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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!)

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?

Tuesday 6 August 2013

Writing A Mission Statement-For Writing, Or Anything Else...

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASandro_Botticelli_-_Madonna_del_Magnificat.jpgFile URL: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5a/Sandro_Botticelli_-_Madonna_del_Magnificat.jpgAttribution: Sandro Botticelli [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsHTML Attribution not legally required
By Sandro Botticelli
A mission statement is a short, snappy way to keep your objective in focus as you work your way to success. Draw one up when you start your next big project. It will really help to keep you focussed. Make it personal - tailor it specifically to what you want to do.  Then keep it visible. Take some copies, and keep one on display in your office, beside your bed, as wallpaper on your screen - anywhere you'll see it often. 
Think up some daily incentives to encourage you - I use “half an hour watching my bees” “eat a peach” or “read for an hour”.  Choose bigger treats for when you’ve had a successful week: “soaking in the bath for an hour” “relaxing in the garden” or my own favourite, “a trip to the stationery store”. When you’ve finally completed your project, you can choose a really big treat as the ultimate prize to enhance your brilliant glow of total satisfaction. I take my OH out to dinner, although that's not much use if we're on diets! 

Of course, where there are prizes there have to be forfeits. Mine is to keep well away from my bees, but I've inserted a more popular horror below.

Here’s a basic template so you can create your own mission statement, with some ideas in italics to get you started. Substitute those words as necessary, and don’t forget to be specific. Personalising this declaration will make your project mean more to you, and that will help you to succeed.


"I am going to write a novel/non-fiction book. My long term dream goal is to record my thoughts for my descendants/achieve publication/on all platforms, which I’m going to achieve by (date). 
In order to achieve my objective, I will draw up a schedule of what needs to be done each day, and set weekly targets, too. Every single time I hit my daily word-count, I’ll select one reward from my “daily” list. At the end of each week, if I complete all my tasks I’ll choose one treat from my “weekly” list.  After successfully completing my project, I’ll celebrate by spoiling myself with my ultimate prize. I will read my mission statement daily to remind me of the rewards I have planned, and my ultimate objective. If I miss any of my weekly targets without a very good excuse, my forfeit will be to stay completely offline for one whole day. If I miss my final deadline, my forfeit will be to  stay completely offline for one whole month."

Then date and sign it, to make it official.

I’ve given you a couple of ideas for rewards and forfeits. What will be going on your own list?

Friday 2 August 2013

Three Top Tips For Getting Started...

Power of words by Antonio Litterio/derivative work - InverseHypercube
By Antonio Litterio

...on any project...

THE BIG PICTURE - whatever you want to do, whether it’s write a book, start your own business, make money, learn to cook, or grow your own food, have one specific aim in mind. Then stick to it. Benjamin Franklin is supposed to have said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”. Label a folder (real or virtual) with the name of your project. Gather everything into it-notes, images, charts, infographics, the lot. Once you can find exactly what you’re looking for in seconds, it’ll save a lot of time time when inspiration (or desperation) strikes. 

ZOOM IN - Put a filing system in place the second you start collecting stuff for your project. It doesn’t need to be fancy. Separate files within one on-line folder will be fine. A plastic wallet with dividers will store your so-called “dead-tree derivatives” (that’s paperwork, to you and me). A DL size envelope within this system is perfect for keeping scrappy notes, receipts and parking slips safe. Incidentally, expand that idea to twelve envelopes, each one labelled with a different month, and you’re on the fast track to filing your annual tax return without tears. All you have to do is remember to transfer the relevant receipts from the car, your pockets or purse into the right envelope. But do that as soon as you get them. 
You know why.

FOCUS - Write down your big idea. Seeing it at the top of a blank sheet, or screen, will make it real. It’s smart to set goals, and the acronym S.M.A.R.T (used by George T.Doran, Paul J. Meyer and others) can help you reach that target. There are all sorts of alternative meanings for the initial letters, but they all come down to the same thing in the end. These are the headings I use when I’m planning a new piece of work:

SPECIFIC–this is what you want to achieve. It’s your dream. Spend some time working out exactly what it is you want to do. Be positive, and distill it into one sentence such as “I will write a book.” There's no room for want here. Think positive.
MANAGEABLE–will you be able to do this in the time you have available, and with the facilities you have? If not, either set the alarm an hour earlier each morning and borrow what you need, or revise your objective–but think carefully before doing that because A is for... 
AMBITIOUS–Go for it! Aim for the stars - if you miss, the moon will break your fall. Find an inspirational quote and post it up where you’ll see it every day. Edmund Burke’s “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing” glares down at me all the time I’m writing.
REALISTIC–Ambition is indispensable, but there are limits. I come from a family of comfortably upholstered women. Much as I’d like to be a size eight, it's never going to happen. Believe me. That’s why I modified my own aim, from “getting down to 130 pounds” to “following a calorie-controlled healthy eating plan and taking more exercise for one month.” I lost 5lb without ever feeling I was on a diet, so all I need now is the willpower to repeat...and repeat...and repeat.... as necessary!
TIMETABLED–deadlines, like the threat of execution, concentrate the mind wonderfully. Draw up a list of what you need to do, and work out how long it will take. Mark the finish date in every form of diary you have. Tell yourself it’s absolutely non-negotiable. Obviously there will be times when work has to take a back seat because of illness or accident, but personal disasters apart use every carrot-and-stick you can think of to motivate yourself and hit your deadline.