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.

Why?

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At my first RNA conference I was an unpublished hopeful.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:  http://smarturl.it/nmm

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

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Looking down the valley towards the village

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

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Harvest time

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Taking a break from digging an irrigation ditch

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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: http://smarturl.it/nmm

A wonderful (superb, terrific, excellent, fabulous, brilliant, magnificent) writing tool

wordcloudPeter Mark Roget was born in London in 1779 and studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh. Who knew? Not I, for all I live just down the road. Yet I make use of Mr Roget’s most famous achievement almost every day of my working life. We have so much to thank him for. Obsessed with lists from the age of eight, he used them to battle depression and while I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, I’m truly thankful that he turned to words for solace.

As writers we put thousands of words onto the page, and constantly finding new ways of expressing yourself is one of many challenges writers face.

Mr Roget’s idea was to make a catalogue (list, inventory, register, record, roll, index, directory, checklist) of words according to similarity of meaning (sense, signification, import, gist, thrust, drift, tenor, message, essence, substance, intention, purport). So when I want to describe my hero’s raffish air, I don’t need to repeat myself – he can be rakish, unconventional, careless, louche, dissolute, decadent, disreputable or even devil-may-care.

Mr Roget’s visionary (far-sighted, prescient, percipient, canny, discerning) idea not only reminds me of the many options available, I find that it also helps to stimulate my creativity, often taking me down avenues I hadn’t previously considered.

smile

From Apple’s online Thesaurus.

Use of his wonderful Thesaurus requires care, however. Don’t use a word that’s suggested unless you are completely sure of the its meaning – and indeed, the nuances of its meaning. Smile is surely one of the hardest words for which to find alternatives – and, unfortunately, it’s in the group of words writers use most often. Mr Roget offers ‘beam’ and ‘grin’, either of which might be apt (though hardly elegant). But choose twinkle, dimple, smirk, simper or leer and you could find yourself in deep water! Fortunately, my online Thesaurus warns about this. “Choose the right word’ it tells me, and goes on to explain why.

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What word would you use to describe this colour of eye?

Similarly, if I want to describe my heroine’s blue eyes, Roget’s suggestions include azure, cobalt, sapphire, navy, midnight, electric, indigo, royal, air force, robin’s egg, peacock, ultramarine, steel, slate and cyan, each of which will conjure a different image in your readers’ minds. But wait – ‘cyan eyes’? I don’t think so. ‘Electric blue eyes’? Hmm. Rather a startling image!

To be used with caution, then – but I confess that Roget’s Thesaurus is one of the most useful tools in my writing kit (equipment, gear, tackle, resources, toolbox).

As for Mr Roget, he spent most of his life actively involved in medicine. He was one of the founders of the Medical and Chirurgical Society of London, which later became the Royal Society of Medicine. He later became this body’s Secretary and had a full and distinguished career, retiring in 1840, at the age of 61, to prepare his Thesaurus. It was, Wikipedia tells me, an avocation. I confess I had to look this up in a dictionary. It means a hobby a person engages in outside their main career and that often becomes the activity that defines them.

I looked it up in my Thesaurus, but it offered no alternative words. Mr Roget is unique in his own world.

Do you use a Thesaurus when you write?

 

 

Writing in Italy … about Italy

I’m feeling fond of Italy this week. There are two reasons:

  1. I’m travelling to Italy on Wednesday to lead the one-week Great Writing course for Arte Umbria. Then I’m staying a second week to lead their writing retreat.
  2. The book I’m writing, currently entitled The Summer of Finding Out and scheduled for publication in May 2018, is set in Umbria, too. In fact, the rear of a small hotel my heroine, Sofia, lives in, bears an uncanny resemblance to the gorgeous terrace, gardens and pool of Arte Umbria‘s venue, Tenuta di Poggiolame, complete with its panoramic view.

Sue Moorcroft at Arte Umbria webThis will be the fifth year I’ve led a course for Arte Umbria and naturally, I’m looking forward to it. Who wouldn’t, when their ‘classroom’ is a sunny terrace?

But I’m also excited about the retreat because I’ll actually be in the book’s setting as I write. I can go into an Italian town to do my research; chat to people who live the Italian way of life; immerse myself in the culture, sounds, smells and sights. I’ve long wanted this experience. When I wrote The Wedding Proposal, set in Malta, the temptation was enormous to go there for a week to write. If I hadn’t been travelling so much that summer anyway, I would have done it, but there were just too many things against the idea at the time. If I recall correctly I attended the RT Booklovers’ Convention in America and taught in France and Italy.Sue working on terrace web

But this time … this time it’s different. I’ve been able to bring my writing schedule and teaching schedule together beautifully. It also marks a change in my life as next year my publishing schedule is so tight that I won’t be teaching anywhere (unless somebody invites me to a great country to do so). But two writing retreats are scheduled for Arte Umbria and I will be there … I wonder if I can pull off being in the midst of a book set in Italy again?

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PS The first booking has already been taken for Arte Umbria‘s writing retreats in 2018. If you’d like to know more or even make your booking, click here for my page on the Arte Umbria website and here for the booking form.