Secrets of Structure by Alys West

When I first started thinking seriously about writing a novel, I asked the successful local writer whose evening class I was attending how to structure a novel.  She said to me, “I always struggle with structure. I’ve got a friend who helps me with it.”  It wasn’t the most helpful of responses but because she didn’t give me the answer I needed, I had to look elsewhere.  For a long time it felt like there was a conspiracy of silence about structure and novel writing as if novelists are just supposed to know.  When I started doing my MA in creative writing I discovered that if I wanted to know about structure then I needed books written for screen writers.

The reason for that is that every Holywood blockbuster you’ve ever seen conforms to the same basic plan.  You can dress this up in different ways and call it a three act structure or a five act or Freytag’s pyramid but when you look closely you’ll see that all stories have some key building blocks.

First of all there has to be an inciting incident which is the thing that happens to kickstart the story.  In crime fiction, it’s the murder.  In a James Bond movie, it’s the discovery that someone evil (either with or without a white cat) is threatening world peace.  In romance novels it tends to be something a little less dramatic.  In Pride & Prejudice it would be Darcy saying “She is tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt me” at the Mereton assembly. In Sleepless in Seattle it’d be Annie saying ‘magic’ at the same time as Sam.  It’s the inciting incident which introduces the protagonist to a new world (for Lizzie, the world of wealth and privilege Darcy inhabits) and starts them on a journey.

The midpoint isn’t just what happens in the middle of the story, it’s the point where the protagonist changes.  It’s where they realise that there’s no way back to the old life they used to live.  But at this point, the protagonist is pretty confused by their new knowledge and doesn’t know how to handle it correctly. In Skyfall its when Bond has Bardem in his custody and realises the strength of his enemy before Bardem escapes and the tube train crashes through the roof of the M15 hideout (I love that bit!) In Pride & Prejudice the midpoint is when Lizzie gets Darcy’s letter and realises she’s had him wrong all along.  But not only does she not know what to do with this new knowledge, she doesn’t realise that she’s falling in love with him.

The crisis is where things go really badly wrong.  It’s when all hope passes away. It’s the moment when you’re yelling at the screen ‘Oh no!’ It may be a death (often of someone close to the protagonist) or in a romance the point where it seems the couple can never get together.  For Lizzie, it’s when she realises that Darcy is the perfect man for her but through Lydia’s marriage to Wickham, they are forever separated.  The function of the crisis is to prompt the protagonist to ask themselves what kind of person they are. It’s a test of character. In Casablanca, it’s when Rick realises he has to change his essentially selfish ways and let Ilsa go.  

The climax, as you’d expect, is the final showdown with the antagonist.  It’s what the story has been building up to.  It’s the moment when the protagonist faces the antagonist and everyone comes out fighting.  In Skyfall it’s the battle at Skyfall House with Bardem.  In an Agatha Christie it’s when all the suspects are gathered together and Poirot talks them through the investigation and then reveals the identity of the murderer. In Pride & Prejudice it’s the moment Lizzie stands up to Lady Catherine De Burgh and, without realising it, gives Darcy hope that she does actually care for him.

After the climax is the resolution which is the final judgement after the battle (physical or metaphorical) of the climax. James Bond saves the world and gets the girl. In Sleepless in Seattle it’s the moment Annie and Sam finally meet.  In romance fiction it’s the happy ever after and Pride & Prejudice gives us a good example of that as we have Darcy’s second proposal and acceptance by Lizzie and also her saying (because she’s learned some things as all good protagonists have to) “She remembered that he had yet to learn to be laughed at, and it was rather too early to begin”.

This is a very quick overview, of course but I’ve found it really helpful to break structure down to these building blocks.  If you’d like to know more I strongly recommend Into the Woods by John Yorke which is a brilliantly clear book on structure and how stories work. If you’re in Yorkshire then I’m doing a workshop on stories and how to tell them on Sunday 17th September at Owl & Monkey in York and you can find out more about it by clicking here.

My novels Beltane and The Dirigible King’s Daughter are available from Amazon as ebook and paperback.  You can find out more about me on my website or can follow me on Twitter at @alyswestyork.

Images reproduced courtesy of the BBC, Tristar Pictures, MGM and Warner Bros.

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5 things that have surprised me about being a published writer by Jessica Redland

jessica-close-up-stripesWhen I started submitting my manuscript to publishers and agents back in 2013/2014, I have to admit that my only focus was on getting “the call” (or email) to say that someone loved my book and wanted to represent me. What I didn’t think about at any point during that process – or even at any point after I did receive “the email” – was what would happen next. Obviously I thought about my book being edited, a cover coming to life, and my ‘baby’ making his way into the world, but I didn’t really think beyond that. Therefore, there were some things took me by surprise and I thought I’d share them with you.

 

Surprise 1: Reviews

The surprise wasn’t that I would get reviews; the surprise was the content of the reviews. Before I became published, I confess that I never, ever read a review of a book as part of _MG_9715my purchasing decision. Quite simply, if I liked the sound of the blurb or the book was recommended by someone I knew with similar reading tastes to me, I’d buy it. Therefore, I had no idea that there are readers out there who will take the time and trouble to write an essay about a book they’ve loved. They’ll explain the plot in their own words, they’ll talk about the things they loved, they’ll share their emotional journey (laughter/tears) and there are even some who give their favourite quotes. Wow! That’s serious dedication. Book bloggers do this as part of their more detailed review process but it’s non-bloggers I’m talking about here. How amazing and incredibly flattering. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

The downside is negative reviews, but let’s not dwell on those 😉

 

Surprise 2: Reactions of friends & family

My mum and a small core of friends have been absolutely amazing. They’ve provided Printbeta-reading services, have promoted the book to other friends and family, and regularly ask how the writing is going, desperate to get their hands on my next release. This is lovely. And some friends who I didn’t expect to be enthusiastic have been. I’m a Brown Owl and some of my leadership team aren’t big readers but they bought my first novel and sent me texts raving about it, begging for the subsequent books. Another wow moment!

 

Surprise 3: The valuable support from other writers

When the Write Romantics was established 4.5 years ago, only one of the ten of us had a publishing deal. Now we are all either traditionally or indie published which is conf 2014 10incredible. As we’re based all over the country, we have a closed Facebook group where we chat to each other about the ups and downs of writing. I have to say, I had no idea that this group would be so valuable. Advice is shared, encouragement is given, and there are lots of virtual hugs when things aren’t going so well. I’m not sure where I’d be without my writing friends.

 

Surprise 4: How the goalposts have changed

When I first started writing, my goal was simply to write a book. Then it became to write a trilogy because my story lent itself to that. Then it became to get a publishing deal. I achieved all of these things but the goalposts kept shifting which I suppose is inevitable; you achieve your dreams so you create new ones.

P1070015I wanted to break the Top 10,000 on Amazon and, when I did that, I wanted to crack the top 1,000, then the Top 100 … Actually, that one still remains a goal for me and, if I’m really honest (which I always am), breaking the top 10,000 is still a goal most days for my books.

For a while, I became quite obsessed with sales figures and chart positions and it started to really get me down so I’ve stopped looking. Okay, you’ve got me, I haven’t stopped looking but I don’t look very often and I don’t obsess about it because I’ve accepted that there’s not a lot I can do about it. I’ve changed my covers, I’ve changed my categories, I’ve run promotions (free and 99p), and I’ve gone all out on social media yet nothing seems to make any lasting impact. Yes, a 99p deal and particularly a free deal will get a flurry of downloads, but it drops back to ‘normal’ after that and, as ‘normal’ is nothing to write home about, the only way I’m going to shift more copies is to permanently make my work free. Hmmm. And this nicely brings me onto the final surprise…

 

Surprise 5: I still have absolutely no idea what makes a book sell

I’ve had a successful career and have always prided myself at being really good at my day job. I’ve managed large budgets, sizeable teams, and huge workloads successfully. I therefore thought that I’d be able to emulate the same success as a writer. *Pauses to roll eyes and shake head at extreme naivety.* It hasn’t quite worked like that.

Ad3 (2017)The more I read and the more I chat to other writers, the more it becomes apparent that most writers can’t pinpoint why their books sell when other equally good books don’t. Is it the covers? The blurb? The title? The setting? The categories on Amazon? The length of the book? The number of reviews? Social media presence? Promotions? Who knows! Nobody can seem to put their finger on what specifically has led to success.

This is linked to the previous surprise and, therefore, you won’t be surprised to hear that I became quite down to the point where I thought about giving up. This thought circulated my mind for probably about five minutes because, let’s face it, I couldn’t not write. It’s who I am and I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I didn’t spend hours with my fictional friends, creating problems for them and then making it all better by giving them their happy ever after. However, I do think that I’m one of those writers for whom it’s not going to happen. Those who read my books and take the time to leave a review seem to love them so I’m obviously doing something right as far as the stories go. It’s just obviously everything else that I’m doing wrong! I’ll keep trying, though, and maybe one day I will be one of those who does achieve that chart-topping success and can’t pinpoint how or why I achieved it. Is it too early to ask Santa for this?

 

What about you? If you’re a writer, do you agree with my five surprises? What else has surprised you about becoming published? Even better, do you know the secret to why books sell? Please tell me. I promise I won’t tell anyone else! 😉

If you’re a reader, what makes you buy a book because I’d welcome any tips?

Thanks for reading my ramblings. Hope you enjoy the rest of your summer.

Jessica xx

You can access Jessica’s books on Kindle here.

The Romantic Novelists’ Conference 2017

Three years ago, most of the Write Romantics met for the first time at the Harper Adams Agricultural University in Shropshire to spend the weekend at the Romantic Novelists’ Association conference. It was held again at the same venue this year and I admit that, having been to numerous RNA conferences throughout England, I was having trouble placing this one. That is, until the outrageous, err…aroma, hit me! Ah, I thought, I remember you now, Mr Harper Adams!

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Harper the pig!

The very ripe smell of pig poo hit the back of my throat and didn’t remind me, for one second, of summer fields and gambolling lambs, or anything vaguely bucolic. (I love that word!)

 

But the food was lovely, as was the company. The booze flowed like a river, although I didn’t imbibe as much as previous years – can’t decide whether that means I’m finally growing up or just growing old. Think it might be growing old as I had raging indigestion on the first night and achy hips from the thin mattress on the second.

Met the lovey Carol Cooper who writes for the Sun Newspaper ‘agony’ doctor’s column and had a good old chat with the rather willowy and beautiful literary agent Tanera Simons of the Darley Anderson agency. She said she liked the sound of my second book, which has had so many different titles I’ve forgotten what it’s currently called. Hang on – I’ll be back in a mo! So, my second book is called ‘The Magic of Stars’ (It was latterly called Sapphire, Skies and Champagne Highs – please don’t say you prefer that title!) and Tanera has asked to see the whole novel! Well excited – would love to have an agent convince everyone that my books are wonderful! Watch this space and I promise not to sob all over the Internet if she turns me down –well maybe just a little bit of a blub, but that’s only fair, I think 😦

Am cursing myself for not getting a photo of me and Sarah Morgan together as she is one of my favourite authors of the moment, being a recent find. (Okay, I’ll admit it, I found her ‘cos someone told me they thought my writing was like hers. I wish!) She’s fabulously energetic and effervescent and I want to be her in my next life.

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Great advice from Sarah Morgan

Visited Shropshire Lavender farm while I was up there, as Robin who runs it, is a Facebook friend. Robin’s farm is about ten miles away from the Conference – so how could I not? Thought the wonderful smell of lavender would hit me as I drew near, but sadly it just smelled very earthy and ‘farmy.’ Robin was lovely though, as was his lavender and his cute dog!

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Shropshire Lavender owned by Robin Spenc

 

Called in to see my dear old mum and dad who live in Stone in the Midlands, on the way home. Gave my dad a copy of Air Guitar and Caviar – a proper book, no less – and he asked me to sign it. (Bless my lovely dad) I told him that he had to skim read the cheeky bits and he said that Sister Mary Joanna from my old convent school had said she’d downloaded it on to her Kindle.

How times change!

Definitely heading for Hell, now!

All in all, I had a great time –I loved the Harper Adams gang and I still love the RNA and all who sail in her!

Till we meet again – to all the people I threw my arms around and promised that we’d catch up soon, to the lovely ladies of the RNA who make it all possible (looking at you, Jan Jones) and to the Harper Adams University and your wonderful hospitality – and eye- wateringly, pongy poo. Wouldn’t change a thing and love you all!

Jackie xx

New release: Bear With Me by Jessica Redland

Searching for Steven (New Cover Design 3)I’m really excited to be releasing my 5th book, Bear With Me. I particularly wanted to launch it today on 1st May because it’s my birthday; perfect birthday gift to myself!

Working on Bear was a little bit scary because I’d lived with my Whitsborough Bay Trilogy and the cast of characters I’d created for about fifteen years! Bear With Me is still set in Whitsborough Bay but with a new cast of characters, although a few of the characters from the Trilogy do put in cameo appearances which I really enjoyed being able to do.

As well as new characters, I’ve written from two points of view for the first time. And one of them is male. So it’s all change for me.

The title, Bear With Me, works on a couple of levels. Firstly, it’s the name of the teddy bear shop that the protagonist’s mum, Julie, owns which is the setting for part of the book. Secondly, it’s about needing to ask someone to “bear with me” because you’re not ready for a relationship.

I used to have a teddy bear shop so it was perhaps inevitable that I’d set one of my stories in one. My teddy bear shop was called Bear’s Pad and I’ve given a nod to that in Bear With Me by calling Julie’s cottage Bear’s Pad. Jessica is my pen name. My real name is Julie so there’s a little nod to me in there too.

P1050693Whilst I had the shop, I attended a workshop where I learned how to make proper jointed mohair teddy bears. These are known as artist bears. I kept my very first one, sold my next two and then the next two I made were presented to my mum and my mother-in-law on my wedding day. My brand for these was Ju-Sea Bears because of my name and my home by the sea. So, of course, I decided that the bears that Julie makes would be called Ju-Sea Bears. I like to put little touches like that into my writing.

Bear With Me is available for Kindle download now. I absolutely love the cover which is courtesy of my very talented husband, Mark.

Here’s the blurb:

Sometimes love finds us when we least expect it. But sometimes love leaves us, just as unexpectedly.

Everything changes for Jemma on the weekend of her 28th birthday. An unexpected proposal from boyfriend, Scott, is overshadowed by her mum’s diagnosis with a life-changing condition. After the weekend, she needs Scott’s support more than ever. So why isn’t he returning her calls?

Everything was meant to be changing for Sam that same weekend. He should have been walking down the aisle with Nikki. But she’s not around anymore and Sam’s struggling to face the future. Did he do the right thing by moving to London to escape the memories of their life together?

When they’ve loved and lost, can they bear to let love in again?

Bear With Me, and all will be revealed …

The tricky business of writing a sequel

two books new

After Dirty Weekend was published (August 2015, Crooked Cat), ideas for a sequel began to arrive.  I loved those characters, and knew I wanted to spend more time with them.  Dirty Weekend was set in the autumn of 1966, and Moonshine (April 2017, Crooked Cat) moves the story on to the summer of 1969.

It was my first attempt at a sequel, and I knew I had to get the balance right.  I had to write the new book so that it could be enjoyed by readers who hadn’t read Dirty Weekend, while at the same time giving a sense of continuity from one story to the other.  Naturally, the second book gives away a little of the story of the first.  For example, Terry and Carol-Anne now have a two year-old, Donna.  I had to get to know her, and she turns out to be a carbon copy of Carol-Anne, with charm in shedloads and a wilful personality.

Three of the main characters in Dirty Weekend return in Moonshine – Carol-Anne, Terry, and Mark.  I sent Jeanette, the focus of the drama in Dirty Weekend, to Canada, and in her place we have Mark’s new girlfriend, Vicki.  This time, the group head off on holiday not to Brighton, but to Torbay.  Carol-Anne’s teenage sister, Beverly, plays a big part in Moonshine.  She causes havoc on the night of the Apollo 11 space mission, while the others are watching the moon-walk on television in the holiday camp clubhouse.

Knowing most of characters so well definitely helped me write them into the sequel.  They’re now 21, and have learned a lot about life since the first book, but not so much that they can avoid trouble altogether!  The year 1969 also signified much change in Britain, and I hope I’ve given a flavour of that whilst showing how my characters have changed and developed.

Dirty Weekend and Moonshine are different in style from my other two books, Remarkable Things and Never Coming Back.  The sixties backdrop and the scrapes my young characters get into lend themselves to comedy and fast-paced writing.  This lot don’t spend a lot of time on introspection – they’re out in the world, getting on with life.  I hope you love them as much as I do.

Deirdre

Amazon links to both books:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Moonshine-Sequel-Weekend-Deirdre-Palmer-ebook/dp/B06XXQNV39/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1491727927&sr=1-1&keywords=deirdre+palmer

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dirty-Weekend-Deirdre-Palmer-ebook/dp/B012TODCZO/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1479315120&sr=1-3

 

 

 

Paperchains and Nelson’s Eye: Christmas Days at Nan’s remembered

2-vintage-christmas-wrapping-paperMy earliest Christmas Days were spent at Nan and Grandad’s.  Until I was six, my parents and I lived upstairs in my grandparents’ three-storey house (a railway house – Grandad was a train driver).  After we moved out, we made the trip across Brighton, but that was no problem because the buses ran on Christmas Day.

There was always a crowd of us for Christmas Day, including my aunt, uncle and cousins from London, whom I couldn’t wait to see. The same decorations came out year after year; paperchains strung across the ceilings (licked by me in the preceding weeks – I must have been high on glue by the time Christmas came!), shiny paper stars, crumpled with age, and a small fake tree from Woolworths with red berries on the ends of the branches.  The tree took pride of place in the front room window upstairs while we were downstairs in the basement, making full use of the small living room – called the kitchen – the dining room at the front, and the scullery at the back.  This arrangement was old-fashioned even then.  Looking back, it seems incredible that Nan cooked Christmas dinner for us all on the ancient gas stove in the scullery, with none of gadgets we seem to need now to make the simplest meal.

It wasn’t just the turkey dinner with all the trimmings, either.  The Christmas cake andwalnuts-558488_960_720
pudding were made weeks before, mince pies and sausage rolls baked on Christmas Eve.  Christmas Day tea was almost as big a meal as dinner.  With tangerines, nuts and sweets in plentiful supply, I remember the day as being one big feast.  I disgraced myself one Christmas tea-time.  Nan asked me if I liked her Christmas cake.  ‘It’s a bit puddeny,’ I announced.   I’d heard my mother say that of course.

A point to note here:  my mother did not like Christmas, a fact she made all too plain.  She didn’t like her father much either.  Also, at some point in the proceedings, at least one of the London contingent would have misbehaved.  One year, the oil painting in the attic of Moses in the Bulrushes was used as a dartboard after a go at the cherry brandy. Our Christmases may have looked idyllic on the surface, but underneath, tension ran like wires through cheese.

As a treat, I was allowed a small glass of port and lemon.  I don’t suppose there was much port in it but I thought it was marvellous.  This early introduction to alcohol had me in disgrace again when, being taken to visit another aunt around Christmas time, I was asked what I would like to drink.  I didn’t hesitate. ‘Port and lemon.’  My mother was mortified and tried to cover up my faux pas.  I think I only got the lemon that time.

chineseAt Nan’s, when we weren’t stuffing ourselves silly, we played games. Dominos, draughts, snakes and ladders, all emerged from years-old boxes.  There was a game called Chinese Checkers.  I never did understand how to play it – I don’t think any of us did, and there were pieces missing anyway.  There were other sorts of games, too, and these, miserable child that I was, I found no fun at all, but it was Christmas and I had to endure them or be labelled a spoilsport.  One of these involved being blindfolded and sat on a chair.  Then you were lifted up, everyone calling out how high you were going, until bang, your head hit the ceiling and you screamed.  At least, I did.  It wasn’t the ceiling, it was a plank held above your head when you were only a foot off the ground.  Then there was Nelson’s eye.  Blindfolded again, your finger was guided into the soft squidgy eye, to much hilarity all round.  I never found it the least bit funny to be shown half an orange when the blindfold came off.

No Christmas would have been complete without Grandad enticing me and my cousins to crawl into the cupboard under the stairs to find what ‘treasures’ we could in this glory hole.  Once we were in, he would hold the door shut, trapping us in the airless pitch dark, until we became hysterical.  This trick wasn’t confined to Christmas, but we fell for it, every time.  Well, we didn’t want to spoil Grandad’s fun, did we?  What with the blindfolds and the entrapment, is it any wonder I’m a fully paid-up member of Claustrophobics Anonymous?

Grandad did have one party trick I loved, and would ask him to do, over and over.  It was simply this: he would cut a brazil nut in half and set light to the cut side, turning it into a magical, miniature candle.

Our day ended with the adults playing cards and my cousins and I lolling around, half asleep, clutching our favourite present from Father Christmas.   Mine one year was a black doll.  To my mother’s puzzlement, I’d longed for a ‘black dolly’ and was overjoyed when I got one – I must have been a very PC child, that’s all I can say.  This plastic beauty was dressed in orange knitted clothes, which, funnily enough, were the same as those I’d seen my other grandmother (Dad’s mum) knitting for the babies in Africa. Pure coincidence, of course  😉

Merry Christmas, all!

Deirdre

Deirdre’s latest novel, Never Coming Back, will be published by Crooked Cat Publishing on 8th December.  Order from Amazon UK here:   http://amzn.to/2fG0FrJ   or from Amazon.com http://amzn.to/2fbMJBe

 

 

 

 

 

Ursula Blooms Again

 

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Ursula Bloom was one of the most popular romance and historical fiction authors of the twentieth century. She wrote over 560 books, a feat which earned her a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for many years, as the world’s most prolific female writer. She also wrote under a series of pen names, including Sheila Burns and Lozania Prole. As well as novels and non-fiction, Ursula wrote short stories, radio and stage plays, and worked as a Fleet Street journalist. Her work is now being reissued, in ebook and paperback, by Corazon Books.  The first of these, “Wonder Cruise: one woman’s romantic adventure of a lifetime”, is published today.

www.amazon.co.uk/Wonder-Cruise-romantic-adventure-lifetime-ebook/dp/B01CWCD5UA

Wonder Cruise Ursula Bloom

The Write Romantics thank Ian Skillicorn of Corazon Books for letting us share this lovely piece of Ursula’s writing with our followers.  We hope you enjoy it.

 How to enjoy someone else’s party by Ursula Bloom

Today too many people go to a party with the feeling that they are going to be bored; the result is that they are bored, and can you be surprised?

The success of the party you are asked to, as far as you are concerned, depends very largely on the mood in which you approach it. If you don’t want it, then don’t go to it. Don’t feel that it is the hostess’s job to amuse you and arrive with that amuse-me-or-get-out expression. A few more like you will spoil any party. Don’t leave dressing for it so late that you have to rush it, get into a flap, which stays with you, and find yourself like that for the rest of the evening.

I am polite enough to foster the idea ‒ by no means general ‒ that it is very kind of people to ask me to their parties and that I am grateful for their efforts on my behalf. I try to make myself as pleasant a guest as I can. Unlike the famous publisher at my house, who having upset the whole of a very large drink over my best table cloth and polished table stared at me in misery. I said ‒ I hope pleasantly ‒ ‘Don’t worry in the least, the table can easily be re-polished, it doesn’t matter,’ whereupon he replied, ‘Your table doesn’t worry me in the least, it is my trousers!’ He has never been asked again!

There is a very great deal in arriving at a party in the right mood. If you go to it on the principle I-hate-the-Smiths-anyway-and-know-it’ll-be-awful-but-there-you-are, and if on the journey to the party your husband keeps up a running commentary of ‘Why-did-we-ever-start? You-know-what-I-think-of-the-Smiths. How-soon-can-we-leave-with-decency?’ none of you are going to enjoy it very much, you know. Say to yourself, ‘This is going to be a lovely party. I shall enjoy myself most enormously. This is my idea of fun,’ and after that you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll get out of it. If it is one of those dull parties where you just sit or stand around with nothing to do, then find yourself a task. It is always a great deal more fun if you are helping to hand things round; see what’s wanted, take upon yourself to be friendly, and have pity on the lonelies in the room.

Never wait for introductions because like that you may find that you’ve got yourself stuck for the whole afternoon or evening. Speak to the lonely person who happens to be sitting dully there with no one to talk to, not knowing what to do. You’d be surprised how pleased people are to have someone to talk to, and many a highly satisfactory friendship is started this way. The point of the average party is to get people together, get them to know one another and waive introductions, and if you are a good guest, you will connive with your hostess on this and do your best for her.

‘I wouldn’t know what to say’, people tell me. Now this is silly because it can so easily be got over. If the worst comes to the worst, arm yourself with a few stock remarks and let them break the ice for you. ‘Do you live near here?’ ‘Do you go to many parties? I don’t, and always feel a fish out of water.’ ‘What is that you’re drinking?’ ‘Have you known our hostess long?’ Or, as one (very pleasant) fellow I met at a party approached me with (I think) the most masterly latchkey to conversation, ‘I hope you don’t mind my saying so, but I do so like your hat, where did you get it?’

That of course is finesse!

And if you are one of those unfortunate people who nurses a hunch that you hate parties and loathe the very thought of being included in them, then don’t waste your time repining, and cursing that you are ever asked to them. Give up the idea. Find your right niche. Stay at home in the realisation that the party spirit isn’t yours and therefore it is no good trying to catapult yourself out on the principle of I’ve-come-here-to-enjoy-myself-and-enjoy-myself-I-will! At the same time if this is the attitude that you are going to adopt, don’t do it with the idea of making a martyr of yourself, deploring the fact that you never get asked out and about any more, and inferring that you are a lonely little soul, somewhat neglected by your friends.

As long as you will think only of yourself, you are going to limit your fun very sadly. Give it up. Cast an eye on the people around you, and get a little real fun out of them.

You can find out more about Ursula here:

www.ursulabloom.com