Monday, February 27, 2006
Today I received a very special gift in the post, The parcel that arrived had two books in it but although the books were wonderful, they were books I had been longing to see, and books that brought tears to my eyes as I held them for the first time – the books were not the real gift. The true value of the present comes from the person who sent them and the meaning they have for both of us. And it’s something truly special. An extra gift that my writing has brought to me and something I never anticipated when I started out.
Writing romances has brought me some very special friendships. I still find it pretty stunning that authors whose books I have admired and read are now people I can call my friends. You’ll see some of their names scattered around this blog from time to time. And now there are other names I can start to add to the list - the names of some brand new authors I’m also proud to call my friends.
I love working with new writers. With those who are not yet published, but who soon – I hope - will be. I give workshops, run internet classes, read for the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme. I expect that quite a few people reading this I have ‘met’ on the eHarlequin message boards or other web sites devoted to romance writing. There are some people who cannot understand why I encourage, work with and support ‘New Writers’ as I do. To them it seems to be either ‘training up the competition’ or ‘encouraging those with no talent to believe that anyone can write a book.’ These people and I will never, ever agree. New writers, unpublished writers, ‘wannabees’ , ‘Gonnabeez’ or whatever you want to name them are the lifeblood of the writing world – any writing world – but perhaps Romance writing most of all.
A genre like Romance writing that is so tightly defined and so uniquely restricted in its subject matter – restrictions which create challenges rather than reducing them – needs to continue to grow and develop or it will stagnant and then die. I’ve studied the short romance genre from its earliest beginnings when in 1908 Mr Mills & Mr Boon first set up their publishing company together, and I’ve been fascinated by the way it has developed while still staying true to the basic ‘format’ (note I did not say formula) that started the hugely successful genre. The books must – and do - constantly change, adjust, develop to reflect the changes in society and their readers’ needs. New writer, young writers, modern writers coming into the genre bring with them new idea and new lifeblood for the genre that will feed it and all its other authors for the future, rather than taking away that vital nourishment.
But for me working with new writers is a personal joy. Talking to them, discussing writing, answering questions, makes me think about my own work and how I do things. It also opens new windows on what I write, seeing it in very different lights and showing new potential, new ways of tackling things. Connecting with the new arrivals in the writing world gives me a buzz, shows me different ways of approaching this genre that I love, opens doors I might not even have noticed as I keep my head down over the books I’ve written for 20 years. I have every hope that while I’ve been enjoying talking and teaching and debating with these new writers, I will also have been given an extra little infusion of ‘new blood’ that will stop me succumbing to the long-established author’s failing of writing ‘as I have always done’ so much that what I’ve always written suddenly becomes what no one wants to read any more.
And on a personal level, this connection with the would-be writers has given me an unexpected and deeply valued gift of some truly special friendships. Friendships without which my life would be infinitely poorer and the writers events I go to just that – events – instead of the way they are now, when they are more like family reunions with dearly loved people. As someone who only has one son, I have become someone who has 3 beautiful ‘cyber daughters’ and they are only the peak of the pyramid of friends, published and unpublished, wannabees, gonnabeez and just plain tryers who now enhance my world as a result of my writer and the links the internet has given me.
And that is why today’s parcel was so truly special. Today I got my hands on the first two books – Featured Attraction and Being a Bad Girl - by one of those ‘daughters’ – Julie Cohen. I have been waiting for this every bit as long as she has, and with just about the same excitement and impatience at the thought of seeing her books in print. I held them, read the wonderful inscription inside them and knew that those others who look down their noses at the way I help and encourage new writers have got it all wrong. I truly believe that Julie would have made publication on her own – as would another of my very special writer friends – Michelle Styles whose M&B Historical novel - The Gladiator’s Honour – will be out in May. Both these talented writers would have been published with or without me. The true value of our connection is in the learning experience with all been through – myself included – and in the warmth and depth of the wonderful friendship that our shared love of writing has brought to my – and I hope to their lives.
When I was young, very few people encouraged or even understood my dream of being a writer. One person only – before the BM – actively supported me in that dream. Margaret Baumann was a writer for Mills & Boon in the 1960s onwards. She was a friend of my mother and she was the first published author to tell me I cold write. Luckily, she was still alive when my first book was published in 1984 and I was able to make sure that she saw a copy of it. I can only hope that it brought her just a little of the joy that the gift of Julie and Michelle’s books have given to me.
Sunday, February 26, 2006
Thinking about writing makes me remember that I never mentioned anything about last weekend.
Last weekend I was in Norwich with the lovely Kate Hardy. The BM & I stayed with her and her family because the two Kates were giving a talk on writing romances with special reference to creating heroes in the Millenium Library there as part of their It’s A Love Thing celebration of love and romance. The talk went well – after hearing that only two people had actually booked ahead of time, it was a little nerve-wracking wondering if anyone would turn up. But plenty of people did and not only did they seems to enjoy the event, they stayed for an hour after the designated closing time talking and asking questions.
Talking about writing is always a fascinating experience for me. There’s always something new to learn, always a question that really makes you think. But for me the most interesting part of the weekend was seeing another writer in her ‘natural habitat’ – her office.
Kate H has just had a brand new, purpose built office added to her home. A physical sign of how well her career is going – for those that don’t know, Kate’s book Where the Heart Is, is nominated for the RNA’s Romance Prize this year – and a much needed ‘room of her own’ in a house that is busy with husband, 2 children and a lovely, if soppy, dog. This office has a wall lined with bookcases – shelves of which are devoted to Kate’s own publications . There is the obvious desk, computer screen, keyboard. All the necessary office equipment – printer, phone, fax, filing cabinet. So far, so much like my own office. There’s even a bed for Byron the springer spaniel where I have bed(s) for the felines.
But – and here’s the scary bit – it was tidy. And organised. Not like my office which is full of what the BM described, in his comment to my first blog, as ‘purposeful mess’ - and a lot of totally unpurposeful stuff that is just plain mess.
Kate H has ‘things to do’ lists printed out and on her walls. She plans her books in detail, submits proposals and maps out their progress on spreadsheets. She researches in detail (you need to do this in Medicals as you must get the facts right) and she sits down, gets on with it – and writes.
Me? I procrastinate. I get an idea in my head and I let it brew. It brews until it is so strong and powerful that if it was a pot of tea it would take the glaze off the china and scour its way down your throat if you tried to drink it. I let it steep into my subconscious until that’s soaked with it and then it has to rise to my conscious mind- saturating it until there’s no chance of avoiding it any more. I have to write. I have to get the thought down in words I have to tell the story of the two people who are driving my insane (well – okay – more insane than usual – by their constant presence in my thoughts, their demands that I tell their story and that I do it now.
And then I start. Sometimes I have a fairly detailed idea of where I’m going. Sometimes I have a vital scene in my head that sparks things off and that I know I have to start with, or work towards, or end with -and I set out hopefully into the mist, hoping and praying that my characters will take me by the hand and lead me on to the right path and take me with them to their happy ever after ending. They always have done up to now – but there’s always that edge of fear that maybe this time I’m going to lose them or they’ll lead me the wrong way and we’ll end up in some place that just doesn’t work at all and I’ll never be able to find a way out of. I don’t do proposals or synopses. If my editor asks what I’m working on, I mutter something about ‘A Sicilian’ or ‘A Spaniard’ and retreat back into my writing cave.
Because the truth is that more often that not, I don’t know what I’m writing about until – if I’m lucky – I’m halfway there – or even until I reach the end and look back and say ‘Oh so that’s what this story is about! How interesting!’
In the same way that my office is messy, undisciplined, chaotic, I’m a messy, undisciplined, chaotic writer. And that is probably reflected in the books I write – not that they are necessarily messy, undisciplined and chaotic. Once I actually start writing, I’m suddenly disciplined. I know who my characters are and I work with them to tell their story to the best of my ability. But the stories I write, the emotions that I deal in, the situations and conflicts that my characters get themselves into, they’re messy and complicated and chaotic. They’re the emotional problems that throw all sorts of spanners in the works and keep people who should be with one another apart until they can learn to see each other properly and end up where they should be – facing a future together, for life.
I have lots of friends who are writers and we all work in our own individual ways. Kate H plans and plots and organises (and she’s the sort of powerhouse of a writer that exhausts me just to watch her). My dear friend Anne McAllister studies psychology and spends time detailing her character’s’ pasts and family relationships and the way those affect them in the present. (When I first wrote this I wrote that she detailed her characters’ pastas – and she probably does that too). Another friend, Michelle Reid, works more like me – she ‘sees’ a scene that sets her imagination going and grabs at the characters, getting down words about them and learning about them as she puts those words on a page. Some writers work in 1000 words a day bursts – I just couldn’t leave my characters after 1000 words and I’ve been known to slam down 8 -10,000 words in a white-heat of glorious inspiration.
So what does this tell me? Horses for courses obviously,. We all write the way that suits us. I couldn’t write the way Kate H or Anne McA write – and they would shudder at the thought of winging it in the way I do. Which just goes to show that there’s no ‘right’ way to write – you just have to sit down and get on with it in the way that works for you.
Which is what I shall have to do from tomorrow morning – that tea bag of ideas that has been steeping away in my subconscious has reached saturation point and the characters are nagging at my conscious mind.
It’s time for those two terrifying words - CHAPTER ONE
Thursday, February 23, 2006
Seeing as I’ve been threatened with extreme retribution if I don’t mention Biddy’s Boy – here is the story of another of my cats.
Dylan. Dylan the small grey tabby with one eye. Dylan the Villain or, affectionately, Dyl the Vyl. The second youngest, after Sid. The loner, the hunter. The cat who walks by himself.
The very first cat I ever had in my life (I can’t say owned because you don’t own a cat- they own you) was Misty. A small female cat with soft grey fur and white ‘bib’ and paws. She was a convent cat – the nuns who taught at my school had a cat who had had kittens and they asked if anyone wanted one. I was seven and the kitten, which I named Misty was my birthday present. Sadly, Misty only lived for a few year. She caught cat flu and died.
And I have always, always wanted another grey cat.
A friend had been to the RSPCA to adopt a cat. She told me of all the ones she’d had to leave behind – including a little grey cat. Grey? It took some pleading and persuading but the BM gave in and said yes we could adopt a grey cat. So Dylan came home to us. He was about five months old, small and neat, a soft grey with darker grey tabby markings and a white chest and paws. He once got ideas above his station when the vet put ‘silver tabby’ on his record card. But he isn’t a silver – they’re quite different. He’s grey and white.
He also had cat flu. We didn’t know it when we brought him home, but after a couple of days he became obviously ill. He shivered and sneezed and his nose and eyes ran. He was a very sick little creature. The vet prescribed antibiotics and I had to fight to get them down his stubborn little throat. My fingers were nearly torn to shreds. He curled up in the space just under the radiator for warmth and sneezed and coughed and shivered more. I thought I was going to lose another little grey cat to cat flu but Dylan is a survivor and slowly, slowly he got better. The lasting scar of his illness is the way it affected one eye – it sealed up completely and when it opened again, the inner eyelid was damaged so now it's blurred and it waters in cold weather and we don’t think he can see very well out of it. It’s never held him back.
Dylan is the hunter. The cat who prowls the undergrowth and tackles anything he can find – even birds like wood pigeons that are twice his size – the other lasting result of his illness is that he never grew much. He is still small and narrow and his tail is – well, whisper it - but his tail is like a grey piece of string. But in his heart Dylan is big and brave and fierce. He is the one who sees off stray cats , he fought off a hawk that swooped near when he was climbing the big pine tree at the bottom of the garden – and he is the cat who likes to roam.
If I leave the house I have to make sure that Dylan is inside because if he isn’t he will follow me. Not just a little way, but as far as he can before I give in and take him home. If I’m just going to the postbox, then I’ll let him stay – that’s just four streets away and then we walk home together. But if I’m going any further, I have to turn round and take him home or Dylan will follow all the way. We learned this by experience when the BM was teaching an evening class in the local sixth form college. From our gate, Dylan trotted behind him. Believing he would soon get tired, the BM carried on. So did Dylan. The main road that needed crossing to the college would deter him, the BM thought - it didn’t. By this time they were both at the college gates and there wasn’t time before the class to take him home. So Dylan went to the poetry class. He greeted everyone. Sat in a corner and washed. Then he jumped up onto the teacher’s desk and sat there, taking an intelligent interest in everything until it was time to go home. As a result, he’s the most educated of all my cats. The one who has studied poetry. Perhaps it goes with his name – Dylan – Dylan Thomas, or Bob Dylan, both poets in their own way.
Which rather clashes with his other, earthier side. You see, Dylan loves workmen. He has a special thing about electricians, but plumbers will do – or builders, or the man who comes to service the boiler. If a workman comes to the house he will soon find himself greeted by a small grey cat with a rusty purr who comes trotting in, stringy tail high, demanding attention by rubbing his head against their trouser legs. I think it’s because they had big hands. When they stroke him, which they inevitably do, their palms cover just about all of his little body. They can stroke almost every inch of him in one wide sweep and he just purrs and purrs and stays for as long as they will let him. So far, no workman has ever managed to leave again without giving Dylan the strokes he demands.
He also likes their vans. If a plumber or an electrician leaves their van open in the driveway, Dylan will be in there and investigating everything. He likes to check things over, makes sure all is in order. And then, if he’s satisfied, he’ll settle down and go to sleep, curled up on the toolbox or next to the coils of wire. Which is how he almost ended up in Preston with one electrician. His day finished, van locked, the man was heading for Lancashire for the weekend when he looked up and saw a small grey, furry face looking back at him in his rear-view mirror. Dylan, who had been snoozing in the back of the van and had been woken by the sound of the engine and was now perched on the back seat, demanding to be taken back home.
So that’s Dylan – Dyl the Vyl. The buccaneer cat. The poet. The loner. He likes to eat by himself, sleep by himself in the same spot, next to the radiator as he did when he was sick. Formerly the baby of the family, he has never accepted Sid’s arrival in the house and they usually just avoid each other but if they come face to face then there’s a hissing, snarling spat, and then they move on again.
And of course Dylan is Biddy’s Boy. She visited once and they set up a mutual love relationship that’s never been broken, even though he only sees her once every six months or more. What is it, do you think Biddy? Is it that he senses you’re an engineer?
Or do you have very big hands?
I don't actually have a picture of Dylan on his own - not one that's ready to use, so until I find one, this will have to do - it's Dylan and Redford (affectionately know as Bob). So I suppose the picture at the top of this page could be labelled - Bob Dylan.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Michelle tagged me to name five guilty pleasures
Well, I'm with Julie Cohen on this. I have difficulty in finding the 'guilty' pleasures. Lots of pleasures - not a lot of guilt. In fact the guilt bit was the hardest to find - so what is there that has that element of 'guilt' in it??
1 . Has to be Amazon – or any bookshop real, internet, any town, any time. I Just have to go into a bookshop to feel intense pleasure – all those wonderful books, just waiting to be browsed, bought, read . . . Ah, and there is the guilty part – books are mean to be read. That’s their purpose. The reason they were created. (Though I do know of some people who are guilty of buying books for the way they will look on their shelves – as an interior design statement.) And I do buy books meaning to read them. But I buy too many – which means that my TBR pile (okay – my TBR shelves) are stashed full of books I want to read, mean to read, but never get around to reading. And I have this nasty, uncomfortable feeling that if I was to impose and embargo on buying books until I had read at least half of them, then I could keep reading for a very long time . . .But still I end up inside those bookshops and I come out with those wonderful carrier bags full of slim paperback, bulky blockbusters serious tomes, all of which I promise myself I will read . . .one day.
2 . Telephone calls – long – l-o-n-g telephone calls. Okay, not the first five- ten? Minutes of those phone calls. Because the people I call are usually other authors – particularly Michelle Reid and Anne McAllister. And so these can be called ‘work’. At first. But then they ramble here there and everywhere, and I look at the clock and realise I should have been writing . . .
3. Buying shoes – I’m with Julie on this too – shoes I do not need, shoes that are not on sale, shoes that are bought simply because I love them. But then if I love them it’s very difficult to feel guilty about it.
4. ‘London clothes’. As a writer my life is mostly spent at my desk – time at my desk requires comfortable, easy wearing clothes. I suspect there is a writerly uniform of tee/sweatshirt tracksuit/sweat pants. Certainly for me. But I love clothes. I love dressing up – and sometimes I get the chance to do that when I go to meet my editor or to any of the RNA events in London. And I buy lovely clothes for those occasions. But the times I go to London and the time I spend in London is very much less than the time I spend at home at my desk. So the proportion of ‘London clothes’ in my wardrobe is far too much for the work they have to do.
5 . Magazines – see Number 1 – ‘nuff said! Or perhaps it could be checking emails when I checked them six minutes ago – or going on eHarlequin and chatting when I should be working - or watching Coronation Street - or eating Doritos or Bombay Mix that I’ve bought for ‘nibbles’ at a party so that I have to go out and buy some more . . .
And yes, Anne McAllister - I can get past five without mentioning chocolate. The Doritos/Bombay Mix reference is my chocolate!
Monday, February 20, 2006
And I've been tagged - a couple of times - So I'll start with this one from Kate Hardy as it's the one that took least thought -
current clothing: lilac top, with lace, burgundy fake ‘suede’ skirt black lace tights
current hair: windblown – I just got in from town
current mood: wondering which of the 3 volume length ‘to do list’ to do!
current refreshment: 1. strong black coffee in my RSC mug with a quite from ‘As You Like it’ saying ‘Sell when you can, you are not for all markets’
And 2. A large glass of water - always have to have both.
current annoyance: Can’t think of one which is surprising – unless I include the answer to the next question -
current avoidance: the fact that my office is a tip.
current smell: Decleor Arome Spa Tonic
current thing you ought to be doing: tidying and organising my office, writing the new Modern/Presents novel to get it from my head and into words,
current thing or things on your wall: kitten calendar given me by my son & partner, prints and a painting by Peter Brook, a Yorkshire painter who taught me at school, prints of Haworth, Yorkshire, photos of my friends – including Michelle Reid and eHarlequin hosts Dee, Dream and Rae
current IM/person you're talking to: my cats Sid and Redford – apart from them, the house is empty
current jewellery: wedding ring and white gold ring with 3 diamonds – a treat to myself from my last royalty cheque – and for my ‘Best Presents’ nomination for The Twelve Month MIstress. Silver heart shaped earrings
current book: Reading – a list of books to judge for the RITAs so no no names. Writing – see thing I ought to be doing…
current worry: getting my book finished by deadline
current favorite celebrity: Hmm – there’s always Hugh Jackman - and Martin Shaw
current obsession: at the risk of being boring – the new book!
current love: my DH
current longing: to get more reading time and to be more organised
current disappointment: would you believe I can’t think of one? Oaky, not being further into the book I’m writing.
current lyric in your head: Pressure- Billy Joel
current music: nothing – I work in silence mostly – looking on the CD player it’s a CD of ‘Lurve Songs’ made for me by a very special friend.
current favorite book: It’s not a favourite but I recently read Jodi Picoult’s The Pact and it stunned me.
current favorite movie: No idea!
current wish: That the new book would just write itself
current undergarments: (would you believe I had to look!) White lace bra white lace ‘shorts’ style knickers
current desktop picture: Nothing
current plans for tonight/weekend: Tonight – working late as DH doesn’t get back till 10.30 - so hopefully I will be sorting the office till then – then a glass of wine and the repeats of tonight’s Coronations Street - ah, the highlife of the romance novelist/ This weekend –meeting a friend for lunch - dinner somewhere with DH (finally catching up on a delayed Valentine’s Day!) and some work on the new book.
And I'll tag Michelle Styles (in revenge for the one she got me on!) Anna Lucia and - hmm - Anne McAllister
Friday, February 17, 2006
If you’re reading this and you’re going to be in the audience – I’m looking forward to seeing you too! Do come and say Hello.
I’ll be back on Sunday and then I’ll hope to post again. Meanwhile, Michelle, you’re tag is noted and I will respond then.
Sir Sidney sends his best regards to all who have posted saying how wonderful he is – he knows it, but he appreciated your intelligence and good taste in posting.
Sunday, February 12, 2006
Sid, ACOSB, CatLittOxon. said...
Well, the blog is nice, but where am I? I
expected to see a great big picture of ME -- Sid! And what do I get? Cats on
notebooks, for mercy's sake! Use the blinking notebook to write CAT STORIES,
Missus. And get up a picture of ME! And those other cats, too -- except Dyl.
There are also other posters – Anna Lucia and Anne McAllister – who asked to hear about my cats. Both of these posters have personal acquaintance with the four felines who live with me and so they are somewhat prejudiced in their favour. And I suspect that Ms McAllister who would catnap Sid the ACOSB in the blink of an eyelid if I didn’t check her luggage for purring each time she leaves after a visit and who has for the past some years been conducting a correspondence with him by email had a hand – or maybe a paw – in pressing for more Cat Stories.
But Sid is an important member of my family and so . . .
Let me say at once that I never intended to have four cats. In my childhood, I had a cat. From the first days of my marriage and my first home, I had, originally, one cat – a ginger tom. But then I spotted a tiny, too young to be taken from his mother black and white kitten and so there were two. Two cats are a good number. They keep each other company. There is one for my knee, one for the BM’s. And that was how it was to start. Then those original 2 cats left this one of their nine lives and their places had to be filled – by Robert Redford (Bob) another ginger tom and Spiffy (originally Ivan but that's another story) another black and white. So far so good. 2 is a nice number.
But then the RSPCA had a small damaged grey stray – he’d been hit by a car and he had cat flu – he needed a good home and he needed nursing. And I’m a sucker for a furry hard luck story and so Dylan came to live with us. Oh well, 3 is a nice number. There’s one for my lap and one for the BM’s – and one left over for any visitor (like Anne or Anna) who wants a lapwarmer)
But cats decide who they’re going to live with. And one night we opened the door to let the cats in and in came Bob, Dylan, Spiffy – and Spiffy brought a friend with him. A handsome, big (very big) black and brown tabby who just about announced that he lived here and would I please show him where the food was. (Actually I don’t believe he said please – just 'Lemmme at the food!’)
And so Sid came into our lives. We tried to keep him out in the hope he would go home, but he just sat outside our patio doors and yelled and yelled and yelled. We couldn’t sleep. The neighbours couldn’t sleep and Sid was not moving. So we let him in. We tried to find his previous owners at the start - but then when we found that he had half his whiskers pulled out and air gun pellets in his stomach, we decided they weren’t worth looking for. We called him Sid because of an ancient radio comedy programme called Round the Horne which had a character named Rambling Sid Rumpo in it. Rambling Sid suited the wanderer. At first he was a rather pathetic creature. He was nervous and panicked if anyone went near him, he slept with his eyes open and twitched and moaned in his sleep. His tail – and his tail – a wonderful, thick, richly furred tail, stayed down. He didn’t even have enough spirit to lift his tail for the first five months he was with us.
But once he was secure in his chosen home, Rambling Sid turned into A Force in Fur. He lost the ‘Rambling’ part of his name and gained a knighthood. As TS Elliott says, cats have many names – and this is certainly true of The Force - his full title grew until it became Sir Sidney St John Willoughby Portly-Lummox ACOSB (A Cat of Superior Breeding). Anne McAllister has added to that by awarding him the honours of Earl of Hellions Bumpstead and Lord of Blubberhouses. (And for those of you who are laughing at those ridiculous names, I assure you they are real, genuine English village names the first in Essex, the second in North Yorkshire.)
Since his arrival Sid has become A Personality (note – I resisted the temptation to say A Purrsonality). He now regularly appears on my web site – where he often gets more fan mail than I do). He is the one who ensures total fairness in the choice of all the winners of my contests. I put all the names of the entrants on pieces of paper, top each one off with a cat crunchie and the one Sid eats first is the winner. If this was the 1600s and not the 2000s, he would probably get me accused of being a witch and having him as my familiar as he rarely leaves my side. He sleeps on my bed (well – he sleeps on me!). He sits on my lap, and if get up he follows me. And during the day, when I’m working, he sleeps on my desk, curled around the computer keyboard. He’s there now – dozing contentedly and occasionally reaching out a paw to pat my hand as I type. If I pause to think then he senses the silence, lifts his head and pushes it under my hand so that I have to stroke him. As an aid to thought it’s pretty good. He just wonders why it took us so long to realise this was where he belonged – he knew this was home from the moment he saw it. The only fly in the ointment - or cat in the way of the firespot, is Dylan. Dylan and Sid will never be friends and Dylan . . . But Dylan is another story.
So that’s Sid – or, as he’s usually known to my readers Sid The Cat. The capitals are important. In his mind, he’s The Cat and no one else gets a look in. Oh well, four cats is a very nice number - there's one for the BM's lap and two for anyone visitors. There's no room at all on my lap - that's Sid's territory and only his.
Earl of Helions Bumpsteand and Lord of Blubberhouses
Saturday, February 11, 2006
February was also the month of my father's birthday. He would have been 91 on Feb 9th. He lived most of his early life in South Africa but then studied medicine in Dublin which is where he met my mother. I have his passport from when he left SA at the age of 18 - and in the photo he looks scarily like my son (The Offspring). Later in life, he became almost the double of Humphrey Bogart - unfortunately right down to the cigarette that was almost always in his hand or his mouth.
My father was not the easiest of men - sadly he made a real mess of his marriage to my mother and they split up - but apart from this passport, in my home I have one substantial reminder of his part in my life - and his belief in my dreams. When I was 14 and he asked me what I wanted for my birthday, the only thing I wanted was a desk. Even then I wanted to be a writer and somewhere I have a photo of me - aged 12 - hair in pigtails - frowning in concentration over an ancient typewriter as I wrote my first 'book'! (And yes, as a result of popular demand when I first mentioned this in my old blog - when I learn how to do that sort of thing, I will try to post that photo up here.)
So my father bought me a desk. It was a cheap, pine wood desk. It came in pieces and had to be 'self-assembled'. It has six drawers, three to either side and it's a "ladies' version" (that's how it was advertised!) with a 'modesty panel' to hide my knees from the world. These days, I work on a posh, 'executive' desk - L-shaped and big enough to hold my computer and the printer and the scanner and all the bits and pieces (and, okay, all the Mess) that I have around me as I work. It also has room for Sid The Cat who lies alongside my keyboard as I write. But I still have that old desk - it's worn and battered and a couple of the legs wobble permanently as a result of being assembled and taken apart and reassembled somewhere else as it moved with me from place to place as I grew up, married, set up my own home. It's in the BM's office now - a much smaller room where it fits in perfectly. He works on it, writes on it, just as I did all those years ago. It's not a pretty desk, but it's functional - and it was given to me to 'become a writer' on it - and I did.
Not many people ever believed I'd achieve my dream of being published, and writing for a living, and possibly deep down inside my father never did either. But he never said so. He let me use the typewriter from his surgery to bang out my first attempts at stories - and he bought me what, in my mind, was my 'writer's desk'. He was a very difficult man at times but he let me believe in my dreams, which is what I remember when I look at that tatty, wobbly battered desk - and I know he'd be pretty damn proud of what I've achieved since he gave it to me.
So Happy Birthday Kate H! Happy Birthday Dad! And if you have a birthday in February too, I'm sending you the happiest of birthday wishes. Have a wonderful time - and remember to hold on to your dreams so that you can work towards them
Friday, February 10, 2006
Another aspect of this is that the Dads can tell/read stories to their children. These are recorded and the little person can have a story and a sort of contact with Dad even when he’s miles away. It doesn’t matter what you think about what those ‘inside’ have done – the children are the innocent ones and they’re the ones who need the stories. Stories – telling stories, reading stories and then talking about them brings people together.
Which helps me. Because sometimes, in the great scheme of things, writing stories – telling stories for a living – particularly light romance - doesn’t seem all that important or even worthwhile. But stories have been part of what it is to be human for – well, for ever really. There will have been stories told around campfires back at the beginning of history. Today we have films and plays and soap operas, all of which feed our need for stories. But still, as a skill, good story telling is not really rated.
I wrote about this last year in my old blog when I had a good rant about it –
What is wrong with good old-fashioned story telling? The sort of story telling
that must have started around the fires in caves way, way back in history.
The sort of story telling that is there in the oldest texts – texts like
Beowulf, created in Anglo Saxon and beginning with the announcement
- Hwaet - which means something like – Listen. . . – or really
‘Listen up … ‘ Doesn’t that just tell you there’s a good story coming – one that
makes you want to curl up by the fireside and listen?
Listen, and be transported away into another world . A world of fantasy and excitement. Of heroes who are larger than life and the heroines who match them. Of love and hate, joy and despair . . .
A lot of my understanding about good, old-fashioned story-telling comes from the time I worked as a Children’s Librarian. Teachers, parents, academics, government studies all agonised about whether children were reading enough. How could we get them to read? What made them stop? What brought them back to books again and again? I saw what brought them back – good old-fashioned story telling. The sort that gripped them and held them from page to page right to the end – and then made them want more of the same.
And I remember how, in the summer, we used to run Storytime in the Parks. On a sunny day – if we could find one – I and another librarian would head out to one of the local parks with a bundle of rugs for children to sit on – and a bundle of books to tell stories from. On one occasion, we had a group little ones (all under 10 ) gathered round, when a gang of older boys (age 14/15 or so) spotted us and came over to see what was going on.. Laughing and jeering, it was pretty obvious they were looking for trouble but something in the storytelling caught them. They stopped laughing. They stood still. After a few minutes they sank down on to the ground and stayed there, listening in silence, for the rest of the hour. Even listening to old, often repeated stories – Cinderella – The Three Bears that I thought would be way too young for them and would bore them. They loved it and they were disappointed when the hour was up.
That’s the magic power of stories and story telling. And that’s why I love what I do so much. I love to hear from readers that I’ve caught their imaginations and held them, unable to move away from the pages until they reach the end of the story, even though, with a romance, they know only too well how it will end.
Telling stories – it’s an art that’s been with us from the beginnings of civilisation – and I hope it’s one that will be with us until the end of time as we know it. I’ve studied the theories, read huge, complicated tomes on the seven basic plots and why we tell stories but in the end it just comes down to the fact that I love telling stories – and I thrilled that so many people love to read them
I’m proud to be a story teller because it seems to me that telling stories is part of what makes us human – and it’s a part of us that links us to other humans, no matter where in the world they are.
And in these days when so much seems to divide us or come between us, that can only be a good thing.
Thursday, February 09, 2006
For Christmas, a very special friend gave me a notebook. As it came from her (Waves to Anna) it was never going to be any ordinary sort of notebook – no – in fact it is, like her, very special too. It is a spectacular notebook – quite, quite beautiful. (again, like the giver). It is the perfect size to fit in a handbag (90x40mm if you want specifics) and it has a wonderful cover that is decorated with stylised cats in blue and gold on a gold and bronze background.
You can see this notebook here -
My notebook is the first design – Mediterranean Cats and as you can see, it’s quite stunning. Which gives me a problem.
I love cats – Anna, who gave me this notebook knows that - I also love notebooks (I suspect she knows that too) I am always looking for the perfect notebook to carry with me in which to jot down the fly-by thoughts and inspirations that zip into my head at odd moments in the day and very often zip right out again if I’m not careful. These sort of inspirations – an explanation for exactly why a hero did this or why a heroine asked that – the perfect line that takes a scene from point A to point Z without any hesitation or forcing . . . All writers should always have a notebook with them at all times. But a working notebook is a very different thing from a special notebook.
My working notebooks are quite simply a Mess. They are so much of a Mess that the word really does need a capital M. When I’m struck by inspiration, I don’t pause to think very hard, I rush for pen and paper and I scribble hard and fast. I write down snatches of words as they come to me, disjointed sentences, words abbreviated, dialogue put in the wrong order, Anything and everything in order just to get the idea, the mood, the feel of it all recorded before it escapes me again. For that I need a rough, scribbly, messy sort of notebook, Not a glorious, spectacular notebook.
The Mediterranean Cats notebook begs me to record something special. And it asks to be written in in at least a neat hand. I haven’t had a neat hand - for writing anyway – in my life. I can be pretty spectacularly neat with embroidery, but that’s a very different skill. My appalling scrawl of handwriting is why I will always be eternally grateful to the inventors of computers and programmes like Word with their endless variety of fonts and the ability to make even my messy thoughts and words and scribble look brilliantly neat and legible.
Which is at least what I can do here. I can make this Blog neat and readable – my computer will do that for me. But then there’s this other thing – I want to try and make it interesting as well. Which is why, at the start of this, I was thinking of Anna’s notebook and the verbal paralysis it induced in me.
Here I am with a brand new blog, a pristine, clear, clean page – and I have to post something. Something I hope others will want to read. Something that I hope will bring you back again and again to read more. So the result is the same – I’ve been wondering and thinking and trying to decide what to say.
So perhaps some of you can help? If you’ve followed me over from the blog I had on eHarlequin then thank you and welcome back. When I wrote that blog I had a purpose – I was supposed to write about the trilogy (The Alcolar Family) that was a being published in the months I wrote the blog. So I had a reason to write and a topic to start me off on. Now I have a wide open space, words to find, posts to create – and I want to do more than just advertise my books.
So does anyone have anything they want to suggest? Topics you’d like me to discuss? Questions you want me to answer? I don’t know how often I’ll get back to post but when I do, I’d like to cover some of the topics you as readers want to know about.
So any suggestions are welcome – and at least just asking about them has got me over the fear of the pristine posting space. I’ve overcome the verbal paralysis and I’m launched . . . This blog is now open for business
If only I could decide what I want to use that spectacular Mediterranean Cats notebook for . . .
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