Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Accidental Alphas

If you are considering a possible ingredients list for a romantic suspense, an alpha hero is definitely on it The makings of a classic alpha usually involve the guy's job - the military, some variety of law enforcement, black ops, a private organisation that provides specialist security services ... All those are catnip for a romantic suspense writer. A hero with an unusual skill set, who can look after himself and, if necessary, the heroine, who has an edge to him, possibly a troubled or murky past, but is still ultimately one of the good guys. Like I said, catnip, and somewhere I really want to go back to.

I have to say though, that the last romantic suspense, What Happens at Christmas, and the two new drafts that are at present warming up on the runway, do not have classic alpha heroes. For reasons of plot,I seem to have got into a run of what might be called accidental alphas - guys who have found themselves in situations that call for something way beyond their regular comfort zone. 

I must admit that I have found it a bit disconcerting, as I have always considered the alpha hero a given. Without a hero who is law enforcement or whatever, the author has to work harder to establish credibility. With Drew from WHAC that came in the reckless stunts he throws himself into, in the name of research. In draft mark two, the hero knows he is putting himself in danger because ... No, I'm not telling you why, it'll spoil the plot. The guy I am having the most trouble with is Ethan, the hero of what will probably the next suspense, which at the moment is called Where Were You That Night? He's a reclusive musician, and there is a definite streak of Beauty and the Beast in there, but he is not your regular alpha. I'm still not quite sure where he came from and what he and I are doing together. He does come with a lot of baggage though. And you know I love baggage. I think we may be looking at tormented, rather than alpha, this time around. Can I do that? I hope so. 

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Going Back to the Compost Heap

One of the most useful pieces of practical advice, that is often given about writing, is to let a piece of work compost for a bit, before doing anything else with it. I've always tried to do that, even if, when I was working, that was only the space of the time it took to boil the kettle or make a phone call.

At the moment though, I have composting at extreme ends of the scale. I am going back to work that was done BWT - Before Writing-up Thesis, which means it is edging into over a year since I last touched it. This is quite interesting, as there is stuff there that I don't remember at all. I also have trouble reading my writing, which adds an element of exciting discovery to the process. Some of the pages are a bit like those letters described in Regency romances where the writer did not want to pay to post two sheets of paper so has written all round the edges. And then there are the cryptic notes that say 'insert' with a choice of two or three lines that are supposed to go in. But in what order? It must have made sense at the time ...

On the large level, things have clearly been working in the back of the brain, however. At the moment the WIP is editing the next rom-com, provisionally titled A Wedding on the Riviera. There are several plot lines in there which I know I want to change, which have clearly refined themselves during the gap.

Possibly the most interesting of all is what will probably be the next romantic suspense. Quite a lot of the beginning is written, and I have taken it to a RNA Chapter workshop and got favourable feedback, but the end was always a bit murky, to the extent that I was planning on it ending up as a novella. Since I have been thinking about it, without the Second World War getting in the way, I can see that threads that are established at the beginning clearly have to be worked out, and will be on a much bigger canvas. It was all there, but I just didn't see it. That sounds crazy, because I wrote it and I must have always have intended the way it would work out, but there was only a gap, where the plan should be. The bits and pieces are coming together now, and I'm looking forward to putting it all together. Not for a while yet though. It's going to get a bit longer to compost before it gets its moment.   

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Making conversation

Dining with friends the other evening, the subject came up of the effect that things you read may have on what you write. I've never been much for literary fiction. I write escapism, I read escapism.If I want to get serious, I let my academic side out, but that means history. All other attempts to improve my mind have been sadly doomed to failure. I did confess that when I was supposed to be ploughing through a list of literary works in order to sit what was then an 'S' level in English - when dinosaurs still roamed - I got half way through the first book and gave up. I did the exam on the basis of play texts - I was theatre mad, even then, I got a merit and as far as I know, my English teacher never found out.

That led us on to the question of the effect of reading plays on writing dialogue, which I have been thinking about since. Two of my favourite playwrights are Shakespeare and Harold Pinter, miles away from each other in time and style, but I suspect both may have had an influence.

With Shakespeare, it's rhythm and the shape of a sentence. A good way of testing what you have written is reading aloud, and I often add a word to a sentence when doing that, as it seems to help the flow. Is that Will's influence? I think it might be.

Pinter is at the other extreme - pauses and half sentences and non sequiturs. The way people speak in real life, although stylised for the stage. I'm pretty sure that absorbing a large number of Pinter's plays at an impressionable age had an effect. I think it taught me to listen to the gaps between the words and not to be afraid of  them. When people talk, they speak over each other, don't finish sentences, don't reply exactly to what the other person is saying.

It's a messy business, as you can hear if you eavesdrop on other people's conversations. And these days you get phone calls as well. And most of the writers I know are incorrigible eavesdroppers. I would never use a conversation I overheard, but I love listening to the rhythms and patterns of speech. Those I can use. And, of course, I'm horribly nosey.

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

The villain of the piece

Practically every writer I know, and most of them are really very nice people, will tell you that they love writing villains.

Why?

An expert would probably have theories about it, but all I can say is that it is extremely satisfying to let your imagination free to be nasty. The term villain can be a broad one, from a bossy mother in law to a serial killer and everything in between. It is still fun to write. Should I really be saying that? Fun?

Thinking about my own writing, I suspect I get something from knowing that evil will eventually get its 'reward', because I am the one manipulating the plot, and that is how it is going to be. I like to tie my endings up with a positive resolution, and because of that, I won't let the bad guys thrive. No ambiguity or cliff hangers. Not always true to real life, I know, but as I have said before, I write escapism, so I can decide how the order will apply.

My villains are villains, and come to a sticky end, but there is also the big issue of the hero with the Dark Past. I have a few of those, and I like them too. Guys who have walked the dark side, know all about how it works, and have turned away from it. But, of course, they bring a lot of stuff along with them ...

I've got an idea that has been a long time brewing, for a series that is sort of the reverse - good guys going over to the dark side to put right something that can't be managed any other way. That one takes a bit of thinking about, because I'm cautious about anything that looks like vigilantism. I'm still working that one through, but it will get there. That one started with a Georgian romance that I partially completed for fun, before I was accepted for publication, and I realised that the group of spies and assassins I'd created there could easily carry forward into the present day. An organisation for justice that has survived for a couple of centuries. Plenty to play with. As I said, working on that one. Hope I might have enough time to write the series from both ends. Wouldn't that be fun.




Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Returning to the scene of the crime

I like to write romance. I like the developing love story, the baggage that the protagonists bring to the party - lots and lots of baggage, please - and I definitely like the happy ending. I can find plenty in the real world to depress me, so between the covers I like things to have a positive resolution and hope. I'm an escapist reader and I write for those who feel the same way. So why do my books always seem to have a crime in them?

And it's getting worse. The romantic suspense have crime, that's a given, that's the suspense bit. I love writing them, and exercising my darker side. But now the rom-coms are going that way too. Summer in San Remo had what I call a light dusting of crime, but the sequel, on which I am now working, centres around attempts to catch a con artist, and the two others that are floating about in the ether, have jewel and art thieves. They are still the lighter, more glamorous side of crime, if you can call crime glamorous, which is, of course, very debatable. No one wants to be on the receiving end of a crime, but there is no doubt that we like reading about them. I expect learned theses have been written about this, but I think it comes down to vicarious excitement. A little walk on the wild side, from a safe place. My rom-coms are about jewel thieves on the Rivera and the Ocean's Eleven type efforts to thwart a villain, but even if it's jewels and art it's still crime. Theft and fraud, but still crime. Somehow it seems that stealing art and jewelry make it more romantic. Which is weird, when you think of it, but there it is. Two of my favourite films are the two versions of the Thomas Crown Affair, which must have an effect on the romantic comedies. Also there is the plotting. Not the kind that goes into the book, but the sort you see on the screen or page, a team or an individual planning and executing something that eventually runs like clockwork. Sometime the watcher doesn't even understand what's going on, but it's still fascinating.

No one dies in the rom-coms, unlike the romantic suspense, when quite a lot of people die, and some of then in a quite unpleasant ways. My next romantic suspense has a gruesome opening setting, of a murder/suicide, although you don't actually see anything. I think my imagination, and yours, can paint a picture without too much description.  I know that detailed descriptions are quite popular at the moment in some books, but its not for me. I'm more interested in the effect that the horror has on my hero and heroine, who manage to lose each other on that night, and only re-discover each other after a long period apart. And, of course, that means there is quite a lot of baggage ...

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Now what?

It is a week since I handed in the thesis. I'm still very tired, but I have seen friends, replaced two light bulbs, done the ironing and cleaned the kitchen. And slept a lot. I have not been anywhere near the garden, rehung the cupboard door or sorted out my tax return, although I have made an appointment at the dentist.

I have also dug in the depths of the metal trunk that keeps my special paperwork and unearthed the partially completed manuscripts. There are three rom com, including the complete first draft of the second Riviera Rogues book, at the moment called A Wedding on the Riviera, and a couple of chapters of a Christmas novella, Christmas in Cannes. There are also three manuscripts for romantic suspense novels in various states of completion. Now I just have to sort them out and get my head back in the game.

I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Freedom


Eight years of my life came to a close today, when I finally handed in the PhD thesis. The little blighter was finished a 3am yesterday morning!

The first call I made yesterday, after taking it to the print shop, was to my hairdresser, The first facebook post when it was finished, was to my Romantic Novelists' Association Chapter, both of which probably say quite a bit about me.

My writing friends have been with me every step of the last year, writing up 80,000 words that was not a novel. Now I'm wondering about making a popular history out of it. But that is the future. I have to get through the viva first. I also have a hundred and one jobs to do in the house. Don't mention the jungle that was once a garden, and all the paper work, starting with the tax return, and I really need to go to the dentist. And the first thing I did, today, having handed the thing in at the History Department Office, was to sign on for an evening class. Some people are just nuts. It's all about fairy stories, with a fabulous tutor, and I know it is going to be  a lot of fun. So there might just be a fairy story in my future,

But that is the big thing. I now have the chance to write again. If my publisher still wants me, there should be some new stuff next year. It will be good to be back.