Sangria in the park, anyone?

It’s almost the end of February and it’s my son’s birthday on the 28th.  He was very nearly born the following day which, once every four years, is of course a leap year.  Pondering on this, I thought about what happens to that extra day and all the ones in between.  Do any of us really make the most of it and, in the words of the late Lou Reed, ever really get our Perfect Day?  Although, it’s not a leap year this year, it still inspired this week’s Wednesday Wondering, which is to ask you all what you would do if you had a day completely free to decide what to with it, from morning to night?  What would your perfect day look like and have you ever had one?

Jo
This is my final Wednesday Wondering for at least eight months, whilst the rest of The Write Romantics take their turn, so I’m glad to be spending it having my perfect day J.  I think, like a number of others, my perfect day would be spent eating, drinking and laughing with my nearest and dearest.  It would start with me rising early and writing a couple of thousand words, before my husband wakes up and brings me a cup of tea and a crispy bacon sandwich on tiger bread and a steaming hot cup of tea.  Next, I think a morning spent on a beach, rock-pooling with the children and feasting on locally made ice cream would be lovely.  Then hubby could take over with the children, whilst I catch the latest rom–com movie with friends and a late lunch of a clotted-cream afternoon tea.  Then, with the aid of a baby sitter, out with hubby for cocktails and a plate of salt and pepper squid.  A quick check of my emails on arriving home would reveal the offer a three book deal.  So I could finish the day in the hot-tub, looking up at the stars, with a glass of Champagne!

Julie
What a great question. I often think about people born on 29th Feb and whether they feel really special or perhaps struggle with identity issues as their actual birthday date is missing for 3 out of 4 years. Interesting. I think one of the most perfect days that stands out to me from start to finish was my wedding day. I know that may sound corny but everything was perfect; the weather, the food, the outfits, the disco at the reception … It had a couple of mishaps but they made the day funny e.g. I didn’t think about the extra height that the tiara would give to my head and knocked my hair on the door frame when getting into the car to go to the church. This knocked my head forward and I kissed the top of my dress. I was wearing a fairly bright lipstick! I also scraped my dress along the tires and got muck all over it. Then I messed up my vows and got the giggles in the church. But these things made it special.

As for just being handed a day for free and told I could spend it however I wanted, I’m torn between the ‘right’ answer and the selfish one! Selfishly, I’d love nothing more than to spend the whole day lost in the world of creativity that is writing my book. The phone wouldn’t ring, the cats wouldn’t constantly squeak at me to be fed and I’d have absolute peace. I’m lucky to snatch an hour here and there normally which is why this is bliss. The ‘right’ answer would be a day with the family but with nobody being in a grump (hubby) or having a strop (daughter). It would be a day in the great outdoors, location flexible, as long as it included a walk, some photo opportunities, a nice treat like an ice cream or a cake, a mooch round a couple of gift shops and probably a visit to somewhere historical. Given that I live in Scarborough, I have all that on my doorstep and I love it that I’m not actually from here so I don’t take it for granted; instead, I consider myself very lucky to be able to walk along the seafront and visit the castle etc whenever I want.

Alex
I like the idea of a perfect day but it wouldn’t be in February! I’d definitely want to save it until May or June when there’s some hope of a warm and sunny day in Yorkshire.  Then I’d probably go to Whitby.  It’s just over an hour’s drive for me and through some stunning countryside in the North Yorkshire Moors.  When I got there I’d walk down the 199 steps from the Abbey into the town and have lunch in my favourite teashop before walking along the sands and browsing in the lovely shops.  There would then have to be fish and chips for tea before I headed for home.

Jackie
I’ve been thinking about it on and off all week and am really stumped to work out what my perfect day would be- unless it was eating my way through the dessert menu at a really posh hotel- or even better having Simon Baker feed me!

Simon Baker

Helen R
I think I could say that I have had lots of days where I get to the end and just think, “Ah, that was the best day”. Major events are usually overshadowed by adrenaline though so when I think of a “perfect day” it’s more about simplicity…usually the sun would be shining, I would be with family perhaps on a walk followed by relaxing lunch with a glass of crisp Sauvignon Blanc.

Deirdre
I think for my perfect day I’d have to be in my favourite place, which is anywhere in the Sussex countryside.  Then add to that my favourite people, which would be my close family and some special friends.  It would be sunny all day, warm enough to be wearing a nice (hopefully new) summer dress and sandals, and there would be the most delicious food and drink.  Right then, now I’m in the beautiful cottage garden of an old timbered pub and we’re sitting round a vast wooden table with one of those umbrellas over it.  My food has just arrived – deep fried whitebait, with salad and home-made chunky chips, after which I’ll have chocolate pud, all washed down with champagne, best quality of course.  The conversation is light and funny and everyone’s happy with no worries whatsoever.  The birds are singing and there isn’t a pesky wasp in sight.  In the evening we’d all go back to our house, which would have miraculously trebled in size since we left, and sit about watching a great film on the giant screen TV (OK, another miracle required…) with some delicious nibbles and more champagne.  Mmm, when is this perfect day and can I have it soon please?

Rachael
If I had an extra day, first I’d have to insist it was a lovely summer’s day. I’d get up early and head off to one of the many places in the country I’m always promising myself of going to. I love castles and old houses and enjoy losing myself in the history of the place.

I did do that last year when I travelled to Sheffield for the RNA Conference. I have always wanted to go to Chatsworth, so took an extra day off the farm and visited this marvellous place the day before the conference. The sun shone as I wandered around the grounds and listening to the guide as I went through the house gave a real insight to the history of the place. It’s a place that it now on my revisit list!

Lynne
We had pretty much my perfect day last weekend, we were childless all day and went on a lovely drive round Oxford then stopped at a really lovely garden centre which is so much more than just plants but has lovely things to tempt. Then we stopped at a fab country house hotel on the way home for afternoon tea. I love old houses and this, Bibury Court, is a 17th C building with a huge wood fire and loads of squashy sofas in which to curl up & read the papers. Then, home early, to read one of the fab works by my fellow Write Romantics of course. What could be better!

So, come on then, The Write Romantics are giving you a free day to create your perfect twenty-four hours, so please tell us what you plan to do with it and we can all indulge together!

Jo x

Fenella Miller is our Saturday spotlight. Self publishing made easy.

T

Today on our Saturday Spotlight we introduce Fenella J Miller who achieved her dream of being traditionally published and has now self- published over thirty of her books (not counting the box sets) on Amazon with huge success.If we could ask you some questions on your decision to self-publish and any pitfalls you’ve encountered, or any highs you’d like to share with us, that would be brilliant.

One question everyone wants to ask is, how difficult is it to prepare your own book for Amazon and which services would you recommend paying for, rather than struggling to complete yourself?

Getting a book ready for publication, whether for Amazon or anywhere else, is the same process. However, if you’re self publishing you need to employ professionals to do the jobs that would be done for you if you were with a traditional publisher. I would always recommend getting a professional cover, and proof read – if you’re a beginner then also pay for an editor. It’s helpful to have a group of friends (beta readers) who can read your manuscript first and point out plot holes et cetera.

Do you set a budget and include it in your marketing plan?

Marketing plan? Good heavens that sounds very efficient. I’m sure if I was just starting out and intending to go the indie route I would no doubt have a marketing plan and budget. However, I spend what I need to, in order to produce the best book I can. I would never spend more than I expect to earn in a few months – so wouldn’t go with Silverwood, for instance.

How do you market your books and is there any specific approach that appears to work better than others? (Such a giveaways, Twitter, paying for promo etc.)

I don’t think that social media makes any difference. Having an online presence is essential of course, author pages/websites/Twitter/Facebook – all these help to get your name out there but I don’t think are useful as a marketing tool. I have paid for blog tours but had no extra sales at all. I think that Amazon free book promotion is no longer as useful as it was, but their new book promotion (they put your book price up in increments over a period of a week and it is never at zero cost) seems to be working really well.

Do you find you sell many books through your website and do you feel it’s imperative for an aspiring writer to have their own website?

I get about 2000 hits a month from my website but have never sold a book through it as far as I know. I’ve no idea if aspiring writers should have a website, but certainly most publishers refuse to take on a new writer unless they have a media presence.

What aspect of self-publishing takes up most of your time?

 I spend far too long faffing about on Facebook – which I suppose could be considered an aspect of self-publishing. Writing my book takes up the most time and this would be the same whether self published or traditionally published.

What gives you the most satisfaction; self-achievement, financial gain or having total control over every aspect of putting your book ‘out there’?

All the above – I would never go back to traditional publishing as I like to be in control of my own deadlines/covers/promotions/publicity. I’m making more now than I made as a full-time, top of the scale teacher and that is only because of self publishing.

Do you have any regrets regarding any aspect of self-publishing your novels or have you done anything different from the early days?

I was in too much of a rush to put up my books initially and skipped the professional proof read and professional cover. When I changed my covers to professional ones, my sales increased by 50%.

Do you just publish your books on Amazon or are there other platforms you would recommend trying? (Such as iBook’s)

I have my three mainstream historicals with Smashwords but have sold so few books I don’t think it’s worthwhile keeping there as I can’t use the Kindle promotions unless I am exclusively with Amazon. Smashwords put books up on all the platforms for you.

How would a self-published writer go about getting a ‘Tree-book” version of their novel printed up? Does Amazon cater for that or would you have to go to a vanity publisher?

Amazon has an excellent service for paperbacks – Create Space. However I employ someone to format my book as I spent days trying to get it to fit their template with no success. Never use a vanity publisher.

Silverwood is a publisher but you pay for the services that you would normally get for nothing – £1200 will buy you editing/proofreading/marketing/cover and I would recommend this if you can afford it as they produce excellent books and get them into bookshops and Barnes & Noble.

And lastly do you have any words of wisdom for someone looking to self-publish so that they get it right the first time?

My advice would be to write a least three books and have them ready for publication before you consider self-publishing. It’s very hard to make an impact in the 3 1/2 million books available on Kindle if you only have one title. There’s a thriller writer who wrote a book a month for three years and is now a multi-millionaire.

Thank you, Fenella for taking the time to be with us today.

Check out the gorgeous covers and Fenella’s wonderful novels: here.

We’re grateful to Fenella for sharing her experiences with us. The views expressed in the interview are hers. The Write Romantics do not recommend Silverwood or any other publishing service.

The Wednesday Wondering – It’s character building, or so they say!

So, you’ve decided to write a book and you’ve created a cast of characters to fill the pages. You have the absolute power to decide about every facet of their background, personality and behaviour. So, my Wednesday Wondering for this week is to ask how you do it? For example, do you plot every little detail from their birthday, to the name of their childhood pet, their favourite band and what they like on their toast in the morning? Perhaps you find pictures of people who look like your characters to help with physical descriptions? Or maybe you just start with a rough idea of their motivation, and a few physical characteristics, and then let them evolve for themselves?

Jo
Ooh, it’s my penultimate Wednesday Wondering and I’ll soon by passing the baton to my lovely friend, Deirdre. Where on earth has the time gone? Story of my life really; that I always seem to be playing catch-up. Four children, three dogs, three jobs and a burning desire to be a published novelist has not a plotter made. I write whenever and wherever I can. So, as a result, I’ve always been a bit of pantser and my characters have only ever started out as vague concepts in my head. I love getting to know them as the book develops though and seeing their characters evolve. It probably sounds weird to anyone who doesn’t write, but the things my characters end up doing more often than not take me by surprise. Crazy, but true and I’m not alone as at least one of the other WRs has said the same thing!

Julie
I’m working on a trilogy of books which each feature one of three women in the lead. The protagonist in my first book, Sarah, arrived fairly well formed as she’s predominantly based on me. I would like to think I know myself fairly well, therefore I know Sarah fairly well too. I developed her a best friend from primary school called Elise who seemed to arrive in my mind fairly well formed and then a third character, Clare, appeared when I realised I needed Sarah to have two friends who would provide contrasting views on the scenario she was faced with and therefore cause her conflict. Clare therefore needed to be the exact opposite of Elise so her personality was quite easy to form too.

I have a box of quite large coloured index cards and I have (somewhat sexist-ly) created a pink card for each main female character and a blue card for the males. I’ve captured things like eye colour, hair colour, age, sibling names, job, DOB etc – all those details that may crop up a couple of times and I don’t want to have to do a search for key words on my MS to find out whether I gave Sarah blue, green or brown eyes.

I’ve been working on my trilogy for over a decade, though, so the characters are really well formed in my head. In the very early days, I actually did something resembling a CV for Sarah but of her personal life rather than career. Hardly surprising I took this approach given that my day job at the time was a recruitment manager! I’m thinking that, when I get to my first non-trilogy book, I will probably have to do something similar and do more work on a CV or index cards to build the characters in terms of appearance and personality because I certainly don’t want to spend 11 years on it just to know my characters really well!

By contrast, I have a writing friend who spends hours scouring the internet for drawings or photos of what her characters would look like and goes out exploring places and settings. She has these all over her office and has reams and reams of details. She works out how they’d react to a million situations (not necessarily ones that appear in her book) and feels this helps her really get to grips with her characters. She’s a huge JK Rowling fan and I know JK supposedly developed reams of detail about her characters that didn’t necessarily come out in the books (a famous example being that Dumbledore is gay) so I wonder if this is what has inspired her to delve into such great detail.

Jackie
I don’t really plot the characters lives although possibly I should. I often have a clear idea of the hunky hero (Simon Baker, Simon Baker and Ooh, Simon Baker- The Mentalist) but I’m always a bit hazy on the heroine and actually not so good at that. They definitely evolve as time goes by and I realise they need to be say, a bit more needy, or self-disciplined. Never, ever have I mapped out their timeline, parents, hang-ups or childhood friends. Apart from deciding the heroine should end up with Simon Baker, of course.

Lego people

Alex
I plot everything. If you really wanted to know I could tell you Finn and Zoe’s birthdays, favourite bands and what they like for breakfast. Before I started writing the novel I had their complete backstory mapped out. Ninety percent of it I didn’t need but it helped me when I started. They did evolve a lot as I went along though. In the future I don’t think I’ll do so much planning. Having learned how characters grow and develop as I go along I think (although I may turn out to be wrong) that I can be a little bit more relaxed in the next book.

Helen R
I tend to come up with two names as a starting point. I then work up a character CV, detailing hair colour, eye colour, date of birth, job…all the basics. I then try to find a picture online that I can save in a document to look at when I need to…one day when I have a dedicated study I will put these pictures in the room so I can see them all the time.

My characters are semi-developed when I start writing but I think that it’s important to be flexible. I find that as I write, I get to know more and more about each one and so I start to expand my notes.

Deirdre
Lots of how-to books on writing advocate listing every little detail about a character but that doesn’t work for me. I prefer to build them in a more organic kind of way. Often I start with a name and age, then a physical picture will suggest itself from that, like height, build, hair colour, and perhaps the way they speak and something of their personality and traits. I might base them on someone I know but they won’t be exactly the same and I don’t usually have a clear picture of their face, although I can still ‘see’ them in my mind’s eye, if that makes sense. Their characters will then develop through the way they deal with the problems I foist upon them, and how they interact with each other. Sometimes I ‘see’ my character in the street or in a picture in a magazine but I only get to know them through their actions, by which time I can’t force them to do a thing. I know it’s a cliché but my characters definitely have minds of their own when it comes to creating the plot!

Rachael
As far as my characters are concerned I am a plotter. I have questions they need to answer, which is anything from their age and family background to their favourite music. I start to fill out my question sheets before I begin to write the first chapter. I don’t however insist on every question being answered and I never try to incorporate these answers into the story. The reader may not need to know that my heroine had a pet rabbit as a child, but I do. These answers help me to know her better, to know how she will react when she meets the hero.
Once these sheets have been partially completed they sit on my desk as an instant point of reference or in case I suddenly discover a new answer.

I also think that having a visual on my characters is good and love to find the perfect picture that fits the image I have in my head of each character as I begin my story. These are then put on my pin board above my computer screen.

Helen P
When I first began thinking about writing The Ghost House I knew that I wanted my protagonist to be a strong female, I wanted her to be loyal to her husband even though he was going to be a horrible man. I also wanted a character who was just an ordinary woman who fights the same battles as the majority of us. I didn’t want her to have a perfect figure or long sleek hair. I wanted her to look like the woman who walks down the street and could be any one of us, someone who fights as many inner demons as most of us. I wanted her to be a policewoman but not a detective or an Inspector. Not many writers have characters who are community police officers so I thought this would be a good a chance to show her caring side and her day to day job.

Will was so easy to come up with he is a dream, in fact I would probably say he is my dream man. Once he realised it was time to change his ways he does it so completely how could you not fall in love with him. I wanted Annie to have a knight in shining armour because that what she deserves.

Now that you’ve heard how The Write Romantics do it, come and tell us if you are a plotter or a pantser when it comes to developing your characters – we’d love to know!

Jo xx

What is love, anyway?

As I am sure you all know, yesterday was Valentine’s Day. A day marked out around the world to celebrate love and romance. It can involve simple gestures, from a kiss or back-rub, to spending a month’s salary on a weekend break to Paris. In fact it was the French who started the tradition of sending cards and they still see February 14th as the best day for a marriage proposal.

If you are in Italy, the strength of your love can be measured by the size of the box of chocolates you exchange with your loved one, but it is us Brits who favour the anonymity of the secret admirer when sending cards to the object of our affection.

Not everyone is a fan of course and if the mere mention of Valentine’s Day, or the commerciality it attracts, makes you feel anything but loved-up, then perhaps a move to Saudi Arabia, where Valentine’s Day is banned all together, could be on the cards? In fact, as the day after Christmas Day has its own special name, then perhaps the day after Valentine’s Day, for many of us, could be called ‘Air of Disappointment Day’?

If your Valentine’s Day this year was empty of any of the grand gestures we wrote about on Wednesday and was more about last-minute flowers from the all night garage, it might not be all bad. Even if your candle-lit dinner for two ended up as a fish-finger butty in front of Corrie, by the dim light of the low-energy bulb that takes a week to warm up, all may not be lost.

Okay, so we’re all about the romance here, being writers in that genre, but today we’re asking the really big question, which perhaps has a lot less to do with romance than you might imagine, – what is love, anyway?

I challenged my fellow Write Romantics to come up with their definitions of love for this most romantic of weeks. It inspired a badly-drawn cartoon on my part, as homage to both my lovely Write Romantic friends and the old Love Is cartoons from my youth. If you look at the WR’s responses at the end of this post, I think you’ll agree that love manifests itself in many forms and most of them have very little to do with setting aside the 14th day of February to write it high.

EPSON MFP image

For me, love is about putting someone else’s needs at least as highly as, if not above, your own. Taking that definition, I could see a hundred acts of love going on yesterday, without even trying. Here are just three:

  • People putting themselves out for total strangers during the floods – from helping with the rescue operations, to pumping out the flood waters and even offering a roof and a warm bed.
  • A living organ donor, waiting in pre-op, to give a life changing new start to another stranger, matched only by tissue type, for entirely altruistic reasons
  • The twin who gave up her place on the US Winter Olympics team, to let her sister compete in the 15k individual race on Valentine’s Day, as only one of them could.

Life may not be made up of romantic gestures, but whatever Valentine’s Day brought you, in the words of my favourite Rom-Com writer, Richard Curtis, I think you’ll find that love actually is all around.

There are a million ways to celebrate love and three hundred and sixty four days a year on which to do it. So, even if you don’t have a reason to celebrate romance this year, be it on February 14th or some other day that’s special to just the two of you, then take a leaf out of the Estonians’ book and rename it ‘Friends Day’ next time around.

Happy Air of Disappointment day everyone. Count your blessings and don’t book that plane ticket to Saudi Arabia just yet. At least not until you’ve checked out The Write Romantics definitions of love below!
Jo xx

Alex
Love is… cleaning my car inside and out, waxing and polishing it when I’m in the hospital because he can’t find the words to tell me how worried he is.

Julie
Love is… when he scratches your back then doesn’t expect his scratched in return
Love is… when he lets you put your cold feet on his warm legs in bed
Love is… when he doesn’t moan that you spend most evenings apart because he knows how important it is to you to spend your evenings writing

Lynne
Love is… letting him read the kindle with your favourite book on it.
Love is… buying him a book you know he won’t be able to put down all weekend, because it was written by one of The Write Romantics

Helen P
Love is… a husband who brings you coffee and the last creme egg from the box

Jackie
Love is… never having to say you’re sorry!

Deirdre
Love is… him googling for the cutest cat pictures and leaving them on the screen for me to find.

Helen R
Love is… like superglue – no matter what happens, what storms come your way, you always stick together.

Ain’t love ‘Grand’?

As it’s almost Valentine’s Day, I got to thinking about the grand gestures that have been performed by lovers over the years from fictional characters like Romeo and Juliet, to the dominant forces in today’s celebrity culture, like Kim Kardashian and Kanye West.  Okay, so most of us aren’t prepared to die for our beloved or shell out on hiring a baseball park and buying a 1.5 million dollar engagement ring… but every day there are people out there trying to impress the person who they love (or who they want to love them) with grand gestures. 

So, my Wednesday Wondering for this week is to ask what is the best, or most ill-fated, thing you have done to try to impress a loved one or that someone has done to try to impress you?  Or maybe you’ve read something in a book or seen it in a film and it’s made you swoon or cringe?  Maybe you’ve written about something in your own novel that you think is the ultimate grand gesture or something that went horribly wrong for one of your characters?  Either way, we’d love to hear about it and here’s what the Write Romantics had to say:

Jo

As it’s another of my Wednesday Wonderings again, I’ll start this off.  I think I chose this question because I do love a Rom Com and, more often than not, they are filled with grand gestures and I sometimes come away from watching them and think ‘why isn’t my life like that?’  Although, reflecting on it, having a husband who puts his own dreams and ambitions to one side to make sure that he can provide for and be there for his family, is a pretty grand gesture – even though it won’t make the news or even the plot of the next movie I go to see!   I still love the more dramatic grand gestures though and what Colin Firth’s character does in Love Actually is probably my favourite of all.  I have read Julie’s second novel, Getting Over Gary, recently and Alex’s debut novel, Beltane.  Both books have wonderful, but very different, grand gestures in them and I hope you are all lucky enough to read them soon.

Julie

I’ve talked on the blog before about the guy who chased me down the street and asked me out and also the boyfriend who ran down 3 flights of stairs at university at one minute past midnight on Valentines Day morning wearing nothing but heart-covered boxing shorts and clutching a bottle of wine so I won’t repeat myself. They’re the only grand gestures that I can think of that someone has done for me. I don’t think I’ve done any for anyone else which is a bit rubbish of me.

So I’m going to turn to fiction and pick from my favourite romcoms. I absolutely adore Sweet Home Alabama starring Reece Witherspoon. Not seen it? You really must! It’s full of big romantic gestures from both Reece’s and Josh Lucas’s characters (even if they don’t quite realise it at the time) but I don’t want to give spoilers in case anyone hasn’t seen it. I also adore more recent film The Proposal starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. Again, I don’t want to give a spoiler but I absolutely adore the gesture at the end from her and then him. Such a feel-good film. Oh, and another Reece Witherspoon film I love is Just Like Heaven which also stars Mark Ruffalo. Wonderful romantic ending with a big gesture on his part with the departure and the roof garden. If you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I mean. Again, I don’t want to give away spoilers. Aw, feeling all romantic now. Think I need a romcom fest!

Rachael

This is my own grand gesture. For my husband’s fortieth birthday I bought him a cow. Well, so what you may think, you are married to a farmer after all. So to rewind to the time I first met my husband. As a townie I was in for a shock, suddenly getting up close and personal with cows. At the time he had a pet cow called Madonna. She was a red and white Holstein Friesian and pretty soon she and I had a good friendship going. I would always carry some cow nuts in my pocket for her and she always made a beeline for me! Sadly she passed away and that lovely red and white colour was missing from the herd. As the time came to decide on a special birthday present I thought what about a new red and white cow. As if it was meant to be there was a market sale the day before his birthday and in it quite a few red and white cows.

Now remember I am a townie, I had never bid for anything in my life, much less a living breathing animal. On the day of the sale I watched the first cow go for so much money I thought I’d never get one, but in came the one I’d decided to bid for. Nerves kicked in at this point, especially when someone started a bidding war, but amazingly I got her. Not only that I also got a three month old red and white calf whose makings were almost the same as the old Madonna and she too became known as Madonna.

This summer my husband will have another big birthday, but I am not going shopping for cows this time!

2009_1024cows20012

Lynne

Once I had what I thought was the ultimate romantic gesture happen to me, the boyfriend of my early twenties got in contact with me after 25 years to ask how I was and if I was single, and if so would I like to meet up?

Well, I was sooooo flattered! As it happened I was single, but he had major problems (see last week’s post!) He gambled a bit too much (this could be the winning ticket – he’d argue), he’d insist on going everywhere with me – insecurity I know but a bit too claustrophobic. And since I could still hear that bossy tone when speaking to him after 25 years my answer was no, I didn’t want to meet up.

But there was a sequel to this story that rather bought me down a peg or two. Not long after that phone call I met Andy, just the Beta chap I wanted, and we’ve been married 5 happy years. I told him about that phone call when we were talking about romantic gestures fully expecting him to agree that this was the ultimate and could never be bettered. But he didn’t.

‘Don’t you think that trumps all romantic notions?’ I asked.
‘Not necessarily,’ he answered ‘going through your old address book is one of those things you do when you separate isn’t it?’

I had to agree. Oh well, you can’t win ’em all!

Jackie

One of the saddest grand gestures I ever witnessed was when I worked for a small airline. We did a special promotion for Valentine’s day where you could fly your true love out to Jersey for the day, have a trip on a boat with a five course meal, champagne and chocolates, and fly back after a perfect day. Jersey was fogbound on the day and we flew around and around, hoping it would clear but in the end diverted to Southampton, where the passengers sat in the Southampton lounge for four hours. By the time the fog cleared it was too late for the boat trip as the tide had turned and we ended up flying back to where we started. I could have cried, and I was just cabin staff, so heaven knows how the passengers felt.

Alex

One Valentine’s Day my ex was short of money so instead of buying me a present he wrote me a poem.  He’d never written a poem before and is quite badly dyslexic so, for him, that was quite a grand gesture.  As for my writing, there’s a pretty grand gesture in Beltane but telling you about it would definitely be a spoiler so I’m going to say no more…

Helen R

I was watching the film, Tangled, a few weeks ago with my girls. When it got towards the ending I thought about how perfect the moment was to illustrate a relationship between a hero and a heroine where each would do absolutely anything for the other.

The heroine, Rapunzel, has magic hair and when the hero,  Ryder, is injured and dying, the only way to save him is to use her hair to heal him but if she does this she must promise to stay with Gothel forever in the high tower rather than living happily ever after with her man. At the last minute, before she can use her magic powers to save him, he chops off her hair causing it to turn dark and the magic is lost.

Both Ryder and Rapunzel were willing to give up their life in some way for the other – I swoon when I think of this moment. Don’t worry if you haven’t seen the film…it all works out in the end!


I hope you enjoyed reading about our experiences with Grand Gestures and we can’t wait to hear yours.

Jo

The Saturday Spotlight – Rhoda Baxter tells all!

Our guest on the blog this week is Rhoda Baxter.  Rhoda  started off in the South of England and pinged around the world a bit until she ended up in the North of England, where the cakes are better. Along the way she collected one husband, two kids, a few (ahem) extra stone in weight and a DPhil in molecular biology (but not necessarily in that order). She had a childhood ambition to be an astronaut or at least 5 feet tall. Having failed at both of these, she now writes humorous novels instead.

Her first novel, Patently in Love was a contender for the RNA Joan Hessayon Award and was a top ten finalist in the 2012 Preditors and Editors poll for romance reads. Her third novel, Dr January will be published by Choc Lit Publishing in autumn 2014. 

Rhoda B new photo

Hi Rhoda, welcome to the Write Romantics blog and thank you for agreeing to be our guest this week.  We’d love to start by asking you a little bit about your writing journey so far and what was the very first thing you did when you heard you’d got a publishing deal?

Thank you so much for inviting me in for a chat. It’s nice to sit here in the warm when it’s so wet and cold outside.

My writing journey was pretty long. I won’t bore you with the details (if you really want to know, there’s a blog post about it here: http://rhodabaxter.com/2013/10/25/two-emails-abo…22nd-of-a-book/).  I went to a talk once where they took a poll of the authors around the table as to how many books they wrote before they were published. The average was 3.5 books. I’d written 3 books and was on my fourth by the time Patently in Love was picked up by a publisher.

Yes, please, I’d love a cup of tea. Milk please. No sugar. Thanks.

In all honesty, I can’t remember what I thought when I first got the email.  It was a mad old time as I’d just started a new job after moving from Oxfordshire to East Yorkshire and my youngest was still only a tiny wee baby. I do remember buying a celebratory cheesecake though. Very nice it was too.

What are you most looking forward to about your publication with Choc Lit and moving away from the e-book only approach?

Without a doubt, it’s the idea of having a physical book in my hands. Having a book only in ebook format should be no different to have a print book – real people still buy them and read them and review them. But there’s something about the physical book that you can put on a book shelf and stroke and cuddle… I think it’s a generational thing. We grew up with paper books and they ‘feel’ more real to us than ebooks. My Mum reads my books on her computer, but doesn’t really feel they’re ‘real’. My kids, on the other hand, are perfectly at home with ebooks and print books alike. They tend to get jam on things though and a Kindle is easier to wipe clean than a paper book.

I’m also looking forward to doing some real life promotion for my books. So far I’ve concentrated on doing everything online, because I’ve only had ebooks to promote. When I have a print book I can take along with me, I will try and do some talks to libraries and at local events.

Lastly, of course, I’m looking forward to the celebratory cheesecake I’m going to treat myself to. Mmmm… cake… Sorry, zoned out there for a moment. What was the next question?

Do you have any writing superstitions e.g. writing in the same place, using a certain pen etc?

In an ideal world, I would. I’d have a special desk (very tidy, naturally), and a special mug and a special pair of pants to wear when I’m writing. In reality, my desk looks nothing like that, so I end up writing my books sitting in bed at the end of the day.

I don’t really mind, so long as I get to write. I do wish I could see the surface of my desk now and again though.

HAB

What are you working on now and what are your writing goals for the next 5 years?

5 years! You make it sound like it’s normal to have a plan! (What do you mean it is? Damn. That explains a lot). It’s not possible to plan that far ahead because life tends to get in the way. If you’d told me four years ago that I’d be relocating to the North East, with a three month old baby and a three year old in tow, whilst DH and I both start new jobs and I try to get a writing career off the ground, I’d have laughed  at you on the grounds that no one is THAT mental.

What am I working on now? I’ve just submitted the 2015 book called Please Release Me (which is set in a hospice) to Choc Lit. I’m trying to figure out what to write next. Something with the whole email/prose mix again, I think. I have my characters, but need to figure out what happens to them. I’ve also got to do some promotion for the Truly, Madly, Deeply Anthology which is coming out in February.  I’m very excited to have my story included in a book that’s got stories by Katie Fforde, Judy Astley, Carole Matthews and other famous people.

How do you keep creating new and entirely different characters as you write more and more books?

I don’t know. They just turn up.  Sorry, that’s not a good answer, is it? But it’s true. It’s like Paddingtion Station in my imagination. Characters turn up in my head and I have to find stories for them. I usually find the men easier to think up than the women. I love my heroes.

I don’t do character sheets and character interviews like some people do. I’m too lazy for that. Quite often I write my way into the characters by writing a few extra scenes before the story really starts so that I can get a feel for their voice. Sometimes there’s a key aspect I have to get right before they ‘click’. Once that happens, it’s easy to hear and see them.

I’ve never tried to analyse where these people came from, in case they stop coming. If it ain’t broke…

It sounds like your professional life and your writing persona are two different worlds.  How do you cope with the different approaches to writing and has this ever caused you any conflict?

My work writing is very analytical and matter of fact. Details need to be spelled out. My fiction writing is about subtlety and emotion. In that sense they are very different. On the other hand, the technical writing needs to be structured, with all the introductory information in place, arguments made and neatly tied up into the conclusion. The same is true of a novel.

With work, I’m allowed to be boring in what I write (apparently, people don’t like jokes in their technical summaries. Huh).  With fiction boring your reader is a definite no-no.

One of the Write Romantics, Alex, is also a lawyer and it’s not a world that has ever made her think of romance fiction.  What gave you the idea for Patently in Love?

Marshall from Patently in Love has been around in my head for a long long time. When I was plotting the book,I realised that the combination of email and prose would work really well as an office romance. So I picked an office I knew and used it as a setting. I didn’t use anyone I knew as characters, but I did include a few jokes about the obsession with hierarchy that seemed to be prevalent in that environment.  It also meant that I didn’t need to cross check patent related bits of the plot. (A good thing too because one of the big IP blogs reviewed the book. It would have been awful if they’d found a glaring error!)

Who is your favourite character from any of the books that you have written so far and was (s)he based on anyone in particular?

My favourite character of all is Hibs, the hero of the next book Dr January (due to be released in autumn by Choc Lit). He has a PhD in molecular biology, long dark hair, lovely high cheekbones and is an expert in karate. He’s really funny and sexy and I had a crush on him when I wrote it.

Hibs wasn’t based in anyone real (if only!), but after I wrote the book, I realised I’d effectively taken the character of Edward Cullen from Twilight and split him into two men. The lovely, adoring, caring side (in Hibs) and the controlling, domineering, stalkery side (in Gordon).  Both men are gorgeous – naturally.

We’ve heard that some writers use pictures they find, of celebrities or sometimes photographs that they just happen upon, to inform the physical descriptions of their characters and we wondered if you did this or, if not, how you form a mental picture of your characters’ physical qualities?

I don’t do that, although I should. If I found a picture of Hibs from Dr January, I’d definitely enjoy looking at him from time to time.

The mental picture of my characters tend to start fuzzy and solidify as I write the introductory scenes. I know I’ll cut those scenes out eventually, but they’re still useful for finding out who the characters are.  Weirdly, I often forget what colour their eyes are, so I need a post it on my laptop screen to remind me.

What piece of advice would you give yourself about writing if you could go back to your pre-publication days?

Remember that it’s a long game. Your first book is not the only book you’ll write (in fact, it’s not even the best book you’ll ever write because you’ll learn and grow as a writer with each subsequent book).  Have patience and keep going. You’ll get your break eventually

Oh, and get some sleep, while you still can.

What are the best and worst things about being a writer?

The best thing – you’re never alone. There’s people in your head all the time.

The worst thing – you’re never alone. There’s people in your head all the time, insisting that you write stuff down.

Anything else you’d like to share with us or advice you can give would be gratefully received!

Write stuff you want to read. Even if the first draft is crap.

Find a good critique partner (or join the NWS!) and listen to what they say. You don’t have to agree with everything they say, but make sure you give it good consideration before you dismiss it.

Keep going. The more you write, the better you’ll get.  All authors were unpublished writers once.

Read how to books. You won’t learn anything new, but it may shift something you already knew into a new light.

Read a lot of books in your genre. Call it market research if you like.

Enjoy it! Otherwise, why do it?

Thank you very much for having me over. It was a lovely cup of tea.

Good luck with your writing careers. I’m sure it won’t be long before you’re all published.

Find out more about Rhoda:

She can be found wittering on about science, comedy and cake on her website www.rhodabaxter.com  or on Facebook or Twitter (@rhodabaxter).

You can buy Rhoda’s books here:

Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00BUEKFX2/ref=rdr_kindle_ext_tmb

Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/Having-Ball-Email-Ice-Cream-ebook/dp/B00BUEKFX2/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

Kobo UK: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/having-a-ball

All other formats (including non-DRM PDF) from the publisher’s site: https://www.uncialpress.com/Rhoda-Baxter

The Wednesday Wondering – what can’t you forgive or forget?

I think for all of us there are probably deal breakers in relationships. That could be something as simple as him leaving the toilet seat up or squeezing the toothpaste in the middle, or perhaps trying to seduce you whilst still wearing his socks! At the other end of the scale it could be a gambling addiction, lying or maybe infidelity. The Wednesday Wondering for this week is, therefore, whether there are any little (or big, if you prefer) behaviours from a partner that you absolutely wouldn’t stand for or that you wouldn’t let the heroine in your novel put up with – whatever the circumstances? Here’s what the Write Romantics had to say…

Jo
Hmm, as I asked this one I suppose I’d better start… Infidelity is a definite tried and tested deal breaker for me, in my novels and in real life, but there are just tonnes of tiny things that annoy me too – like a man sneezing so loud that the plates rattle or like being such a hypochondriac that he gets stomach pains too, at that time of the month, just so he can stay centre of attention. The one thing that I really can’t bear, though, from man, woman, child or dog is the sound of someone else eating. There’s even a name for the condition; it’s called Misophonia – the unbearable loudness of chewing! My poor hubby has to eat ice lollies at the other end of our garden in the summer, as otherwise he knows the sound of his slurping will drive me insane. Of course, I, on the other hand, am perfect to live with and have absolutely no annoying habits whatsoever… Just ask my husband. Oh no, you can’t, he’s all the way down the other end of the garden having his dinner, bless him!

Helen R
I love this one, I had a little laugh about some of the annoying habits lots of men, including my partner have. I’m glad that my tolerance doesn’t make each of them a deal breaker though or I don’t think I would be able to find anyone! It would be interesting to have a male perspective on this wouldn’t it? I wonder what annoying habits women have.

An absolute deal breaker for me with a partner, or a hero or even a heroine, is someone who smokes. I have a “baddie” character in my writing who smokes, and a girl who social smokes, but I think that would be my limit for my characters.

Julie
I’m going to start by going slightly off-piste and saying I do have a physical rather than behavioural deal-breaker. Moustaches. They give me the fear!!! So sorry for being shallow. Not into beards either … although there are a select few (mainly film stars) who look fabulous with the in-need-of-a-shave look.

Beard

As for behaviours, I don’t like snoring but hubby snores so it’s obviously not a deal-breaker for me. I think I would struggle more with attitude than bad habits although I would be embarrassed to be with someone who uses the ‘f’-word constantly as there’s just no need. Oh, and I hate smoking so I could never date a smoker. Or someone who takes drugs. A deal-breaker for me would be someone who is really homophobic or racist, someone who drinks and drives, someone who hurts animals or someone who is obsessed with football.

I know the first three will resonate with many people. The football thing is a real pet hate of mine. Sorry. I know loads of people adore it but I just can’t stand football. It’s not the game itself and I have no issue with men who quite like it and watch the odd match but it’s the absolute obsession that I hate; talking about nothing but football, watching every match, travelling miles to follow their team and getting in a right grump when their team isn’t doing well. Really does my head in!

Deirdre
Mm, interesting question… the answers could be somewhat revealing! I think circumstances always play a part, as do character, age and experience. My heroine, Millie, a 49 year old divorcee, is realistic as to what she expects from a partner, not only because she’s pragmatic by nature but she’s simply seen more of life. She’s still romantic but she’ll pursue her new love with her eyes wide open. Another, Layla, 29, is of an age where certain life experiences have impacted on her and again she’s a realist by nature but romantic enough to believe that love can conquer all. My youngest heroine, Carol-Anne, is only 18, and it’s 1966. Fed on pop songs and with fixed ideas as to how she wants her boy to be, she won’t put up with a single thing that detracts from the dreamy perfection she deserves.

So, what I’m saying, I think, is that the tipping point is never reached in isolation; it’s not the behaviour itself but the character’s reaction to it that makes or breaks. My Carol-Anne would dump her boyfriend if he stood her up on a date, no questions asked. Layla would be annoyed and she’d show it but she’d accept his explanation in the end, and Millie would just shrug and find something better to do. She would still let him know she’s not a pushover, though.

Rachael
For me, it would have to be something big to be a deal breaker. After all nobody is perfect. Going on from this I wouldn’t let my heroine become fixated on the little things. She probably has a few of her own too. At the top of my list would be infidelity and because of that it would also be at the top of my heroine’s list too.

Jackie
I can’t abide a man who lies for no good reason; it scares me and I think it’s a serious character flaw.

I also desperately hate meanness. Okay, if you are broke just do what you can, but when you end up subbing someone over and over, then they tell you how much they have in their savings account- just- NO!

Nit picky things I hate in a man that grow BIG. Picking your teeth/feet, burping loud, biting nails (husband does that, but I still love him) fiddling with your ‘bits’ and your fly in public (although I think that might be a nervous thing with some men). One particular man at the swimming pool I go to, sounds like a volcano erupting every time he comes up for air- I mean seriously, a woman wouldn’t dream of making a noise like that. Does he have no self- awareness or does he think it makes him look like a proper swimmer. Rant over!

Lynne
Hmmm, I think I’m a bit more fussy about partners in my old age than I was in my
youth, I have quite a few deal breakers in relationships. I couldn’t put up with
gambling, infidelity, drugs or excess drink. Nor could I be with someone who
didn’t love my dogs and let them sleep on the bed as ours do, or anyone who
can’t cope with having a teetering pile of books next to my regular haunts. But
worse of all, I couldn’t cope with an Alpha Male, you know, the sort, he is
tough, loud, the centre of attention. He’s more interested in Building his
Biceps than Wooing his Woman. For me, its gotta be a touchy-feely caring man.
One who is in touch with his senses and knows his Freud from his Fist. I’d
snuggle up with him any day and love creating them for my books!

Now that some of the Write Romantics have shared their relationship no-no’s with you, we’d love to hear what yours are too! Especially, as Helen suggests, that elusive male perspective…

Jo x