Sunday, 25 June 2017

'The Little Teapots I've Lost and Found' by Trisha Ashley

As the paperback publication day of The Little Teashop of Lost and Found draws ever nearer, my mind has naturally turned to the subject of afternoon tea – or afternoon coffee, in my case. For ironically, although I have an extensive collection of old teapots, I’ve never drunk a cup of tea in my life. 

This dog teapot dates back to the 1920s or 1930s, but the rabbit one is quite modern and was given to me as a gift.

This strangely beautiful white teapot came from a jumble sale over thirty years ago.

A very jolly Canadian toucan teapot from a car boot sale:

This Japanese elephant, minus its lid, used to belong to my maternal  grandmother.

I started the teapot collection in my early twenties, when I was given an old teapot in the shape of a man wearing a green jacket and flat cap, his arms forming the spout and handle. I loved it, but it turned out to be worth enough money to pay my mortgage for a month at a very difficult time, and since I loved having a roof over my head even more than the teapot, it sadly had to be sold.

But there are one or two coffee pots in my collection too, notably this bright yellow one I bought, with matching mugs, brand new in the seventies. 

I loved the colour, the clever design and the lovely shape and I fully intended using them - but they proved to be totally impractical. The handles were hollow, which made both pot and mugs hard to clean, and even if you did manage to get your fingers through the handles of the mugs, the hot coffee burned them… That barrel shape was really difficult to drink out of, too. So they were relegated to the display shelf, to be admired but not used – and out they come after every house move, to brighten up a room.

I’ve always been a mellow yellow kind of person… Just not a tea drinker!

The Little Teashop of Lost and Found by Trisha Ashley

Alice Rose is a foundling, discovered on the Yorkshire moors above Haworth as a baby. Adopted but then later rejected again by a horrid step-mother, Alice struggles to find a place where she belongs. Only baking – the scent of cinnamon and citrus and the feel of butter and flour between her fingers – brings a comforting sense of home. 

So it seems natural that when she finally decides to return to Haworth, Alice turns to baking again, taking over a run-down little teashop and working to set up an afternoon tea emporium. 

Luckily she soon makes friends – including a Grecian god-like neighbour – who help her both set up home and try to solve the mystery of who she is. There are one or two last twists in the dark fairytale of Alice’s life to come . . . but can she find her happily ever after?

(All photos copyright: Trisha Ashley)

Monday, 19 June 2017

Downtime by Sophie Claire

We’re into exam season and my children are studying hard. 

I’m glad. I have a strong work ethic and I firmly believe that hard work pays off in the end. But recently I’ve found myself saying Take a break, have some downtime, and I’m trying to follow this advice in my own writing too.

Because the more books I write, the more I realise that writing isn’t only about getting words on the page (although that is crucial, obviously), meeting targets, or sitting at the computer for long hours. It’s also about getting to know your characters and spending time with them, and you don’t have to be at your desk to do this.

When I begin a new book I find the writing is stilted. My characters are still new to me, I’m not sure how the plot will unfold.

But as the weeks and months pass by and I become increasingly submerged in the story I’m creating, the characters come alive and begin to follow me around. They creep into my life and float around at the edges of my conscious thoughts. When I’m watching television I find myself wondering what would X do in that situation? How would he/she react? In the supermarket I spot a product and think; That’s it! That’s what reminds my heroine of her childhood!

I love it when this happens. When my characters become real to me and the tiny quirky details of their lives and personalities reveal themselves.

But I believe that you need two things for this to happen:

1) To have spent time with those characters already (ie. writing)

2) To relax and take time away from the computer, giving the mind room to wander.

Time off can be really productive. 

It’s when the subconscious gets to work, absorbing and mulling over all the information it’s collected, both real and fictional. It’s when – for me, at least – the best ideas bubble up to the surface and land in my head, as if out of nowhere. It may not feel like work, but I've found that reading and researching are as crucial as writing itself. 

And so is time off. Spending time with friends and family, or indulging in your favourite hobbies feeds the imagination. An emotional conversation with a friend or even a passing comment from a stranger can trigger a new idea, and with any luck, that might develop into a character or a plot for a new book.

So I’ve learned that prioritising time off is as important as working hard. Switching off is actually like switching on.

How about you? When do you have your best ideas?


Thursday, 1 June 2017

Ask Annie: Prologue - Or Not?

On the first Friday of each month, Novelista Annie Burrows will be drawing a question out of the jar where we've been putting all the questions about the writing process posed by readers –

This month, the question is:

Where in the story to actually start the novel.

The glib answer would be to quote Lewis Carroll “Begin at the beginning…go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

But, what is the beginning?  A pivotal moment in the character’s past, which forms their character, or sends them on their quest?  The moment they are born?

Beginnings are very important.  The opening section of your story is the bit which will be available to a reader in the “browse the book” section if it is an ebook, or what a shopper in a real life shop will read to help them decide whether to buy your book.

Or not.

So it has to grab them, and make them want to find out what comes next.  You have got to make them interested in your main character, and what they are feeling, and what is happening to them.  Or they will put the book down, and buy someone else’s.

And with so many new titles becoming available every month, they have a lot of someone else’s to choose from.

So, I would say, start your story at a pivotal moment.  If you write romance (as I do) it is a good idea to start when your hero and heroine first get together, or reach some kind of turning point, so that the focus is on the developing romance right from the start.  And makes it clear to the reader that the romance is going to be front and centre all the way through.

To give you some examples, I have started some of my books with:
The moment my heroine has to jump out of the way of the hero’s curricle, which he is driving far too fast down a country lane so that she ends up in a muddy ditch. (His Cinderella Bride)

The moment when the hero first asks the heroine’s friend to dance, and, when she refuses, turns with resignation to the heroine, setting her heart a-flutter. (Captain Fawley's Innocent Bride)

The moment when the hero and heroine wake up in bed, naked, with no idea how they got there together. (In Bed With the Duke)

And the one I have just submitted to my editor opens at the point where my heroine socks my hero on the jaw.

However, when planning out a book, I don’t start imagining the story at such a dramatic point.  The story which I’m figuring out at the moment, for example, began when I imagined the heroine in a situation which rocked her world, overturned everything she’d assumed about her life, and sent her spiralling into depression. I can’t start writing it from that point.  Because it will be months before she meets the hero, and their romance starts.  And it is the story of that romance I will be telling – NOT HER LIFE STORY.

So, I am going to have to tell the reader about that crisis in her life, in little bits and pieces, as she relates it to the hero.  They will both explain why they react as they do, and behave the way they do, to each other, in conversation, as the pair get to know each other.  In other words, the reader will get to know both of them while they are getting to know each other.

It would be much, much easier to write this story in chronological order, starting with the heroine’s crisis, taking her through her depression and the beginning of her recovery, and then relate how the romance with the hero completes the process of healing completely.  But would anyone want to read it?  Would the reader have the patience to wade through all that depression, and gloom, in the hope that a dashing hero would come into my heroine’s life and help her see that life is worth living?

And more to the point, would my editor?

So, these are a few questions you could ask yourself when deciding where to start your story.
What will hook the reader?
What will give them the best idea of what kind of story it’s going to be?
And, if like me, you have a pivotal moment in the character’s life which the reader really needs to know about – what is the best way to relay that information?  In one big chunk (which is sometimes referred to disparagingly as an info-dump)
Or, in little snippets, which will entice the reader to keep on turning the pages?  (And is much, much harder to write!)

And there you have it.

If you’d like to Ask Annie anything about writing, then please contact her via the comments section on this blog, or if you’d like to remain anonymous, you can contact her via her website:
 putting Ask Annie in the subject heading.

And if she feels qualified to answer your question, you might see it become the next month’s blog post!

Annie's latest release is "The Debutante's Daring Proposal."

You can read the opening section here

You can purchase it from Amazon, Harlequin, Mills & Boon or any of your favourite etailers.