Blog, Writing

You Can Write! Part Five

Make It Real

pexels-photo-273222.jpegYou’ve made the decision to write a book, and  gathered your thoughts. You’ve decided what type of book you’re writing, and given your characters names that fits the picture of them which lives inside your head.

It’s time to start writing—but you’ve still got a little way to go before you begin Chapter One. Characterisation is the cornerstone of your story.  Often you’ll be convinced you know how your plot is going to develop, but your cast have other ideas. The more you write, the more input they provide. That’s exactly as it should be. As they become more real to you, your story will become more believable to your readers.

In conventional romance, readers want to identify with the heroine, be impressed by the hero, and believe in the secondary characters. That means giving them all well-rounded personalities. Be careful not to make them all stunning to look at, and good and kind in every way. Giving each of them a few identifying marks or peculiarities. Little flaws in their appearance and nature make them more human.

You could make your heroine the type of person who can’t get their act together until lunchtime—but make sure she has a good reason for her shortcomings. Maybe she can’t sleep at night, so she’s always tired. We all know how that feels! Giving her an interesting reason for her insomnia adds another facet to her character, and your story.

Maybe your hero hates lending books—not because he’s ungenerous, but because he’s from the wrong side of the tracks and knows how it feels to have his possessions wrecked by other people. It’s happened in the past, and he’s learned from his mistakes.


It’s handy to log all the physical characteristics of your novel’s cast members on a spreadsheet. That way, there’s no room for continuity errors. Their eyes will stay blue (or grey, or brown) all the way through your story.

Make sure all your characters act consistently, too. If someone has a phobia of air travel, that’s not something that can be forgotten on a whim. You’ll need to put them into a life-or-death situation before you can reasonably send them anywhere on a plane.

A vegan would never eat a meat pie simply because it was dinner time and they were hungry. If you show a character you want us to like cutting up another driver on the motorway, or laughing at someone slipping on ice, that isn’t consistent behaviour.

Getting to know your characters from the inside out is the way to create believable heroes and heroines.  One way to do that is to invent a complete backstory for each member of your fictional cast. Sign up for my occasional newsletter by using the contact form here, and I’ll send you my template for creating believable characters.

A satisfying story needs your characters to undergo some sort of transformation during the course of your novel. They should change, or learn something about themselves and life, but make sure it’s believable.  A term you’ll often come across is the character arc, which spans the development of a character from the beginning to the end of a book.

If your characterisation is good, situations and conflicts will begin to develop naturally, but whatever you do, don’t let your characters corner you into impossible situations. It’s no defence to think that you can write yourself out of a situation by including the words; ‘she woke up and it was all a dream’.  That device has worked well in some classic stories (which I won’t name, in case you haven’t come across them yet. No spoilers here!) but it’s almost impossible to use it these days without leaving your reader feeling that they’ve been cheated.

Blog, Writing

You Can Write! Part Four

What’s In A Name?

pexels-photo-373076.jpegDuring this series, we’ve covered the inspiration and the talents you’ll need to create the book you want to write, along with its genre. Today’s blog covers one of those small details that seems insignificant until you make the change from reader to writer— but it’s actually a very important part of building a good scaffolding for your story.

Have you  ever been catapulted right out of a story by the thought why on earth would anybody be called that in real life? A jolt like that shows how much care and attention authors should put into naming their characters.

Make sure the names you choose are a good fit with the tone you want to set.  There’s nothing to stop you calling your drop-dead gorgeous World War One flying ace Betram Wilberforce, although anyone who has read the books of P G Wodehouse might have difficulty imagining the nation being saved by a chap named after Bertie Wooster.

Add 338 years, lose four letters from her name, and you get…

The name Elizabeth probably holds the record for the number of variations on a theme. Each one has a unique feel, and shows the difference in tone the choice of a name can create. Queens Elizabeth I and II are very different women, but using the name in full evokes a suitably formal image. The transition from untouchable icon Elizabeth Taylor to  much-married celebrity Liz Taylor is shorthand for a complete change in the public mindset.  The star system shielded queens of Hollywood glamour until it became better publicity for them to be “more like us”. Glamorous Elizabeth became the chummier Liz when her many marriages were being dissected under the media microscope.

Smart and sensible Elizabeth Bennet from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was known within her family circle as the less formal Lizzy, and Eliza. She shared this second name with the equally forthright Miss Doolittle from Shaw’s Pygmalion, which later became My Fair Lady. 


Gentle, kind, self-sacrificing Beth March in Little Women creates a completely different image. Betty Turpin was the down-to-earth inventor of the famous hotpot served in Coronation Street‘s Rovers Return. And who could forget pneumatic Barbara Windsor in Carry On Henry, telling a leering Sid James that her mum said she should always be a good Bet! Bet was also the name of a second barmaid at the Rovers Return, but no one would expect the leopard-print-and-lippy-wearing Bet Lynch to be a genius in the kitchen.

Some names, like William and Emma, have stayed wildly popular for a millennium. You couldn’t guess in what year a character with either of those names was born, although I’m guessing any future heroines called Stormi or North will have their years of birth set in stone.

A good way to choose names for your characters is to buy a book of baby names and trawl through it, or search internet lists for the most popular name in the year your hero or heroine was born.

The idea I’m developing for my next novel features a heroine who has been bullied all her life, but decides the time is right to make a stand. She’s called Tabitha Carter, and  she hates her name. Her mother was christened Samantha, after the witch in the 1960s TV comedy series Bewitched. In due course, Mrs Samantha Carter copied the name her celebrity alter-ego gave to her magical daughter—Tabitha.

If sharing a name with a fictional witch’s child wasn’t bad enough, Tabitha Carter’s mother insists on shortening her name to  ‘Tabby’. After years of politely asking her mother not to do it, when Tabitha finally snaps her mother says:

Make up your mind! Five minutes ago you didn’t want me to call you Tabitha. When I pander to you, you don’t like that either.

Once you’ve chosen a name that feels like a good fit for your character, put it into an online search engine to make sure there are no notorious criminals or famous eccentrics who share it—unless you plan on making your character either a notorious criminal or a famous eccentric, of course.

That’s not to say you can’t turn convention on its head to brilliant effect, but  the contrast between name and popular image has to be enormous if it is to work well.  In 1984, written just after the Second World War, George Orwell’s character Winston Smith doesn’t share any of war-time Prime Minster Churchill’s heroic qualities.

Who knows? The world might be ready and waiting for you to create a bloodthirsty anti-heroine called Violet-Elizabeth, who skins little boys alive, and could give Margaret Thatcher’s memory a run for its money. Do you fancy giving it a try?









Blog, Writing your Book

You Can Write! Part Three

Decisions, Decisions


In Part One of this series, I talked about where to find inspiration. Part Two explained about the three writing talents you already have.

Now you’ve got an idea in mind and have learned you’ve got all the ingredients to bring your story to life, you’ll need  a few technical terms.

If your dream is to be published, it’s best to assume that once you’ve written a book in one particular style of story (“genre”) , your readers will want more of the same. You can change genre between books—I wrote six successful historical novels before switching to contemporary fiction— but when you first start writing it’s best to concentrate on working within a single genre.

There are as many genres within literature as there are authors. I write Romance.  That covers a huge range of fiction from sweet to torrid, boy-meets-girl to same sex love via werewolves, shape-shifters and everything in between.  The influential Romance Writers of America requires romance novels to contain two basic elements: a central love story, and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. Within those boundaries, there are all sorts of sub-genres. Here’s a brief run-down of the RWA’s latest guidelines:

Contemporary romance: can be set at any time from 1950 to the present day
Erotic Romance: incudes often explicit sexual interaction which couldn’t be removed without damaging the storyline. May overlap with other subgenres, such as historical or paranormal etc)

Find out more at Lady Rascal

Historical Romance: novels set before 1950. One of the most popular sub-genres within this category is the Regency Romance, which is why the publisher who re-issued one of my earliest works, Lady Rascal was keen to add the label to the Amazon details. Madeleine and Philip’s story is actually set slightly earlier—right at the end of the eighteenth century.
Paranormal romance: deals in fantasy worlds, the paranormal, or contains elements of science fiction as an integral part of the plot.
Romance with religious or spiritual elements: ‘may be set in the context of any religious or spiritual belief system of any culture’. Those beliefs should be an intrinsic part of the love story, and form part of the character growth and relationship development of the central characters.
Romantic Suspense: contains elements of suspense, mystery or thriller writing.
Young Adult romance: reflects young adult life as part of the plot.

Each of the categories above can be divided still further by their enthusiasts into sub-genres such as gay timeslips or erotic paranormal.

Readers need to know what to expect when they see your name on a book. If you decide to change genre further on in your writing career, it might be easier to use a pen name. The famous American novelist Nora Roberts uses several. For instance, she writes mainstream romance under that name, but uses the pseudonym JD Robb when she writes romantic suspense. She understands her loyal readers. They prefer to know what sort of story they’re getting, so they choose books with Nora’s appropriate name on the cover.

Placeholder ImageReaders know what they like, and may not be keen on change. Whether you write crime or romance, fantasy or literary fiction, learn all you can about the terms and conventions (“tropes”) you’ll need to use. Marriage of Convenience, Secret Baby and Friends to Lovers are three popular tropes within romance. Lots of background reading within your chosen genre will help with this. If you can use and talk about the terms like a professional, then you’ll be treated like one.

Think carefully about why you are drawn to write in one genre more than another.  Make sure it’s really the right one for you. You may be writing within it for a long time! Unless the words you write come from your heart, your work will lack sincerity. Study the type of writing that’s popular with the audience you’re aiming to please. Read reviews. You’ll soon discover what readers like, and how their favourite authors work. Join Goodreads, and find out where else your target readership gets together online to discuss the books they enjoy.  Investigating measurement services like Google Analytics and Quantcast will help you in your search.

Blog, Writing your Book

You Can Write! Part Two

macbook-925387_1280If someone tells you they can teach you to write, run a mile. If they ask you for money to teach you to write, run two miles. Keep your cash in your pocket. You have all the talent you need to write, although to begin with your three biggest writing talents may be a bit rusty. All you need is imagination, observation and determination. You probably already use those talents every day, and every one of them can be built up and improved.

The most important of your three talents is imagination. Once we leave school and don’t need to think up excuses for not doing our homework, our imagination pretty much goes onto the back-burner. Get back into the fantasy habit. Those precious few moments before you drop off to sleep at night are made for letting your mind wander. For the sake of relaxation, don’t make your thoughts too plot-heavy! As I said last time, keep a notebook and pen next to your bed so you can jot down ideas in the middle of the night. You might think you’ll remember them when you wake, but the chances are you won’t.

Observation is the second skill you need to work on. Train yourself to notice details. Watch and listen all the time. Readers are fascinated by the little things that inspire, intrigue or infuriate everyone. Does every snail shell coil the same way? Find out. How can you put into words the special quality of summer air before a storm? Try. Snippets like these will make your readers say “Wow! I never noticed that before, but you’re right!”

Coming soon—follow me on Facebook for updates

If you see something interesting while you’re out and about, take pictures with your phone or tablet. Add a descriptive title, and upload them to your Instagram or Tumblr account. When I was working in Bristol on Struggle and SuffrageWomen’s Lives, I took loads of photographs to help with my research. Some of them were later chosen by my editors to appear in the finished book. It goes to show that you never know when something will come in useful!

The third of your special talents is determination. You’ve got to stick with your writing project right to the end. The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, and it’s exactly the same with writing. Excitement at writing or typing the words Chapter One gets you started. Enthusiasm for your story will push you on a long way. Elation at reaching the fifty-thousand word mark will spur you on toward the finishing line.  It’s not those milestones that are the problem. It’s the tricky slack water between those points where you’ll need all your determination to see you through.

Have you started writing yet? How far have you got?

Blog, Writing your Book

You Can Write! Part One

WRITING_pencil-918449_1920Stop dreaming, and start believing. You can write that book you’ve been thinking about for so long. It’ll be your chance to pass on your thoughts to family, friends and maybe even the wider world.

It doesn’t matter how much, or how little, writing you’ve done in the past. Everyone, from J.K Rowling to Snoopy,  starts with a clean sheet at the beginning of every project.

Blank pages can be scary, but I’ll show you how to get around that problem. It was the least of my worries when I started my writing career. When I decided to write my first book, I didn’t have a computer (I bought one with my first royalty cheque). I wrote longhand, then typed up my notes on a borrowed laptop.

At that time, I didn’t have any contacts or friends in the writing world, either. Breaking into the charmed circle of people who wrote felt like an impossible task. There were loads of reviews of high-brow literature in the newspapers, on TV and radio, but it was hard to find any information on writing for fun and personal satisfaction.

When you start out as a writer, you need details at your fingertips. Over the next few weeks I’ll be passing on all the hints and tips I’ve gathered during my career as a prize-winning, multi-million selling author.

Writing is a great hobby. It’s never been easier to see your name in print, and who knows— you may even make some money!

My books are on sale all over the world, and my work has been translated into more than twenty different languages. I’ve learned a lot on my way to becoming an author. Now I’m passing that information on to you. Follow this blog to discover the whole story.

Find Out More At


Once you start writing, your only problem will be knowing when to stop. When I talk to groups about my work, the one question guaranteed to turn up in the question-and-answer session at the end is “where do you get your ideas?”  That’s easy— everywhere!

Local newspapers and online media are always rich sources of ideas. Clip, or cut and paste ideas, and keep them catalogued in a file (real or virtual). You never know when some snippet might come in useful. Check lists of anniversaries—there’s always something quirky to discover.

When you’re a writer, you can never be fed up or bored for long.   I wrote His Majesty’s Secret Passion when I was so sick of an endless, gloomy winter that I wanted to escape to somewhere hot, sunny and romantic. His Majesty’s Secret Passion let me do that, and I had the pleasure of seeing my story come to life in print, too!

Listen in on conversations during your crowded commute (carefully, of course) to find inspiration. Make discreet notes on your phone, or carry a notebook with you.

Talk to people. There’s one thing everyone is an expert in, and that’s themselves. Ask your parents and grandparents for their memories. Life has changed out of all recognition in only a dozen years or so. Don’t let their memories vanish. With their permission, make a recording of their thoughts. You can type it up later, as I used to, or investigate a transcription system like Dragon Dictate. You’ll be creating perfect first-hand sources of research. Even if you don’t fancy yourself as an historical novelist, your archive could help others in the future.

Always keep a notepad by your bed, to capture those thoughts that wake you up in the middle of the night (you’ll never remember them otherwise. Trust me. I’ve been there).

Now it’s over to you—what are you going to write about?