Saturday, October 28, 2006

First Page Challenge

In a pause from looking at my heroes, I was interested in this First Page Challenge so I thought I'd join in.
Over on her blog, Julie Cohen has been talking about the way that she sets up a book from the very beginning - setting up character and conflict and starting to show the characters and the problems they face in the first sentences, the paragraphs of the story itself. She challenged other writers to do the same.

So here are a couple of examples from my most recent book - and the one coming up in March 2007
From At The Sheikh's Command

IT was the outriders that Abbie saw first. Big powerful men on big powerful motorbikes, engines purring, chrome and black gleaming in the sunlight. In spite of the heat, their muscled bodies were encased snugly in supple black leather, their heads concealed in helmets. A sense of threat and invasion – those big powerful men coming into what has been Abbie’s calm quiet world. But then of course these men were the bodyguards of a man who ruled a country far away. A desert country where the sun beat down day after day, building to temperatures far higher than the moderate heat of an English summer’s afternoon. The ‘invaders’ come from a very different country, far away - in distance, temperature, and culture.

The man who was in the car behind them. This is the man who has the real power. The one who is really going to invade her life.

The convoy swept down the drive in a roar of engines, swirling to a halt outside the main door and waiting, bodyguards sitting taut and tense on their machines, unseen eyes clearly darting everywhere, watching, observing. Their job was to protect the occupant of the vehicle that followed them. That big, sleek car, with smoked glass windows behind which she could just detect the form of Sheikh Malik bin Rashid Al’Qaim. The car also had a small flag on the bonnet. The first sight of Malik is mysterious and behind smoked glass, because the family – and most particularly Abbie – don’t really know the truth about him.

The flag of Barakhara. The name of the country will be very important later.

Abbie drew in a deep breath and felt it tremble all the way into her lungs.So he was here. It was really happening. This was not a dream. It was absolutely, totally real. And that reality turned it into the biggest nightmare she had ever known. Her grey eyes blurred briefly with tears and she blinked them away hurriedly, pushing trembling hands over the blonde smoothness of her hair as she fought for control. Building a physical impression of Abbie to make her seem real and 'solid' to the reader at the same time as showing by her emotional reaction just how this is so very important to her personally. She is already frightened and worried.

From Sicilian Husband, Blackmailed Wife
(This book has two 'beginnings' - one a prologue that gives a glimpse of events a year before - and the real Chapter One opening that starts the main story in the present day.)

IT was the perfect day for a wedding. The sun was shining, with the promise of heat later in the day, but it was still early so that the slight coolness of the dawn still lingered. Opening the story with ‘the perfect day’ means that obviously something is going to go wrong. The day is just beginning – a lot can happen – and there is ‘the promise of heat’.

At home in England the early flowers of spring would be blooming purple and gold, and white. In the trees, newly covered in soft green foliage, but here there was only the city streets and the high, high building where the glass of thousands of windows glinted in the morning sun. This wedding is taking place somewhere away from the bride’s home, out of her normal environment.

But she didn’t miss the green and the flowers, and colours of home, not for a second. She’d found a new home. She wouldn’t want to be anywhere but here, right now, in this perfect moment. Why is she there and why is she marrying so far from home?She has left all that behind, physically, mentally, emotionally, because she is embarking on a new life. But has she left behind what is safe and secure?

Because today was going to be perfect, no matter what the weather – or anything else was like. And she was totally, perfectly happy. She couldn’t possibly find any space in her heart for any more joy or delight. She’s so happy – but this hints that perhaps she’s ‘protesting too much’ – that she’s reassuring herself that it will be perfect. That she will be happy. Underneath this there is an edge of insecurity.

Today she was marrying the perfect man, the most wonderful man in the world. But is he ? Again, more reassurance that this is going to be perfect - which builds up the suspicion that it just won't be.

This Prologue is echoed at the start of Chapter One - 7 pages later when the present day part of the book actually begins like this:

IT was the perfect day for a wedding. The sun was shining, the breeze was warm and soft, and all along the edges of the gravel path that led from the carved wooden lychgate to the metal-studded door of the little village church, the early flowers of spring were blooming purple and gold, and white. In the trees, newly covered in soft green foliage, even the birds were chirping softly to each other.

It was the perfect day and the perfect setting for an elegant English county wedding.

But in Guido Corsentino’s mind, nothing could be perfect about the wedding towards which was heading, his long, savage strides covering the ground with furious speed. And the mood that gripped him was far from idyllic; totally at odds with the bright sunlight of the day, the relaxed and smiling attitude of the crowd that had filled in the narrow country lane.


An interesting exercise - thanks Julie!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

More on the Hero Jigsaw - Simona's Jewel


When I was first asked to write my author biography for the eHarlequin web site, I was asked to list 6 favourite books. 6! Impossible. That’s like asking me to choose my favourite child (If I had more than one!)

But I managed it – though I cheated – I included all the Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles. There are 6 huge books but they’re one ongoing story about one man – so that’s one book isn’t it? A huge one, but one book.

But there was one book I knew I just had to include. When I filled in the profile form, I had a problem in that I couldn’t even remember the name of the author, I had read this book so long ago. And read it several dozen times. But the author’s name eluded me. I remembered the title all right – and exactly what the cover looked like. I even remembered some of the illustrations in the novel. (Later I was amazed to discover just how well I remembered them). And I had to include it in my favourite books as a romance writer. So Simona’s Jewel was all I could include.

This was before I had the internet and knew how to hunt things down. When I learned about search engines and such, I was able to put Simona’s Jewel into Google and come up with the author’s name – Marjorie Phillips. From that point I haunted Bookfinder, and every time the BM needed some musty old tome – which was pretty often – I would hopefully put the precious words ‘Simona’s Jewel’ in there. And every time I did, it came up ‘no match found.’
Until one day last year when a wonderful little bookshop in Scotland announced that it had one copy.

It was quite scary receiving the parcel – would the book be as good as I remembered it? The weird thing was how well I recalled the details – lines of dialogue, exact scenes - and the black and white line drawings. I read it as soon as I had it in my hands and I was taken back all those years to when I first discovered it on the shelves of my local library. There was pretty little Simona, and her scheming father living in some imaginary mediaeval Italianate country of Valerno. There too were handsome, brave, courteous Ricciardo and Niccolo, the knights sent to protect Simona on her way to her betrothal to the son of the Duke of Monte Fiore.

But more important – there was ‘fierce young page’ Michele. He was dark and difficult and from the very first introduction he is ‘clenching his teeth, it seemed, upon some emotion’. Do you see the pattern here? Ricciardo and Niccolo are tall handsome, courteous, courageous . . . but they are Guy – or Julian from The Famous Five – all over again. Michele was dark, enigmatic – ambiguous. He is broodingly silent, abrupt, often irritable and seemingly arrogant and he was the one who grabbed my childhood imagination and held it. So much so that it was a little disconcerting to discover when I reread the book as an adult that Michele is – eek – only 14 - while R & N are ‘at least nineteen years of age!’

As the story progresses, Simona and her escort are under attack, imprisoned and then Michele shows his true colours. He rescues her, protects her even when they are shipwrecked on a small island and he is hurt himself and finally he brings her safely to the kingdom of Monte Fiore where he is revealed as – of course – the young Duke she is supposed to marry. He shows his other caring side when the news comes that Simona’s father has been killed in battle. His sense of honour and his growing feelings for Simona drive him to defy his uncles when they threaten to set aside his betrothal to her now that her father is dead and he risks real trouble by doing so. But he is also fully prepared to admit his mistakes in behaving too arrogantly both to Simona and to his father when the Duke returns home too.

A perfect alpha hero – and all at fourteen years of age!

So here’s another piece in the jigsaw of my developing hero. Forget the handsome, calm, too good to be true Guys and Julians – even a passing flirtation with Ricciardo didn’t last. I wanted the dark, difficult and enigmatic Michele, Heathcliff (at this stage I only knew the beginning of the Wuthering Heights story) – and that was the sort of character I created in my own It Was All Through Diamond as Paul, the dark haired, rough-edged, difficult to get to know, gipsy boy – who might have been the one who’d stolen Diamond – but of course in the end had not.

(Another personal link here – another alpha male in my own life is my son - The Offspring. And what is The Offspring’s name? Paul of course. I know a potential hero when I see one, even when he’s only 3 minutes old .)

Funnily enough some years ago a reader from Australia wrote to me and said that she’d read my Author profile – and she just had to write because she had adored Simona’s Jewel too. I wish I still had her email because I just spotted that Bookfinder has another copy of the book for sale this week – only the third copy I’ve ever seen. After I bought mine there was a second one and that was snapped up before I could blink. So somewhere in the country there’s another Marjorie Phillips fan. Or maybe it’s the lady from Australia. I hope so.

Marjorie Phillips also wrote some fantasy stories – Annabel and Briony has been reprinted but not the others. I was never caught up in the fantasy books – but if anyone ever spots a book by MP with the title Two of Red and Two of Blue – please let me know. It’s no Simona’s Jewel but I’d still love to reread that one too.


PS I do have a scan of the cover of my copy of Simona - but Blogger is not happy about accepting pictures today so I'll post that when I can.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Migraines, books - and upcoming books

This was the lost weekend. Every now and then I have one - a weekend lost to a migraine that makes life as I know it impossible. So the last couple of posts have been quick cut & paste jobs from notes/details I already had.

The only good thing to say about the migraine is that while I couldn't work on the screen I had a chance to read a couple of books - in snatches. It takes a good book to cope with the 'in snatches' part of that sentence so I was glad that the snatched books stood up to the test. Both were by authors 'down under'.

I met Trish Morey in New York when she had just had her very first Modern/Presents title accepted and we had a wonderful time together, including a dinner for all M&B authors when an awful amount of red wine got spilled on the (formerly) prisitine white starched linen table cloths. I must point out that I was totally innocent - I only ever drink white wine (for reasons - see the 'lost weekend' comment) - and so was Trish but it was one of those laughhter filled events that makes you friends very fast.

I've been reading Trish's books ever since and watching her grow as a writer, and I felt that her latest - A Virgin For The Taking - was one of her strongest books yet. Great stuff Trish - even in snatches.

One of the established Presents autors I have always really admired and read for pleasure has been Susan Napier. Sadly family circumstances meant that she had not been able to write for some time, but when I met her in new Zealand a couple of years ago I was thrilled to learn she had a new book scheduled, and more to follow. Mistress For A Weekend marked her return to the Presents/Modern line up and she has another title out in January. Welcome back Susan - I'm so looking forward to reading you again.

Before the migraine hit, I was talking to my lovely editor last week and discovered to my delight that I have plenty of publication dates lined up for the near future - so I thought I'd post advance details:

The Italian's Forced Bride - Presents February 2007
(This book has already been out in UK and Australia)


The Sicilian Brothers duo:

Sicilian Husband, Blackmailed Bride
UK M&B Modern Romance March 2007
Harlequin Presents - April
And probably M&B Sexy in Australia in April too

The Sicilian's Red-Hot Revenge - my 50th title
UK M&B Modern Romance June 2007
Australia M&B Sexy - probably in July
Presents - tba - but coming up soon


I will, of course, be celebrating that 50th in June next year - so watch out for that.

In the meantime, I have a Greek who was already causing trouble before I had to abandon him this weekend, so now I have to go back and try and sort him out.

And I hope to get back to more on how I came to write the sort of heroes I do - just as soon as I catch up elsewhwere.

Monday, October 23, 2006

It was a dark and stormy night . . .


I feel I should be writng about cake. Both Anne McAllister and Julie Cohen have been blogging about cakes of different sorts - but I don't have birthdays or other exciting events coming up - so I' m continuing with thoughts on how I came to be the writer I am.

One of the reasons why I’m making this trip down memory lane, which started when I had my 50th title accepted – a good place to look back from - is that fact that it shows me why I write the sort of heroes I do . And that started me thinking about the reasons why we write what we do – and why certain authors write for the lines they do. So of course the books that we read influence us in that way too.

As my father was a doctor – a GP in a Yorkshire town – and two of my sisters trained as radiographers taking Xrays, and another sister (yes there are five of us!) is a Medical Secretary , you might have thought that I would be a natural for writing the Medical line myself. I learned a lot about my father’s job, heard him talk about it a lot, the same with my sisters – and I know a lot of basic medical facts. (Too many some of the doctors I’ve seen will say – there’s only one patient worse than an actual doctor and that’s a doctor’s wife or child!). But no, Medicals never ‘called’ to me. Perhaps I saw too much of the reality of the stresses of a GP’s life.

It’s the same with Historicals – I love historical novels. One of my favourite ever authors is Dorothy Dunnett who wrote long, complex, emotional historical novels and created two of the most brilliant heroes ever in Francis Crawford and Nicholas de Fleury. I once flirted with a historical story – it’s still there in one of the many notebooks I have stored away – but again it didn’t ‘grab’ me. I felt slightly distanced from my characters. The need to get the research right – to make sure the historical details were right came between me and my personal creativity.

Which left the contemporary series. In the UK, these were the Modern and the Tender books. At this stage, there wasn’t anything like the amount of information about the American lines that there is now. So I never considered Intrigue or Intimate Moments or anything else. Contemporary romances suited me down to the ground – I could write about relationships and the problems that develop in them. A special friend, the brilliant writer Michelle Reid always says she doesn’t write Romances she writes relationship stories and I totally agree with her. The word ‘Romance’ conjures up so many clich├ęd images – hearts and flowers, chocolates, Valentines, Barbara Cartland and a ‘pink and fluffy’ stereotype that true romance readers know just isn’t the case.

Relationships – yes – I could write about those. And contemporary relationships meant that I could involve myself in all the problems and conflicts that beset even the greatest lovers at some points. But would it be Romance (Harlequin Romance) or Modern (Harlequin Presents) that would bring out the best writer in me? At the beginning there wasn’t any real need to choose – when I started writing, the books weren’t split into different lines in the UK as they are in America. I wrote as my characters demanded - some stories were more intense than others. And that’s why some of my earlier books appear in different lines - Some went into Romance in America; some went into Presents. And when the time came that Editorial in UK decided to split the lines here too, then there was some debate as to which line I would be best suited to.

But I had no doubt. I knew that my characters – because I am a totally character driven writer – would best suit one line. How did I know? One word – intensity. No matter what is happening, my characters, my hero and heroine, always get very very intense about things. In the early days I’d try to get them to lighten up. I’ve always admired the writing of authors like Liz Fielding or Marion Lennox. Authors who have a lightness of touch, (that doesn’t mean that their stories aren’t deep or emotional – I’m talking about writing styles here) I love reading the flashes of humour and envied the skill that created them – adding to rather than reducing the emotional punch as a result. But the one time I thought I’d tried to put anything like that into my own work it died a miserable death. I never tried again.

Instead I concentrated on what I wanted to write most. I created heroes and heroines who took everything so much to heart. Who felt so strongly, loved so deeply, and - yes – argued so ferociously – they could only ever fit into a Modern/Presents novel.

When I was thinking about this, I remembered one afternoon – a long time ago when I was at Junior School – I was about 10, I think. That afternoon there was a huge, violent storm and all the lights in the school went off so that we were sitting there in the dark. I love storms – love the vividness and the drama of them – the crashes and flashes, the downpours and the hailstones – but some of the other children were terrified. To distract them , our teacher, whose name was Mr Grogan, started to tell us a story. He held us spellbound, weaving a tale of a wild moorland farm, a mysterious gipsy boy, rescued from begging in Liverpool and brought to the house. It was a tale of intense passions, of fierce wild love and equally fierce hate. Perhaps some parents might have thought it wasn’t quite suitable for children of 11 or so – but I loved it. I just wanted the story to go on and on and on. But the storm ended, the weather improved, the lights came back on and we went back to the maths lesson that had been so wonderfully interrupted. I hated leaving the story where it had been broken off. I wanted to know what happened next. It took a long time before I realised that that story had not come from my teacher’s imagination but from the mind of a brilliant, unique female novelist. When I discovered that it was in fact Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, I snatched at the book , desperate to know how the story ended.

As a writer, I’ve always wanted to have that same sort of effect on my readers – not that I’m claiming that my novels are classics like Wuthering Heights – but I want to grab my readers in the way that story grabbed me. I want them to be as keen as I was to know what happens, what came next, how things were resolved between these characters. And of course there’s the dark, brooding, potentially dangerous hero who has always fired my imagination too.

Part of the writer I am now was formed on that afternoon. I often wonder if Mr Grogan is still alive and what he’d think if he realised how important a part he played in my development into the writer I am today.

And when I look back, I always think that the storm too – all those flashes and bangs and drama – are something of a symbol for the books I still love to write – and read.

I sometimes think that, like Snoopy always does in the Peanuts cartoons, I should begin one of my books with the line : 'It was a dark and stormy night . . .'

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Writing Weekend in Wales - a reminder


There are just a couple of weeks left before I teach the course on Contemporary Romance in Wales and I believe there are some places left on the course - so I thought I'd remind you about this Writing Weekend while there's still time for you to think about coming and to join me if you want.

RESIDENTIAL NOVEL WRITING WEEKEND
I will be running a Weekend Course on The Contemporary Romance at this event.

DATE: Friday 10th - Sunday 12th November 2006

PLACE: The Fishguard Bay Hotel, Fishguard, Pembrokeshire Wales

COST: £199 fully inclusive

This weekend is run by the wonderful Writers Holiday — the people who run a full week Writers' Holiday in Caerleon in the summer. This Winter Novel Workshop is held at the Fishguard Bay Hotel.Nestling in rich woodland above Fishguard Harbour and overlooking some of the most beautiful and spectacular coastline in Wales, guests can view Lower Town in the distance across the Bay the setting for Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood, when stars Glynis Johns, Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole and many others were in residence. The Hotel was also the base for the filming of Moby Dick. In 1979 the former Great Western Railway Hotel was designated as a Building of Historic and Architectural Interest.


The hotel offers an atmosphere second to none with oak panelled walls, high ceilings and an air of Victorian splendour combined with warm hospitality, superb service and every comfort. Writers' Holiday invite you to join us for the first of what we hope will be annual 'Writers' Winter Warmer Weekends'.

The weekend opens on the Friday evening with a leisurely dinner followed by a short Meet the Workshop Leaders session — the rest of the event will consist of six Workshop sessions and time for informal chats in the luxurious lounge.

Single, double or twin roomed accommodation is available so you can bring your partner. All meals are provided plus tea and coffee. The only other money you will need will be to buy a drink in the bar or purchase a book in the Bookroom.

Courses this time are

The Historical Novel

The Crime Novel

Contemporary Romance

Writing Novels for Children

Further details and booking forms can be found here. All guests booking in the next four weeks will receive £10 discount and if they can introduce someone else (who will also receive the £10 discount) they will get an additional £10 discount for anyone - and everyone - booking and quoting their name as the introductory contact


Maybe I'll see you there?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The beast in the cave

Over on the Pink Heart Society blog they have pics of the 'writing caves' of several author members of the PHS. Everyone seems to know which is mine in spite of the fact that the room looks wonderfully, surprisingly (and rarely) tidy.

It is also missing its most important occupant - The Cat. ACOSB or The Cat Who
must Not Be Named. This does reduce the familiarity of the scene - so much so that the BM, when shown it, did not immediately recognise it.

It's the settee that does it. It creates quite the wrong impression. It is too tidy, too neat, too empty. That settee should have a occupant - one who, if not snoozing on my window sill, or curled around my key board, is usually to be found sleeping somewhere else. On the settee.
So here is a photo of things looking much more like the reality. Much more like that settee is part of my cave - with the VIP (Very Important Pusscat) in situ.


It Was All Through Diamond


So what was I writing? Anne McAllister hopes it was about a hero called Andreas –but unfortunately not. The story I was writing was called - like this post - It Was All Through Diamond.


At the time I was addicted to the books of Lorna Hill. Not the ballet books - the ones I loved were the books gathered together under the collective title of the Patience books and the Marjorie books – they had horses in them for a start. And they had Guy. Guy Charlton. I was very much in love with Guy. So much so that I named a character in my own story after him. Only my Guy was Guy Laurence.

My ‘book’ was very derivative – based so much on my own childhood reading. If you look carefully at the list of ‘Patience’ books, you’ll see that even the title is not really my own – right there in the list of Lorna Hill books is one called It was All Through Patience - and no I did not read it in the year it was first published (1952)! The children in Lorna Hill's books rode horses and they went on camping holidays – and the children in my story rode horses and were on a camping holiday – neither of which were things that I’d actually ever done.
Write about what you know? Nah! Not me – not then.
So the very first lines of the very first ‘book’ (it’s all of 45 pages long) are these:


CHAPTER ONE

Diamond was lost, there was no doubt about it. We had left her in the meadow only ten minutes ago, but now she had vanished.

Perhaps I’d better explain. My name is Bettina Powell, Betsy to my friends. My twin brother, Steve and I, my friend Judith Grey and Steve’s friend Guy Laurence were on a camping holiday together when we discovered that Diamond had disappeared. Diamond is Judith’s mare.


See – (putting my creative writing tutor hat on here ) even then I had some idea. Grab ’em in the opening lines, or at the very least, the opening pages. These days I might start with a sheikh’s arrival in a big, sleek car, with outriders, bodyguards, on powerful motor bikes riding beside him (At The Sheikh’s Command) , or a dark, devastating Sicilian marching into a church at a wedding and declaring . . . (no – sorry - you’ll have to wait for that it’s in the next book Sicilian Husband, Blackmailed Bride). In those days, it was a missing pony – but the technique’s the same.

Interesting editing point – at some point later, I must have gone back to revise this masterpiece. In pencil I’ve scribbled the ages of each of my characters. So the additions say that the narrator, Bettina and her twin Steve are 14, Judith is 13, and Guy is a mature 15. So even then, my heroes were the ‘older man’! Isn’t is an intriguing - and slightly spooky - point too that my other male character here is called Steve, the name of the BM, my real life hero. Premonition? (Insert X files music here) Or just coincidence. This personal link continues with another detail, another important character who appears later on. But I’ll come to that soon.

So – It Was All Through Diamond (paying homage to Lorna Hill) is the first piece of my writing I have a hard copy of. And for me, as the writer I am now, the really interesting thing about it, is how quickly I became fickle, and abandoned poor Guy. Guy was supposed to be the hero, but he didn’t stay that way.

Because the trouble with Guy (that sounds like another Lorna Hill title – The Trouble With Guy) – that is, the Guy as written by Lorna Hill, was that he was just too perfect. He was kind, considerate, honest, patient (most of the time) and possesses both immense physical and moral courage. He was rich and talented, a consummate rider and later a caring vet. In other words, he was just too good to be true. He was like Julian in the Famous Five books by Enid Blyton – the infuriatingly know-it-all, always right, elder brother – while I had always preferred hot headed Dick of the FF, the younger boy who, along with ‘George’/Georgina was always getting into trouble and getting things wrong.

So Guy was never going to really satisfy me as a hero. And very soon he fell by the wayside as I introduced a new character. By then, I’d been influenced by a couple of other very important (to me) books – and a very important TV programme - and my ideas on heroes had started to change dramatically.

So what influenced the creation of the Kate Walker hero?

To be continued . . .

Friday, October 20, 2006

Once upon a time . . . Going back to the beginning

This is a post that should have followed on from one I wrote back at the beginning of September – a post called Old Beginnings; New Beginnings - Or The Little Girl Who Could . . .

If you remember, I was sorting out my office after the redecorations and revamping – and finding lots of stuff from my past as a writer, right from the very beginning.

But then life, visitors, London, AMBA, Pink Hearts , the flu – someone called Hugh – etc etc intervened – so now I’m going back and starting again. I was thinking about this recently, and when I checked the file I was looking at – the one that said that my revisions for my first ever requested full ms arrived in the Richmond office on 31st August – and I found that it was 9th November 1982 that I received a letter from my very first ever editor saying that “Jacqui (Jacqui Bianchi) has asked me to tell you that she has recommended The Chalk Line to Mr Alan Boon for publication." (Well – that tells you how long ago it was, Mills & Boon was still run by one of the famous Mr Boons)

And I realised that as I hadn’t finished the story then, it was time I came back to it now – as we head towards the - eeek – 24th anniversary of the date on which I received my very first ever acceptance by Mills & Boon – as they were known then.
So - let’s go back in time . . .

Once upon a time, a long long time ago, in a galaxy far away . . .


Well, maybe not in a different galaxy, but certainly in a different county, in a small town called Sowerby Bridge, just outside Halifax West Yorkshire, in a big old house, there lived a little girl with her mother and father and four sisters. And this little girl always wanted to be a writer. She wrote stories in her head whenever she could. She dreamed them as she fell asleep, she imagined them in church, remembering to stand, sit or kneel as required, purely by rote, she even scribbled them in a notebook hidden by an upright text book in maths lessons at school – and got into trouble for not answering questions when they were asked.

And when she got the chance, if she could, she typed them up on an old, battered , manual typewriter that had belonged to her father. There is even a photograph of her, sitting in the garden, at old school desk – one of those with a slanting lift up lid, and a space for books inside, and a hole on the top for an inkwell – working away on her very first ever ‘book’.

Obviously, that little girl was me and when I wrote my first blog over on eHarlequin, I mentioned this photograph and a lot of people said they would love to see it – so here, for your delight (amusement?) is

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Author.


When I tried to scan this pic as it is in black and white it came out as just light and dark, with nothing showing clearly, so I’ve scanned it in some sepia sort of colours so that it is a bit clearer.

I wonder how many other authors have a photo of themselves as they started out on their writing careers, writing that very first ever ‘book’?

And what was I typing? Ah, well I know exactly the words that were on the piece of paper you can see tucked into the rollers of the elderly typewriter that had once seem service in my father’s GP’s surgery. . . I finally found them and I have them right here on the desk beside me. And they’re fascinating because . . .

But no – in the tradition of all good serial stories , I’ll say that this is . . to be continued

So come back tomorrow and see.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Contests and Questions

Okay, so I admit it - I weakened and I looked at the Garden Centre Christmas stuff - but only so that I could find those stockings for my Christmas Contest. I found what I wanted - and they hold quite a few books! I just checked and I can get at least 8 paperbacks into each stocking - maybe more if I push! So the winners of my Christmas Contest are going to have plenty of great reading.

I already have two of the books you can win picked out. In fact, the authors have already sent them to me. As with the Bag of Books, I'll be adding titles by other authors I know, so that you will win a range of titles from different lines, and there will be a great variety for the winners. So watch this space for more news about the launch of that contest.

If you can't wait that long, Anne McAllister is running a Scavenger Hunt at the moment - Readers of this blog have an advantage with one of the questions as she wants to know the name of a certain Cat of Superior Breeding who often appears on these posts. You know who I mean. She's also used the contest as an excuse to put up another photo of Hugh Jackman. So why not take a look? You can win a 'Here Comes Winter' goody box.

And talking of questions - I've had a lot of letters from readers who have noticed that two special characters appear at the wedding of Malik and Abbie, the hero and heroine of my current release At The Sheikh's Command. Everyone wants to know if these two have their own story.

Well, the answer is yes, but the story is only in an ebook.

The good news is that the ebook is available to download for free. It's called Stolen By The Sheikh and it was the Writing Round Robin that I ran on eHarlequin.com last year.

The book is available here.

Which gives me an idea for my own mini contest. I have a signed copy of At The Sheikh's Command for the first person who emails me with the name of the hero and heroine of Stolen by the Sheikh who appear at Abbie and Malik's wedding. Send your answers to me (via my website) with Stolen by The Sheikh in the subject line.

Friday, October 13, 2006

If it's October, it must be . . ..Christmas?


Well, look what came through the letterbox this morning. . . .
Now I'm officially scared - I haven't seen a trick or treater, there haven't been any bonfires or fireworks exploding in the night sky - but suddenly it seems that Christmas is all around me.

I could cope with the small Christmas section in Selfridges when I was in London - I knew it was there but I didn't have to go into it! But now when I go to my local garden centre, I have to walk through a Christmas wonderland to get there.

Don't get me wrong - I love it - love Christmas - but not yet. By the time December actually comes around, I'll not be seeing those displays any more, I'll be on glitter and bauble overload. I bought a magazine this week and it tells me all about gifts I can buy for everyone from the man in my life to the neighbours' dog - and I'm not ready for that.

I have a sister who buys things in the January sales for Chritsmas, has her presents wrapped and stashed away by this time of year. If I did that, I'd lose them and have to buy all over again.
Okay, I'll buy beautiful wrapping paper in the Jan sales - that way I use lovely designs that just seem outrageous at full price - but I like my Christmas in December.

Besides, I have a book on dreadline that has to be written and submitted before I can even think of anything else. So I'm mentally putting on a pair of Christmas blinkers right now - no looking at decorations, gifts, cards - at least until the Greek is off my desk and on my editor's.

Besides, I don't want to leap ahead to my Christmas book when I still have an October book out there and selling very nicely, thank you. I just learned that At The Sheikh's Command is on it's 3rd week on the USA booktrack Top 100 - and it's only just dropped from the #1 slot for best selling Presents titles on Barnes and Noble (and that was because it's now second to Lynne Graham and you can't quibble about that!)

I haven't even seen this one on the shelves in my local store yet - the delivery was late - so I have that treat to come today when I have to go into town, and I can see how it's doing. (And for those of you who are wondering - no the thrill doesn't go away, not even after 47 books!)

So I'll check it out this morning - but I won't be looking at the Christmas stuff . . .

Except that, hmm - I do need a couple of stockings to stuff with books for my Christmas contest . . .

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Happy Birthday Hugh


I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that being a full time writer can be very very hard work. You need to spend long hours at the desk creating tall, dark, charismatic, devastatingly handsome men. It’s tough.

And research – well, that can be even tougher. A novelist who is serious about her craft, who wants to portray tall ,dark, charismatic, devastatingly handsome men with any degree of accuracy, has to do her research thoroughly. She has to observe them, study them, - closely, She needs to know what they look like smiling, frowning, laughing – in a tux, in jeans – in – ahem - in a towel.






I am serious about my craft – deeply serious about my craft. I do my research thoroughly and carefully. I work hard at it. It’s a hard job but someone has to do it. We authors need inspiration.

And Inspiration was born on October 12th . October 12th 1968 to be precise. Today is Hugh Jackman’s birthday. And as the Pink Heart Society proved when they had their Hugh Jackman day last month - Hugh is Inspiration to romantic novelists the world over. Inspiration with a capital I.

Not only are those words tall, dark, charismatic, devastatingly handsome apply perfectly – you have to add in charm, a killer smile, the fact that he appears to be refreshingly non-egotistical, a devoted husband, father – and, damn it there’s such talent too. Acting, singing, dancing. . .


It was the singing that made me discover him first. I’ll admit it was actually because of Michael Ball. I love Michael Ball’s voice – I love the way he sings- so a video called Mr Producer, with Michael Ball singing on it, was a natural gift for me from my son one Christmas. But also on that video, appearing just once, singing Oh What A Beautiful Mornin’ from Oklahoma was one Hugh Jackman. Appearing just once – but the impact was instant. – Who is that? It was the start of an addiction.

I was lucky enough to have The Offspring working in Blockbuster videos in university vacations. He brought home a copy of Paperback Hero. The perfect film for a romantic novelist doing research. A film about a romantic novelist – starring Hugh Jackman. My sister living in Tasmania was roped in to help. Australians have great taste – they discovered Hugh J before we did.

So it was sort of coals to Newcastle when I went to talk to the Romance Writers of Australia and RW New Zealand that my major visual aid was a transparency of Hugh J - several transparencies. Well, they asked me to talk about heroes – and I needed something to illustrate what I was talking about.


Alpha heroes – HJ as Wolverine (okay – silly hair and he needed a good manicure, but watch the screen test where Hugh, in jeans and a sweatshirt, no makeup, sideburns, no claws, hangs around until the director says ‘Action’ and then becomes Wolverine without any trappings then you’ll see what I mean. That screen test is on the XMen DVD and if you ever get a chance to watch it – do so. I have – several dozen times. All in the interests of research of course)

Beta Hero – HJ as Leopold in Kate and Leopold.


Gamma hero – guess who (Guess Hugh?) HJ in Someone Like You aka Animal Attraction.

But it was only Hugh-in-A-Towel that Anne McAllister stole from me and used I her talks as well. Our talks were always wonderfully, gratifyingly full. But I’m forced to wonder if anyone actually remembers a word of what we said – they were either waiting for the picture of Hugh to be displayed or looking at the pic of Hugh or sighing as, reluctantly the pic of Hugh had to be put away.


But it was only Hugh-in-A-Towel that Anne McAllister stole from me and used in her talks as well. Our talks were always wonderfully, gratifyingly full. But I’m forced to wonder if anyone actually remembers a word of what we said – they were either waiting for the picture of Hugh to be displayed or looking at the pic of Hugh or sighing as, reluctantly the pic of Hugh had to be put away.

Talk to anyone who was there and the Kate Walker/Anne McAllister/Hugh Jackman combination is one of their major memories of the conferences. The one that everyone talks about now. And in my heart of hearts I really don’t believe it was because my talks – or Anne’s - were so brilliantly inspiring that no one can forget them.

No, it was the Hugh effect. Or, more particularly the Hugh-in-a-towel effect.

Like I said, Inspiration with a capital I.

So Happy Birthday Hugh Jackman. There are many many novelists out there who have cause to celebrate today. Let’s be honest - Many many women, full stop.

And if there’s one thing that’s better than that pic of Hugh-in-a-towel – it’s a different version of Hugh in-a-Towel – so working on the premise that a picture is worth 1000 words – here’s another thousand for you.








Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Friends in foreign places

I love the clustrmap and the Neocounter on my blog. It's fascinating being able to find out where all my visitors come from and the way that the internet makes the other side of the world seem like just next door. A couple of weeks ago, I was excited when the number of countries I had visitors from moved to 30 and now the Neocounter shows 41 different flags.

And you're all so very welcome. Thank you for visiting the blog and I hope you found something to interest you here. I know from the numbers of foreign editions of my books that I receive that they are published and read all over the world and that's a very special feeling for me.

I was thinking about this specially yesterday, when two things happened .

The first was that I had an email from Judith in Israel. Judith was one of the winners of a signed book in my Back To School contest and she had received her prize a day ago. She told me that she and her family were observing week-long holiday of Succot (which means "shacks", i.e. the ramshackle shacks that the Israelites lived in when they wandered around the desert for 40 years ) and that as part of the holiday she had enjoyed reading my book. I'll admit that I'd never heard of Succot so it was fascinating to learn about this special holiday and the traditions behind it - Thank you so much for letting me know, Judith. And I was specially thrilled to think that my book had been a special part of the enjoyment of that holiday. It shows me how the enjoyment of romance is so widespread and brings together women from all nationalities, countries and backgrounds.

Another reason why those who mock romance should just back down and shut up.


I hope that Judith is my 1 visitor listed in Israel and if she's reading this, I'd like to say a special hello to her and her family - and to wish them a very special time together for Succot.


And that brings me to my second event yesterday. The post brought a package of books - an older title of mine Her Secret Bridegroom in a language that I'd never seen before. Looking at the publishing details of these editions, I find that they are published in Jakarta. And I have a visitor's flag on my Neocounter from Indonesia. For some reason, I've been sent extra copies of the Indonesian version of this book - so if you're the visitor from Indonesia and you get in touch with me through my website, giving me your address then I'll send you a copy of the book with pleasure.

Oh and all this talk about communication with readers from across the world reminds me. For some years now I've been running a mailing list and sending regular newsletters to readers who have written to me from my web site but now the numbers who've joined my mailing list have grown so much that it's become impossible to manage by myself as I have been doing. So I've set up a special Yahoo group to organise and send my Newsletters in future.

Members of the Newsletter group get regular updates on the newest books and when they're coming out. They also have their names entered in regular monthly prize draws to win signed books and when I run the Contests from my web site, then mailing list members get special notification - and an extra mailing list only prize added in. So if you'd like to join the list, you can subscribe here. I promise I won't flood your inbox with emails - only when I have news, a new book out, or a contest with extra chances to win prizes.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Big Cats again


Those who visit here regularly will know about 'my' big cats - the lionness and the tiger that I have adopted through the Born Free Foundation. Today I got my regular newsletter with updates about their progress and as many of you have asked for further news as I got it - here you go -Achee the young lionness is coming on in leaps and bounds - albeit very wobbly ones. The skeletal and nervous problems she suffers from as a result of her poor early diet will never improve to any great extent, but she is so much fitter now that this is helping to improve her unsteady gait. Achee is now transformed into a strong, powerful lionness. After the sad loss of my first two lions Raffi and Anthea, their enclosure was opened up so that Achee and another rescued lionness Ma Juah could share an extra 3 acres of space. These two lionnesses have moved on from merely tolerateing each other to becoming great friends and they have space and freedom to enjoy themselves in.

Roque the tiger is now a magnificent seven year old in his prime and is thriving wonderfully in the tiger sanctuary at Bannerhghatta, India. His is rather aloof and independent natured and likes to remain out of sight in the forest except at feed time when he has to clamber up a steep slope, about the size of a 2 storey house, to get to his night kraal where he is fed.All this is so much better and happier for him than his life in a Spanish pet shop from where he was rescued as a little cub.

Meanwhile there are still lions who need rescuing - the Born Free Foundation is trying to raise funds to rescue 3 lions (1 male and 2 females) who are in captivity in a French Circus. If you'd like to help, you can find the details here.

Friday, October 06, 2006

This is what yesterday was all about -


Thursday was National Poetry day - so a great day to launch a collection of poetry. For those who don't know the BM was Writer in residence in a prison for 3 years - and is now doing the same job in another prison elsewhere. This book is the result.

Because I'd deliberately not read any of the poems so I could come to this event fresh like everyone else, I sat in the audience and listened to my husband read his work - and I'm proud to say it moved me to tears.

And then I went to a dinner with staff from the prison and heard the Head of Learning speak of the hugely valuable contribution and the impact his work there has made - and I was in tears again.

Happy, proud tears - but then I never doubted it for a minute.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Fly by post

Done the proofs - check!
Answered some Qs on the Q&A -check !
BM's book launch - about to try and get myself looking respectable for that
Deadline ? - Don't ask!

Blog - well it's a bit of a cheat - but today I'm blogging over on the Pink Heart Society - all about Sheikhs - so perhaps you'd like to join me over there?

And the good news is that Anne McAllister's back. Well, it's not good news for me - or for Sid - because we miss her company - but it's good for her husband, the hounds, and her blog readers because she's back on line.

And for Sid fans there's a very fine picture of the Cat of Superior Breeding

So hopefully that should keep you amused till I get back from the big launch

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Stretched too tight

Proofs. . .Deadline. . .Q&A. . .Accounts. . . BM's poetry book launch . . .

All of these need dealing with - all of them have to be done or at least have something done about them this week - okay - today. And I've tried to prioritise but it's just not working.

So somewhere right at the end of that list comes 'Blog'

No - no time for that. So I'll cheat. I had a couple of wonderful reviews for At The Sheikh's Command so I'll post a link to one at The Romance Readers Connection. (Seeing as it won't let me copy any part of it for you) Thank you to Debora Hosey for this one.

And here's a quote from the other one (Thank you Julie for putting such a smile on my face) -


Kate Walker’s name is synonymous with passionate romance, rich character
development and intense emotional intensity and her latest Harlequin Presents,
At the Sheikh’s Command, is no exception. . .

Kate Walker captures her readers’ attention from the very first page as she
draws them into her seductive world of passion, drama and secrets. Written with
plenty of heart and sensitivity, this is a marvelous page turner that shall keep
you turning the pages late into the night. Kate Walker’s intoxicating blend of
master storytelling, vividly drawn characters, fiery romance and heart wrenching
emotions is as irresistible as ever and her passionate tale shall delight
Harlequin Presents fans the world over! 4 1/2 stars

Julie Bonello . Read the whole review at CataRomance Reviews


And I'll be backas soon as I can find space to breathe!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Heroes . . .

I haven't blogged much about the BBC 4 series on romantic fiction Reader I Married Him because I've had ambiguous feelings about it. It has been, as the saying goes, like the curate's egg - good in parts. And other parts have been just silly.

Tonight the last of the three parts is about Heroines. Last week was supposedly about heroes - I say supposedly because it was in fact about only four heroes. And they were the usual suspects - Mr Darcy - or, rather ColinFirthAsMrDarcy and not really Jane Austen's Mr Darcy, Mr Rochester (currently being played Toby Stephens on BBC 1) Heathcliff (no 'e' at the end - please, never ever an E - the name is deliberate - Heath and Cliff - sums him up perfectly) , and Rhett Butler.

As none of these particular gentlemen appears in a book that was written after 1936, the programme was rather like a book called Passion's Fortune which was published in 1999 and claimed to be a history of Mills & Boon but which in fact stopped at the 1960s - giving the impression that the books and the company and most particularly the authors of HMB romances have made no progress, not changed at all in the intervening years but have remained set in stone, fossilised and still producing the same sort of romances as Mills & Boon published then. Whereas the truth, as anyone who really reads romance fiction knows, is as Charlotte Lamb says (quoted in Passion's Fortune):

Every few years Mills & Boon changes. A change is always author-led and
mirrors what is happening in the world outside. We are not behind the times at
all, despite critical opinion; we are well aware of current trends and keep
abreast of them.

Charlotte Lamb 1995


In just the same way, concentrating the focus of 'Heroes' on just four men, a couple of which might not actually merit the title of 'hero' whether in a moral sense of in their role in the books they appear in, seems ot me to reduce romantic fiction to a limited. restricted form of fiction that has not only not progressed but actually stagnated since the middle of the 20th century. Although not actually stated there is also in this the impliction that all other heroes are derived from and are merely pale copies of the four big guns who were actually discussed.

Since that programme, there's been plenty of discussin of romantic heroes readers and authors love and in some cases this has led to the challenge to try to name your personal 'Top 4' - the ultimate romatic hero.

I've never been a lover ot 'Top Tens' or 'Your Five Favourite' anythings. What I personally love about romantic fiction is the fact that it is. as Jenny Haddon, Chairman of the RNA always says, a very broad church indeed. There is room in it for any form of fiction about emotional relationships that appeals to you and plenty of scope to pick and choose according to mood, time and inclination. Historical novels, sagas, Gothic romances, Chick lit, Suspense, Medicals, Fantasy . . . you name it, you can find it in the spread of romantic fiction.

And the same with heroes. For everyone who loves Mr Darcy there is someone who finds him a stuck up, zipped up (emotionally) snob. Some adore Heathcliff, others find him an unredeemable psychopathic brute.

So no I'm not going to list my four Favourite Heroes (and only one of the Big Four would appear on any list of mine) but it has made me think about heroes and how we form our ideas of what is a hero - and which ones we love and which we hate and which we love to hate.

So I've been looking back at my own development a. as a reader and then b. as a writer and finding interesting seeds in a that have fed into b and made me the writer that I am.

And if I get time I hope to look at those more closely in the next few days.

But in the meantime - seeing as I am supposed to be writing, creating yet another hero of my own - I'm also discussing this topic of heroes in two other places this week.
One is a Q&A I'm running on the eHarlequin boards on the problems and pleasures in writing the alpha male

And then on Thursday over on the Pink Heart Society blog, I have a guest blog on the topic of the lasting appeal of the Sheikh in romances.

But for now I'm going to go and watch part 3 of Reader I Married Him - this time on heroines. My fin gers are crossed that they discuss more than Elizabeth Bennett, Jane Eyre, Catherine Earnshaw and Scarlett O'Hara or people really will think that there are only 4 books in all of romantic fiction worth mentioning.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

And the winners are . . .

Well, that was fun - a more chaotic winner choosing session I've never seen!

Four cats + 450 crunchies = total chaos
But I finally have some winners:

MAIN PRIZE WINNERS - of the Back to School Stationery sets
Dorothy Sexton Arizona
Sue Wontroba Sutton Coldfield
Cheri Oggy USA

Runners up winners - who each win a signed copy of their choice of title from my backlist:

Gretchen Taylor, Illinois
Amy Kincade, Florida
Ursula Bingham Maidstone Kent
Dena Walton Washington
Judith Rachmani Israel


Congratulations to all the winners and thank you to everyone who entered

Watch out for my next major contest -which will be a special Christmas Contest - and I have plans for that one already . . .

Watch this space

Contest closed

The Back To School Contest is now officially CLOSED.

Sid and co will be busy choosing winners just as soon as I can get 450 names onto pieces of paper and 450 crunchies onto the names - and four hungry cats let loose into the room where the names and the crucnies are!

This could be quite some logistical operation.

Between them they have to pick
3 main prize winners- who will win the Back To School prize and one of my bookbags and their choice of a signed book from my backlist
And 5 runners' up prizes - who will each win a signed copy of their choice from my backlist.

So that's eight prizes - two winners for each cat.


Good luck to everyone who entered - and answered the question!

The We Write Romance Contest is still open until Thursday.
 

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