Friday 30 December 2011

Happy New Year From the Edge...

Happy New Year everyone! I wish you all luck and happiness for the next twelve months.

I am writing this hopefully from somewhere edgy, and the reason for that is that I have news about Honeymoon, my New Voices entry!

To quickly recap, part of my prize was a telephone evaluation of my entry by a Mills & Boon editor, and I received my call just before Christmas. I was delighted that the editor I was assigned is the same one who dealt with me throughout 2011 - she gave me revisions on my first submission and when that was eventually rejected she also dealt with a partial I'd sent her for a new story. She is lovely, able to be brutally honest without crushing your spirit, perfect for someone like me who really needs to develop the skin of a rhino.

And so my news...she has asked me to come up with three new story ideas and send them to her in January. She will then choose the one she thinks has the most potential and will work on it with me. To say I am happy about this is an understatement! I am so excited! I am also rather terrified, and filled with self-doubt. What if NV was a fluke and I just can't maintain that standard? But I know this is a fantastic opportunity and I am going to give it my all.

Where does Honeymoon come into this, I hear you ask... I asked this too, because I'd rather thrown myself into the Honeymoon story after investing so much angst and effort into it for the two weeks of NV voting. I've actually got a working draft of about 40k which I was intending to finish by Christmas then leave alone for a month or so before revising. The editor asked me to send over what I'd done if it was in a presentable enough state and she would read it. Her overriding view, however, was that she'd like to see me tackling something a bit more 'edgy and daring', and so despite requesting my draft, her suggestion is to put the Honeymoon story to one side for now and work on something new.

As a result I spent the seven days before Christmas frantically trying to revise the Honeymoon ms into something coherent and (I wish) so fabulous that putting it to one side won't be necessary. But I totally underestimated how long it would take me to polish it to that extent. In the end I only sent her the first six chapters although I was desperate to send it all. She has emailed me to say she will look at it in early January and she looks forward to my three story proposals.

So there we have it! I am so excited and can't believe all this has come about from my little NV chapter. My only concern now is whether I can be edgy enough. Wish me luck!

Monday 5 December 2011

Heroes...A Theory of Evolution

Something I read this week got me thinking about where the looks for my heroes come from. Not their characteristics - those are very much invented by me to suit my story. But the way they look physically. It occurred to me that all my heroes have a certain identifiable 'look'. As in 'those shoes are definitely Louboutins'. 'That hero is a classic 'Charlotte''. Is this true for everyone, I wonder?

All my heroes so far have had the following physical attributes: thick dark hair, chiseled cheekbones, strong jaws, great smile. And as an example I give you the physical inspiration for my current ex-rugby player hero in Honeymoon...Tony Underwood *cough, shows age*.

I'm not saying I'd never write a blond or a redhead, just that it would have to be a conscious decision to do that rather than a natural choice. And having thought about it I now realise that my idea of the perfect man has evolved over time but has nonetheless stuck to the same basic principles. So let's take a trip down memory lane. My memory, to be precise.

Current perfect man (excluding Hubby of course, who interestingly still meets all the above physical attributes). Mr Johnny Depp. Note thick dark hair, jaw, cheekbones, etc etc. Note also facial hair - I will come back to that one later.

Rewind ten years or so and my perfect man was Gabriel Byrne, specifically when he was in The Assassin. Not his best film but I just adored that he loved the heroine but would never compromise her safety by telling her.

Take off another decade and we have the school years pin-up. Michael Praed as Robin of Sherwood. I had a poster of him on my bedroom wall and was convinced I would marry him one day.

Michael's predecessor? Here's where it starts getting interesting. I was about 13. Tom Selleck as Magnum PI. And note the additional physical characteristic, kind of hard to miss. The moustache! Clearly I dropped this requirement in later years, possibly because it was out of vogue, although as noted above, Johnny Depp is definitely a reintroduction of the facial hair element.

And finally...DRUM ROLL...I give you the first public figure I can ever remember deciding was handsome. I must have been about 7 years old. David Wilkie, Olympic swimmer. And the reason I thought he was so gorgeous? Because he looked like my Dad, who had a moustache his entire life and who to me at seven (and possibly still at 38) was the perfect man.

So my perfect man has evolved over 30 years from David Wilkie to Johnny Depp. Hmmmm. Not sure what that says about me except that I have a definite specific physical taste. Can all physical preferences be traced like this? Do we find people attractive because of the colouring or build of a first boyfriend, or a father, or a teenage crush? Would all my heroes have moustaches if they were still en vogue? And will I ever write a blond, lean, athletic hero?

Watch this space...

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Getting Nowhere Fast

Well, it's been a few weeks and I still don't know who the editor will be that handles the bit of the NV prize that is a critique of Honeymoon. But I know the other two finalists have been informed of their editors so hopefully it shouldn't be long, and I'm quite used to the waiting game. It comes with the territory of trying to break into category romance.

You'd think this lull in momentum would take away any pressure to get Honeymoon finished, but strangely the opposite seems to be true. I feel agitated that I'm not making enough progress, that it's going too slowly. My new obsession with self-editing inevitably slows down the completion of a finished first draft. I feel like it's miles away from my grasp when what I want is to have it done so I can send it in while there's a chance they'll still remember who I am!

My progress is impaired by a number of other practical things. Chief among them at the moment is the fact that the small one has apparently learned to regard the laptop as a competitor in her quest for my attention (domesticity and motherhood spent a bit of time on the back burner during NV and she'd obviously had quite enough of that, thank you very much!). If I so much as open it she pipes up 'Please can I play CBeebies on the pooter?' (CBeebies is a marvellous preschool website stuffed with games and activities but clearly its importance pales next to my MS doesn't it? Not for the small one.)

If I give her the laptop CBeebies will occupy her for a good half-hour, precious time I can spend writing. However, I can only use that time for writing longhand because I need the wretched laptop to convert my scrawl into a coherent word document. As a result my usual 50-50 ratio of handwritten-notepad to proper-draft-word-doc has morphed into hardly anything on the laptop and a huge, scruffy mess of pencil scrawl which hops randomly from scene to scene as my mind comes up with ideas. There's now so much of it that writing the thing up is ten times harder as I struggle to decipher it. And I'm still only on Chapter Five.

So swimming through treacle or pulling teeth. However I look at it, I'm finding it hard work right now. And am also feeling like an appalling inattentive mother. Perhaps if I set myself a deadline (Christmas) and start taking the laptop to bed...

Monday 14 November 2011

Definitely Do Sweat The Small Stuff...

Because of the disjointed time I have to write - demands on my time come at me from all domestic angles! - I tend to write my first drafts longhand on a huge pad which I dig out whenever I have a free ten minutes. Then I spend any longer spells of time (chiefly Tuesday and Thursday mornings when the small one goes to preschool) writing them up. I tend to play around with my rough draft as I type and it ends up (hopefully) as a coherent story in a Word document.

Following New Voices I've decided to experiment with self-editing as I go along. Prior to this I waited until I had a finished draft MS and then worked back through it. For NV, however, I had to redraft and polish my Chapter Two over and over, and the same for the Pivotal Moment, to get it to a standard where it it passed the approval of my mentor, Liz Fielding, whose self-editing abilities were staggering. I want to be her when it comes to self-editing. My draft would read pretty well to me but she could pick up tiny flaws... sentence or paragraph structure which was clumsy, words that had the wrong connotation for the scene, all sorts of things which alone didn't amount to much and so passed under my radar. When all these little things were corrected, however, the result was amazing. The whole thing flowed better, sounded tighter, the pacing was stepped up. My jaw dropped at the difference, I sounded so much better a writer!

I can give one example so you can see where I'm coming from. In my Chapter Two I have the hero break into a bathroom where he believes the heroine is suicidal, only to discover she was actually trapped because the doorknob had snapped. I wanted to use their close proximity and the fact the heroine is wearing only a towel to put across their growing physical attraction. In the middle of all this I had the hero touch the bathtub (which was covered with bath oil) and I described it as 'greasy' under his palms. This choice of word seemed OK to me, I certainly didn't pick it up in my many read-throughs. Liz, however, pointed out that 'greasy' has unpleasant connotations and therefore didn't belong in a paragraph where the hero is thinking about how gorgeous the heroine is. I eventually changed it to 'slippery'. 

Having worked so hard on Chapter Two and reached a point where I was really happy with it I also found I had a really clear idea of how to proceed with Chapter Three. So I'm hoping that by trying hard to be objective and self-edit as I go along I will not only keep my writing tighter and more effective, I will also make the path ahead clearer. I definitely will be sweating the small stuff from now on.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Where I'm At...

OK so New Voices has finished and I no longer have the need to feverishly check the website and/or my inbox. Let's have a quick roundup of the story so far.

I reached the second round of revisions on my first submission at the beginning of this year. It was eventually rejected as lacking the emotional depth required (although I read during NV that the on the editors' list of things never to do is have an Elvis impersonator in your MS, and I not only had one in that MS, I actually introduced him during that second revision stage *cringes*). Anyway enough of that!

I currently have a revised partial awaiting feedback with M&B, sent beginning of September but recently out of mind due to the excitement of New Voices. My feeling now is that I want to ask for it back, revise it again and resubmit it! I learned so much during New Voices from my brilliant mentor, Liz Fielding, (about emotion, structure, streamlining my writing to name just a few things) that I no longer feel that partial is the best I could do.

I also have Honeymoon With A Stranger (HWAS), my entry in this year's New Voices, which has consumed me for the last month or so as I worked on it with Liz's help. It didn't win but the feedback I received has been a delight. People liked my story and the way I write and it has been the most amazing confidence boost. Yes, winning the comp would have been a dream, but to be perfectly honest I feel like a winner anyway. I've learned more from Liz in a few weeks than I've gleaned in a year's reading of how-to books and internet sites.

M&B have told me they'll be in touch shortly regarding HWAS, and this is the story I plan to work on for now. I feel so invested in it after the intensity of the competition that I want to take advantage of that. So the next stage is to develop the story fully (I'd only written the first chapter and when I unexpectedly went through to the Final 21 the only plan I had was 'she blags a job at the hotel and they fall in love'). Once I have a proper plan I can crack back on with writing it.

Monday 7 November 2011

Introducing...The Blog

New Voices 2011 has just finished and by some miracle I managed to end up in the Final 4 with my entry 'Honeymoon With A Stranger'.

I haven't kept a blog before. As someone who squashes writing into the gaps between running a family of five, I didn't think I would have much to say on the subject that would be of interest to anyone but me. However, the wake-up call that was New Voices made me realise how much I like this writing thing. I've had a fabulous, brilliant time these last few weeks (possibly apart from the rather manic refreshing of my inbox that took place last Friday). And going forward I want to take it more seriously and aim high.

So... this blog is partly acknowledgment to myself that I'm going to work at my writing a bit more rather than just playing at it, and partly a way of recording the journey that will (hopefully in some dream world) end in publication. As mum to two teenagers and a three year old, I'm used to not being listened to, therefore although followers will be welcomed excitedly, I will blather on to myself quite happily anyway!