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.