Tuesday, June 30, 2009

hot hot hot (the weather AND my review)

Current work: revisions on MH fairground book
Listening to: Robert Plant
Reading: Sarah Mayberry, Cruise Control (really enjoyed it but it made me bawl my eyes out – heroine’s conflict is one of the subjects I find a bit close to the bone and can really only cope with at this time of year. Have another of hers which I’m really looking forward to)

We’re having a heatwave. And I function best in cool, crisp temperatures. So it’s a matter of having a fan on all the time and drinking lots of iced water with a slice of lime and, um, being grumpy.

Daughter is becoming more and more a mini-me. She had a major strop on Sunday night. ‘It’s HOT. I can’t sleep.’ (Yeah. Neither can Mummy.) ‘It’s not fair. You’ve got a fan.’ (Yup.) And then, looking daggers at her father: ‘It’s all right for you – YOU don’t have long hair.’ (DH has, um, not much hair. So that was hilarious and she wasn't very pleased when we laughed.) Bless. I taught her the trick of running cold water over your inner wrists to cool you down. She responded by… yup, using our en-suite rather than the family bathroom at 2am. Urrr.

She has an inset (teacher training) day today. We had planned to do baking, but NOT in this heat. We’re shopping and flopping instead. And visiting Dad.

And the hot review? Well. Sometimes you write a book and think ‘this one’s a bit special’. I had two of those, last year: the second being Surrender to the Playboy Sheikh. It’s netted a Top Pick from Romantic Times… and it got a GRADE A from TGTBTU. Their review made me glow (and not just because I’m in the middle of a heatwave).

This is what Lynne Connolly had to say:

If anyone thinks that HMB books are churned out with next to no effort from the writer - this is one of the best examples against this argument that I've read, and certainly the best this year… This book took the trope of the playboy sheikh and turned him into a real person, one you could like... I adored the way he considered the needs and wants of the woman he falls in love with. He doesn't take for granted that she will fall in with his wishes, he doesn't force her or blackmail her or coerce her, he seduces her… with respect and healthy anticipation. I adored that about Karim and I could see exactly why Lily fell for him.

…And a warning here - Kate Hardy knows about cooking and if the descriptions of little ice-cream balls and coffee mousse filled choux buns don't make you hungry, ur not doin it rite. [note from me – yup. This is why Kate Hardy is overweight. She cooks the stuff in her books AND eats it.]

The stumbling blocks in the romance are believable and are dealt with in a great way… you can see the couple falling in love, and even before they fall they care about each other, so the sex scenes are about connection and pleasure, not about athletics or marathons.

I spent a lovely morning with this book, and I'd advise you to do likewise. I read the UK version, but the US version is one of the July Harlequin Presents offerings. Get it. You'll love it.


Read the full review here. And thank you, Lynne, for putting a huge smile on my face (no mean task in a heatwave, when I am usually grumpiness personified).

Monday, June 29, 2009

fabulous review

Current work: revisions on MH fairground book
Listening to: Alison Moyet, Voice
Reading: Amy Andrews - Greek Doctor, Cinderella Bride (aka the jellyfish book – the medical stuff in here is really interesting and the hero/heroine’s conflicts are incredibly emotional. I know Amy’s a mate of mine, but she really IS getting better and better with every book. This one’s a great read)

I’m struggling with time right now, with just under three weeks of school left and revisions/a book to write before I go on holiday. (Yeah, yeah. Kate overreacher. Just need to FOCUS. And try to ignore the fact it’s hot and sticky – uuh, give me crisp frosty mornings any day, because I think better…) Weekend was spent working, except during thunderstorms when I wished I'd bought the laptop. (This week...)

So I’ll leave you today with a lovely four-star review from Romantic Times for Playboy Boss, Pregnancy of Passion:

When business tycoon Luke Holloway hires Sara Fleet as his temporary assistant, the only thing he's hoping is that she'll organize his office. Business consumes him, so he has little time for his personal life, and he doesn't like mixing business with pleasure. It doesn't take long before they are breaking all the rules and Sara is bringing color and laughter into his life. It's all fun and games, until Sara tells him she's pregnant. This story features a strong heroine who gains strength from her family and a hero who realizes the importance of love and family before it's too late. Add in their captivating romance and it makes for one great read.

Thank you, Sandra Garcia-Myers, for making my day.

Friday, June 26, 2009

beginnings, bites and lunches

Current work: Medical
Listening to: Colin Blunstone
Reading: next on TBR

One thing that interests me is how an author’s writing patterns change. When I first started writing Medical Romances, I used to have a really, really clear view of the beginning of a book, almost like watching a film, and I wrote the early sections of the book at a ridiculously fast speed. Then I hit the saggy middle, and by the end of the book it was like wading through treacle. The last chapter took me longer than the first five.

For some reason, this seems to have reversed nowadays. The beginning of the book is like treacle, the middle still sags and needs tightening up, and I have this clear view of the very end.

This is when it’s timely to read my mate Julie Cohen’s Ten Commandments as a reminder. Particularly #1 and #10. Really, there’s no point in whining about it and putting off the start of a book: it’s so much easier to fix a page that doesn’t work than to stare at a blank screen. (And yes, I DO need a holiday. Four weeks and counting…) Writing something that I’ll cut later might seem like wasted work, but actually it’s quite helpful for developing characterisation – kind of thinking on the page instead of in my head.

The big problem with this book is something I’ve set up in the outline: the hero and heroine don’t work together. Part of the premise of a medical romance is that they should work together: then the medical scenes underpin the romance and move the plot forward rather than acting as filler.

I guess that’s where the creativity us going to come in, because I don’t want to change who they are. The heroine is a neurosurgeon (pain relief specialist, not brain surgeon – there’s a lot of spinal work involved and it’s really interesting) and the hero is a GP (family doctor). Oh, and she’s currently on sabbatical.

Obviously they will have to work together so he can help solve some of her conflict; and working with her will also solve some of his. But. How to get them working together. Starting the book. Getting the momentum going so they speak to me clearly. (I can see the proposal scene and the end REALLY clearly). Hmm. A cup of coffee and ten minutes on Peggle is required, methinks.

Peggle? It’s my new vice: an X-box game. Husband and son both love gaming; I’m trying to show an interest for their sake, but RPGs and shoot-em-up games leave me cold. However, I noticed a review of Peggle in son’s X-box magazine and it intrigued me – you earn points by bouncing a ball off coloured pegs (which sounds dull, but it’s all about angles and strategy and there are lots of different levels and challenges). Son was a sweetheart and downloaded it; and he looked SO pleased with himself when he fished me out of my office to show me, bless. We’re all enjoying this one, though I’m currently stuck on the 400,000 points challenge.

Bites: for some reason, gnats take the meaning of my name very literally. Dear gnats: please note, I am not all honey, so please stop chomping on me – especially near the edge of the sleeve on my T-shirt, because that one is driving me insane. Today I reek of ammonia, owing to the need for frequent application of After-Bite. Note to self: buy citronella candles for use in garden. Another note to self: maybe the garden isn’t the best place to think or write…

But could you resist a sunny patio with a chair, table and a glass of sparkling mineral water with ice and a slice of lime? Not to mention a good view of the bird-feeder, the scent of honeysuckle and Mexican orange blossom, bees buzzing contentedly around the clover on the lawn and a spaniel lying flat out with his head resting on your feet? It’s a very nice work environment. Apart from the gnats.

Oh, yes, lunches: I’m out today with my ex-PTA mates for our termly lunch. Our birthdays fall very conveniently, one per term, so we have a great excuse to meet up. Too much talking and too much laughing – can’t beat it.

Anyway, today’s question: how have you found that your writing methods or routines have changed, over the last couple of years?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

launch parties and castles

Current work: Medical
Listening to: Colin Blunstone
Reading: next on TBR

I love launch parties – they're so exciting - and I went to one yesterday. Not books, this time: my friends have just bought a shop and yesterday they had an open evening to launch their new range. DH and the kids came with me.

This is La Maison in King Street, New Buckenham: a shop that sells lovely gifts and girly stuff as well as having tea rooms. (Mulberry, Lisbeth Dahl – actually, this is the kind of shop one of my heroines would own. Hmm. Must tell Di that I’m going to pinch her shop for a future book. Will amuse her greatly.) This is the exterior shot, but it’s even nicer inside.

Daughter and I looked at the shelves and then at each other. ‘We have to come back without Dad,’ says daughter, eyeing up pretty china knobs that would look very nice on her chest of drawers. ‘Problem is, you don’t count as a responsible adult,' I explain, 'and actually, you never will because he knows your mind works like mine. This shop will be on The List, along with House of Fraser, Lakeland, and any shop that stocks Radley or Pandora.’ (I should add, for people who might be under the misapprehension that my husband is a miser or thinks he rules the house, The List is a standing joke between us - as long as I pay my half of the bills, what I do with my money is entirely my decision. Ditto with his. We don't argue over money because we have a joint account for bills and separate accounts for everything else. Simple and sensible.)

But my Responsible Adult was with me last night, so I left him with the nibbles and picked up a couple of things. I was actually quite restrained because the shop was very busy, so I bought daughter a skipping rope, daughter and myself a seriously girly pen each, and a mug that just screamed ‘I must belong to Kate Hardy’. I love the shape… but it’s the picture that caught my eye. Isn't it lovely?

Feel slightly guilty about not buying son or DH anything, but there weren’t really any blokey gifts. I would have put a link up, but their website isn’t ready yet (and considering that Jon and I used to work together on internet stuff in the mid-1990s, just as the internet was taking off, cue a little bit of teasing from me). But if you’re looking for some nice things for the home, or unusual gifts, I can definitely recommend La Maison in King Street, New Buckenham (and not just because it belongs to friends: their range is lovely. My pal India Grey would LOVE it because it's very stylish, like her). Oh, wait, I can put a link up - this is the catalogue of GreenGate, one of their ranges. Just lovely. Very summery.

Incidentally, the oldest and largest circular Norman keep in England is about half a mile down the road, and worth a visit. If you want to know more about that, you can read about the sieges and bloodthirsty stuff in my book Norfolk Ghosts and Legends. And if you're wondering what it looks like... here are a couple of pics from two summers ago.

The walls are 14 feet thick. Just to prove it, here's a close-up of that doorway:

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

squirrels, gelati and baa!

Current work: Med, this evening (this morning is guitar lesson and this afternoon is visiting Dad)
Listening to: Kate Rusby
Reading: Joanna Maitland, His Reluctant Mistress (enjoyed this – very interesting setting – the Congress of Vienna, 1815)

I think our squirrel is a tad on the greedy side. This picture says to me, ‘Bad luck, birdies: this is mine, all mine!’ (And how he gets there is to climb up the pole, walk along that curved bit and then jump onto the fat ball holder.)

Gelati: last night, experimented with raspberry (which included sieving the puree to remove the pips). Made it to my taste so it’s a bit on the sharp side. Lovely, though. Planning to experiment with rhubarb later in the week, and possibly rhubarb and strawberry.

Oh, and this is what the raspberry yoghurt ice cream looked like in mid-make.

As for the baa – my friend and fellow med author Maggie Kingsley sent me the most wonderful link on extreme shepherding’. This is guaranteed to make you smile (for the right reasons) and it’s so INCREDIBLY clever. I wonder how long it took them to plan this and then action it? It's just brilliant. The video clip is about 3 minutes long, but it’s worth every second. Watch and enjoy.

Monday, June 22, 2009

weddings and gelati

Current work: admin this morning, then starting new Medical
Listening to: Katie Melua
Reading: Donna Alward, Hired: The Italian’s Bride (enjoyed very much. Especially the picnic. And the puddings)

Lovely weekend. Had a ball on the radio and a nice lunch out. And then it was my first ice cream making session. Went for the ultra-low fat strawberry yoghurt ice cream. And it was fantastic. Why did I wait so long?

Saturday was wedding day around here; our neighbour’s daughter was getting married so everyone in the street crowded outside to wave her off in the morning (and she looked gorgeous). Saturday evening, it was our former neighbour’s wedding reception – coincidentally, at the same place where my cousin got married last year. Son had told me he had something to wear. I made him try it on in the afternoon and had to send him out with DH to buy something that fitted (another growth spurt, and I admit now that he’s taller than I am).

Son spent most of the first half of the evening (before food) playing football with the other boys. When we finally fished him back inside, the dancing was in full flow, and he did exactly what he did last time… his John Travolta bit on the stage at the far end of the dancefloor. And all the kids joined in with him. At one point they were synchronised (a moment when we wished we’d had the video camera rather than the still with us). They had such a good time, and it was great fun to watch them (from our side of the dance floor). DH spent a while dancing with this very pretty brunette with waist-length hair, but she abandoned him in favour of her brother, who’s a better dancer (!).

The thing about a wedding full of forty-somethings is the music played – it’s all late seventies’ disco (we were too young to go to discos, but knew all the songs from Top of the Pops) and eighties music. Brought back a few memories.

Sunday: fairly lazy day – tired out from three hours of dancing, the night before. Did final readthrough of the revisions and I’m happier with them. Expecting another set on this one, though, when my ed reads it (sent it this morning).

Plan for today: bit of admin in town, then starting the new Medical.

Friday, June 19, 2009

new book and radio interview

Current work: off doing meeja stuff today and a bit of library research
Listening to: Crowded House, Together Alone (I just LOVE the guitar on ‘Fingers of Love’)
Reading: next on TBR

Being dozy this week (and also because *cough* I’ve been a bad puppy and not updated my website this month until yesterday - new books are up there now), I sort of forgot I have a new book out this week. Until BBC Radio Suffolk contacted me, asking when I’m free to do an interview. Remiss of me. Apologies.

Anyway. Here for your delectation is Suffolk Ghosts and Legends (aka Scandals, Sieges and Spooks – the stories behind the ruined castles and abbeys, the people who lived there, and any scandals, sieges and spooks). I had immense fun writing this and going out for days with my research team (the oldest member of whom does the driving while I navigate to find what he calls ‘a tiny bit of masonry in a field in the middle of nowhere’, and the two youngest are in charge of chanting ‘are we there yet?’ and ‘we’re starving and the cafĂ©’s over there’.)

The picture on the front was taken in broad daylight at Bury St Edmunds. I’m saying nothing about the little ghost (but I’m immensely amused by it. Maude Carew, perhaps. Have I mentioned that I love my publisher and their art department?).

I’m actually on the radio today as well. Back on lovely Graham Barnard and Karen Buchanan’s show on the ‘Ladies at Lunch’ spot. BBC Radio Norfolk, 12 noon today (FM - 95.1, 95.6, 104.4, MW - 855, 873 & DAB). Am looking forward to it because it’s always huge fun, and it will be lovely to see Sara and Tessa again. I will be talking about spooky things… (And then it's lunch out. Italian. Wonderful.)

Oh, and I’ve just come across a really nice review of the Norfolk Miscellany from Derek James, the features ed of the Evening News. ‘Extremely difficult to put down… you can dip in and out for months… A little gem of a book.’ Colour me happy.

Also saw said book in Jarrolds yesterday. On a shelf with lighting that made taking the photograph a little tricky (especially as I was trying to be discreet so people wouldn't realise how sad I was being - hence the poor quality of the photograph). But the combination of the word at the top of the display and the figure to the left of my book has really put a smile on my face. I was also at #7 with Norwich: Stories of a City, which has been on the shelves for SIX YEARS now. So that's pretty cool. (Have also been on this particular display shelf with two other titles in the last month. It's really nice to think that people are obviously enjoying these books; I put a lot into them.)

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Current work: revisions on fairground book
Listening to: Dire Straits
Reading: next on TBR

My name is Kate Hardy and I am an ice cream addict.

I think the worst one was when I was away on business in my ratrace job and persuaded my colleague that we should have dinner in the Haagen Dazs ice cream cafe. Back home, the department secretary (who was dealing with expenses) yelled across the room to me, 'You spent HOW MUCH on ice cream?'

Cue shock-horror from the entire marketing department. In my defence, the bill was lower than if we'd had a meal elsewhere. And it was very, very scrummy.

I used to make ice cream by hand. Though it never lasted long. (I married someone with a similar addiction. We have two children, both of whom have the same affliction.)

And for years I've wanted an ice cream maker.

Floated the idea past the kids yesterday. Verdict: ‘Brilliant. Can we help make it?’ (So that’s 75% of the household in agreement.)

Thanks to lovely commenter Brigitte letting me grill her (and reading reviews online), have decided to go with the sort with a freezing disk as it’s reasonably priced and the disk will fit in the freezer. (The posh Gaggia one, which needs no freezing whatsoever, was the equivalent of two Radley handbags, or two of the gold-and-glass beads for my Pandora bracelet. You can see where this is going, can’t you? Especially as I am in the city on Friday for a radio interview. And I will have to walk past Sonkai. Hmm.)

Rang Lakeland (note, this is on the list of ‘shops in which Kate Hardy is not allowed without responsible adult supervision’. As is House of Fraser. And Sonkai). One ice cream maker in stock. Goody. It has my name on it, ready for picking up tomorrow. B-u-t… I checked and it’s in a Very Big Box. Which means I’m going to need help manoeuvring it to the car.

So I took DH a cup of tea, making kissy noises and being all sweet. He wanted to know what I had done. (Ha. And to think he gets stroppy if I ask that question when he gives me flowers.) Confessed. He has agreed to come and be my muscle man. This is particularly piquant as he claims he is the main (possibly only) person on the ‘responsible adult’ list. (Son is trying to claim he is also on this, cough – I think not. Who forces me into Hotel Chocolat, then? And since when is 12 an adult – even if he IS taller than I am now?) I foresee purchase of oven cleaner, feather duster, new pegs and other such housewifely joys. With son and husband as my bag carriers. Lured with the promise of home-made ice cream.

What I’m really looking forward to involves 0% fat Greek yoghurt and fresh raspberries. Daughter thinks this is a fine idea. Except I need more raspberries because someone raided the fridge when she got home from school - and this is despite having a snack box full of raspberries in her packed lunch. Oink.

So today’s question is: what’s your favourite flavour of (home-made) ice cream? (And all recipes welcome!)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

going with the flow

Current work: revisions on fairground book
Listening to: Dire Straits
Reading: next on TBR

Great guitar lesson yesterday. I hadn’t done my homework (to write a piece of music called ‘The Raging Sea’ – because I’d scoffed about one of the grade pieces sounding nothing like a raging sea) because I had this brilliant idea: to cheat massively by playing ‘Oh I do like to be beside the seaside’ (mainly pp, then ff on the last bar in each phrase – kind of a punk version. Well, the concept amused me). Except I came unstuck because the chords I came up with didn’t make sense in harmonic terms.

So I confessed, played what was in my head, and asked Jim why it wasn’t working. Becau-au-ause I had the wrong chords. He explained it was because it was all in fourths, involving diminished chords and jazz voicings. Which led to a discussion about Django. And from there to Dire Straits (Tunnel of Love); discussed my fairground book a bit (!); and from there to ‘Romeo and Juliet’ (my second-favourite – possibly joint favourite – DS song, the other being ‘Telegraph Road’). Lovely chilled morning, just going with the flow. Odd how all the stuff I’m picking out at the moment is jazz-based, though.

Have promised daughter I will buy a book of show tunes for piano/guitar and also the sheet music for Grease. Kids are hoping for treats from my royalty cheque (son has put in a bid for an X-box game). Actually, they’ve asked for something pretty reasonable, so I’ll be indulgent.

Had a really, really nice visit with Dad. Probably the nicest in a year or two – one to store away and remember with pleasure, because Dad actually saying that he appreciates me is pretty rare. (Usually it's all taken for granted.) I even managed to get him out of his room and go for a little walk, so I’m very pleased about that. And he was delighted with his punnet of cherries, bless him.

Good news on book front: my agent liked the work I did on the first couple of chapters of the fairground book, and it’s reading as it should be. Hopefully I can sort the rest today/tomorrow, as I’m out on Friday (radio interview and then out for lunch).

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

storms and 80s food

Current work: revisions on fairground book
Listening to: Kate Rusby
Reading: next on TBR

Amazing storms yesterday evening – went on ALL evening, so that nixed work time. We watched them as a family, including the dog, and the kids were enjoying counting the seconds between the flash and the bang to see how far away the storm was… until there wasn’t a gap. That spooked them a little, bless.

By the time the thunder had stopped and it was safe to switch on the PC again (I have a surge protector, but I’m paranoid as I happen to know three people whose computers have fried in a storm), it was too late to work, so I was a bit self-indulgent and watched the Supersize programme about the food of the 80s.

This was the decade of my teens/very early 20s, so I remember the trends. They did skip around an awful lot rather than presenting it sequentially through time, but it was fascinating to see how much I remembered. All the different sorts of mineral water (but they missed out the ‘flavoured’ ones such as Sao Rico and Aqua Libra, both of which I loved… or maybe that was early 90s). Double espressos (I shudder when I think how much coffee I used to drink – heart attack city. Nowadays it’s likely to be a skinny latte, maybe once a week if I’m out). Nouvelle cuisine (pretty, but definitely not substantial enough). The rise of the foodie (oooh, now I’m very guilty there, but I really do enjoy experimenting and cooking).

And then there was the processed stuff. Sure, everyone ate microwaved meals at some point, but in general I cooked from scratch – always have done. It doesn’t exactly take a long time to prepare beef in red wine, jacket potatoes and steamed veg. (Maybe I should write a low-maintenance cookery book. Cooking for people who hate spending time in the kitchen. Nope, wouldn’t work, because the kitchen is the heart of my house.)

DH used to like Pot Noodles (WHY? They were so vile – they smelled horrible and they tasted worse). He wouldn’t admit it last night but I suspect he liked Ice Magic, the gloopy chocolate stuff that set hard when it hit the ice cream. (And urrrgh, ice cream that tasted of powder. OK, foodie tendencies out here: we made our own or bought the posh stuff. I am desperate for one of those really posh ice cream makers, but I know how bad I’d be with it.) And Pop Tarts… never tried them because they sounded vile. Potato waffles for breakfast? Eh? Don’t know anyone who did that. (Feel free to confess here…)

I definitely remember 80s dinner parties (that’d be late 80s, after I graduated and when we had our first house – umm, they would’ve been quite foodie, too). And drinking way too much wine. Hilarious to see that Pinot Grigio was trendy back then – I still like it. And Chablis. Oaky chardonnay (ick). Hmm - wasn’t that when Aussie wine made it big over here? But I never, EVER did wine boxes. Didn’t do the cocktail thing either (though I did add Kahlua or Tia Maria to coffee – ohh, how could they forget floater coffees? I had some really posh glasses especially for liqueur coffees). I also remember Archer’s Peach Schnapps being trendy. Don’t think I’d touch it now – too sweet, and post-kids I’m an utter lightweight when it comes to alcohol. Two glasses, and it’s hangover city.

They mentioned ciabatta bread (one of my favourites but I read labels now and it presses too many buttons). And then there was garlic bread. In my second and third year at uni, I was in self-catering accommodation. Someone was always cooking garlic bread (often me, I admit – I’d go to the cinema with my best mates on Mondays and we’d eat at mine either before or after, depending on the time of the film).

Eating out. The programme concentrated on yuppie restaurants. As a student, that kind of stuff was way beyond my means. I remember that Pizzaland was a big treat. And obviously Leicester had wonderful curry houses, so that opened my eyes to a whole new area of food.

They barely touched sweets/candy in the programme, with the exception of Opal Fruits. Matchmakers used to be quite trendy, but I have to confess that this was when I discovered Thornton’s Viennese truffles. And Lindt selection boxes. (DH liked Milk Tray – though he used to remove the hazelnut whirls from a box and scoff them before giving the box to the recipient, i.e. his mother or me. He has better manners now.) I remember that chocolates used to come in really pretty boxes you could re-use…

So what are your big food/drink memories from the 80s?

Monday, June 15, 2009

top of the charts – and seeing the wood for the trees

Current work: revisions on fairground book
Listening to: Corelli
Reading: next on TBR

Was delighted on Saturday to see in the EDP that the Norfolk Miscellany is #1 in the Jarrolds local book chart. Yippee. (That’s my third week on their bestseller chart, so I’m really pleased.) (And yes, I’m blowing my own trumpet, but I’m an author and this is local history. If I don’t talk about it, nobody’s going to do it for me!)

As for seeing the wood for the trees… Sometimes, as an author, you’re too close to your book to tell if it works. You read your MS and you read what you intended to say, not what you actually said. Sometimes – no matter how experienced you are – it takes someone else to point that out to you.

Luckily, I have a stellar agent who’s very good at doing that, and in a really positive way. She sent me an email on Friday, pointing out the good bits of the book – and then I got the kicker. It didn’t work for her. Then she asked me two questions: why I started the book where I did, and what the conflict was.

She was spot on about the starting point – oh, duh, why on earth didn’t I start the day before? I can really up the emotional stakes if I start the thing in the right place. As for the conflict… I thought it was a goodie. So I rang her and told her what it was. ‘Great. That works. BUT it’s not on the page.’

Again, she’s right. I’ve downplayed it and left it too long to drop the bombs, and I need to make it clear right up at the front.

As this was my 40th M&B, you’d think I’d know this by now. But hey ho. I spent the weekend revising the first half of the book, after talking over different books with my lovely editor (and warning her not to look at the fairground book because she’s going to have a different version later this week). So I’m focused and I know where I’m going. Good.

Oh, and the result of the editor chat? Sadly, I don’t get my Regency Doctor… well, I can bend him in a little bit provided he doesn’t take over. My time-travel one was a no-no, too. (Though I should add that I am NOT jumping on a bandwagon; I had stuff published in the early to mid 90s that would be classified as paranormal, nowadays. And I’ve been a Barbara Erskine fan for a very, very long time.) But we’ve worked out what I’m doing next, and worked out the conflict that was giving me trouble. Again, sometimes it takes someone else to point something out to you or say something that triggers off your creativity.

Son enjoyed his final cookery lesson on Friday and came home with a really scrummy Black Forest Gateau (which we all liked), and chilli (which I liked but the fussy people I live with refused to try). Bless him, he looked so proud of himself. He has an inset day today (teacher training day). Madam is dismayed to think we’ll be doing something without her. ‘You won’t do anything FUN, will you?’ Bless. She has an inset day at the end of the month, so I’ve promised her we’ll do something fun then.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Go and give Jill a hug

Please go and give lovely Jill Shalvis a hug. Especially if you're a doglover (or a fan of her fabulous blog, in which case you'll already know the news).

superheroes, PHS and getting active

Current work: admin and thinking about next books
Listening to: Kathryn Williams
Reading: various research stuff

I'm over at the Pink Heart Society today talking about a really wonderful drama series. If you enjoyed North & South, I'd love to hear your views!

Julie Cohen has a lot to answer for. Not just because I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of her new book, Girl From Mars (yay, nerdy heroine alert), but she (via Jan Jones, who is also a Very Bad Influence) has introduced me to the concept of becoming a comicbook heroine.

Sadly, the accessories don’t include a magic wand (there is a Jedi light sabre, but it isn’t the same thing), but this is will do nicely. This is me: the Amazing Thoughtful Philanthropist.

Note, this is the thin version of me. And I don’t really have butterfly wings. I do, however, like sending surprise things to friends to cheer them up. Hence the shopping bag. Never underestimate the power of a package from Hotel Chocolate or Lush. :o)

Want one yourself? Nip over here. It takes three minutes and it’s huge fun. (And even if you don’t think you like comics, go and read Dinosaur Comics and you may change your mind. Ryan North is seriously talented and I appreciate his sense of humour.)

Meanwhile, I’m preparing for a chat with my ed about the next few books. And recovering from a session on the Wii Active thingy, which arrived yesterday. It’s certainly interesting – major plus point is that the workout is all in one piece and I don’t have to keep flicking between menus or waiting for the Wii to finish giving me instructions (after the first time, the default is to skip the instructions but you can access them if you need to, which is a very sensible way of arranging things), so a 30-minute workout really does take 30 minutes and not nearer 50. I can see how many calories I’m burning, as I burn them; and it’s helpful and encouraging without repeating itself. Oh yes – and you can choose your music. I can live with the guitar/alternative rock one. (Custom... hmm.)

Cons: measurements are all in metric, and if you’re accidentally holding the Wii bar/Nunchuck the wrong way round it doesn’t pick that up, just tells you you’re doing the exercise wrong or tells you that you’re slowing down when you’re not (and you shout at the TV a few times before it occurs to you why the sensors aren’t picking up). Oh, and why doesn’t the food diary count fruit portions as well as vegetables? I might only eat four or five portions of veg a day, but I’ll also eat two or three portions of fruit. Or maybe I should read “vegetables” as “fruit and”.

But on the whole I like it, and I’m hoping it’s going to interest me enough to make me stick with it for six weeks, until the exercise habit is ingrained.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

how cool is that?

Current work: admin and thinking about next books
Listening to: Kathryn Williams
Reading: Sarah Mayberry, Hot for Him (excellent end to the trilogy)

Lovely day skiving off, yesterday. The AA route map said it would take 42 minutes from home to West Runton. Maybe, except they forgot to factor in the tractors... But I had a lovely time. There’s nothing nicer than being nosy with another author’s workspace - except possibly being nosy with TWO other authors’ workspaces. (My friend’s husband is a fairly big name children’s author. His office is very cool – he actually works standing up. I was fascinated as I'd seen an article about people with sedentary jobs trying to lose weight and working standing up walking at 1 mile an hour on the treadmill) My friend’s desk is like mine, only a bit tidier than mine usually is.
Lovely lunch out – excellent food. A real melt-in-the-mouth casserole (lamb with redcurrant and mint), with new potatoes, cabbage, broccoli and carrots. See how virtuous I was?

Oh, all right. I confess. There was a stunning pudding menu. And there are certain things I can always find room for, sticky toffee pudding being one of them. I have been so incredibly virtuous this week that I deserved ONE treat.

And later I had the coolest ever text message esterday from my mate Jo. Guess what I saw at Jamaica airport?

And attached was a pic of this book…


Plan for today: do accounts (especially as the Inland Revenue sent me something yesterday). Tinker a bit with outlines. Tinker a bit with nonfics. In other words, a nice pottering about sort of day, where I will be working at my desk, the breakfast bar in the kitchen AND the dining room table, all at the same time, but flitting from one to t’other via the kettle for cups of coffee.

(Dear Inland Revenue. I use at least three rooms in my house for work purposes. Four, if you count the conservatory, and then there’s the garden where I will probably be using a laptop this summer. My office is also the spare room: people sleep there when they come to stay. It’s also where homework gets done. I just annex it as my workspace because the rest of our house is more or less open plan and this is the only way to get thinking space – apart from locking myself in the loo, and that might contravene health and safety regs!)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

oh I do like to be beside the…

Current work: admin and thinking about next books
Listening to: Bryan Adams
Reading: Sarah Morgan, The Greek Billionaire's Love Child (lovely fast read - though Sarah and I often have 'great minds think alike' moments, and in this she's given the heroine a backstory I'd been thinking about using!)

Great guitar lesson yesterday. Jim got me to sight-read a pile of grade pieces, and it did wonders for my confidence (as well as being enormous fun). I was a bit sarcastic about one piece (‘The Raging Sea’) so my homework this week is to write a piece called ‘The Raging Sea’, involving syncopation. I’m tempted to do a punk rendition of ‘I do like to be beside the seaside’. Or is that cheating?

Especially as I'm off to the seaside today. Think it might be just lunch at the Priory (no, not THAT Priory) rather than the walk we'd originally planned, as the forecast is for thundery rain.

Lovely ed emailed me yesterday with the title for my March 2010 release: The Doctor’s Lost-and-Found Bride. It's a reunion story so I think it suits it.

My office is now tidy (well, tidier), thanks to help from Miss ‘I love tidying’. I did ask her if she was mad. She claims not. I still have a box to sort through (quite a big one, too), but I’ll do that one handful at a time, on the ‘touch each piece of paper only once’ principle. And somehow she got three new books out of it...

DH and I had a serious discussion yesterday about diet and exercise, and I ordered the new Wii fitness programme thingy (Active Sports or whatever it’s called). I know, I know: I am Kate Couch Potato (or, perhaps more accurately, Kate Glued To Keyboard - Ashes to Ashes finished this week, so that's about 1/3 of my weekly viewing gone) and exercise doesn't thrill me the way playing guitar and reading do, but I have to do something about my very bad case of Writer’s Bottom (a particularly grim combo with the beginnings of middle-age spread). As I don’t want to waste prime work time going to a gym, this might be a good compromise.

Let me elaborate on what I mean by wasted time. My work day starts at 8.45. If I have a class at, say, 10, and it takes me 20 minutes to get there - that leaves me 55 minutes for work before the class. Minus 20 mins for thinking myself into book world, that's 35 minutes to work and that's hardly worth it. Class finishes at 11, shower, home - back at my desk at 11.30, and that leaves me half an hour before lunch, less 20 mins to think myself back into book world. Oh, look, I have 45 minutes to work out of a whole morning. And it's split into two sessions. So it's not an effective use of my time. Do this three times a week, and my productivity will nosedive. (Ditto my earnings. And then how would I pay for gym membership?)

However. If I do a 30-minute workout at home, at 8.45, then have a shower, my work day will then start at 9.30. So that means instead of only having 45 minutes to work in a morning, I have two and a half hours. Less 20 minutes' thinking time, and that's two hours and ten minutes in one lovely chunk.

Given that I probably spent 45 minutes in the morning messing about on the internet while I'm thinking myself into work mode (aka playing solitaire - and I know I'm not the only one who does that), if I don't look at email or the net until I've done my daily quota, it'll just be switching my time from mooching through to exercise, and once I've got the hang of the routine I'll be able to use exercise time as thinking time as well.

That's the plan. (Anyone want to start a book on how long this will last?)

Righty. My accounts are calling...

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

what do you do at the end of a book?

Current work: admin and TIDYING MY WORKSPACE
Listening to: Julian Lloyd Webber, Unexpected Songs (just unearthed that on the desk)
Reading: Faking it, Jennifer Crusie (enjoying so far)

So. End of book. Some writers are neat and tidy, but most of the ones I know admit to having the same habits as I do. By the end of the book, you can’t see any workspace or floorspace round the desk, because there are piles of papers and books and sticky notes and… I think it’s known as the Volcano Principle. If a piece of paper is important, it will gravitate to the top of the desk.

I’m very organised (seriously - how else would I produce 8 books a year AND have a life?), but I’m untidy and I loathe filing. I always promise to tidy my desk ‘when I’ve finished my book’ – except I write my fiction back to back, with nonfic in between, so I always have at least one book on the go and the tidying thing never quite works out.

But I have the rest of this week off. Plan is to refill the well, update my project list, tidy my office and sort out various admin. (And I might tinker with one of the nonfics.)

I’m not starting my next M&B until I’ve had a long chat with my ed about what I’m doing next. We’ve scheduled it in for Friday afternoon. I’m not sitting here panicking that it’s going to be a ‘your book is terrible, what WERE you thinking?’ chat – apart from the fact that I’ve confessed to the setting of the last book now and she hasn’t shrieked in horror, this conversation is specifically to talk over the next contract and what I’m going to write. No doubt I’ll do my usual ‘can I do my Regency doctor?’ and ‘can I have a timeslip thing?’, and she’s going to do her usual, ‘ha ha ha – no,’ and will suggest something more sensible (in very broad terms), which will spark a counter-suggestion in my head. We’ll thrash it out between us and I can spend the weekend working out the outlines.

So what am I doing this week? I have my guitar lesson today; and tomorrow, I’m meeting a local author friend for writerly discussion (oh, all right, we’re going out to lunch at the seaside). I had planned to take Dad out to lunch, if he was well enough, but all visiting has been suspended as there’s a sickness bug at the home. (Very sensible, as elderly people are so vulnerable to bugs.) His blip is sort of over – he’s still having surreal conversations with me, but he’s not aggressive so I can deal with it more easily.

Plan is: this afternoon, update project list, tidy desk and go to post office (anyone who’s waiting for post from me – on its way). Tomorrow morning, start on my accounts; Thursday and Friday, accounts and other admin. And by then my head should be back in creative mode…

Monday, June 08, 2009


Current work: finished the Modern Heat
Listening to: various
Reading: Faking it, Jennifer Crusie (enjoying so far – still think my faves by her are Anything But You and Bet Me. Any other recommendations appreciated)

Well – the Modern Heat is done and sent to my ed.

I’m tired now and have post-book blues. Cue grumpiness. I hate saying goodbye to my characters; I’m convinced that both my ed and agent will hate the book (even though I know this happens every time I deliver a book, the crows are still here), and my office is in post-book tip mode (have exceeded my mess tolerance level, so must sort that – except I could do with a nap and I have the school run in a minute anyway).

Weighed myself this morning and that’s made my bad mood much worse. I need to be clever with time management and factor some exercise into my day from now on, because putting on 7lbs per book written is just NOT GOOD.

That’s 7lbs for this book, not 7lbs for each one I’ve written this year (which would be a real disaster as that was my 3rd M&B for the year aka #40 overall).

But it’s still not good.

Why? Wasn’t clever with time management and ended up having to put the hours in over the last week, which means my brain thinks I’ve been working really hard (which I have, mentally) but physically I’ve been in the equivalent of near-catatonia (fingers moving at speed over keyboard does not burn many calories). The problem is not so much with my calorie intake, because I do eat sensibly (apart from the Lindors last week, which isn’t that typical. Usually we don’t have chocolate in the house because everyone knows I have no won’t power – I only buy biscuits I don’t like but everyone else does, for the same reason). The problem is that I don’t have enough physical output. Maybe I should try dictating the next book via Dragon while walking on the spot…

Friday, June 05, 2009

A little conundrum

Current work: Modern Heat
Listening to: Bon Jovi
Reading: Crazy for You, Jennifer Crusie (enjoying so far)

Busy week with DH's birthday etc - nice meal out at Yellows and when we paid the waitress complimented us on how well-behaved and polite the kids were. Apparently very few kids nowadays bother to say please when they order something or thank the waiting staff when food/drinks arrive. Mine do (after years of parental nagging we don't have to remind them very often) but the fact that apparently many don't rather shocked me. It doesn't take much time to be polite and a little appreciation makes people feel good; I believe that a bit of politeness and kindness makes the world a much nicer place because it's infectious. Be nice to people and expect the best of them, and in general they'll live up to your expectations.

Or maybe I'm just strange.

Am a bit busy with the book right now, so I’ll leave you with a maths problem (thanks to my mate and fellow Medical Romance author Jessica Matthews). Follow the instructions and Regifting Robin will read your mind... Clever, hmm?

(If you want to know how it works, click and drag over the space between the spoilers for the explanation.)


Whatever you choose will always end up a multiple of 9 – the formula is (10*x + y) - x - y = 9*x
All the squares representing a multiple of 9 contain the same gift. The gifts in those boxes change each time you play the game, to make you think the computer is reading your mind (it’d be too obvious if they stayed the same every time you played).

End of spoiler.


Thursday, June 04, 2009

Craft post: How authors get paid

Current work: Modern Heat
Listening to: various show tunes
Reading: Crazy for You, Jennifer Crusie (enjoying so far)

My mate Carol Townend made a comment on a post a few days back that most people don’t understand how authors get paid: great idea for a topic, Carol, so thanks for giving me a prod.

There are an awful lot of myths about authors being as rich as Croesus. People see news reports about J. K. Rowling being a millionaire, and then they think: hmm, if I write a book, I can retire. In times of recession, people love the idea of being able to write a book and make a fortune. Ditto forming a band and being top of the charts. There have been some seriously silly figures bandied about re how much winners of televised talent shows will make - but I skimmed some articles about former Britain's Got Talent entrants and discovered that the reality is very different. One lot said that they get 0.2p per record sold. So for a million records, that's £2,000 earned (less tax and NI) - blimey. I'm not entirely sure whether the £2,000 has to be divided among the entire band, or whether that's £2,000 per person - it wasn't clear in the original article - but the perception is very different from the reality. The same is true with the perception of rich authors.

Rowling’s wealth is news PRECISELY because it doesn’t happen very often in this business. Very few authors make that kind of money - as you'll see if you look at the Authors’ Licensing & Collecting Society (ALCS) survey, published in 2007, about authors' earnings in 2005. The average author (median, i.e. put the list in order of lowest-paid to highest, and this is the exact middle of the list) earned £4,000 a year. The mean annual income (i.e. total sum earned divided by number of authors) was £16,531 – which was 1/3 less than the ‘average’ UK wage at the time. (See the full report here.)

Sadly, there is no such thing as getting rich quick in publishing. You have to put the hours in and keep your writing as a second job until you've got your break and made your name. And even then you still have to put the hours in, because books don't write themselves.

So how does an author get paid? It's through royalties, i.e. the publisher will pay you a certain amount for each book sold.

How much will you get? It depends on your contract but, since the demise of the Net Book Agreement (which means that supermarkets can sell a £15.99 book for £3.99 as a loss-leader – that’s marketing speak for enticing someone into the store with a bargain and then they buy other things on impulse while looking round, so the retailer makes a profit from the total shopping basket), many royalty rates are based on ‘net receipts’ rather than cover price.

‘Net receipts’ is the amount your publisher gets for each new book sold.

How much is that? Let’s use round figures for ease of calculation. (Please note, these are not actual figures – they’re to make the maths easy and to show how the system works.)

Say the book retails at £10. This is what the BOOKSELLER gets from the reader.

The bookseller buys the book from the WHOLESALER at something like £7. (So the bookseller makes £3 - out of which need to come overheads such as staffing, premises, marketing.)

The wholesaler buys it from the PUBLISHER at something like £4. (So the wholesaler makes £3 - out of which come overheads such as distribution costs, staffing, premises etc.)

And that £4 is the publisher’s ‘net receipts’. Note, this is a lot lower than the cover price. And out of this the publisher pays overheads such as author's royalties, production costs (typesetting, proofing, artwork, printing, shipping to wholesaler), marketing, staffing, premises etc.

The bit you're interested in is the author's cut. Now, if your contract says you get 10% royalties of the publisher’s net receipts, you get 10% of the £4, not 10% of the £10 cover price. So your cut is 40p a book, not £1 a book.

Bear in mind these are round figures, and who buys a book at £10 nowadays? Think of the £3.99 deal the supermarket gives you for that blockbuster paperback, and it’s easy to see that the publisher’s net receipts for each book is more likely to be £1, so the author in that case would get say 10p a book… and actually, a 10% royalty rate is a bit high for a mass-market paperback edition.

Book clubs and supermarkets go for high volume sales at low prices, which means an author’s royalties will be even lower (it's known as a high-discount sale - and you'll probably find in your contract that a high-discount sale comes with a lower royalty rate). Reality: we're talking pennies per book. As in less than 10p per book.

Anyway, in the example above, our author gets 40p a book. Selling 1,000 books gives our author £400. Selling 10,000 books gives our author £4,000 (incidentally, the figure from the survey). Note that first novel sales are likely to be quite a lot lower than 10,000. JKR sold something like 2,500 of the first edition of Harry Potter. That first-time bestseller that sold millions? Er… it’s news because it's so rare. Something like 75 miles of new shelving is needed in the British Library each year just to house a single copy of each new book published that year. Only a handful of those books are million-sellers, and usually they're by authors who have already made their name.

Say it’s a 100,000-word book. That will take the best part of a year to write. I have seen people say online that authors are lazy, because at a typing speed of 60wpm a book will take, say 28 hours to write. Er… You're missing the point, love. Typing speed has nothing to do with how long it takes to compose a sentence. You need to structure the book, flesh out your characters and give them strong motivations, make your conflict believable yet interesting, make the dialogue realistic as well as moving the plot forward/shedding light on characters… and that takes time. It might take 28 hours of physical effort to type the book out once it’s finished (assuming that the author writes in longhand in the first place – I prefer working straight to screen), but the author will spend many, many more hours thinking, revising, deleting, replotting.

Anyway, back to that £4,000. You don’t get it all in one lump. It starts with an ADVANCE.

Typical advances for a first novel are £1,000 (and for nonfiction, particularly if it's a specialist market, it can be zero). But do note that a real commercial publisher will NEVER EVER ask you to pay towards costs. That’s vanity publishing and you’d be much better off spending your money on an appraisal by someone like Hilary Johnson, learning where you need to do more work to make your book saleable, and putting the hours in to get it right.

You get a chunk of your advance on signing the contract and then, depending on the publisher and your contract, another chunk when the book is accepted (note, you may have to do revisions first - very few books go straight from your computer to acceptance) and possibly another chunk when the book is published. Some publishers hold back a bit of the advance until foreign rights are sold.

Say your book is accepted in January 2009 (bear in mind you will already have spent a year writing it and another year trying to get an agent/publisher and doing revisions). It’s published in January 2010. Your publisher’s accounts are done at the end of December 2010 and the royalty statement for 2010 sales is issued in March 2011. Now (still using the figures above), say you’ve sold 10,000 copies and the royalties are £4,000: your advance has already been paid to you so that has to be taken off. OK, that leaves £3,000 to come to you – but the bookseller can return unsold stock, so your publisher will keep RESERVES for another year (i.e. the publisher holds on to royalties in case some of the ‘sold’ books are returned and the royalties are therefore no longer due to you – so don’t bank on getting all of that £3,000). For a first novel, reserves could be as high as 60%. So that’s £4,000 royalties minus the £1,000 advance paid in 2009/10 and minus a further £2,400 in reserves. Which means your royalty cheque in 2011 is £600. (You may get some of the reserves released in 2012 or even 2013.)

So far, over the course of two and a bit years since your book was accepted (plus the two years you spent working on it and waiting for responses before then), you’ve been paid £1,600 for your book… and you have to pay tax and national insurance on that, by the way. Authors are paid gross of tax rather than net. (There are of course expenses - paper, postage, stationery etc - which can be offset against tax. ALWAYS keep your receipts to prove said expenses, and check with the tax authority/your accountant to be sure of what is and what isn't allowable, or you could end up paying a fine: ignorance of the law is no defence.)

Not enough to live on for all that time, is it? This is why experienced authors advise new authors not to give up the day job for at least five years. There are exceptions, but for the majority it takes at least that long to build your name. And that’s also assuming that your sales are good enough for you to get further contracts from your publisher. (Mid-list positions are scary, particularly in times of recession.) In the meantime, as you’re self-employed, you will not get sick pay or holiday pay or employers’ contributions to your pension: you cover all those costs yourself. If you have a baby, you will be entitled to statutory maternity pay (but it will be the same amount as an unemployed person gets, despite the fact that you've been paying taxes and national insurance; you won't get the 90% of your earnings that employed people get). You also won’t get an annual pay rise or a bonus for working hard because your earnings – royalties – depend on sales, and the only real control you have over your sales is to write the best book you can.

Now, this isn’t my way of saying to people, don’t be a writer. What I’m saying is be realistic in your expectations.

Go into the business because you want to make tons of money really quickly, and you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Apart from anything else, if you don’t care about your characters, your readers won’t, either – and your book won’t be satisfying and it won’t sell. The characters and the story really do have to come first.

Go into the business because you feel that, when you don’t tell stories, it’s like being unable to breathe, and that’s an entirely different thing. Yes, you will need another source of income until you’re established (and even when you're established there are no guarantees that you'll earn squillions - refer back to that report), but you’ll also get a great deal of satisfaction out of your job.

Had I stayed in my rat-race job, I would probably be earning more than double what I earn now. But money isn't the only consideration in a job: there's intangible stuff that needs to be thought about, too. I have flexible hours so I can drop everything when the kids are ill or there's a family crisis and I'm needed to fix it. (Touching wood, here: I've had enough of those in the last 18 months.) My commute is between rooms of the house (depending on where I'm working, and it might be the garden if it's really warm) so I'm not stuck in traffic for an hour or squashed on a train (particularly on hot days when, ahem, some people could do with being introduced to the concept of deodorant). I really love what I do (and even the self-doubt is good, in a way, because it stops me taking my job and my readers for granted – see post from earlier this week about crows).

I can’t think of any job I’d enjoy as much (well, except maybe an archivist or a curator, and both jobs have a writing aspect to them). And I can't think of another job where I could put sunshine into people’s lives: one of the nicest emails I’ve ever had was from a reader who said that when she’s having a bad day, she reads one of my books and by the end she feels that the world is a good place after all. You really can’t put a price on being able to do that. It’s special – and it’s also humbling, too. I love what I do; and I appreciate that I’m lucky enough to be able to live my dream.

Though on the luck front it's also worth remembering Jefferson. ‘I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.’


Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The definition of naivety

Current work: Modern Heat
Listening to: various show tunes
Reading: Crazy for You, Jennifer Crusie (enjoying so far)

Naivety is: leaving an opened box of Lindor balls in the fridge, when the author in the house on deadline, and expecting them to be there when you get home…

Any more out there? (Definitions, I mean. Not Lindor balls. I still feel a bit sick, actually. But they were nice.)

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Craft post: dealing with crows

Current work: Modern Heat
Listening to: various show tunes
Reading: Crazy for You, Jennifer Crusie (enjoying so far)

My pal Julie Cohen is probably the first person I can remember using the phrase ‘crows of doubt’. It’s very appropriate: writers are very prone to doubts, and it feels like a crow pecking away at you. (Vicious birds of prey, they are, too.)

Gillie asked me to do a post about dealing with them, so here goes. I should add that this is from the perspective of a published author – unpublished authors might find (2) below useful, and (6) for submitting to the editor, because the only way you find out if you can do it is to try.

So. An attack of the crows. How do you deal with it? Look at why you’re having this crow attack, and that will help you work out the strategy to deal with them.

1. You’re about to start a new book – and, as the saying goes, you’re only as good as your last book. I know a lot of authors who have a crow attack at the beginning of every single new book. So actually, this one’s a positive one, because it means that you’re worrying about whether your readers will like your new book. The fact that you have your audience in mind is good: you’re concerned about their reaction and you’re determined not to cheat them either by rehashing the same old stuff, or by not being fully engaged with what you’re writing. These kind of crows are welcome because they can keep you sharp and stop you being complacent. Just tell them to shut up because you’re on the case, take a deep breath, and go for it.

2. You think you’ve taken a wrong track with the book – you’ve lost your way and it worries you. As a result, you might find yourself playing solitaire or doing Sudoku or (insert your procrastination tool of choice) rather than facing your book. The crows are telling you that you’ve written a pile of crap: and maybe you have. Re-read it. Go back and look at your original plan (if you’re a planner) and see where you’ve deviated (remember, this might be a good thing – when a book takes on a life of its own, it means it’s working) and where the holes are in the original. What’s stopping you going any further? Talk it over with your editor/agent or a trusted friend who’ll let you brainstorm ideas without telling you what to do. Or – and I admit this is going to sound flaky to anyone who doesn’t write fiction – talk it over with your characters. If they’re 2D they won’t work. If they feel like real people to you, they’ll feel real to your reader. So talk to them and find out why they’re stalling. It could be anything from their name (yes, really – changing the name will change the character) to their occupation to the background you’ve given them, or that you need to dig deeper to find the real conflict. Find out what the problem is and fix it. (And note that if you leave it until the last minute, you’re going to have to work stupid hours to meet your deadline, and that in itself might be enough to paralyse you. Get on with it or negotiate a deadline extension, but deliver on your promise.)

3. This is the way you always work – you get to a point in the book where you really doubt yourself, and it’s the same point every time. I think it was Neil Gaiman who said that he rings his agent, tells her his book is crap and he’s junking it, and she laughs and says, ‘Oh, you’re at THAT stage again,’ and reminds him he’s done the same thing for the last few books. As an author, you’re often too close to your work to see that pattern (or you forget it in a burst of authorial paranoia). What you do is mention it to someone who’ll remind you that you do this every time. Then you’ll think about it, realise they’re right, and you’ll be able to ignore the crows and get on with your work.

4. Your ed has given you really big revisions – so you’re thinking that you’ve lost your ability and can’t do this any more. Firstly, if an editor doesn’t think you can fix it, she won’t give you revisions. She’ll reject the book completely. Revision crows means is that you’re too close to the book to see where the real diamonds lie; a good editor will be able to spot them and tell you what you need to do to polish said diamonds (aka give you revisions). There’s also a possibility that your writing is about to move up a gear. My friend and fellow author Lilian Darcy has told me several times that when you’re about to move up a gear, often you’ll get really big revisions. Remember, you CAN do this, otherwise you wouldn’t have the contract to start with. Take a deep breath and tackle the revisions. Or if you don’t agree with what your editor says, come up with constructive alternatives for the bits you don’t agree with and negotiate a compromise that works for you both. I normally say yes to everything, sleep on it, and the next morning ring/email my editor with ‘this bit doesn’t work for me – how about I do this instead?’, and we work it out between us. (My ed, I should add, is fabulous and knows exactly how to get the best out of me, and is very happy to bounce ideas around.)

5. You’ve had a bad review – umm. As an author, you’re going to have to develop a thick skin, which is easier said than done. Put it this way: you might love a book but your best friend doesn’t like it at all, and vice versa. A bad review is ONE PERSON’S view and not everyone will share it. Also note that your editor bought the book because she liked it – and publishers are in business to make money, not to be charitable organisations, so they will only buy something they think will sell. Even so, bad reviews hurt. Moan to your friends (if they’re authors, too, the chances are they will have review horror stories of their own – and they might be worse than yours, which will help you put it into perspective), eat chocolate, go and play some music or whatever it takes to make you feel better – and then put the review out of your mind and get back to work. Oh, and keep copies of the good reviews. It’s useful to re-read them when you’ve had a bad one, to remind you that other people do like your work. (And the fact you remember every single word of the bad review and can’t remember the good ones… Hey. Welcome to being an author.)

6. You’re about to try writing a different sort of book – it’s a step into the unknown. It might work; it might not. The only way you’ll find out is to try. So ignore the crows. Revel in the chance of some creative freedom and just write. What’s the worst that can happen? Rejection? Think of it as a learning experience. It might be that your book has legs but you’ve queried with an editor and it’s the tenth similar pitch she’s had in two days (so try a different editor). Or it might be that this particular voice/genre doesn't fit you – but it could be a springboard to something else, or reaffirmation that you were doing the right stuff for you in the first place. It’s not wasted work because you’ve learned from it. And if it does work: celebrate!

© Kate Hardy 2009

Monday, June 01, 2009

Happy June and wonderful weekend

Current work: Modern Heat
Listening to: Bon Jovi (at son’s request. DH removes it when he puts my car in the garage. Which I don’t do because I don’t want to scrape it…)
Reading: Crazy for You, Jennifer Crusie (enjoying so far)

Happy June – and here’s this month’s calendar pic. (How many years is it since I spelled out things in alphabetti spaghetti?)

Had a truly wonderful weekend with lots of lovely things happening.

Still overexcited about having a Romantic Times Top Pick (this is a big deal, actually, as it’s my first ever).

Picked up car on Friday morning and it’s a dream to drive – well, not that I got to drive it much on Friday. DH hates being a passenger; he’s such a pain (fiddling with buttons rather than reading the manual first: ‘What does this do?’… arrgh) that it’s much better for my blood pressure to let him drive. He likes the Corsa a lot more than my Clio – and, to my surprise, so do I. There are still things I need to get used to (the remote controls for the stereo are on the steering wheel instead of on a stalk, plus there’s this ‘soft touch’ thing on the indicators that feels REALLY weird) but I have confidence in the car; much nicer than the last two or three months in the Clio, where I’ve been completely paranoid that it’s going to break down in the middle of nowhere.

Got home to discover message from lovely ed: revisions are absolutely fine, she’s pleased with the book, and #39 has been accepted. Whoo-hoo. (Title and release date tbc – working title was The Emergency Doctors’ Second Chance but I’m expecting Marketing to change it to something with more buzzwords.)

Saturday: discovered that the Norfolk Miscellany is in the Jarrolds bestseller chart, yippee. (And Suffolk Ghosts and Legends is now listed on Amazon – no cover yet, but it’s out in 2 weeks’ time. Yippee.)

Sunday: family barbecue – and there’s nothing better than spending time with my favourite people in the world. The weather was glorious and we all ate too much and talked too much and laughed too much, and it was just fantastic. Bit that made me laugh most? When I made cookies in the morning. Son bounces in. 'I can has cookie? LOL!' (While I'd been baking, he'd been on my PC looking up Lolcats.) Son has excellent comic timing.

Today, it’s back to school for the kids and back to work for me. I still haven’t confessed completely about the setting, but I did tell my ed that this is a light and fun and frothy book...

PS Dealing with crows post coming tomorrow.