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Monday 27 April 2015

Creative Writing Workshop: Extract from my current WIP

Fay, Georgia, Christina Courtenay, Joanna & Ann
The Romantic Novelists' Association does a lot for writers, and funding a creative writing workshop for its Marcher Ladies Chapter last year led to some invaluable spin-off sessions. I gave the opening pages of His Majesty's Secret Passion, a test-run at our first workshop, and the completed book has now been published by The Wild Rose Press.  Ann Ankers arranged another day-long study session at Hereford's Courtyard arts centre so I submitted the first ten pages of my current Work In Progress, Love On The Run.

You can read about a previous session here, but to recap, everyone submitted ten pages of fiction to Ann. She made sure all the samples were anonymous, before circulating them among the workshop members. We did a report on each, then presented our thoughts on everyone's work during the day. 

Like His Majesty's Secret Passion and Her Royal RiskLove On The Run is a contemporary romance set in the fictional Mediterranean country of Kharova. It's the fourth book in my Princes Of Kharova series for The Wild Rose Press. The first two have already been published in both ebook and paperback (you can find out more about those here) and the third book, Heart Of A Hostage, will join them soon. 

Here's the extract I presented to the workshop, with all the suggestions for improvement put in place. What do you think? To follow the progress of this, and my other writing projects, you can like my author page on Facebook, here.

Love On The Run


Uncrowned king, Leo— http://bit.ly/1ujX5zc
Meg’s bad day was about to get a whole lot worse. The way her employer’s face twisted could predict  a skivvy's fortune better than one of those cellophane fish from a Christmas cracker.  
“You took your time fetching that champagne. Went to France for it, did you? Huh. Staff these days.” 
Lucida Tipoli didn’t bother to get up from her recliner in front of the TV. She could poke Meg easily enough by sticking out her foot. “Thinks she’s something special, because she lives in the house with us. It never does to let girls get above themselves,” the blowsy, fifty-something woman told her husband.
”We only took you in out of the goodness of our own hearts, remember.” Arturo Tipoli added, without taking his eyes off the coronation coverage. This was the tiny country of Kharova’s 
second king in a year, and the first one to make it as far as the throne. Meg had a sneaking suspicion the Tipolis were only watching in the hope something would go wrong with this royal effort, too.  
You want me to remember your so-called generosity? You never let me forget it, Meg thought. She didn’t know which hurt most—fighting the urge to scowl, or biting her tongue to avoid telling her employers what she thought of them.
Another six months, and I’ll have saved enough to walk away from you forever, you rich, idle bitch. As long as you pay what you owe me...
“If she had more sense, she wouldn’t be living off other people’s charity.”
And...breathe! Meg told herself, I don’t have to take this for much longer. Another one hundred
Athan, The Man Who Made It—http://bit.ly/1GQPIIq
and eighty four days, five hours, then I can tell you both where to stick your job. But until then, I need you as much as you need me.
“What would your poor mother say if she could see you now!”
If you treated me well and paid me better, Mum and Dad might even be proud of me again, Meg thought, but paying me more would mean I could escape from this place a lot faster...
“What are you smirking at?”
Meg’s face fell. Who am I kidding? I’m dreaming. I’ll never escape.
This was her reality. Blame and blows. The hardest of those was not hearing anything from Rob for months. 
He should have sent for me by now. Something must have happened. She worried about him all the time. He’d always wanted to fight with the rebels, to make a better life for ordinary people. He left, promising to send her money to tide her over until she got work. Instead, desperate to pay her bills. she’d been forced to settle for this horrible job. It was the only position which didn’t ask for references.  
“Hurry up and open that bottle! We need to toast the king’s first speech!” Lucida snapped.
Meg’s nimble fingers untwisted the wire cage over the bulbous cork, then released it exactly as the butler had taught her. Wasting no more than a sigh of carbon dioxide, she tilted a crystal champagne flute and poured in the golden liquid as words whispered from the television.
“Our live broadcast from King Athan’s coronation has been interrupted by circumstances beyond our control. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible, Until then, here’s some music...”
“Damned technology,” Arturo Tipoli grumbled, but the screen was already flickering back into life. His wife was more interested in the drinks.
“That’s no good! Where was the pop? You can’t have champagne without a pop. Go and fetch another bottle. Now!” she roared. Meg leapt aside, but instead of a blow from Mrs Tipoli, she suffered a direct hit to the heart. 
“Good God—what’s happening?”
A disaster was unfolding on the TV, right in front of them. For once in their lives, the Tipolis were silenced. They sat open mouthed, staring at the screen.
"We interrupt this broadcast with a newsflash. An incident during the coronation of King Athan has resulted in the arrest of six rebels. A seventh man, believed to be twenty-four-year-old Rob Steyner, escaped. The security services say he is extremely dangerous, and should not be approached. He’s believed to be heading back to the rebel stronghold in the north of the country." 
A spasm of shock rocketed through Meg’s body, flipping the bottle from her hands. Mrs Tipoli screamed, but it bounced against the arm of the couch and quick-thinking Meg caught it on the rebound. 
‘You stupid girl! Have you any idea how much that costs? Keep your mind on your job!”
Meg wasn’t listening. A photo of Rob was on the TV. She’d taken it last summer, but it felt fresh as yesterday. Rob was laughing as a sea breeze tugged at his jacket. Her happiest day, reduced to a TV demand for information. So much had happened since that scorching summer. The awful, gut-wrenching row at Christmas with her parents. Rob’s determination to leave the city, and make a new life... 
Where is he now? The single familiar picture became half a dozen strangers. At least he‘s not in a police cell with them. Five of the photos were police mugshots of desperate-looking men. The sixth was an exception, in more ways than one. 
Meg recognised him. He was the new king’s valet. Both men had visited this house, before Athan inherited the throne.  Tirek Kalmend, the TV called him. The name meant nothing to Meg. The Tipolis knew Meg had form when it came to bringing shame down on a household, so they tried to keep her out of the way when they had guests.  They weren’t about to let her wreck their chances with the royal family and their supporters. 
The photo of this Tirek was from happier times, too. He was fooling about with friends at some charity fundraising event. He looked like what he was, a soldier letting off steam. 
“And him the new king’s closest friend,” Mr Tipoli grumbled. “Just goes to show, you can’t trust anyone.”
Thank goodness I can rely on Rob, Meg thought. I think...

Tirek watched a soldier snap the low-tech shackles onto his wrists, and wondered how he’d fallen into this nightmare. Arrested along with the five total strangers he’d helped round up and arrest, his loyalty was turning into a sick joke.
“I’m innocent. Why won’t you believe me?”
“Because that’s what they all say.” The guard shoved him down the cathedral steps toward a waiting police van. “If I listened to all the bs I’m fed, the country’s prisons would be empty, and my pockets would be full.”
“I wouldn’t count on it. Athan’s going to come down hard on corruption.” Tirek growled.
“...says the man who tried to wreck the king’s coronation, and masterminded a plot to overthrow  him.”
“That’s not true. Why will no one listen to me?”
“The daughter of the king’s private secretary stood up in the cathedral and told everyone you were at the heart of the latest plot. That’s why.” 
“I was working undercover. It was supposed to be a—” Tirek stopped. This might be the second worst disaster of his life, but knowledge was power. He’d keep quiet about his inside knowledge until he could tell the only person who really mattered.  
Why bother? No one’s listening. I saved Athan’s life, but he’s cut me dead. After everything I’ve done for him...now he’s king, he’s getting rid of all his trusted advisors and filling the palace with new faces, Tirek thought.  But there’s no time to be bitter. I’ve got to clear my name. That demands cool thinking—and  proof. 
His mind worked fast. Capturing rebel chief Mihail Dukagjini would be the perfect revenge on his accusers. Especially the woman who ruined his life...
Getting his own back on Bella Tipoli meant making a break for it. Tirek clasped his hands together. Swinging his shackled arms in a horizontal blow, he sent his guard tumbling in front of his comrade. As they stumbled, Tirek snatched his chance and dodged down the nearest alleyway. He was cuffed, but knew these back streets like a native. Working and clubbing with Prince Athan taught him the skills of survival long ago. The stakes were sky high. It was a shame this wasn’t a game of poker, but today, the deck was stacked against him.  
What innocent man goes on the run? One who knows he’s going to be stitched up by a show trial. Tirek’s mind raced almost as fast as his feet. He’d been ruined once before, yet clawed his way back to make a good life for himself. Faced with disaster again, this time he wasn’t going to go quietly—wherever he was headed.
The city was deserted. Everyone was indoors, watching what was left of the coronation coverage after all the excitement. In the distance, the deep baying of hounds started up. Tirek spotted a plastic trash bin, and used it to help him vault onto a recycling skip.  Once he was secure, he leaned down and hurled the rubber bin away down the lane, back the way he’d come. It made almost no sound, and would delay anyone chasing him. He used the skip to reach a high garden wall, bracing himself for a slow, dangerous shuffle, eight feet above ground where any tracker dogs couldn’t catch his scent. 
Tirek looked around, getting his bearings. The house was one of the Tipoli family’s more expensive properties, in the best part of town. Its garden wall was good and wide. He made a crouching run of almost a hundred yards before the boundary kinked left, and his way was blocked by the outstretched arms of an ancient yew tree, leaning out over a lane. 
The racket from his pursuers grew louder. They were hunting him like an animal. This is one lone wolf who’s not going to get cornered, he thought, burrowing into the greenery.

Meg was on autopilot. Her mind worked at a million miles an hour, while her body waded through  treacle. While Rob was on the run, there was still hope for him. For them both. She thought of the life she’d left behind at home.  Things were supposed to improve when she ran away to be with Rob. Now her life was all arguments and misery again. 
All I want is to be settled and happy. What’s so wrong with that?
“Are you asleep girl? Get those clean clothes out on the line while they’ve still got time to air! The king’s supposed to be speaking in ten minutes time. You’ll need to have that done and be back in here with more champagne before then!”
Meg carried the washing basket outside to the airer. Like some other things the Tipolis didn’t want to see, it was hidden from the house by a bank of spotted laurels. The sun was high and hot, but a shiver ran down her spine. She thought she felt eyes, watching her. She looked round, but the place was deserted. She was the only staff member allowed out here. The shed door hung open, but there was nothing but a scatter of tools abandoned inside after the last gardener got sacked for making too much noise. She stepped over the axe he’d dropped, when he stormed out after a shouting match with Mrs Tipoli.
They were lucky he only ran away, she thought. I wish I had the nerve to do that.

Tirek gazed down on the kind of life he’d left behind. Through the Tipoli’s kitchen window, he saw a heavy, dark bottle foiled in gold sitting on the sill. He loved champagne, and could still remember his first taste of the stuff. It was full bodied, enticing his spirits to dance, like the glittering lights in the bright blue eyes of that girl pegging out the washing.  
Raised voices inside the house were another barbed memory from his past. He wondered who his own family were threatening now. The yearning for all the luxuries of his past life shriveled again. As a child, he’d thought money could buy anything. As he grew, he found happiness missing from the shopping list. His own family could buy and sell this Tipoli tribe a dozen times out of petty cash. But for all his relative poverty, the patriarch of the Tipoli family sounded no happier than Tirek’s own father.
A small, stifled sound pulled his attention back down into the garden.
The girl was crying. 
That was too much for Tirek. Behind him, out in the city, the tracker dogs were getting closer. One of two things was going to happen. He could be caught up here, without trying to do anything for the crying girl. Or he could buy some time before his capture by dropping into this garden to do something about her tears before he either got caught, or she handed him over. It didn’t matter to Tirek either way. The way his luck was going, he’d end up a prisoner, sooner or later.
‘Psst!”  he hissed. 
Emerging from an earthquake of shivering sobs, she looked around the garden. 
‘Up here!”
She tipped her head back to face the cloudless blue sky.
The pursuit teams were so close now, Tirek could hear the noises the dogs made even when they weren’t barking. They were straining on their leashes, their handlers cursing as canine claws scrabbled against the cobblestones...
“In the tree!” Tirek whispered as loud as he could.
One of the hounds let out a bloodcurdling howl. The girl shrank, and instead of looking up at Tirek, turned in the direction of the sound. Tirek did the same, looking across to a solid wooden door, let into the outside wall. The great iron ring twisted, and it was shaken furiously.
“Who is it?” the girl shouted. 
“ Police. Looking for an escaped terrorist!”
"This is the Tipoli household. We’re all decent people here,” she said.
His sharp hearing attuned to the sounds of pursuit, Tirek laughed silently when he heard her mutter “those not part of the family, anyway,”
“Sorry to have troubled you, miss!” the policeman shouted, kicking his dog on down the lane. 
Tirek could have cheered. The girl picked up her basket, and was already heading toward the house
‘Psst—I’m up here. In the tree! Believe me, I’m not a rebel—but does that pack of hounds sound like they’d listen to reason?”
She stopped, and turned. “No...” 
Her hesitation was bad news. The sun was behind her, so her narrowed eyes had nothing to do with glare.
“...but why are they chasing you if you’re innocent?”
“I’m the new king’s best friend, whatever lies anyone might be spreading. Do you honestly think I’d take refuge within a hundred miles of a Tipoli residence if I wasn’t absolutely desperate?”
Her sudden smile gave all his clouds silver linings.
“Stay there, while I stall the family and think up a plan,” she said in a low voice.
‘Don’t bother. I’ve already got one.”
She stopped, hesitated, then swung round and headed for the wall where he stood. With a jolt, Tirek found himself looking down between the plump globes of her breasts. If he didn’t have the hounds of hell on his tail, he would have savoured the moment. 
“I like your style, and I need help to get these cuffs off. I never thought I'd thank God Kharovan security was still stuck in the Dark Ages. That cold chisel in the shed might do it,” he nodded toward the building. While she fetched it along with a heavy hammer, Tirek dropped down from the wall, heading for the wood-chopping block beside the shed.
“If you were one of the rebels, you'd know Rob?” She whispered, frowning as she lined the heavy metal blade across the emergency handcuffs issued to every member of the palace guard. 
Yes, if your help depends on it, Tirek thought— but she didn’t give him time to answer.
“He went off to get a job at Castle Dukagjini. That’s more help to the rebels than working in a city garage would be.”
Better and better, Tirek thought.  “Rob? Yeah. Everybody knows him. A good sort.” 
“Do you really think so?”

Tirek didn’t have time to notice the strange inflection in her voice. He was too busy wondering whether he was about to lose any fingers as she lined up the sharp metal chisel on the  short length of chain joining his wrists. There wasn’t much room for error.

To Be Continued...

So far, I've only written the first ten pages on Love On The Run. Bearing in mind this is the first draft, what do you think of the opening?

Monday 20 April 2015

Birth Of A Book, Part Seven—Revising and Reducing

By Antonio Litterio
Taking a break from your writing work lets you see it with new eyes when you pick it up again to add polish. It's like meeting an old friend—only better. If you think your manuscripts looks tired, overweight, is less fun or more shallow than you remember, you don't have to be polite. When it comes to your book, you're the boss. Rip into it. Make all those changes, and keep going until it's perfect.

Once you have the basic story, structure and characters, you can play about with your draft as much as you like. There's no limit to how much you can alter it, this side of a publishing contract. You'll find this stage is much easier than when you were winding yourself up, ready to write back in Birth Of A Book, Part One. The work of fleshing out the skeleton of your book is much more fun. First drafts are driven through solid rock. The really creative writing builds on that. Sculpt your words into something unique, then sand them down until they shine.

This is your Pygmalion moment. Take your time. Enjoy it, but don't make the mistake of adding layers of complexity to your work for the sake of it. If your story is strong and your characters engaging, you won't need it. Each scene should either give meaningful insight into one or more of your major characters, or move the action along.

When you're happy with your work, run a spellcheck for all those descriptive words ending in —ly, such as excitedly, grimly, perfectly and the like. Take out as many as you can, and let your decriptions do the talking.

The next step is to rework any phrases where you tell your reader what your characters are doing, rather than show them.  Describing your character as deciding, thinking, or feeling something, rather than letting your reader experience it through that character's eyes twitches a curtain between them and the story world you've created.

See http://bit.ly/1C0CxOU for more details!
The first draft of my work always has plenty of room for improvement by way of "show, don't tell".

Here are the opening lines of my current work in progress, which is the third book in my Princes of Kharova series for the Wild Rose Press:

They were driving through Kharova at its wild and rugged best, but Maia wasn’t in the mood to enjoy it. She stared out of the car window, seeing nothing. 
These are my last hours of freedom. I shouldn’t be cooped up in here. I should be diving off the top board of life. 
She pursed her lips. Okay, so maybe diving wasn't her style, but given the chance she might tuck-roll in off the side.

Extract From Heart Of A Hostage, Copyright 2015, Christina Hollis

And here's my latest, revised version—

A silent movie of Kharova at its wild and rugged best spooled past the car window. Maia's eyes were open, but only the cold glass against her cheek kept her awake.
These are my last hours of freedom. I shouldn’t be cooped up in here. I should be diving off the top board of life. 
She pursed her lips. Okay, so maybe diving wasn't her style, but given the chance she might tuck-roll in off the side.

Extract From Heart Of A Hostage, Copyright 2015, Christina Hollis

What do you think of my improvements to the original?

Monday 13 April 2015

This Writing Life: Four (nearly!) Painless Ways To Deal With Tax

The Death of Chatterton, by Henry Wallis
Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage, says the old song. Tax and money go together like glue and honey. Unless you've got both under control, they become a sticky mess.

The second you start earning money from your writing, you're in business. Like it or not, that means keeping records. Writers earn a lot less than you might think—see here for the bad news—but while your dreams of sealing a deal worth millions may have to go on hold, HMRC and the IRS wait for no author.

It's better to get a basic system of recording the amounts of money you handle well before you need it, so here are my four top tips for shrinking a painful process...


Romance writer Kate Walker gives some great advice to new writers: whatever you earn, however small the figure, put half of it straight into a separate account that's hard to access. Don't touch it. WHATEVER THE TEMPTATION. That way, you build up a fighting fund ready for the moment an envelope full of the Tax Dragon's finest drops on your doorstep.

If you're up for a challenge, you can take this one step further. From the half of your earnings you have left, put half of that into a savings account that's slightly easier to access. You can then dip into that pool of medium-term savings for sudden, unexpected bills. In other words, the "average" writer's earnings of £600/$1,000 per year becomes only £150/$250 of actual fun money. To prove I'm not completely made of stone, I'll let you do what you like with that.

All Contributions Gratefully Received http://bit.ly/1GQPIIq

Take twelve large, plain, white business envelopes. Label one for each month of the year. Every time you buy stationery, pay your RNA or RWA dues, renew your web hosting, get an advance or some royalties, put the receipts, invoices and all other paperwork in the appropriate envelope. Take a note of any insurance premiums, your utility bills and business mileage, too. Tax planning and writing are alike in that it's better to collect too much detail to begin with, rather than not enough. If The Powers That Be want to pick and choose what they're interested in, then they can. Whether you're dealing with receipts or words, producing extra to order and at short notice is always a nightmare. Less is most definitely not more when it comes to tax planning.


...tax thresholds and bands long before you need to know about them.  That way you'll avoid any nasty shocks. If you have no income other than from writing, contact your local library or check on line for reputable sources of free advice, such as the Citizen's Advice Bureaux. Yes, it's possible to do your own tax returns if they're simple, but as soon as you possibly can, pay an accountant to do them for you. They spend their whole working lives keeping up to date with the latest legislation, and can pay for themselves by spotting things you might miss. If nothing else, they'll have professional liability insurance to cover any mistakes they might make. Your cousin's friend who "always does his own books and can do yours, too" isn't likely to have that. He may be setting himself (and you) up for a self-assessed disaster.


This is the carrot. The tax office holds the stick.
Tax planning takes twice as long tomorrow, four times as long next week and...well, you get the picture. Not only will you have the threat of that horrible job hanging over you, receipts and invoices never stop mounting up. Unless you take control, the situation can only get worse. And the funny thing is, once you grit your teeth and attack the task, it doesn't take half as long as you think.  I sat down this weekend to create a spreadsheet from my twelve envelopes of paperwork. It took me no more than two hours and I rewarded myself with cake as well as a cup of tea when I'd finished. I'll deliver my spreadsheet, and all the supporting paperwork, to my accountant later today. My warm glow of smug satisfaction will last until the accountant's bill arrives—which I'll put straight into the right monthly envelope, of course. (Oh, really? Ed.)

Tuesday 7 April 2015

How To Succeed with Blog Tours: Three Top Tips

Available from http://bit.ly/1ujX5zc
1. Decide what you want to get out of the experience: selling tons of books would be ideal, of course, but it doesn't always happen. You also run the risk of overexposure if you're a one-trick pony (see Tip 3, below). Concentrate on building and strengthening your on-line networks. Open a spreadsheet, and log the details of your number of followers, comments, and other details before you start. Make sure you provide the entertainment and information your followers are looking for in your pieces. If the totals on your spreadsheet increase after your blog tour, that leads to more satisfaction in the long-term than a temporary blip in downloads. You may never know whether a purchased copy of your book was read, but it takes positive, measurable action for a blog reader to sign up for your newsletter, or "like" your author page.

2. Get someone else to handle to admin. I work with Nas Dean, although other on-line assistance companies are available. Compare several before deciding which one to use. I've found Nas offers great value for money and has lots of contacts, so you get plenty of opportunities for networking. This spreads the word about you, and your work. A good admin person will arrange dates, and supply an idea of the material your host is looking for. An administrator will also arrange giveaways and competitions. Don't leave everything to them, though: when your blogs go live, visit the pages to make sure things are running smoothly, and reply to all comments.

Available from http://bit.ly/1GQPIIq
3. Hide Your Message, So They Go Seek: Mary Stuart wasn't in the business of selling books, so she only had the phrase "Philip and Calais" engraved on her heart. The three words branded on an author's every organ should be "buy my book" although you should keep it in mind, rather than out in plain sight. Shrinking violets don't sell many stories, but avoid veering from no promotion at all to becoming the most shameless self-publicist since P.T. Barnum. Make sure your cover art and buy links are there on every piece you submit, but be careful to include more than simple advertising in the content of those blogs. You want to engage, entertain and maybe even inform your readers. My first book for The Wild Rose Press, His Majesty's Secret Passion, came out at the beginning of February this year. On the 14th of every month, I have a regular blogspot with Leena Hyat's Authorsoundrelations. Of course, this ties in nicely with Valentine's Day. Rather than do a straight "Buy my Book!" with links, this year I provided hints and tips on keeping your Valentine's Day flowers fresh for as long as possible (you can read that piece here).  The information came from my flower-growing life outside of writing. The tie-in with His Majesty's Secret Passion was that my heroine Sara was given a beautiful bouquet by a mysterious stranger.

Blog tours involve a lot of writing, but they are good fun. I'll be scheduling another one in a few weeks to promote Her Royal Risk, the next book in my Princes Of Kharova series.  Visit my author page here on Facebook to find out more details about what's going on.

Friday 3 April 2015

This Writing Life: Her Royal Risk—Publication Day!

 Her Royal Riskthe second book in my Princes Of Kharova series, has been released by The Wild Rose Press. You can find it here.

Soldier hero Athan goes underground on the mission of his life. Will Krisia expose his secret? She's such a perfect PA, he can't risk seducing her into silence. Or can he? You can find out more by clicking here. This is a taste of what you can expect...

To hear concern from her was a shock. What she did next gave him a bigger one. She took a step toward him. He hardened his features until her laughter threw him further off balance.
“Don’t flatter yourself, Action Man! I’m not coming on to you. My job is to anticipate trouble before it affects my boss.”
Athan drew himself up to his full height. It put more distance between them, and cast his impressive shadow over her. “I’m not worried,” he said. He was, but not about King Leo. Athan was concerned—no, it was way worse than that. He was disturbed. People never looked at him in the way Krisia stared at him now. They shouldn’t. She looked...
He frowned, forcing himself not to uses the obvious word. It made him uneasy. Why would any woman look at him like that? They were supposed to fancy him, and fawn over him. He coped with it all the time. He could ignore them. But this one...she was different.
“I’m not worried,” he repeated, expanding his shoulders, “but you should be, Kris. I’m upgrading this exercise to a Code Red. It means we’re on a war footing, until further notice. If you’re determined to shadow me, then you’d better get ready for some action.”
He leveled a look at her. Flames erupted in her cheeks, and she took a step back. Her involuntary movements betrayed her thoughts, and made him smile.

Serve her right for looking at me with sympathy.

With the power of love at its heart, Her Royal Risk was a lovely book to write. I hope you enjoy reading it.

What's the greatest thing love has done for you? Post your comment below. There's the prize of a signed copy of Her Royal Risk for a comment picked at random, on 17th April.