Sunday, 25 December 2011

Advent Heroes - Christmas Day

I racked my brains to think of a suitable advent hero for today, then it became blatantly obvious. It is, of course, Robert Powell, who played Jesus in the fabulous Jesus of Nazareth. It is still, in my opinion, the best version of the story of Christ, and had a stellar cast. It was much better than Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ, but that may be because I like soft and fluffy Jesus better than dark and blood splattered Jesus.

Robert Powell never quite broke away from that role, but he also played a great Richard Hannay in a remake of The 39 Steps and is a fine actor. I think the only trouble I had was that it seemed a bit wrong to fancy Jesus (and still is).

So this is my chance to give Robert, the actor, his due. He has the most beautiful eyes (he had to learn not to blink to play Christ) and a lovely smile and has left us with a series that shows us how good television can be when things come together in the right way.

Merry Christmas from all the Pocketeers. We hope you've enjoyed sharing our heroes and that you have a fantastic day with the heroes in your life.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Advent Heroes - Day 23

The 1970s might have created the three day week and the winter of discontent but it also produced charming British actors JJ Feild (see yesterday's Advent hero) and today's Advent nomination, Benedict Cumberbatch (above), born during the hot summer of 1976.

Cumberbatch sprang into my line of sight playing Sherlock in the latest BBC incarnation, alongside Martin Freeman as Watson. Not only was I delighted to see an actor sharing the same name as my son (that being Benedict, not Cumberbatch), but I also he was rather easy on the eye and, as the screen quickly showed, a wonderfully talented actor.

Benedict manages to hold the eye by being utterly engaging on screen. Having now seen him in a number of different roles, I imagine he studies hard for his parts, making sure to give each character their own mannerisms and personality.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Advent Heroes - Day 22

I'm so excited to be posting my advent heroes today and tomorrow here on The Pocketeers blog. I've done lots of research and it has been very hard narrowing down from the many, many options. It can be hard work as a romantic novelist sometimes but handsome actors can be very helpful in making one's own characters develop in one's mind's eye. Introducing - in a suitably Christmassy-looking picture - the amazingly cute JJ Feild.

JJ played Henry Tilney in ITV's recent adaptation of Northanger Abbey and his cute smile reminded me very much of one of my own heroes - Lord Hart - a Regency rake who was boyish and needed to somewhat grow up during the course of the story.

More recently I watched JJ in Third Star, a very emotional film. He also starred as Mr Beaton in the TV drama about the life of Mrs Beaton.

JJ has a remarkably expressive face for showing open and hidden emotions. He moves from a frown to a smile, to a laugh in a moment, from serious to playful. He also uses his voice to be expressive, from dulcet tones coming from within the chest to more breathless speech as the occasion demands. A great reminder how powerful the voice can be in expressing emotion.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Christmas on the Home Front

Christmas in 1939 was in many ways like the pre-war Christmas. There were emergency restrictions that affected the celebrations, in particular the blackout, which meant Christmas trees glimpsed through street windows were no longer seen. "As dusk falls, the fairy lights on Christmas Day outside St Paul's Cathedral will go out.... We must await victory to again see them at night in all their colours."
In 1940 things had really changed. Many were surprised that Britain still survived. No church bells were rung – they were only to be rung as a signal that enemy forces were landing. Many people, particularly in London and the bigger towns, took the Christmas celebrations into the shelters. This was the distinguishing mark of Christmas 1940.
Christmas 1941 was a time of optimism; Britain was no longer alone. The USA and Russia have now joined the fight. It's hard to believe how little food was available – compare this to the mountain of goodies we buy today. "Four ounces bacon/ham; 7 ounces butter/margarine; 2 ounces tea; 12 ounces sugar; 3ounces of cooking fat; 3 ounces cheese; one pound a month of jam and preserves; and meat to the value of one shillings and two pence. Eggs were also rationed, depending on their availability, but around three a months or 12 for children and expectant mothers and invalids. Milk was also rationed on this basis and at that time about 2 pints a week, with 14 pints for children under 12 months old, seven pints for children under 3 1/2 pints for adolescents. The National wheat meal loaf was now standard.
The last wartime Christmas the Archbishop of York gave a very upbeat message.
"This is the sixth Christmas of the war. But it will be happier for most of us than the preceding five. The danger of invasion has passed, and the worst of the air raids are over. With quiet confidence we see the end in sight. We hope that by next Christmas some of those that are absent from us will have returned to their homes and though we know that there will be a hard struggle both in Europe and the Far East before victory is won, we begin to plan for the new and better world."
Amen to that.
Happy Christmas to everyone and I wish you all a prosperous and peaceful New Year.
Fenella Miller

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Advent Heroes - Day Twenty

I've often admitted that I started my writing career by writing fanfiction. And the character I wrote about most was Anton Meyer from Holby City, played by the criminally underrated George Irving. He was the hero of all my stories.

He may not be conventionally handsome, but as Anton Meyer he chewed scenery with stunning effects. Meyer might have been autocratic, and a holy terror at times, but if you were undergoing heart surgery, you'd want him there to save your life. I'm not the only woman who fell for his alpha male behaviour and it's because of George I met my best friends in the world. I started up a group called The Meyerieantonettes (I'm surprised I can still spell it) and met up with some of the members. That was in 1999 and we still holiday together once a year. To make things even better, a couple of years ago, we all went off to see George in The French Lieutenant's Woman, in which he was fantastic as 'The Writer'.

As my friend, Caroline and I were going back to the car park, who should we meet at the ticket machine but George! (Oh and he's just as gorgeous in real life!) I shook his hand and thanked him for bringing me my best friends. We went back to my friend's car, shut the doors and windows then just sat there squealing for about five minutes!

He's not on telly nearly enough nowadays, and I haven't watched Holby since he left, but he still holds a very special place in my heart.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Advent Hero - Day 19

In our pocket novel ‘Cherry Blossom’ we based hotel proprietor Oliver Fingle on Matthew Macfadyen. Oliver is quite serious so this picture fitted well and as soon as we saw him we both wanted him – for our hero, of course. His younger half-brother, Darius, was based on Owen Wilson.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Advent Hero - Day 18

Liam Neeson. An evergreen ageless hero. And that deep voice. Has the ability to play any character roles. Among many of course the standouts for me were in Star Wars and, more recently, saw him power through the opposition in the movie Taken when his daughter was kidnapped. So sad that he lost his gorgeous actress wife in recent years.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Rochester - Toby Stevens

In 'To Love Again' I based my damaged and dark hero on Toby in the recent TV production of Jane Eyre. I love the broody, moody types and enjoy writing about the heroine smoothing the rough edges and making him smile again.
Have a wonderful Christmas

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Advent Heroes - Day Fifteen

Hugh Laurie as House (Chosen by Fay Cunningham)

It's the eyes, isn't it? The sort you drown in. And a certain vulnerability. He's damaged, but we know we can fix him. All he needs is love.

Don't ask me what he's holding. I really don't care.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Advent Hero 14th December

Tristan Gemmill is my choice for today. He played Adam Trueman in 'Casualty'. His character was somewhat tortured by terrible happenings but he played the role with great sensitivity (in my opinion) and I just wanted to hug him better. Actually, just hugging him for starters would have been fine with me. Just my type of man ... tall and slim, dark and beautiful. Think he has brown eyes but difficult to tell. Need to see more of him!

Intriguing Romance By Sally Quilford

It may or may not be apparent that my favourite sub-genre of romance writing is romantic intrigue. I find it very hard to write a ‘straight’ romance, and am in awe of those who do. Part of the problem for me is keeping up the ‘Will they? Won’t they?’ question till the end. So the ideal way to do that, at least for me, is to throw in a bit of intrigue. It seemed to me that as most romances are predictable, in that there’s always a happy ever after, it helped to have something else to keep the reader interested in reading on to the end. But that’s just me. I know writers who write ‘straight’ romances (I’m talking as in traditional rather than ‘straight’ in sexuality terms here) perfectly. I just can’t do it very well. Even in Command Performance which is out in ebook form in January and one of the most conventional romances I’ve ever written, I manage to get in a bit of intrigue regarding the heroine’s trust fund. The only difference between that and most of my novels is that no one dies…

"That's it, darling. You rest and don't worry your pretty little head about things."

Romantic intrigue has been a staple of books and films for many years, going as far back as Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone and The Woman In White (and probably before that as Jane Eyre is something of a romantic intrigue), then up to Hitchcock’s wonderful films of the 30s, 40s and 50s, where the intrigue invariably involved a romance of some kind. The Lady Vanishes is one of my all time favourites, but Rebecca comes a close second. But for real intrigue and melodrama Gaslight, starring the wonderful Ingrid Bergman and the very underrated Joseph Cotton (who I wouldn’t say no to), beats them all. Charles Boyer’s increasingly unhinged role as the husband who is supposed to be driving his wife insane is a bravura performance and illustrates just how ‘good’ a bad guy has to be to up the psychological quotient.

"You may have murdered your first wife, but all you needed  to redeem you was the love of a woman who is so unimportant she doesn't even have a first name."

Of course, nowadays, women are not depicted as the victims of scheming husbands, and neither do they have their fears dismissed as hysterical ramblings. Much. They don't sit around waiting for things to happen to them. They go out and meet trouble head on.  I pride myself on my heroines being quite feisty and even if they turn to the hero for help, it’s as a last resort, and not because they’re too weak to deal with problems themselves.
"Admit it, you forgot to alphabetise my CD collection again, didn't you? I suppose I'll have to do it all myself, as usual!"

My first published pocket novel, The Secret of Helena’s Bay, was my first proper attempt at romantic intrigue. Though having a contemporary setting, I wanted to give it the feel of a film starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. I threw in the lot. A missing old man (a homage to the missing lady in The Lady Vanishes), Nazis (it is my belief that you can never have too many Nazis in a story of romantic intrigue) henchmen (ditto) and, of course, the McGuffin, which in this case was a set of rubies stolen from the chalice in a Greek church (more on the McGuffin later). I even had two elderly ladies called Caldicot and Charters, as a nod towards the cricket loving gentleman in The Lady Vanishes. In truth I borrowed from everywhere and left no romantic intrigue cliché unturned. And I loved every minute of writing it. And my latest novella, Mistletoe and Mystery is also a romantic intrique, though this time it involves cat burglars and missing schoolgirls (not a Nazi in sight, unfortunately).

So what do you need to write a romantic intrigue? I’ve mentioned a few things, but I’ll list them properly, with explanations.

Hero and heroine conflicted: This is important. In any romance, as I stated in a previous post, there will be an internal and external conflict that keeps the hero and heroine apart. We’re back to our Bruce and his vested interest again.
For the half a dozen people out there who don't know what Bruce Willis looks like in his vest

In romantic intrigue, the intrigue is generally the main external conflict. But as I said in that blog post, one has to compliment the other. So in romantic intrigue it helps if, for some reason, your hero and heroine distrust each other (or you could have just one distrusting the other). At the same time, they’re fighting against the growing attraction/love that they’re feeling. Can this person really be involved in the theft of Lady Wotsit’s cameo brooch inside which are hidden secret Nazi files? The mystery they face must have some bearing on their romance, and not just be something tagged on to add a few more thousand words.

A mystery: It goes without saying that there needs to be some sort of mystery to solve. Solving that mystery might even bring your hero and heroine together, or if one suspects the other, tears them apart, until the final happy ending.

Suspicious behaviour: Several of  your characters, maybe even including the hero and heroine, have to be seen to be behaving suspiciously. At the end there’s always a perfectly reasonable explanation, but keep the reader guessing.

A compelling and realistic bad guy/girl. As Charles Boyer showed in Gaslight, the bad guy or girl in any story has to be compelling. Of course, unless you’re writing a story where the bad guy is clear from the outset (and I’ve done that) you may hint at several people being the antagonist. But by the time the real villain is exposed, their motive must be plausible and they must receive a suitable punishment. I find throwing them off a cliff during a life or death struggle with the hero/heroine quite satisfying, even if it is a bit clichéd.

A McGuffin: The McGuffin is my favourite part of writing romantic intrigue, but probably one of the hardest to come up with. To explain, a McGuffin is an object that drives the plot and makes characters behave in the way they do, but is not important in its own right (The TV Tropes page explains it in more detail and gives examples). It has no particular importance outside the story. In The Maltese Falcon, it’s the falcon which drives everyone. It does not necessarily have to be a physical thing. It can be a secret inside someone’s head. In The Lady Vanishes, it’s the tune that the missing lady in question has in her head . And remember the Memory Man in The 39 Steps? To prove that the McGuffin could be absolutely anything, when I wrote My True Companion (which will be in libraries from 1st January 2012) I knew there were secret documents, but I had no idea what was in those secret documents until my heroine found them. It could have been the secret ingredient in KFC or Coca Cola, but was actually a secret weapon (that being more in fitting with the story I’d told so far). Similarly, in Sunlit Secrets, which is not quite a romantic intrigue, but has lots of secrets, I had no idea what my hero’s secret was until he revealed all to the heroine partway through the book.

A satisfying resolution: As well as your usual happy ever after for the hero and heroine, everything else about a romantic intrigue story has to be satisfying too. All loose ends must be tied up, bad guys/girls must be suitably punished, and the reader should not be left with any questions about what went on. Anyone who’s read Agatha Christie will know that this sort of reveal usually takes place with everyone sitting in a plush drawing room, as Poirot or Miss Marple tell each of them why they’ve been keeping a secret (as if they didn’t know). I generally cover this by having one of my characters ask the hero or heroine something like, ‘So what exactly has gone on here?’ In that way I can have my hero/heroine (it’s usually the heroine in my novels) give a précis of what’s happened, so that it clears up any confusion the reader might feel. In a lot of ways it helps me too, because if the heroine can’t explain it in relatively simple terms, that means I’ve messed up somewhere.

You may have to do this more than once, just as a reminder of what’s going on. Think of the précis as being a bit like the old films where part way through, the hero (and it was always the hero in those days) brings us up to speed. 

"Well, Miss Jones, my annoyingly screechy love interest, who is looking utterly gorgeous in her wet skirt and undone-blouse-that-shows-just-enough-cleavage-whilst-rather-phallic-snakes-thrust-towards-your-groin-area. We’ve swum through the  River of Crawling Death (we really should have known from the name not to get in) – where I had to save you TWICE. We tracked down Professor E. Ville and discovered the location of the secret Nazi weapon. Now we need to make sure it never sees the light of day. But first let me one-handedly grapple these last few snakes, whilst I keep the other hand dangerously close to your bosom. Because I'm a man and that's what men do. No, don't try to help me. You just stand there half-naked and scream - just like you always do."

It’s a way of bringing the reader or viewer up to speed. But hopefully you can do it in a way that’s not quite as clumsy.

The most important thing is that it all hangs together in the end. The romance must be tied up somehow in the outcome of the intrigue, in much the same was as any external conflict needs to inform the internal conflict.
If you’d like to see how I write romantic intrigue, it just so happens that my latest novella, Mistletoe and Mystery is in the shops from today. It has pretty much everything I’ve listed above, including a McGuffin, though I carelessly left out Nazis and their henchmen again. I promise to try harder next time, honest. But the hero, Matt Cassell is inspired by Matt Damon so that’s a bonus.
There is also a chance to win a signed copy over on my blog. I can't promise it's the perfect story of romantic intrigue, but I had a lot of fun writing it, so I hope you'll have a lot of fun reading it.

Just because...

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Advent Heroes - Day Thirteen

Ray Stephenson (Pullo) and Kevin McKidd (Lucius)

Today on Advent Heroes, you get a twofer (2 for 1). Ray Stephenson and Kevin McKidd, or as I prefer to think of them, Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus (or as I like to call him, Luscious Vorenus). One is dark, the other one fair, but they complimented each other so well in the excellent series, Rome that I find it impossible to separate them in terms of who is my favourite. Pullo was the wise-cracking anti-hero, always getting into fights and other mischief, yet at heart he was a good noble man who cares for his friends. Lucius epitomised the Stoic hero. He's quieter than Pullo, and thinks more about the consequences of his actions, but is still a tough guy who is hopelessly in love with his wife.

My favourite scene in the series was in the penultimate episode of Series 1, when Pullo is sent to the gladiator arena for killing someone. Because he feels guilty over the death of a slave, rather than the man he was arrested for killing, he decides to let them kill him. Just when it seems he won't fight back, the other gladiators disrespect his regiment. Then he goes all badass on them. Meanwhile, Lucius is watching from afar and as Pullo starts to struggle, Lucius runs into the ring and helps him. It's bloody and gory, and not for the faint-hearted, but it made me cry and perfectly illustrated their sometimes tempestuous friendship.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Advent Hero - Day 12

Okay, I've cheated and used two photos. Now, don't tell me Clive Owen isn't the next James Bond! Just look at that top photograph. I've watched his popularity grow, and I melt each time I hear that deep sexy laugh. The guy is so unassuming. He just "has it". For my money, Daniel Craig just doesn't cut it as 007. The heirs apparent to assume that role must surely be yours truly above or Hugh Jackman or Richard Armitage. Bond producers, take note. :)

Advent Heroes Day 11

My hero today, is Charles Dickens. This is his bicentenary year, and celebrations of all sorts are going on including a new adaptation of Great Expectations by the BBC. Here's the trailer which features a gorgeous young actor called Douglas Booth as Pip - check out the cheekbones, and those eyes! .

What makes Dickens a hero for me is not only the hours of pleasure I have had reading his books but also his commitment to being a social commentator. He lectured against slavery in the United States, helped to set up a home for 'fallen' women, and raised funds which helped Great Ormond Street Hospital survive its first major financial crisis. But most of all, there are his wonderful books, so popular they have never been out of print. A Christmas Carol is one of my favourite stories and I love David Copperfield and Oliver Twist. The only one I have failed with is Bleak House which is incredibly complicated but one day when I have loads of time and a huge pot of coffee, I will finish it!

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Large print copy of The Secret of Helena's Bay up for grabs

Just a quickie to let everyone know that I've got a prize draw on my blog to win a first prize of a signed copy of The Secret of Helena's Bay (my first ever pocket novel) and a runner up prize of my ebook, The Ghost of Christmas Past. The draw closes this Tuesday, 13th December at 5pm.

Even though Helena's Bay is from the days when pocket novels were only 30k, it does give an idea of the sort of stories they like.

Advent Heroes - Day Ten

I must admit it took me a long time to get the Colin Firth thing. Ironically it was seeing him in Mamma Mia (where his character turned out to be gay) that made me realise just how yummy he is. I think it's because he's older now and I've always preferred a more seasoned hero. So I've been catching up on all his earlier work, including Pride and Prejudice (which I did watch at the time but not for Colin), and his Bridget Jones films. My favourite though is in Love Actually where he learns Portuguese just to ask the woman he loves to marry him. It's wonderful!

Friday, 9 December 2011

Advent Heroes - Day Nine

This is Liam Garrigan ... he has amazing light blue eyes that look right through you. I used him as the mdel for my hero in 'Ties That Bind'. He's been in loads of things on TV .. Holby, Landgirls etc.

He's another Yorkshire man ... they make 'em well up there!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe is the perfect hero for any of my Regency stories. Many of my heroes are ex-soldiers but not usually fair. I even watch Sean's horror/grisly films I am so besotted. My latest Regency A Christmas at Hartford Hall is out now with Aurora/Musa.
Fenella Miller

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Dan Stevens isn't my usual sort of hero but he's very much James in my first "Potteries" story. After Downton Abbey, he was on Have I Got news for You recently and became much more of a real person. He's funny as well as rather dishy!

Writing a series.....

I write for both People’s Friend and My Weekly Pocket Novels. They are quite different in their requirements but I enjoy the changes.
In the past I have allowed the same characters to creep into other stories. For example, a new heroine went to the wedding of an old one in another story ... nobody noticed but it amused me. Recently I have been writing a series for People’s Friend. It started life as an idea sent to the magazine for a serial. It was rejected for two reasons: one that the subject matter touched on another recent serial and secondly, the editor felt it would not have enough content for them. I sent in the story to Tracey Steele who loved it and took the book immediately. She then asked for another, following the same family. It was so easy and a third followed. Now I’ve written a fourth which comes out in April. ‘Tomorrow’s Dreams’, ‘Dare to Love’ and ‘Where Love Belongs’ tell the story of the Vale family members over the years from 1925 to post WW2. I wrote the series based on the Pottery industry. My father was a china manufacturer so it was great for me to re-visit the area and remember so many things from my own childhood ... not I add, that I was around at the time of these stories! It was lovely as I knew the characters so well and watched them grow up. It felt like meeting with old friends. No current plans for a fifth ... but who knows? After a break, they may all creep back into my life again.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Richard Armitage does it for me in every role. I fell for him as Guy of Gisborne and ever since. I like the angry looks but felt this one might suit out hero images better! Love Chrissie

Monday, 5 December 2011

Advent Hero Day Five

Johnny Depp: not just a swashbuckling hero, but a suave heart stopper with cheekbones to manicure your nails on. Also a master of many disguises. Which version would you choose? Jack Sparrow, Edward Scissorhands, The Mad Hatter or Frank Tupelo.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Advent Hero - Day 4


Yum. Not biased or anything but my own fellow Aussie Hugh Jackman is not only a handsome and successful actor, he is also a really decent bloke. Have you ever seen a man look so good in a tee shirt? The reason I've chosen him is because he was the star of the movie Paperback Hero about a truck driver in the outback who writes romance novels. [Highly appropriate for our blog I thought.] The fun starts when he becomes published and they use a woman as a front for publicity. The actual Nindigully Pub in outback Queensland was used in the movie but given the name of Boomerang Cafe.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Advent Hero - Day Three

Patrick Jane as Simon Baker - The Mentalist

Fay Cunningham shares her Advent Hero

Simon Baker, as he appears in The Mentalist, was the blueprint for my hero in my last pocket novel, called Dreaming of Love. Needless to say, the man on the cover illustration was nothing like him, but that didn't really matter. I like to have a picture in my head while I write, but the reader will also have her own idea, and that may not be the same as mine. Patrick Jane had the quiet but sexy persona that I needed. A man of few words, but gorgeous with it. I gave my hero the same wonderful hair (don't you just wish you could run your hands through it?) and the same bright blue eyes, so thank you, Patrick, for letting me borrow you.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Advent Heroes - Day Two

Atticus Finch, wonderfully played by Gregory Peck in 'To Kill a Mockingbird' is hero number two. Lawyers make excellent heroes because they wrestle with questions of conscience, they are constantly tested with moral and ethical issues - and have to be strong willed and intelligent to defend both their clients and the law. Gregory Peck was great in the film, he had a wonderfully understated manner and was the sort of person you would want to have on your side. His defending of the underdog, his grace in defeat and his warmth as a father guaranteed him lasting hero status. (At the other end of the spectrum, lawyers can also make excellent villains. I can't imagine Gregory Peck playing a villain but I'm sure in a long career he did at some stage!)

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Advent Heroes - Day One

Every day up to Christmas, we're going to be bringing you an 'advent hero'. We can't put them in your stockings or guarantee a piece of chocolate with every one, but we can make a few hearts flutter.

I'm going to start with a man, who through the film It's A Wonderful Life, has pretty much become the king of Christmas. James Stewart. He's not your normal alpha hero, but the characters that James Stewart played were often the epitome of a tortured hero. The dreamer, George Bailey, who longs to get out of Bedford Falls, but turns out to be the hero of the whole town. The young lawyer in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, who is torn between wanting to keep the law and wanting to punish the evil Liberty Valance. And finally the dark and tortured hero of several Hitchcock films, ending with the extremely dark tale of obsession, Vertigo.
My favourite romantic scene from all of Stewart's films is the telephone scene from It's A Wonderful Life, as he assures Mary he'll never get married...Ever! It makes my heart swell every time! Watch it below and let me know if you agree that it's one of the most romantic things you've ever seen.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Two For One

It’s not that unusual to write with another person and there is at least one other pocketeer who has successfully experienced working in partnership. It might be interesting for you to know how we work together, as writing can be a very lonely business.
Obviously there are both pros and cons to working with someone else. On the plus side, there are deadlines to meet or the other person is let down. It is very useful to be able to bounce ideas off each other and, funnily enough or perhaps not, there hasn’t been one argument between us in all the time we have been writing together. Often our thoughts pre-empt the other’s. If we become blocked we usually put ‘blah’ and the other one will supply, if not the correct word, then something which will ignite a train of thought. Between us there is a voice of reason which keeps us on the straight and narrow and focussed.
Our stories are planned in great detail as although having the same thoughts is a possibility it can’t always be relied on. Complete profiles with pictures for the main characters are essential.
Useful research is shared along with feedback from various writing magazines, workshops and events which have been attended separately.
On a slightly more frivolous note it is fun meeting up and we look forward to each other’s emails which can veer into quite different topics and brighten our day. We provide consolation when a rejection drops onto the doormat or into the inbox. And jump up and down via email when an acceptance arrives. Mary’s emoticons have become characters with lives of their own.
Every once in a while we challenge each other out of our comfort zones by encouraging writing in a different genre. It paid off as that was how Ruth had a wonderful poem published.
On the minus side the writing inevitably takes us longer as we have to wait for the piece to come back from the other person. Sometimes we are conscious of holding each other back when family life gets in the way. We do, of course, understand and try to treat ourselves and each other kindly.
Someone said that writers shouldn’t expect the writing process to be fun. By working together it is double the fun.

Saturday, 26 November 2011


It's amazing how things work out with ideas for pocket novels sometimes. I'd had an idea about writing a novella about a young couple who'd been childhood sweethearts (I mean real childhood as in them being about ten years old at the time) but were separated for some mysterious reason then reunited as adults where they solve a crime together (and fall in love as grown ups of course). I'd already decided that the hero was going to be inspired by young actor, Iwan Rheon, pictured above, who has the most wonderful innocent eyes. He'll probably be the youngest hero I've ever written about, at 26 or 27. Younger than my own son ... eeek!

Anyway, I hadn't thought of the hero and heroine's names yet, and with me, until I have a name, I don't have a character or story. So when I went to bed the other night I started tapping a few ideas into my iPad to save what I'd thought of so far. I got as far as 'reunited'. In fact I only got as far as 'reu', and the iPad decided to auto-complete it as 'Reuben'. I knew in that instant that Reuben was going to be the name of my hero. It told me so much about who he was and where he came from. As soon as I had his name, the heroine's name popped into my head. Kate. Reuben and Kate. They sound so good together. I haven't decided yet whether to shorten Reuben to Rube, but I think I prefer Reuben. Then that led to more ideas about the story - which obviously I'm not going to give away here!

But I post this to illustrate how sometimes serendipity plays a major part in writing.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The Joy Of Setting

Perhaps because I have a deep love of nature, adore the sound of rain slashing down outside [living in a dry climate, every drop is appreciated!] and am fascinated with geography and the countries and places of the world, setting is important to me in both reading and writing novels.

Living in Australia, I am blessed with some of the most beautiful and dramatic scenery anywhere in the world. Not much surpasses our fabulous l-o-n-g sandy beaches and dramatic waves pounding onto the shore. I like nothing better [when I get the chance - I live inland] than walking for miles along the seashore with the wind in your face, feeling the ocean's exhilarating power beside you and being uplifted.

In my own novels, I have shamelessly showcased many scenic and inspiring Aussie locations. My first Pocket Novel, OUTBACK HERO, was set in my own cereal farming district in Victoria complete with crumbling homestead, bushfire and a happy ending. STARTING AGAIN was set among the green Gippsland lakes of eastern Victoria. A WHIRLWIND ROMANCE and NANNY WANTED were set in Melbourne, my home State's capital city. OCEAN BLUE is set on a fictional island in Australia's national jewel, the Great Barrier Reef.

 [Both of these views were taken in the region where I live.
Top: Looking across to the Grampians mountains
Bottom: view from Mount Arapiles, a rock climbing destination for enthusiasts]

My most recent novels, LOVING LUCY by Avalon Books and WOMBAT CREEK, a My Weekly Pocket Novel, were respectively set in my country Victoria hometown and in the lush pastoral sheep grazing country of the Western District south of where I live near the wool town of Hamilton.

My future Pocket Novel romance projects will be a series of trilogies set in a former gold mining village in the hilly north east of Victoria around Beechworth, along Australia's magical coastline, and in the outback highlighting the "big three" in Australia: sheep, wheat and cattle, set in South Australia, the West and Queensland to feature them.

 [Typical view of outback Australia. Gorgeous huh?]

As a reader, I love settings of both cosy and exotic places. So, vicariously, I have been to Asia, England, Malta and Venice ... you get the idea. If a novel blurb mentions the setting - as it should - that alone may enthuse me to dip into the story and see what I can learn and where I can go. I also adore reading historical novels and soaking up another era; always a fascinating journey.

I would love to hear about your favourite or most memorable place.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Something for the weekend?

Hi - Sorry not to post this at the weekend, I timed it to go out Sunday but something went wrong. Anyhow, here is a rather unusual short story opportunity and a wonderful site for any writers living in the Commonwealth (that's us folks). I've just listened to one of the stories on their website and it was lovely so go ahead, have a look and if you can get a short story between 2000 and 5000 words together by 30 November, go ahead and submit. Remember, a competition win always looks fantastic in a letter to a publisher or an agent when you are submitting a novel. I don't think it costs to enter and there's a very respectable cash prize. Here's the link


Saturday, 19 November 2011

100k in 100days group on Festival of Romance

My lovely fellow Pocketeer, Kate Allan, kindly invited me to set up a 100k in 100 days group at the Festival of Romance site. Please do come and join in, and invite all your friends.

100k in 100days on The Festival of Romance site.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Fancy writing two 50k pocket novels in 100 days?

If you've dreamed of writing a pocket novel (or two) here's your chance to do so with support from other writers. Starting 1st January 2012 and ending 9th April 2012 I am running an initiative to write 100,000 words in 100 days. That works out at 1000 words a day. It's free to take part, and there are no tests at the end. I don't have any fancy equipment like NaNoWriMo so the challenge works on an honour system alone.

Of course you don't have to write 2 pocket novels. You can write 1 pocket novel and a whole bunch of stories. Or you can write whatever you want as long as it's creative writing. But this being a pocket novel blog, I reckon pocket novels are the way to go. I'll be writing at least one. My suggestions for what you can get out of your 100k words are here. And there's a Facebook events page here.

And the picture of Hugh Jackman? Well he's just there to inspire your New Year's resolution. If you don't do it I'll send him around ... no, that's not it. If you do succeed I'll send him around (disclaimer: promises made by Sally Quilford regarding Hugh Jackman are not legally binding).

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Original Clichés

Now there’s an oxymoron ‘if ever I saw one’ – and, hey, would you believe it, I’ve used a cliché already. As any author will tell you, the damn things sneak in everywhere.

I have never understood why Bill Gates didn’t include a cliché finder in his Word package – and I have never understood why editors hate them so much. Clichés are part of the English language and most of us use them without even noticing. It has been ‘drummed into us’ that our writing should be original, but every word we use has been used by someone else.

Some time ago I tried to think up new phrases for old clichés. A task that is almost impossible and exceedingly frustrating. I did manage to come up with ‘about as useful as a knitted bucket’, ‘bleeding like a motorway rabbit’, and ‘the deep breath before the scream’ but I doubt they will ‘go down in history’.

The Internet can turn an original phrase into a cliché in a matter of seconds, so even if an author is clever enough to think up a brilliant new descriptive expression, it will probably be a cliché by the time the book is published.

Some new clichés (is that another oxymoron?) have already earned their place in the reference books. ‘The elephant in the room’ is one of my favourites – but, of course, I can never use it because it is now a cliché. One of the best I came across recently, and one I hadn’t heard before, was ‘as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs’. But you can’t use that either because I’ve just told you about it.

What would the thriller writer do if he couldn’t arm his hero ‘to the teeth’ before ‘all hell breaks loose’? The romance writer’s hero is often ‘blown away’ by his first sight of the heroine, while she thinks he has a smile ‘to die for’. Most of us know exactly what these phrases mean and don’t mind them a bit. In our novellas the lovers have to get together before the end or our readers would kill us, and sometimes a predictable ‘happy ending’ is as comforting as a warm blanket, even if it is a cliché.

Clichés are fine in conversation, because that’s the way people talk, but when writing a descriptive passage we have to use our imagination – not someone else’s.

All my books are available in the libraries and on line at Amazon, but please don’t look for clichés. I am sure you’ll find a lot of them. 

Fay Cunningham

Saturday, 12 November 2011

I finished a book!

I'm in that strange mood ... jubilant at finishing a book and a feeling of bereavement because I've said goodbye to some friends. They have been living with me for some time and now they are gone. The other thing that hits me at this time ... there are all the bits of the real life waiting for my attention. I had the best excuse to leave dust settling, ironing ... you know the sort of thing and now there's no reason to avoid doing ordinary stuff.
I could always begin the next one on Monday???
Have a good weekend
Love, Chrissie x

Looking for Men

Coincidentally, as Sally was posting her blog about heroes, we were looking for men on the internet even though we’re both happily married. Work on the character profiles for our latest pocket novel had begun. We really enjoy this and hope to find our dream person – in fiction, of course. We both have to be happy with the pictures and along the way all manner of dishy men were turned down. The final choice for our hero is a young Robert Redford.
The other people were found more easily.

A Weekend Heartwarmer

Something to make you go awww. Watch right to the end for the full effect and when you've stopped crying tell me if you agree the man and woman would make a lovely pocket novel couple (he's very fit actually ... sigh...)

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

There has to be something at stake.......

Charles Dance looking suave, moody and troubled (I love tortured heroes!)  in the TV adaptation of Rebecca

I recently attended the London Chapter meeting of the Romantic Novelists Association. They have a New Writers Scheme where published authors provide an in depth critique to those who submit manuscripts and who are not yet published.

The meeting was an opportunity for three of us readers to meet some of those who had submitted and I found it fascinating. One of the things that struck me most was something that one of the other readers pointed out that mirrored my own experience of critiquing unpublished manuscripts. By the end of chapter one she said the reader must know that there is something at stake. This is so important, and worth any new writer taking note. It is also an easy mistake to write a whole novel where too little is at stake. Something has to be of major importance to your characters to make it interesting. This is one of the things I have noticed about unpublished manuscripts which may lead to rejection. Often manuscripts are well constructed, the dialogue is good, the characterisations are spot on. But if the main players don't have something major at stake for them to desire, hanker after, want to hold on to - all that hard work can be hung on something which is just too weak to hold a reader's interest. Also there have to be reasons for those very human needs which is why it is important to create fully rounded characters with in depth histories.

To demonstrate, I’ll take a couple of popular works, one recent and one a classic which has been remade so many times it will be very familiar. Firstly Downton Abbey which has been hugely successful. It also perfectly illustrates my point. The storyline hinges on the Downton estate which means everything to the honourable Earl of Grantham and his three daughters. It is their home, their fortune, their considerable legacy. Because the estate is entailed and can pass only to sons there is immediately something at stake because the Earl unfortunately only has daughters. What’s more, we know how hard the Earl has fought to keep the estate, by firstly marrying an American heiress (which wasn’t a love match although he now loves her dearly – he’s a great character, fair and honourable who you want to see succeed) and secondly by engineering the marriage between his eldest daughter Mary and the heir to the Downton estate. Huge things are at stake here, not just property but wealth and most importantly the Earl’s heartfelt desire to preserve the family estate - it’s in his bones and he sees himself as its protector. Instantly as viewers we were hooked. We may never know what it is like to have that weight of responsibility but we can imagine….

My second example is Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. From the start we know that the heroine is poor, plain and put upon by the rich, snobbish lady to whom she is acting as companion. Then into her life comes the fabulously wealthy, gorgeously taciturn Maxim de Winter, the sort of man she feels she could never capture. But he sees something in her that others don’t, her good nature, a sweet naievety that he hankers after as he now despises the flamboyant worldliness of his first wife (for very good reasons which I won’t lay out here for fear of spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t read Rebecca). Instantly there is something major at stake for both hero and heroine. For the heroine it is a classic Cinderella story, the chance to escape. For Maxim it is the chance to make good a life which has gone disastrously wrong.   

So there you have it. For a story to have dramatic impact there has to be something at stake. Something major, for those characters at that time in their lives. Once you set that scenario up you’ll hopefully have readers hooked until the end. So many different people have played Maxim de Winter but my personal favourite is Charles Dance hence the gratuitous photo above of him being moody and troubled. Wonderful!

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Sally's Heroes #1

Sharpe: Wondering whether to storm a castle or go to bed with the 'female of the week'. Knowing him, he'll do both!

This is the first in an occasional light-hearted weekend series where I share my favourite fictional and/or real heroes with you. You can read a pretty extensive list in this post I did for my birthday on my own blog.

This week's hero is the gorgeous Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe.

Sharpe is my kind of man. He's worked his way up through the ranks, despite resentment from his fellow officers and his own class, and he doesn't suffer fools gladly. He's got an eye for a pretty face, but always behaves as much more of a gentleman than those who were born 'gentlemen'. He's also a loyal friend and not afraid to go the front when there's trouble, unlike many of the officers. He's also a tortured hero. His first wife, Teresa, died, and his second wife, Jane, stole all his money and went off with that bloke from Buffy and Angel. Then his third wife died. If ever a man needed a cuddle...

I often use actors as a template for my heroes. I haven't published anything with Sean as the hero yet, but he is one of my Derbyshire Hunks, the three gorgeous brothers of my intended serial (yes, I know Sean is from Yorkshire, but it's near enough for me.), along with Richard Armitage and David Morrissey. Sean has inspired Jack Henderson, the eldest of the brothers, and even though it's a contemporary story I am going to try and give Jack some of Sharpe's heroism and gentlemanly conduct.

The great thing about using actors as templates is that you never forgot how you've described them. Plus, you can still give them whatever personality you want them to have. One drawback, however, is that if your reader doesn't have the same tastes as you, and they know who you've used for the template, it can spoil their reading experience.

So, who are your favourite fictional or real heroes? And do you ever use them as templates for characters?

Sharpe and the 'female of the week' after he's stormed the castle (yes, that is Liz Hurley)

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Write what you know

'Piffle!' Kate was holed up on the sofa feeding her five month old baby. She'd watched the entire Sharpe DVD boxset. There was nothing on TV. 'Nothing on TV... well, until Holby City but that's not until 8pm. Ages! I'll be asleep by then!'

Half an hour later, after her little one had drifted off to sleep and she had put him down, she went to get a decaf and her laptop. She flicked the kettle on and gazed at the kitchen tiles around the plug socket. Beige, grey, beige, grey... . As a writer sometimes you just got the itch, and this one was getting stronger.

'Yes, all right, all right, I'll do it,' she muttered, annoyed that she kept speaking to herself. Writers do this, but it had got worse since having a baby.

She sat down at the kitchen table and opened up a brand new Word document. Her fingers hovered over the keyboard, and then tapped Emergency at City Hospital. She had no idea yet what was going to happen but she had a busy city hospital in mind and that sounded good enough for a working title.

The busy city hospital was the London hospital she's spent a month having a baby. Kate had not thought about it at the time but now it was obvious - that had been the perfect research. She'd paced so many corridors (hunting out nooks to use her mobile phone and trying to find the hospital library), she'd overheard so many conversations: midwives, doctors, patients, visitors, dinner ladies, cleaners. She'd been a patient in all the maternity wards: antenatal, labour ward and postnatal.

'Can't remember ever reading a romance set in a maternity ward,' she noted. But the real key to this story would be to have characters that made it interesting.

She remembered that out of the dozens and dozens of midwives she had met in the hospital, not a single one had been male. Kate took a sip of her decaf. This was interesting. Why would a man become a midwife anyhow? Suddenly a starburst of ideas exploded in her head and she could picture her story's hero. Tall, handsome... no, why not make him look exactly like Patrick Dempsey in Grey's Anatomy? This was the gift of fiction. He had to be a super talented practitioner of midwifery, so he would need to be in situations to show off his skills. Like delivering a baby in a lift.

Where did that idea come from?! The lifts at her London hospital had been constantly breaking down. But did anyone ever give birth in a lift? Kate turned to google and was surprised to find newspaper stories where it has happened. Good. Fiction is fiction, but it still has to be believable.

Kate began to write her heroine. She was a doctor, ambitious about her career, but she would need Mr Male Midwife's help to find a thermometer as the story would start on her first day at work at City Hospital. She'd be on the backfoot being new in the building and he'd be there, capable. Kate shivered with excitement and her fingers tapped at the keys at an increasing pace. The reason why he became a midwife would be very unusual and a real hinge to the story. But it was a secret, a big secret.

Secrets at City Hospital was published by My Weekly Pocket Novel earlier this year and is now available as an ebook. The Linford Romance edition should be published in 2012.

Monday, 31 October 2011


I was interviewed recently on the Romance Writers of Australia blog. Go check it out.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

New People's Friend Pocket Novel coming

Hi Everyone,

Look out for my next People's Friend Pocket Novel coming out on Thursday. It's called "Where Love belongs". I'm quite excited about this as it's the third in the Potteries series set in the early part of 20th Century. It's about the Vale Family and this one features Lizzie, the youngest sibling and her life (and love) as she begins her career. Don't worry if you didn't read the earlier ones .. it stands by itself of course and if you do want to catch up on the earlier one, the first of them comes out in large print, also on Thursday. Good too, the Editor says she doesn't want the stories to end so I'm halfway through a fourth one. They've become part of my own family almost! My background was in the Potteries so it's a bit like going home. Hope you enjoy it!