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Monday 29 April 2013

Three Top Tips For Writing Heroines

 Page URL: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AStipula_fountain_pen.jpgFile
By Antonio Litterio
The heroine of a romance or saga is a singular woman. She has to face conflicts and setbacks on the way to fulfilment without being ground down, or coming across as sickeningly perfect. When readers are asked why they love books, escapism always features highly. We all know how good it can be to get really wrapped up in a story. If your readers like your heroine, they'll turn page after page to find out what happens to her. To make your heroine as irresistible to your readers as she is to your hero, keep these three points in mind...

LIKE HER: Half the fun of reading romance is in imagining yourself in the heroine's shoes. Whether those are the clumpy brogues of a downtrodden Cinderella or the Manolo Blahniks of a top PA, we'll love the woman who's wearing them if we can recognise something of us within her. Put your heart into your heroine. Give her dreams that we can share - does she want to keep her family together and happy, despite disaster? Or does her cool sophistication hide her fear of rejection? Make her real, make her three-dimensional, and your readers will like her too, and want to find out more.

AGE MATTERS: It's an inescapable fact that the majority of romance heroines are in their twenties. The reason for this is that as readers, it's quite hard to "think ourselves older". Many people start to read romances in their early teens. At that age, it's not easy to imagine your way into the head of a middle-aged divorcee with five children. You're more attracted to heroines who are at the start of their romantic adventures. As we grow older, we enjoy thinking back to what it was like to be innocent and in love for the first time, so the twenty-something heroine wins again.  

LET HER GROW: The most engaging heroines are those who develop during the course of their story. That doesn't mean to say the love of a good hero has to change your central character from CEO of a multinational to a devoted housewife overnight (or vice versa). The realisation that forging a relationship doesn't mean sacrificing your individuality is an equally valid character development. For decades, real-life women have been told they can have it all but it isn't always easy to see how this can be made to happen. Fictional heroines can give their real-life counterparts insight into their own dilemmas - and of course everyone wants to believe in their own happy ever after.

Who is your favourite heroine?

Friday 26 April 2013

Food, Men and The Weekend...

By Ardfern
It was DD's birthday this week, so I asked her what kind of birthday cake she wanted. Son Number One had a brief flirtation with a glamorous new creation from Mary Berry, complete with cream-cheese frosting for his recent birthday, but DD wanted the usual double-chocolate cake.  I made it, and we did the whole candle bit - very satisfying, in every meaning of the word.

Unfortunately, DD didn't have room to pack the remaining cake when she went back to university. The plan was to freeze it in slices, but that didn't happen. She left it here, and now not much of it is left! It's such an easy recipe and so good, I'll make another one to celebrate the day she comes back again. That'll be after her finals, so it'll be a double celebration, to go with the double-chocolate cake.

One of DD's presents was the DVD of The Hobbit. I sat through the whole film trying to remember where I'd seen "Kili" before - of course, it was Aidan Turner, who was in Being Human a few years ago.

This weekend I'm taking a break to try and get the garden up together. After two years of terrible weather and back-to-back-deadlines, my poor garden has reverted to long grass. The wildlife loves it, but it's nice to have some parts where we can sit outside without feeling we're in a jungle.

This week, I'm offering the chocolate birthday cake recipe free for new subscribers to my newsletter. The next edition of that will be out in May - to sign up, just email me at christinahollis@hotmail.co.uk with the word "Subscribe" in the subject line.

Monday 22 April 2013

Three Top Tips: Writing Heroes

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d2/Jonas_Kaufmann_9_May_2008_London.jpgAttribution: By Voceditenore (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsHTML
Jonas Kaufman 
My previous writing tips have covered the general themes of getting started, and how to keep going. Now it's time to focus on writing fiction, and more particularly romantic fiction. This is a brilliant form of escape for millions of people. It's a non-fattening, affordable indulgence and it relies on sweeping your reader into a fantasy world. That means you'll need a hero. Here are my three top tips for breathing life into your creation:

MAKE HIM ATTRACTIVE - This doesn't mean only drop-dead gorgeous, physically perfect specimens need apply! Good looks go a long way to seducing your reader, but they'll need more than that to keep them involved in your story.  Time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted. Write a short biography of your hero to discover what makes him the man he is. Give him a past and a future, as well as a present.  Upbringing and ambitions forge character, and suggest motivations. Little details such as whether or not he has a pet, what car he drives and the type of music he likes all add colour to your work.

MAKE HIM SUFFER - give him a problem that is too big to be solved easily. In Lady Rascal, Philip Adamson starts out by being too decent for his own good. He's a highly intelligent, hardworking man who has sacrificed his career as a doctor to return home and run the family estate. The strain has begun to tell, but he refuses to give up. Then Madeleine invades his life, and turns it upside down. Unless he can resist her, Philip faces following in the disastrous footsteps of his older brother. He was a man who tore the Adamson family apart.  The conflict between the way hero Philip works with cool efficiency to keep everything running smoothly, and the dangerous attraction he feels for Madeline keeps the action moving.  

MAKE IT WORSE - Once you've presented your hero with a problem, magnify it. In real life, men tend to work on instinct, rather than emotion.  Present your character with a dilemma. Make him choose between an easy decision, or a tough one - between his head and his heart. Will he do the right thing for the wrong reason, the wrong thing out of a sense of love or loyalty, or will he compromise? Whatever he does, make his action consistent with his character.  Imagine your heroine's car has crashed on a level crossing, leaving her trapped. A train full of children on a day-trip is running out of control and heading straight toward her. Who would your hero save? As this is romance and we want the story to end happily ever after, he'd manage to board the train, fix the fault and save both his heroine and the children, of course. But not before your reader has turned lots of pages, desperate to find out what he'll do, and how. 

Who is your hero? Is he fictional, or a real man of flesh and blood?

Friday 19 April 2013

Food, Men and the Weekend


It’s been suggested that the “men” part of this blog might be nothing but an excuse for readers to slaver over pictures of handsome men in various stages of undress. Not a bit of it. Our picture shows (as the seminars say) Mr Rich Froning, who among other things takes his religion seriously and shares his talents, whose work ethic make him summa cum laude, and a man I would still admire if he had a bag over his head. 

This week's recipe is a delicious favourite that's really easy to do, but does take time and organisation. I usually make the pastry case the day before we want to eat it, then do the filling, topping and cooking all in one go. Read through the recipe first, and it'll all become clear.

By Jules
To serve 6, you’ll need-

6oz (175g) flour
3oz (75g) butter
Half an ounce icing (powdered) sugar
1 egg yolk
Approx. 1 tablespoon cold water
2 large lemons
1.5 oz (40g) cornflour
10fl oz (300ml) water
2 egg yolks
3oz (75g) caster sugar
3 egg whites
4.5oz (120g) caster sugar

First make the pastry. Sift the flour into a bowl, add the sugar & rub in butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk, and enough water to make a firm dough. Seal in a plastic bag and leave to rest in the fridge for about half an hour.
Heat oven to 200 degrees C (400 F/180 fan).
Roll out the dough on a floured surface and use it to line a 9” (23cm) loose bottomed flan tin. Prick the surface lightly, line with greaseproof paper, add baking beans and bake blind for about fifteen minutes. Remove the paper and beans, and return pastry case for around another five minutes - until it’s crisped up, & turned a lovely pale gold.

Next, make the filling. Finely grate the rind from the lemons and squeeze out their juice (you can extract more if you warm the lemons in a microwave for 30 seconds beforehand). Put the rind, juice & cornflour in a small bowl & mix well together. Meanwhile bring the water to the boil, then stir it into the lemon & cornflour. Simmer this mixture gently until it thickens into a custard. In a separate bowl, mix together the egg yolks & sugar. Stir this into the lemony custard, and bring it back to the boil, beating until it begins to bubble. Remove the pan from the heat, allow it to cool slightly, then pour it into the pastry case and spread it out evenly.

Finally, the meringue. Lower the oven heat to 150 deg.C (300 degF/140 Fan). Whisk the egg whites in a large, clean bowl until they form stiff peaks when you lift the beaters. Add the caster sugar a teaspoon full at a time, while whisking at high speed. When all the sugar is incorporated, spoon the meringue evenly over the lemon filling. Make sure there are no gaps. As a final flourish, twitch at the surface with the prongs of a fork to create artistic peaks. Bake at 150 deg.C (300 deg.F/140 deg.Fan, for around 45 minutes, when the surface of the meringue will be crisp and slightly tinted, and the inside like white marshmallow.

This is delicious whether you serve it warm or cold, and custard is the perfect accompaniment.

I'm blogging over at authorsoundrelations this weekend - I'd love you to drop by and comment!

Wednesday 17 April 2013

A Writer's Life: Twitter, Amazon, LinkedIn ....

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMetamodel_Linkedin.jpgFile URL: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/87/Metamodel_Linkedin.jpgAttribution: By Jean-Marie Favre, LIG, University of Grenoble (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Jean-Marie Favre
...and Uncle Tom Cobley and all.
If you've dropped by my blog before, you'll already know technology means nothing to me. My main aim in life is to tell stories. To my mind, settling down with a notebook and pencil or my Neo  is sheer luxury, but these days that's just the start of the process. If your aim is publication, putting words on a page is only part of a writer's life. You have to market yourself and your work, which takes time - time I'd rather use for writing.  

Getting your name out there and becoming "searchable"is seen as a vital career move  - but what happens then? As well as  blogs, websites, accounts with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn,  author pages on Amazon (.com and .co.uk) and publisher's sites are practically mandatory. All these pages need to be kept up to date, and that's a continual work-in-progress. The net's thirst for information is unquenchable, and the sea of snippets is immense. I love keeping up with gossip, so I Tweet regularly as  @ChristinaBooks. Once on-line for that, I find it hard to leave. The quick look at one site I'd intended soon stretches into half a hour of surfing far and wide. I now ration my time on line, so I can concentrate on writing. It's difficult to break the habit of dipping in and out, so I set a target for the amount of work I'll get done before I can have a session of idling on the net. This is where the Pomodoro (TM) technique mentioned in my last blog comes in useful. I work intensively for short bursts, then reward myself with a spot of site-hopping.

I'm still trying to find out exactly what LinkedIn is for, by the way. It seems to be full of interesting and like-minded people, but I'm not entirely sure why. Obviously there's an employment-exchange element, but if someone endorsed my copy-typing skills I think I'd be more likely to refer them to an optician, rather than  offer them a job! 

How do you use LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and the other social networking sites, and what's the best thing your surfing has done for you?

Monday 15 April 2013

Three Top Tips For When The Writing Gets Tough....

by Antonio Litterio

POMODORO TECHNIQUE: Every writer hits a wall at some time. Home and family keep enticing you away from your project, the weather’s tempting you outside, you really fancy a coffee (so why not pop out for a cake at the same time?)...the list of distractions goes on. Deadlines concentrate the mind wonderfully, and that's how the Pomodoro (TM) Technique works. You can find out all the technical details and backup by clicking here: but it's basically a carrot-and-stick approach. The beauty of this system is its simplicity. Basically, all you need is a kitchen timer, and a great incentive to act as a prize when you’ve finished your writing project. That trip to the coffee shop would do!  Set the timer, then do nothing - absolutely nothing - except write until the alarm goes off. Then do a short burst of something completely different. Take a walk, make a phone call - anything that doesn’t involve your work. Then repeat, for as long as it takes.

ESCAPE, CHANGE AND ESCAPE: The brightest white-heat of inspiration can begin to cool when you’ve been working on a writing project for while. You started off with a brilliant idea,  and you’ve got an end in mind. Fine. It's filling the valley between those two peaks with the best words in the right order that's the problem. It can get you bogged down in a muddled middle ground.   Take a break for an hour, a day, or a week - for as long as your urge to tell your story will let you. Then change everything. Rearrange your writing day, including the place and time you do your writing. Change the point-of-view of your narrative. Try adding more dialogue, or less: write an exterior scene if you were trapped in an interior, or vice-versa. Don’t be afraid to ditch anything that isn’t working but never throw away or permanently delete anything. You never know when it might come in useful at some other time.  

SUCK IT UP: It isn’t earning money that makes you a writer: it isn’t even publication (let’s face it, there are several ways of getting into print these days they aren’t all quality-based). The only thing that makes you a writer is the urge to tell a story. It’s a compulsion that won’t let you go. That drives your determination to turn that idea into the best piece of work you can.  Finishing that project will mean sticking at it no matter what. You may come up against disbelievers in your own family. If you want to get into print, you’ll have to convince yourself that rejection from agents and publishers isn’t personal - it’s only your work that doesn’t fit, not you. Accept praise graciously, and give it generously to others where it’s due. Learn from constructive criticism, ignore the unhelpful sort and above all, avoid reading bad reviews. They are only one person’s opinion, on one particular day. Above all, enjoy yourself and it'll be reflected in your work. 

Friday 12 April 2013

Food, Men and the Weekend...

By RĂ©mi Guillot

Tartiflette is a guilty secret that should be hidden from the health police at all costs. It’s full of the best-tasting things in life: crispy bacon, fried onions, potatoes, cream and cheese. You know what that means. The dish comes with a health warning in every mouthful - naughty, but extremely nice.  In the days before refrigeration, people worked hard on the land from dawn to dusk. When you spend all your time producing food, you don’t want to let any of it go to waste, and this is a delicious way to take in calories and use up leftovers at the same time.

Tartiflette might have been designed with today’s late-night fridge-raids in mind, but as all my family have sedentary jobs I only make it on rare occasions, as a treat. I put it together from scratch, with whatever is to hand. For instance, ham sometimes stands in for the bacon. If I use it, I just add it when the onions have softened as it's already cooked. 

For four people you’ll need: 
Half a pound of bacon rashers, snipped into bits
2 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
garlic, to taste.
Roughly a pound and half of cooked potatoes, sliced
Half a cup of thin cream
Grated, meltable cheese

Fry the bacon bits gently in a pan with a little oil until they start to crisp. Add the sliced onions and crushed garlic (if used), and carry on frying the mixture gently until the onions soften. Carefully fold in the potato slices - you don’t want them to break up too much. Season with salt and pepper, then  carry on cooking until the potatoes start to brown. Stir gently now and then to keep everything an even colour.
Turn the mixture into a shallow tin, and drizzle the cream over the top. Add a thin layer of grated cheese, then toast under a grill until the tartiflette is piping hot all the way through, and the cheese topping is bubbling and golden.

After driving through a plate full of that wicked temptation, it takes will power to get moving again. Here's some inspiration, in the shape of Daniel Dolan. Daniel shows what dedication and determination can do. Film of Daniel at work is included hereto show a little of what it takes. My own son saw The Nutcracker when he was five years old and from that moment on, he wanted to take ballet lessons. In those days I thought like Billy Elliot’s father, but I soon learned there’s no place for sissies in ballet, whether they are male or female. It’s really tough, but it’s character building, too. Much against my better judgment, I booked my son in for lessons a few years ago and he's taken to it like a duck (if he was a girl I’d say a cygnet) to water. It’s been the making of him, and thanks to the wonderful Miss Joy, the hours he spends crouched over his computer are balanced by shorter periods of intense but carefully guided activity. 

Many places run ballet classes for adult beginners. When I watch Son Number One doing his exercises it looks very restful, but if I try out his movements, it feels too much like a workout. It uses up loads of calories, so it’s ideal for dedicated Tartiflette fans although I think I’ll stick to running!

This weekend I’ll be working on getting my Spring newsletter together. You can sign up for it by visiting http://www.christinahollis.com, and clicking on the link. New subscribers will get my free recipe for French Bread - the perfect accompaniment for Tartiflette. 

Tuesday 9 April 2013

Who Can You Trust?

Growth in Internet Usage, By Ke4roh

I’ve been getting a lot of emails lately from Facebook and LinkedIn (allegedly) but some of them have turned out to be extremely clever phishing scams. You have to check very carefully to spot the signs. I suspect these messages are automatically generated in response to requests for access to on-line address books, so the system can trawl for other ‘friends’ to contact. Writing is a solitary business, so keeping in contact online is popular. In my early days of social networking, I would merrily click on friend requests received via email. After the accounts of several friends were hacked, I NEVER do this now. Instead, I accept these requests by logging in directly to the social network sites. Incidentally, apologies to anyone who has ever asked for my birthdate. I never give this out if I can avoid it, as the security measures behind things such as internet banking rely on details like that. 

Social networking has revolutionised life for millions of people. When used for good, it’s great fun and a vital link between people who would otherwise never meet, but it has its downside. Spam, fraud and bullying are common. Have you come across any problems like this? Do you find the benefits of Facebook, Twitter etc outweigh the possible disadvantages?

Sunday 7 April 2013

3 Top Tips: Starting To Write

By Antonio Litterio

That’s far too intimidating.  Let your imagination run riot before you first pick up a pen, or switch on the computer. Live with your characters until they become real for you. Imagine what they would do in any given situation, from getting a flat tyre to finding a wallet in the street. Do they get out and fix the wheel themselves, or break down and cry? Would they pocket the cash, or take the wallet to the nearest police station? Once you know how they deal with the minor everyday problems, present them with a huge, life-changing situation. Make them suffer! Your need to find  out how they’ll react will get the words jumping from your fingertips.

Don’t jump on a bandwagon for the sole purpose of chasing sales. Write what you would love to read, because you need to tell a particular story, or because you want to pass on information. That said, if you want to reach the widest possible audience you’ll need to target your work carefully. Have a picture in your mind of your ideal reader, and tailor your work and vocabulary to suit them. Are they reading to escape into a world of romance and glamour, or do they want gritty adventure? True-life stories, or sheer fantasy?  Read widely, then you’ll be able to focus your efforts and really please your ideal reader.

Don’t be afraid to stop working and take a break when it’s going really well. Then you’ll be raring to go the next time you sit down to write. The chances are if you’re getting swept in in your work, your reader will be excited by it, too. In contrast, when the words just won’t come, taking some time off can be just what you need. However much you love your work, your health and family come first.  Regular breaks will help prevent conditions like Deep Vein Thrombosis, and there’s nothing like a walk and some people-watching in the fresh air to sharpen the imagination.

What’s your favourite writing tip?

Saturday 6 April 2013

"Jesus Is A Woman" - Cleric Claims...

Jesus as the Good Shepherd

On Easter Sunday this year, BBC Radio 4's Profile featured an interesting profile of the Reverend Lucy Winkett. You can find more details here:
The multi-talented Reverend Winkett  is Rector of St James’s Piccadilly, in London. As well as having a formidable intellect and a devotion to her duties, she's also a gifted musician with a real talent for communicating with everyone, whether they are a Christian or not. The Radio 4 programme included a recording of her telling an anecdote which went something like this...

"Did you know Jesus is a woman? He was surrounded by men who wouldn’t listen, He had to feed hordes of people at short notice with hardly anything to hand, and even when He was dead, He had to get up again because there was still more work to be done..."

Whatever your feelings on religion in general (and women priests in particular), you have to agree the Church of England could do with more people like the Reverend Lucy Winkett.  You can find out more about her here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucy_Winkett

Wednesday 3 April 2013

A Sense of Place

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If you’ve read the recent posts here about my current work in progress, you’ll know that I use inspiration boards as I write. There’s one in my office, and you can see my public one online here. These are just hints - I don't base my characters on any one person. They're an amalgamation of many different people, with a dash of pure invention added for good measure. 

The same doesn't always apply to places. Sometimes I use real life locations for my fiction work. As I was writing Lady Rascal,I had a very particular interior in mind for Philip Adamson's country house. My OH's office used to be based in Hollywood Estate Mansion, which is in Easter Compton near Bristol. As luck would have it, my father’s best friend used to work there back before the Second World War, so I had some background information about the place before I started. The exterior of the house didn't quite match my idea of Philip's house, so the trailer you can see at the top of this post includes shots of a completely different property. That's the great thing about fiction - you can fiddle with reality until it's exactly the way you like it.

While dialogue and action bring characters alive and keep the plot moving along, the “genius loci” or spirit of a place forms the background of your story. You can use this in two ways: as a straightforward clue to tell readers what to expect, or as a contrast to what goes on there. The forbidding Transylvanian castle on a crag is an instantly recognisable shorthand for a vampire story. Alternatively, you can use your setting to shock. Miss Marple’s St Mary Mead is a cosy country setting. Who would expect an idyllic English village like that to be the setting for murder? Yet Agatha Christie used it in the perfect contrast of place and event. In the same way bad things happen to good heroes and heroines, nasty things can happen in the best places.

What's your favourite fictional place? Whether you’re a reader or a writer, I’d love to hear from you.