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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?