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Sunday 30 December 2012

Running Update

Look at this! It's my personal best time for the mile, set early on Saturday morning.  I'm so happy I'm bouncing around like Tigger! Fourteen weeks ago when I started the Running Made Easy's 60 Second Secret Plan, I could only walk, not run. Back then, it was taking me twenty minutes to walk the same measured mile, so I've halved my time. As this includes hopping off the pavement to dodge brambles and hopping onto the verge to avoid cars, there's still some room for improvement.
My timed mile was part of a lovely early morning run with OH. It didn't start out so well - we'd shared our first  bottle of wine for weeks over dinner the night before, and it hit us both surprisingly hard. We crawled out of bed with heads full of cotton wool, but the 6am chill soon woke us up. Running the whole mile with no walk-breaks meant I achieved TWO personal bests on one session.
Have you ever set yourself a challenge? How did you get on?

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Writing From Life

I love this time of year. The weeds have stopped growing, so as long as it doesn't rain I might stand a chance of making headway with the disaster area my garden has become. There doesn't seem much hope of that.  After the long hard winter of 2011/2012 and the even longer and harder summer wet year we've just endured, the ground is saturated and impossible to work.
Despite the fact the days are short, it's usually gloomy and all the trees apart from  sombre evergreens have been reduced to skeletons, there's an air of expectance that I really enjoy.
Pruning the fig and grape vine in the greenhouse gives me a chance to anticipate next year's fruit. The early strawberries need a period of cold weather to form their flower buds, but it won't be long before I'm insulating the greenhouse and thinking about starting them and the first seeds into growth.
Fingers crossed I can get the greenhouse heater working again before then!

Friday 7 December 2012

Writing - Four Top Tips

Hickel (1745-1798) [Public domain]
via Wikimedia Commons
1. JOIN: Writing is a solitary business. Sometimes it feels like you're the only person struggling to meet a word count or 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. Facebook and Twitter are brilliant, but can take up a lot of time. Visit your local library to find out about local creative writing groups, or joinThe Society of AuthorsThe Romantic Novelists' Association or the Romance Writers of America

2. RELAX: The worst thing you can do is keep no keeping on when the words won't flow, or the rejections keep coming. Get right away from all writing based activities. Go shopping - even if you don't buy a thing, it's the change of focus that matters. Walk, run, or swim to get the heart pumping, the blood flowing while your mind freewheels.

3: EXERCISE: Sitting at a desk or crouching over a laptop does terrible things to a body - and I don't just mean the character who gets iced on page 58 of your latest manuscript. Set a timer to get up and walk around every hour or so. You'll reduce the danger of getting Deep Vein Thrombosis and it'll give you a chance to unkink all those compressed vertebrae and organs. Make a resolution to take more exercise in the New Year 

4.WRITE! At this busy season there are a million things to do and often, there's only you to do it. There never seems to be enough hours in the day, let alone time to write - but never forget the therapeutic benefits of "me" time. Give your brain a break. Turn off your phone, forget social networking for half an hour and escape somewhere with nothing more than pencil and notebook.  Doodle, plan, fantasise - it doesn't matter what you do, the act of making marks on paper is an exciting contrast to hammering away at a keyboard for hours on end.

Monday 26 November 2012

Writing The Next Big Thing...

Gwen Kirkwood, who you can meet at http://www.gwenkirkwood.blogspot.co.uk is the author of Another Home, Another Love and has kindly invited me to take part in a blog event entitled THE NEXT BIG THING - a series of questions and answers about what is happening in my writing life.

What is the title of your book? 
My current release is called Lady Rascal, because my starving heroine Madeleine makes the most of being mistaken for someone - and something!- she’s not.

How did you come by the idea? 
At the time I was studying The Age of Enlightenment with the Open University, and to be honest I was finding the work a bit dry. I wrote Lady Rascal as a welcome escape from philosophy, and into romance. 

What genre does your book fall under? 
It’s an historical romance, set in France and England just before the Regency period. 

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Madeleine’s new happiness is threatened by a terrible secret that torments her dashing rescuer, Philip.

Is your book self-published or traditional? Lady Rascal originally appeared in both hardback and paperback versions for the Harlequin Mills and Boon Masquerade line. I’m releasing it now as an ebook on all platforms, so it’s available everywhere - from Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, and Waterstones, etc.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? About five months on and off, as I was working full-time in journalism at the time.

Who or What inspired you to write this book? 
I wanted to invent opportunities for my poverty-stricken heroine Madeleine in a period when anything seemed possible, before the Reign of Terror took hold in her native country.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
You can watch a book trailer for Lady Rascal here: http://bit.ly/STCfUy which gives a glimpse of the images behind the story. Hero Phillip thinks he is whisking Madeleine off to the safety of the English countryside, but soon discovers first impressions can be deceptive.

I hope you enjoy Lady Rascal, and my thanks go to Gwen Kirkwood for giving me the chance to take part in “The Next Big Thing”. There's a signed book from my backlist on offer to a comment here picked at random.

Margaret Mayo has kindly agreed to pick up THE NEXT BIG THING baton at http://www.margaret-mayo.com/blog/ next Tuesday, 4th December. Thank you, Margaret!

Thursday 8 November 2012

If You Like Chocolate and Christmas, You'll Love This...

By Johnathunder, via Wikimedia Commons

This time last year, I was getting ready to make our usual rich fruit cake for Christmas when my daughter suggested we try something new. She loves chocolate courgette cake (which was a bit of a leap of faith for me at the time!), and wanted to try this odd-sounding recipe. I was apprehensive beforehand, but it really works and we all love it. 

There are a few things to note: it’s not gluten free, and you really need the dots to be white chocolate - I didn’t have any when I first tried this recipe out, and the ordinary milk-chocolate dots I used were virtually invisible in the finished cake!


150g softened butter 
150g soft brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
185g  self-raising flour
40g cocoa powder
400g mincemeat (I used my own recipe of mixed dried fruits, plus grated apples and brandy)
80g each of sultanas and raisins
20g quartered glace cherries, washed & well dried.
50g blanched almonds, chopped
100g of white chocolate dots


Pre heat oven to Gas Mark 3/Electric 160 deg. C, Fan 140 deg C.
Line a 20cm/8” tin with a couple of layers of greaseproof paper.
Place all ingredients in a large bowl and beat for 1- 2 minutes, until well mixed.
Spoon into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for between 90 minutes - 2 hours, or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.  You’ll probably need to cover the cake with tinfoil toward the end of the cooking time, to stop it browning too quickly.
Leave the cake to cool in its tin for a while before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

This cake doesn't freeze and is unlikely to keep for as long as a traditional rich fruit cake, but this doesn’t matter as it vanishes in a very short time!

Wednesday 31 October 2012

Writing Fiction - Work In Progress, "Spirit" Part II


Thanks to everyone who contacted me to say how much they loved the opening paragraphs of my current work in progress, Spirit. Here for your delectation and delight is Episode 2. You'll remember from Spirit Part 1 that Ruth returned home to find her house in chaos and her partner missing. Here's what happens next. Don't have nightmares...

There was no trace of the new TV, or its box. The whole home-entertainment system was missing. The only big feature now showing in their living room was a two-metre-wide space where Alan’s impressive collection of electronic equipment and discs should have been.
‘Where’s he put it all this time, Mum?’  Grace blinked through her thick spectacles.  
Ruth ran a finger along the mantelpiece, automatically checking for dust as she looked around the room. ‘I have absolutely no idea!  Unless...’ An awful thought struck her and she groaned.  ‘Oh, no!  Please don’t say he’s taken it up to the bedroom with him!’  
There wouldn’t be any space left to move. Alan’s stuff took up so much room, synchronised breathing was the most energetic thing that went on in there these days. Ruth puffed upstairs. Grace followed half a step behind her, as usual. They made it to the master bedroom in tandem - and then stopped dead.  
For once, there was plenty of space inside.  All the wardrobe doors stood wide open, and that hadn’t been possible since they first moved into the house. The dressing table had a gap-toothed smile where its drawers had been removed and dropped onto the bed.  Receipts and odd bits of jewellery spilled out over the duvet and onto the floor.
Thoughts spun through Ruth’s head, centred on a single word.  Burglars.  There must have been a break-in. 
‘Granny kept telling you thieves would come looking for that necklace, once we’d been on TV.’
Ruth didn’t need Grace to remind her of that. Heart pounding, she spun around to confront the girl.
‘Don’t be stupid! I made sure the interviewer knew the museum took it away from us.’
The necklace. That’s what all this must be about. If only Jack hadn’t come across the damned thing, Ruth thought. 
At the time, his discovery felt like a godsend. When Ruth was interviewed about the stunning Roman treasure on local TV, it silenced Melanie O’Keefe’s constant bragging for a few hours. That was all Ruth cared about.  Now it had come back to haunt her.
This can’t possibly have been burglars, she told herself.  Things like that only happened in the city, not out here in the wilds of Brackenridge. Summerleaze Close was such a nice place. Even Ruth’s mother didn’t actively hate it, and Anita Parrish loathed everyone everywhere and everything. That - and the fact Alan’s boss lived only a mile away  - was why they had moved here in the first place. 
Glancing round the room again, Ruth spotted her spare purse lying on the bedside table. It would have been in full view of any intruder. Holding her breath, she flipped it open. 
All the money and extra cards were still there. Her breath streamed out in relief.
‘Mum!  Mum!  Have you found the telly yet?’  
Jack was coming upstairs to look for her. Ruth pushed past him on her way down. She wanted to make a quick circuit of the ground floor. 
The back door was locked, and so were all the windows. She couldn’t understand it. Nothing that remained had been damaged or disturbed, yet quite a lot was missing. If this was the work of burglars, they’d been very selective.
‘Mum! Where’s the television?’
‘For God’s sake, Jack! How do you think I know? Your dad probably found something wrong with it, so he’s taken it back to the shop.  It was his pride and joy, so they won’t be parted for long. He must have taken some stuff to the dry cleaners, too. The lawnmower needed repairing. I hope there was room in his car for that as well.’ 
Ruth pulled open the thick lace curtains and peered out toward the tiny garden shed.  Alan had been promising to get that blasted machine mended for weeks.  The problem was, anything less than a ride-on mower was beneath his dignity, and there wasn’t the space to store one of those on the Summerleaze development.  These were new houses, with only serviette-sized plots. The garage was crammed with Alan’s abandoned projects, so there was only room for a small electric lawnmower. As Alan hated being seen hoovering the grass, it was a job Ruth usually took on after another overdose of Melanie O’Keefe’s snide remarks.
She tried Alan’s mobile number. It was switched off. He kept his business BlackBerry on all the time - Christmas and funerals included - so she tried that next.  The worst she expected was the “out of office” message he put on whenever he worked from home. What she hadn’t anticipated was Alan’s recorded voice saying he would be away for two weeks. 

The winner of the last extract's comment-draw was TashNZ - please email me via my website, Tash, and I'll get your prize into the post for you asap.

I'd love to know what you think of this latest extract: once again there's a signed book from my backlist for a comment picked at random.

Saturday 27 October 2012

Domestic Abuse Is So Much More Than Violence - Pass It On.

By Lilyu (Own work) [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
I'm writing this blog on impulse after hearing Tina Nash interviewed on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour. Tina was blinded by an abusive partner, and her story really resonates with me as I could so easily have been injured or killed in similar circumstances. 
I've been happily married for many years now, but before I met my beloved OH I tried to escape one dreadful relationship by running headlong into another. What Tina Nash says is perfectly true: abusive partners develop a hold over you so stealthily that you don't realise how they've sapped your confidence until it's too late. They alienate all the people who could help you, convince you that you'll be sectioned or have your children taken away if you try and speak out, and exert an almost hypnotic power which convinces you that their way is the only way. 
Abusers don't always need to use violence to get their own way. Emotional blackmail is an equally powerful tool  - just look at the havoc allegedly wreaked by Jimmy Savile. Anyone in a position of power - parent, teacher or celebrity - can prey on the vulnerable by using the chilling words "It'll be your word against mine, and who's going to believe you?" They'll chip away at your self-esteem until you assume there's no escape.
If you're reading this and you recognise yourself, or somebody you know, get help. NOW. In the UK, contact Refuge. In other parts of the world, check the phone book or type "Domestic Violence Helpline" into a search engine on a public access computer, rather than in your own home.

And please pass this message on - you may save a life.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

A Touch of Historical Romance...

The extract from my current Work In Progress, Spirit, provoked such a lot of interest I thought I'd follow it up with a snippet from my most recent ebook, Lady Rascal. This book originally appeared as a hardback and paperback, but it was sold only in the UK. Now it's available worldwide, downloadable from Amazon (Kindle), iTunesBarnes and Noble (Nook) and loads of other ebook suppliers, too.

Lady Rascal is set in the summer of 1789, at the beginning of the French Revolution. As Paris descends into chaos, poverty-stricken Madeleine finds herself in a deserted Parisian dressmaker's shop. She grabs the chance to dress up in the glamorous accessories and impractical shoes she has only been able to dream about until now...

 Madeleine suddenly saw something she couldn’t live without a moment longer. Picking up one of the candles, she took three wobbling steps out from behind the safety of the counter. Balancing precariously in front of a long mirror, she took down the wisp of gossamer that hung beside it.
It was a shift of some description, needing only the hem to be finished. But what a shift! Almost transparent, the fine fabric rippled through Madeleine’s gloved fingers like water. It was all she needed to complete her outfit.
In a moment her work dress of coarse brown stuff had been cast aside. It took her a few minutes to work out how to get into the shift, which had no fastenings but pulled on over her head. At last she managed, arranging the folds of fabric about her painfully thin body.
It clung to her like pale mist, flowing with every movement and making graceful her stumbling steps in the borrowed shoes. She was entranced, and so beguiled that the running footsteps outside went unnoticed. Only when a foreign voice called out very close at hand did she jump out of her dream.
Then panic turned her to water. To be found here, dressed like this would be certain death. Like an idiot she had not thought to douse the candles, and now it was too late.
The door flew and a large shadow rippled through the shop towards her.
With a scream Madeleine dropped the candle she held...

Spirit and Lady Rascal are very different in both content and style. If you've read both, I'd love to know what you think of the contrast!

Saturday 20 October 2012

Writing Fiction - Work In Progress

Today's blog is a bit of a departure from the norm. It's the opening of my current WIP, which is a full-length, contemporary novel.  Spirit is based around the idea that personal disaster brings out the best in people. My heroine, Ruth, loses everything she values. She only achieves her happy-ever-after when, like hero Mitch, she realises she was looking for it in the wrong place...

By kazuh
One minute Ruth Parrish had it all - complete with a thumping headache, a fresh set of scratches on the SUV and credit cards maxed out on new school uniform. Then her world evaporated in a whiff of Hugo Boss.  She was left with no future, two children to support, and a cake.
  Ruth’s disaster struck in the middle of a clear blue day. She and the children tumbled back into the house, hot and bothered after the trials of shopping and a grisly visit to grandma.  Gasping for tea and painkillers, she stopped the children bickering by sending Grace upstairs with the new laundry marker. Grace was old enough to mark her own school kit, although Ruth knew it would be faster and less stressful to do it herself, once the children had gone to bed. 
Jack was younger, but he could always be bribed with a comic to give Ruth a few minutes’ peace.  She ferreted his latest one out from the tide of carrier bags lapping around her feet and pushed him through the open living-room door. Then she dragged the shopping into the kitchen. It was always her sanctuary, but today it was chaos. Her partner Alan must have been up to something. He created havoc wherever he went, and could turn his back on disaster without a thought for her, or anybody else. 
Trying to ignore the mess, she shoved aside enough of it to make room for today’s star prize. One of her carrier bags contained a cake box, encrusted with gold decoupage and pink ribbons.  She put it down on the table like a holy relic, and smiled for the first time that day. The box cradled a gateau au chocolat. It was supposed to be for tea - a trophy to mark the end of the summer holidays.
Although surely it couldn’t hurt just to look at it... 
Ruth resisted temptation long enough to go and switch on the kettle. Then she went back to ease open the carnation-coloured lid of the cake box. Inside was a triumph of the patissier’s art. Glossy ganache had been set with tiny macaroons and curls of chocolate, then sprinkled with gold dust. She inspected the cake long and hard from every angle. It was decorated with so many little extras, nobody would miss one or two. 
Licking the tip of her finger, she reached out to the gateau with the stealth of a bomb disposal expert.
‘Mum, I want Monsters from Mars!’  Jack’s voice rang through from the other room. 
Caught in the act, Ruth jumped like a frog. 
‘Have it! Your Dad’s sure to have left the television on standby.’ 
She went back to gazing at the gateau.  Mentally dividing the cake into slices, she sighed.  The portions looked so meagre. She wished she still made her own cakes, but if there was one thing worse than Alan’s complaints it was seeing him moan with his mouth full. He blamed Ruth’s cooking for the fact his new clothes were a size larger each time she went shopping for him. That never stopped him eating everything she put in front of him, then looking round for more. Telling him that, and adding that his age might have something to do with his weight gain, only made things worse. 
Grace materialised at her elbow.
‘I thought you were sorting out your school stuff ready for next week, love?’
‘I’ve done it. Now I want to go on the computer.’  
Plump, pale Grace stared into the heart-stopping cake box. ‘Where is the computer, Mum?’ she murmured, distracted by their calorie-packed coming attraction.
‘What do you mean?’  As Ruth looked up from the gateau, Jack stamped in from the living room.
  ‘Where’s the telly?  I want Monsters from Mars!’  
A cranky eleven-year-old was the last thing Ruth needed.  ‘Your dad must have been moving stuff around while he tried to find the best position for his damned plasma screen.’ Sighing, she abandoned the cake like a lover.
 They had left Alan “working from home” that morning. His latest toy had still been in its box then, filling the lounge. Ruth could guess what happened next. Alan would have carried on checking e-mails until he was sure she and the children were well on their way. Then he would have abandoned his work computer for the new TV. Setting it up would have sent him back to bed exhausted. She called upstairs to him on her way through to the lounge.
‘Alan?  What have you been up to?’ She laughed - but not for long.

I'd love to know what you think of it: there's a signed book from my backlist for a comment picked at random.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Make Money From Your Writing - 3 Top Tips...

By Kili
1. AUDIENCE Selling your work relies on producing suitable content to the highest possible standard, for exactly the right audience. Always write first and foremost for your own pleasure, but have a very clear idea of your readership and tailor your work accordingly.  Whatever you write, pour your heart and soul into it. Believe in your work, and so will your readers - and making money means appealing to the widest possible audience. Read widely, join book clubs and talk to people. The more research you do, the more you’ll find out what people enjoy reading.  That is what sells.
2. HELPING HANDS: 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 and 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. THE WORD ON THE STREETS: Once your book is published, the hard work of marketing and selling begins. Word of mouth recommendations drive the majority of book sales, so think creatively when it comes to getting your books into the hands of willing readers. If your book is good, they’ll spread the word at no expense to you.  Offer free copies to your local libraries, donate books as prizes on your website, during blog tours and to your local fundraisers - raffle prizes are always in demand, especially approaching holiday seasons.  Be generous, and make sure everything has your contact details on display - you want repeat purchasers to come straight back to you.
Above all, enjoy your writing and remember - success isn’t only measured in financial terms. To have completed a book you’re proud to have written is something few people achieve. It’s a triumph in itself. 

What’s your top tip for writing success? There’s a signed copy from my backlist on offer for a comment picked at random.

Wednesday 3 October 2012

Epublishing: DIY or Bespoke...

White Mask with feather by Mark J Sebastian
This week I went to a session on ebooks and epublishing, organised by my local branch of the Society of Authors. The talk was given by author John Seely, and it was well worth my cross-county drive. You can find more details of John and his work at http://www.epublish10.com and his book ePublish! comes out on 31st October. John's background in educational publishing means it's an easy read, packed with information and all writers - whether working in non-fiction or fiction - will find it invaluable. 

As a total technophobe, I used a turnkey epublishing package from eBookpartnership  to produce and distribute my first ebook release, Lady Rascal. It was easy and trouble-free, but John Seely's step-by-step approach made me consider producing some of my non-fiction work straight to ebook myself. The only problem is something that plagues all writers. I would have to buy and accustom myself to using some new software packages. That would take time and money, while distracting me from my main task of writing. 

It's a decision everyone has to make for themselves. If you love learning new computer skills, DIY publishing is an exciting way forward. On the other hand, if you're happier typing than typesetting, it's a relief to know there are people who will do everything for you - although at a price.

What's your own experience of epublishing?

Sunday 30 September 2012

Self Publishing - The Story So Far...

Back on 4th August, I wrote a blog called "Smashwords - the future of Ebook Publishing at RWA 2012". This created such a lot of comment both here on my blog and via my mailbox (christinahollis@hotmail.co.uk), I did some more research. Much as I love browsing in bookshops and handling real books, I couldn't resist trying it out myself. The process was really easy, and led to the release of Lady Rascal, an historical romance set in Paris and the English countryside during the French Revolution. Over the next few months I'll be reporting regularly on what happens. If there's interest in a conventional version, I'll release it as a paperback title, too. Lady Rascal was originally published as part of the Harlequin Mills and Boon "Masquerade" line, so I've already had a lot of feedback from readers of the original hardback and paperback versions.

The new ebook version is now widely available on Amazon, iTunes, Kobo and elsewhere. And remember - if you like Lady Rascal, please don't keep it to yourself! Word of mouth recommendations and on-line reviews are great ways to let other people in on the secret.  They give a writer a real boost, and I'll be delighted to hear what you think.

Friday 21 September 2012

The Romance of Writing versus the Reality...

Masquerade Ball by Mark J Sebastian
I didn't realise how exhausting writing was until I began to do it full time. When I was fitting in a bit of note-taking while on the bus to or from work, or writing up my diary last thing at night writing was a restful break from routine. Putting my words down on paper was a way to download my brain ready for either the trials of office life or sleep, whichever was most appropriate at the time.

Now writing is my life,  the stakes are much higher. Readers know what they like, and it's my job to give them exactly what they want. At the same time, I always want to write from my heart. Without conviction there can be no emotion, and without emotion writing is lifeless and without passion. And we all want to read about passion, whether it's the romantic or the dangerous type, don't we?

Every writer I know puts in a full working day at the computer screen, notepad or in my case, the Neo. Family life comes before work, but in between the two time has to be found for research and promotion. I find it hard to decide which of these two aspects of the writing life I like best. Surfing the net or spending a few hours in the library is pure indulgence for me. On the other hand, I really love chatting with readers and other authors. Especially if there's tea and cake involved...

If you're a writer, which non-scribbling part of your work do you like best? If you're a reader, do you like meeting authors face to face?

Thursday 13 September 2012

So Here She Is At Last!

The Finished Article
The waiting is over - here's my new release, the historical romance Lady Rascal. The ebook is already up on Amazon (see the panel on right) and as it's available in both Mobi and ePub forms whatever device you have, there's a version for you! 

This release is by way of testing the water -I had so many comments and emails after my recent blogs on the epublishing explosion, I decided to try the system for myself. If the response to Lady Rascal as an ebook is good, I'll bring out a paperback version and my other historical novels will be issued in both 'real' and virtual formats. I'd love to know what you think, and if you've had any experience of epublishing. You can add your comment below, or mail me direct at christinahollis@hotmail.co.uk

To celebrate the release of Lady Rascal, I'm giving away new edition bookmarks and pens to the first ten new subscribers to my newsletter. Visit http://www.christinahollis.com and click on the link to subscribe. Don't worry, I'll never pass your details on to any third party.

Tuesday 11 September 2012

*STOP PRESS* My New Release Is Almost Here!

So new, it's still got its watermark!
I had so many comments and emails after my recent blogs on the epublishing explosion, I decided to explore the subject in more depth. As a result I'm putting one of my historical novels, Lady Rascal, out as an ebook. It will be released within the next few days in both Mobi and ePub forms, so whatever device you have, there'll be a version ready for you.

This release is by way of testing the water - if the response to Lady Rascal as an ebook is good, I'll bring out a paperback version and my other historical novels will be issued in both 'real' and virtual formats.

I'll post more details on here soon but to be sure of hearing the latest, you can sign up for my newsletter at http://www.christinahollis.com. To celebrate the release of Lady Rascal, I'm giving away new edition bookmarks and pens to the first ten new subscribers to my newsletter!

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Three Tips To Instantly Improve Your Chances of Getting Noticed...

The publishing business is a crowded market. Everyone's either looking for the next Harry Potter/Fifty Shades, or trying to write it. When the book of your heart is finished, here are three tips that will help your work get noticed.

1: Give Them What They Want.
Know your audience.  Write first to please yourself, but if you want to entertain others as well, make sure you tailor your work to their likes and dislikes. Check out author guidelines, like the ones produced by romance publishers Mills and Boon. http://www.millsandboon.co.uk/.Read the sort of books you want to write. Popular authors get to be that way because they know what readers like, and expect.  

2: Keep It Clean!
This has got nothing to do with sex - the level of heat you're happy with is up to you. When you're showcasing your manuscript to agents or publishers, first impressions count. They can make or mar a reader's experience of a text. While William Shakespeare would still have been a genius if he'd scratched ogham with a stick on unnumbered wax tablets, his texts would have been chucked straight in the midden without a second glance. He knew how to present his work. Times have changed, but some basic facts remain the same. If an editor's got a dozen manuscripts to read, the ones presented in the commonly accepted, easily readable fashion are going to be dealt with first.  It's human nature to assume that if a writer can't be bothered to make an effort with presentation,  their ratty text might not be worth reading.  It you're sending off a paper version of your manuscript, make sure the lines are double spaced, and printed in an easily-read font (Times New Roman 12 point is a good one) in black on only one side of white paper. Always include a front sheet with title, word count and all your contact details. Type "The End" in the appropriate place, so the editor or beta-reader isn't left wondering, and add your details again. That's it - no fancy bindings, Gothic script or coloured ink. Clean and clear. If you are sending a submission by email, make sure you know whether your contact wants attachments, or samples in the body of your message. If you use a Mac, make sure you supply your text as a Word document too, just in case. And always, always keep copies.

3: Aim Carefully.
Times have changed. In the Seventeenth century, the only people who wrote fiction were geniuses and people with time on their hands, and there weren't many of either. These days, it seems like everyone wants to be a writer. With the world population now around 7 billion, that's an awful lot of competition.  Whether you go down the route of getting an agent or going straight to a publisher, make sure you choose carefully. Research firms and individuals via the Internet, or an up-to-date specialist publication such as The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook. Don't send your steamy sex-saga to a publisher who only deals in children's books, for a start! Make sure you send off exactly what is asked for, too - no more, and no less. If your book isn't finished, tell them so, and how long it will take you to complete it.

Finally - good luck!

Wednesday 29 August 2012

New Books Online Soon!

A few weeks ago, I posted a couple of blogs here about ebooks and epublishing. At the time I wasn't sure I liked the way technology was galloping ahead, leaving book-lovers like me worried that the feel, smell and experience of "real" books would soon be lost forever. The debate has had such a lot of interest, both here and through my mailbox at christinahollis@hotmail.co.uk that I felt I had to do a bit more research. There are so many writers hovering on the brink of self-publishing that I thought I'd take the plunge, on the basis that "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em".  The catalyst for this was getting back all the rights to some historical novels I wrote for Harlequin Mills and Boon's Masquerade line a while ago. I've chosen one of these to test the epublishing waters, so I can report back to you all on how the system works, and how easy it is to launch a book into the flotilla of writing already available on the net. 

I chose Lady Rascal for my foray into epublishing. It's a lighthearted romp set at a deadly serious time - the summer of 1789. France is in turmoil, and an English aristocrat puts his life on the line for a beautiful woman. Philip Adamson thinks he's saving Madeleine from the mob, but she is hiding a guilty secret. Beneath her borrowed clothes, Madeleine isn't a lady, she's laundry maid! She was finding herself some nice new clothes in the looted streets when Philip swept her away to safety. Quick-thinking Madeleine sees his innocent mistake as her chance to get the job of her dreams. As a lady's companion, she looks forward to doing nothing all day - but  soon finds herself joining forces with Philip to fight for his family's home and fortune.

Over the next few weeks I'll be tracing Lady Rascal's route from "real" paperback to brand new ebook let loose on the international stage. I think Madeleine will approve, and I look forward to hearing what you think!

Sunday 26 August 2012

What's Your Opinion?

My new ebook, Lady Rascal, comes out  in a few weeks' time and I've taken this opportunity to redesign my bookmarks. When my first Harlequin Presents, One Night In His Bed, was released I followed the example of lots of other authors and had thin, glossy bookmarks printed advertising simply that book. They were lovely but of course their life was only as long as the book! Learning from that experience, I had a local printer produce some longer lasting thick card bookmarks, which I tuck inside the books I send out as competition prizes. As they aren't advertising one particular book, I like to think they're more of a keepsake. 
I like this new gold leaf design so much, I may make it the background for my blog as well. What do you think?

Monday 13 August 2012

3 Top Tips For Success

1. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR OWN ACTIONS - How often have you heard someone say “I could have anything I wanted if only I had more money/more time/a better looking partner...or any one of a hundred other excuses. We all like to indulge in a bit of wishful thinking, but dreaming doesn’t change anything.  Appreciating what we’re blessed with already and building on it is the only way to get results. For instance, if (like me) you can’t understand why it’s impossible to lose weight, get checked out by a doctor to rule out any underlying medical condition, then try keeping a food and exercise diary for a few days.  It really helps, and I speak from experience!
2. BELIEVE  - it doesn’t matter what your goal is, the important thing is that you set one. Then buckle down and channel everything you’ve got toward achieving it. “Begin with the end in mind”, Steven Covey says in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People We’ve just seen the proof of that in the hundreds of athletes who have fought for years to reach the London 2012 Olympics. 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 do it. A solid core belief is the only thing that will get you through the hours and hours of writing, re-writing, rejection and editing it needs to reach a goal like that. Half-hearted procrastinators need not apply! 
3. DO IT NOW - whatever "it" is. By the law of unintended consequence, it’ll take twice as long tomorrow, and three times longer next month. When you keep putting off the evil moment when you must balance your budget, send that email, or break off a relationship, the harder it becomes - and all the time the dread of doing it casts a deepening shadow over your every waking minute. When you’ve got a lot of frogs to eat, the saying goes, eat the ugly frog first. Making the initial effort is always the worst part of any task. 

Whatever you want to achieve in life, you are the only one who can really make it happen. Identify what you want, go for it, and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that whatever you achieve, you’ll have given it your very best shot.

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Epublishing - Fix or Flash?

My blog on Smashword founder Mark Coker's speech at RWA2012 got a lot of interest. Thanks to everyone who commented, both here on the blog and direct to me by email. There's obviously such a lot of interest in ebooks, I'm running another link. This piece by Elise Sax in the Huffington Post gives a view from the floor, rather than the podium: http://huff.to/OLZ4Yw
There are millions of people who love to write. It used to be said that if you had a story to tell and the skill to tell it well, you would find a publisher. Only the best and brightest (and luckiest?) got through their rigorous weeding-out process. The hope of becoming one of the chosen few kept writers sending typed manuscripts to  publishing houses by the thousand.  As the death toll of office juniors killed by collapsing towers of accumulated scripts rose,  many of the big firms closed their lists to unsolicited work. Literary agents then became the gatekeepers. To get a shot a publication, books no longer had to be merely well-written and entertaining. They had to  promise huge sales, as well. Did this extra hurdle put authors off? No. The manuscripts carried on accumulating to the point where agents, too, could pick and choose which writers they took on. Employing an editor before approaching an agent became the way to progress - another step in the ziggurat between writing a book and seeing it appear in print. Is it any wonder that faced with this increasingly long drawn out route to publication, vanity publishers made a fortune from the unwary?

Then came the Internet revolution. Now anyone who wants to put their work out into the public domain can do so, by blogging or publishing an ebook. The author's plaintiff cry of  "Who will buy my story?" has now become "Here's my work - pass it on."

As Elise Sax's article says, being published by a big, respectable firm still has a lot of cachet. Representation by an agent means you've got a knowledgeable person on your side to help you fight your way through contracts, clauses and obligations -  but do readers care how a book gets into their hands, as long as the story is good? Is this the best way to bring more books to more people, or will the explosion in ebooks be just that - up like a rocket, down like a stick? 

Saturday 4 August 2012

Smashwords: The Future of Ebook Publishing at RWA 2012

Here's a fascinating insight into the present and future of publishing by Mark Coker of Smashwords: Smashwords: The Future of Ebook Publishing at RWA 2012
At first glance, there's no limit to how much the self-published ebook author gains from this bright new dawn. The route to conventional publication is tough, and prone to detours and roadblocks. Cut out the middle men (and women), publish your own work and you'll bypass a lot of heartbreak.

On the other hand there is an unpleasant truth that must be faced. Conventional publishers have many reasons for turning down books, and one of them is quality control. Russell Lynes, one time editor of Harper's Magazine said: "Every journalist has a novel inside him, which is an excellent place for it." The rush to publish isn't necessarily good, or advisable. Victoria Beckham or Prince William could easily become million sellers overnight with self pubbed editions of "What I Did On My Holidays", but it would be an awful lot harder to shift many copies with that title if the author didn't have either a glamourous media image, a title, or both.

And another thing. Despite the explosion in titles on the market surely the number of readers worldwide must remain pretty constant. Once the initial thrill of the new technology has worn off and everyone who's likely to buy an ereader has one, maybe the market will settle down - and that's before we get around to pricing. There's an old saying: "Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?" There are thousands of books on the internet downloadable for free, whether legally or illegally. The relentless driving down of prices is good for the reader, but not so good for the author and disastrous for small independent booksellers.

It's good to see authors taking the initiative, but how long can these trends continue?

Monday 30 July 2012

Monday Fun Run - Part 4

Wendy Beeler: photo Antarctic Photo Library
I'd now reached the stage in my running apprenticeship of running for one minute, then walking for two minutes and doing an increasing number of repetitions. I was now managing nearly half an hour of vigorous exercise per day, four times a week. This doesn't sound like much, but only a few years ago I couldn't walk any further than the kitchen door. A severe allergic reaction had left me with cellulitis and reactive arthritis. I've never been one for dashing about, preferring cake and couch and writing is a pretty sedentary occupation. I was really pleased with what 'd achieved so far, so when my sister told me she'd started Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred system, I thought I'd give it a try. The DVD was on special offer at Amazon, so that was this week's prize when I kept with the Running Made Easy plan from Zest magazine. It was great, though as a born couch potato I kept the remote control to hand so I could stop it for a rest when things got too frantic!Within a few days of working through the basic exercises I could keep up with the DVD, but found I didn't have enough energy left for running. Deciding to concentrate on one thing at a time I stopped the exercises, but I'll start them again when the days get shorter. Running in the cold and dark really doesn't appeal to me!

Friday 27 July 2012

Why I Made My Latest Heroine A Swot...

When I was a child, anything I turned up in the garden or on holiday beaches had to be washed and inspected - from blue and white china to hagstones. The best bits were stowed in a box of "treasure" under my bed, with tons of  other out-of-context junk. My favourite TV programmes were In Search of the Dark Ages*, Chronicle and the pre-dumbed down Horizon (Paul Vaughan, thou should'st be narrating at this hour). Spending all my time out of doors meant I was never pasty, but I was a swot and suffered for it at my sport-obsessed school. 
Years passed, I met my perfect man and settled down to my ideal job as a writer. We started a family when Time Team was still Time Signs, so you can tell how long ago that was. Years of exposure to Phil Harding and co. had a subliminal effect on our daughter. She is studying archaeology at university, with time off for good behaviour spent in the excavation at Silchester. Writers aren't the only people whose job is also their hobby!
It's always seemed a shame to me that armies of diggers and academics work so hard in unglamorous situations for so little reward. For every Staffordshire Hoard, there must be a million middens to be excavated. That's why Josie the trowel jockey in The Count's Prize turns Cinderella, and I hope you all enjoy reading her story as much as I enjoyed writing it.

*And IMHO, Michael Wood is still orders of magnitude better looking than Sir Mortimer Wheeler.