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This week sees the publication of my third novella, “Desperate Remedies” (My Weekly Pocket Novel No.1712).  It is set during the Regency, a time in history that seems to continue to fascinate people, me included.  I don’t know how much of that is down to the influence of Georgette Heyer, the absolute mistress of this genre, and how much is just purely the effect of the time itself.  Certainly, Ms. Heyer managed to capture the spirit of that period in a way that few (if anyone?) have ever done since and her novels remain some of my absolute favourites.  But it also appears to have been a very special time in British history which, although short, really made its mark.

Either way, I hope readers enjoy this story!

Desperate Remedies” – “What is the real story behind the handsome Lord Synley’s marriage to a woman as old as his mother?  And will Lexie’s secret love for him ever be requited?”

Today is a very exciting day – I can finally show off the beautiful cover of Trade Winds and here it is!

Marriage of convenience – or a love for life?”

It’s 1732 in Gothenburg, Sweden, and strong-willed Jess van Sandt knows only too well that it’s a man’s world.  She believes she’s being swindled out of her inheritance by her stepfather – and she’s determined to stop it.

When help appears in the unlikely form of handsome Scotsman Killian Kinross, himself disinherited by his grandfather, Jess finds herself both intrigued and infuriated by him.  In an attempt to recover her fortune, she proposes a marriage of convenience.  Then Killian is offered the chance of a lifetime with the Swedish East India Company’s Expedition and he’s determined that nothing will stand in his way, not even his new bride.

He sets sail on a daring voyage to the Far East, believing he’s put his feelings and past behind him.  But the journey doesn’t quite work out as he expects …

Hina Dolls3rd of March was “Girl’s Day” in Japan and when I lived in Tokyo many years ago I became fascinated by the Hina dolls that are traditionally displayed on that day. Hina dolls are sets of ornamental dolls representing the Emperor, Empress and their attendants, all dressed in the court dress of the Heian period (794-1185). They should be set out in specific tiers on a red cloth, together with various accessories that include food and furniture. It is all in miniature, sort of like our doll’s houses, only more exotic.

My family happened to live next door to an old Japanese lady who had the most fabulous set of Hina dolls and she very kindly allowed us gai-jin (foreigners) to come and have a look at it one year. I remember thinking that one day I’d like to own some, but I forgot all about it until I returned to Japan 20 years later and saw an Emperor and Empress for sale in an antique shop. Meanwhile, my fascination for miniature items had made me collect a few bits and pieces already, so that when it came to displaying my dolls, I had some accessories to keep them company. I also had two children (who may or may not have belonged to a Hina set) and two handmaidens with long black hair.

Hina lady attendant

Unlike the Japanese, I can’t bear to put the dolls away each year so I have them on display all the time inside a book case. As you can see from the photo, I don’t have a full set and perhaps I never will, but I’m very pleased that I managed to find some of them at least and if I’m lucky enough to go back to Japan again, I will certainly keep an eye out for more.

Happy belated “Girl’s Day”!

I’ve blogged about this on the Choc Lit Authors’ blog at http://www.blog.choc-lit.co.uk -a great event which I thoroughly enjoyed!

Had a lovely day out on Saturday, attending the “Get Writing” conference organised by the Verulam Writers’ Circle at the University of Hertfordshire. They laid on a packed programme of talks and workshops, all very interesting and informative.

The day kicked off with literary agents John Jarrold and Anna Power talking about how to put together a good submission to an agent and what sort of things they were looking for. Their methods differed a little, but mainly they want well told stories and submissions that are well presented and look professional. Like most agents, they couldn’t pinpoint exactly what they’re looking for, they just “know it when they see it”.

Louise Allen and Jan Jones gave a wonderful workshop on how to research historical novels – “Into the Heart of the Past”. They gave us tips on inspiration, how to find facts and how to make our stories authentic to the period we were writing about. Also, a useful list of research pitfalls.

Two publishers – Marlene Johnson of Hachette UK and Simon Taylor of Transworld – gave us their views on publishing at the moment, which was very interesting, if a little depressing. Adele Geras entertained us with a very amusing talk about herself and her writing, and author Mark Billingham and agent Philip Patterson gave some advice on how to get published (and how NOT to go about it!). The day finished with a talk by Imran Ahmad, whose road to publication was unusual to say the least!

All in all, lots to take on board and inspire everyone – a brilliantly organised day!

I’m very lucky to be a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA), which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. It’s a great organisation, dedicated to promoting the genre and raising its profile and they have a lovely new website at www.romanticnovelistsassociation.org  . They give out various awards each year and today the short lists for these are revealed. Check out the website for details! I can’t wait to see who the overall winner is, but that won’t be announced until mid March.

The RNA also does a great job of keeping people like me sane. By attending their various talks and functions, I can keep in touch with like-minded people and believe me, I need it!

Anyone who’s ever tried to be an author knows it’s a lonely business. You sit at your desk and stare at a blank screen (or, if you’re lucky, a rapidly filling one when the muse runs away with you) and in most cases, you can’t go and discuss your latest bright ideas with anyone else because other family members are usually not even remotely interested.

That’s where the RNA comes in. Through them, I can join in an on-line forum, go to local chapter meetings and general meetings/ conferences/ parties. No one there will look at me as if I’m slightly deranged if I start to talk about plot, characters who misbehave, or endings that don’t want to come right. They’re all in the same boat, they know where I’m coming from – wonderful! And the encouragement and sheer “buzz” I get from talking to others with the same interest is phenomenal. I always come back from these various functions rearing to write.

A couple of weeks ago, for instance – I went to listen to a publishing industry panel discussing the topic “where is romantic fiction in these hard times?” Good question. The encouraging answer seemed to be that despite the recession, romantic fiction is doing rather well. Very well, in fact, because people need cheering up, they need the feel-good factor of a happy ending, an uplifting romance. And although overall sales of books might be down, romance is on the up. Excellent! And just what everyone in the audience wanted to hear.

I also attended a chapter meeting where the speaker was my fellow Choc Lit author Sue Moorcroft (see www.suemoorcroft.com ) She was talking about her book “Love Writing – How to Make Money Writing Romantic or Erotic Fiction”, which I’m now halfway through. It’s full of useful tips and has something for everyone. As an author, I feel I’m evolving and learning all the time and books like these get the creative juices flowing.

So I’d better make use of this and get on with some writing then …

You know you’re getting old when … time seems to go faster and faster. Well, at least that’s how it seems to me.

Okay, I’m not ancient, but I do find that I’m much more aware of time passing now than I used to be. I mean, how can it be February already? It feels like the year only started last week!

Being a writer is a bit disorientating though, when it comes to keeping track of time. Not just because when I write I’m in a completely different world, although that’s part of it. Mostly it’s because I don’t have to keep to a schedule. No one says I have to sit at my desk at 9.00, have a break for lunch at 12.30-1.30 and finish at 5.00. That’s one of the absolute greatest things about writing – no boss, no constraints. And you don’t have to make endless cups of tea/coffee for anyone else either! (As a former secretary, that is one thing I really appreciate.)

I do have a boss though, sort of – a small black dog. Small Black Dog is fairly patient with this writing malarkey and sleeps curled up under my chair for hours on end. But he does insist on regular breaks, especially a long walk in the park every day at lunchtime. And it’s no good telling him I’m in the middle of a particularly tricky scene that I need to finish first. Anyone would think he had a built in clock (in fact, I’m sure he does), because he never lets me get away with so much as an extra five minutes of writing time without letting me know that he resents it. Small Black Dog is very, very good at communicating without words, especially resentment!

I guess I shouldn’t complain though. Without Small Black Dog, I would be the ultimate couch potato because I hate exercise in any way, shape or form. Unless you count going down the stairs, opening the fridge door and taking out a piece of chocolate, then closing the fridge door and going back upstairs again as exercise? No, thought not … It does help the thought processes though, so the chocolate is entirely necessary. I swear!

Why won’t anyone believe me?

Being a writer, I can claim that all sorts of things that I do are for “research purposes”, which is great.  Going to the cinema (which I’ve been doing a lot lately) definitely counts as research.  You might think that’s pushing it a bit, but seriously, I do get inspired by watching films.  Not because I want to copy the brilliant story lines, but because sometimes just a small snippet of conversation or the face/voice/character of a certain actor can spark an idea for a story of my own.

Take for example Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy – although the actor made him into a believable fantasy king, to me he looked much more like a man from the 17th century.  I have no idea why, but consequently, in my mind he turned into the hero of a novel I was working on at the time which was set in 1645.  His face just fit the character that was inside my head, and voila, there he was. 

There were some wonderful films during 2009 to be inspired by.  My favourites include “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”, “GI Joe – Rise of Cobra”, “Terminator Salvation”, “New Moon”, “Avatar” and “Sherlock Holmes”.  All pure unadulterated entertainment IMHO – as you can see, I don’t go for the serious stuff.  I hate unhappy endings or depressing tales, don’t want people ranting at me about politics or wars and so called “serious acting” makes me run out screaming.  I just want films to be fun and have that feel-good factor that makes you come out of the cinema with a big smile on your face.  (Well, the popcorn helps too of course, and the chocolate or ice cream …)

So if you want to read serious reviews of Oscar-winning movies, I’m afraid I can’t oblige.  But I’ll happily discuss all the above films any time!

Which is your favourite film of 2009?

Highlander??

So the holidays are over and it’s time to knuckle down to some serious work.  I don’t mind at all since in my case that means writing.  Having finished the (first?) rewrites of Trade Winds over Christmas, I’m starting a new book and since I write historicals, before I can do anything else I need to do research.

I’ve heard lots of other authors say that the research is their absolute favourite part of writing and that they can lose themselves in it and sometimes go a bit too far.  It doesn’t work that way for me.  Although I love history, I usually find the research the least enjoyable part and even though I know it’s necessary, I’m always itching to get to the actual writing.

Every novel is of course a story and even with historicals it should be possible to just sit down and write it first, then fill in the details that make it authentic to whatever period you’re writing in afterwards.  However, I like to do things in order and that’s why I try to read up on the period first.

This time it’s actually fascinating, because I’m knee-deep in dusty tomes about the Jacobite rebellion and the Highlands.  Okay, I’ll come clean – even though I don’t have a single

Cavaliers

Scottish ancestor, as far as I know, I’m a Jacobite.  Or I would have been, had I lived then.  Just as I would have been on the side of the Cavaliers in the Civil War.  I mean, the Stuart kings in question may have been wrong to do some of the things they did, but they still had the right to be king IMO.  That right was taken away from them and that, to me, seems wrong.  Besides, being a romantic novelist, how could I possibly be on the side of the boring, staid and sober Roundheads or the plodding British army under Cumberland?  Flamboyant Cavaliers and Highlanders in kilts seem infinitely more appealing! 

So, back to the research then …