Thursday, 30 June 2016

The Ideas Jar

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 that came out of the jar was:

How do you decide on how many secondary characters should appear in a book?
1) Planned out list?
2) As and when required?

That's a very good question Cheryl! (waves)

As you know, I write for Harlequin Mills & Boon, so the focus is very much on the two main characters, and their love story.

However, they do need a world in which to act out their story, and I do have to populate it with secondary characters.

When I first start thinking about any story, the first thing I do is imagine the backstory of my hero and heroine.  I have to know what kind of childhood they had, which means placing them in a family.  And at this stage I often do write out a list of "the sisters and the cousins and the aunts" (to paraphrase W. S. Gilbert.)  I may also give them a pet such as a dog, and since my books are set in Regency England, a horse (with its own personality.)

There may also be a villain, with henchmen, who will also go on the list.

But then I start writing.  And my characters, at this point, become much more rounded.  And the world in which I have them moving becomes far more detailed as well.  As the story develops, I do find I need "extras", as well as the initial cast I drew up.  A butler, to answer the door, a footman to carry a note, a maidservant to help my heroine dress and undress, and various lords and ladies to populate the ballrooms.

But then, sometimes, characters also just walk into the story without my say so because they decide they have a part to play.

For instance, when I was working on the Silk and Scandal series, I sent my heroine to the house of her estranged half brother, and when she knocked on the door, it was opened by an Indian manservant I never knew existed before.

Since another author was responsible for the part of the series that dealt with this half brother, I immediately e-mailed her, to tell her what had happened.  I think the email went something like - "Midge has just knocked on Stephano's door, and it has been opened by an Indian manservant.  Have you any idea where he came from?"

As this email went to another author, she was not at all phased by this, and immediately emailed back with a whole story of how Stephano had rescued this man whilst seeking out jewels in India, and how he was now a devoted servant who would protect his master with his life.

It was as if neither of us invented him.  He was just there, hovering in the wings, waiting to walk on and play his part.

So, in short, the answer to the two-part question is Yes!  Both!  I start off planning the characters I think I'm going to need, add others when I need them, and also get surprised by characters I didn't know were lurking in the background, who simply want to get in on the act.

So - do you have any questions about the writing process you would like to ask?

If so, please leave your question in the comments box.  All questions will go into the jar, and I will draw one out each month. 

Annie's latest release is "In Bed with the Duke" which you can buy from Harlequin in the US or Mills & Boon in the UK

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Recommended Reads for Summer!

Nothing says 'summer' quite like the chance to relax with a good book, whether it's on a beach, lounging by the pool or just in your back garden. So I asked the Novelistas to tell us which book from their shelves they would recommend as the perfect holiday read.

And, if you scroll down to the end of this post, there is a chance to win this fabulous book bundle from the Novelistas themselves!

Trisha Ashley
Resistance is Futile by Jenny Colgan

My recommended holiday read is Resistance is Futile by Jenny Colgan. This is a brilliant novel, full of dark-edged humour- I finished it late one night, unable to put it down and I was still thinking about it days later. It's science fiction, but also a great - in every sense of the word - love story. It's all about friendship and love and the strange forms they can take...some of them very strange. And I know nothing about maths but I understand now that it can have a strange beauty of its own.

Valerie-Anne Baglietto
Letters to the Lost by Iona Grey

I was in a bit of a reading slump when I picked up Letters to the Lost earlier this year, but I was immediately sucked into the story, and read it quite quickly - for me! I think it would be the perfect, absorbing read for a lazy summer's afternoon. It's set in 2011 and during the Second World War. A tale of love, heartbreak and hope, woven together with elegant imagery and rich historical detail. A word of caution though: as the threads of past and present come together, just make sure you have a tissue box handy!

Annie Burrows
Something Wicked by Jo Beverley

My TBR pile!
I don't have just one book I will be reading this summer. When I go on my holiday, I will be taking a pile of books with me – all the ones I cannot read while I'm writing my Regency romances, because they ARE Regency romances, and I'm always a bit bothered that I might absorb too many ideas from other writers while I'm trying to write my own stories.

And I will also be reading the ones I've saved to my kindle. In particular I'm looking forward to reading Jo Beverley's Something Wicked which was chosen by my Facebook reading group as the June pick, in memoriam.

Sophie Claire
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

I was a fan of Jojo Moyes’ well before this novel hit the bestseller charts in 2012. My favourites were The Ship of Brides, The Last Letter From Your Lover, and Night Music. But Me Before You blew me away. 

Jojo Moyes’ writing is accessible yet beautiful, with strong plots and there’s always a romantic element. In Me Before You the romance is at the heart of the story, but it’s also about how two people are changed by meeting each other. It’s a thought-provoking and emotional premise that a young girl, employed to look after a quadriplegic man, would fall in love with him, and that’s what initially intrigued me. However, once I began reading, it was the characters which drew me in. Lou is the most endearing heroine: humble, fun-loving, kind and colourful with a quirky dress sense. Will makes the most unlikely hero, embittered after the accident which changed his life. The two are separated by class, wealth and education, yet they are drawn together despite – and perhaps because of – these differences. And watching them and their relationship develop made my heart melt.

Granted, this might not be the lightest of holiday reads, but the story is so compelling you won’t be able to put it down. And despite the serious issues it examines, this book is full of humour and romance and colour (if only in Lou’s outfits!). I admit, though, that it is also very emotional, so perhaps have tissues at the readyPS: And in case you’re wondering, the film is also very good!

Juliet Greenwood
Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris

My recommended summer read is Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris, which remains one of my favourite books of all time. It’s hard to describe without spoilers, but it’s a magical story, full of wisdom and the most delicious sensuality. It is also a morality tale of the very best kind. The first time I read it, I was in a terror of anxiety that the moral of the story would not be carried through to the end. But it was.

A perfect, life-affirming book for a summer’s day. Besides, where else do you get to find your narrator to be a bottle of wine?

Beth Francis
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry 
by Rachel Joyce

Harold Fry, retired, disillusioned and sad, only leaves home to post a letter to a former friend who is seriously ill, but he passes the postbox and starts walking. With no map, no suitable clothes, and wearing only yachting shoes, he begins the long trek from Devon to Berwick in the belief that as long as he keeps walking his friend won’t die.

This is a gentle, funny book peopled by characters who wander into the story and touch Harold’s life with unexpected kindness. Characters who remind him of past events, and whose warmth emphasise the gulf that has developed between himself and his wife, Maureen.

Many start to walk with him, the story gets reported in the news, and Maureen, abandoned at home, bewildered and alone, begins to recall him as he was when they met, before the loss of their son isolated them in their individual grief.

The end of Harold’s pilgrimage marks the start of a new understanding between them.

If you want something shorter to read at the airport, try Rachel’s book of short stories A Snow Garden. Seven stories, each peopled with amazing characters, one telling how Maureen and Harold met.

June Francis
The Last Dance and Other Stories by Victoria Hislop

I settled on The Last Dance and Other Stories by Victoria Hislop. The stories are all set in Greece and in my opinion do give a flavor of the real Greece and its people. There is a real sense of place and some interesting characters and good twists in the tales.

Cheryl Lang
Some Elusive Dawn by Elizabeth Darrell

Well, this is a difficult one. I’ve read several good summer reads just lately, The Egyptian Years by Elizabeth Harris, The Sun in her Eyes by Paige Toon, Daughters of the Silk Road by Debbie Rix, Some Elusive Dawn by Elizabeth Darrell, Last Dance in Havana by Rosanna Ley and The Separation by Dinah Jefferies.

With difficulty, because I loved them all, I choose Some Far Elusive Dawn by Elizabeth Darrell Set in Singapore after the first world war this story tells how the rigid old ways and strictures of behaviour are blown apart by two incomers. You really feel the heat, the humidity, the mosquitoes the illnesses and Europeans trying to cope in a tropical climate.

It follows several families trying to lead normal lives whilst adhering rigidly to colonial rules. Life is a whirl of tennis parties and club nights and afternoon teas on shady verandas always with the same set of people. Until Martin Linwood arrives. His mind has been affected by the horrors of war that the colonials would prefer to ignore. He is not accepted because he is different and so when a distant cousin of the family, Dorothea, arrives she is also tainted as being different as she is going to write a book on life in Singapore and wants to add ‘native colour.’ Between them they turn the cosy colonial world of Singapore upside down.

Louise Marley
Imogen by Jilly Cooper

I first discovered Jilly Cooper when I was 13 years old and on a holiday to the Isle of Wight. It was the height of summer, so it rained and it rained and it rained. While my brothers disappeared off to the amusement arcade, I found myself in a little cafĂ© on my own, sat next to a carousel stacked with her books. I quickly handed over my pocket money and my parents didn’t see me for the rest of the holiday.

I think the reason I love Jilly’s books so much is that they are hugely funny and don’t take themselves too seriously. The heroines make the same mistakes as the rest of us, but rather than whinge about it they just crack a joke and move on. My favourite, which I eventually read so many times it fell to bits, is Imogen. She falls in love with a bad boy tennis player and is whisked off on holiday to the French Riviera, which at the time seemed a very long way from a rain-lashed Isle of Wight!

**The competition is now closed! ** 


If you'd like to win this fabulous book bundle from the Novelistas, just leave a comment below! One winner will be drawn, in our usual random way, after the closing date. **Due to the cost of postage, we're only able to offer this prize to entrants living in the UK - sorry! **

Closing Date:
Thursday 30th June 2016

The Prize:

A collection of paperback novels as follows:

Creature Comforts by Trisha Ashley
Every Woman for Herself by Trisha Ashley
The Moon on a Stick by Valerie-Anne Baglietto
In Bed with the Duke by Annie Burrows
Her Forget-Me-Not Ex by Sophie Claire
Lily's War by June Francis
Eden's Garden by Juliet Greenwood
A Girl's Best Friend by Louise Marley

Small print!!!
Be sure to use your full name, or post using an account we can contact you on (Facebook, Twitter Blogger, etc). If we don't hear back from the winner within 72 hours of notification, another winner will be drawn.

Good luck!

Trisha Ashley drawing the winner!
Congratulations to Chris Sterry !

Photo credits 
Book covers: individual publishers
Girl reading: Shutterstock

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Z is for Zombie Kittens - by Annie Burrows

On the first Friday of every month, Novelista Annie Burrows has been sharing a very personal view of what it is like to be a writer.  And is dealing with themes in alphabetical order.  This month, she's reached Z...and assures us it stands for zombie kittens!

If you've been following my a - z then you'll recall that last month I had to resort to looking in the dictionary to find a word beginning with "y" that I could use to talk about the writer's life.  At that point, I thought I'd have as much difficulty finding a "z" word.

But then I had the nightmare about zombie kittens.

The zombie kittens got my son, my daughter, and my husband.  I was left alone in a clearing, swirling a medieval mace round my head to stave them off, and began to yell - because although normal kittens are cute and fluffy, zombie kittens have glowing red eyes, and lots of sharp pointy teeth, not to mention the fact they can climb trees and then dive off branches onto your head.  I yelled so loud as a particularly terrifying tortoiseshell launched itself at my face, its lethal claws flexed, that I woke myself up.  I also woke up my long-suffering husband.

Next morning, when he asked what my nightmare had been about, and I told him, he couldn't stop laughing.  He can never remember what he's dreamed about, let alone have a dream so vivid and terrifying it wakes him up shouting.

And that brings me round to the point.  Even my nightmares aren't your average run-of-the mill ones that everyone has about finding you've gone to the shops with no clothes on, or all your teeth are falling out.  (You do all have nightmares like that, right?)  Because I have a rather overactive imagination.  Which never switches off, not even when I'm asleep.

And that's what makes me a writer of fiction.  When people ask me where I get all my ideas for stories from, I have never known what to tell them.  Because ideas just come.  And they come from the same place that those zombie kittens came from.  The fervid depths of my imagination.

It isn't something I have studied to acquire.  It's just the way I'm made.  It started in childhood.  On the way home from school, I'd chatter away to my imaginary friends.  In the playground, I'd gallop round in an imaginary episode of The Virginian, (in which I starred) or hide from Daleks (saving the world in the process).  People who have imaginations like mine look at the person sitting opposite them on a train, and instead of asking them what they do for a living, imagine a conversation in which they offer to murder someone you hate in exchange for murdering someone they hate.   Or describe entire worlds that can be reached through a wardrobe in a spare room, or create a language spoken by a race of immortal beings who live in an enchanted forest.

We can't help it.  We don't have to strive for plots, or characters, or scenes.  They are continuously dancing about in our heads.  And if we don't write them down, or act them out, then they keep on dancing, and shouting, and nagging, until we tell their story to somebody, in some way.

Even the zombie kittens.

kitten pics courtesy of pixabay

Annie's latest release is "In Bed With the Duke" which has been an Amazon UK bestseller, and reached the top 100 in the Regency charts of  You can still buy it, and discover what sort of stories she dreams up, when she isn't dreaming about zombie kittens.