Saturday, 13 September 2014

It's all about the people....

I'm deeply engrossed in the first draft of my latest novel, Last Child, which is the sequel to my modern day Tudor tale Kings and Queens.  When I am screen-tired with sandpaper eyes, and my RSI-suffering right arm is shouting "C'mon, gimme a break!", I curl up in bed with my husband and watch stuff like Homeland. Boardwalk Empire. 24. Sons Of Anarchy. The Wire. The Americans. Ray Donovan. The Killing....  I could go on! Suffice to say I'm a Netflix etc addict.

My books are very 'character driven', and I've always been (more than) delighted to read in reviews about how the characters really come alive to readers - phew!  Since I've been living in Last Child (you know, when I'm not writing it I'm thinking about it), and spending my evenings with Homeland, I've realised how much I'm learning from watching first rate TV drama.  The point I'm about to make might seem like stating the bleeding obvious, but might also be a help to other writers.

The plot doesn't make the characters.  The characters make the plot.  Without the characters, the plot is nothing.

You can stick in as many vampires and historical accuracies and thrilling spy chases as you like, but they won't work if the readers don't care about the woman who's being lured by the vampire/locked in the dungeon/chased on the speedboat. It's not the plots themselves that we care about, it's the motivations/emotions of the characters.

Think about it.  Think about why you love your favourite TV series.  

24 is so endlessly absorbing because we love Jack Bauer. We want things to work out for him because of all he's been through, starting with the murder of his wife in series 1 (fellow Jack lovers might be interested in my top 20 characters in 24 HERE and my top 11 most irritating HERE ).  Yes, the plots are brilliant, the acting and direction is marvellous, but without us caring about Jack (and Chloe), it would be just another forgettable action thriller.

Stick with me while I continue, especially if you haven't watched Homeland. Last night I watched the last of series 3, in which curiously sexy is-he-a-bad-guy-or-not Nick Brody was finally killed. Yes, I cried, and I don't want to watch series 4. I think the producers (um, Clare Danes?!) have made a big mistake. The main drive of the show has always been Carrie's love for Brody, and I don't just think that because I'm a GIRL, as my husband says! Watching it last night, I think I experienced every moment of her emptiness now that he's gone, because the two of them were so spectacularly well portrayed.  I can't see that she will have the impetus to do the things she does that make the plot lines so good, without him to fight for.  Homeland is not so much about the war on terrorism as it is about Carrie's relationship with Brody (okay, and the complicated one with Saul). All the shitty government cover-ups just provide a setting for the continuing story of Carrie, Brody and Saul. You could take the story of Carrie and Brody (and the actors, preferably!) and put them in 300AD Rome, and it would still work. But without the chemistry between those two, the show becomes something completely different, and whereas I am sure it will still be very good, it won't be so compelling.

To illustrate my point further, who used to watch Dallas?  Remember Bobby Ewing's return in the shower?  The producers had to bring Bobby back because the show wasn't working without him, and not just because he was the romantic fantasy of 5 million housewives.  The saga was about the sibling rivalry between him and JR, the love/hate thing between JR and Swellan, and the painful tearing and keeping apart (and very occasionally coming together) of Bobby and Pam.  All the other storylines, all the oil industry machinations and secondary family wrangles, were just vehicles to prolong these themes.  

If the characters don't work, even the most intricately thought out plot goes flat. 

If you were a Dallas fan, too, you will have seen the finale in which a devil showed JR what life would have been like if he had never existed.  A fascinating idea for the finale, but all those stories sure as hell wouldn't have made a TV serial.  Getting rid of Brody in Homeland is a bit like there being no JR in Dallas.  The plots come second, even though we don't realise it.

It's the same in books. Jackie Collins' 'Chances' is one of my favourite books because I fell in love with Gino Santangelo - and need I mention Heathcliffe? For me, Game Of Thrones was never quite so good after Ned Stark was killed off, though Tyrion Lannister does almost make up for it. Ned was such a strong character, with all that honour and attachment to Winterfell and The North.  It was the battle between his priniciples and those of the Lannisters that made the first book so powerful. 

The series Nashville (the 21st century Dallas, I think!) is terrific, but aside from all the wonderful music and the fascinating insights into the music industry, we love it most of all because of the 'are they ever going to be together' thing going on between Rayna and this gorgeous hunk of masculinity* 

Yes, yes, okay, that was just an excuse for a picture of Deacon!  The Rayna and Deacon storyline is the same as the Carrie and Brody, the Bobby and Pam - it's those tiny moments of bliss when they finally get together that provide some of the highlights of the series, and anyone who has ever got together or reconciled with someone they're crazy in love with knows how fab that is - okay, so your guy might not have been Damian Lewis (dammit!), your girl might not have been the pre-plastic surgery Victoria Principal, but it's nearly as good!

I was asked in an author interview on a blog the other day which of my characters I'd most enjoyed writing, and my initial answer was that I enjoyed all of them, because if I didn't love them and adore writing about them, it would mean that they didn't work.  Here's another thing - characters doesn't come alive because you've written down an intricate bio and list of characteristics in your notes; they do so because they're alive in your head.  If you're finding him or her hard to write, it might be because he or she isn't working.   Something to bear in mind - I keep an eye on it all the time.  

My idea for Last Child was that the main theme would be the relationship between two particular characters, but it's turned out to be a different relationship that's really got me.  I don't buy into all this 'oh, the characters write their own story, they take me off down roads I didn't mean to go down' bollocks, either, as if it's some mystical process that only Writers understand (note the capital 'w'); the story comes from my head and my fingers on the laptop keys. My imagination has simply conjured up a powerful relationship I hadn't expected to grab me so much, and the one I intended to work so well just didn't, that's all.  So I've re-thought the focus of the whole thing.  Be aware: if the character/relationship doesn't work, your story will be forgettable.

If you're writing a series (as so many are doing these days), remember that the readers need to truly believe in the characters, fall in love with them, fancy them, want to take care of them, be extremely irritated by them, want to see them fail, want to see them die a painful death, anything, or they won't read part two, no matter how many spaceships and magic wands and intricate government conspiracies and millionaire mansions you include.

My husband thinks that maybe Brody isn't really dead, maybe he was cut down before he took his last breath, maybe being kept alive somewhere - I live in hope!!!

Perhaps this guy knows....

*(a totally irrelevant ps: I would like to add that my sister and I were just discussing Nashville and the on-off relationship between Rayna and Deacon.  In Julia's words: "As if you could ever marry anyone else if Deacon was an option - who cares if he's an alcoholic, let him sleep it off in the morning!")

Sunday, 31 August 2014

A quick guide to Twitter bios....

Every couple of days I click on my Twitter followers to check out new ones and follow back those I'm interested in.  I'm guessing you do the same.  But how do you decided whether to follow back or not?  'Social media expert', 'chocaholic', 'loving life' - what do those bio details really mean? (ps, this is just a bit of fun....!)

Just 'Author' and nothing else
Doesn't really want to do Twitter but someone told him he ought to.  Your mutual follow will probably be your only interaction; he's off writing, somewhere.  

'Author and daydreamer'
Half way through writing a fantasy novel.  Will post tweets asking how to motivate oneself.

'Fuelled by coffee'
Either a) wants to give impression that he/she spends long hours tearing hair out over manuscript/other creative endeavour or b) is busy mum/office worker.

Expresses liking for wine and/or chocolate
Often a chick lit/romcom author and/or reader.  Friendly, and will be keen to interact on girly/domestic matters. Wishes to appeal to other chick lit/romance readers/authors.

Bio is over-used 'profound' quote ('dance as though no-one is watching', 'be the change you want to see in the world', etc)
Doesn't actually live by any of these quotes, and otherwise has very little to say.  Possibly a spam profile.

Divides up | very important | sounding interests and | qualifications with | vertical lines
Will not interact, but will just post links to own and other posts about whatever very | important and | impressive things | are stated in bio.

'All round nice guy'
Usually is!

'Eclectic Tastes'
Read a vampire book once and quite liked it. Watches the odd 'quirky' film as well as dramas featuring John Hannah/Bill Nighy.  Has tried Greek food. Subconsciously, hopes use of word 'eclectic' will impress.

'Aspiring author'
May request you read their stuff on Wattpad.  

'Debut author'
Usually friendly and keen to share stuff.

'Bestselling author'
Don't feel intimidated.  The 'bestselling' bit may not be absolutely true.  Those who truly are (ie the ones you've heard of) play themselves down on their bios (nothing to prove). May be too important to interact with you.

'Critically acclaimed author'
Writes novels with lots of clever words in them and has some corking reviews from other critically acclaimed authors/literary sites.  Will post links to articles about state of publishing industry.  Tweets usually amusing/clever.

'Avid reader.  Book Blogger'
If you're a writer, you want to follow these chaps. And treat them with respect!

Bio is articulate but includes swear words
Has not grown out of need to shock parents.  May challenge you to justify your lighthearted quips or be rude to you/unfollow you if you seem too mainstream

'Book Marketing Expert'
Will say hello/retweet you almost immediately, but once they realise you do not want to buy their services, you will never hear from them again.

If they even have to find a clever word for knocking back the Blossom Hill, imagine what their tweets are going to be like.... even if this is written with humour, proceed cautiously.

'#Follow back  #Retweeter #TeamWhatever'
Do not follow back.  Block if necessary; will send you spam

Bio invites you to check out website/buy product, thus: 'you can buy my book here (link)' or requests that you 'like' their Facebook page
Will send auto DM with annoying message, and auto 'thanks for follow, buy stuff from me now' tweets.  Will never interact or be interested in anything you have to say.  Thinks Twitter is free advertising site.

'Just here to have fun!'
Will comment in 'wacky' fashion on your tweets... 

'Thought Leader'
Bit of a twat

See 'thought leader'

Stay at home mum who flogs things on ebay/makes own jewellery.  Worryingly perky.

You should always follow these back because they post nice pictures

A claim to be any sort of 'guru', unless obviously being funny
Avoid like the plague (thank you, Paula!)

'SEO. Founder & CEO of (initials). Award Winning HRA Syndicated Educator. CNN. Speaker. Motivational Learning Consultant. SEOCNN'
No, I don't haven't got a clue what they do, either

Bio in different language from the one you speak
And the point is?

Expresses liking for vodka/whisky
Probably quite good fun

Bio is the description of a book
Person running profile will be interested only in selling you this book.  Only interaction will be to tag you in tweets suggesting you buy it/retweet it/try to get all your friends to buy/retweet it.

'Following God's plan'
Will unfollow you as soon as you mention anything to do with knickers, vampires or alcohol, anyway.

'Single, nice guy, just want to be friends'
...or similar.  If accompanied by badly taken selfie (the sort that makes their neck and chin look huge, with the bathroom as a background), will probably just tweet 'hello' or 'how are you' once a week. You can actually feel them sitting there at their computer waiting for you to reply.  Usually harmless, sometimes pleasant, but be careful just in case.

'I am lovely girls'
Porn site from a third world country

and lastly...
No bio at all
...can mean one of the following:
a) Spam profile
b) Person who has only registered half-heartedly and will never use site
c) Person who just doesn't know what to put on bio yet - what the hell, if they look nice, follow them back anyway!

I'm sure you can think of more... okay, and I even called myself 'award-winning' once, though admittedly I changed it after half a day as it made me feel silly, and I believe I used to have my extreme coffee consumption expressed, too.... I rest my case!

Thursday, 21 August 2014

I've been nominated for the ONE LOVELY BLOG award...

.... by Diane Mannion, children's party venue expert and soon to be debut novelist ~ thank you Diane!  You can read her post HERE

As per the rules of the blog hop tour award thingy, please see below 7 facts about me (because you're really gagging to know all about me, right?) (oh, okay, then....) and links to 15 blogs that I enjoy, and wish to recommend to you.

If I've nominated your blog, please don't feel under any obligation to join in with this; I was just pleased to pick up the baton from Diane, as it were, so that I could spread the word about fifteen blogs that I like.  But if you would like to join in, here's what to do:

The rules:  Link back to the blog of the person who nominated you, share 7 facts about yourself, and nominate 15 blogs that you particularly like.  I suppose you can do less if you can't think of 15!

7 things about me...

1.  I love South Park.  At the moment, I watch at least two episodes each night.  I also have a model of Eric Cartman on the mantelpiece.

2.  The older I get, the more interested I become in history, perhaps because I will soon be it.  After my current work in progress is published (it's the sequel to KINGS AND QUEENS), I shall be starting on a work of historical fiction that's been lurking in the 'to write' part of my brain for years ~ more anon....

3.  I tried to write a Christmas novella earlier this year, but couldn't make it schmaltzy and 'heartwarming' enough.   The characters kept swearing and doing really crap things to each other.  

4.  Autumn is my favourite season, and I long for it each year.  I love it when you can smell it in the air for the first time, which is usually early in the morning around my birthday in the first week of August.  

5.  I love Aerosmith, have seen them many times and met them twice.  The titles of all my books except one are Aerosmith song titles; even the individual stories in my shorts collection Nine Lives are.  There's no particular reason for me doing this, apart from to amuse myself.

6.  I like being at home with my husband and having time to write more than I like anything, so as I have both of these wishes granted most of the time, I consider myself to be one of the luckiest people I know.

7.  My ideal summer afternoon would be spent walking along a beach somewhere, preferably ending up with a visit to a place of historic interest where I could have a good potter about and imagine myself as a 16th century maiden, or something.  I lived by the sea for 9 years and miss it very, very much; never a day went past when I didn't marvel at how fortunate I was to live somewhere where I could be wandering by the sea within five minutes, any time I liked.   

Photo by Jackie Rivett 

Right!  That's the me-me-me bit over - now here are 15 blogs that are well worth subscribing to.  I've put them in sections ~ please click on the name, and it'll take you to the blog.

Mostly to do with writing/self-publishing:
Proofreader Julia
Alicia Kline
Julie Stock
Joanne Phillips

Life on the ocean waves (and rivers & canals!):
Val Poore
Charles Dougherty

General interesting history stuff, and much more
Liz Lloyd
Tui Snider
Zoe Saadia

Guaranteed to make you laugh
Jen Ammoscato
Greg Mischio

Mostly books, but other stuff too
Emma Gray (not book reviews)
Rosie Amber
A Woman's Wisdom
Between The Lines

Okay, that's me done ~ enjoy!

Photo by Jackie Rivett

Sunday, 17 August 2014

The grammatical error that even the most intelligent people make

It's when people use the word 'I' when it should be 'me'.

All these sentences are of a type I read often, and they're all incorrect:

Joe came to visit Bob and I last week.

The impression given to Bob and I was that Joe had stolen it.

Joe didn't tell Bob and I that he'd left

Joe took Bob and I to the pub

Things started to go wrong for Bob and I after the war

I think people make this mistake because, if their mothers were like mine, they were always getting told off for saying "Me and Bob are playing in the garden." Mother would say, "No, Bob and I are playing in the garden" - which is as it should be, of course.  The impression is given that "and I" is always correct.

Not so!

It's easy ~ If you're not sure if you should write 'Bob and I' or 'Bob and me', simply take out the 'Bob and'. See what I mean? As soon as you read 'Joe took I to the pub' you realise that it's wrong.  Thus, it should be Bob and me in all five examples listed above. 

I see this mistake even in professionally edited books; I even saw one in a Phillipa Gregory!  Yes, yes, I daresay her editor might find the odd error in stuff I've written, too, but it won't be this one.  


Joe came to visit Bob and me last week.

The impression given to Bob and me was that Joe had stolen it.

Joe didn't tell Bob and me that he'd left

Joe took Bob and me to the pub

Things started to go wrong for Bob and me after the war


Sunday, 10 August 2014

What they say ~ and what it means....

Oh, don't worry about it, I never do any housework either
My house is immaculate and the state of yours makes me feel SO smug

Your trouble is that you're too nice
You're a pushover and I don't fancy you

I might be down later on
I will not be leaving the comfort of the sofa unless the ceiling falls in

With all due respect
You're an IDIOT and I think you're talking CRAP

.... and then it just grew exponentially
Well, it got bigger, and I don't actually know what 'exponentially' means, but lots of people are using it at the moment and it sounds good

You'll be fine
I want you to go away and stop bothering me with whatever it is you're nervous about

You look fine
You look the same as you always do, and we need to get going NOW

I must say, you can really carry this hairstyle/look off!
It's WEIRD.  I mean, WEIRD.  But happily you're pretty enough/have a big enough personality to get away with it.... just....

Do I look fat in this?
I've put on weight.  Please, please tell me it doesn't show.  Lie if necessary.

I've only had one
I've had at least three 
(the fact that this statement is made at all indicates that it's a lie)

I promise you, I'm over him/her, it's you that I love
That this is still an issue between us means that we both know it's not true

(from literary agents)
...your novel is not the sort we are looking for at the moment, but please don't get downhearted, it's only ever one person's point of view...
If the synopsis was as hopeless as the covering letter, I'm glad I didn't bother to read it.  Another one for the 'let them down gently' pile.  

Self descriptions...

Overweight, but has realised that black doesn't make you look thinner so now wears bright colours

Sassy Diva
Overweight and mouthy

Social Media Expert
Has profiles on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.  Has had photo taken by inexpensive professional photographer.  Has read blog posts about online marketing

Stay at home mum who flogs stuff on ebay

Good sense of humour
Laughs at virtually anything, most of it banal rubbish

'Self-confessed' anything
Frustrated that no-one has noticed his/her endearing idiosyncrasies yet, so is bringing them to people's attention.

Any more suggestions welcome!!!

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Stop press! Fake 5* reviews wanted!

A writer friend of mine received this message on Facebook today, from another writer.  I'll call my friend Buttercup, and the sender of the message Hyacinth.

Buttercup has never had any contact with Hyacinth, not even so much as a 'hello'.  Yet Hyacinth saw fit to send her this message:

I have a HUGE but important favor to ask PLEASE!!! If you haven't already: Could you PLEASE do a 5 Star review of ***name of book**** and maybe corral a few others? During this year I'm going to seek an agent to help me land the elusive book deal. I'm really trying to bump up the current 4.6 Amazon stars to 4.8! Thus I'm shamelessly networking for 5* reviews with a minium of 20 words from you and anyone else who has an Amazon account.

I suspect it's one she's sending to everyone on her Facebook friends list, because of the 'if you haven't already' stipulation.  I have the following to say about it:

1.  She doesn't offer Buttercup a copy of the book to read; it appears that reading the book before assessing it is not deemed necessary by Hyacinth.  She just wants a five star review - not only from a total stranger, but from Buttercup's friends, too.  What sort of nutcase is this???  At least offer a copy of your poxy book, luv!  At least pretend you want them to read it!

2.  Asking people to give you 5* reviews without having read your book (asking them to give you 5* even if you want them to read it first is bad enough!) is not 'networking', it's asking people to abuse the reviewing system and mislead the reading public. If you've had a request like this, please express this to Hyacinth!

3.  Most bona fide agents care little for Amazon reviews, as they know how open to abuse the system can be - and people like Hyacinth are responsible for giving them this impression. Agents care about whether your manuscript is up to scratch, not how many pals you've got.

4.  Hyacinth, I've looked at your book and you have several one star reviews.  If you have to ask people to write fake ones in order to get the rating you want, perhaps it's time to revise your book.....

Friday, 1 August 2014


I've been tagged in the Work In Progress (WIP) Blog Tour by mystery/crime novelist Noelle Granger (thanks again, Noelle!), who is currently writing the second in her series about crime solver Rhe Brewster, Death in a Dacron Sail.  You can read her post HERE ~ and follow Noelle on Twitter @rhebrewster. 

The rules: Provide the link back to the post by the person who nominated you.  Write a little about and give the first sentences of the first three chapters of your current WIP, then nominate four other writers to do the same.

My current WIP is called Last Child, and is the sequel to Kings and Queens (click title if you would like to see book) which is a modern day version of the story of Henry VIII and his six wives.  My 20th (and 21st) century Henry is called Harry Lanchester, a charismatic and wealthy property developer.  Last Child is the continuing story, about his children: Jasper, Isabella and Erin, whose Tudor counterparts were Edward VI, Queen Mary Tudor, and Elizabeth I!  I hope to have it ready by around January/February 2015.

Here are the first sentences of the first chapters ~ it's still in first draft so they'll probably be completely different by the time you read it!

Chapter 1 ~ Hannah
They’re my family: Isabella, Erin, and Jasper Junior – or ‘Jaz’, to give him the name he adopted around the time his father died.

Chapter 2 ~ Jaz
I didn't want to type this ’cause I get fed up with typing even on Facebook (never mind homework) so my old nanny, Hannah, gave me this dictaphone thing instead. 

Chapter 3 ~ Hannah
How does anyone ever, ever get over something like this?

There you go, then!  A long way to go, yet.
Here are the four people I'm tagging - click on their name to go to their blog/site:

author of cancer cure thriller Never Say Sorry

author of the Jack Lockwood crime mysteries

author of romance novel A Single Step (part of a trilogy) ~ link goes to her post

author of many novels and short stories ~ her WIP post is ready, link goes straight to it

Now - better get on with chapter three!