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.