Wednesday 27 August 2014

Good News Week!

It's been one of those weeks - I'm happy to say that I've just signed the contract for a brand new novella, which will be coming out as one of Choclit's e-book line - Choclit Lite.  It's a bit different from what I usually write. Quite a bit lighter - crime, but no dead bodies at all. (Don't worry, the bodies will be back in the next one.) The novella is a little holiday from the dark stuff -  lots of fun chasing my hero and heroine around the Italian Riviera for 50,000 words or so. I can't give you a title yet as the publisher is thinking of changing it - until then, we're all in suspense.

The other big news was a complete surprise and I really mean complete. Last year my debut novel, Never Coming Home had quite a bit of success in some of the contests organised by regional chapters of the Romance Writers of America - ones for published authors, judged by readers, booksellers and librarians.

I didn't plan on entering Out of Sight Out of Mind, my 2013 paperback release, for any of them, because of the cost of postage, etc.  But my friend, the American author, Barbara Longley, who I got to know when we were both competing in the American Title contest, had entered her contemporary novel Far from Perfect for the 2013 Maggies - run by the Georgia chapter of the RWA - and won her category. Inspired by Barbara, I thought I'd have a go. I hadn't tried that contest in 2013. I had nothing to lose but the postage.

My entry went off, went through the judging, and a few weeks ago the finalists were posted. Out of Sight Out of Mind wasn't one of them. I was disappointed, naturally, but that's life.

But yesterday I got an e-mail from the organiser. There had been a glitch in the scoring, and Out of Sight Out of Mind was a finalist after all!

The Maggie Awards for Excellence have been given out by Georgia Romance Writers for over three decades. It is a highly respected award in the writing community. I'm thrilled and honoured to have been chosen as a finalist. 

As a taster for the book, the video is below.

The video for Out of Sight Out of Mind

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Does it need to be real?

John Constable's painting of Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows is currently on a tour of museums and galleries in the UK. The tour began in the National Museum in Cardiff, and the painting is there until 7th September.

I've always thought of Constable as a chocolate box sort of painter - rosy cheeked yokels and hay wains, reproduced on biscuit tins, but I'm always interested in learning more about art, so when the Museum offered a study day earlier this year I signed on - and learned a lot. For a start, Constable isn't just about chocolate boxes. The Salisbury painting is quite dark and dramatic - and he also painted other buildings and ruins that have a Gothic feel and are really rather spooky.

I also learned something else. Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows is big and beautiful - but it's also not accurate. From the position that the picture is painted the rainbow, which is a key element of the composition, would not appear in the way it's portrayed, the size of buildings in front of the cathedral are out of proportion, the church to the left of the painting isn't visible from that viewpoint ...

But none of that has any effect on its beauty or its impact.

Which got me thinking about the constant issue of creativity and reality - also known as 'poetic licence'. I do my best to be accurate in my books, and the settings and locations are very important to me. They are a key part of what I write, essential for the atmosphere and feel of the book. But there are occasions when you do need to invent or change things. And these are stories, after all. They're not real. If you add a building to a well know city-scape, create a beautiful bay, out of your imagination, invent a whole island, as I'm in the process of doing - does it matter? I know that there are some readers who would say that it does, and that always bothers me. If I was writing sci-fi I'd be world building, so why not in romantic suspense?

I don't have an answer - I suppose it's really up to the individual reader.

But it is nice to think that if it was good enough for John Constable ...


Wednesday 13 August 2014

Thrillerfest - Chapter Three

One of the best things about an event like Thrillerfest is the people you meet - readers, aspiring authors, big names. An especial attraction for me was being able to spend time with leading authors in the romantic suspense genre, writers like prolific talent Heather Graham and Thriller Award nominee Alison Brennan, who are not as well known over here as think they deserve. Where ever you happen to be there is always someone interesting to talk to. Thrillerfest authors cover every field you might imagine - from  books about FBI profilers to eco-crime. It was good to see friends too, like Meg Gardiner, who gave me a lovely cover quote for my first book. One of the big features of the event is a breakfast with debut authors who have made it into print in the past year. One of these was Elizabeth Heiter, a fellow member of the Romance Writer's of America Romantic Suspense chapter, appropriately entitled the Kiss of Death. Her debut is out now and she will have six further books out in the next year - an output to swoon over. And the breakfast where we met the debutantes was good too - bacon, eggs, muffins, fresh fruit ...

And then back to the panels. I picked one on conflict overload. And the message I took from that one? Fear is more potent than descriptions of physical damage. Of course I had to be at the panel on building sexual tension. I write romance! My message from that? Sex should complicate things. (Believe me it does - and that is soooo much fun to write.) A panel of legal thriller writers arguing over sticking to the facts diverted me enough that I didn't take any notes, and one on techniques to get your readers invested in your book from the get-go produced a number of ideas - my favourite being 'Figure out what the chase is and cut to it.'

A view of the New York skyline from the roof of the hotel What was I doing up there?
Hah! I'll be posting about that later in the year. 

And then it was nearly over - brought to a fabulous close by the gala cocktail party, a delicious gala dinner - including the announcement of the 2014 Thriller Awards - and the after-party. I know taking a picture of what you are about to eat is becoming a joke, but I really couldn't resist a snap of the prawn starter and the choux pastry dessert in the background. And in between there was steak. A distinct change for the usual chicken or salmon at this kind of event. And then I had to coax all my party clothes and shopping into my suitcase for a short trip to New Jersey and some time with the American branch of the family. Thrillerfest was an experience I'd like to repeat. I don't think I'll be able to do it next year - the bank manager wouldn't like it - but, as the saying goes. 'I will be back.'

Wednesday 6 August 2014

Hot in the city - Thrillerfest 2

When I arrived in NYC for Thrillerfest the temperature was lurking in the high 80s/low 90s - but that wasn't unexpected in July. A hot, noisy and exciting city.

Grand Central Station, exterior.
The hotel was in a glamorous location on 42nd Street, close to the Chrysler Building and the New York Public Library, with spectacular public areas, and right next door to Grand Central station. When I first visited New York, many more years ago than I will admit publicly, the one thing my mum asked especially to see was that station - scene of so many of the movies she'd watched on the other side of the Atlantic but never thought she'd visit. It was impressive then and it's impressive now - although it has changed. A bustling space with a food court that houses every kind of sustenance from 'grab and go' to 'sit and people watch' - and I did both. I ate fish in the legendary Oyster Bar, clam chowder from a counter specialising in soups - and did you know they have a branch of the famous Magnolia Bakery ...

I'd signed on for the main part of the Thrillerfest convention, but flew over early as there were lots of other things going on around the conference proper. Including a day with the New York FBI in their Down-town offices. How could I resist? I don't think I'm ever likely to have a hero or heroine who actually works for the FBI as I'm not into police procedurals, but the chance to have an insight that will add depth to background or supporting characters was like catnip. They were generous and charming hosts and hostesses - taking us on a whistle stop tour through all the departments that the Bureau covers. All too often crime novels depict the FBI agents as stupid or obstructive and they were unashamedly keen to show around 100 crime writer that this was not so. I made pages of notes. And
the chance to meet and observe was invaluable. And I now have a name tag with the FBI crest on it. Wow!

Thrillerfest buzzes for the whole week of the convention - there are craft classes and legions of nervous hopefuls taking part in Pitch fest - where they get the chance to 'speed date' agents and publishers. I listened to some fabulous pitches from those who were practising their delivery. I hope they all got oodles of requests. I would have bought the lot!

Each evening there was a reception, so a variety of 'best dresses' got an outing. I even wore heels for the first time in ages. Well, when you only have to mince down from the 18th floor to the ballroom ...

My part in the convention began early - 8 am on a panel looking at how to build a strong story line. We were a little worried that no one would be up that early, but we were wrong - people were interested in what we had to say, even at that hour. Kelli Stanley as panel captain guided us through some excellent discussion points - 'us' was Matt Cook, Dani Pettrey, Ursula Ringham, Suzanne Rorhus and me. It was fun, and I don't think I said anything too outrageous - although the knowledge that the event was being recorded for people to purchase later did give me a moment. All of us were writing in different styles and genres and all our approaches were different. I think the general consensus was that the way that you find most comfortable is the right way to do it. I hope we gave everyone some ideas for fresh techniques along the way.

Art in the hotel entrance -  I said it was impressive.
After that the days were just for fun and for learning. A discussion on themes and symbols threw up some interesting views on agenda driven fiction - what I took away from that panel was not to let theme get in the way of the story. I did a bit more FBI research too, as they put on a panel as well as the special day. This one concentrated on cyber crime, securities fraud and jewelry. I was most interested in the jewelry - influence of too many movies about dashing jewel thieves swanning about on the Riviera - I'm sure the reality is not at all like that. I'd dearly love to write a 'thief' book, or even a series. Food for thought. As was a lightening tour of the Secret Service from the Deputy Assistant Director of the Office of Government and Public Affairs. There was clearly a lot that could not be divulged, but when I study my notes I know there will be things there that I can use.
I also attended a couple of feature panels with the likes of Ian Rankin, Lisa Gardner and Anne Rice - to name only a few. And for them I have to admit that I went completely fan-girl, just listened, and didn't take any notes at all.

And now I think I'd better call a halt and review the rest of the convention next week.