Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Write What You Know

We (Mary and Ruth) are very pleased to welcome Patsy Collins as a guest on the pocketeers blog. As many of you will already know, Patsy is a prolific short story writer and novelist. In the following she tells us what she means by write what you know.

'Write what you know' is a common piece of writing advice. As with all such rules we'll be tempted to break it from time to time. I feel that would be a mistake. Yes, even if you're writing science fiction. I suppose I'd better explain …

We know things in different ways. First there are the things we've always known. These tend to be overlooked when we think about writing. Our lives are normal for us. I for example was brought up on a farm. There's no point writing about milking the cows, or how you get one in calf if you don't happen to own a bull, or what it's like to see a calf born because everyone knows that stuff. Except they don't. (If you'd like to find out, the details are all in my romance Escape to the Country.)

Maybe your current home, job, family, hobby, neighbourhood or even neighbours could provide a basis for your story. My novel Paint Me a Picture is set in and around Portsmouth, an interesting area which just happens to be where I live. The main character is a keen gardener, as am I. You get the idea. If we know it, we can use it.
Our writing needn't be limited to what we already know. We can use things other people know. For example Luigi, the gorgeous Italian restaurant owner in A Year and a Day, flirts in Italian. I spent a year in Italy learning the language and flirting with handsome men. Oh no, sorry that was the fiction writer in me rebelling at sticking to the truth. What I actually did was get help from a fluent Italian speaker. Mavis in Paint Me a Picture attends an inquest, so I contacted a coroner's assistant and sat in on one. If we don't know, we can learn or research so that we do. (Not by doing a Google search and relying on the first hit.) 

Finally there are the things nobody knows, because they've not happened yet, or aren't real. Whether we're writing about vampires, or ghosts, or little green men we still need to know everything about them. We know it by creating them and their world as though it were real. There has to be logic. For example, if your ghost can walk through walls you must know they can do that and therefore can't be trapped in a locked room.

So, always write what you know, even if you have to research or create the knowledge first.

You can draw your own conclusions about how I gained the knowledge to write the stories in this FREE collection.

Thanks so much for inviting me on to your blog! Please feel free to drop into mine anytime.

Patsy's books are available from Amazon and her BlogSpot is full of useful and interesting information.

Monday, 16 December 2013

A Computer Guy for Christmas

A link to Amazon, so you can get it easily. It's also going to be just 97p later today and through to Christmas!
A Computer Guy For Christmas

 A Computer Guy for Christmas
Don't forget ... only 97p later from 16th December!

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

A Computer Guy for Christmas

I am pleased to announce the publication of my latest book. Published by Pulse, it was a winner in their competition.
'A Computer Guy for Christmas' is a shortish novella for a Christmas read.
Harry and Jasmine leave the office party when people begin to photograph ...using the photocopier. They go back to his place and well, it is Christmas. He asks her to move in with him but there are complications. Then Jasmine's friend Sally makes even more problems ... Perhaps you need to read it to discover more!

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Love Craft Online/Email Romance Writing Course

I am taking bookings for my next email Romance Writing course, which starts on 1st February 2014. There's an early bird offer of £20 off the cost of the £120 fee for anyone who books and pays by 31st December 2013, so the fee would be just £100 for a three month course that involves critiques of 6 tutor marked assignments.

Details can be found on my blog.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013


Because I'm in the midst of typing up all the scribbled notes and plotting ideas and snatches of scenes and dialogue for about a dozen potential novels I've tossed into files over the years, I thought it timely to discuss titles and cover pictures.
My first interest in a book is drawn by both title and cover. As we all know, appearances and perceptions really do matter. Then I flip over to the back cover for the blurb to see if the accompanying story sounds interesting. If it passes those tests, then I read the first page or two. So without drawing in a potential reader through both title and cover images, we risk losing our audience.
I can't start a novel until I have the title. I've been fortunate in that none of mine have ever been changed and we don't often have more than a token input over the choice of book cover if it's published traditionally. In the case of my own self published ebooks, I've been lucky to find pictures that come close to my ideal of what I believe conveys the feel of the story .
My two favourite covers for my own trad published works are the My Weekly Pocket Novel cover for WOMBAT CREEK and the Linford Romance cover for STARTING AGAIN.

For the upcoming large print Linford Romance of GRACE'S COTTAGE, I have sent Ulverscroft the image I used to self publish and they are going to consider using it for continuity of covers across all editions of the novel - paperback, ebook and large print. I can't wait to see how they adapt the image.
I was also ecstatic to discover what I considered the perfect image of a peacock sitting on a bluestone wall for my Australian saga PEACOCKS ON THE LAWN. The homestead was bluestone and the epitome of success as judged by the early sheep squatters which was the theme of my novel was having "peacocks strutting across the lawn". For GRACE'S COTTAGE there is a mystery behind it so I thought the gate leading into it and not knowing what lies beyond captured the essence of the story.
I would like to hear what your favourite titles and covers are for your own books.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Writing in the Now

Writing in the Now

When I presented a workshop for the lovely Write Place Writing School at the beginning of November, I touched briefly on ‘writing in the now’ and wanted to explore that point further, because I didn't have much time in class to do so.

As it wouldn’t be fair to share my students’ ideas I have come up with a scenario to explain what I mean. This is a bit off the cuff, so may not be perfect, though I did find I kept adding bits to it as the story grew!

Annie and James meet in university when they join the same band, with Annie as the lead singer and James as the lead guitarist/singer. They are each other’s first love, but at the end of university life they go their separate ways because James decides to move to America to pursue his musical career. Ten years later they meet up again, and James is a huge star, whilst Annie is a backing singer, working to keep a roof over her and her young son’s head. Annie is still hurt that James left her and thought his career more important than their love and she is also angry that he stole the song that they wrote together and which became his biggest hit. She has been too proud to sue him for her rights and is certainly not going to ask him now! It is revealed that James left because he had reason to believe that Annie was cheating on him and he had taken the song as revenge. When he meets Annie’s son, he automatically assumes the child is the other guy’s, but Annie knows better. Not that she’s going to admit that to James after he cheated her out of millions of pounds…

If you were writing the novel to this short summary, where would you begin?

When one of the students came up with a scenario that charted all her hero and heroine’s romantic life, I suggested to her that she would be much better starting the story in the now; at the point where their conflict is about to come to a head. That adds immediacy to a story, and helps speed up the pace of reading.

A chronological story that begins with the hero and heroine falling in love, maybe getting married or living together for years before conflict rears its ugly head may be more realistic. After all, in real life, falling in love and getting married is generally the easy bit. It’s only afterwards when children and the resulting lack of money come along that conflict starts. But if you started at the very beginning, it would make the first chapters rather slow. Of course if your hero and heroine do meet and are immediately faced with a conflict, then it will speed up the pace. But if you’re describing a relationship that began then ended several years before for some reason, the time to start the story is when they meet again.

So if I were writing the story I’ve outlined above, I’d start where Annie and James meet up again, at a recording studio perhaps. I’d introduce the conflict from their past very quickly, avoiding flashbacks, which also slow down the pace of a story. Let the past come out in dialogue (whilst avoiding ‘information drop’).

There are some novels, particularly family sagas, in which you can start from the year dot – or when the heroine was born – but even they will hint at some conflict. Maybe the hero or heroine has displaced an elder sibling or cousin who was due to inherit. Or there is a question over their parentage that will inform the rest of their lives until such conflict is resolved. Even then the story will more than likely jump forward ten years or so at a time, missing out the boring bits.
It doesn’t matter if you’re writing historical romance. The ‘now’ is the ‘present’ time in any era. So in my novel, Loving Protector, the story starts when the heroine and her family are saved from a highwayman by the dashing hero. So yes, it is the first time they meet and then goes on to chart their romance, but it very quickly sets up the conflict (the heroine’s nasty stepsister) and hints at further conflicts. Plus the romance happens over weeks, not years. I’ve heard criticism about romances that happen too quickly, but to me that’s what writing romantic fiction is about. It’s about falling in love at first sight, but being faced with a conflict that tests that notion.

If every romantic novel had the same pace as a real life romance, then it would be very boring for the reader. It can be done, however. The film Same Time Next Year by Bernard Slade, starring Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn, used the conceit of a couple meeting the same time every year to carry on an illicit romance, and it showed how they both changed over the years. But each ‘episode’ of the romance took place at the time they met – in the now - and missed out all the bits in between, simply feeding information to the audience through dialogue.

So try to write in the now, when the real conflict begins. That may well be at the beginning of a romance, but it may well be ten years down the line when the hero and heroine meet again and are forced to deal with the problems that parted them before.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013


The beginning has gone fine. Filled with enthusiasm, I am having difficulty tapping the keys fast enough to keep up with my thoughts. This is going great! All I have to do now is fill the pages between that wonderful beginning and what I know is going to be a simply spectacular ending.

The first three chapters have hooked the reader: she is not going to be able to put the book down.
The characters are beginning to take on a personality of their own, the heroine is coping with everything I throw at her and the hero is strong and manly enough to win her love in the end.

 Then everything starts to disintegrate for no reason at all.

Although the first few chapters looked pretty good to start with, I know they are really a load of rubbish. No one is going to want to read a book that is so boring even the characters have given up and gone to sleep. Their names are all wrong too, they keep telling me that, and the setting is dull and uninteresting. The plot? I have no idea what possessed me to think an idea like that would make a readable novel.

I have come to the middle.

I know I will get over it. At least I think I will get over it because, somehow, I always do. I can leave the bit in the middle and write the end, then try and fill in the middle bit. That might work. Or I can scrap everything I’ve written so far and start again. That is probably the best idea. But it won’t help, because the next story is going to have a middle as well, and I’m going to get stuck all over again.  

Wednesday, 23 October 2013


Gaynor Davies has emailed that she is actively looking for serials and although it is something I have not tried, I have sent her a proposal. I intend to re-work a story I sent to Maggie Seed that she turned down. It will be a new discipline for me and I don't know exactly what to expect but I was thinking of having a go before her email.

A while ago I was approached by People's Friend to write a serial. I did a lot of work on my proposal but eventually it was turned down. I did however, go on to sell the story to My Weekly as a pocket novel, so the hard work wasn't wasted.

I feel to have a serial accepted would raise one's profile as a writer and help significantly with plotting techniques, characterisation and things like cliff hangars which you don't necessarily need in a pocket novel. If I get the go ahead I think it will stretch my writing muscle.

I know we have some serial writers amongst our numbers and wondered what are their thoughts on this one. What do those of you, who like me have never had one published, think? Or those with experience? I feel it's a good subject for debate.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Lord Rivenhall Returns – which cover works best?

The Return of Lord Rivenhall was the very first novella I sold to My Weekly Pocket Novel, this was back in 2005. I have since sold another fourteen books to DC Thompson. I have just republished this as, Lord Rivenhall Returns, with another wonderful cover by Jane Dixon-Smith. I have slightly altered the title to fit in with a series of six Lord and Lady books – the second is called, Lady Charlotte's Deception, and this should be out at the end of November
Lord Rivenhall Returns was also the first book I sold to Linford – they have taken all my pocket novels and had ten full-length books as well. Although we don't get paid very much by DC Thomson,the fact that the books can be recycled makes them well worth doing. I also had this title with Regency Reads for several years.
If you were asked to rank the covers in order of preference I wonder which one you would put first – I would rank the Jane Dixon-Smith first: Linford second: Regency Reads third and the My Weekly pocket Novel last. Although this is not the worst cover I've had from them, and the more recent ones have been a lot better. Fenella J Miller

Saturday, 12 October 2013


Good news everyone. LOVING LUCY Kindle edition is on sale @ Amazon for 99 cents until 23 October so jump in and get your cheap copy while you can.


Wednesday, 9 October 2013

The Pain of Writing

And I don't mean the mental anguish when often accompanies good writing when trying to get one's plot off the ground or attempting to create the perfect prose.

I'm talking about back and shoulder pain, numb bum syndrome and, more seriously,the joint and muscle aches that can be a warning of Repetitive Strain Injury. 

It's incredibly easy to get wrapped up in writing at the computer without taking breaks. I have in the past had to resort to voice software to be able to write, both for pleasure at home and to do my day job. Through a mixture of extended exercises and physio I've been able to use a keyboard again for quite some while but in the last few weeks I've felt elbow and knuckle pains and have dug out my 'Dragon' software just in case.

What I try to do is have a break every hour from the screen and walk about the house vigorously swinging my arms or doing my stretches. A bit of housework in between writing bursts is also good - it has to be done anyway so why not work it into your health regime!  I also try to have a walk at lunchtime - both on my 'proper' working days and on my writing days.

Does anyone else have any tips on staying fit and healthy as an author? I'm always glad to try new ways to stave off any problems.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

To Tweet or Not to Tweet?

That is the question! If you’re a regular tweeter (or is it twitterer?) I have to make my apologies in advance. I’m not a regular ... far from it but on the insistence of one of my publishers, I decided to become a tweeter. Well, I’m saying that but I’m not very successful at it. Apart from the tweets about my new book and odd other messages I’ve put out, I simply don’t know what to say. I can’t think of anything that will remotely interest my ‘followers’. I can’t bear to tell the world I’m making coffee now or maybe mention my family. "I’ve just picked some tomatoes from my greenhouse." Anyone interested? " Caterpillars have ruined the Brussel sprouts." No?

Add to all this, I can’t actually sign in to my account. I’ve got password and everything but it keeps saying nothing is recognised. I’ve discovered Tweetdeck and I can sign into that. When it works, I make some peculiar comment and feel very proud of myself. Ha, I can do all this! I’m part of the modern world.

Then I forget it for a while and revert to my private self. Can’t believe anyone reads it anyway. Why bother with it all? I’d rather be writing anyway and leave all this promotion to anyone who’ll do it.

But then, someone, somewhere may read and reply to a twitter (or do I mean a tweet?) I might even sell a book because I tweeted (or twittered). I’m just not sure if it’s worth it.

Then of course there’s Facebook. Haven’t even looked at that particular can of worms. I evidently have a Facebook page from the days when my granddaughter asked me to be her friend. Of course I’d do that. I even sent her a message and someone faraway sent me a message saying she felt exactly the same. I thought I was replying to my granddaughter and not to the world. The private button or something should have been pressed.

Oh dear, it’s all too much for me. I need to retire to a darkened room and lie down for a while.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Our Audience

We pay a lot of attention to the characters we’re writing about. They’re given carefully thought out names, appearances, relationships and jobs. We choose their age, marital status, gender and pretty much everything about them. It has even been suggested we get to know them more thoroughly by taking them out to lunch or tea to have a nice chat and find out more about them.
Do we give our audience that much thought? By looking at the advertisements in magazines some idea of the type of reader can be attained. A story may then be crafted with that readership in mind. Of course it is still difficult to know who will be reading our work: male, female, young, old, lonely or busy people.

Perhaps we could concoct a composite picture of our audience person and pin it up near our writing station and write with that person in mind.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

What's In A Name?

What's in a name? Lots, apparently. Names, I believe, have power even if it's subtle back of mind stuff. At least the power for a reader to remember them. Out of interest I keyed in my first name [which I have never liked by the way] into a name analysis website and came up with the following:

"The name of Noelene has given you an appreciation for many beautiful and refined aspects of life--music and art, literature, drama--and the outdoors, where you find much peace and relaxation, but it creates a far too sensitive nature."

True in many ways because I love music - country, easy listening, play the keyboard organ since learning piano as a child. And art - especially landscapes and aboriginal art. And the last part is spot on - I love the Australian bush, find it utterly necessary to the peaceful life I want to live here in the country and would never consider living in a city. And, yes, I admit to being very sensitive.

However, I digress.
The names we give our story people. What about them? How do we get them? I'm always looking at the name credits at the end of a television programme or movie [if they don't go too fast]. Of course there are telephone books, baby name sites, name generator sites. Whenever I drive along the A8 highway toward Ballarat, there is an unsealed road leading off that has the name Sweet Pea Paddock Road. Love it. How on earth did it acquire that name? So I guess as creative people, writers are always subconsciously looking out there for ideas all the time.

I find only a certain name will do for a particular character. Some possibilities just don't work for the image I have in my head and the person my protagonist is meant to be as I begin plotting a novel and learn more about him or her. As my characters become clearer in my mind, they lead the story and become real. They create their own background story and issues. They come alive in the early thinking and planning process. Which makes it easy in the writing especially when it comes to dialogue and keeping that person in character throughout. Without characters of course there is no scenario, no story.

Two rather famous story people

The heroine in my recently completed story, Outback Kingdom, the first in my new Outback trilogy, did not come alive until I realised she was an Irish redhead and gave her the name of Meghan. My hero is a true Aussie bloke of course and is called Dusty although his real name is Daniel. I often find my characters end up with nicknames. Meghan, for example, is called Meggie by all of her Irish friends and family which I didn't know until they started speaking to her.

So now it's on to my next set of characters, Sophie who has a half share in an outback sheep station in the South Australian Flinders Ranges and Charlie who is a geologist and comes onto her property for research. They're already well formed in my mind and they're personal stories are emerging.

I would love to hear about your favourite characters or the current ones in the book you are writing.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013



Having recently bought my daughter a Kindle e-reader for her birthday, I was thinking how things have changed.

I can remember, as a child, being really excited when I got a book for my birthday, particularly if it was one I had been waiting to read. E Nesbit was one of my favourite authors when I was younger. The Railway Children and Five Children and It being two of my favourites. I moved on to Jane Austin, and eventually Nora Roberts, all romances and all proper books. Although most of the classics got sampled at some point in time, I hated Dickens, loved Shakespeare and gave up if a book made me cry, like Black Beauty.

I still like paper books, but my little Kindle is so much easier to take on holiday, or slip in my bag to read on the train, and my granddaughter can read a full-length novel on her phone.

I write romantic suspense, and I like writing full-length novels, but it is getting harder and harder to get a 90,000 word book accepted by a publisher unless, of course, you are a big name already. My novellas, the ones already published by D.C.Thomson, are all on Amazon, but I’m rubbish at publicising myself, so they don’t sell as well as I would like – and I don’t write all that fast so I can’t produce four or five books a year, even novellas. So what do I do next?

I have a horrible feeling that by the time I decide what to do next, everything will have changed again.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Choosing A Project

Is it only me, or does anyone else start to panic when there is yet another Email about a new E-Publisher starting up and wanting your stories, right here, right now!
     I know I should be very glad that there are so many opportunities to get published these days but the fact is that I can't write quickly enough to take advantage of them all. Then I find I can't concentrate on one project alone because I keep thinking of other plots just ideal for that new publisher.
     I now have several manuscripts in various stages and targeted at different publishers from my writing this year, and all of them are un-finished.
In the end, I went back to my comfort zone and wrote a new Pocket Novel over the summer which I've just finished and am about to submit.
     But now that it is done, I have to decide what to do.
     I hope I'm going to be brave and take that next step and try something a bit different, if only because it should make my writing fresher and better.
Do you have a drawer full of half-finished stories? Are they worth reworking or is it better to start something entirely new? I'd love to know your thoughts.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Love and Death - Dealing with Big Themes in Light Romance

As a writer of romantic intrigue, my work includes two very big themes; love and death. The love is, of course, the romance. The death, usually a murder, is very often the catalyst that brings the hero and heroine together. There may also be the fear of death, as there is in my book Midnight Train, where a group of people are stuck on a runaway train bearing a nuclear device. Having a hero and heroine have to cling on to each other during a shoot out is a great way of bringing them together!

The main problem is how to deal with death in what is essentially a light romance.  The death, like any conflict, has to have some bearing on the overall story. However, it cannot be so close to the hero or heroine that it would be unrealistic for them not to grieve for a while. In one of my stories (unpublished) I wanted to kill off the heroine’s father partway through the story, but it occurred to me that if I did that, it would change the tone of the story completely. She would be too busy grieving for her father to fall in love, and if I rushed it, and had her suddenly get over her father’s death within days, then she would not be the heroine I had envisaged. For that reason, if heroines in my other stories have dead parents, I make their deaths happen sometime in the shadowy past. That way she can still be sorry she’s lost them, but she’s over the worst of the grief.

Writing a murder into a love story is usually a bit easier, as it’s often a person that no one much likes, but who is connected to the hero and/or heroine in some way that puts doubts on their relationship. Or they disagree over the best way to deal with the murder. Or the murder just brings them together to investigate; anything that ties the death/conflict to the story. I bucked this trend in Take MyBreath Away by having the first murder victim as the rather likeable, but hell-raising, ex-husband of my heroine, Patty Carter (I’m not giving anything away here, it’s all in the first chapter!). However, whilst Patty mourned his death, they had been split up long enough for her not to grieve in the same way as if they’d had a long and happy marriage. So she is able to move on and connect with the new hero in her life. The conflict comes from the hero thinking that she’s the killer and what he’s going to do about it if that turns out to be true. The important thing is that the reader is not dragged down by the characters’ misery and grief.

There is a place for a more thoughtful and deep exploration of love and death, but do remember we’re writing light romance here (or if you’re not already writing it, you’re reading this blog because you may want to).

You could get over the issue of grieving over a death that happens in the course of the story by having a time lapse of several weeks or months. On the other hand, you don’t want them dealing with the loss of a close loved one by recovering within days or in a time that seems too short to be realistic to the reader.

A participant in one of my workshops had a scenario where the hero’s wife had died just six months before he met the heroine. Now I know that in real life people no longer wait a ‘respectable’ year before becoming romantically involved with others, or even in getting married again (my step-father moved his new girlfriend in on the night of my mother’s funeral!) but in fiction, unless the hero’s wife was a real bitch, it would seem callous that he suddenly found himself in love with another woman so soon after losing his wife. Six months, for most people, is not enough to come to terms with the loss of someone you loved dearly. I suggested to the writer that she makes it at least a year, and possibly more since the first wife died, just to put that little bit more distance between the death and the new romance. The hero could still have the same doubts, and fear that he’s being unfaithful to the memory of his first wife, but it tones down the angst a few notches so that the reader doesn’t feel as though they’re drowning in tears.

One of my favourite books by Kate Walker examines the feelings of a widower finding a new woman to love after the death of his wife, but it’s been a while since the wife died, so the story isn’t bogged down by his grief, even if he does have lots of feelings of guilt. What I particularly liked was that Kate didn’t feel the need to demonise the wife to make the heroine seem more important in the hero’s life.

So you can write about love and death, but if you want to write light fiction, you need to use a lighter touch; one that doesn’t undermine the sadness of death, but which also doesn’t make the reader feel like slitting their wrists after five pages of the heroine lying on her bed thinking about what a vale of tears her life has turned out to be.


Friday, 23 August 2013

Thanks to the Romaniacs for an invite to their blog

That super group of writers, the Romaniacs who love all things romance invited me on their blog this week for their Tuesday chit-chat. Do go over and say 'hello' if you have any comments as it's always lovely to chat to people about writing. As my serial, The Lemon Grove is still running in the People's Friend magazine, they asked me about my route to publication in serial writing. This week is part 6 of 8, where 'the other man' appears. This is a device I've used often in my stories as I think it adds a perfect element of internal conflict. Internal conflict is a difficult thing for us as writers to tackle. It's easy to think up an external goal and it's always better if you can make that external goal clear and plain even so far as making it something you can see. Examples of external goals might be finding the treasure, killing the enemy or escaping from the baddy. However it's the internal conflict which really grabs a reader. For my heroine in the serial, her external goal could be summed up thus: girl takes up overseeing redecoration of a beach house for her brother in order to put her life together after broken engagement. That's simple. The internal conflict though is less simple to define but often in a romance is so central it must not be ignored because it is in tackling internal conflicts that people change. With my heroine Caroline she's still in two minds about whether in leaving her fiance, she did the right thing. Her internal conflict is to decide whether the things she saw in her old lover Peter are the things she really needs emotionally or whether she should risk allowing herself to fall in love with a new man, Antonio. We all have internal conflicts, sometimes we don't even admit them to ourselves. But the two journeys the main protagonist of your story makes, the external goal that can be seen and easily identified and the internal goal which cannot be seen but which forms the main change in character provides the main conflict and is therefore essential in keeping your reader turning the pages.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Free Dowload

Hi All,
My book, 'Relative Strangers' is free to download on Tuesday (20th) from 9am

>>At 15, Jemima is pregnant, scared and her baby is to be adopted. Many years later, when her daughter is having problems with her boyfriend, she decided to go and look for her son.<<

Hope you enjoy it!
Love Chrissie x

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

With so much recent activity regarding the pocket novels and the social networking, I fear the business of actually writing may have lapsed somewhat. I always feel every now and then it's a good idea to get back to basics. By that I mean plot construction. It is true of any form of writing, not just pocket novels but short stories, long short stories (over 3000 words) and longer novels. Even if you only have the barest glimmer of an idea get it down on paper, then play around with it. It's amazing what your sub conscious can come up with. Spend an hour or so doing nothing else then sit back and read what you have written. You will be pleasantly surprised. it's what I was taught to do in the early days and it always works for me.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

How do you plot?

I have just started to write something new after a gap of more than a year. I have not been away from writing, just putting up my blacklist on to Smashwords and Kindle. At the moment I am editing "A Chance Encounter" which will be the 12th Regency romantic adventure to be published on KDP. At the same time I am attempting to add 1000 words a day to my new book which is entitled "The Duke's Proposal". What has this to do with plotting? Well – I am writing this new book without any planning at all – the original story came to me when I was half asleep and I was so pleased to have something to put down on the blank screen, that I went with it. I dictated 2000 words, while doing so the main characters came alive in my head, as did the setting. However, I then had to go back and write the opening chapters and when I got to the scene I had written I realised neither character would have behaved like this and so the entire thing was scrapped. I didn't mind as writing this had got me going again. If I had plotted story before I started I would have avoided wasting 2000 words. I don't write my Regency books with any more planning than an idea and voices of the two main characters in my head. I then let the story develop, characters go where they want, and it works for me. With my mainstream historical novels, "Barbara's War and Hannah's War", I worked quite differently. I needed to do a timeline, far more research, and have a page of notes for the plot. Not as detailed as an outline, more a guide. Jean Fullerton plots her books scene by scene, she puts everything on a virtual A3 sheet, before she starts. She notes down significant historical events, whose point of view she will be using for that scene, and a couple of lines on what will actually happen. Therefore when she starts writing the book she knows exactly where she's going, can tick off a scene as it's done, and check the historical accuracy. It works by her – she is a well-known and respected writer of historical fiction. "Call Nurse Millie", her latest book is already proving to be a big hit with readers. Maureen Lee,a bestselling historical saga writer, does no written planning but works the whole story out in her head before she starts. She does her research whilst she is writing, not before she starts. How do you do it? It's always fascinating to get inside a writer's mind – I would be interested to hear what other writers do. Fenella J Miller

Sunday, 4 August 2013

This is a boxed set of three short romances now available on Amazon. Three books for the price of two, which can't be bad, and great to read on the plane or by the pool.
As soon as Alice meets Leo Grant she knows he is the man of her dreams, but who is the tall, leggy redhead hanging on to his arm? Her sister Lauren and her little niece, Cassie, are both hoping for their own fairytale happy ending, but real life is not that simple. Leo has no time for romance, and a fairy story sometimes has a dragon hidden in the pages. As things get more and more curious, Alice wonders if she has fallen down her own personal rabbit hole.
When Hope buys an old teapot and gives it a rub, the last thing she expects is for a genie to appear. But Finn Masters is no genie; he is very real – and very attractive. Finn’s financial problems and the old house he has inherited are none of Hope’s business. She is already engaged to Todd and plans for the wedding are underway. Falling in love with Finn is not a good idea. Luckily, when Hope has to choose between love or marriage, she still has one of her three wishes left.
Lucas Fairfax is an enigma, a millionaire with a secret, and an interview with him might get Alex back her job as an investigative journalist. But one lie leads to another – and Lucas is particularly fascinating. Alex talks her way into his luxury villa in Marbella and finds herself in charge of Mallory, Lucas’s seven-year-old daughter. Alex is falling in love with Lucas, but she has lied to everyone, and when Lucas’s mother arrives she is forced to make a desperate decision.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

People's Friend Serial The Lemon Grove

Wow, it's so nice to see a plan come to fruition. At long last, my serial, The Lemon Grove set in sunny Sorrento is appearing in The People's Friend magazine. I blogged about writing a magazine serial both here and on There are eight episodes, but if readers miss any there is always a 'catch up' so you can read the backstory and pick up the thread. One of the nicest things about having a serial accepted is seeing an artist interpret your story and come up with how they think your characters look. The author and artist don't speak, it's all done through the editors, and the artist simply has to work from reading the story.  Here on the People's Friend blog, one of their artists gives a run down of how she works. My hero's looks are based on a very good Italian friend of ours who is seriously handsome and full of rakish charm (I haven't let on I based the character on him in case it goes to his head). The artist has very definitely caught his thick chestnut hair! I think the editors enjoy choosing the artwork too which must be a relief for them after going through the tough phase of reading and suggesting amendments from authors like myself who can go off on a tangent if they're not watched carefully. I had a scene with a fashion show I was very fond of in episode 3 but I must admit the editor was right in saying it didn't fit. I had to bite the bullet and let it go. I do hope anyone who has paid their 97p feels the magazine is a good investment - so many stories and all designed to leave a warm glow. People's Friend is also now on Facebook and Twitter, find them @TheFriendMag and come along and chat.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Penzance Litfest

I’ve recently done a workshop on writing erotica at the Penzance Litfest. It couldn’t be further away from writing for pocket novels, especially People’s Friend but it raises some interesting points. How much do we write what we want to write and how much of it depends on the publishers? I’m not saying I want to write erotica all the time but one has to be so careful about how much sex one puts into Pocket Novels. At least the editors are catching up a little and I was allowed a pregnancy with an unmarried couple in a recent PN ... but it always had to stop "beside the bed" (one up on outside the bedroom door).

The whole erotic market is quite different, as many of us know. It is often said that it’s all sex and no story but anyone who has written for that market will know how much effort it takes to make it interesting. Yes, there is lots of sex and special clothing, bondage and things to hit with or be hit by and all sorts of other strange things but to me, it is quite hard work, especially compared to pocket novels. I know there are people who write lots of erotica, who do find it easy.

I took some cover pictures with me and guess what? The whole group said they rarely choose a book because of its cover. Someone said that authors have little or no choice in the covers and so it means nothing to them either. So all you Indie folks who spend ages and money choosing covers, that particular audience out there don’t care what is on the front of the book! One rather sexy young man on one book did turn on some of the females, I must say. Someone said they’d buy that book just to look at him!

I doubt whether anyone is about to challenge 50 Shades but it was certainly an interesting experience. I suspect I shall stick to writing gentler stuff from now on ... although ...

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Forgotten is out tomorrow free on Amazon for five days. It was rejected by Maggie because she didn't like my hero, a police detective. I think he is great, so please write a review and let me know what you think.
Driving home in the dark Serena stops to help an injured man lying in a ditch, but that is only the start of her problems. Someone is watching the apartment she shares with her brother, her mother is being particularly secretive, and police detective Jack Armstrong is convinced Serena is hiding something. Just when she thinks things can get no worse, her missing father turns up. This is definitely not the time to fall in love.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Chocolate Heroes

Is this a chocolate hero?!

A publisher of romantic fiction asks its potential authors to depict their heroes in terms of chocolate. We described one of our heroes as soft caramel with a touch of sea salt.

To tempt your tastebuds, types of chocolate bar include caramel brownie, strawberry cheesecake, nougat crunch, coffee blast and orange intense.

Trying to match people to a chocolate or chocolate bar is quite difficult and we expect everybody would come up with different ideas. Do you agree with the following or does the chocolate not match the person?

Usain Bolt is handsome, tall, athletic and fiery. He’s like lightning, exotic and not too serious. It doesn’t exist as far as we know, but an unusual mix of chilli (fiery) and coconut (exotic) chocolate perhaps.

Mr Darcy appears cold, aloof, proud, arrogant and unsympathetic. Actually he has a generous and upright nature. Which chocolate has an illusion of darkness, but is really quite scrummy? 80% chocolate with smooth, soft caramel inside (harsh and bitter on the outside and soft, smooth and comforting on the inside).

Nelson Mandela has been described as welcoming and friendly with a relaxed charm. He has been concerned with the truth and is regarded as having a moral authority. Gentle with a core of steel. Possibly smooth milk chocolate with hard caramel or divine hazelnut.

Lord Voldemort is powerful, intelligent, evil and has no conscience. He cannot comprehend love or affection and feels superior to everyone. He has been described as broken up and held together. Wasabi chunks encased in 99% chocolate, but that’s another invention.

What sort of chocolate would your hero be?

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Daily Writing Life

I was looking back over the topics we've covered to see what I could add that might be useful and generate discussion. With the recent upheaval and uncertainty of new contracts issuing from D.C. Thomson and the resultant discussions among us all both briefly here and in more detail on our group list, it's clear that we're all considering thinking outside the square or genre so to speak and realising that these days there are always other options and markets.

One thing we shouldn't let it affect is our daily writing life. We're writers, we need to keep writing. It's what we love and what we do, right? So here's just a snippet of my own typical writing day. I'm in the "retired" phase of life - family grown, abundant numbers of grandchildren arriving and the utter freedom to fill in all my waking hours doing what I love - writing. What else? :) If I wake in the night my mind is often turning over characters and story possibilities or hitches in the plot or writing. Once I'm showered, fed and awake enough each morning, my office is my haven. Housework and shopping are waaaay down the list. :)
My office 
After breakfast and checking of emails, I settle down to whatever is currently on the go at my desk. I've discovered over the years that even writing a saga of 100,000 words I still need to write the first draft in longhand. I know, scary thought, but the words just flow so easily through the pen and onto the paper. I've tried sitting and staring at all that white space on a screen and typing directly into the computer. Doesn't happen. Well, at least not as easily. So I'm resigned to the fact of how I am naturally meant to get words on paper.
When I'm in first draft mode, I aim for a certain number of pages or word count for the day to give myself a deadline - always flexible with "life" intervening - and usually come in roughly on target. As I mentioned I have an office and while writing the first draft, I CLOSE THE DOOR. I'm an absolute silence person. Definitely no music.
Later that day or next morning, I type up all my handwritten work, print out the new pages and start my next writing day with reading over and editing what I've written which quickly gets me back into writing mode again. I write pretty much seven days a week and it's usually on the same project. Once I start I like to finish but occasionally I may take a break and work or research on something else. And always during the writing even though I've plotted out most scenes and done initial research there are always times when you need a bit more information or something crops up in the writing that you hadn't planned and I need more info. When that happens, Google is my friend.
As soon as I get what is possibly another novel idea and I jot down scenes, characters, names, settings, dialogue snippets, a title etc. I make a file, give it the title and add it to my "to be written" pile. I can't start a new novel unless I have a title. Currently there are about 10 or 12 files sitting beside me on my desk for contemp sweet romances and another 10 or so in my filing cabinet for mainstreams and historicals/sagas. May never get them all written and I'm getting more ideas all the time, of course, but I'll never be short of material and I suspect we're all the same in that.
I'm currently almost done with my latest sweet romance, Outback Kingdom, but in the last few days have felt unsettled in its writing with the DCT changes so I'm taking a brief break to distract my mind and doing final research into the gold seeking era here in Australia which is the subject of my next saga. Plus thinking what my next contemp novel will be and what market I might aim it at.
So, onward and upward, writers. What's your day like? What are you working on? What direction do you see your future writing taking?

Wednesday, 3 July 2013


The recent story about Nigella Lawson got me thinking. The papers said Nigella looked upset – but evidently  not angry. She should have been very angry. He may have had his hands round her throat, but she still had a knee free to use. And if she was upset, how much of her distress was caused by nearly being strangled and how much was due to the incident happening in public?
So what do women want?
James Bond doesn’t treat his women particularly well, and neither do Daniel Craig. Or Shaun Connery for that matter. Nora Roberts’ hero, Rouke, was a thief and a murderer in his early life, but he is so incredibly gorgeous we can forgive him almost anything. Superman treats Lois Lane badly, but she keeps coming back for more – and Tarzan started the whole macho thing in the first place.

So how much do we like our ‘little bit of rough’?  We obviously enjoy reading about it. Fifty Shades must be the most talked about book of the year, with Christian very much the dominant male and definitely abusive at times. But that is fiction. Women seem to prefer to take their thrills vicariously, and with our romance novels that is exactly what we provide. A few hours of vicarious pleasure. Where we draw the line is up to us. Female abuse in any form should never be condoned, but we can’t make our heroes too soft either, so we walk a tightrope every time we sit down at our computer.

What fun it is, though, to invent the perfect male. Someone who can make us go weak at the knees with just a glance, cook a perfect meal, and then whisk us away in his private jet to a tropical island.


Thursday, 27 June 2013

Woman's Weekly Fiction Workshop

I recently attended a workshop at Woman's Weekly's fantastic London HQ. Gaynor Davies, Fiction Editor, Suzanne Ahern one of their favourite serial writers and Laura Longrigg from the MBA Literary Agency all gave fascinating talks.

I thought people might be interested in some of the notes I jotted down. We were there for a whole day, so in future blog posts I may cover other aspects of what we learnt. Gaynor was a lovely lady, very entertaining and encouraging and this is an idea of what she told us. 

Lots of people hearken back to Woman's Weekly as it was decades ago, but they are far more up to date than many imagine, and open to stories set in all sorts of modern situations. However, all stories even tales of crime must have a sense of warmth and demonstrate the best in people. There must be a conflict/crisis which leads to a change in the characters - this is essential - even in a comic story. At the end there needs to be a resolution, ideally not what the reader might expect. A story without a resolution can be described as a 'so what?' story, they receive too many stories where nothing really happens. Character is all important, it drives plot, don't rely on stereotypes.

In serials there is lots of room for experimentation. They look for strong plots not light romance. Recent plots have included frozen embryos, witness protection, scary ghosts, and Rasputin. Serials give room for background and atmosphere but that mustn't dominate the story which must still be about characters and their problems. The best writing states facts but also catches emotions and is not over written, so don't write as if you've swallowed a dictionary. What are the main reasons for rejection? No warmth, too depressing, too much sex, too old fashioned (which told me that you really need to study the magazine before you start writing).

Suzanne Ahern one of their most popular serial writers urged us to write from our hearts in our own style but to listen to the editors who know what will sell. Reading aloud she said would help us to identify the rhythm and flow of a story and would help to spot repeated words and stilted dialogue. One of the main things she does is to think whose story it is going to be. One of the most useful things I picked up was to create a storybook and Suzanne showed us one of hers. It was a simple technique which a seat of the pants type writer like myself would do well to follow. I often leap in to my story and forget exactly what characters and locations look like I get so wrapped up in the plot. Suzanne collects photographs of characters and places from the internet or magazines, and short passages of text which inspire her such as quotes about clothes, food, and the smells of a place. This has been useful for her historicals and for writing about places she has never been to so, for example, she found details of the smell of a river in Elizabethan England to give her writing authenticity and maps of old St Petersburg together with records of the weather on certain days. She keeps all these clippings in a single ring binder which reminded me of the sort of scrap books I used to do for projects at school. I sometimes do something similar but not in a disciplined way so that I have messy scraps of cuttings and bits of photos stuffed into files which get lost and jumbled like my poor brain! It's not rocket science but like so many good ideas is simple and effective. I guess this is about being focussed and organised in our writing, something which I lack often to my detriment. This process of organising information, Suzanne observed helps the story to gestate, like a baby in the womb, and with this research comes real belief in your fictional characters out of which will come patterns in their habits and behaviours as they begin to form into 'real' people.

I hope this has been of some help and if anyone fancies going on the course I'm sure they will get something useful out of it.   

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

First hand research... at the hospital!

Yesterday I had an MRI, a type of scan using magnets. You've probably seen them on the TV. They're like a big, long, round Polo mint and the patient lies down on a slab and goes into the hole. I love the drama of medical romances but as a writer I've not got the benefit of a professional background in medicine to draw on. So I have to use what opportunities I can -- and thus when I'm a patient I try and make the most of it for research purposes.

Nothing dramatic happened at my MRI. Fortunately. At the start was nearly an hour's wait in a hot and claustrophobic little waiting room (they were getting us in training for the claustrophobia of the machine). I had to fill in a long questionnaire making clear that there was no possibility of any metal in my body. Then at last I was gowned up and had to leave everything, including my glasses, in a locker. Wandering around without my specs always makes me feel in another world. I did notice that the giant Polo mint was made by Siemens, in big enough letters for myopic me, so they obviously don't just do washing machines. It does all feel a bit like Star Trek. Futuristic, but in a retro kind of way.

The MRI machine itself was very impressive and very white. MRIs are very tedious but you can't even drift off into a complete day dream as I was repeatedly asked to hold my breath, at which point the thing clicked and banged away. I don't think I appreciated how noisy it is from when I've seen them on Holby City.

Part of treating every patient opportunity as a research trip is finding out info from asking questions of medical staff. It was impossible for much chit chat during the MRI itself though. Too noisy and I don't want to distract people who are concentrating on trying to get their job done. I don't think my characters will be having a heart to heart when one of them is actually on the slab, like I'm sure I've seen on TV.

When I did get a chance to day dream I started to think about a possible romance story set in an MRI department. Magnetic Attraction has a certain ring to it!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Free download for D-Day - Our Day Will Come

My wartime romance, Our Day Will Come, will be free to download today, to commemorate D-Day. It's not showing as free as I type this, but they're always a bit slow. So keep checking back and it will most definitely be free later today (usually sometime between 9am and 10am GMT).

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Changing Times

As you all know it's a time of change at D C Thomson regarding the pocket novels and I think it might be a good opportunity to perhaps give a thought to other forms of writing. I'm sure we've all got an old novel somewhere that we put away that perhaps might need taking out, dusted down and having another look at? There is the short story market to consider too. I know it's a shrinking one but there are always opportunities and it does get your name out there. Then of course there are competitions. I've entered competitions, sometimes been placed, sometimes not, but sales have come as a result of the stories. Anything to keep our writing muscle exercised can only be good.

What does everyone else think?

Monday, 3 June 2013

Love Craft - How to Write Romantic Novels

I have created a short 'how to' book, called Love Craft, which as the title suggests is about writing romantic novels (not necessarily involving Cthulu type monsters!). It is the culmination of all the workshops I've done, and my own experience as a romance writer.

Join me on Facebook tomorrow for the Launch Party where I'll be answering questions about writing romance.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Will a good cover sell your book?

Jane Dixon-Smith now does all the covers for my e-books. A Most Unusual Governess and A Mistress for Stansted Hall are the next two novellas that I will be putting up on Kindle. My latest book from My Weekly (and possibly my last) House of Dreams has an excellent cover. Certainly this book sold really well because I was unable to buy a copy for myself – they had all gone in both Tesco and WHSmith. I have a feeling that the drop in sales for pocket novels could have been because of the dreadful covers. This is a classic example: all my books are Regency – heaven knows what period this is! I can remember that one cover had a man on a horse waving a sword, dressed like a Royalist in the civil war and the girl, riding pillion, was in mediaeval costume. The books I first published with Amazon had home-made covers – they weren't too bad but obviously not professional. However, when I got Jane to redo them my sales jumped by 50%. There was a lively debate on another blog about the kind of covers that seem prevalent in the US – you know the ones I mean – seminaked, musclebound men with long flowing hair, clutching maidens to their manly chests. The contents of this sort of book might be acceptable and a good read, but I would never buy a book with one of those "bodice ripper" covers. (I apologise for the huge size of my covers - for some reason I wasn't given the option to make them smaller.) Until next time best wishes Fenella J Miller .

Thursday, 23 May 2013

More on contracts

Shirley Blair from DCT has been responding on Womagwriter's Blog.

It's worth reading the comments too, for further clarification, especially in relation to pocket novels. We can send our original manuscripts to large print publishers, but not the printed copy. Now we just have to persuade large print publishers to accept the manuscript versions.

The good news is that if they do want to use our pocket novels again, they have to renegotiate terms. So they can't be re-used without further payment.

I know this has caused a lot of us stress, not knowing where we're going, but there are other publishers of romance out there. Perhaps it's time to spread our wings a bit so we're not reliant on one market.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Contracts (and the mystery that goes with them.)

What does a contract do for us writers? With DC Thomson, it seems to be an acceptance of the book followed by a remittance advice. With large print buyers, there is a contract that spells out the payment, the length of licence to publish and the number of copies they plan to publish. As they are a charity, Ulverscroft also state their plan for publication in large print and details of the writers name and where it will appear.

With other companies, contracts can be extremely long and detailed, running into numerous pages. The details include such things as guarantee that the work does not contain anything that can cause problems to anyone ... nothing libellous or obscene and a whole lot more besides. Reading through the fine print is important before signing but I must admit, reading it once was enough for me! With this company, I now give it a quick glance and then sign. One important detail however was a list of countries in which they intend to publish. As I wanted to publish in USA, it was important not to sign away those rights.

Some companies are happy with electronic contracts, with the facility to sign digitally. It certainly is very easy but once more, these contracts may hide something you don’t want to sign away.

There is a great deal of discussion about changes that may be made in our contract by DC Thomson. It may be just rumour but it is now looking more certain. They are forbidding us to sell our actual pocket novels on for large print. As the large print publishers don’t seem to have editors on their staff, it looks a bit like the end for us. I can sort of understand DCT not wanting their work to be sold on but it puts us in a difficult position for the future. They do not pay enough for this to be the only income we get from our sales and large print and subsequent PLR make it much more worthwhile. It may well be that large print companies will take manuscripts directly but we shall have to wait and see.

Watch this space!

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Writer's Block

It is disputed whether this insidious condition exists at all. We have all experienced moments when the writing muscle appears to have gone on holiday and we must all have felt our writing is not up to scratch at times. Is a short break from writing considered to be ‘writer’s block’? Often writers torture themselves if they do not reach certain word count targets each day and feel they have failed. Some people say just write anything, whatever comes into your head. It can be thrown away, just as long as you write. Surely it’s better to have written something rather than nothing.
So what really stops us from writing? For Ruth it’s the thought of not being able to write something that satisfies her because it won’t be good enough. One solution is to write, but when you come to a difficult word, phrase or idea, leave it and come back later. Ruth often leaves a blank space for Mary to come up with the ideal word, sentence or paragraph. So the barrier is removed and the rest of the writing can flow. Frequently a fresh look solves the problem. But we always try to remember, ‘The best way to get something done is to begin’.
Mary nearly always finds it difficult to start writing because she knows that what comes out on the screen in front of her will not be what was in her head when she thought of the story. However, if something has a plan to it, it's much easier. It's important to remember that 'writing' isn't just about putting sentences and paragraphs together, it can also involve a development stage in which ideas are noted and then put into some sort of order.

Facing a blank page can be very off-putting. Therefore rather than finish a day’s work at the end of a chapter or scene, why not stop while ideas are flowing and make a note of them. This can make it easier to start the next day.
A change of environment can help too. For example if you usually sit at a computer, why not take a notebook out into the garden if it’s a lovely day and be inspired by your surroundings. Or, as has been said on this blogspot before, go to a coffee shop. Being close to people can be stimulating. Rest assured, writer’s block is a temporary blip which every writer experiences.