustrating my contribution to For Rich For Poor entitled tentatively:

L’Ermite de Blamain

My story is set in the Regency Times. I think I haven't enjoyed writing a novel more than this one. First of all, it was the first time I've dabbled in anything other than Jane Austen. And it was so much fun. And illustrating these characters was an extension of this, given that graphic novels are the new BIG THING.

The writing of a Regency is quite demanding. And I was told that Regency readers are also very fussy. Given that I am a Jane Austen fan, literature and the modern extension of her work - visual media, once I'd mastered the speech patterns, my whole concentration could fall naturally into creating authentic and believable characters. That is one of the charms of Austen. Her characters are very believable and she creates her world without using overdramatic artifice. She has a subtle way of comedy that avoids Charlie Chaplinesque overdrama.

The illustrations are being drawn in the style of cartoonists of the late 1800's. Charles Dana Gibson is an artist I absolutely adore. And as I gather my thoughts together on this day's blog, it makes quite statement on how exactly you imagine your characters when reading a novel. There is a 'feeling' of them, but you never quite see their faces. We are all used to the concept of seeing a character from our childhood experience in a picture book, but adults reading adult novels will develop that 'feel' rather than 'seeing' as one does in a movie. Of course once we have been given the picture that picture will always live with the character. Example, Colin Firth will forever be Darcy. Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh will forever be Rhett and Scarlett.

When I write I have a personal romance of my own with the characters. I fall in love with my heroes and probably put a lot of me into the one with whom they will fall in love. And, as an artist, thus being very very visual, my ability to draw will give me some added fuel in order not to desert my characters too fast once I have finished the novel.

So Estienne Devereaux, Duke of Blamain, lives on in my imagination.

By the way, in case any of you might be curious.

Blamain is an acronym for the suburb I live in in Sydney, Australia. Google the postcode and you will solve the puzzle. 2041

Damn you Colin Firth. Why couldn't you wait for Estienne. You rushed into playing Darcy so I guess Hugh Grant, you are cordially invited to...

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

belated Happy Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day was quiet for me this year. I don't have a special someone at the moment, so no bouquets of roses, boxes of chocolates or nice dinners out. I did get a really nice card from my neighbour, who's become a good friend this past year. That was sweet. And I did get a couple of cute Valentine's emails from friends, so that was special. Oh, and my Mom called to wish me Happy Valentines. So all in all, I can't complain. I made myself a nice dinner and rented the movie "Whip It" (which sounds like a really dirty movie, but isn' It's a cute film set in the world of women's roller derby and directed by Drew Barrymore. I totally enjoyed it.

I got thinking about my favourite Valentine's Day. It was many years ago when I was young and just launched into the working world. I had a lovely boyfriend at the time, who was quite romantic. We happened to work in the same place, and he arranged a scavenger hunt for me that lasted the whole day. It started with a china rose and a note left on my desk in the morning. It directed me at break time to a cupboard where I found a lovely original poem and another note for the next break in the day. It went like this all day long. I was in a state of anticipation all day and could hardly concentrate on my duties. I found a chocolate treat at one stop, and a gorgeous thoroughly romantic card at another. My final gift was given to me that evening when my boyfriend gave me a lovely necklace I still have to this day. Unfortunately the relationship didn't last, but the memories from that exciting day linger.

Friday, 5 February 2010

turning over a new leaf

I will admit here now, publicly, that I'm the poorest blogger on the planet. I have great intentions, but somehow I always manage to drop the ball.
Part of the problem is that I have been a lifelong procrastinator. I think it's built right into my DNA. I begin projects with great vim and vigour, and at some point life interferes, or I hit a block, or my enthusiasm fizzles, and I start finding a myriad of other things that I should be doing "right now", instead of the aforementioned projects.
And thus it is with blogging. I have always been a little behind when it comes to technology. My computer still uses Windows XP, and I'm quite happy with that. I do have DVD, but not a burner. I just this year got a scanner and learned how to use it. I have a cellphone that sits in my purse, never turned on and rarely used. Facebook? Forget it. My homepage makes my head hurt, there's so much going on there. Twitter? Well, okay, once in a while I remember to Tweet, although it's hard for me to think of something worthwhile to say.
And that brings me to my other issue with regard to blogging...having something worthwhile to say. I periodically visit other people's blogs, and I am often entertained, informed, amused, surprised...And I think, I'm not near as interesting or witty as these folks. So who would want to read anything I would think to blog about?
But I'm an author, and blogging, like it or not, is one of the tools we writers use to reach our readers. So today, once more, I turn over a new leaf. I will endeavor a few times a month, to stop by and post about whatever is going on in my life at that moment...good or bad. Hopefully I won't just put everyone to sleep. ;o)