Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The writing process

Everyone’s is different, and mine has definitely changed since that first M&B. I used to write the beginning quickly and get stuck at the end; nowadays, it takes me loads of thinking time before I get started, and then it’s rapid.

Plotter or pantster? Ten years ago, it was plotter. Nowadays, it’s mainly plotter with a bit of wriggle room. I did try panstering something, and all I did was stare at a blank screen or play word puzzles online for a fortnight. I ended up with a very tight deadline for that book when I finally gave in and planned it. (Lesson there: try something, but don’t think you’re a failure if it doesn’t work for you. A different process might suit you better. Experiment until you find what works for you, and don’t worry if it changes over time.)

And I’m very careful about reading craft books. Friends of mine swore by Donald Maass and how his books helped them move their writing up a gear; I tried reading them, and it froze me for a fortnight. I was looking at my book with my head rather than my heart, and convinced myself that I was utter crap (aka a really bad attack of the Crows of Doubt, as Julie Cohen would call it). It took me a while to get back to normal. (For the record, Liz Fielding and Kate Walker have very good guides to writing romance – they’re kind and full of common sense, much like the authors themselves. And I’d also recommend Sarah Duncan’s blog for writing exercises and generally making you think without freezing you. And all three of them will be guests at my blog party, so keep an eye out for them!)

So how do I write a book?

Character comes first, along with their conflict. I start with a two-page outline, which I agree with my editor (and we have an unspoken agreement that if I get a lightbulb moment when I’m writing, i.e. a deeper conflict or a better solution, go for it). Basically it’s a one-liner for the hero and heroine, a paragraph each on their conflict, and then the events in the story.

Once it’s been agreed, I break it into chapters, then start writing. Because I’m a plotter, I know where I’m going, I know what motivates my characters (and I just have to remember to make sure that’s on the page and not still in my head), and I know how they react to things. Sometimes research is involved, and I’m a bit of a ‘method’ author (so it’s probably just as well I don’t write crime!). I like to walk in my hero and heroine’s shoes. So, for example, with Rico Rossi – I have been to every single place in Rome mentioned in the book. I’ve put my hand through the Mouth of Truth. I’ve pedalled a Riscio in the Borghese Park. (And, OK, so I was obsessed with the Colosseum as a kid. Write what you know…) I’ve also made the two-tone icing for the cakes and taught someone how to use an icing bag (cough, was nothing like the book, though I had a lightbulb moment for that scene). For my first Cherish/Harlequin Romance, I dragged my husband off to ballroom dancing lessons (and I probably doomed us because my heroine found the waltz really tricky – we’re, um… oh, let’s just say we’re a lot better at Latin). And if there’s a scene at the seaside, that probably means I had a yen for the sea and we had a family research trip mid-book.

Actually writing it: I tend to write in dirty draft. That means note form, not properly paragraphed or punctuated, and just get the words down. The following day, I’ll tidy that up and it gets me back in the story enough to do the next bit of dirty draft. And so on until the end.

Once that’s done, it’s a read-through and check for continuity (especially if I’ve changed a name). And then I email it to my editor.

And then it comes back from my ed with revisions, and it’s ALWAYS ‘dig deeper’. (Or ‘lose the elephants’, or ‘take the reindeer out’ – though then I had a lightbulb and put in a few more and she let them stay.) You’d think, now I’m on book 54, that I’d know how to do it and not get slapped with revisions. Um... Nope. I certainly hope my books are better now than they were ten years ago, but it’s my editor’s job to make me try harder and shine more, to make it a better read. So it’s dig deeper, hope there are only two sets of revisions, and meanwhile start thinking about the characters of the next book.

And if I get really stuck on revisions, two certain writer friends who share my editor and know what she does/doesn’t like will bounce ideas with me (actually, we’ll do it for each other). And sometimes there are parcels of emergency chocolate. Or emergency lunch. (That sounds a bit bad – but it’s really not an excuse for a jolly. Sometimes you need to step away from that screen, talk it over with someone who isn’t as close to it as you are, and who can make you laugh out of panic mode so you can take a more balanced view of it.)

So that’s it in a nutshell. And if you see me playing word games, I’m not skiving off – I’m thinking. Ditto playing Beethoven :o)

Monday, July 30, 2012

How it all began...

This is going to be a bit of a self-indulgent week, so I will apologise for that in advance. But I think I have just cause, as it’s the lead-up to the biggest milestone in my career to date. On publication day, the party starts and goes on for – well, ages and ages, because my friends are really generous and wonderful. I have lots and lots of guest posts coming up, with a chance to win books on each. Plus I’ll do the odd door post to win a signed copy of my 50th. It’s worldwide (and so are my guests).

So do come along and leave comments – we all love talking to our readers, and my guests are all from the NICE side of publishing. No snark, no meanness – just nice people you’d enjoy having dinner with and talking and laughing with them until your sides hurt. I know Kate Walker dubbed me ‘Scary Kate’, but that’s actually because I write fast. I’m very far from being scary in real life. I’m middle-aged, short and round (well, a little less round since I’ve been going to the gym three times a week), I make great cookies, and you’re assured of a warm welcome here. Too shy to comment? Then I’d like to say thank you any way for your part in my career, i.e. reading my stories.

How did my career as Kate Hardy begin? I guess we should go back to when I was a pre-schooler. I’ve always written. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t making up stories; I could read at the age of two and I was definitely writing before I started school. My dad used to have those Challenge duplicate notebooks for work (the carbon paper was known as ‘magic paper’ by me) so he used to keep me supplied in notebooks and paper. To keep me busy in the holidays, my mum would give me a title, and I’d go and find myself a quiet corner and write a story. The early stuff (sadly, none of which survives) was all sci-fi, because I was a tad obsessed with the moon. (We queued for 5 hours to see a piece of moon rock at Norwich Castle when I was five or six. The ‘method writing’ thing – of which more later in the week – started early.) On my sixth birthday, my parents bought me a proper manual typewriter. From there, I wrote pony stories (influenced heavily by Elyne Mitchell’s ‘Silver Brumby’ series and the Ruby Ferguson ‘Jill’ series) and ghost stories.

In high school, I was always writing a novel (firstly Tolkien-inspired stuff, and then schoolgirl romance). By then, I had an electric typewriter. And when we had no money after moving in to our first house, my then-fiancĂ© said I really ought to have a proper computer as I was going to be a published writer one day – and he bought me one of those little Amstrads that came with a printer and a narrow floppy disk. (That’s when I knew I’d definitely made the right choice of future husband, because he really believed in me. This is the man who built me a library – well, hired a builder to remodel the house and included a room for my books. The man who doesn’t mind being dragged off on research trips, and who puts up with quite a lot in the name of research. Superstar. And yes, he’s why most of my heroes have blue eyes.)

I had a few short stories published in my early twenties (including by Virago), and I tried for M&B and had a couple of rejection letters. [Big shout-out here to unpubbed writers – if you get long rejection letters, it means you have promise so you KEEP SUBMITTING – you don’t think ‘oh, they don’t want me’ and give up, as I did!] Then I wrote a string of erotic novels for Headline, NEL and Black Lace in my mid to late twenties. (No, I’m not telling you the names I used for them – I’m not ashamed of them at all, but my writing style has changed, and I’d want to rewrite them all in the light of what I’ve learned in my career.)

When I was pregnant with Chris, I went freelance, working as a copyeditor and a health journalist. I still wanted to write romance. And I watched an awful lot of medical dramas on TV. When I was pregnant with Chloe, Gerry suggested I should try writing ‘one of those doctor-nurse romances’. I decided to read a couple, to see the sort of thing M&B were looking for. And I discovered Caroline Anderson and Jennifer Taylor and Maggie Kingsley. Fabulous stuff. OK, I thought. When the baby’s here and things have settled down into a routine, I’ll give it a go.

Righty. This is the weepie bit. At seven weeks, Chloe had bronchiolitis. I was writing an article on it at the time, and wondered if I was being super-paranoid and she just had a cold. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. As it was the day before our doctor’s surgery was due to shut for Christmas, I took her in to be checked over. The GP sent her straight to hospital. Chloe spent the next week in hospital – on her first Christmas, she was being fed by a tube and was on oxygen – and I spent every day at her bedside. The only way I got through it was to start writing my own medical romance. My agent loved the outline and first three chapters. So did M&B. I had to do several rounds of revisions, but A Baby of Her Own was accepted on Chloe’s first birthday in 2001 and published on her second, and Ottakar’s gave me a huge launch party with balloons and a bouquet. Talk about feeling special. It really was a dream come true.

Oh, whoops – I forgot. After my editor accepted the book, she told me I needed a new name, as she wanted to make a distinction between my nonfiction and my fiction. My two best friends from uni (aka the children’s godmothers) happened to be coming to stay for ‘early Christmas’, so we sat down with a bottle of wine and brainstormed it. Hardy was obvious, because my special subject in my third year at uni was Hardy’s writing; and the most popular name in our year at school was Kate. So that’s how I became Kate Hardy, ten years or so ago.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

swifts, swallows and Spidey

Current work: Medical (aka M&B #54)
Listening to: Richard Addinsell, Warsaw Concerto
Reading: next on TBR

We’ve actually had some sunshine this week! And DH is one of those who, the second the sun appears, announces that we’re going to have a barbecue. So I haven’t had to do anything more than chop salad for dinner, this week. (I will tonight, as it's dance class and we won't have time to fit everything in otherwise.)

Was very nice chilling out yesterday afterwards, lying on the trampoline and looking up at the blue, blue sky. We were trying to work out if the birds swooping overhead were swifts or swallows. There wasn’t a mega-obvious fork in the tail, and they were very high up, so we think they were probably swifts. And there were some enormous dragonflies, too.

Apart from that, what have we been doing in the holidays? I’m keeping my gym routine, but shifting it to a 7.30 am start. Which means I can be home to spend the whole day with the kids, and maybe do some work in the evening. (Dear ed. I am thinking about it.) Yesterday was a quick blitz on some school uniform, a new music book for Madam, and then we went to see Spiderman. The cinema’s air conditioning was broken, so we were forced to eat ice cream. (Ha. As if I ever need an excuse for ice cream. The middle of winter is ice cream weather on Planet Kate.) There was a quick fix for me: sticking a bottle of chilled water on the back of my neck. (Learned that one from the lovely Chillow.) And it was much less humid and horrible than the nights have been, this week.

Spiderman was superb. I liked the Maguire films, but this one really raised the bar for me. There was much more depth of character (and growth of character, too), and the story was brought very much up to date. I was blown away by Rhys Ifans – I always thought of him in reference to his Notting Hill role, so this was a revelation. Beautiful acting, great use of tension, moments that really made me laugh (anyone with a teenage boy will understand just how quickly a fridge can be stripped), and moments that made me cry. Highly recommended. There were some trailers we quite fancied, too – this might turn out to be the summer of the action flick for us :o)

Monday, July 23, 2012

summer holidays start here

Current work: Medical (aka M&B #54)
Listening to: Jon Lord, Boom of the Tingling Strings (kudos to Classic FM for making him composer of the week – he wrote some lovely classical stuff as well as the rock side)
Reading: next on TBR

Really relaxing weekend. Started with quick trip into town with DH on Saturday – I wanted to get the Pandora bead for book #53. (Nearest I could get to a bluebell - is a pretty, stylised spring flower.)

Henry V and a glass of Chablis in the evening - real treat. Tom Hiddleston is absolutely superb as an actor and I’d love to see him playing Hamlet as I think he’d bring a lot of depth to the role.

Sunday, DH went to Brand’s Hatch to see the Superbikes, so the kids and I had a chilling-out day. Playing games, watching Ratatouille (forgot how much fun that film was), and then a bit of a jam session, switching between piano and guitar, before chilling out and talking too much. (Both my kids are articulate and good company – I enjoy being with them, and although I’ve enjoyed every stage I do think that each year just gets better.)

Today, the sun is actually shining, which is a great start to the summer hols. Had an early session at the gym (lots of cardio today with circuits, and I thoroughly enjoyed it), then picked up the new Now compilation for littlest on the way home as well as croissants (note, latter were NOT for me). Holiday routine is really nice: early gym session, home for breakfast with the kids, then a little bit of work and the rest of the day spent with them. Am also sorting out blog posts and pics from my lovely, generous friends who are involved in the massive party to celebrate my 50th M&B – there are some absolutely fantastic books on offer as giveaways, and it’s something different every single day. It all kicks off on Friday next week, and I might be a bit boring about it before then, but…!

Friday, July 20, 2012

whoo-hoo - and the end of an era

Current work: Medical (aka M&B #54)
Listening to: Def Leppard
Reading: Jodi Thomas, Welcome to Harmony (enjoying - really like the relationship dynamics in this one)

First, the woo-hoo – had an email from lovely, lovely ed yesterday saying that she’d accepted #53, now known as ‘The Brooding Doctor’s Redemption’, and out in the US and UK in February 2013.

Even more of a woo-hoo – it’s been a very long time since I only had one set of revisions. So I’m utterly thrilled. (And there was an emergency trip to Sainsbury’s last night for a bottle of Chablis – that’s how I celebrate book sales with DH, and I never, ever keep Chablis in the house because it’s tempting fate. I learned a very, very hard lesson two years ago about assuming that just because I have a contract the book will be accepted. I never take anything for granted now.)

And I’m really looking forward to going into town with my daughter tomorrow and choosing the Pandora bead for the book. (That’s my personal celebration. Also happens to be good doubt-bashing material - tip for new authors, celebrate your successes with something visual. Then, on bad days, you have a reminder that you've done it once so you can do it again.)

End of an era? It’s littlest’s last day at junior school today, which means a totally new routine in September. I’m looking forward to the future, but she’s had such a good time at that school (and done well there) and it’s sad to say goodbye after 7 years of involvement with the school. But I do wish all the teachers the very best for the future, and thank them for helping shape both my children into rounded individuals. It’s not just about the academic achievement, whatever Ofsted might like to think. I'd rather my children also had the chance to learn a few life skills.

Have a nice weekend, all :o)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

do you see a pig?

Current work: Medical (aka M&B #54)
Listening to: Boccherini
Reading: Nicola Cornick, Notorious (enjoyed very much)

We had a massive storm last night, and it was glorious to watch. Once we were home, that is – driving through it wasn’t very nice, especially when the hail started. Visibility was a bit iffy, to say the least.

But, as soon as we were back, we found the best viewing spot in the house (living room window) and enjoyed the show. Even the dog (he was happier when all four of us were back, though we had left him with son).

I would love to take a really spectacular lightning photograph. Now, I know that means using a decent camera (SLR, really) and a tripod, and probably either bursts or long exposures (or maybe even both). But, by the time you’ve set all that up, you’re missing the storm. So the shots I took were hand-held on a digital compact, through glass. Although I didn’t get a spectacular photograph, when I reviewed the ones where I thought I’d just caught the reddish light at the bottom of the stormclouds, I spied this…

I see a grumpy pig, nose to the left and a big ear coming down. What do you see?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

last week of term...

Current work: Medical (aka M&B #54)
Listening to: Vaughan Williams (Thomas Tallis)
Reading: Nicola Cornick, Notorious (I was looking forward to this as it’s another of her Scandalous Women of the Ton series – love the premise behind this one about women being paid to be matchbreakers)

Sooo – last week of term, and it’s busy. I’m in the middle of sending tons of emails re my big blog party (which is going to be SUCH fun and last for ages, and I have some really fabulous guests – but obviously also takes organising. Juggling this between my own deadlines and those of my friends is, um, interesting, and I’m quite humbled that everyone’s being so accommodating). In the meantime, it’s report season (both kids had pretty much what I was expecting, so I’m very pleased with both of them); and daughter is doing the Y6 show. We went last night, and it was hilarious. They worked really hard at singing, dancing and acting (and it was well scripted). But when they did the slide-show of our kids, showing them on residential trips and doing cross-curricular activities, and the whole year sang ‘Rule the World’ - let’s just say I don’t think there were many mums there with dry eyes.

Grumpy teenager informed us this morning that today is the last day of term worth going in for. (Tomorrow is the rescheduled sports day – hmmm, rain? – and Friday is a half-day as it’s the last day of the academic year.)

Other than that, work is ticking over nicely (until revisions hit again – ho ho); the Kate Unlardy project seems to be ticking along nicely, too (including the ‘eat more’ business – I couldn’t quite break my check-the-scales habit this morning, but I’m going to relax a bit now). The protein shake taste-test is going well, too. Bought a shaker at the gym this morning, and that makes a huge difference to the texture. The latte flavour is a little bit on the sweet side, but is bearable. With a 7.30 training session, I’m not going to be able to face breakfast first, so swapping breakfast and the mid-morning snack (i.e. shake before workout, breakfast after with the kids) is going to work really well. NB this isn’t a shake diet. (Don’t think I’d last long on one of those, because I enjoy real food and cooking too much.) This is all to do with muscle repair, so shakes are only for workout days.

Life’s going to feel very different in September, with both children at the same school for the first time ever. So I’m hoping for a quiet, chill-out summer.

Monday, July 16, 2012


Current work: Medical (aka M&B #54)
Listening to: Beethoven
Reading: Victoria Lamb, Witchstruck (I was expecting this to be good because she’s a friend and under another name she writes wonderful poetry – and I enjoyed it very much. Looking forward to the sequel, now!)

Lovely weekend. Henry IV part 2 on the Beeb on Saturday night (Jeremy Irons, Tom Hiddlestone, Simon Russell Beale, Alun Armstrong – fantastic cast, beautifully acted, and I was close to tears at the last scene between Henry IV and Hal – superb use of emotion). Especially nice as it was accompanied by a glass of pinot grigio and, ahem, raspberries with Greek yoghurt.

Sunday was spent sorting out the spice rack and baking cupboard (actually, to be fair, most of that was my daughter, bless her). And we had breakfast out. We were going to do the usual at M&S, but we forgot that the shops don’t open until 11 on Sunday and arrived in town a little bit early. And, as Carluccio’s was open… All I can say is that eggs Florentine and good coffee is a lovely start to a Sunday :o)

Actually, I’m feeling a teensy bit guilty because I went Carluccio’s today as well – lunch with one of my best writer mates (it’s her birthday = excellent excuse). But I did work hard at the gym this morning (skipping! Haven’t done that since junior school) so I earned the chicken and lemon risotto, garlicky spinach and white chocolate panna cotta. And we discussed books and plot points, so there was work involved. It just happened to be enjoyable work! (#noguilt)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

New cover!

Current work: (don’t ask, because you know what I’m struggling with)
Listening to: Bach
Reading: next on TBR

Here’s my new cover for my September book, ‘Once a Playboy…’ – and very nice it is, too!

This week has started pretty well. 

The Kate Unlardy Project continues, and I’ve just discovered a new bonus – better blood pressure measurements. In fact, better than since before I was pregnant with my eldest, so that’s very good going. 

I’ve also discovered that this week I’ve moved up to #4 in the M&B top ten with my 50th book – so thank you VERY much to everyone who’s put me there. You’ve really made this book special for me. 

And daughter had a very nice school report yesterday. 

And I won a book thong on Sherry Gloag's blog tour. 

Four nice things. Life is nice, right now. Quiet, balanced and happy. Long may it stay that way.

Now back to the salt mines :o) Onwards and upwards!

Friday, July 06, 2012

why I love social media

Current work: revisions (yeah, I know, still – have I mentioned how much I hate doing revisions?)
Listening to: Beethoven (my box set of the complete symphonies is through, yeehah)
Reading: next on TBR

Social media can be a timesuck, and I’m terrible when I’m procrastinating. (Look away now, dear editor – it’s when the writing isn’t going well that my FB feed is really busy.)

But I see it as being a bit like the water-cooler in the office. It’s my virtual office, because I work from home and I’m here on my own with the dog all day. Every so often, I need a break and a chat. I love it when people recommend a film or book or a piece of music they think I’ll enjoy (note, not touting for business, but people with similar tastes who say, ‘Have you tried this?’). Or swapping recipes. Or sharing beautiful pictures, witty cartoons and the kind of dry, slightly sarcastic humour I like. Especially the stuff with wordplay.

And it really came up trumps for me, this week. It’s been muggy and miserable, and one of my FB friends sent me a link to a website with a cooling gel pillow which she said might work for me and help me sleep. I had a look, rang them up and had a quick chat, and ordered one.

Last night was muggy and miserable. And, for the first time ever, thanks to the gel pillow, I slept through it without having to get up and sit next to a fan for 20 minutes to cool down, then be like a zombie from lack of sleep the next day. So thank you, Kate MacDonald, for recommending something that worked beautifully.

Had it not been for social media, I might not have met Kate – or a lot of other very nice people I know online. (Sure, there are mean people out there, but I believe that everyone’s nice until proven otherwise. Not rosy-tinted glasses, either, because it’s quite rare that people disappoint me by being mean.)

So I’m raising my mug of coffee this morning to social media. And long may it stay that way!

Thursday, July 05, 2012

in the top 10!

Current work: revisions
Listening to: Take That
Reading: too hot and tired to concentrate and enjoy book treats properly :o(

Thank you very much to everyone who bought my 50th M&B and put it in to the top 10 on the M&B website today. You’ve really made my day!

Tuesday, July 03, 2012


Current work: revisions
Listening to: Take That
Reading: (when I catch up with myself... Christina Courtenay's timeslip arrived today and I so want to read it RIGHT NOW but I must behave)


Yep, it's the first Tuesday at the month, so it's my Kate's Kitchen slot over at the PHS, so I'm doing ginger biscuits. These are a real favourite in this house. I forgot to take a pic last time I made them, so I had to make some last night to illustrate my blog post. (Is that the most creative excuse ever for making cookies?) Plus we wanted to try out our new cookie cutter. Littlest and I spied the sunburst in Lakeland on Saturday. (The lady in the shop told us that all husbands go white when they see their other half with a Lakeland bag... so it's not just mine!)

Monday, July 02, 2012

Elsewhere today

Current work: revisions, and thinking about new book
Listening to: Beethoven (my symphonies have arrived!)
Reading: next on TBR - very behind with my reading at the moment

Am over at the Medical Authors' blog today, talking about my new-found passion :)

Update on the Kate Unlardy Project - well, six weeks in, and I'm still going (and still enjoying it).  Three times a week at the gym - not so much on the swimming side, but I've been busy with work. I will try to do better during the holidays, mainly because I intend to talk littlest into coming swimming with me. 

As I'm losing fat but gaining muscle (which weighs more than fat), I'm not seeing much of a difference on the scales. So I'm going by the tape measure instead. Measuring day is the first of the month. So in six weeks I've managed an inch off my bust, waist and hips (that's each, not added together). And - drumroll - a whole inch off my upper arms! The team at the gym say they can see the difference; DH also says he can see the difference (even though he wasn't that tactful!).

But the big difference isn't really in my shape. It's in my confidence. I've had a couple of seriously rubbish years, and I've been faking confidence I really haven't felt. But right now, thanks to my gym sessions, I've been moved a bit out of my comfort zone and I'm doing things now I never would've thought I could do. And that's had a very nice knock-on effect on my confidence. (It's not just the endorphin rush, either!) It's good to have my bounce back, and long may it stay there.

Zealous, now? Nope. Because the only person who can change yourself is you. And you have to want to change, and to want to do it for the right reasons (sustainable ones - in other words, for yourself). If I'd tried this six months ago, it would've failed. But six weeks ago I'd come to the right decision for me, for the right reasons, and it's working.