Monday, 31 October 2011

Grip getting


I’ve been so taken up with my wretched nose (now minus stitches but revealing a revolting crater where the skin graft has yet to puff out – I’ll spare you the photo this time!) that I’ve got completely out of the way of working, and it was something of a shock this morning to realise that (a) I felt much better and had no excuse to loll around feeling sorry for myself any more, and (b) I had to write another book.  Grips must be got, in fact. 

The next book will be another romance, number 59, and so far I have only the vaguest of ideas to work with.  I was reading an article in Hello! not very long ago about some celebrity A-list person who had had some lavish wedding, and was described as the apple of her (obscenely rich) father’s eye.  Almost as an aside was the fact that one of her bridesmaids was her sister who was six or seven years older than her.  I don’t know anything more about these people, but it was enough to make me wonder what that wedding had been like for the older sister who was not the apple of her father’s eye. 

So the ghastly wedding will have to feature, and I need my heroine, who I’m calling Frith, to be as different as possible from her sister, but still close enough to grit her teeth and do what it takes to make her sister happy on her big day.  I’m thinking of making her a civil engineer.  I know lots about civil engineers, and while I’ve had plenty of engineer heroes, can’t understand why it’s taken me so long to have an engineer heroine instead.  My hero is called George for  now, and I suspect he’s going to have to be a laid-back, devil-may-care type of hero to contrast with Frith, but that’s not necessarily the case.  I’ll need to start a shitty first draft and see how he emerges.

And of course, I’ll have to do what I tell everyone to do on my courses, and think about what the emotional conflict is going to be.  What is going to drive Frith and George to behave the way they do?  What matters most to them, and what are they going to learn?  I use the SFD to ask myself questions about the characters and to build up a backstory, so that when I start a proper draft (otherwise known as the shitty second draft) I’ve got a clear idea of their goals and motivations.  

I tend not to use questionnaires or clusters or any of the other techniques there are for ensuring that you know your characters thoroughly.  I much prefer going out for a drink with one of my plotting team, and talking it through with them over a bottle of wine, but selfishly they are all elsewhere this week, which means I’m going to have to fall back on the last resort, otherwise known as writing.

By the way, the winners of the latest lucky dip for a copy of Loving Our Heroes are: Charlotte McFall, Catherine Coles, Annie Seaton, Kiru Taye and Kavya Rizwan. Kiru and Kavya, let me know your address (jessica@jessicahart.co.uk) and I’ll put a copies in the post to you.

Monday, 24 October 2011

From the sublime to the ridiculous


What a difference a week makes!  I am very glad I made the most of my elation at finishing my manuscript, because it took a nose dive the next day when I woke up from a general anaesthetic to find that I looked as if I were auditioning for a bit part in Hammer House of Horrors.  Somehow I’d expected a little yellow plaster over the skin graft, but it turned out to be rather more noticeable than that, as you can see.  It came complete with lumpy yellow packing, various other stitches so big they look like whiskers, and a charming slash at the base of my throat where they took the skin graft.  All in all I have been feeling very sorry for myself all week, and it was a while before I was even up to reading.

But I’m feeling – if not looking – much better now, so I’m starting to think about rereading my manuscript.  There’s no rush to get back to work, though, and as I’m not fit for public consumption until my stitches are out on Thursday, I am staying inside as much as possible. I have been taking the advice of the warm and wise authors on the Harlequin Romance authors loop, who have suggested restricting my activity to lying on the sofa and watching romantic comedies on DVDs.  They have even come up with a ‘recommended watching list’ of romcoms I haven’t yet seen, so I’ve had a splurge on Amazon and am looking forward to working my way through them.  It sort of counts as work, anyway, as I’m looking for inspiration for my next romance, and what could be better than a feel-good film? 

What’s your favourite romcom?  I’d love more ideas to keep me on that sofa, and will put any recommendations into a lucky dip for five more copies of Loving Our Heroes.  If you’d like to be entered, email your postal address to me at  jessica@jessicahart.co.uk and I’ll do a draw at the weekend, by which time I hope I’ll be in a state to go to the post office!

Monday, 17 October 2011

Finished!

Well, here it is, my final draft, all 460 pages, 127,678 words of it.  I typed those beautiful words, T H E   E N D, about 4 o’clock on Sunday afternoon, and what a relief it was! 

This story, still untitled, has been nearly three years in the gestation, and the truth is that there have been times when I really wondered if I could write it.  So when I did get to the end, I fully expected to be elated, but although I was certainly enormously relieved, I was actually almost tearful as well. 

Tomorrow I’m having a biopsy and skin graft on my nose (ouch) which I’m not looking forward to very much.  On the other hand, I quite like the idea of lying down for a while.  I feel as if I’ve stumbled across the finishing line of a mammoth hurdle race, so intend to let myself be waited on hand and foot while I lie in bed and read (what bliss!) for a couple of days. 

Later in the week, I’ll take a deep breath and reread the entire manuscript.  I’ll do a bit of tweaking and polishing, but I’m not going to obsess about perfection at this stage, as I’m sure my editor will want to suggest some changes.  So it’s not over yet, but the biggest challenge and the last major deadline of the year has been met.  Talk about phew.

Oh, and I’ve done a lucky dip for winners of last week’s competition. Copies of Loving Our Heroes will be on their way to Bianca Herdin, Alaine Batty, Margie Stewart, Tora Williams and Laura Russell shortly (today if I have time to get to the post office).  I’ll be doing another contest about Loving Our Heroes in a week or so, so if you weren’t lucky this time, I’ll put you in the dip again!

Friday, 14 October 2011

New Voices: What now?


There were over a thousand entries for the New Voices competition this year – an incredible number of people with the nerve and the determination to write a first chapter and put it up there for everyone to see.  I salute you all – I’m not sure I would ever have had the courage to do that.

For the 21 who are through to the next round, it’s an incredibly exciting opportunity and they are all due huge congratulations.  But if you’re one of the thousand who didn’t get through, what are you going to do now?

If you haven’t already done so, I recommend a good old sulk for a day or two.  Get it out of your system and look on that as a learning experience too, because as Heidi Rice said, you’re going to have to get used to rejection if you want to be published.  Any published writer will tell you that it doesn’t end with that magical acceptance.  Even established authors sometimes crash and burn and have manuscripts rejected after revisions.  It happened to me with my 11th book, and it could happen again with my 59th (if I ever get round to writing it).  Sometimes a story just doesn’t work.  You have to learn to deal with major revisions which can feel like rejections in themselves at times, and crushing reviews … few of us have as tough a skin as we like to pretend, and it can be bitterly disappointing.   

Are you still up for it?

Do I hear a ‘yes’?  In that case, I suggest you forget about competitions, forget about workshops you’ve been to, or every bit of advice you’ve ever read for now.  Sit down and finish your story. I know you  only need to submit a partial, but until you’ve got the whole story in your head, I don’t think  you’ll be going anywhere. Don’t stop if you get lost in it, or change your mind about something half way through.  Just carry on as if you’d already written it the way it needs to be and keep on writing until you’ve got 50,000 words and can type those magical words: THE END. 

Don’t worry if it’s rubbish.  Chances are it will be, but somewhere along the line, you should be getting to know your characters, and the bones of your story will emerge.  Sadly, there are no shortcuts to this.  You only get to be a writer by, er, writing.

When you’ve got a draft, that’s the time to dig out any notes you’ve made.  Re-read books like Kate Walker’s 12-Point Guide to Writing Romance. Look again at the comments you had on your first chapter.  Do they make more sense now? Go to workshops if you can.  Because now you’ve got something to work with. 

More importantly, you’ve got the time to do it properly.  Yes, it’s fabulous for the 21 who go through to the next round, but they’re going to be under a huge amount of pressure unless they’ve already got a manuscript completed. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to get published.  Once you are, you will be up against a remorseless set of deadlines, so make the most of the opportunity now to polish your craft and get it right. 

So no magic quick fixes, I’m afraid.  Sulk, then write, write, write.  Then rewrite.  It’s the best advice I can offer. 

To help you through, I’ve got five copies of LOVING OUR HEROES to send out as consolation prizes.  This anthology includes stories from award-winning authors Amy Andrews and India Grey, as well as my RITA-shortlisted story, Last-Minute Proposal, and is a great chance to read stories across the different lines (Romance, Medical and Modern).  A £1 donation will go to Help for Heroes for every book sold, so I’ll make that up and you can have a copy for free.  Just tell me the title of the story you’re working on in the comments section below, then email me your postal address at jessica@jessicahart.co.uk and I’ll do a lucky dip.

Good luck – and happy writing!

Monday, 10 October 2011

Personality types


I have been working on my self-analysis recently, never a comfortable activity.  Somebody told me that I was a ‘completer finisher’, which I thought sounded pretty good until I looked it up, at which point it became obvious that of all the team roles, the completer finisher’s is the least glamorous.  Yes, completer finishers get the job done, but apparently we are also obsessive, nit-picky, and professional worry warts, while our obsession with detail is an expression of our deep-seated anxiety. On the plus side, CFs like me meet our deadlines, which I suppose is a good thing when you’re a writer. 

Much as I would like to say that this isn’t me at all, I have to admit that I recognise more than a few aspects of my personality here. I’m a nit-picking queen, that’s for sure: I’m the one who flinches at a misused apostrophe and spots every typo on a menu. For years I thought of myself as a relaxed, living-in-the-moment type, but now I can see this is absolute  rubbish. What was I thinking? I spend my life fretting about the next deadline, and although I do love it when I get away, the moment I sit down at my computer again, my shoulders hunch up round my ears and my back turns into a board.  But if I don’t have a deadline, I don’t  get anything done, so it looks as if I’m stuck as the neurotic, twitching in the corner at parties. 

Which may be just as well as my deadline is 31st October.  I’m revising and rewriting – great chunks in the present are having to be completely re-thought (sigh) – but I’ve been working steadily through my timetable for 20 chapters, and now I’ve got just six to go.  Yep, spot the completer finisher.

I’m not sure if pigeon-holing writers into the various personality types is really helpful for writers anyway.  In theory we should all be reclusive introverts, surely, but clearly we’re not all the same.  Are there any other completer-finishers out there, or are you all exciting ideas people or warm, fuzzy team members?  But hey, how good are you at meeting your deadlines?

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Eating, drinking and being dotty


Tuesday mornings should all be like this

I feel as if I have been away for months!  It’s only been ten days, but I’ve got that strange, disconnected feeling you get after a break, and I can hardly blame jet lag when Italy is only a couple of hours away on a plane.  It’s almost impossible to believe that only the day before yesterday we were enjoying coffee in the Piazza Anfiteatro in Lucca in the sunshine, and now it’s dark and the leaves are swirling down from the trees and it’s most definitely autumn.


Tuscany was looking beautiful.  I was very sad to say goodbye to everyone at the end of the course at the Watermill at Posara but they are all under strict instructions to stay in touch and of course to let me know the moment their books are accepted for publication! 

Instead of coming straight home, I met my dear friend and Chief Plotting Advisor at Pisa Airport, and we took the bus to Lucca.  I’d been for the day when I was at the Watermill a couple of years ago, and thought it was charming then, but I liked it even more this time.

The dog show at Lucca for 'i bastardini'
I have to confess that in three days we didn’t visit a single church or art gallery, in spite of the fact that increasingly we are turning into dotty middle-aged Englishwomen with synchronised eavesdropping and cackling laughter (in the film of our lives, I would be played by Judi Dench, while Maggie Smith would be CPA). On Sunday we walked round Lucca’s wonderful walls, and stopped and talked to every dog we met, finding out their names and ages, which was the extent of our very limited Italian.  Then we were delighted to stumble upon a wonderful dog show for mongrels to raise money for a dog’s shelter, where we came across a number of them again, were able to clap and cheer for the ones we “knew”.  Honestly, it was the highlight of the trip.

The sea at Vernazza - get that glitter!
We recovered from all the excitement of the dog show with a day trip to the Cinque Terre on Monday.  An opportunity to see the sun on the sea for one last time before winter and to plot my latest romance on the walk between Monterosso and Vernazza.  Apart from that, we spent an awful lot of time eating and drinking. I was a little taken aback when I looked at my photos to see how food obsessed I am - take a look at my album on Facebook if you don’t believe me! – but there’s something so beautiful about the way food is displayed in Italy.  I just can’t resist it, which may explain why I am now the size of a small duomo and none of my clothes fit any more.

Now I’m home and it’s back to work (sigh).  My next big deadline is 31st October, so I need to crack on and not let myself be distracted for the next few weeks.  No more trips away for me for a while, that’s for sure.