How do you create a great bad guy?

VilliancThere’s no drama without conflict – and there’s no conflict like a good, ongoing battle between hero and villain (or, in the case of my next novel, heroine and villain).

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I’m giving my villain a Point of View, so I need to get to know him as well as I know my heroine. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. What has shaped him? Was he bullied as a child? Ignored? Abused? Does he have low self esteem that has to be bolstered through finding power over others?
  2. What is his goal? Does he desire wealth? Status? Recognition? Respect?
  3. Is he a rounded character? Very few people are either all good or all bad – so what are his strong points? Can he be charming? Does he really love someone – more than he loves himself? Can he show kindness?
  4. Am I showing his good side? It’s important that my readers understand him and don’t feel he’s one-dimensional BUT … oooh! He could be evil and ENJOY being evil!
  5. Is he as strong as my heroine? He has to be as accomplished, as clever, as interesting as she is – in other words, he has to be a worthy opponent and she’ll have to think long and hard about how to get the better of him (if she can!
  6. How does he justify his actions? Many villains believe they are the real heroes, that they are boxed into a corner because of x, y or z; that they ‘had no choice’ when doing something wrong; that the end they believe in justifies the means they employ to get there.

There are many really interesting blogs and articles out there on villains – clearly, they fascinate people. One post made the point that villains cause heroes to question their own goals and motivations, even force them to behave a little badly themselves in order to achieve their (morally justified) ends. ‘Villainy leaves a stain,’ says Melinda Salisbury .

Another writer,Jerry Jenkins, advises, ‘Tap into your dark side long enough to know what makes a good villain tick.’  For example, take a look at the bit you always try to pretend isn’t there (that little lie about being ill so you didn’t have to go to work, the phone call you ignored from a difficult friend because you couldn’t be bothered listening to her problems; the antisocial behaviour you didn’t report because it was just going to take too much time or effort.

Villains should have an element of tragedy about them, says John LaFolette They’re simply fallible human beings.

My villain is certainly fallible – but then, so is my heroine. I going to have to make sure my reader knows which is which!


Free Promotion – Update

No More Mulberries - web readyI thought I’d give an update on my No More Mulberries promotion when, for five days, I offered it FREE to download.

I know it seems counter-intuitive to give books away and some authors are opposed to the idea and for a long time so was I. I knew it was something many indie authors did but I really didn’t like the idea of all my hard work being simply given away.

The redoubtable Jackie Weger, founder of eNovel Authors at Work, of which I am a proud member, persuaded me. She took me gently by the hand, pointed her snake gun at me and said, “Do it!”  I did it.

I’m delighted with the result. Over the five days almost 5,000 people downloaded the book, mainly in USA and UK but also in Canada, Australia, India and Italy. Okay, so they didn’t pay me for it but money isn’t everything, is it? I love the idea so many new readers now have a copy of No More Mulberries on their Kindles.

Also, people borrowed the book. This is something I don’t pretend to understand but for some reason people choose to borrow it from Kindle Unlimited rather than simply downloading it. I love it that they do because Amazon actually gives me money every time someone reads a page of a borrowed book. So far these lovely people have read 15,000 pages and climbing.

Reviews from these new readers have started to come in already. So far, they have been lovely, like the one Sally Cronin posted on her Smorgasbord blog as well as Amazon and GoodReads. Since the promotion ended and No More Mulberries returned to full price, paid sales have gone up. I expect they will plateau soon but it’s lovely while it lasts.

Of course, it isn’t just a matter of offering a book for free on Amazon – a fair bit of work is required if anyone is to know about it. Amazon doesn’t do much on that front so it’s up to the author. I booked a few paid ads on sites such as Ereader News Today, Digital Book Today, Great Books Great Deals and Authors Cross Promotion.

Major thanks go to Sally Cronin who promoted the free deal on her blog and to Sue Vincent and Marcia Meara who both let me write guest posts on their blogs, providing me with the opportunity of letting potentially several thousands of people know about No More Mulberries.

And for five days I worked social media – Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn – like a demon. The share buttons were red hot! It was exhilarating and exhausting and now I’m getting my head down to write.

A critical mass of writers…

Let me tell you about my favourite event of the year (excluding Christmas of course). It’s the annual Romantic Novelists’ Association Conference (which is happening as I post this). Well – my favourite events (plural) of any year are writing conferences. I go to as many as I can – but always the RNA conference here in the UK, shortly after which I fly to Australia for the Romance Writers of Australia Conference. I also go to similar events in the USA – when time and budget allow.

I spent a lot of one conference with my foot resting on a bag of frozen peas… but I was not daunted.


Because writing conferences inspire me. And terrify me. And exhaust me. They make me laugh and sometimes cry (that was mostly the year I hurt my foot the day the conference began).

A writing conference may attract anything from a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand writers. I’m not sure the point at which writers hit critical mass – but there is something about a writers’ conference which I find no-where else.

At my first RNA conference I was an unpublished hopeful. Within minutes of arriving I met an author whose book I read. An author whose books I loved. And she talked to me. TO ME! That was a proper fan-girl meltdown moment for me. And it opened my eyes to something important… writers are people. Until then, they had seemed mystical entities on a plane far above the real world.

In the fifteen years since then, I’ve been to many such conferences and met people who are now among my closest friends. I found my first publisher at a conference. And my agent is at this one.

At the Romance Writers of Australia conference, I get to meet up with other writers of rural romances.

Nine books later, I still learn new things at each conference from the speakers (mostly writers) who generously share their time and knowledge.

At each conference I find new friends – writers who understand the joys and frustrations of writing. We sit up late at night talking, drinking wine or cups of tea and probably eating chocolates, but always offering each other support and understanding and encouragement. We laugh together and occasionally cry together, but we are always there for each other.

Industry panels are a wonderful way of keeping pace with a rapidly changing publishing world

And conferences are FUN! The conversation, the laughter, the jokes and stories and kitchen parties. I am always exhausted by the end of the conference, but the joy of the weekend fuels my writing energy.

At conferences, no-one is allowed to say ‘no’ to a little extravagance.

So, if you aspire to write or are already writing, can I presume to offer a suggestion… If you haven’t already, find a writing association that suits you and your genre. Find other writers to share your journey. And then go out there and enjoy. That’s what I am off to do right now…. See you again soon.

There’s always time to relax and just chat.

Penny in the swear jar, ticket to hell or just a colourful character?

It’s a dilemma, isn’t it, that all writers face today? Honestly it may seem that Americans and British both speak English but often times the words, not to mention the sensibilities are, literally, oceans apart.  That being said, how do you satisfy two audiences divided by a common language?

Let’s start with spelling.  Yes, most of us know that in England the word is ‘colour’ and the female parent who makes your sandwiches before you head for school is ‘Mum’.  Whereas in America it’s spelled ‘color’ and your father’s wife is ‘Mom’ (or possibly ‘Stepmom’ but we don’t have to go there). Still, with hawk-eyed readers always quick to pounce on misspellings and typos, we’ve found it beneficial to point out in the first page that they’re getting a dose of English spelling, like it or not.  We actually tried producing a separate edition for our US ebooks but then we were accused of ‘Americanising’ our characters when they were clearly British and we gave up on the attempt.

And then there’s slang.  How many people actually speak the Queen’s English as enunciated by a BBC newsreader?  So yes, we do tend to put quite a bit of slang into our novels, well, just because we dig it, mate.  Some American readers love the quirkiness, some are completely baffled, some are forgiving but struggle with the meaning.  Like it or not, there are differences in the way Americans and English speak and with Lorraine living in Colorado, she’s particularly sensitive to not creating American characters who all talk like surfers (‘way cool, dude’) while aware that many of the people she meets still think that ‘Brits’ are either extremely proper ( ‘I say, my good man, tally-ho)’ or (Gor blimey, luv) talk like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins.

Touchiest of all, we’ve noticed Americans are much less tolerant of swearing.  Whereas we English (or maybe just our friends) occasionally pepper our sentences with epithets such as ‘bloody hell’, ‘crap’, ‘bugger’, ‘Christ Almighty’, ‘Oh God’ or the occasional F-bomb (as used to such comic great effect in Bridget Jones Diary), there are sensitive readers, particularly on the other side of the pond, who believe such disgusting language has no place in print.  We had what we thought a mild to moderate amount of cussing in our first novel – not without some debate as to whether it was absolutely necessary for character development – but it was enough for one indignant review to ask ‘if the two sisters competed for who could come up with the foulest curses?’   Since several of our books today are marketed as cosy crime we actually conducted a US readers’ poll on the topic, curious to get some first-hand opinions.  The result? Some would stop reading if a character constantly swore although most would accept a soft occasional ‘damn’.  But almost everyone was offended by ‘taking names in vain’.  Not that I think it will totally change the way we write but, jeez, who knew?

And apologies for the lateness of this post.  Pam was on holiday (vacation) in the New Forest and Lorraine was spaced out taking care of a laid-up husband (damaged ankle.)  So if there are any typos or mistakes without Pam looking over it first, (she bailed and went to bed), blame it on Lorraine’s blasted American spellcheck.

No More Mulberries is FREE until 09th July

No More Mulberries - web readyWhat’s it about?

‘Scottish-born midwife, Miriam loves her work at a health clinic in rural Afghanistan and the warmth and humour of her women friends in the village, but she can no longer ignore the cracks appearing in her marriage. Her doctor husband has changed from the loving, easy-going man she married and she fears he regrets taking on a widow with a young son, who seems determined to remain distant from his stepfather.

When Miriam acts as translator at a medical teaching camp she hopes time apart might help her understand the cause of their problems. Instead, she must focus on helping women desperate for medical care and has little time to think about her failing marriage. When an old friend appears, urging her to visit the village where once she and her first husband had been so happy, Miriam finds herself travelling on a journey into her past, searching for answers to why her marriage is going so horribly wrong.’

Amazon Links:

To give you some idea of the setting for No More Mulberries here are some photos of where Miriam and Iqbal lived and worked.


Looking down the valley towards the village


The village, Sag-i-Sia, where Miriam and Iqbal lived.


Harvest time


Taking a break from digging an irrigation ditch


Beautiful Band-i-Amir, a series of lakes of the most amazing shades of blue. In the past – and again now – Band-i-Amir was a popular beauty spot. The waters are reputed to cure all kinds of health problems – including leprosy. You can read about this is in the book.

What readers have said:
‘NO MORE MULBERRIES is so gripping, and the story and characters so interesting and relatable, that I was immediately drawn in. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough as the drama and emotion escalated. Ms. Smith gives readers clear-eyed insight into what Afghans love about their country, but also into the extreme and frightening aspects of Afghanistan’s culture, politics, and unrest. Miriam is not the only character who chafes under the oppression of entrenched tradition; her husband, a native Afghan, is desperate to keep his fear and heartache from showing.’ (Lornwal)

‘This novel is chock full of Afghanistan culture and is an absolutely brilliant read. It really is hard to believe this is a debut novel. Educational as well as entertaining from a fictional point of view, Mary Smith shares her unique perspective on the politics, culture and people of Afghanistan brought about by her years working in the area. The sights and sounds of the country come alive in this tale and I was engrossed from the start. This is a book which makes you think and also, if you look deeper, gives you answers to questions we ask when faced with a culture which is so different to our own. Mary Smith brought the country of Afghanistan alive for me in a way no news article could ever do.’ (Bodicia)

No More Mulberries is FREE until Sunday 9th July. Download here: