Monday, February 17, 2014

Guest post - Donna Alward on the writing process

Last week, I posted my blog on the writing process. As Donna Alward's website is currently undergoing a few changes, I offered to host her here - so, take it away, Donna!

Big huge humongous thanks to my pal Kate (and RoNA finalist – wait double finalist!) for hosting me with my “My Writing Process” blog. Kate’s SUCH an inspiration to our “writing group” and I’ve known her for yonks. But since she joined the Romance line we’ve chatted even more. Sometimes even about writing. Mostly about food. And exercise. And kids. :) Okay – now on to my writing process!

1) What am I working on?
Right now I’m working on a couple of stories. I have a hard time shifting from one set of characters to another at the same time, and both proposals are approved and they both have the same deadline date (fun!). So I chose to write the one that’s calling to me most - Christmas at Seashell Cottage. It’s a 60k story that will be out in digital later this year to coincide with the release of Treasure on Lilac Lane from St. Martin’s Press. As soon as that’s on the way to my editor there, I’m back to finishing up the second story in a trilogy for Harlequin American – a Valentine’s Day story in my upcoming Crooked Creek Cowboys series.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Oh, this is a hard question. How does it differ? By voice, I suppose. I’m a farm girl, and yet my westerns have less of a ranch-y core and more of an emotional centre. That’s what it’s all about for me – the emotion. My series for St. Martins isn’t quite like any East Coast, Small Town Contemporary series I’ve read. Again, they’re about the emotional core and the small town setting, which makes them very intimate. There’s also a little hint of mystery in them. It’s one of those things I have a difficult time putting my finger on – perhaps a reader or editor or reviewer could pinpoint what makes me different. Perhaps it’s that I’m a down-home, Canadian girl that makes the difference. :)

3) Why do I write what I do?
Because Romance is awesome. Because I love happy endings. There are enough unhappy ones in the world that I can’t control or change, but maybe, just maybe, someone will read one of my stories and give a happy, contented sigh at the end. In my stories good guys finish first. The girl gets her happy ever after. Life might not always be perfect, but by gum, they’re going to fight their way through it with the one they love beside them. I don’t think you can really ask for anything better than that. And when a reader e-mails to let me know that my story touched or helped them in some way, it’s the best feeling in the world.

4) How does your writing process work?
It ain’t pretty. I’m a pantser, so I don’t know what’s going to happen all the time. I have my characters, a situation, and a basic idea of what their problem is and why they can’t seem to find happiness. Then I just dig in and work through it. I probably spend the most time on the opening 3 chapters, making sure I’ve got a fairly solid foundation before moving on. Then I work linearly through the story, learning as I go. I’ve learned to trust the process. When I get lightbulbs, chances are I’ve subconsciously laid the groundwork earlier on. I work right through to the end.

As I’m working, though, I always go through the last day’s work BEFORE I write new words. Not for a long time, just a single pass, but I invariably flesh a few things out and get into the rhythm of the story before carrying on. I try to write a minimum of 2-3000 words a day, especially in order to meet my deadlines these past few years. I really guard my time between 9 and 3 p.m. carefully, because those are my “alone” hours when everyone is at school (even the husband, who teaches college). I also try to keep myself balanced by NOT working on evenings or weekends, or if I do, it’s “light” stuff like blog writing, setting up promotions, answering e-mail, that sort of thing.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Breaking news - award shortlist!

I'm thrilled to say that I've been shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists Association's RoNA Rose Prize 2014 - with TWO books!

Sharing the text and photographs from the RNA (with thanks to them), and huge congratulations to my fellow shortlistees:

Congratulations to all authors shortlisted for the 2014 Romantic Novel of the Year Awards. The shortlist for the RoNA Rose Award, recognising the best in category/series and shorter romance that focus on developing a love affair between the hero and heroine, is:
Louise Allen, Forbidden Jewel of India, Harlequin Mills & Boon
Caroline Anderson, Snowed in with the Billionaire, Harlequin Mills & Boon
Liz Fielding, Anything But Vanilla, Harlequin Mills & Boon
Joanna Fulford, His Lady of Castlemora, Harlequin Mills & Boon
Kate Hardy, Bound by a Baby, Harlequin Mills & Boon
Kate Hardy, Her Real Family Christmas, Harlequin Mills & Boon

The category winners will be announced by Darcey Bussell CBE on Monday 17th March in the Gladstone Library, One Whitehall Place, London SW1, along with the winner of the RoNA Rose award, who will receive a star shaped crystal trophy plus a cheque for £1000, along with a silver rose bowl, which is kept for a year.

Darcey Bussell will then reveal the author whose book has won the RNA's most prestigious and coveted award, the Romantic Novel of the Year. In addition to the crystal trophy, the winner of the Romantic Novel of the Year will also receive a cheque for £5000.

The categories are Contemporary Romantic Novel, Epic Romantic Novel, Historical Romantic Novel, Romantic Comedy Novel and Young Adult Romantic Novel. The finalists of the RoNA Rose Award do not contest the Romantic Novel of the Year Award.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

nerdy stuff and catchup

Current work: writing M&B #61 (Christmas romance) and awaiting revisions to M&B #60 (tropical medicine)
Listening to: Panic! at the Disco
Reading: Rowan Coleman, The Memory Book (utterly fantastic and highly recommended – if dementia is a hot button for you, it will make you bawl, but it’s beautifully written and I loved it); Caroline Anderson, Snowed In With the Billionaire (excellent); Kate Morton, The House at Riverto (enjoyed)
Gym: totally full of lurgy so not at the gym this week! (Missing it terribly, too…)

Sorry – I have been an appallingly bad blogger, because life has seriously been in the way since DH’s car crash. He’s on the mend, but dealing with the admin has been pretty time-consuming. Haven’t been impressed by the communication or the business processes of all the people involved – apparently, the systems are so poor that nobody can make a note of what they’ve done and nobody else knows what anyone has done, and there’s been an awful lot of buck-passing. (Just how do these companies stay in business, with that level of inefficiency? And I used to work for one of them – in my ratrace days, that kind of service would have been unacceptable.) I’m not usually horrible to deal with, but I did have to get bossy and point out what needed doing. Politely but very firmly. Arrrgh. And I’ve also ended up facilitating the ‘family crisis’. (Those of you who know me in real life – yes, I know I said I wouldn’t do it again after copping all the flak last time, because it isn’t very nice putting yourself out and being really kind, only to have people being super-nasty. But otherwise it just drags on and on and on, so it’s actually less stressful to deal with it myself and get it sorted.)

Working round that lot hasn’t been easy, so I’m expecting massive revisions on the book known as ‘Plague Squirrels’. Still. Onwards and upwards :)

So. Nerdy stuff. It was my birthday yesterday, and DH managed to get a day off with me, so we went to the Roman exhibition at the Castle Museum in Norwich. It was quite a small exhibition (it’s touring the country for the next year or so), but some of the exhibits were really fascinating. (And yes, I was naughty and took photos on the iPod – hence the poor quality.) It was nice to see some local stuff – bits from the Hockwold and Snettisham hoards. And I was also fascinated by the Scottish armlet – I didn’t get a chance to take a pic of that, but apparently 20 out of the 21 known examples all come from around the same area of Scotland (Dundee ish), and they were bronze with a little inlaid picture.

This is a fluorite cup – the Crawford cup, dating from around AD50. There are only two known examples which are actually intact, and both are at the British Museum. Apparently they were highly prized by the nobility in Roman times, and the emperor Nero paid a million sesterces for one. Just to put it into context (and the curator who wrote the accompanying notes really did a fantastic job), this is the equivalent of a year’s pay for a thousand soldiers! For one drinking cup which is roughly the size of the average coffee mug...

There was also a tiny dolphin lamp, which I thought was beautiful.

And this child’s sock, from Roman Egypt. It’s a left sock, and note the division between the big toe and the rest of the toes – this is so it could be worn easily with a thonged sandal.

But my favourite bit? The Hipposandal.

This is a temporary horseshoe, which was put on a horse when it needed to pull exceptionally heavy loads or when the ground was too rough. The more I see of Roman engineering, the more impressed I am with them as a civilisation. Practical, sensible and clever. (And there were photos of my two favourite buildings – the Colosseum and the Pantheon. And bits from the Domus Aureus, which was closed for renovation when we were in Rome. Colour me happy.)

Monday, February 10, 2014

My writing process

Pat Amsden has kindly invited me to participate in a My Writing Process Blog Tour, which takes part on writers' blogs every Monday and gives readers a chance to find out how writers come up with their ideas. She blogged about this last Monday and today it’s my turn.

How Does My Writing Process Work?
Something will spark off an idea – it might be a conversation, or watching a film and thinking ‘what if?’ (with the final question being a million miles away from the film in question), or visiting somewhere, or an article, or a photograph. I might not even recognise it straight off as ‘oh, that’s my next book’ – but then I’ll wake up with the bare bones of a book in my head and I’ll know what sparked the idea. I’m very much a morning person, so if my husband or kids get a grunt and The Look instead of my usual Tiggerish self, they know not to talk to me until I’ve scribbled down a few notes!

I’m a plotter rather than a ‘seat of the pants’ writer, so the next step for me is to work out the outline. I normally list the conflicts separately (so I can see if they’re enough to sustain a whole book or if they need strengthening – or even changing completely), as well as a brief bio of the hero and heroine, and then what happens in the book (including emotional turning points).

And then (once I’ve agreed the outline with my editor), it’s a matter of writing it. Because I’m a planner, I know how many words I need to write per day to hit my target (allowing a few days’ wriggle room, in case life gets in the way). Some days, it flows really well. Other days, I find myself doing online word puzzles and I have to be disciplined and decamp to the dining room with the iPad (which has a slow internet connection – so I stay off the internet/email!).

What I’m Working On
I’m waiting for the revisions on my sixtieth Mills & Boon – a Medical Romance set in a tropical medicine department. I’m also working on my next Harlequin Romance, which has a Christmas theme, and I’ve sent my editor the outline for the Medical Romance after that (which is a follow-up to the current one).

How does my work differ from others in its genre?
That’s a tricky one to answer as category romance is often seen as ‘all the same’ – but if you gave twenty romance authors the same premise you’d end up with twenty completely different books. And the difference would be in voice, tone and characterisation. So I guess what makes my work differ from others would be my voice. ‘Full of warmth, heart and charm’ is how one reviewer has described my books; and you’ll probably find something a little bit quirky in there, too. (Oh, and there might be a spaniel sneaking in. He does masquerade as a cat occasionally, and as a labrador - but if there's a dog who steals shoes and wanders around with a teddy-bear, that's my boy with a walk-in part!)

Why Do I Write What I Write?
Because I like happy endings. I like being able to write a book that might make people cry at times but will also make them laugh, and finally feel good. A reader once said to me that when she was having a bad day, she would read one of my books and feel that the world was a better place after all – and being able to do that for someone through my stories is the best thing of all.

It is my great pleasure to introduce you to the three bloggers who will be following me next Monday.

USA Today bestselling author Donna Alward writes for Harlequin. Her latest release is Her Rancher Rescuer, and her very first single title novel, The House on Blackberry Hill, will be out from St Martin’s Press in April. Her website is at

Nina Harrington writes for Harlequin Kiss and Carina UK, and has won awards from Cataromance and Romantic Times. Her latest release is Trouble on Her Doorstep. Her website is at

Caroline Anderson has written nearly 100 novels for Harlequin – fabulous warm Romance/Cherish and Medical Romance, and she’s been shortlisted for the RNA Rose award and topped the Waldenbooks romance chart before now. Her latest release is Risk of a Lifetime (out next month!). Her website is in progress, so I’ll be hosting her next week :)