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Sunday, 22 December 2013

A Lovely Christmas Tradition

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AChristmas_Tree_Festival%2C_St_John_the_Evangelist_Church_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1622424.jpg
By Trish Steel
I've just been to a wonderful candlelit carol service at the Church of the Holy Jesus, Lydbrook, in Gloucestershire.  Over the past few years, the village has become famous for its Christmas Tree festival. People travel from all over the world to enjoy the spectacle, and it's definitely worth a visit. Among the many stunning displays this year there's a miniature automated alpine village complete with moving cable-cars and skiers zipping down the slopes, a Gruffalo hides in one of the trees, and you can write your own message on a white dove to add to a tree of memories. The festival was held on 13th, 14th and 15th December this year, although everything will be on view again during a mini-Christingle service at 3pm on Christmas Eve and again from 11:00pm that night, ahead of Midnight Mass. After that, there'll be another chance to see the wonderful array of decorated trees during the short, hugely enjoyable family service at 9:30am on Christmas morning.

You can see some pictures of The Orchard Trust hard at work decorating their tree here while Santa's enjoying a display straight from Narnia called Cold, Crisp, Frosty, Magic and Sparkle here!

The holiday season is all too often a time of stress, noise and bustle. It's lovely to take some time out to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas in the peace and serenity of a country church like this.  You don't need a star to guide you - just get up a bit earlier (!) on Christmas morning, set your sat.nav to GL17 9SH, and pop along to the 9:30am family service at the Church of the Holy Jesus, Lydbrook.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Mysteries on the Wye

This morning my OH walked down to the river as usual after escorting me to church. The lack of rain in the last few weeks means that the river level has been slowly dropping again so that the island (more of a gravel bank really) in the middle has reappeared. Along with something else...
 
Above is the island as it appeared in late summer. Most of it is visible along with the gravel spits at either end. The river in front has lots of ripples, as you might expect given that it was shallow enough to ground canoes. Now look at the photo taken this morning from roughly the same spot – the river flows from right to left in both pictures:
The river is still higher than it was when the first photo was taken, so I wonder what’s causing the mysterious standing wave? Obviously there’s something stuck on the river bed, but what could it be? I think we should be told!

Another mystery is what’s happened to all the moles in our garden? We don’t have lawns as such, just areas of something that on average looks like grass. Usually we have to spend some time before we mow just kicking down the molehills, otherwise it’s like trying to push the mower over the Apennines. Walking across the ’lawns’ is an adventure in itself thanks to all the runs underneath that make your feet sink a little every few steps. But lately – almost nothing.

We like to think that it’s all thanks to our cat, who (when not eating or sleeping) is very good at keeping down all the mice, voles and shrews in the garden and has been known to bring in – and up – the occasional mole. We’ve even found the odd squirrel carcass now & again.

Although OH thinks that there might be another reason, and that the two mysteries might be linked.
Along the river bank there were lots of molehills this morning, some of them quite fresh. OH’s theory is that the local moles have been watching too many documentaries about their cousins the North American beavers (we know they’re not really cousins, but the moles don’t…) OH thinks that they've decided to give the life aquatic a go and so the standing wave is caused by their first attempts at a beaver lodge.
Personally I think all that unaccustomed fresh air has gone to OH’s head!


After much anticipation we went to yesterday’s performance of the Nutcracker ballet by touring company Ballet Theatre UK. It was a wonderful production, made all the more amazing because of the limitations of our small local theatre – actually it’s owned by the local boys’ school to which Son Number One goes. He was studying the souvenir programme closely over breakfast this morning, so maybe he hasn’t given up on his old hobby altogether.

Being a professional dancer takes passion, determination and dedication as well as raw talent, but if he did decide to take it up as a career then we’d be thrilled to little mint balls!.

The local church I attend is in desperate need of repair, like all too many small parish churches in England these days. While he was waiting for me this morning, OH noticed a strange line of damaged & discoloured stones on the wall above the doorway. Neither of us could work out what might be causing the stones to decay in a gentle curve (from bottom left of the photo, curving over the window and ending at the top right). There are no gutters or gargoyles above, nor does it correspond to any structure on the inside of the wall. Does anybody have any ideas?

OH has been trying to develop a conspiracy theory involving the vanished moles, but even he thinks that might be a bit too far-fetched.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Three Top Tips To Help With Your Writing...

Power of Words by Antonio Litterio.jpg: Antonio Litterio derivative work: InverseHypercube
By Antonio Litterio

1. Get Hooked – expressing yourself in words is better for you than eating sugar, and just as addictive. Instead of eating cake at coffee-time, start keeping a diary or jot down ideas for your novel. Make writing your new regular, unbreakable daily habit. It doesn’t matter if you can only afford to spend a few minutes on it. Consistency is the key. Set aside some time every day to write. The amount of time you can spend has less to do with your results than your determination. Remember, the more you put into your work, the more you’ll get back in return. Nothing beats the satisfaction of finishing a project. If you can only schedule enough spare time to make notes, do it. Nothing you write will be wasted. When you finally sit down to enjoy a good, long writing session, you’ll never need to waste time waiting for inspiration. You’ll have loads of things down on paper already. The words will be ready to dance across that beautiful blank page for you. The feeling that gives is better than the icing on any cake!  

2. Get Organised – dedicate an area where you can write every day. It doesn’t have to be large. Just make sure there’s enough room to keep your books (see Tip Three) and paperwork to hand. A permanent space is best. If you have to share your writing refuge with other people or projects, keep your things in a cardboard box so you can stow them away easily at the end of each session. It’s amazing how fast paperwork builds up, so you’ll need some way of keeping track. Use large envelopes labelled with chapter headings or character names to keep everything in order.


3. Be Prepared – make sure your writing kingdom’s well stocked, and don’t let anyone borrow your stuff. They say they’ll give it back, but can you guarantee they will? It’s better not to weaken. Show them (nicely, of course!) how to be better organised and get their own supplies, like you. You’ll be giving them a lesson in responsibility. At the most basic level you’ll need plenty of pencils (pens run out, or leak), a sharpener, an eraser, and paper. Sometimes nothing beats that connection with words which appear from a sharp point onto a real surface under your hand. Get a good dictionary, a thesaurus and a book on punctuation such as Getting The Point by Jenny Haddon and Elizabeth Whiteside,  or Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss. Don't rely on the library for  books you'll need all the time. While you can use online resources, try looking for cheap second-hand copies of real books. They'll help with your off-line sessions, or when your computer fails. That’s when the best ideas always arrive!

If you've enjoyed these tips, you can find more at christinahollis.com Visit here and you can click to sign up for my newsletter, which will bring news about my next release and a whole lot more.






Friday, 1 November 2013

Three Top Tips For Writers...

By Henriette Brown
1. When you first start writing, keep an open mind. Try anything, until you find the perfect match between your own personal style and one particular story-telling genre. Finding the right outlet for your writing voice is a bit like falling in love with a pair of shoes in the shop window. If you try them on and they don’t fit, you know they'll be a daily agony - it doesn't matter how much you invest in them. Look elsewhere, and you'll save yourself a lot of pain. Writing is hard enough, without having to struggle against your own nature every step of the way.
2. Find yourself a successful mentor, preferably through your local creative writing group. You need someone who will be honest about your work, and suggest ways you can improve. If you can't find any face-to-face guidance, go on line and check out popular writers whose work you admire. Then you'll see if they’ve produced any guides to writing that will help you. Kate Walker's 12 point Guide to Writing Romance and Liz Fielding’s Little Book of Writing Romance are both brilliant, and will take you step-by-step through the process of crafting the novel of your dreams. 

3. Writing is a solitary business. Take care you don’t become too self-absorbed. Sometimes it feels like you're the only person struggling to meet a word count, deadline, or grappling with characters who won't grow and a plot that won't arc. Meet up with like-minded people online for a new perspective. Check out
Facebook and Twitter, of course - they're brilliant, but can take up a lot of time. Visit your local library to find out about local creative writing groups, or join The Romantic Novelists' Association or the Romance Writers of America. Both organisations provide lots of useful information and contacts.

If you've enjoyed these tips, there are more at christinahollis.com Visit here and you can click to sign up for my newsletter, which will bring news about my next release and a whole lot more!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

A Writer's Life – Autumn Is Here...

That was then...
Autumn has arrived, and it came in on a blustery south-west wind. That means rain - and lots of it. Only a few weeks ago, the river level was almost down to the record low level of the famous drought year of 1976 - on the right is a snap of it as it was.

... and this is now
Now rain falling on the mountains of Wales is gradually draining into the Wye. Canoeists don’t have to  worry about grounding on gravel banks anymore. They’re too busy fighting their way through torrents and rapids. The snap on the left was taken today and shows how the small island has disappeared.

As I type this, it’s impossible to see our neighbour’s house - the rain is so heavy, clouds have filled the valley. All the water-butts around the house and greenhouses are overflowing, and they were almost empty in September. The weather this year has been as good as last year was bad. This meant a great harvest of fruit, and now autumn has set the blueberry leaves on fire.

After losing all my bees, I was lucky enough to get a replacement colony via our local beekeepers’ club. It was  late in the beekeeping season, but my new bees still managed to populate their hive. I shall have to be on my toes next spring, or their queen will think it’s time to lay a replacement and move out with a swarm of her followers. She’ll want to set up a new home somewhere else, leaving her daughter queen behind in my hive with a tiny nucleus of young bees. That means I’ll get no honey for the second year running! To avoid that happening, I’ll  try and hang onto my existing queen by persuading her to move out, but only as far as one of my spare hives. That means I’ll be spending this autumn cleaning and repairing all my spare kit, ready for next spring. Like gardening, beekeeping needs you to think ahead.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bc/TurkishDelightDisplay.jpg
By TheMightyQuill
I’m planning to issue my next newsletter soon, and this picture has been a great inspiration! I'll be including my own recipe for Turkish delight in my newsletter, and you can sign up to be included on the mailing list here

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Three Top Tips To Help Your Creative Writing...

By Antonio Litterio

Keep copies of all your work. Set your computer system to do this automatically, every thirty minutes or so. It will remember, so you don’t have to! Have a separate memory stick for each day of the week. At the end of each working day, copy the latest version of your work in progress onto the appropriate stick. Keep them together on a key-ring, and keep them with you at all times. As an extra safeguard in case your external memory gets corrupted, lost or stolen, email your work in progress to yourself once every seven days as a backup. If you use a MAC, “save As” a word document too. That way, you’ll always be able to access your WIP via email, on whatever form of computer you have to hand. Never rely on keeping things wholly in the cloud, just in case.

Use all your senses to gather inspiration, then store it in ways that will help you to get creative. Take photos (getting permission where necessary) and upload them onto Pinterest andTumblr, for example. This will provoke all sorts of reactions from potential readers, and you can use these to further inspire your work. You can keep the boards secret if you like, or fully engage your social network. Bookmark helpful sites online, but use metadata (tags and key-words) so you can find things again easily. There’s so much interesting stuff on the internet, the tendency to save links and articles in the same way a demented squirrel hoards nuts. A good system for retrieving them makes the difference between useful information, and endless time-wasting searches.

Make use of your local library. They need all the support they can get, so the staff there are always delighted to help. They do far more than simply lend out books nowadays. Ours holds talks and creative writing classes, offers a free audio book service, lends ebooks, and has a telephone book-club, so the housebound don’t miss out.  They work with family history and local studies groups, as well as subscribing to wide range of newspapers, magazines so you don’t have to! The ability to book online time means you’ll still have access to a computer if yours is out of action. You can also use the library’s facilities to scroll back through back-copies of printed media, which is bound to give you dozens of ideas. You can go on to check facts and figures with the library’s reference section at the same time. Most library services are free, or easily affordable, so a trip to your local branch is always a bargain.

For another free resource, visit christinahollis.com and click to sign up for my newsletter, which will bring news about my next release and a whole lot more!

Monday, 30 September 2013

A Writer's Life - Our Local Heroine...

I’m celebrating a genuine local heroine today. Denise was born here in the village, and grew up to become an invaluable member of our local community. She left school at fifteen to start work as a shop assistant, and later became a professional child-minder. Everyone for miles around has been taken under Denise’s wing at some time or another. She is a devoted daughter, wife, mother, grandmother and friend. She has been a local councillor,  a central figure in  the local dramatic society, after-school and holiday clubs, monthly lunch sessions, and much more besides. Our friendship began when Denise took on the job of  looking after our daughter when DD was five months. Denise lavished as much care and attention on DD as we did! 

Denise and her family have always been great supporters of the local church. In 2009, after a lot of soul-searching, she took the first step on the long, hard road to becoming a licensed Reader in the Church of England. This has involved her in hours of study, she’s had to write dozens of essays, complete mountains of coursework and spend periods away from home on residential courses as she prepared to work for the church Gloucestershire. The work was hard and time-consuming, but with her determination fuelled by the support of her family, she refused to give up. 

Four years later, all her hard work and sleepless nights have resulted in well-deserved success. Last Saturday, practically our whole village descended on Gloucester cathedral to watch Denise (and seven other new Readers from other parishes around the diocese), receive official recognition by the Bishop of Gloucester.  Beforehand, I had the honour of witnessing the signing of her license in the cathedral's Regimental Chapel, which was a great experience. 

The cathedral was packed, the music and ceremony was amazing and afterwards, the sun shone for photographs. Nobody could ask for anything more...but then Denise treated us all to a magnificent feast back in the village club. The centrepiece was this cake, iced with The Lord’s Prayer. It tasted every bit as good as it looked.

Congratulations, Denise! We always knew you could do it - and now you have. Next stop, Lambeth Palace?

Friday, 27 September 2013

Food, Men and the Weekend...

Despite the poor start to the year, our garden ended up producing more fruit than it has done for a long time. The plum harvest was a good one, but because we had a downpour at the wrong time many of the fruits burst their skins. Although the plums tasted as good as ever they attracted wasps, and wouldn't keep. Rather than waste them, I adapted a recipe I normally use for blueberries. It worked brilliantly.

PLUM SPONGE
You'll need:
Prepared plums, washed, halved and with the stones removed.
6oz softened butter (or margarine)
6 oz caster (fine) sugar
6oz self-raising flour
3 eggs

Extra caster (fine) sugar to taste
Lemon juice (optional)

Heat the oven to 180ÂșC (Fan, 160 C) Gas mark 4.
Cover the bottom of a shallow ovenproof dish with the roughly sliced plums. Add a couple of tablespoons of water, and sprinkle them with sugar to taste. If the plums are already quite sweet, add a spritz of lemon juice.
In a separate bowl, beat together the butter, sugar, flour and eggs for a couple of minutes to make a smooth, glossy mixture. Spread this evenly over the fruit, and cook for around 35-40 minutes, or until the sponge is well risen, golden brown and springs back when lightly pressed.
Serve warm, with custard or ice cream.

This week's hero is award-winning Milos Karadaglic. He comes from Montenegro, and began playing the guitar as a child. A scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music brought him to London at the age of seventeen, and now he has an international career.





I'll be working on my Autumn newsletter this weekend, to be published the minute I get the draft artwork for Jewel Under Siege, which will be my next release.   If you want to be among the first to see it, click here to subscribe to my newsletter. Don't worry, I'll never pass on your details!

Monday, 23 September 2013

Three Top Tips For Writing Your Book...

Power of Words by Antonio Litterio.jpg: Antonio Litterio derivative work: InverseHypercube
By Antonio Litterio

1. Stop dreaming and start working. The only person who can stop you becoming a writer is you. From the moment you express yourself in words, you’re a writer. The job title doesn't depend on getting published. Whether you keep a diary or create a best-selling series of books, the simple pleasure of opening a clean file or feeling a new page under your hand is unbeatable. Try it, and take that first step toward making your dreams a reality.

2. Make sure your mind is trained on your ultimate prize, whatever that might be. Wanting to write a book isn’t enough. You must believe with all your heart that you can finish your project, especially if your objective is publication. A solid core of belief is the only thing that will get you through the hours and hours of writing, re-writing, rejection and editing needed to reach your goal. You know you can do it. Now prove it – to me, and everyone else. Go on. I dare you!

3. You’ll never be short of ideas if you’re always equipped with some way of making notes as inspiration strikes. Keep a notebook and pencil by your bed. Carry a dictaphone. Have a dedicated folder on your device of choice  - but don’t forget to back it up regularly. Have one memory stick for each day of the week. As an extra safeguard in case your external memory gets corrupted, lost or stolen, email your work in progress to yourself once every seven days as a backup.

Visit the Hints and Tips page of my website for lots more ideas.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Food, Men and the Weekend...

Charlie Siem
If you follow me on other social media, you'll know I've had a few issues with a particular image of the delightful Dr Adam Rutherford. Whatever the subject, however many photos I've added to my blogs since he starred in FMATW, he keeps popping up to illustrate links I post to Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere. I'd say "randomly" but that's got a specific meaning for my OH, who tends to come over all Dr Sheldon Cooper when I use the word. If continuous appearance wasn't bad enough, it's too fuzzy, indistinct picture of Dr Adam to be worth repeating. 

Today's Man of the Moment, Charlie Siem, has a much better photo. It won't matter if this keeps reappearing! Charlie is a 27-year-old violinist from London who is a real force on the international stage. The first time I heard him play, he attacked Bruch's Violin Concerto with such vigour, I forgot I was sitting in a traffic jam. Then I looked him up on line, and discovered this picture. If all that isn't enough to attract your attention, his father is (allegedly) a billionaire, and Charlie plays the d'Egville Guarneri that once belonged to Yehudi Menuhin. Wow...

It’s been such a good year for fruit, we've got plenty of apples despite hungry deer invading the garden and the hedges are full of brambles. Here’s a really simple recipe for making the most of this hedgerow harvest. The amount and type of fruit can be varied according to what you have available. You just need to make sure you have about a pound and a half of it in total. 

APPLE AND BLACKBERRY CRUMBLE
1.5lbs peeled, sliced cooking apples and washed blackberries
Sugar to taste
4oz flour
3oz butter or margarine
2oz demerara (brown) sugar
3oz rolled oats

Put the prepared fruit into an ovenproof dish with sugar to taste and a couple of tablespoons of water.
In another bowl, rub the fat into the flour. Stir in the sugar and oats. Sprinkle this crumble mixture evenly over the fruit, making sure to cover it completely. Cook for around half an hour at 180°C, (fan oven 160°C) Gas Mark 4, or until the fruit is cooked and the topping is golden. Serve it hot or cold, with plenty of custard, cream or ice cream.

I'm going to be making blackberry and apple jelly this weekend, too, when I'm not trying to oust Dr Adam Rutherford from my picture gallery. Have you ever been haunted by anything you've posted on the net? If so, how did you exorcise your problem? 











Tuesday, 17 September 2013

A Writer's Life...Of Damsons and Sugar Plums

If you read my September 14th blog for authorsoundrelations, you'll know I was getting ready to make damson jam. That didn't exactly go to plan. As I hadn't tried this particular recipe before, I did everything by the book. That included using my jam thermometer. The recipe said the fruit and dissolved sugar would take between ten and twenty minutes to reach setting point. As it boiled, the sound changed from thin burbling to a thick, full throated "gloop". After twenty -five minutes I was convinced - especially as the mixture was clinging to the spoon, but the thermometer still said "no!" I tried putting a blob of jam on a chilled saucer. It wrinkled even faster than good jam should, so I ignored the thermometer and potted the jam. It tastes delicious, but it's a bit over-boiled and therefore pretty stiff. Next time I think I'll go by instinct, rather than technology!

When Son Number One saw The Nutcracker on TV at the age of five, he immediately wanted to do ballet lessons. To my shame, I was horrified and spent the next few years impersonating Billy Elliot's father. He never gave up, so eventually I booked him in for a trial lesson at the Fairie Feet School Of Dancing. I assumed half an hour in an all-girl environment on a Saturday morning would silence him. It did - but only because he loved it. Over the years he went through the grades, progressing from the basic black male ballet shoes to the white ones he coveted. Miss Joy and her staff were perfect teachers. Along the way, Son Number One impressed me with the mature way he dealt with the reactions to those who were, shall we say, curious about his hobby. I was worried he would be bullied, but luckily that was never a problem. You have to be tough to be a ballet dancer. You also need to put in the hours, and now he's a teenager, Son Number One has computer game design and animation on his mind. Sadly, he's decided to reclaim his Saturdays by giving up ballet. I never thought I'd say this, but I wish he'd reconsider!  

As a fitting end to my period as a ballet mum, we've just booked tickets for The Nutcracker, later in the year. I'm calling it my reward for washing all that sweaty kit, but I can't deny there's an element of wondering what-might-have-been. With my sensible head on I know it would have been at best a short, cut-throat career for him, plagued by injury and disappointment, but a writer only deals in dreams... 

The weather is closing in, ready for autumn. It's a time of transition, like Son Number One's change of heart. Do you feel like making a change? What are you going to do about it? 

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Three New Categories Of Writing

The Power of Words by Antonio Litterio, via inversehypercube/wikimedia commons
By Antonio Litterio

WRITING FOR PLEASURE
This is how we all start. Telling stories is a compulsion as old as time. Once we discover our ideas can be made semi-permanent through the fascinating marks made by fat wax crayon, there’s no stopping us. Whether you keep a diary or create a best-selling series, the simple pleasure of opening a clean file or feeling a new page under your nib is unbeatable.
WRITING FOR PUBLICATION
This used to be a case of either catching the eye of a respectable publisher, or delving into the murky depths of vanity publishing. The first often meant jumping through hoops, then signing away some or all of your rights. The latter involved risking a lot of money to see your hard work turned into books - if you were lucky. The explosion of online possibilities means you don’t need the skin of a rhinoceros any more. The scourge of rejection is no longer a threat. Anyone with access to a computer can create, upload and offer an ebook for international sale. The downside is that an already crowded market has now been flooded with the type of writing publishers used to reject, together with self-published gems they will wish they'd been offered.

Vanity publishers may have competition now, but the need for deep pockets hasn’t gone away. It’s a good idea to invest in great cover art to make sure your book stands out from the millions of others, all clamouring for attention. Professional editing will make sure your text is a flawless read, but be warned - it can’t do much for your plot, or story-telling skills. Even poop can be polished until it shines.

WRITING FOR PROFIT
This is the Holy Grail of many writers. Seeing your name in print or on screen isn’t always enough. The newspapers love winners like Rowling or James, but most writers don’t hit those heights. If you’re making a thousand a year, count yourself lucky. That’s a good average. Unless you’re contracted to a major publishing house with a multi-book contract, writing is usually a lucrative part-time job, at best.

Of course, these three categories aren’t mutually exclusive. The walls are permeable. Commercially published writing may not sell. A privately published book might take off like a rocket. Something written with nothing but profit in mind may never recoup its costs, while a work with a tiny initial print run may find itself the centre of international attention. In the end, the only sure way to success is the same as it always has been - write from your heart, for your own pleasure. That’s always going to be the best way to appeal to your readership. And if you decide the only reader will be you, then you’ll have satisfied 100% of your audience–and that’s something not even William Shakespeare has ever managed to do.

What type of writing are you doing at the moment? Would you like to switch to a different category?  

Monday, 26 August 2013

Interview with Top Author Margaret Mayo


Today I'm delighted to bring you an interview with top novelist Margaret Mayo, whose latest book, Abby's Unexpected Bodyguard, is her eightieth romance. To mark this amazing milestone, the ebook edition of Abby's Unexpected Bodyguard also contains as a bonus  Destiny Paradise. This was Margaret's first novel, published in 1976.

It's lovely to welcome you here today, Margaret. Thanks for taking the time to drop by. The heroine of your latest book, Abby, is a successful business woman who runs her own salon. Lorna, in Destiny Paradise, was an executive secretary. That's a dream job you don’t hear much about now that everyone writes their own emails. Has the profile of your readers also changed over the length of time you’ve been writing romance?

Most definitely. Some of my early readers would have had a blue fit if I’d written the sort of sex scenes I do now.  I remember an aunt of mine saying, ‘I enjoyed your book, Margaret, but - ’  And there was a pregnant silence.  My mother was unhappily no longer alive but I know her reaction would have been the same. I think most of my readers were so much older and inevitably had different views on what made good reading. Today’s readers want a good strong story line but they also want the excitement of a physical relationship to go along with it.

Tell us a bit about Abby’s Unexpected Bodyguard.

Abby is a beautician who has flown to Paris to attend a trade fair. Unfortunately nothing goes according to plan. She was met off the plane by a friend of her brother whom she had never seen before and knew nothing about. He insisted on giving her a lift to her hotel - where coincidentally he also was staying. The next morning he again insists on driving her to the place where she had reluctantly agreed to deliver a parcel for her brother. She is furious when he declares the area isn’t safe and speeds away before she can make her delivery. He even insists she check out of the hotel before driving her across France to Nantes. 

He seems to be taking over her life but she is grateful for his protection when a brute of a man turns up demanding the parcel and she begins to realise that whatever she is carrying may not be as innocent as she had thought.

It’s a roller coaster ride for Abby when on several other occasions she needs Temple’s protection, and the story does not even end when she returns home to England.

Your hero, Temple Townsend, takes it on himself to protect the formidably independent Abby. Alpha males have always been the ultimate hero, but do they have to show their credentials in different ways these days?

It generally depends on the storyline. In this book my hero was a real action man, physically jumping to Abby’s defence when the situation demanded it.  Having said that heroes have become tougher and more ‘heroic’, maybe even a little bit harder though not in a nasty way. The change has been subtle, though, and I’ve not consciously made the decision.

Where did you get the idea for Abby’s Unexpected Bodyguard? 

I wanted to create a situation where Abby, a strong, independent woman, suddenly had the rug pulled from under her feet. I only ever start my stories with the germ of an idea, so I decided to send her on a trip to Paris - and then have all her carefully made plans blown to pieces. That was as much as I knew. It was fun writing this story, creating problems and then overcoming them. For me, part of the excitement of writing, is not knowing what is going to happen next. When I introduced Temple’s step-brother, Liam, towards the end of the book I realised that I needed to tell his story too. It’s in the early stages at this moment but I’ll be sure to keep you informed of its progress.

What advice would you give to anyone who wants to write romance?

What advice would I give?  Read, read and then read some more. Read romances by your favourite authors but read others too. And I don’t mean read for pleasure. I mean read to see how each book is developed. Do character studies of your hero and heroine so that you get to know how they think and feel before you even put pen to paper. But most of all enjoy it. I’ve been writing for almost forty years now and the pleasure has not gone away. 

I think you've hit the nail on the head there, Margaret - if you enjoy what you're writing, the words will flow much more easily and it won't feel like work! Thank you for a great insight into Abby's Unexpected Bodyguard and your working process.
You can find out more about Margaret and her books by visiting her website.

What changes in literary heroes and heroines have you noticed since you began reading for pleasure?


Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Work In Progress - Jewel Under Siege

Sunset Over The Golden Horn By Bertil Videt

Jewel Under Siege is a revised and updated ebook edition of a physical book I wrote for the Harlequin Masquerade line some time ago. At the time it was released as both a hardback and paperback under my pen name of Polly Forrester, but this is the first ebook edition. 

I’d done a lot of research for a non-fiction project on Robert Curthose, the eldest son of William the Conqueror. Robert was a charming, real-life hero. He never got to be king of England, but the major flaws in his character meant that was the best thing for all concerned! He went on the First Crusade in 1097, and I loved reading about the exotic settings. They sounded ideal as the backdrop to a romance. 

Constantinople (now known as Istanbul) grew up on the junction of the great trade routes between Europe, Asia and the Near East. In those days, anyone who travelled long distances went through it, particularly pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land. In a parallel with modern-day tourism, pilgrims and traders alike stopped off in the city and spent money. Trading links and networks were created, and gossip swapped (along with various exotic pests and diseases, of course). When roaming bands of Seljuk targeted the surrounding areas Alexius, the emperor of Constantinople, appealed to Pope Urban II for help. The Pope took the idea and ran with it, calling for all good Christians to go and secure Jerusalem. In no time at all the message turned into “Go abroad and kill foreigners” with the definition of the word "foreigner" being a pretty liquid concept. When waves of rag-tag travellers spoiling for a fight homed in on Constantinople, Emperor Alexius took fright and slammed the city gates in the faces of the people who supposed to be helping him. The people inside the city were scared, while the band of Crusaders were affronted at the horrible ingratitude of the people they had come to help. 

Imagine travelling thousands of miles on foot, in terrible conditions and subject to highway robbery every inch of the way, then discovering you’re not welcome. The Crusaders weren’t happy, and by the time Jewel Under Siege starts, they’re starving and dying, too.

Emil Selest hasn't travelled half way across Europe to die outside some foreign city. He's determined to get food, and help for little boy he's rescued from the mob. But then an accident brings him face to face with a beautiful, wilful enemy...

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Writing In Perspective



Description  English: A Stipula fountain pen lying on a written piece of paper Date 26 May 2011 Source  Power_of_Words_by_Antonio_Litterio.jpg Author  Power_of_Words_by_Antonio_Litterio.jpg: Antonio Litterio derivative work: InverseHypercube
By Antonio Litterio
Writing is a dream job - most people would kill to spend their days just thinking about stuff, then writing some of it down. The internet offers so many ways to connect with readers and get feedback, it’s tempting to think that the more time you spend in social networking, the better your sales will be. That’s one good way to measure your success, but it’s a pretty narrow one. Broaden your outlook, and you can widen your horizons. Formulate, Focus and Feed to give your self-esteem a boost.


1 – Formulate A Plan
Set yourself long term, intermediate and short term goals. What do you want to achieve 5 years, 1 year, and 6 months ahead? Make these objectives as specific as you can - “Earn (name your own price!) from writing within the next five years”, “Write at least two books within the next twelve months” or “Finish my novel by Christmas”. You may need to readjust your timescale, but don’t alter your dreams. Keep your eyes on the prize. Print these plans out on paper, and pin them up by your writing station. They’ll act as a spur.

2 – Think Quality as well as Quantity
Spend as much time as you can writing. That sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how much time gets eaten up by promotion and, let’s be honest, surfing the net while you’re on line typing up or researching.  Every self-publishing site will tell you the best way to drive sales is by publishing another book (incidentally, notice how this nugget of helpful advice is most often pushed by people who then offer to edit/format or illustrate that next book for you – at a price). While frequent releases keep your name in front of your readers, don’t sacrifice quality for the sake of quantity. Work towards both.  Once your work is out in the public domain, it’s there forever. Spend time and care perfecting your work, and only release your very best work.

3 – Feed Your Friends
Not literally, although chocolate cake (real or virtual) always goes down well! Think beyond the boundaries when promoting. Don’t just flog your book: too much of that is an instant turn-off. Market yourself, your whole canon of work and maybe even the genre in which you write. Interact with your real, face-to-face friends as well as your Facebook friends, Twitter followers and other online contacts. Make sure you can be easily found online: if you don’t feel confident setting up your own website, contact your local college. They may run courses, or have students who would relish the challenge of developing a page for you (when was the last time you tried getting a teenager away from a keyboard?). 
Create a Pinterest Board for your book, offer to guest blog, maybe even as one of your characters! Comment on other sites, and join in wherever you can. Be enthusiastic, be helpful and be open to every opportunity.

Above all, write - all the time. Using your skills will hone and improve them, day by day.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Three Ways To Get Yourself (And Your Work) Noticed...

By Warburg (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Bookstore In Florence

Even if you’re contracted to a big-name publisher, a writer’s life is no longer simply about plotting, characterization and dialogue. Typing “The End” is only the beginning. Nowadays, when it comes to writing books you have to “Tell them to go out and buy...” in the words of Tom Lehrer.

There are thousands of new titles put out by conventional publishers, small presses and indies every year. To make sure yours gets noticed, you have to connect with readers everywhere around the world. Here are three ways to get started–

WORD OF MOUTH: Book signings and personal appearances are always worthwhile, although traveling eats into writing time. Signed books sell well, but with the High Street in decline and libraries feeling the pinch you have to choose your pitch with care. Writers are often insular, so social networking online has become a great way to  meet and interact with readers. I love Twitter, Facebook and blogging. The main problem is, one thing so easily leads to another. Chats lead to exchanging links, which soon turns into surfing and Wilfing (“What Was I Looking For?”). That’s why it’s a good idea to set limits, and have dedicated burst of Tweet-time (or a regular  “Facebook five minutes”) and stick to it.

BLOG TOURS: Blog Tours are fun, and a great way to discover new sites and fellow readers (and writers). I used Romance Book Paradise to arrange The Weight Of The Crown Blog Tour for me. This meant I could hand everything over to the enterprising Nas Dean. I was then free to concentrate on writing my next book. Nas arranged loads of online play-dates, consisting of interviews and guest posts. Dropping in to answer comments at the various sites was a real pleasure. Nas collated all the questions, questioners and reviews. She also provided a detailed database of people who commented on my posts, so I could arrange the prize draws. And it’s not all one-way traffic: I discovered many great sites along the way, such as The Sisterhood of the Jaunty Quills (love that name!)


COMPETITIONS AND GIVEAWAYS
Everyone loves something for nothing, and these are a great way to get your work and your name out into the public domain. Try using the #free hashtag on Twitter. Goodreads Giveaways allow you to offer copies of your book. Readers apply, and Goodreads select winners and then contact you  with details of where to send the books. I’ve used this to great effect. Keep your eyes open for small, easily mailed things to use as prizes: scented soap, key rings, notelets etc. If you’re offering prizes to an international market, check regulations and in particular, avoid food. I have sent out pots of home-produced honey, but only to winners in the UK (and in proper honey posting containers. Imagine a messy, sticky trail all across the Post Office!) Despite the rise and rise of the e-reader, bookmarks are still popular. Don’t forget to include your website details and email address on them, and your readers will have a permanent reminder of you.  

Tell me your favourite ideas for marketing, for the chance to win a little goody bag!

Friday, 9 August 2013

Food, Men And The Weekend

This weekend's recipe is for Victoria sandwich. It's a sponge cake which traditionally has nothing more than strawberry jam/jelly inside, but there's nothing to stop you using cream and/or fresh fruit. A Victoria sandwich has to be the one of the simplest things to make, and better still the recipe is very easy to remember. Along with the proportions for shortcrust pastry, it's the only one I've actually managed to commit to memory from all those years of learning at my grandmother's elbow. I'm still "on the book" when it comes to fancy food (thank the Lord for Mary Berry!).

All you do is heat the oven to 180 degrees (that's 160 in my fan oven - yours may be different, so check), grease and line two 8" sandwich (circular, shallow) tins. Weigh four eggs, break them into a large bowl and add the same weight of sifted self raising flour, caster sugar and soft margarine. Finally, put in two teaspoons of baking powder. Beat until everything is well mixed. Divide this mixture between the two tins, and bake them in the middle of the oven for around 25 minutes. When done, the cakes should spring back when pressed, and be a light golden brown. Hand the mixing bowl to any passing child (or despondent scientist, see below) for in-depth cleaning (or brandishing, see below). Let the cakes cool on a wire rack, then sandwich them together with your filling of choice when they are cold.


Our man this week is Dr Adam Rutherford. His Inside Science programme on BBC's Radio 4 regularly splits opinion in this house. I'm still a Quentin Cooper/ Material World woman at heart, while my science-trained husband is all for innovation and really wild things. Yeah, right. The words "baby" and "bathwater" spring to mind. However, last week Dr Rutherford got OH frothing at the mouth by saying "a bacteria" instead of "a bacterium/some bacteria". Bacteria is the pl...oh, please, don't let's go there again...I've had it for seven long days...

This week, Dr Rutherford compounded his sin by saying that despite (insert your favourite Law of Large Numbers figure here) complaints from pedants*, "a bacteria" is how it's gonna be from now on, dudes, so suck it up.

OH is currently lying down in a darkened room, rising only to gasp "the horror...!" at irregular intervals. Life at the sharp end of nerdery, eh?

The   Inside Science link has a much better pic of Dr Rutherford, btw. Have a great break, and watch out for bacteria - whether they arrive one by one, or in hordes.

I've been invited out for coffee this weekend, and I'm taking the Victoria sandwich in the picture with me. Are you doing anything special?

*you mean mine's not the only one?