Archive for July, 2009

So, this past Sunday was designated ‘The Big Lunch day, which was a campaign that set out to encourage people to get together and have group lunches – street parties, picnics, barbecues with their neighbours – all in the name of building stronger communities.

Now, I realise that it’s totally missing the point of the thing to drive a couple of hours over to my parent’s to have lunch with their neighbours, and that it’s missing the point with a cherry on top to then ask my best friend to drive an hour or so from the other direction to meet us for lunch, but opportunities to hang out with my family, chosen and blood, are not to be ignored.

The Big Lunch for my parent’s village was a hog-roast in the churchyard – a more food-oriented version of the Village Fair, in a way, with several familiar elements (the tents and gazebos, the bouncy castles, the twelve year old from the local school who not only wrangled the sound system but also stage managed the entertainments)

The local pub provided the beer tent, and local families chipped in salads, sides, and some mighty and delicious cakes for desert. Plenty of sharing of garden chairs and picnic blankets and so on. They got a good turn out too – most of the village, plus some family and guests – and I think they hit the desired note of ‘we’re all working together and having fun’.

A good day, then?

Yes, absolutely.

However: this is England, in July. That means, of course, it rained at us – not continuously, but in short, sharp, hard showers.

But then, this is England, in July, so the crowds merely retreated to the shelter of trees / tents / umbrellas and continued to picnic regardless.

There does come a point, though, when you are sitting there, eating your picnic, under your umbrella, in the rain, in a church yard with bunting and bouncy castles, and the sound system delivers Elgar, when you and your family and your best friend are struck by just how stereotypically English the whole thing is, and contract the helpless giggles.

So yes, a very good day!


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My desk(s)

My desk(s)

I use a double desk arrangement, one for the computer, one for the rest. It means twice the area to put things down with the good intention of tidying them up later. But, like others of a messy persuasion, I really do know where everything is. It’s also very much who I am. I hope I don’t mean a total wreck, but rather it’s the place where there’s just me and my characters and my words. No need to make any of the compromises that are necessary in normal social interactions. I can just sit there as an observer and record the goings-on.

The room’s in the basement of our house and I look out on a lush corner of the garden. Standing among the grasses and shrubs is a carving of an eagle I did at a class I started attending in order to find out what it felt like to carve a figurehead. That was research for my historical novel The Figurehead but I liked it so much that I still make things.

On the desks (and floor) apart from work-related bits and pieces, I have family photos and strange little things I’ve picked up at conferences and the like, such as a wee armchair for my mobile to sit in, or a long spring with a dog’s head at one end and a tail at the other in which I stick letters and things – my in-tray, if you like.

On one wall, there’s a huge poster for the film Germinal – a great book and a reminder of how nasty the gap between the haves and the have-nots is and always was.

In brief, though, and with no pretentiousness intended, the desks are like those magic mirrors and things – places you walk through to enter other worlds.

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I was invited to the July meeting. I survived it and wrote it up:-

Today was the bi-monthly local Romantic Novelists’ Association lunch. I love going to these – not only is it held in a nice venue, and I get lunch out, the event makes me feel young and rather techno whizzy (as opposed to feeling old and techno Neanderthal, which is my usual state). 

Out of about fourteen people present, there was an author in her thirties and then, at a sprightly fifty-one, I was second youngest. (Apart from my sixteen year old daughter, of whom more anon.) If I was being stereotypical I’d say that most of my fellow romance writers look just like you’d expect them to. And there’s nothing wrong with that, in fact it’s rather reassuring. 

It’s always interesting when we start chatting about how we meet other authors, promote, deal with publishers, etc. A number of people aren’t into online stuff at all, which makes me think I’m cutting edge, although it was interesting that it was the youngest author who thought one of the reasons Kindle wouldn’t take off was not being able to read it in the bath. And one of the more mature ladies who said that Kindle was the way forward, once they sorted out the technology and was outlining its many advantages. (So don’t judge a book by its cover…) 

The speaker was Jean Fullerton; it’s always fascinating to hear successful authors talk about how they got their break and she was particularly interesting when she spoke about her experiences with the RNA new writers scheme, which had been decidedly curate’s eggy. She is dyslexic, so had taken the decision to have her submissions professionally produced to create a good impression (that rang bells, given the four macaronis’ experiences on the acquisitions team for ‘I Do’). 

I sat with a different group of people this time, so had to go through the whole “What do you write?” “Gay romance, Edwardian gay romantic suspense.” Slightly different responses this time – not negative but a distinct hint of people thinking “I really don’t know what to say in reply”. Interesting to have Number two daughter listening in, as she picked up this, too. The pro-Kindle lady was least nonplussed, comparing the genre to Sarah Waters’ work, and the conversation neatly turned to doing historical research for novels. Still, I got invited to another writers’ event (a group who meet at Borders) so I wasn’t persona non grata. 

And as for my beloved daughter? Another book you can’t judge by her cover. She creates a rather ditzy impression, so people are left gobsmacked when she confesses to wanting to read medicine. She doesn’t say a lot when she’s with strangers but what she says is very perceptive. When asked if she had any writerly ambitions, quick as a flash she said “Writing’s a bit too much inward looking for me. Authors are in a room somewhere, working on their own. I prefer things where I can interact with other people.” 

Which left silence around the table and me with real food for thought.

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Back in April,  Alex Beecroft inspired me. She’s a member of the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) and had gone to one of their meetings. And spoken to other authors. Real, live, face to face ones. In a mad moment I resolved to do the same, so I found out who was our local contact and fired off an e-mail asking a million questions. Well, three. Did they meet socially? Could newbies come along? Did I need to be a member to attend?

I had a delightfully welcoming reply – come along to our lunch meeting, no membership required, there’s a speaker, there’s a raffle! So, come the big day, I put on what Tamara Allen calls my ‘runs her own rock band’ outfit, ignore my 16 year old asking if Romantic Novelists’ meeting was a euphemism for ‘orgy’ and set off, with two concerns. Would I, even at 51, be the youngest in the room? And what would happen when I admitted I wrote gay romance?

Here’s what happened:-

I was made very welcome, everyone asking the same questions – do you write romance, are you are you published and are you from Havant. I never got to the bottom of the last one. Someone had come from Havant, I guess – in fact there were people from Shoreham and Swanage, all coming to Southampton to eat, drink and chat. And there were three men among the eighteen or so present.

Over lunch, I chatted to three other authors and the inevitable question arose – which romantic genre? Historical. Romantic suspense. And – I swallowed hard – gay. I waited to have my raffle ticket taken back and be sent from the room. Instead, they tried to put me at ease. “They’re all stories.” “I have a gay character in one of my books.” “Sarah Waters writes the genre.” It then became apparent that the lovely young Scottish bloke on my table was gay and the conversation turned to ‘who writes what’. He felt strongly that just because he was gay, it didn’t mean he had to write ‘gay’ stories and he didn’t get at me because I’m not gay and I did. I could have kissed him – I just hope he didn’t think I’d gravitated towards him because of some ping of the gaydar. (I didn’t. Charlie always just ends up near the youngest bloke in the room.)

The speaker was interesting, especially for me as she was writing a series of books. Publsihed by Orion, had the book of the month at Asda recently, but she said so many things we could identify with. “See this girl on the cover?” She looks nothing like my heroine.” Cue nods of understanding all around the room.

Will I go back for the next meeting in July? Yes. Will I join the RNA? I might. It won’t do much in terms of selling more books, but it wouldn’t hurt to bolster the group of m/m writers in their ranks. It takes authors from outside the UK, too. RNA Would I recommend going to a meeting if you had one nearby? Yes. Meeting other people with similar interests is always useful; you build up your knowledge, you make good contacts (I wouldn’t be published, wouldn’t have even wanted to be published, if I hadn’t ‘met’ lee Rowan.) I believe it’s also part of us saying “gay romance is as legitimate a form of romance as any other and should be treated the same as comparable m/f stories”.

Maybe I was lucky. Maybe the reaction will be different next time if I sit with a different group of people (maybe they won’t e-mail me to confirm the venue!) But I showed my face and took another step on the coming out road. And no, dearest daughter, there wasn’t an orgy.

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Self-promote? Moi?

This my ‘permitted’ introduction of me and my stuff. Trouble is, self-promotion doesn’t come easily to Brits – well, not to this Brit anyway. Especially as it’s all been done elsewhere. I mean, if anyone were interested in me or my work they’d have checked out my website and blogs already. So, while I can’t summon up the hyperbole that’s usually the norm for pushing books and self, I can – very quickly – sketch out the basics.

I was a university lecturer (in French) before taking early retirement to concentrate on writing. The decision to do that was easy since I was already writing commercial and corporate things (websites, videos, PR materials, brochures, ads, etc.) so I knew I wouldn’t be destitute. In the early days, I wrote radio plays and the BBC were great patrons – but the organisation’s changed so much and their filtering system is so weird that the impulse to send them stuff has all but gone.

My stage plays (for adults and children) have been performed here and in the USA. I also have an Equity card and have presented TV programmes, acted in and directed all sorts of plays, and I wrote and performed in several revues at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. I won a prize for a verse translation of a Molière play and have been invited to the USA on several occasions as guest artist and associate professor.

I’ve been a Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow at three universities – Robert Gordon’s in Aberdeen and the Universities of Dundee and St Andrews. I co-wrote Just Write, a book aimed at helping students to research, structure, write and edit essays and other written works.

I write short stories and like to vary my output. I’ve written for children, have had stories selected for the Crime Writers’ Association’s annual anthologies and, most recently, have had a sci-fi thriller anthologised. Three of my police procedural novels have been published here and the first two have also appeared in US editions. They are Material Evidence, Rough Justice and The Darkness. This summer, I have a historical novel, The Figurehead, appearing in the USA in ebook and paperback.

Those are the facts. The only thing to add is that my latest crime novel, The Darkness, has gone through many stages, changes of personnel and structure. It began life as a pure, bleak revenge story but I wasn’t satisfied with the Daily Mail editorial aspects of it and I wanted to find a more challenging approach to vigilantism, revenge and compassion. As a result, it’s taught me more about my central character and I now need to rewrite books four and five of the series (which are already completed) to accommodate that new narrative thread. I also know the plot, the structure and the uncompromising ending of what will be the sixth and final one.

And, since promotion is allowed this time round, I’ll repeat a couple of sentences from a review which please me because they pick up on my central aim. The review was published in the Dumfries and Galloway Standard and told potential readers ‘When you read The Darkness be prepared to be manipulated and have your moral compass reset by this master storyteller’. And the review ended with ‘Get yourself a copy of The Darkness and ask yourself this: what would you do?’

The commercial break is now over.

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I am so excited. My first ever ebook has just been released as a paperback. I know it won’t suit everyone – it’s an erotic romance but I’m very proud of it. It opened a door after many years of rejections and now I have a whole list of books coming out this year.

The book is available from Ellora’s Cave


and eventually  Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Blurb – in case anyone is interested.


When Daisy books a Sixties extravaganza on the internet, she thinks hippies and free love. Only she misses one tiny word in the advertisement and ends up at a weekend for over-sixties at Bedlingham Manor.

When sexy hotel manager Jake casts Daisy as a nun in the murder mystery, she is ready to scream and call the weekend off. But then Jake shows up dressed as a priest and he can’t wait to uncover the red lace beneath the nun costume. Jake and Daisy don’t expect to fall in love but they discover that their weekend of hot sex might be much more than they bargained for.

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