Take Five Authors: A round up of this year’s news

I can’t believe the first month of 2017 has almost gone. It’s scary, isn’t it?

So far, this month I have corrected the proofs for for Castle Douglas Through Timecastledouglasthroughtime, which comes out on March 15. It is already available for pre-order on Amazon. It’s a photo-led local history book in a ‘then and now’ format in collaboration with photographer Allan Devlin. This is the second book, published by Amberley Publishing we have worked on together. Dumfries Through Time came out in 2015.

They are fun to do, although collecting the 90 old images we need is more than a bit daunting.  Allan then has to take photos of the same places as they are today and I do the research and write the introduction and captions. The research part I love; writing captions which have an upper word limit of 80 words, not so much. Our town has a rich history and it is really difficult to convey that in so few words. Of course, we cheat a bit and have several photos of Carlingwark Loch, for example, so I can tell a bit more of the story through a series of images.

66-bThe week before the launch party for Castle Douglas Through Time I am teaching, with historical novelist Margaret Elphinstone on a creative writing course here in south west Scotland. Juliet, who owns Durhamhill and the llamas and organises the courses emailed today to say places are filling up. There’s another returnee (always flattering but means Margaret and I have to come up with new exercises each time!).

She also wrote: ‘The llama shed is getting a new surface outside. Alan woke me up in a panic at the crack of dawn to say a lorry driver delivering stones had let the llamas out through the gate. I staggered from bed to the drive with a migraine and fell flat over the load of stones – then had to finish sorting out myjane-oz last year’s accounting stuff for the last minute dash to my long-suffering accountant but a hired hot tub for the hen party who were arriving this evening wasn’t heating up properly and Lettie [she’s a llama] was shivering because she had to be shut out in the wind while the builders sorted the stones around the llama palace. Fortunately she loves hot water and drank half a bucket and stopped shivering.’

Are you, as I am, wondering if it was the hen party’s hot tub water the llama drank? And don’t you just know a creative writing course with this woman present is going to be an absolute hoot?

I am about to send a very slim collection of short stories to an editor and hope to publish The Thing in Your Eye and other stories (working title) in mid to late spring. I don’t write many short stories but enjoy the form. Some of these have won or been placed in various competitions and, as it’s a long time since I published any fiction, I thought it was time to get them out there. I’ll have more news of this to share in a future blog.

As for my New Year resolutions – well, I’ve been good at turning down projects (other than a couple of magazine feature commissions) which would take me away from this year’s main project of turning my blog My Dad’s a Goldfish, into a book. So far, I have cut the opening, which worked fine as a blog post but not as a memoir and I’m looking forward to really getting stuck into this next week.

Depending on when you read this post I’ll be on a train to Glasgow or delivering a talk, to an audience of about 70 sex educators (Sexpression), on sex in Afghanistan, or I might be on a train back home. Leave your comments and I will respond as soon as I’m back at my desk. I don’t have a smart phone, thank goodness.

Do you believe everything you read?

too-much-information-1As an author, it’s my job to make readers think that the characters and situations in my books are believable.

Most writers research their books carefully to make their work credible and to enrich them with telling details that bring the story to life for the reader. I’m absolutely not taking a pop at them. It’s just that I think I’m a particularly quirky reader because I sometimes find myself reading something I sort of trip up over and then have to stop reading to think about, something that nobody else ever seems to feel the need to mention. I do understand that there are some things that readers just do not need to know, and I’ve been on the receiving end of ‘Too much information!’ messages from editors, but I’m still going to share a few of my reading quirks with you.

  • Hero and heroine leap into bed together. Whaaat? Nobody needed to nip to the loo first? And the heroine hasn’t taken off her make up.
  • Hero and heroine wake up together and immediately begin making love, including lavish kisses. See above! Plus, what about morning breath? And is the heroine’s mascara now forming great black smudges beneath her eyes? That is not a good look.
  • Heroine has had a baby and hero has no inkling, despite having made love to her. So she doesn’t have a single stretch mark? Not ONE? Wow. Did she use bio oil?
  • Villains fire off round after round of automatic weapon fire at hero and he crouches, wincing, behind a rock, but doesn’t suffer a scratch. He, on the other hand, with a handheld gun, is able to pick the villains off at will. So, if he gained this prowess via military service, was he categorised as a marksman? With this particular weapon?And how long ago was that? Maybe it’s a facility that doesn’t need honing at regular intervals? Or maybe being in fear of his life just bring it back in a hurry?
  • Character has a dog. I watch carefully to make certain someone takes the dog out regularly and feeds it. Otherwise, I will have to make a report to the RSPCA. (NB Every time I have a dog in a book I swear it’s the last time. The damned thing is almost as much trouble as a real one.)
  • Characters get soaked, either by torrential rain or through falling into a body of water. They get no opportunity to change their clothes and they just seem to cope. I must be such a wimp. I feel physically uncomfortable until I know they’ve been able to change, preferably after a nice warm shower and a cup of tea.

I can imagine readers everywhere saying ‘But I seriously do not need to know that my characters go to the toilet or pick up after the dog!’ and I completely agree. But it doesn’t stop me thinking …

Is it only me? Or do you have reading quirks, too?

screen-shot-2017-01-19-at-07-43-52Sue’s next book, Just for the Holidays, has just entered production ready for 18th May publication. You can see that the cover isn’t quite ready but here’s the blurb:

The #1 bestselling author returns for summer! Grab your sun hat, a cool glass of wine, and the only book you need on holiday…

In theory, nothing could be better than a summer spent basking in the French sun. That is, until you add in three teenagers, two love interests, one divorcing couple, and a very unexpected pregnancy.

Admittedly, this isn’t exactly the relaxing holiday Leah Beaumont was hoping for – but it’s the one she’s got. With her sister Michele’s family falling apart at the seams, it’s up to Leah to pick up the pieces and try to hold them all together.

But with a handsome helicopter pilot staying next door, Leah can’t help but think she might have a few distractions of her own to deal with…

A glorious summer read, for you to devour in one sitting – perfect for fans of Katie Fforde, Carole Matthews and Trisha Ashley.

Making the perfect man

Superman is possibly THE most famous hero - but even he has flaws.

Superman is possibly THE most famous hero – but even he has flaws.

As writers – we get to make up people. And of course, as someone who writes about love and relationships, that means I get to make up my heroes. Whenever I start a new book – I think about the hero and how to make the best hero. The perfect hero..,

And the answer – to be perfect he has to be imperfect.

It’s the imperfections that make him believable. We will fall in love with him – not despite his imperfections – but BECAUSE of them.

All the things that make him a hero have both a positive and a negative side – and the fun comes with deciding how to use the light and shade to create a character.

I’ve made a list… because lists are good.

Strength

By strength – I don’t mean muscles. Although, let’s face it, there’s nothing wrong with muscles. By strength I mean strength of purpose. Someone who will stand by his decisions and convictions in the face of all opposition. Think of Frodo Baggins in Lord of the Rings. He’s three feet tall and has furry feet. He’s not a great warrior – but he is the one to save the world. The fact that he does not have great physical strength highlights the strength of purpose he has.

Then, at the very end of his quest, he weakens… he hesitates before destroying the ring. His sense of purpose fails. That highlights for us how difficult the journey has been. How powerful evil can be if it has corrupted even Frodo.

Of course – it all ends well. That was never in doubt.

A great noir novel by a writer better known for epic fantasy. A marvellously flawed hero.

A great noir novel by a writer better known for epic fantasy. A marvellously flawed hero.

Courage

We know this man – Bruce Willis would play him in an actin film.  He saves the world, tackles the bad guys and puts himself in harm’s way to save a stranger. Or a dog.

But his courage works best when balanced against something he’s afraid of. Something that makes him vulnerable. Or something in his past that weakens him. This is the policeman hero who has fallen into drink and disrepute because of something in his past. Guilt over the death of a partner or a child.

The real courage of this hero is that he eventually overcomes his past to become the man we all know he is meant to be.

Honour

We love an honourable man. A man who knows what is right and will defend it. He will draw a line in the sand and say – this far and no further. We can trust this man to do the right thing.

For me, the honourable hero is Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. He is unswerving in his belief in justice. But when we see him through Scout’s eyes at the start of the book, she’s disappointed that he is not like other fathers. He doesn’t do the things that other fathers do. By the end of the book, of course, she has come to recognise his courage and to understand him. In this case, the flaw is no so much a real flaw, as a flaw perceived by the narrator. Or perhaps his flaw is that he is not the perfect father.

I fell in love with Spock's brain - or was it those eyebrows?

I fell in love with Spock’s brain – or was it those eyebrows?

Brains

Smart is sexy. But it’s more than that. We want to be able to look to our heroes for help in a crisis. The hero will figure out who the murderer is, or how to escape the locked room. Or the cure for a disease. Quite often these super smart men will have an innocence or a sense of other-worldliness that is very appealing.

Star Trek’s Mr Spock (played by Leonard Nimoy) was a hero of my childhood. I wanted to be as smart as him. I was desperately in love with him when I was about twelve. Of course, his flaw is centred on emotion. Vulcans are not supposed to have them. But he is half human and does. He spends his entire life trying to overcome the emotions that he sees as a flaw… while the rest of us see his lack of emotion as his flaw.

And there’s the whole business with the Pon Farr mating ritual every seven years. That is a bit of an issue too.

Humour

Funny is sexy. That’s why we love romantic comedies so much. A hero who can make us smile will brighten the dark times. Even better if he can laugh at himself.  We know we will enjoy the company of this hero.

In the world of films, Hugh Grant typifies the hero with a sense of humour. It’s all those lovely rom coms. He is funny, but he always flawed – the humour disguises something deeper. Shyness. Or loneliness. Or fear. Or pain.

What we want is to see past the jokes to what lies beneath.

Money

Let’s be honest here – no-one wants to be poor. There’s a reason the heroes in fairy tales tend to be princes. Castles are much better than a peasant’s hovel.

I write contemporary fiction, and in today’s world, rich often means workaholic. That’s the flaw. Our hero has to sacrifice a lot on the altar of success. Or, if he’s one of those princes, there’s the paparazzi and protocol and all that to deal with.

The challenge with this hero is to find something – someone – who will make him step off the fast track. Of course, we really don’t want him to lose all that money.

Shrek got the girl - for all the reasons above - despite being... well.. an ogre. I think I would have preferred the story if Fiona had not turned out to be an ogre too.

Shrek got the girl – for all the reasons above – despite being… well.. an ogre. I think I would have preferred the story if Fiona had not turned out to be an ogre too.

Good looks

We all love a good looking hero. It’s easy the add flaws to a good looking hero – he can be vain. Or he can have too many women trying to seduce him.

But – a hero doesn’t have to be handsome. If he has a good helping of the above traits, we are going to fall in love with him anyway. But… it’s not going to hurt if he looks like Brad Pitt.

So that’s my list – have I left anything out? Apart from Mr Darcy of course… who, for many readers, remains the quintessential flawed hero.

Which flawed heroes have you fallen in love with? And why?

Cleaning out the Clutter

Cleaning out the Clutter

pants

It’s 2017 and after last week’s resolutions, it’s in with the new and out with the old – clutter that is. Pam’s clearing out her underwear drawer and has just discovered she owns 51 pairs of knickers (aka panties in the U.S.A.). She has no idea how it got so out of hand but clearly some of those must be past their sell-by date!

The slogan for decluttering seems to be ‘If it’s not useful and you don’t love it, throw it out’. If I truly obeyed that I’m not sure I’d have any clothes left and days like today when I’m feeding horses in a foot of Colorado snow who cares if my sweaters are old and baggy?

But our bulging wardsugar-in-the-snowrobes makes me think of the editing process and someof those huge unwieldy first drafts in our early collaboration. Pam and I have definitely got better at chopping away unnecessary pages, paragraphs and all those extra adjectives that tend to obscure rather than enhance the story. It’s a useful metaphor for life too. Now the crazy holiday season is over it’sa good time of year to take a mental step back from all the busyness to see what’s really valuable and what it might be better to let go.

Meanwhile, just as daunting, I’ve been tackling the thousands of old and unread messages in my two email inboxes. Why two emails? Well, my Yahoo account grew so overwhelming that ages ago I signed up for a second service, under the illusion that using this new exclusive address I could start afresh, be organized and not skip over anything that looked boring or leave opened messages to choke up my inbox. Hah!

So the last few evenings, I’ve been hard at it, sorting into folders any message about writing, money, or whatever, that migunsubscribeht be important to save. Every email I open I’ve been putting the address in the search box to gather others by the same sender and am either filing or deleting in bulk. I identified a huge amount of junk by searching for ‘unsubscribe’, ‘no-reply’, ‘opt-out’ or likely words like ‘student loan’, ‘mortgage’. There’s also that trick of changing the sort option to see what rises to the top and a very clever app called Unroll Me which safely unsubscribes or rolls up the daily new subscriptions that appear in my inbox. In the process of organizing, I’ve found a frightening amount of things that were overlooked – dinner invitations, questions needing an urgent answer two years ago.

More entertainingly, Pam and I have finally got it together (one of last year’s writing resolutions) to produce a kindle box set of three of our novels, Looking for La La, To Catch a Creeper and Meddling with Murder entitled Crouch End Confidential.dfw-ec-cec-boxset-midThis will be published mid-January and we can’t wait to see it out there.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go and purge my office. Makes me shudder when I think of what might be hidden in some of the filing baskets accumulating on my desk…