Wednesday, 15 August 2012

All good things come to an end …




I spent last night drinking pink fizz with fellow York writers Jessica Thompson and Donna Douglas, and what a great evening we had.  I can’t remember the last time I had to be kicked out of a bar!

I don’t know if it’s the cava talking, or words of wisdom from Jessica and Donna, both of whom are much more clued up on the social media front, but I think it’s time to face some realities.  I am scrabbling to keep up with two blogs and two Facebook pages and not doing any of them properly. 

So it’s time for a new social media strategy (sounds impressive, doesn’t it?)  I think this blog has run its course, so I’m calling it a day here.  I’ll be keeping my Jessica Hart hat on for Facebook, where I have a lovely time posting photos and wittering on about my day, and I do hope you’ll come and find me there.  
And of course, news about new releases will be on my website, www.jessicahart.co.uk

I’ll be putting on a less frivolous hat for my Pamela Hartshorne blognewly moved from Wordpress to Blogger (don't get me started on what a business that was!)  My plan is to focus future blogs on my historical research rather than on my gold medals in procrastination and if you’re interested in history, I’d love to see you there too.  Come on over in September, when I’ll be back from my holiday and find snippets of background research, excerpts from Time’s Echo and a chance to win a signed copy. 


Until then, many thanks to those of you who have read and commented on this blog in the past.  It’s been wonderful to feel connected to you all and please keep in touch. 

Jessica Hart on Facebook: 
Jessica Hart website: www.jessicahart.co.uk
Pamela Hartshorne blog: 
Pamela Hartshorne website:
And finally, I’m on Twitter @PamHartshorne

Confused?  I know I am!



Oh, and finally, don't forget to look out for the RIVA relaunch in October, including a re-release of We'll Always Have Paris with a new cover. There'll be more about this on Facebook!  

Jessica
xx

Thursday, 9 August 2012

To update or not to update? That is the question.


Always one to wait until a bandwagon has trundled past and I’m left coughing and spluttering in the dust before I start to run after it, I am about to venture into self-publishing. 

Copyright ©1992 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd

Rather to my own surprise, I have recovered the rights to five of my earliest books, including my very first, A Sweeter Prejudice and one that remains a favourite after all these years, Woman at Willagong Creek.  As you have no doubt gathered, this was before I discovered that books sold better with Wedding or Baby or Billionaire in the title.


The technological challenge of the whole business has me daunted, but fortunately that’s being taken care of for me, so all I really need to do now is to decide how much editing I need to do before we publish these books again.  Opinion seems to be divided about whether you should update the stories so that the characters use cell phones and the internet, or whether you leave them as ‘vintage’ pieces. 

I’m inclining towards the latter, mainly because I’m afraid that if I start playing around with books written so long ago, I’ll end up feeling that I have to rewrite the entire book, which would defeat the whole object.

There’s no way stories twenty years old aren’t going to seem dated.  You can tell that even reading re-releases of early books by successful authors like Mary Balogh, Tess Gerritsen or Harlan Coben.  It seems to me that it’s not so much the details as the writing itself that is dated.

What do you think?  Do you like your contemporary romances bristling with up-to-date references, or are you prepared to make allowances for a vintage story?

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Success vs failure: It's all in the mind


I’m a great one for goals.  In the middle of June, I set myself a target of a 100,000 word draft of The Memory of Midnight to be completed by today, and on one level, I have to admit failure.  I don’t know if you’ll be able to see in the photo, but as of last night I had only done 93,620 words – although I have notes for the final two scenes which should take me to 96-97,000 tonight, I reckon.  

As so often with success and failure, it’s all in the interpretation, though, and I am choosing to see this as success in spite of those missing words.  The hard part for me is squaring up to the blank screen, and I have been slowly but steadily accumulating words until I have ended up with 326 pages with the story blocked out. That’s plenty for me to work with.

And work there is still to do. At the moment I have plot and not much else.  I’ve been banging out the words without stopping too long to research, and now I need to layer in texture and emotion and pace and character and tone and historical detail and new dialogue ….  Re-write the entire book in fact.  It’ll mean going back to the beginning and starting all over again, but for me the hardest slog has been done.

Next Tuesday I’ll be sitting down to read through the draft I’m so smug about right now. I predict much tearing of hair and wringing of hands and omigod-this-is-a-disaster because that’s what I do when I read through.  It’s all part of the process, not that it’s much comfort at the time.  But then I’ll start the real business of writing as rewriting and that’s the point – I hope! – when it will all start to come together. 

In the meantime, I’m thinking of my draft as complete (what’s 4-5000 words and a bit of missing punctuation in the last two scenes between friends, after all?) and rewarding myself with a weekend away, walking along the south coast, before knuckling down again next week.  

Enjoy your weekend too, wherever you are and whatever you're doing!

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

A Sensible Wife


It’s always fun when translations drop through the door, especially when they’re in exciting languages you can’t understand. This is a Japanese version of A Sensible Wife, as I had to discover by looking on the inside page where it always gives the copyright information in English.

I might have been able to guess from the cover, which is not often the case, even in the original English versions!  My working title for this story was The Frangipani Tree, and the eventual cover, as you can see, did indeed show a frangipani bush. 

In fact, The Frangipani Tree was my title for my very first attempt at writing a romance. Somewhere in the depths of my cupboard, the manuscript still moulders.  It received, quite rightly, a very prompt rejection but at least writing it proved that I could fill the requisite number of pages.  I was house-sitting in Scotland one November and I banged out the story without it ever occurring to me that I had no idea how to write a book or structure a romance.  I just sat down and wrote, which in retrospect wasn't a bad thing.  If I'd done any research and discovered how hard it was to write a romance and how long it takes to make any money from the whole business, I would have given up before I started.

I’d had six books accepted before I dug out that first manuscript and thought about rewriting it.  I was duly appalled when I read it again and in the end used only the Indonesian setting.  

I’m reluctant now to reread A Sensible Wife in case I feel the same again now.  I suspect the story will be as dated as the cover, which would be a shame because I remember it as one of my very favourite books.  The plot was deeply contrived, but this was the first story I had really had fun with.  Deborah was the first of what I think of as my ‘ordinary’ heroines: not particularly beautiful or slim or clever or good, but with an infectious zest for life that is just what the buttoned-up heroes they encounter need most. 

For anyone interested, A Sensible Wife is still available as an e-book from Barnes & Noble and Harlequin – or in paperback if you read Japanese! – but if you give it a go, do remember that it’s nearly  20 years old and don’t hold that against it! 



Thursday, 19 July 2012

Historical novels, and what they can do for you


Middleham Castle
I’m not very good at ruins.  I always think I should be – history’s one of my things, right? – but always find it hard to get past the bare stones to picture the building with roof and floors and hangings on the walls.  

I like those information boards that give you pictures showing what it might have looked like, but it's impossible not to walk around and wish you could go back and see what it was really like ...




Short of your very own time slip, the best way to get that sense is to read a really good historical novel.  I was at Middleham Castle last Sunday, and what might have been just an impressive ruin came to life thanks to Sharon Penman’s The Sunne in Splendour.  

(This was the book that literally changed my life.  I read it in Australia in 1986, and loved it so much that I decided I wanted to go back to university and study medieval history. While scratching my head about how I was going to pay for a PhD, I lit upon the bright idea of writing a romance, because everyone knew they were dead easy and made lots of money very fast ... er, wrong!  But that’s another story…)

Statue of Richard III at Middleham
The Sunne in Splendour is the story of Richard III, and if you ever want to be convinced of who really killed the princes in the tower, I suggest you read it.  I absolutely loved the way Penman takes the complex history of the 15th century and brings it to life. Of course a historical novel can never be totally authentic but when I’m reading a story I’m prepared to sacrifice history for engaging characters.  I want to feel as if I’ve been transported to another world which feels true and which helps me imagine what life was like in the past.  As a reader, I don’t want to puzzle over a document or marshal my statistics. I want the author to do the research for me and then show me in a way I can understand and remember.

Philippa Gregory does this brilliantly in her novels based on real historical characters.  The facts about Anne Boleyn are rehashed endlessly in documentaries, but the story Gregory tells in The Other Boleyn Girl is the one that rings truest for me because it’s the only one that touched me emotionally.  Only a novel can do this, I think.


Another of my favourites is The Road to Avalon by Joan Wolf. As you might guess from the title, it’s the story of King Arthur, but this is not the legend.  The story is absorbing and utterly persuasive. I defy you to read The Road to Avalon and not think at the end: Of course that’s how the legend must have started.  I’m always taken so completely into the world of Wolf’s Dark Age Britain that tears run down my face at the end, no matter how often I read the book.

This is what a good historical novel can do.  It can make you believe that’s how it was, even if every instinct as a historian says that there’s no way people in the past would have thought and spoke and acted that way.  Wolf’s The Edge of Light, about Alfred the Great, is also wonderful.

Are you a fan of historical fiction?  Do you like ‘faction’ or straight fiction?  Or do you like your history mixed up with romance or crime or (dare I say it?) the time slip fantasy?

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Websites and scene planners


(Hadn't realised what a mess my screen looks!)

I am sticking to my schedule here, with 59,000 words under my belt, in spite of the distraction of getting to grips with all this new social media stuff.  

My new website, www.pamelahartshorne.com is up and running at last.  It needs a few tweaks still, but I was spending so long dithering over it that in the end I decided to just go with it as it is.  


Have a look anyway, and let me know what you think.  I wanted it to be quite different in feel from www.jessicahart.co.uk and I think it’s certainly that.  Of course, having only book to talk about as opposed to 58 makes a big difference!

I’ve also started the Pamela Hartshorne blog but it’s heavy going, and I’m struggling with Wordpress – it’s quite a relief today to get back to dear old Blogger!  What with the blog, the website and the constant logging in and out of Facebook and Twitter with my different hats on, it’s amazing I’m getting any writing done at all! 

But I’ve still got another 41,000 words to write before 2nd August so I need to keep at it.   The story is starting to come together.  I’ve found my scene planner very helpful in keeping track of where the characters are and what they’re supposed to be doing.  The order of some scenes has shifted and – phew! – the characters have started to move the story in directions I hadn’t thought of before, but the overall shape of the story has, so far at least, stayed the same. 

Forcing myself to consider what the scene is for and what changes in it was really useful, and I might try something similar with my next romance, although I can’t imagine it working in quite the same way when the ‘plot’ is emotional rather than physical.  

This is a Shitty Second Draft, so I’m concentrating on just getting the words on the page at the moment.  Once I’ve got my 100,000 words, the real writing will start.  That’s when I’ll need to add some texture to the story – and do some more of that research I was so determined to do at the scene planning stage … but I’d better keep that for my other blog.

Meanwhile, I’m off to get to 60,000 words before lunch ...

Sunday, 8 July 2012

It's shoe time!


Some women love shoes, and some think they’re just things you put on your feet …

If you fall into the former category, get yourself over to the Harlequin Romance Authors’ blog right now for some fabulous shoes.  These are my jewelled sandals which make an appearance, but wait till you see some of the others.  Seriously, you need to check out Shirley Jump’s shoe collection!

As you know, I usually make a terrible fuss about writing blogs, but that one was great fun to do, and I am suffering from some serious shoe envy. 

If you fall into the latter category ... well, I don’t know what to say to you, other than you’ll miss out on the chance of a bumper giveaway if you don’t take a peek.  We’ve got eight books to send to one lucky winner, and you don’t need to be a shoe fanatic to enjoy any of them. 

So what are you waiting for? I'll see you there!

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Uh-oh, writing metaphor alert



Phew, what a relief to be myself again!  This double social networking identity thing is going to take some getting used to.  I have spent all week logging in and out of my two Facebook accounts and trying to think of something suitably sober to say as Pamela Hartshorne before skipping back to Jessica Hart and posting photos of my lunch.  To make matters worse, I keep losing my Pamela Hartshorne self between my page and my profile – I hate to think what that is a metaphor for! 

I was thinking of metaphors last weekend, in fact, when I was in Wiltshire helping my occasional other half create a cottage garden.  I thought I was going down to turn over the earth in some ready prepared flower bed and plant a border.  I should have known better. 

This is the garden before we started: 


Before
There’s a plant hanging over the fence from next door, and a climbing rose I planted years ago that has somehow managed to survive against the odds, but apart from that, nothing but some claggy, stony earth – and an idea of what a beautiful garden this could be with some grass, some structure, some plants, a patio (not to mention  somewhere to hide those &$£!$& bins!)  

John set about taking down the trampoline, clearing out the garage and preparing the patio, while I dug out the beds.  It was really hard going, but it had to be done, a bit like writing a Shitty First Draft.  Once the basic shape of each bed was there, I went over them again, digging out more weeds, getting rid of the stones, adding in bonemeal and compost, and – after two more days of hard labour – eventually putting in some plants in the pouring rain.

So this is the garden on Monday evening when we had, er, not finished at all:

After (in case you can't tell the difference!)

We had had grand plans of getting the patio finished, the fence repainted and the turf laid too, although quite how we thought we would accomplish all of this in two and a half days I don’t know! 

I know it looks like a spot-the-difference test, but we’d laid a lot more groundwork than you can see here.  The grass, the patio and everything else still need to be done, but the plants are in and growing and if the sun ever shines again this summer (please, God, let it be sunny soon!), we’ll see how they do.

I should have known that making a garden, like writing a book, can’t be rushed. Having an idea is all very well, but starting a garden or a story from scratch takes a lot of hard work.  Once the initial labour is done, you can add in all the food/compost or dialogue/character/tension/pace but even that isn’t the end of the process.  You still need to plant it/bring it all together, but when you do get to that stage, there are few things more satisfying.

At the end of every day I was filthy and exhausted, but I love making something from nothing, and even though the garden still has a long way to go, I can see how it will be and imagine sitting on that patio of a summer evening with the garden blooming around me.  

And that’s sort of the stage I’m at with my current book too.  I can imagine it finished.  Perhaps I’m still at the stage of digging out the borders, but I know it can be done.  Now, where’s my spade …