Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Northern Lights Writers' Conference 2017 by Sophie Claire

It's always difficult to report back on a conference because there's so much valuable information and advice to be gleaned from the speakers, and #NLWC2017 was no exception. The day's agenda was packed full with guest workshops and panel discussions with writers, agents and editors, as well as a keynote speech given by historical writer, Sarah Dunant.

Kicking off the day was a panel discussion on Genre Writing with Julie Crisp (agent & editor), John Jarrold (agent) and Cath Staincliffe (crime writer & scriptwriter). The discussion centred mostly around science ficiton, fantasy and crime (sadly, no romance/women's fiction), and I've listed below some of the nuggets of advice which came out of the discussion:

“Don’t write what’s current. Write what moves you.” (John Jarrold)

Be aware of the market but write what gets you in the gut.

Cath Staincliffe researched the crime genre after being told by an editor that the issues and themes in her sci-fi novel would lend themselves to crime. She read everything in the library’s crime section then put her own bent on the genre by setting her novels in her home town of Manchester, and featuring a single parent protagonist working as a private investigator (rather than the more commonly used detective or police professional).

“If it’s a good book it doesn’t matter what (genre) label is attached to it.” (Julie Crisp)

Readers are drawn to a writer’s voice.

What is the next big thing (in terms of genre)? – Nobody knows. Everyone’s hoping the Psychological Thriller will soon have run its course, but it still featured prominently at London Book Fair last week.


Later in the day Sarah Dunant gave an entertaining and thought-provoking keynote speech. Here are some of the highlights:

Sarah Dunant
Sarah considered the differences between literary fiction and all the other genres. Literary fiction’s first love is language. For Sarah, however, narrative drive is paramount. 
But this doesn’t mean she doesn’t love language too, and in her own work she uses the engine of the story to convey this as well as philosophical and political themes.

“Story is incredibly important.” It’s inbuilt in humans to tell stories. They help us make sense of life and our fears about the future.

Writing is hard, no matter how experienced or successful you are, and as a writer you need to constantly challenge yourself.
Sarah recounted how she had to pause from writing one book (60,000 words into it) and take a 5 month break because she felt it wasn’t working. However, the break gave her perspective and room to relax, and she was able to complete it later.

Sarah sometimes shows her critical voice out of the room (literally – she gets up, opens the door, ushers it out, then closes the door!) if she feels it’s not helping the writing process. Later, she allows it to re-enter, usually when she needs to analyse the shape or structure of the book.
Kate Feld with Sarah Dunant

Asked about plotting, she said; “If you plot too tightly there’s no room for the unexpected.”
Characters sometimes take over, but they can also lead you into dead ends. As a writer, you must strike a balance between the technical and imaginative, and know when to use which.

The Northern Lights Writers' Conference is held annually at the Waterside Arts Centre in Sale, Manchester and you can find more information here.


Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Teashops and Time Lords by Juliet Greenwood

Last week, I travelled to London for the launch of Trisha Ashley’s latest heart-warming, life-affirming novel, The Little Teashop of Lost and Found.

Trisha Ashley
I left a chilly North Wales, with snow on the mountains and a few daffodils braving the wind, to a London bathed in spring sunshine. The blossom was out in St James’ Park, along with banks of crocuses and daffodils, and tourists speaking every language on earth (so it seemed) were out in force, as gleeful as ever as actually being in London.

I used to live in London, and I'm always surprised that it’s still the same buzz whenever I go back. This visit was made particularly special by Trisha’s launch at the wonderful Daunt Books in Marylebone. I was there as the unofficial paparazzi, clutching my new, still unfamiliar, camera, wishing my old faithful hadn’t just decided to give up the ghost. We arrived at dusk, and there in the window, we could see rows of Trisha’s books, taking pride of place, the pretty cover glowing out into the darkness. Daunt’s itself was just what a bookshop should be, opening up into Edwardian splendour, with a long galleried main room complete with an arched window and books everywhere you looked. A bookworm’s dream.

Trisha Ashley, outside Daunt Books
The launch itself was fun and relaxed. The large space soon filled with Trisha’s friends and supporters, and representatives from her publishers, Transworld. There was even a Time Lord, in the form of Peter Davison, accompanying his wife, author Elizabeth Heery.

Peter Davison, Trisha Ashley, Elizabeth Heery
Trisha signed books with style, chatted to everyone, making the many people there feel welcome, and was presented with a bag of teashop-related goodies from Transworld to celebrate. Thank goodness my camera behaved itself (apart from having to switch it off a few times when it did something far too sophisticated for me to understand), and the lighting in Daunt’s was perfect. Everyone there was so relaxed and enjoying themselves my paparazzi duties were great fun.

Margaret James, Trisha Ashley

Trisha Ashley, Poppy Stimpson

Trisha Ashley, Norma Curtis, Minna Howard

Trisha Ashley, Francesca Best
So, as you can see, it was a wonderfully enjoyable evening, and the perfect way to celebrate the launch of a new book. A new bestseller has been well and truly launched. Here’s to the launch of the next book!

Anne Bennett, Trisha Ashley, Margaret James

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?

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Ask Annie: How to Write the Perfect Hero

You may recall that I've been taking questions from the Ideas Jar of late, and the most recent one I've received is this:

Following on from your post on point of view – how exactly do you approach characterisation between the genders?  i.e. male point of view and female.  How do you research the male psyche?

Well, I had to have a bit of a think about this question, because it immediately made me feel as if I ought to research the male psyche.

But after a bit, I decided to ‘fess up.  I don’t really hold to the prevalent view that men are from Mars and women are from Venus.  We are all from planet earth.  We all react to the trials and tribulations that life throws in our paths according to many factors apart from our gender.  Our personality, background, previous experience of similar situation, the state of our health, stress levels, or even whether we’re hungry or tired or just plain in a bad mood for some other reason.  And while I find articles like this one, that is supposed to highlight the difference between the way men and women think very amusing, I don’t believe it really does demonstrate basic differences between the sexes.

I don’t hold to the view that women, as a rule, would spend that much time dissecting their relationships – at least, not the kind of women I want to write about.

Nor would any hero of mine be so inattentive to the woman he is dating that he loses the thread of the conversation entirely.

When I write a hero, he will think, and behave, far better than that.  If he is going to be a swoon-worthy romantic hero, then he is going to have real goals, and a compelling motivation for thinking the way he does, for saying what he says, and for acting the way he does.  Because any heroine I write is most certainly not going to be feeble enough to fall for a man who is not worthy of her.

Having got that off my chest, I have to admit that when I write a story, I do tend to find it easier to imagine what my heroine is thinking and feeling, and often start by writing the romance almost entirely from her point of view.  And the hero I write for her has to be what she needs, specifically, rather than being a stereotypical hero in any way.

He also needs to have goals in which a modern reader can sympathise, and motivations that make sense.  He needs to be, first and foremost, a person.  A person that readers can relate to, and cheer for, and want to find a happy ever after.

Now that, actually, is where I do face having to make some tricky choices.  My hero needs to be the kind of man that will make a modern reader swoon, yet he also has to be a believable Regency male.  And because of the era in which he lived, he would have had a very different outlook in many ways, to a modern man.

Both he and his female counterpart would have known their place in the social hierarchy, which was much more rigid than ours today.  He might well have known what kind of life he would have lived, from his birth, particularly if he was born into the peerage.  He would have been closer to the land, more aware of the passing of the seasons, and familiar with handling animals.  He would have known how to ride horses and how to shoot pigeons, and would not have thought either pastime anything out of the ordinary.  He would have attended brutal bare-knuckle fights, and cock fights, but he would also have gone to church as a matter of course every Sunday, and been proud of being English (not British).  If he was from the upper classes he would have also had a working knowledge of Greek and Latin.  He would not have been ashamed of believing he was innately superior to women, (and most other men).  Nor would he have thought it unreasonable to pay a skilled man to spend his entire life taking care of his clothes, or spending a small fortune on getting a jacket that moulded to his shoulders, and breeches that outlined his fine, muscular legs.  He would also have consumed so much alcohol – since water wasn’t often fit to drink – that nowadays he might be deemed to have a bit of a problem!

And yet I still need to portray him as a person with whom modern day readers can empathise.

And so I draw a veil over the cock fights he attends, and don’t let the reader in on the fact that he probably consumes so much alcohol that he is slowly but surely pickling his liver.  Instead, I concentrate on his reaction to, and his treatment of, my heroine.

If ever he acts badly towards the heroine, the reader needs to see that his motives are not from sheer unpleasantness, but because he is damaged in some way by the blows life has dealt him.  And be able to believe that the heroine I write for him will be capable of bringing him healing, through the love he develops for her.  And that she bestows on him.

So, to sum up, when I write a hero, I want him to be believable as a character from his time period.

I want him to have the kind of character that a woman, from any time period, could find totally swoon-worthy.

And I also want him to be a perfect match for my heroine.

And it won’t hurt if he also looks like this!

Annie's next hero is Lord Ashenden, whose story will be told in "The Debutante's Daring Proposal" which is released in June, but is already available for pre-order through Amazon (and other retailers)