Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Two of a Kind: Spooky Snow Stories

I've just started reading Michelle Paver's 'Dark Matter', which was passed on to me by a friend who'd enjoyed it, and which has been sitting on my TBR pile for a while now because I thought Halloween week would be a good time to pick up a story subtitled: 'A Ghost Story'.  So far (Chapter 4) I haven't yet met any ghosts, but I am loving both the characterisation and the incredible sense of period and setting she creates. 

Having grown up on an eclectic reading diet, including 'Scott of the Antarctic' biographies and Jack London stories alongside 'Little Women' and 'Ballet Shoes', the whole Arctic setting felt very familiar.  The snow, the wind, the cracking of ice, the wheeling gulls (which turn out to be kittiwakes) all rang more bells than seemed reasonable for someone who's never travelled North of Stockholm. 

Now, Scandinavian fiction has been the 'next big thing' for a while, and I've taken in my share of 'Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow' and 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' but this was more than the general Scandinavian vibe.  It's perhaps a reflection of how much I read that it took me several minutes to make the rather obvious connection.

Not too long ago, I reviewed Richard Pierce's 'Dead Men', a creepy and compelling tale of a doomed Antarctic expedition, and the unlikely couple who devote themselves to uncovering the truth about it.  You won't find the review on my blog, because it was a radio review for Sine FM's 'Book It', but suffice it to say here that I found it absorbing and thought-provoking, and I thoroughly recommend it.  And, so far as I can tell from reading four chapters, I could say the same of 'Dark Matter'!

Friday, 26 October 2012

Halloween Blog Hop and Giveaway

Welcome to the Wild Rose Press Halloween Haunted Garden Blog Hop and Giveaway.  Phew, what a mouthful!  Oh, and welcome back if you've followed the link here from one of the lovely Roses' blogs.  If you've visited before, you may remember I promised you some thoughts on the dark side of light fiction, and here they are...

I love Halloween, and all things gothic and vampiric, which surprises most people who don't know me well. After all, I don't write dark, paranormal fiction.  Well, not often, anyway.  I mostly write light contemporary romances, with not a ghoul or demon in sight (though I do have one, as yet unpublished, story featuring a Djinn.  And even that one's faintly comic).  Occasionally I have an odd outburst of creepiness, as in the case of a ghost story I wrote in which the ghosts of a family who perished in a flood came back to claim a child (mercifully, that one's somehow disappeared off my computer - maybe a poltergeist stole it).  Mostly, though, my fiction is resolutely upbeat.  I like everyday situations, and just-a-bit-better-than-everyday heroes and heroines, and most of all I like a happy ending.

Sounds a bit Pollyanna, right?  And it would be except for one thing... a good villain.  After all, without conflict there would be no story, and without a good villain, there'd be very little conflict.  So, for me, there's often a kind of triangle going on in my stories, but it's not always a love triangle.  Often, it's a triangle of hero, heroine and villain.  In 'Desperate Bid', Sarah isn't looking for a man, she's just trying to make a go of her job as an events planner in a company which is about to go up for sale.  Her big dream is to buy the company, but of course there's someone in the way, and that someone is Miles, the sleazy salesman who's certain that he deserves to be in charge and Sarah deserves to be on her way out of the door.  To stand a chance of getting her dream, Sarah needs help, and that help comes from Alex, a would-be musician who's got so tired of chasing the dream that in a moment of drunken madness, he's put his life up for sale to the highest bidder.  And there we have the triangle: hero, heroine, and forces of darkness...

The challenge, of course, with letting the forces of darkness loose, is that once they're out, they tend to try to take over the world.  Miles has managed to take over enough of Sarah's story that several people have suggested he deserves his own book.  It's hard not to be intrigued by the bad guys - why they do what they do, and whether they can be redeemed.  Just think of dark, exotic Heathcliff set against the very ordinary Linton - no wonder Cathy can't resist him.  Stephenie Meyer goes one better with her heroine torn, not between light and darkness, but between two dark heroes: the vampire and the werewolf.  Then there's 50 Shades' Christian Grey, whose twisted desires hold such a fascination for innocent Ana.  From romance to crime to horror, light fiction doesn't get far without a good dose of darkness.  Which is why it makes perfect sense to me - and most of my writer friends - that I love Halloween.  It just seems to surprise everyone else! 

Of course, Halloween isn't just about darkness.  I'm shallow enough also to enjoy the excuse for a party and lots of candy.  So, to help me celebrate Halloween, why not post a comment below with what you love best about this time of year?  Is it the fabulous costumes, the treats, or something else entirely?  One commenter (picked at random on November the 1st) will win a pdf copy of 'Desperate Bid', and once you've commented, do hop on to the blogs below for the chance to win lots more goodies!

Happy Halloween! 


Saturday, 20 October 2012

Breaking News: My Novel is Accepted!

Apologies if this is not the most coherent post ever, but I'm excited!  Recently I sent my contemporary romance novel, 'Perfect Partners' to Crimson Romance (a clip of their website is below, but do go and look at the real thing - it's much prettier and has lots of good books on it) and they have accepted it for publication in 2013. Hooray! 

My novel 'Perfect Partners' is set in the glamorous world of ballroom dancing, and was inspired partly by my experiences on the Oxford University Ballroom Dancing team, longer ago than I care to admit, and partly by my love of Strictly Come Dancing.  Which is on tonight - that's my plans for the evening sorted, then.  I'll be spending the evening in front of Strictly - possibly with a glass of bubbly to toast my success... though the bubbly is banned until I hit my wordcount for the day... better get writing!

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Spooky Stories

Indeed it is the season for ghost stories, and if you like them, there's an interesting list of recommendations here.

My perennial favourites - neither of which appears in the list - are Susan Hill's 'Woman in Black' (yes, the one that was recently filmed with Daniel Radcliffe) and 'Whistle and I'll Come to You My Lad' by the superbly creepy M.R.James.  Also, if it counts, 'A Christmas Carol.'

Any more recommendations?

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Halloween is just around the corner... Boo!

Yes, Halloween is nearly here.  The nights are drawing in, there's a nip in the air, the shops are full of pumpkins and black cats and gruesome edibles (gunky eyeball cake, anyone?), and the Wild Rose Press Halloween blog hop is coming up!  Stop by nearer the time to read my thoughts on the dark side of writing light fiction, and for links to lots of lovely Wild Rose Authors writing about the season of spookiness.

I've got some personal plans for the 31st too, so if you're really good and leave me lots of friendly comments, I may risk a photo of my Halloween costume ... Though come to think of it, you may prefer that I didn't.  That probably depends on the costume ...

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Discovery of the Day: Blue Penny Quarterly

I used to be a big fan of literary magazines, but everything changes so fast online that recently I've rather lost touch.  So I was delighted to stumble across a link to this oddly named and oddly compelling publication:


Published, as you might expect, quarterly, and packed with polished and thought-provoking stories (albeit with rather an American slant), it's well worth a visit, especially since it's free to read.  The magazine is advert-free, and publication is subsidised by a small reading fee of $2 per submission.  

And why is it so named?  Ah ha.  Read it and find out! 

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Discovery of the Day: A Great Writing Prompt Site

I'm a big fan of writing prompts to help get things started.  A blank page is far less terrifying if there's something to suggest a direction you might take in filling it.  I have a number of books of writing prompts (of which my current favourite is 'The Writer's Idea Book') but it's always good to find fresh ones, and this is my latest source:


The site contains not only some great prompts (frequently updated) but also some wise thoughts about the use of prompts, such as a reminder not to get too hung up about hunting for the 'right' prompt.  Reading 100 prompts in quick succession won't get the book written, and will mean that when you come to use those prompts in future, they're no longer as fresh and inspiring as if you were seeing them for the first time.  You have been warned!

Monday, 1 October 2012

Writing blurbs, or what makes a book sell?

So... a friend asked on facebook today for advice about how to write a book blurb.  Being a former marketer, amongst (many) other things, I thought I ought to have something to say, so I sat down to try and write a few pointers.  When the few pointers turned into something of an essay, I decided this was worth making more public than a private message in facebook.  So, for any writers who have ever struggled with the question of just how much to give away on the back cover, here are my thoughts...

1) Don't give too much away.
You are not writing a blurb to give your reader every detail about your characters, world and back story.  They will find that out when they read the book, and too much detail in the short space of a blurb makes most of us dizzy!  You don't have to tell the reader everything now.  The blurb just needs to give the core facts which tell them whether this is a book they will want to buy.  In most cases that means the genre, the general setting, the protagonist's identity, and their challenge.  Spend the most time on the last one, because that more than anything is what will make the reader want to read the book.  Give your hero or heroine a nice, meaty obstacle (or three) so that the reader can't guess for themselves how your character will overcome it.  As an example, the book I'm reading at the moment, Elizabeth George's 'Careless in Red' attracted me because of the hero's plight.  Inspector Lynley has recently lost his wife and when he stumbles across a body on the beach - traumatic enough in itself for a grief-stricken hero - he inadvertently becomes a suspect in a murder investigation.  With a scenario like that, who wouldn't read on?

2) Don't keep too much under wraps.
Occasionally new writers go the other way, on the basis that too much detail is off-putting, and/or they're afraid that if they put the details of their magnum opus out there, someone else will steal their great idea.  This is an exaggeration, but not by much, of some vague blurbs I've read: 'Susan faces the biggest challenge of her life and everything is conspiring to prevent her from living her dream.  Will the forces of darkness prevail, or will our daring heroine overcome the terrors that nearly destroy her?'  Huh?  What is this book about?  When and where is it set?  It could be a school story, fantasy or romance, or just about anything, really.  Make sure the reader has at least one firm hook on which they can peg their answer to the vital question: 'What is this book?'

3) Know when to stop.
This is probably the thing I struggle with most when writing a blurb.  Obviously you can't give away the ending, or the reader won't have any reason to pick up the book at all, but aside from that, how do you know how to end a blurb (other than with a subtler variant of, 'buy this book to find out more')?  I browsed the blurbs at my publisher, The Wild Rose Press and noticed that they mostly follow a pattern in keeping with its stance as a romance publisher which insists on including both the hero's and heroine's perspectives.  The first paragraph introduces us to the heroine, including a few details of her ordinary life, but mostly, the reason why she really needs the hero... and the reason she thinks she can't have him!  Rachel Brimble's 'Transatlantic Loving' is a great example of this - in just a few short lines we know exactly why Lisa is drawn to Aaron, and why she's going to spend most of the story believing he's bad news.  The second paragraph hints at the story from the hero's point of view, but obviously that's less relevant if you're writing in a different genre, or if your romance is first-person or wholly from the heroine's viewpoint. That's it.  Once we know who we're reading about, what they need, and what's stopping them getting it, there's nothing else we need to know, except the ending, which is why these blurbs work so well. 

4) Test your ideas.
Hand your blurb to family and friends (and strangers if you dare) and ask them, 'Would you buy this book?'  But don't stop there.  Always add the vital question, 'Why?'  That's what will tell you whether your taster is giving them a true picture of what's inside the cover.  If your story is a gruesome, action-packed thriller with just the tiniest hint of a love angle, and the response is, 'because it sounds sweet', your blurb probably needs some more work!

5) Let it go.
With so much to think about, it's easy to end up overthinking, like the famous author who is supposed to have spend a morning taking out a comma... and an afternoon putting it back in.  Yes, the blurb is important, but as long as it points readers in the right direction - to buying your book, or at least browsing through it or downloading a sample - what will really sell your book is the quality of the writing inside.  So if your time is limited, it's the writing itself that should claim the lion's share of your attention.  Talking of which, I have a story to get back to, so I'll leave you to your blurb.

Have fun, and feel free to share your thoughts, examples and any good blurb-writing advice you've received.