woman in white long sleeved shirt holding a pen writing on a paper
Blog, Writing

Writing Romance —How To ACE It

I began my writing career by producing photographs and non-fiction articles for national magazines such as The Lady, and the Royal Horticultural Society’s The Garden. Then I was seduced by romance, and started working in the genre. Twenty-one novels later I’ve sold nearly three million books, which have been translated into lots of different languages. On the right you can see the cover of the recently-released Manga version of my Harlequin Modern Romance, Weight of the Crown.

For the past few years I’ve been acting as a reader for the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme. Members of the Romantic Novelists’ Association who are unpublished submit their work to be assessed by professional authors like me. Graduates of the scheme include a fellow member of the RNA’s Marcher Chapter, the lovely Jan Baynham. As an unpublished author, Jan submitted her novel Her Mother’s Secret to the NWS. It went on to be published, and Jan’s career took off.

You can find out more about joining the Romantic Novelists’ Association here.

If you want to write romance, start by reading everything in the genre that appeals to you. Once you’ve got a feeling for the type of stories you like best, three letters will help you craft your own romantic novel. They are A.C.E:

Audience and Atmosphere

Characters and Conflict

Expectation and Experience

A is for Audience. Always keep your reader in mind. Reading romance is an escape, so whether your story is historical, contemporary, conventional, or alternative, give your audience what they are looking for — a story with plenty of Atmosphere. The swish of skirts and glitter of candlelight against silverware sets the scene for an historical novel. Sun, sand, and champagne sipped on a yacht supplies the glamour every contemporary romance needs.

C is for Characters. Focus on quality, rather than quantity. When it comes to romance, the fewer speaking parts, the better. Bring in other people only to enhance the reader’s understanding of your principal characters, or to deepen the Conflict between them. In this instance, the word conflict refers to the dramatic tension between how a character feels and the public face they adopt. For example, Pride and Prejudice has a whole raft of characters, but each plays a vital role in exposing the real Elizabeth and Darcy. Those two central characters are confined within the rigid class structure of their era, while their strong emotions create the inner turmoils which drive the plot.

a couple in white dress standing in view of the mountain
Photo by Jonathan Borba on Pexels.com

E is for Expectation, which brings us back to your audience. Anyone choosing a romance to read is looking for a central character they can relate to, who is swept off their feet by their idea of a perfect lover. There’s no satisfaction for your reader if the path of fictional true love runs smoothly, so make it a roller coaster of Emotion (another E!) and Experiences. Let your central characters be faced with situations that test them in the same way your readers are tested in their own lives. Readers love to follow the journeys of heroes and heroines as they come to terms with hardship, pain, separation, and every other kind of disaster before finding their Happy Ever After.

Love conquers all is a cliché, but it’s perfect in this situation as it describes what readers like to read about. Your job as a writer is to give them what they want.

Next time I’ll be talking about how you can avoid the three common mistakes that get a manuscript rejected without being read. Subscribe to my blog by using the button above, so you don’t miss out!

people toasting wine glasses
Advent, Blog, Writing

A Present, An Award, and Publication…

Guess what—Christina Hollis isn’t my real name!

I’ve had quite a week, so I’m hoping to spend this weekend recovering with a good book!

Monday was the day I’d been both looking forward to, and dreading. I graduated with an MA (distinction) in Creative and Critical Writing in October 2020 but the graduation ceremony was cancelled due to Covid. We finally got our chance to get togged up and go on parade at The Centaur auditorium in Cheltenham Racecourse this week, along with all the the 2021 graduands.

My social anxiety was in overdrive while driving to the venue, getting robed, photographed, and making that long walk across the stage to bow (no handshakes, thanks to Covid) to the University of Gloucestershire’s Pro-Chancellor Sir Henry Elwes. Thank goodness I was in the good company of my fellow MA students, Rosie, Carole, and Hayley. Congratulations again, girls!

On Tuesday, Alex disturbed a wild boar when we were out on a walk. It must have been asleep in the bracken brash which covers the woodland surrounding our house. It jumped up and huffed at him furiously. I would have done the same if Alex’s cold wet nose had woken me up when I was fast asleep! Alex bounced straight back onto the track unhurt, but he was careful to hide behind us while barking furiously at the retreating boar.

The People’s Friend, Edition No. 7905

On Wednesday, my story Raining Cats and Dogs appeared in The People’s Friend. Although it’s completely fictional, the setting is based on my daughter’s tiny home in Tewkesbury. She took me with her when she first went to view it. I fell in love with the place the moment we went up the (high) front steps and over the (raised) threshold. It’s a beautiful little house, built hundreds of years ago as “infill” by some mediaeval entrepreneur to unite two rows of traditional black and white cottages. Despite being on the river bank it has never flooded—although all the properties keep special flood gates at the ready!

Ever since I got my results in October 2020 I’ve been dithering about whether or not to do a PhD. There are lots of reasons why I should (personal satisfaction, increasing human knowledge, getting to wear am even fancier cap and gown on qualifying, etc)…and lots of reasons why I shouldn’t (cost, time, effort etc).

On Thursday, all that dithering had to stop. My husband announced that he’d told his work colleagues he was looking forward to taking a back seat at office parties when we’re introduced as “Dr and Mr Hollis”. He’s hoping that curiosity will divert attention away from him, for a change!

DD, Looking Great On My Big Day

Friday brought a welcome message from Lucy, my lovely editor at The People’s Friend magazine. She told me that I’d had another story accepted for publication. This one has the working title The Self-Help Switch. I don’t know when it will appear—probably some time in the New Year—and the title is almost certain to change. I’ll let you know when I have more details.

The Forest of Dean is supposed to catch the edge of Storm Arwen over the weekend, but this week has already given me enough excitement, thank you very much! I’m planning to spend my time curled up in front of the fire with the workbook my sister gave me as a graduation present. It’s The Writers’ Advent by Portland Jones, which gives a prompt for every day leading up to December 25th. The first one supplies the opening of a detective story, and challenges you to supply the next 200 words or so. The book’s subsequent prompts cover all kinds of genres, one for each day, with suggestions for blog posts, limericks, horror stories, and more. I’ve never used a prompt book before, and can’t wait to get started.

Have you used a book like The Writers’ Advent? Did it persuade you to try a new writing journey?

Uncategorized

Soup

Covid, Brexit and the threat of rising inflation has made me wonder about food security during the coming winter.

Rumours of shortages in the supermarkets mean sourcing local and seasonal food will be more important than ever. We’re lucky to have plenty of vegetables in the garden, but rising fuel prices mean I’m re-thinking the way I cook.

We’ve got electricians working here at the moment. They often have to cut off the supply, so I’m having to plan our meals carefully. I was up at 5am baking sourdough loaves.

Straight from the oven! ©Christina Hollis, 2021
The first leeks since last March! ©Christina Hollis 2021

Later I’ll be making leek and potato soup for the first time since last spring. We’ve got a gas hob, so than can be cooked without electricity. I’m in the process of making the twenty-first-century equivalent of a haybox. That’s a way of cooking soups and stews without electricity.

A haybox uses the heat retained within a dish to cook it. Recipes are brought to a rolling boil on a gas ring or open fire, then the pot is plonked into a highly insulated container. This keeps the food cooking for a long time, while the temperature gradually drops away. It’s suitable for soups, stews, and rice pudding. Dishes typically take about six hours to cook.

I haven’t done any haybox cookery since I was in the Girl Guides. In those days, the insulation really was hay. This time around I’ll be stuffing a cotton casing with the kind of filling used for beanbags. That will be a more hygenic way to keep our leek and potato soup cooking!

Wish me luck. I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Blog, books, Children in Need

The Need to Read…

Remember how exciting it was when Father Christmas left you a new book under the Christmas tree?

If you love to read and you’re a generous soul who likes to give to charity, visit the Children in Read website. Each year Paddy Heron organises an online auction where readers can support the BBC’s Children in Need charity. Bid for a book, and the money goes straight to charity.

Visit the Children in Read site — it’s a great place to pick up Christmas presents, while at the same time making a difference to children’s lives.

I’m donating a signed copy of Struggle and Suffrage in Bristol. To find out more, click here

person in white long sleeve shirt using macbook pro
Blog, Writing process

Internet Chaos

Hello again! Apart from a few snatched minutes here and there, I’ve been offline for what feels like weeks. Every time it rains—and we’ve had showers all the time this summer—we lose out internet link.

purple leaf
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

We’ve had engineers out loads of times, they’ve been up every telegraph pole for miles around, and wonder of wonders we’ve even had refunds from our provider. Despite that, they’ve never managed to track down the fault. We had heavy rain last night and so…no internet. Everyone has agreed that water is getting into the system somewhere. The question is, where?

We’re more than a mile from the nearest junction box, so that means there’s any number of places where the rain could get in and disrupt the signal. The line of telegraph poles marches through the wood for most of that distance. Branches rubbing against the wires can’t help.

The good news is I’ve got a Plan B to make absolutely sure I can get online on Friday, 9th July because I’m giving a talk to the Society of Authors Monmouth Group on that day about Research for Writers.

My first published book

I began my writing career by writing about my hobbies of growing plants and keeping animals. For a long time I wrote freelance articles for magazines such as The Lady, The Garden, and Nursery World. Then I moved onto writing historical romance, which wasn’t easy in the days before the internet. Readers are knowledgeable about their favourite eras, so there’s no such thing as a throwaway detail.

Researching the contemporary romances I wrote for Harlequin and The Wild Rose Press was all kinds of fun. It was the chance to relive all my best holiday experiences of staying in Italian castles or English historic houses.

When I was asked to write Struggle and Suffrage in Bristol, I discovered the wonders of the Bristol Archive. There were so many fascinating stories to be found by trawling through the boxes of private and public papers. If it hadn’t been for my publishing deadline, I’d still be enjoying myself combing through parish records, and back copies of The Western Daily Press

I’ll be covering all these areas of research in more detail in my talk on Friday. You can find out more about it here. Tickets are free, although the Society of Authors is always pleased to receive donations!