Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Comparing Voices & Finding Your Own...

Voice is an important element of writing. It's an indication of your signature style and you hope it will bring readers coming back again and again.

It's the kind of item you can't locate with a sat nav. It would be fantastic if you could, but in my opinion, it's not meant to be easy so it won't ever appear overnight. Voice comes from within, it's your history, it's your personality and you have to be able to harness them so it shows in your writing.

Having said that it makes me realise that voice is the part that makes writing so gut-wrenching. It is the part that can make it so personal. You are putting yourself out there for plaudits or criticism.

So to find voice we need courage. We have to believe our voice is strong enough to be heard in an ever competitive market and not be downhearted when writing is rejected.

My reader's report from the RNA's New Writer's Scheme told me my genre was more within woman's fiction and she gave me four authors as suggested reading. When I read, I often switch genres and never tend to read two from the same genre in a row. I decided to read all four suggested authors back to back. It proved to be an interesting exercise and the books were:

Kissing Mr Wrong by Sarah Duncan
Going Dutch by Katie Fforde
The Beach Hut by Veronica Henry
Promises, Promises by Erica James

Four brilliant novels, each very different. In each there were obvious differences: POV, chapter lengths, number of characters, reasons for conflict... I could continue but essentially, despite all being in the same genre, they are all unique novels. It's the clearly developed voice's of these authors that make their work unique.

So how we approach the story, how we structure the story are all part and parcel of our voice and style. But there's more to it than that...

Fashion and style go hand in hand. To be fashionable, you have to have style. The same with writing and voice. To be a good writer, you have to have voice. But it's all very well owning the next biggest thing in fashion, (we'll say a silver foil coat X factor style) but what use is it if you leave it hanging in the wardrobe?

No use... because no one will know you're the next style leader in the fashion world. So - you take it out of the wardrobe, wear it into town but you're kind of embarrassed. You figure you look like a Christmas turkey. In order not to attract too much attention, you keep your shoulders hunched, cover it up as much as possible, hide in the shadows. You've got your big shiny, ahead-of-the-times coat on but only the bus driver notices. Well, that's no good. What you really need to do to get your coat noticed is to wear it with pride. Accessorise it to make it look its best, go places where it will be seen, where heads will turn and where you will also be noticed.

I should probably be shot for comparing voice to a silver coat. Especially in a blog post where I have mentioned such fantastic authors, but it's my way of understanding voice. I think we all have one, but if it's stuck inside (your wardrobe) doing nothing then you need to take it out, accessorise in a way only you can to express yourself in the best way possible. You also need to have the confidence not to worry about people laughing at your coat. Time to find out who you are, what you have to say, then strut your stuff, hold your head high and never look back - even if someone is remarking at your appalling taste in bacofoil.   

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Festival of Romance #festivalromance

Disney's Cinderella, not, Katy Little Lady
For the first time in my life, I've had a real 'cinders goes to the ball' moment. The Festival of Romance is in it's first year and I would have loved to attend but couldn't afford to. So when I found out last Monday that I'd won a day ticket from Novelicious for describing my ideal hero, I was ecstatic.
I stopped myself short of wearing a ball gown. It would have looked a bit odd during the sensible non-ball gown sections of the day. But, that decision was before I found out that Mandy Baggot wore a chicken suit the following day.

One of the fabbest things about the event was meeting up with writing friends, old and new. Many of the people I had the great pleasure of meeting I have only ever been in contact with virtually and it's great to get together as writers and chat. I have to say a special Thank You to Laura E James who offered me a lift to the festival. Talli Roland has a great picture of some of us at the start of the day over on her blog. You'll have to forgive my squatting pose. Not the best look to go for.

Helen Hunt's talk
My day started with a talk from Helen Hunt about writing short stories for Women's magazines. It was an excellent talk and gave me the confidence to try and submit to magazines. I've only ever submitted once and figured it wasn't my forte. Helen's advice means I will try again in the future and I plan to attend one of Helen's workshops in the future.

Next up was a panel on self-publishing with Mandy Baggot chairing and the lovely, Talli Roland. It was interesting to hear the participants reasons for wanting to self-publish in this ever-expanding part of the market.
Self-Publishing panel

Sue Moorcroft then led a workshop on Writing Romance. Sue is the author of Love Romance and it's a book I highly recommend. The lovely, Nikki Goodman, volunteered to help Sue and hearing the characterisation of her hero and filling in the gaps from there was really helpful.

Next there was advice for Aspiring Authors about getting published from Cara Cooper, Lyn Vernham of Choc Lit and Hazel Cushion of X-Cite Publishing. They explained what they are looking for and what would be a complete no-no for them.
Sue Moorcroft's Workshop

A scrumptious lunch and a charity quiz provided great entertainment and supported a worthy cause. I was in a team with Liz Crump, Celia Anderson and Victoria Shaw and we scored 10/20 - it was a difficult quiz!

After quiz antics, we were treated to a talk from Gillian Green, editorial director of newly launched, Rouge Romance. She explained how Rouge came about and what their plans are for the future. It was very encouraging to hear about new developments in the field, especially with e-books taking on a life of their own.
Lynne Connelly questions Gillian Green
Sadly, in the style of Cinders, while the festival was still in its first day throes, I had to whisk myself back home before my transport turned into a pumpkin...

It meant I missed a chocolate-making demonstration, a handsome man serving cupcakes and the author's fashion show to name a few highlights. But I came away with new-found friends and renewed energy to start my re-write with the guidance of my NWS report.

I must also say thank you to Festival of Romance organiser, Kate Allen and Novelicious - wouldn't have been able to go with out you so I guess that makes you my fairy godmothers!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

HIGHLAND STORMS BLOG TOUR: Christina Courtenay on Creating Characters

Today I'm delighted to welcome Christina Courtenay as part of her Highland Storms blog tour. I asked Christina how she goes about creating characters. Find out how below along with a chance to win a copy...

Creating new characters, and especially heroes, is one of the best things about being an author for me.  It’s great fun to decide on their looks and personality, and I especially love choosing their names.  When I read, whether I like a story or not almost always hinges on whether I fall in love with the hero.  If I don’t, the author hasn’t done his/her job properly and I try to keep this in mind when creating my own heroes.  If I’m not in love with them myself, then no one else will be either.

Obviously, we don’t all have the same taste, but there are some traits a hero should definitely have – charisma (even if he’s not drop-dead gorgeous, there must be something about him that attracts you to him), intelligence, kindness and honesty.  Since I write historical heroes mostly, mine can be a bit arrogant and “alpha male” to fit in with the way men behaved in times past, but I never let them be vain or self-centred.  I also love it when they have a sense of humour and long hair.  A bit of stubble, a great physique and the ability to hold their own in a fight never comes amiss either.

All authors have their own way of creating characters.  With me, the hero always starts with a real person’s looks - I see an actor, singer or model who intrigues me, and suddenly I’ve cast him in a completely different role.  Usually a scene between him and the heroine springs into my mind and kick-starts the rest of the story.  Then in order to find further inspiration, I search for photos on the internet or in magazines of the person I’ve chosen as hero material, and pin them up on the wall.  It helps to find clips on YouTube as well, so that I can hear their voice, see their facial expressions, their smile, the way they walk etc.  Then I make up a personality that I think suits their looks (and the story) and in my imagination they become a fully formed character.

I always start with the hero since for me he is the main ingredient in the book, then I try to think who would be the perfect heroine for him.  To make things more interesting, I like to give my heroes girls who are the complete opposite of the type he’s always thought he preferred.  The heroine has to surprise him and stand up to him, even if she secretly fancies him – no doormats allowed.  Again, since I write historicals, my heroines have to conform to the way women would have behaved at the time, but more often than not I make them feisty and chafing against the restrictions they face.  They have to have the courage to stand up for themselves and not accept their fate without a fight.

The hero of Highland Storms, Brice, was based on a model/actor who appeared in several different music videos.  In each one, he only had a very small role to play, but he stood out despite not actually doing anything to steal the lime-light.  Brice is a bit like that – he has a father and brother who are flamboyantly handsome and charismatic, so he’s always thought of himself as nothing special in comparison and therefore stays in the background.  He’s wrong though, and I enjoyed making Brice discover that away from them, he could shine every bit as much as they do, but in his own way.

As for the heroine, Marsaili, the only thing I knew about her to begin with was that she had amazing hair.  Long (of course), wild and curly, and a very unusual colour which couldn’t help but make her stand out.  Then I realised this would make people – and especially men – stare at her, but that she didn’t like it.  And because authors like to put our characters through the wringer, I decided she’d also be very beautiful so that she’d be ogled even more, which she’d hate.  The rest of her character grew from there, as did her need for a guard – in this case a wonderful dog called Liath.

I won’t give anything else away, but here is a short synopsis of Highland Storms:-

Who can you trust?

Betrayed by his brother and his childhood love, Brice Kinross needs a fresh start. So he welcomes the opportunity to leave Sweden for the Scottish Highlands to take over the family estate.
But there’s trouble afoot at Rosyth in 1754 and Brice finds himself unwelcome. The estate is in ruin and money is disappearing.  He discovers an ally in Marsaili Buchanan, the beautiful redheaded housekeeper, but can he trust her?
Marsaili is determined to build a good life. She works hard at being housekeeper and harder still at avoiding men who want to take advantage of her.  But she’s irresistibly drawn to the new clan chief, even though he’s made it plain he doesn’t want to be shackled to anyone.
And the young laird has more than romance on his mind. His investigations are stirring up an enemy.  Someone who will stop at nothing to get what he wants – including Marsaili – even if that means destroying Brice’s life forever …
Thank you so much for having me as your guest!

I promised Christina I would add my version of her hero in the style of the Choc Lit Blog Wednesday Hottie! I haven't decided on my version of Brice yet but check out my review next week to see who I pick. But for now, here is my version of Taro from The Scarlet Kimono, another of Christina's novels and one of my favourite reads this year with a delicious hero...

Celebrity chef - Jun Tanaka was my version of Taro
To win a signed copy of Christina's novel, Highland Storms, please tell us who (celebrity or otherwise) you would like to be your hero? Answers by 30th Oct.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Friendly Blogger Award

I'm back from my wonderful holiday! Before I escaped, the lovely, Sue Fortin awarded my blog a friendly blog award. Sue is a fellow (very supportive) member of the RNA New Writers' Scheme and you can find her over at her fabulous blog: love reading love books.

In keeping with the award I must tell you seven things about me and recommend fifteen other blogs. So I'll try and tell you seven things I haven't told you before. Please excuse me if I verge on bizarre and useless facts.

1) I have hammer toes. Google it. No don't google it. Especially not the images. That's not what my toes look like. They're just a bit curled. But they're dinky. Nothing like google images.

2) My singing career peaked when I sang at the School Proms at the Royal Albert Hall.

3) The star constellation Orion is marked out in moles on my left cheek. It's a unique feature but not something to be brought up in general conversation. People kind of look at me funny when I do and it's not 'cause they're trying to see what I mean.

4) I was born breech and got stuck on my way out so my heart stopped several times. Fortunately I came out screaming and dyslexia was the main after effect.

5) I found my first white hair on my 21st Birthday. I yanked it out and you how the old wives' tale goes.

6) I had eight teeth taken out when I was eight years old after four of my teeth grew without any enamal. It's a very rare condition and the other four were taken out after they didn't surface.

7) Without even touching on my medical history I now sound like a freak of nature. So for my seventh fact I can assure you I have ten toes, eight fingers, two thumbs and all my own teeth. Well... not all of them.

The following fifteen blogs I recommend and pass the award onto are a collection of NWS, Writing Buddies, Friends via twitter and new discoveries. Please check them out, all are worth following.

Now back into holiday mode for me. I'm not due back until Monday!

Monday, October 3, 2011

News and a holiday!

This is a very quick blog update because I'm on vacation for the first time in ages! I will be back in a fortnight and promise myself that I will blog more as there are several I meant to have done and haven't got round to!

I have, however, at long last got round to updating the News page on my website. I will update in monthly with any publishing success I have or anything else of note. I think you can subscribe but have no idea quite how at the moment. Afraid I'm in holiday mode already and will work that out when I return!

Try not to miss me, I know it will be hard ;-)