Yesterday it felt like “St Luke’s Little Summer’ —the name given to mild days around St Luke’s Day (18th October)—had come a week early. Here in Gloucestershire, it was sunny enough to be almost hot. Walkers were out in the woods dressed in shorts and t shirts, collecting sweet chestnuts. It was still warm when I reached university at six-thirty last night.
Today, we’re back in the ice age. It’s time to dig out the light-therapy lamp, and think about putting on the central heating. We’re having this brilliant, easy soup (using the last tomatoes from the greenhouse), and home-made bread for tea tonight. There are buds in the Christmas cacti, and the lemons are ripening. Despite the chill, there are lots of good things about autumn!
It was cold, wet weather like this when I wrote my short romantic comedy, My Dream Guy. What could be worse than sitting in my chilly office, looking out on pouring rain? Going camping, I thought—so that’s where I sent my heroine Emma. Her romance with Jack has lost its sparkle. He arranges a holiday in Wales during the wettest summer on record, and Emma can’t see how life in a tent is going to put the fizz back into her love-life… unless the bronzed farmer who bewitched her as a teenager is still running the campsite. He is, and Emma gets a picnic full of surprises!
Whatever the weather, find some summer sunshine with My Dream Guy…
…was the perfect way to spend my first week at the University of Gloucestershire.
It’s been brilliant. I’ve been lucky with the weather, too. Walking from the car park to my workshops rather than taking the campus bus means I can bracket my lectures with exercise. Life doesn’t get much better than this!
On my first day I picked up some ripe horse chestnuts and hazelnuts that had fallen from street trees on my route. I’ve planted them at Tottering Towers, as a souvenir.
Later, when I got to the campus, I was able to show a passing Design fresher the way to her tutorial room. She was impressed. I didn’t tell her I’d originally found her room while I was hunting for my own.
When I signed up for this course, I was pleased to hear there were lots of other mature students. I didn’t realise at the time that Further Education is a universe where anyone who has taken a gap year straight after graduating is termed “mature”. There are one or two students here who might be older than me, but in general I stick out like the proverbial sore thumb. To paraphrase James Goldman’s Lion in Winter, I’ve got a decade [or two] on the tutors!*
It’s the work that matters. All the staff are great, and my fellow students are a lot of fun. We each have to produce a workshop piece within the next 36 hours, to be picked apart at the next session. I’ve got a feeling posts on here might become even more sporadic than usual…
Good luck to everyone who is starting at a new place of learning this month. Here’s a suitable soundtrack.*** In exchange for being awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Breslau, Johannes Brahms was asked to compose something suitably grand. He responded by weaving together several student drinking songs to create his Academic Overture.*** The bit that everybody knows starts at 8:50. It’s the theme used by Marvin Hatley in his music for the Laurel and Hardy film “A Chump at Oxford”****, which was one of my late father’s favourites. I know exactly how he’d paraphrase that title today!
*Goldman, James The Lion in Winter, AVCO Embassy Pictures, Oct 1968. They’re teaching me how to cite and reference, but as always it’s the technology of application that defeats me. Anybody know how to add footnotes in blogs? 😉
** Brahms, Johannes, Academic Overture, Prom 1: First Night of the Proms 15.07.2011, 7.30pm, Royal Albert Hall, posted on YouTube by 2013brb87 on Feb 15th, 2015. [Retrieved 22nd September 2018]
*** John Suchet, 9am-1pm Weekdays, Classic FM, Recently. What do you mean? Of course it’s a reference!
****Hal Roach Studios, A Chump at Oxford, 1939. My referencing definitely needs more work… 🙁
Everything I know about popular culture could be written on the back of a Viagogo guarantee, while leaving room for a Game of Thrones synopsis from start to finish of the series. Never have I ever seen an episode of Made in Chelsea, Gogglebox, or I’m A Celebrity (the fact they have to tell their audience they are celebrities puts me right off that last one, for a start). Only last week, I discovered Honey Boo-Boo wasn’t an over-sweetened breakfast cereal. Most of you will have forgotten her, in the time it’s taken me to discover the child.
Then last Tuesday Dr Martin Randall spoke at an induction evening for the course I’ve enrolled on at the University of Gloucestershire. While choosing my modules I’d steered well away from his Popular Culture course, but his presentation was inspiring. When he played a video from YouTube, I was almost converted to his cause.
Of course I had heard of the singer involved. Years ago, dear old Jackie magazine used to advertise bedding and pillowcases decorated with “Little” Michael Jackson’s face. I even recognised the tune. As a teen, I assumed Billie Jean was some weird offering to a tennis icon, and blanked out the lyrics. Now I know better.
Dr Randall explained the background to Jackson’s appearance at Tamla Motown’s 25th Anniversary bash, which was fascinating. This film marks the seminal point when Michael Jackson changed popular culture forever, apparently. I can’t comment on that. Learning that Jackson had to be persuaded to perform at this event, and catching occasional glimpses of something behind his eyes, I’m inclined toward an additional view.Perhaps it’s also the point where Michael Jackson the person became Michael Jackson the product, manipulated by money men. All you who crave celebrity, beware.
Whatever, Jackson went out on stage that night—and this happened:
I usually whistle Mozart while walking in the woods with Alex. It frightens the wild boar away (especially that bit from The Magic Flute, ho,ho). After Dr Randall’s presentation on Tuesday evening, the febrile, staccato Billie Jean was an ear-worm which lasted throughout my Wednesday morning. Any whistling was out of the question—but I had a lot more to think about than wild boar that day, anyway.
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)
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.
Readers 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.
Stop 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.
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?