Friday, February 27, 2009

being a bad girl

Current work: Revisions
Listening to: Genesis, Selling England by the Pound (Firth of Fifth is one of my favourite Genesis tracks. The piano, the guitar... just brilliant)
Reading: next on TBR pile

I have been slightly bad this week. Well. I had an Amazon voucher to use. And birthday money. And as a lot of these are old, they were on sale. And there is this whole concept of refilling the well (which seems to be working, because I have words bouncing around in my head - will be interesting to see what happens with this particular one as it could go one of two ways. Or maybe I could be uber-clever and combine both). So this week I’ve been merrily ordering:
  • Music, for inspiration – Gary Allen, Brad Paisley and The Calling;
  • Films, also for inspiration - Emma, Sense and Sensibility (I’m not a Janeite, but every ten years or so I make an effort to see if I’ve grown up enough to appreciate Jane Austen. I did enjoy Northanger Abbey when I was... all right, I admit, younger than my daughter – was precocious reader, OK? – but I utterly loathed Mansfield Park, which was a set text in my first year at uni. I much, much prefer George Eliot. However. I’m about five years late with my latest ‘have I grown up, yet?’ experiment, so have decided to cheat and go for Emma Thompson’s film versions, which may prod me into reading); Grease (because I think my daughter will love it); and Consuming Passions (DH cracked up and accused me of ordering it simply because it features my book cover – well, of course! I am still overexcited about that, and it deserved a screamer);
  • Books, because they are food for the soul - The Glassblower of Murano (am planning a Venice book, so this will be background research of sorts; but also I couldn’t resist the title); Nicola Cornick’s new one, Unmasked (because she is one of my absolute favourite historical authors as well as a good friend – this will be SUCH a treat, so I might use it as a carrot to finish the new Med. Once I’ve done my revisions); Sophia’s Secret (which was shortlisted for the Romantic Novel of the Year; I really liked Susanna Kearsley’s Shadowy Horses, I enjoy timeslip novels, and she’s a very nice woman too, so am looking forward to that); and Katie Fforde’s Wedding Season (because Katie writes sparkly, witty dialogue that makes me laugh out loud for the right reason.She’s a v nice woman too – I have this theory that authors are like their books, and Katie is warm and funny).

There is a new Radley picture bag out this week. (Jo, I spotted it before you emailed me. LOL.) And it’s cute. And I happen to know that Sonkai have a new stock of Murano glass beads. However. I think I’ve been bad enough this week. Am going to see Dad this morning: hopefully he’ll have a better day today than yesterday, though he’s not well enough to go out for lunch.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


Current work: Revisions
Listening to: Travis and The Calling
Reading: next on TBR pile

Having a slight sulk here as I was hoping to see Comet Lulin this week. But we’ve had cloudy skies, so the chance of seeing a green blur of 5.2 magnitude (i.e. bright enough to see it with the naked eye, though not as good as Hale-Bopp was back in 1997) is zero. Mutter, mutter.

Anyway. Time for distraction.

Ever wanted a quick way to find out what your book’s really about? Go here and you can find out – because it generates a word-cloud, which picks out the words you use most frequently. The bigger the word, the more often you use it.

A procrastination device? Actually, no. It can show you themes. For example, the three biggest words from a wordle based on my blog for this month are ‘read’, ‘reading’ and ‘book’. Not surprising for an author’s blog. And when I put in the text for Gio, it came up with ‘work’ and ‘family’ – yup, those were two of the big themes, i.e. how to balance them.

It can also show you words that you use way too much. I did it for my Norway book. As I expected, my hero and heroine’s names are prominent. But so were a couple of words I didn’t expect (and I need to do a search-and-replace to see where I can remove a few of them). (All right. The word ‘just’ was a biggie – just (!!) as it was in Breakfast at Giovanni’s, and my new Sheikh. Incidentally, so were words to do with sight and touch. This confirms my theory that romance novels contain a lot of hand-and-eye stuff, because they’re describing courtship – which involves hand-and-eye stuff, yes?)

So your mission for today, should you choose to accept it: go play on Wordle, then come back here and tell me what you learned about your WIP or your blog. (A link to a post on your blog is fine. An enquiring mind (aka Kate Nosey) needs regular breaks from hard graft.)

Plan for today: guitar lesson (moved from Tuesday because I had intended to make huge cuts on the book) and then back to revisions. The more I think I’ve cracked it, the more I seem to cut: as of last night, I had 7,652 new words. (And there are more to come.) I need a time machine...

Edit: I almost forgot! (Mixture of the fact that I'm on deadline and therefore a different planet, and there's a time difference involved...) I'm blogging over at The Writing Playground today. Books are up for grabs. Come over and say hello!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

kissing, redux

Current work: Revisions
Listening to: Corelli
Reading: next on TBR pile

I’m busy with revisions. So, given that I was talking about the kissing ban last week, I thought I’d share this. (I have a very soft spot for this particular comic strip. Thanks to Diane for introducing it to me in the first place.) I wonder if this was what the dictators meant? (snort)

Actually, this one’s also worth checking out. It’s appropriate. Literary. (And make sure you pick up the hidden goodies. You need to move your mouse over the comic to get the author’s comments.)

I love the way this guy’s mind works.

Oh, and this one. And this is appropriate to a romance author’s blog.

Damn. Another half an hour when I should’ve been working and ended up... um... reading. This is limbering up, right?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

guilty secrets

Current work: Revisions
Listening to: Anna Nalick
Reading: next on TBR pile

Very interesting survey here about ‘guilty secrets’ for World Book day.

I was a bit surprised at the idea of people claiming to read books they haven’t, in order to impress someone. Um, why? There’s no shame in not having read a book; and it's pointless joining in a conversation with an uninformed opinion. If you read three books a week, that’s 156 a year – or 7800 in an average lifetime’s adult reading (50 years). Bearing in mind that (according to the London Book Fair) 100,000 new books are published each year in the UK (my publisher alone produces more than 720 a year)... There just isn’t enough time to read every single book in existence. So what’s the big deal? If I haven’t read a book, I’m always interested to know what my friends enjoyed about it and whether they think I’d enjoy it (or not, in which case they’re saving me precious reading time for something I will enjoy). But bluffing it... Nope. You'll be found out and look much more of a fool.

The list of books people use to bluff/boast about was interesting.

  • Ulysses by James Joyce – read it, but Joyce is really not my cup of tea (and I’d be quite suspicious if someone raved about it, especially if their normal reading tastes would suggest otherwise – Joyce isn’t a particularly accessible author because of his stream-of-consciousness style)
  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert – read it and loved it (the nineteenth century is one of my favourite periods)
  • A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking – borrowed from the library and enjoyed (because I like nerdy stuff)
  • The Bible – there’s a big gap in my education here
  • Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama – not read, and would need to look at it before I decided whether to read it or not (I don’t buy a book just because the author is famous – for ‘new to me’ authors, I look for a subject that interests me, and then read the first couple of paragraphs/a bit from the middle to see if I like said author’s style, and if the answer to both is yes I will read/buy it)
  • Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie – read as a teenager and enjoyed it
  • War and Peace by Tolstoy – read as a teenager and enjoyed it, though I preferred Anna Karenina - and at the time I preferred Dostoyevsky to Tolstoy (this was my Russian phase, and I was a bit, um... pretentious about it. Actually, it was a European phase, as I also read a lot of German, French and Italian novels and poetry, some of which were in the original. Better qualify pretentious as 'very')
  • The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (not read, but I did read his book ‘The Blind Watchmaker’ back in the 90s – OK, but not that impressive. I preferred Wilson's 'The Diversity of Life'... and I also like Robert Winston's style)
  • In Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust – read bits of, in my teens (see above re my European phase)
  • The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon – read bits of, in my teens
  • 1984 by George Orwell – read it, and it upset me terribly (am trying to remember if it was one of my A level texts, as I did my A levels that year; I did ‘Brave New World’ for O level, and that upset me hugely as well – actually, so did ‘Erewhon’, and I cannot handle William Golding, so perhaps I should just admit that I prefer utopias to dystopias. And yes, I have read Plato. I did Classics A level, so I read a lot of very interesting books which could make me seem immensely pretentious. I admit that I was - terribly so - in my teens and twenties, but I’ve grown up a bit now)

Then a rather leading question: are there any books I wouldn’t admit to reading? (No. Reading’s a huge pleasure and I have eclectic tastes. But if anyone’s a closet M&B fan, do go and vote for us. You’re part of the silent majority. An M&B is bought in the UK every three seconds, and that doesn’t include second-hand sales.)

Then we have the really guilty stuff:

  • Do you ever turn to the back of a book to find out what happens in the end before you have finished? (Er... yes.)
  • Have you ever bought a book for someone else and read it first? (Have to qualify this one. Either I buy people a new copy of a book I’ve already read and enjoyed because I think they’ll enjoy it, too – or, if it’s new to me and I can’t resist reading and then still think they’d enjoy it, I’ll buy them another copy and keep the one I bought originally.)
  • Do you turn the corners of pages over to keep your place? (Absolutely NOT. I always use a bookmark - if one isn't to hand, I will scribble the page number on the back of my hand, or just memorise the page number until I can lay my hands on something that will do as a bookmark. And I read my books carefully so the spines stay in good condition with no creases. I only lend books to people who will treat them with similar respect.)
  • Do you find that if you buy extra shelves for your book collection they fill up in a matter of weeks? (Umm. Yes. And it drives my husband crazy. I have a TBR bookcase. And at the moment I'm angling for a new bookcase in my office. Two, actually. But I will make do with one.)
  • Do you ever throw books away? (No. But I do give them to friends whose tastes aren't the same as mine and might enjoy them/charity shops, when DH forces me to weed my shelves. What happens to the space created? Er: see answer above...)
  • Have you ever stayed up too late because you couldn’t bear to stop reading a book? (Absolutely. In fact, I did this last night because I was enjoying ‘A Winter’s Tale’ so much.)
  • Have you ever written in a library book? (No. I annotated my own copies of some books during my degree years, and I do have to resist the urge to correct typos. But I don’t write in other people’s books.) (Hmm. Lightbulb...)

Enquiring minds want to know: are you guilty of any of these? Do you think they’re even grounds for guilt?

Monday, February 23, 2009

the best sort of weekend

Current work: Revisions
Listening to: Bach
Reading: been reading a lot over the last few days, actually. Karina Bliss’s ‘Mr Irresistible’ (interesting location); Sylvia Andrew’s ‘Miss Winbolt and the Fortune Hunter’ (enjoyed v much); Louise Allen’s ‘The Earl’s Intended Wife’ (great fun and I particularly liked the heroine); Kate Walker’s ‘Cordero’s Forced Bride’ (one of Kate’s trademark intense, dramatic reads); and currently reading Trisha Ashley’s ‘A Winter’s Tale’, which I’m really enjoying.

On Friday, we went to the sea – one of those days where you could hardly see where the sea ended and the sky began.

The misty shots below were on full zoom; visibility was actually pretty good. (And yes, these are indeed the groynes where my mate Steve Denby took that fab pic 'Beachcombers'.)

I was quite pleased with my pics of the ‘dark fallow waves’ (name that quote *g* - no, I promise, I’ll spare you the Old English poetry today and the explanation of the Anglo-Saxon view of colour). I would've liked to try this on a longer exposure. (Am almost talking myself into a proper SLR... except they're heavy and I'm lazy.)

There was a bit of churchcrawling involved. This fish is part of what was once a St Christopher from the church at Oulton. (It's very grainy and I'm not pleased with it at all, but I like the expression on the face of the fish.)

And then on Saturday morning the children’s godmothers arrived for our postponed ‘early Christmas’. We ate a lot. Played lots and lots of board games (Madam rather wished she hadn’t suggested Monopoly when the game went on for most of the afternoon). Saw a fab sunset.

Had a posh dinner (roasted asparagus wrapped in prosciutto with bleu d’Auvergne; coq au vin with baked sweet potatoes and lots of steamed veg; strawberry cheesecake); talked a lot; and played more board games. (The wine consumption had better not be mentioned...)

Sunday was more board games, and a walk down to the river after lunch.

Good friends, good food and a good chat. Can’t get better than that.

Plans for today: kids back to school, DH back to work, and I'm back to revisions.

Friday, February 20, 2009

kissing where we damn well like

Current work: (half term – what’s work?)
Listening to: (am the only one up, so am listening to Bach on headphones)
Reading: next on TBR pile

In response to the Virgin Trains dictat that thou shalt not kiss at train stations, Sarah Ritherdon, Mills & Boon's Director of Publishing, said: “Romantic embraces and passionate kisses are a vital part of life and should never be discouraged. We believe that attempting to restrict passion to certain times or areas is a denial of the human right to express love. ”

Hear, hear.

Dear Virgin Bosses. You’ve not heard of the classic film ‘Brief Encounter’, then. Or waved off someone you loved on the train. Or had them meet you from the train, after weeks of being apart.

And might I just point out how many people gave their lives in the First World War for us – ostensibly to keep us part of a free world – and kissed someone goodbye at the train station when they left for France to be massacred in the trenches? That goodbye kiss was probably one of the key things that kept them going through the nightmare: the thought they were saving their loved ones. (Ditto Second World War, though obviously not with the trenches.)

To impose something like this, and call it “light-hearted”... clearly Colin Daniels and his crew live in a different world.

So in response to their no-kissing sign, I’m posting one here from my publisher. Feel free to borrow it and pass it on.

In my student days, DH used to meet me from the train at Norwich station at the end of term, and see me off at said station at the beginning of term. (And weekends home, when I could manage them.) Every time, I got a kiss and hug hello and goodbye, and I would’ve been so miserable if I hadn’t. And if I catch the train home from London at a reasonable time, the love of my life and our children will meet me at the station with a hug and a kiss.

This is the sort of thing that makes the world go round.

I should add that on Wednesday, as I was aware of this story, I made a point of kissing my husband at the railway station.

Because we live in a free world.

And long may it stay that way.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Current work: (er... a day off, but thinking about the Norway book)
Listening to: Badfinger (daughter and I are planning to hijack DH’s CD player)
Reading: Liz Fielding: Secret Baby, Surprise Parents (Fabulous book - very, very emotional. Liz always manages to get at least one moment in a book that hits me hard; this time it was with poetry which I’ve used in a very similar context. Superb characterisation, realistic romance and an ending that makes you cheer for the hero and heroine. Brilliant stuff. Highly recommended.)

26,954 steps; equivalent to 9.36 miles; and using up 779 calories. That’s what I did in London.

Oh, you want to know what we actually did?

After meeting Fi at the station (we were early, so we had our Homer Simpson moment - uhhh, not quite to my taste as they are VERY, VERY, VERY sweet, but Madam and Son enjoyed theirs, and DH - who is normally an utter doughnut fiend - declined), we headed here.

It's one of my favourite places. (Very inspirational for Hotly Bedded, Conveniently Wedded.)
And we saw all sorts of things, including:

an early alarm clock (from 1725 – the alarm made the top cover open and pushed the candle to vertical, then lit it – basically, it woke you with a bell, an explosion and then a light - can you imagine?)

and the Lewis Chessmen (which may have been carved in Trondheim – this is important for the Norway book)

and the Rosetta Stone

and the Frankes Casket (the text is written in runes – which I studied as part of my degree, in the Anglo Saxon module – and part of it tells the fate of the whale from whose bones the casket was carved)

and part of the Mildenhall Treasure (Suffolk, but it’s still East Anglia – this is from my part of the world).

After lunch (in Giraffe, in the Brunswick Centre – the food was fab, but the wait was... a little long), we went on the DLR to Greenwich. En route, we saw part of the Olympic stadium in progress:

And then in Greenwich, we walked up the hill to the Royal Observatory.

Saw some snowdrops on the way up. (These pics are especially for Ray-Anne.)

Had to do the touristy thing of standing astride the Greenwich Meridian line.

And admiring the view of the city.

And then we looked at clocks and Flamsteed’s original observatory (beautiful interior – one of the few known to be designed by Wren); and then went into the observatory centre, where we touched a 4.5-billion-year-old meteorite (yes, I did say billion) and played with the hands-on displays. Next time, we’ll go early enough so we can see one of the planetarium shows.

On the way home, we were too tired to think (DH and I struggled with a crossword and spent more time cracking up about how feeble we were than actually doing said crossword). The train was a little delayed, and after making a big fuss of the dog (who was an angel), we fell into blissful sleep.

Today, we’re footsore, but it was worth it. Visited Dad this morning, and there are some gorgeous spring bulbs in the churchyard. This the view from his window (taken through glass, hence not brilliant), showing the aconites and the clumps of snowdrops that really do look like drifts of snow.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

music and revisions

Current work: revisions to Norway book
Listening to: lots of stuff on YouTube – primarily Brad Priestley, Gary Allen and Mr Urban
Reading: next on TBR pile

Today was damp and cold, so we spent it pottering about at home. Revisions hit my inbox this afternoon; my ed loved the characters (and I get to keep my reindeer) but this time I dropped the bombshell too early... so it’s a matter of moving bits around and reshaping so the joins don’t show. She also has issues with the ending (too many secondaries), but her suggestions for the ending don’t work for me, so we’re compromising.

This is what I love about my ed. She sees what I’m too close to the book to see, and she gives me suggestions that she knows will make me think and come up with something different that works for both of us. And she lets me sleep on it, then fix it myself, rather than telling me what to do/editing by numbers – so she gets the best out of me.

Am also very grateful to Biddy for being my music guru. DH and I watched a programme about Alison Krauss, last week, and I rather liked ‘Whiskey Lullaby’. Biddy knows more about country music than anyone else I know, so I asked her what I’d like by Brad Priestley (it helps that she knows my tastes). One happy half-hour armed with the track list of several albums, and I decided to go for ‘Fifth Gear’ – there are some definite lightbulb moments there, both for the revisions and for the new book.

This is the nice thing about having an eclectic music taste: I’m old enough not to feel constrained by genre. I like songs that tell stories, songs with catchy tunes I can sing along with, and songs with gorgeous harmonies. Songs that fit my mood: anything from angsty Radiohead through to exuberant Led Zeppelin to thoughtful Kathryn Williams to heartbreaking Sheryl Crow (who happens to share my birthday - she's three years older and substantially more glamorous). And I'm happy to mix classical and rock/folk/country on a playlist. A good song is a good song...

Plan for tomorrow: London. No idea what we’re doing (except probably the British Museum). But it’ll be fun. And as my mate India Grey keeps telling me how wonderful Krispy Kremes are, I may have a Homer Simpson moment.

Here be dragons

Current work: new Medical, c2
Listening to: Bach’s French Suites (Joanna MacGregor – beautifully played and highly recommended)
Reading: Nicola Cornick, Miss Verey’s Proposal (finished last night and enjoyed thoroughly)

Saw ‘Hotel for Dogs’ at the cinema yesterday – we all enjoyed the film and there were definite laugh-out-loud moments, but maybe I should’ve checked the reviews first, as there were a couple of bits that really upset me. (Bear in mind I was banned from watching Lassie films, as a small child – and I can’t handle Bambi... Ahem. Daughter nudged me afterwards. ‘Are those tears in your eyes?’ Yeah. Your mother needs some sleep.)

Also did a bit of the dragon trail. It was lovely to get to see St Helen’s church (which isn’t open very often) and the refectory of the Great Hospital. As well as the dragons (bench end carvings in the church and spandrels in the refectory), we also saw one of the cannon that was used during Kett’s rebellion, 460 years ago this summer, and a partial copy of one of the swan rolls.

Here are the cloisters between the church and the hospital:

And the famous dragon on the bench end:

And this boss (from the chantry chapel) is the only known depiction of a midwife at Christ's birth - I think this is utterly charming:

Plans for today: depends on the weather. From my desk, it looks grey, grey, grey. Don't think we'll be persuading DH to the beach, then.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Half term

Current work: new Medical, c1
Listening to: (depends if we’re in or out – if we’re in, probably Bach, and if we’re out, whatever is in DH’s car... which means Badfinger or Nick Drake)
Reading: Nicola Cornick, Miss Verey’s Proposal (I always enjoy her books – great characterisation, I learn something new, and her heroines are wonderful. As are her heroes)

It’s half term this week, and DH is on holiday with us, so this means exploring and the chance to sneak in some photos. I also have to tidy my office, but I’m stalling on that as I’m after a new desk (on the grounds that my current one was a cheap one and a huge, huge mistake – it’s rickety and my monitor shakes whenever I type too fast, which is most of the time). Actually, I don’t want a desk per se: I want a small kitchen table. I did think about doing a deal with the kids and swapping my current desk for the one I used to use when my office was upstairs, but Son has used it for painting his models and it’s pretty scuzzy. So I did a bit of surfing yesterday. The one I have in mind is reasonably priced – and, being from John Lewis, it should be reliable, too.

Progress with the PC: I’m getting used to it. Slowly...

Weekend: pretty good. Out to dinner on Saturday (lovely food, even though the service wasn’t up to the usual excellent standard), and Sunday was spent lazing round/jamming on the guitar and piano (even DH joined in) and, um, playing Guitar Hero on the Wii (which is also what we did on Saturday afternoon, with DH’s brother). Have also discovered Scrabble Blast online, which is enormous fun. (Playing games? Moi? No, it’s limbering up... and also word games are an important tool in the prevention of dementia. Given the events of last year, I feel the need to keep my brain very active.) Madam played it with me and she surprised me with the best word in one of our games – ‘nemesis’. She loves word games as much as I do, so I foresee mother/daughter Scrabble matches like the ones I used to have with my mum. The deal is that it’s the joint score that matters, so I’ll swap letters with her if she needs them to get a better word to open up the board. (Defensive Scrabble – where people block the board by using three-letter words – is unutterably tedious, in my view. Dog-in-the-manger stuff: where’s the fun in that?)

Plans for today: depends on the weather. The kids have voted for the cinema; if it’s not raining too much, might also persuade them to go on the dragon trail (Norwich’s first Dragon Festival).
In the meantime, here’s the sunrise on the way to school, last month. (It’s my current wallpaper. I like the colours.)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine’s Day

Current work: (customising new PC)
Listening to: Jason Mraz (thank you, Sarah)
Reading: next on TBR pile

Wishing everyone a happy Valentine’s day, whatever you’re doing.

I’m spending the day – at least, this morning – trying to get used to the new PC. It’s definitely faster. But it doesn’t like my camera software, it doesn’t like my old Corel Printhouse software, and I think it’s going to take me a little while to get used to Word 2007. Worst of all, Excel refuses to open my Lotus 123 files, so I’m going to have to do some fiddling about... because I can’t find my 123 disks. Actually, I have a nasty feeling this is going to be a print-and-rekey job. Also can’t load Dragon to see if it likes this PC, as my headset with microphone is kaput (thank you, DH and Son).

I still think Lotus is better than Microsoft. Organizer was much more intuitive. However. Will stop moaning, because I do at least have a soundcard that works. And I had a lovely day yesterday, spoiled by Jo and Sarah. And I'm out to dinner with DH and the kids tonight. So. I'm happy.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday 13th...

... is possibly not the best day to get a new PC. Have just spent an hour trying to get the printer to work.

However. Once I've customised it to how I like it (and got used to Word 2007 - I've been using 2000 for years, on the basis that if it ain't broke, don't fix it), I will be very happy. Already I'm delighted to have a soundcard that works.

So for those of you who need a chillout moment - here's Kaare Norge with Bach's Goldberg Variations. Enjoy.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Perfect day

Current work: Tinkering with new Medical
Listening to: Sheryl Crow
Reading: next on TBR pile

Yesterday was definitely the perfect day. Lots of cards and emails and texts, some very nice and thoughtful pressies, and a day spent pottering about, talking to people I love, having a wander through my beloved city (and my favourite place in it, the Cathedral), and spending my birthday money on something I really, really wanted (all right, so it involves my bracelet…).

Had a very indulgent crayfish salad for lunch (OK, will admit panna cotta was also involved), then went out to dinner with DH and the children at Yellows (Delia Smith’s family-oriented restaurant). The children said it was the best burger they’d ever had; DH enjoyed his; and my Caribbean chicken (marinated in lime, ginger and coconut) was just fabulous. Sticky ginger pudding with home-made vanilla ice-cream to follow (irresistible). And a very nice glass of wine, too. (Being officially middle-aged now, I’m going for quality rather than quantity.) The staff were nice, too, so we’ll definitely go back. Lots of laughter and fun and just being together: my definition of perfect.

Spent the rest of the evening curled up on the sofa with DH – still a bit wiped from London, so was too tired to read. Watched a programme about architecture; I think DH is regretting this today because now I’m a little more awake I’ve been musing about how nice it would be to restore a folly and add a complementary modern extension… However, that’s more likely to end up as a book fantasy, as a) it’s out of our financial remit and b) I couldn’t handle the disruption – I need a nice, quiet year.

Plan for today: take my PC in for data transfer (and please let me get it back today); potter about a bit with new outline; maybe go and see Dad (roads are unpleasant this morning, so will wait and see if it thaws before lunchtime). And I am finally doing a post office run...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Congrats to India/RNA report (long post)

Current work: (taking a day off, as it’s my birthday)
Listening to: Joe Lynn Turner
Reading: Druin Burch, Digging up the Dead (bio of surgeon Astley Cooper – thoroughly enjoyed it, and learned some v interesting new things)

First off, congratulations to my mate India Grey on winning the RNA Romance Prize 2009 for her lovely book ‘Mistress: Hired for the Billionaire’s Pleasure’ – I’m so pleased for her! She’s a great writer AND she’s also a lovely, lovely person, so it’s well deserved.

Monday opened with freezing fog, so it was an unpleasant school run. It had all burned off by the time my taxi arrived; picked up a copy of the EDP (and lovely Emma had done me a fabulous piece) and a latte. Easy journey in (with Astley Cooper's biography - v enjoyable read); and I was pleasantly surprised when a man gave me his seat on the tube. (Either manners are improving, or I looked tired... And, as he looked to be in his early 20s, it rather chastened me to think I could technically be his mother's age. Am probably officially middle-aged now, anyway.) To M&S in Marble Arch to get some boots and then a salmon salad in their café. I always forget that the arch was built on the site of Tyburn. (Lightbulbs flickering.) And then I dodged the rain to visit the Wellcome Museum. (Medical history fascinates me. It's an area I intend to work in more in the future.) Except... Clearly I misread their website, as it turned out that the exhibitions were closed on Mondays. Spent a while enjoying their Virtal library, then headed for the café and a chance to do some work on the current synopsis. (It was pouring with rain, or I would've gone exploring.) Met Fi and Liz - dinner at Strada was scrummy, particularly the panna cotta. Much talking...

And then it was Tuesday.

So how does it feel, being on the shortlist at an awards do?

It's a real mixture of emotions. Pride (and a fair sprinkle of 'I'd better pinch myself and wake up now') that someone rates your work so highly. Delight, because you know you'll get the chance to catch up with friends you haven't seen for a while. Worry that you're going to make a fool of yourself - that you're going to spill something down yourself or fall over, while everyone's watching you. (That one’s probably personal paranoia as I’m a tad – all right, a lot – on the clumsy side.)

And then there's the moment when the chief of judges steps up to the podium and reads through the shortlist, saying what the judges thought of each. That's when your heart starts beating so hard that you're sure people will hear it. (That is humanly possible - according to Druin Burch, in Georgian London, a man once crossed the street to ask politician John Thelwall what the noise was, and his wife once woke him to say that someone was hammering on the door.)

Anyway, on Tuesday morning I was very relieved to see that the threatened snow hadn't materialised. Fi took my case, but at King's Cross I discovered that the Circle line was out of action. Caught the District line to Edgeware Rd, then luckily there was a train to High Street Kensington - and, hooray, no rain, so it was a pleasant walk to the Royal Garden Hotel.

Went to change my boots and raincoat to my shoes and posh jacket; met up with lovely Fiona Harper, Beth Elliott and Jessica Hart. (LTR - Beth, Fiona, Me, Jessica)

Poor India Grey was stuck on a train at this point - but finally made it. (Note how cool and beautiful and dignified she looks in the pic below. I'd be a gibbering wreck if my train was delayed by 90 minutes and I was on the shortlist of an awards do...)
Phil, our very witty photographer, took photos of the shortlistees; then we went through to the main area, where I had a chance to talk to my lovely editor and wonderful agent, and catch up with mates including Jan Jones,
Milly Johnson, Sara Craven, Joanna Maitland, Heidi Rice, Gill Sanderson, Julie Cohen, Ray-Anne Lutener (yeah yeah, so am namedropping) etc etc. Also lovely to meet up with new friends (waves to Jo Brown) and my lovely former editor Emma. It was a fab, fab day and many thanks to the organisers – that kind of event means a LOT of hard work beforehand, and I really appreciated it.

Lunch was utterly fab - from the table setting (and thank you to the RNA for the lovely rose they gave all the shortlisted authors)
to the food itself: Scottish salmon parfait with tuna tartar and crème fraiche caviar

followed by fillet of chicken filled with a Paris mushroom mousse, marsala cream sauce, marquis potates and sugar snap peas

and then bitter lemon tart with crème fraiche sorbet and raspberry jelly. (All beautifully presented, and beautifully cooked.)

And then it was the moment - Margaret James, chair of the judges, took the stage and our book covers all came up on the screens behind her.
Margaret has a quiet voice, so I didn't quite catch what the judges said about my book (other than the bit about my hero was even nice to the heroine's dog - so if anyone can quietly tell me, it would be appreciated) - but I was so thrilled for my mate India Grey when her name was read out as the winner of the RNA Romance Prize 2009. Congrats, India!

Judy Piatkus was given the inaugural lifetime achievement award and made a lovely speech. (Pic is Catherine Jones, RNA chair, on the left, and Judy on the right.)
Then the main award was won by Julia Gregson, who also made a moving speech.

Walked back to the Tube with my mate Carol Townsend, quick coffee, then faced tube delays back to Bloomsbury. Dinner with Fi at Liverpool Street station, and then home. And, yup, the train was delayed… But my cabbie was lovely – a book-lover with a very eclectic taste, so we had a great chat all the way home.

Today, I’m knackered! But I need to print out my manuscript for my agent, check I’ve transferred all my files, drop my PC in to my lovely tecchies, mosey into town to the Pandora shop (thank you, luvverly family and friends, who’ve clubbed together to buy the bead I really want but know is disgracefully expensive), and… well, see what I feel like and what the weather’s doing.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The sexiest thing on two legs

Current work: playing with the opening of the new Medical
Listening to: not, as I’m spending today on the train
Reading: Amy Andrews, Dr Romano’s Baby (enjoyed this very much) and Alison Roberts, The Italian Surgeon Claims His Bride (brilliant characterisation – especially the awful grandmother)

The RNA’s annual poll is out, and I was delighted to get the email from our lovely PR officer, Liz Bailey. So here it is…

British actor Richard Armitage has leapt from last year’s 4th place to this year topping the ratings in the Romantic Novelists’ Association 2009 Valentine’s poll, to take the title of Sexiest Thing on Two Legs, beating top Hollywood stars to the number one spot.

Johnny Depp, who topped last year’s poll, was pushed firmly into second place, with Hugh Jackman and George Clooney mere also-rans. “Richard Armitage took 20% of the vote, more than double the count of any other male on the list,” said the RNA pollster. “He was a clear winner from the off.”

(Yup. Works for me. And I'd agree with most of the rest of the list, too...)

1 Richard Armitage
2 Johnny Depp
3 Hugh Jackman
4 George Clooney
5 Daniel Craig
6 Sean Bean
7 Alan Rickman
8 David Tennant
9 Pierce Brosnan
10 Gerard Butler

Of course, there’s one person missing there for me. Want to know who? Go and have a look at the Pink Heart Society and you’ll find out…

I’ll be back on Wednesday with a full report of the RNA Awards Lunch. In the meantime, have a nice week. I have a train to catch this morning, followed by a leisurely wander round the Wellcome museum (the Hunterian is closed on Mondays). I was going to do the navy blue nail polish, but as it chipped really badly within half an hour (and that was with a basecoat, two coats of the stuff and a topcoat – so I won’t ever be buying that brand again), I’m ditching it in favour of an old faithful...

Thanks to everyone who's emailed to wish me luck, or sent me a hug re Friday. Appreciated.

Friday, February 06, 2009

post-book blues

Current work: Just finished the Modern Heat
Listening to: Radiohead (because it really, really suits my mood – bless you, Thom Yorke, for writing such perfect misery music)
Reading: next on TBR pile

The Norway book is done and dusted… well, so far. It’s on my editor’s desk now. I’ve loved every second of writing it, and I always hate saying goodbye to my characters, so I’m in post-book grump. (Yeah, I know the remedy. Start writing the next one – #39: blimey, that's come round fast – or the nonfic that’s due next month.)

It’s not helped by a couple of personal worries (not blogging about them here), panicking about snow next week (obsessive checking of the BBC weather forecast for here and London, anyone?), and a couple of people being a bit mean to me (unexpected and upsetting – so have learned in future to be polite, smile, and stay very quiet).

But hey. Glass half full. I bought a large box of Lindor balls on the way home and they are chilling nicely in the fridge for me, with a note on them saying: ‘These are Mum’s and she has PMT.’ (Diet buddies, don’t read that line…)

Busy weekend lined up. Which means a mad to-do list. As in:

Today: book taxi for Monday, unearth suitcase, check I have spare tights, defuzz legs, update website, tidy desk, do shopping list for tomorrow (otherwise will come home without stuff).

Tomorrow: into town to sort out last-minute purchases (under-eye concealer being the main one, but blue nail varnish comes a close second – and possibly more tights, depending on results of today’s to-do list), back up all computer files ready to take computer in to tecchy guys on Weds (they’re transferring data and making my new PC ready to run), check I have all necessary phone numbers, deposit cheque, withdraw enough cash to pay taxi on Monday and get me round London, think about which book to take on train.

Sunday: up early to bake for the party, entertain all day, clear up, pack all bar posh clothes which I’ll do on Monday, make sure I have train ticket and awards ticket ready in handbag (mm, need to tidy handbag and check have spare hearing aid batteries with me), charge camera battery and phone battery, make sure all homework done etc, make sure kids have stuff ready to go.

Monday: school run, last-minute checks and probably printing out stuff for work on the train (ooh yes, logic problems magazine – add to shopping list for tomorrow), do last bit of packing. Check that my Male On Monday slot has loaded on the PHS (anyone care to guess who that might be?). Catch taxi, train, tube, visit Hunterian Museum (if it is not snowing), meet best friend, eat lots, sleep badly. The latter is not because Fi’s spare room is uncomfy – far from it. I just don’t sleep well away from DH, sad puppy that I am; and, despite the bravado, I’m as nervous as hell about Tuesday (even though I know I’m not going to have to get up on that stage and speak, so I should just be able to relax).

But, to end on a nice note, here’s the cover for the second in my Modern Heat ‘To Tame a Playboy’ duo. Just lovely.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

saggy middles, revelations and a proud mummy moment

Current work: Modern Heat
Listening to: Grieg, piano concerto in A minor
Reading: Claire Thornton, My Lord Footman (am enjoying this – haven’t read a historical romance in a French Revolution setting before – and as I was researching Charlotte Atkyns and Thomas Paine for the nonfic I delivered last week, it’s quite pertinent for me)

Even though I’m a planner and know exactly where I’m going with a book before I start it, my characters still have the capacity to surprise me and suddenly reveal something.

I was fretting a bit (all right, a lot) over my saggy middle yesterday. (The one in the book. I’m working on the personal one. Rather, I will be after February 15, because I have a week of partying coming up.) Saggy middle syndrome is something I struggle with on every single book. I know how to deal with it: I need to ratchet up the emotional tension between the hero and heroine and cut for pace. And that usually involves stomping round the house, muttering to myself and asking questions. (I find that ‘why’ and ‘how’ are the most helpful ones, for this particular problem.) The other thing that usually causes saggy middle syndrome is if I haven’t worked out the characters’ motivations.

Except in this case it wasn’t my characters’ motivations that threw a spanner into the works. It was the secondary characters (who are the root of the heroine’s conflict). I hadn’t worked out why they’d behaved as they did. And when I did, it made the end of the book much clearer – and I think stronger, too.

And that particular moment – when the ‘I’m rubbish and I can’t write for toffee’ feeling is replaced by ‘hmm, this might actually work’ – is one of the sweetest moments in the world. (I think it might be called relief.)

However, doubts have their uses. I was talking to a friend about it yesterday and she crystallised it for me: doubts are what keep us going and make sure our standards stay high – because we want to write the best story we can and delight our readers rather than disappoint them.

And the proud moment? Littlest got another commendation at school yesterday, meaning that she’s the second Year Three in the school (out of 75-ish) to have achieved her bronze award. And for which subject did she get said commendation? Creative writing. Hmm...

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

a special milestone

Current work: Modern Heat
Listening to: Grieg, piano concerto in A minor
Reading: Bonded Heart, Jane Jackson (finished it last night and it’s fabulous – really good ending)

When I’m writing a contemporary novel, I tend to read outside my genre – and one of my big loves is historical romance. (And, yes, this is the question everyone asks me. I’m a historian; I’m a romance author. Why don’t I write historical romance? Good question. The Regency doctor is still stomping about in my head, but I’ve discussed it with my editor and writing for three M&B lines would be just too much. I’m not giving up writing medicals or contemporaries, so am still working out how to juggle it.)

Anyway, I’m delighted to say that the book I’ve just finished reading is a very special one. It’s my friend Jane Jackson’s twenty-fifth book – a real milestone. Jane writes beautiful (and realistic) Cornish historical romances – and this cover is just so evocative.

Very much Daphne du Maurier country. (Am a big DdM fan, and I would rate Jane on the same level as a rattling good storyteller, with the addition that her historical details are absolutely accurate, but she never makes you feel the weight of her research. Her characters react authentically, too – no anachronistic twenty-first century mindsets in nineteenth-century characters.) Roz is a very, very sympathetic hero; Bran is utterly gorgeous. Their mothers are realistic and well-drawn (both have the mother from hell, in different ways). There’s a fabulous sense of community in the book (I especially liked Jack and Nell, the pub landlord and his wife). There’s a villain and a half (Petherick is a very realistic nineteenth-century corrupt aristo); the gritty bits and social snobbery made me so angry on the heroine’s behalf (very much how I felt when I was reading George Moore’s Esther Waters, which I’d rate as one of my top ten nineteenth-century novels); and the ending is just brilliant.

Congratulations, Jane, on your milestone. And on such a wonderful read. (I could definitely see this as a TV series or a film. With Richard Armitage as the lead. He’d be perfect.)

PS - on Jane's website there's a really interesting article about how she started writing. And, yup, that's set a lightbulb or two going here...

Monday, February 02, 2009

Happy February

Current work: Modern Heat
Listening to: Corelli
Reading: Bonded Heart, Jane Jackson (and it's fantastic - if you enjoyed the Richard Armitage version of 'North and South', you will love this. I can see him playing Bran. Cornish smugglers and one incredibly sexy JP. The setting is very accurate (I know this period well) and her research is seamless. Will share more about this tomorrow as it's also a special book for Jane)

First post of the month, so I’m sharing the calendar pic. Very pretty (and no, of course it’s not my room – wrong colour walls and where are the books and the touch-light reading lamp? And I only drink champagne in bed on New Year's Eve... not to mention the fact that if those are chocolates, the kids or the dog would've swiped them. This is pure romantic fantasy, and very nice it is too).

Today, we have snow, and it’s meant to be the most we’ve had in a decade. London has twelve inches of snow, so I’ll be texting my family later to check they are all OK. Slept very badly last night, probably because I was worrying about the snow. (Want to know why? Go and read my blog entry from Feb 21 2005. Yes, I did get the beginning of a book out of it – The Consultant’s New-Found Family – but I would rather not repeat that experience.) Had all sorts of strange and disturbing dreams; woke up half a dozen times and checked obsessively for snow. Everywhere was blanketed in white.

However, on the glass half full bit, it’s perfect for my Norway book. (They’re in Tromso at the moment. Where, in 1997, they had 240cm of snow (93.5 inches) still lying in April. A friend of mine in ‘Brigadoon’ might like it there…)

Righty. Happy February. If you’re reading this in the UK, enjoy the snow and stay safe.