Sunday, 29 January 2012

What Are We?

Sometimes a form asks for my occupation and I was wondering just now exactly what I am. Usually I put writer as my occupation, but I believe a writer is so much more. Most people can write, but as authors we are artists, technicians, novelists, romantics, computer operators, and story tellers. Most of the time we are poorly paid slaves, working all hours of the day and night.
So what are we really?
I just thought I'd give you all somethint to think about on a cold Sunday afternoon.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Characters Taking Over by Fay Cunningham

Why do they do it? Just when I think I’ve knocked them into submission, there they go again, trying to tell me how to write my story. It’s my story, and if I want Laura to have fair hair and blue eyes she has no right to argue with me, but I find a few pages on she’s turned into a brunette and changed the colour of her eyes.

Sometimes you just have to give in. Alex obviously hates his name – he doesn’t feel it’s manly enough for him – so he calls himself Lucas. Those names are nothing alike, are they? It’s certainly not a typing error. Would he like to change his height as well, I suggest? Perhaps six feet isn’t tall enough for him. But no, he seems happy now I’ve changed his name, so perhaps I can get on with the rest of the book.

They’ve taken over my carefully written dialogue, as well. Laura is supposed to be really upset when Lucas drops an ice cream in her lap, but what does she do? She has a fit of the giggles and he joins in. This is supposed to be serious, I tell them, but they don’t listen. She’s kissing him now, and that’s not supposed to happen until halfway through the next chapter. I think I may have lost the plot altogether.

I did threaten to kill one of them off, or maybe drop Laura off a cliff, but they don’t seem bothered. They know it’s all going to turn out happily in the end.

Lucas wants to look like Michael Fassbender, but I tell him he can’t have everything he wants. It’s my story. 

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

What makes you stay with a story?

This is a question that all authors need to ask themselves all the time. Why is it that you pick up one book and find it utterly compelling whereas another simply doesn't grab you?

During the lovely long Christmas holidays I read like crazy and I watched some very good TV. But this time, I made a point of doing both actively, and of making notes to analyse why I kept with the story and didn't close the book for good or turn off the television. Here are a few observations which may be of interest. I'd be fascinated to know what other people have found compelling enough about their favourite books and films to make them spend precious hours of their lives with a story until the end.

PUZZLES - People love trying to discover the answer to puzzles and riddles. They do crosswords every day in the newspaper, buy puzzle books and devour them. I love writing cosy crime and did so with, 'Take a Chance on Love', which involved a theft from a manor house. We love to work out the answers. There's nothing more satisfying than to be given red herrings and to spot which ones are dead ends and which ones might just lead us to the right answer. All writers know the power of puzzles none more so than wonderful authors like Conan Doyle. Not only are his plots puzzles and enigmas, but the character of Sherlock Holmes is himself - pernickety, brilliant, loyal, exasperating, as well as being flawed (his drug taking openly declared) - which is why the characters are reinvented again and again.

SECRETS - I always give both my hero and heroine secrets, they help to drive the characters and shape their actions. EVERYONE has secrets. One of the things I really enjoyed over Christmas was the reworking of 'Great Expectations'. That story is full of secrets and it struck me how incredibly cleverly Dickens had tied them all together in the person of the lawyer Mr Jaggers. He is pivotal, and he is a wonderful 'device' invented by Dickens. Jaggers is the hub which links all of the tangled, troubled characters but of course, being a lawyer, confidentiality prevents him from revealing the secrets even when he sees tragedy played out in front of him. Seeing those secrets unfold is one of the things which makes 'Great Expectations' so compelling. Someone in a similar position - a doctor, a churchman would make a similarly excellent device and I may well pinch the idea of one central individual who ties together a number of people who appear unconnected but who aren't, for a pocket novel one day - thank you Mr Dickens!

COMPELLING CHARACTERS  I enjoyed yet again the film, 'The Fugitive' with Tommy Lee Jones and Harrison Ford. The writer cleverly makes the doctor played by Harrison Ford such a hero. For a start he's a surgeon and secondly, he loves his wife to bits. If that wasn't enough, even though he is on the run for the wrongful conviction of her murder, he correctly diagnoses and saves a dying boy and he pushes an injured man to safety from a crashed bus - despite the danger to himself. He is such good guy, the reason you stay with the story is to see him triumph and get justice. As the writer, if we can make our heros and heroines thoroughly positive individuals, throw a host of insurmountable challenges at them and then make things come right, we will keep our readers with the story and give them the 'happy ever after' which is so satisfying and keeps them coming back for more.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Unashamed plug for Command Performance

Command Performance available from Bookstrand Romance

Not a pocket novel, but a new ebook by me, called Command Performance, which is available from Bookstrand Romance. (and will be available from Amazon in a week or two). Those familiar with the New Voices comp from Mills and Boon might remember this as The Venetian's Command Performance, which was my entry the year before last. It didn't get anywhere but lots of people asked me to finish the story of Vittorio and Lindi ... okay about five people asked, but it's still nice that they did ask! I completed it and changed the title to something a bit snappier. So if you got a new Kindle for Christmas and enjoy category romances, this might just be for you.


Wealthy Vittorio d’Este believes in protecting his family, which is why he does not want his nephew, Marcus, to marry songstress Lindi Baker. On the pretext of finding out if she is a suitable mate for Marcus, he orders her to his private island for a command performance. But Lindi is not what he thinks she is. She, too, brings out all his protective instincts and teaches him how to love again. But how will he react when he learns that she has lied to him?
Singer Lindi Baker has been bullied for years, so she is in no mood to be commanded by Vittorio d’Este, no matter how gorgeous he is. Lindi agrees to accompany Vittorio to his private island at the behest of Gemma, who is the one really sleeping with Marcus. Unsophisticated Lindi does not realise until it’s too late that her own heart is at stake.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Advice for Aspiring Pocket Novelists

New year is traditionally a time to think about new projects and setting goals. If you've thought about writing a pocket novel for My Weekly or People's Friend, I discovered that all the pocket novelists who contribute to this blog agree: start with research. There is no substitute for reading a selection of pocket novels from each series to give you the best idea about what is required.

"I cracked the pocket novel market by reading a load of the current ones," says Cara Cooper. "Still, whenever I start on a new one, I read a couple more as even in the tight world of the pocket novel there are developments."

It is important to realise that writing pocket novels is a specific skill. "Don't think of it as an easy option," says Chrisse Loveday. "They are a genre in their own right."

"Respect the genre and respect the readership," agrees Sally Quilford. "It’s important to enjoy writing them. It’s noticeable that the couple I wrote that I struggled over was because I lost interest in the story or it didn’t work out as I’d hoped."

"Naturally you have to have read pocket novels to know the content and types of stories," adds Nolene Jenkinson. "But you also must have a certain level of story telling and writing ability before it's enough for an editor to consider your work."

If you think writing for pocket novels might be for you and want to give it a go, remember:
  • Both My Weekly Pocket Novels and People's Friend Pocket Novels are 50K in length
  • The series have different editors and so it worth checking for up to date guidelines before submitting
  • Pocket novels can be straightforward "boy meets girl" romances or they might be other stories that incorporate romance, e.g. dramas, mystery, suspense, family stories, rags to riches
  • Pocket novels must be excellent page turners with sympathetic characters and engaging plots. Study films and TV serials that you like and analyse what it is that makes you keep watching.
  • Violence should not be graphic and the bedroom door should remain shut
  • Having said that, kisses should be passionate and pulses should race with romantic tension
  • Contemporary stories as well as historical settings are acceptable but don't go too far back in historical times (my earliest-set one is The Smuggler Returns - see picture - set in 1795)
  • Stories can be set anywhere in the world
"A successful pocket novel needs a good plot and a gorgeous hero and heroine. The same as any other romance," points out Fay Cunningham.

If you decide to give it a go, good luck from all the Pocketeers, and let us know how you get on.