Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Highlights & Lowlights

The highlight of this week has been the arrival in my son's home of Mishka (see above). She is a 13-week tabby-point Siamese kitten, but as her favourite game is 'fetch' with a fluffy ball and her preferred pastime is hurling herself up and down stairs while barking at full volume, I sense there is some confusion in that triangular little head of hers as to whether she is a cat or a dog!

The highlight of this month - and a great start to 2011 - is that The Jewel of St Petersburg has been longlisted for the RNA's Historical Novel of the Year Award, as well as its prestigious Romantic Novel of the Year Award. The shortlist will be announced in the splendour of the RAF Club in Piccadilly, London on Feb 10th. So watch this space.

And the lowlights? Still struggling with the end of The White Pearl. Endings are tough. I have some theories about this but will save them for a later post, as when I get started on discussing the pitfalls that lie in wait for a writer there is a distinct danger that there is no off-button!

I was recently asked by one delightful but misguided reader if I would offer him some thoughts and insights about writing. No reader should invite an author to hold forth about their thoughts and insights unless they are prepared to sit up all night listening! Writers are consumed by their characters and their stories - it's the only way they can ever get to the end of a book - and though writers try to look and act like normal people, their heads are seething with another life and another place. They sit smiling at you and nodding in the right places but don't be fooled! They learn to be cunning, so that you do not guess that their minds are far away, battling with the blank page that awaits them like a nemesis from their subconscious.

Maybe I'll get to the end of my current book faster if I learn from the kitten. Whatever lurks in the underworld of my mind needs to get out - even if it comes out as strange barks.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

New Year

Happy New Year. It's that time again - an opportunity to get out the new broom, to make a fresh start, another chance to do everything better this time around. As optimism is my default mode, I number myself among that absurdly hopeful band who make new year resolutions and one of them this year is to give more time to my blog.

The problem is that Work and Life have a nasty habit of getting in the way. Towards the end of 2010 Life got in the way big time, disrupting my schedules, so that instead of finishing The White Pearl by Christmas, I have yet again missed my deadline. Which makes me so cross I kick the cat. But now that Life is taking a backseat once more, I am up and running towards the finish of the book.

My publishers at Little,Brown UK and Berkley US have been angels, shifting publication and production dates to accommodate the delay in delivery. Nevertheless I still feel a heel about it. This throws up the temptation to take shortcuts, to reduce the number of scenes, to make them shorter, get to the point faster. Of course this kind of self-editing is no bad thing. It produces a better, pacier book. Altogether more focused. I advise all would-be novelists to practise writing a scene to a time limit because it's amazing what pressure can produce. A different part of the brain kicks in.

Finding the right balance is the difficult part, between thinking time and writing time, but my heroine, Connie, is giving me a quick rap on the knuckles. She's impatient to strut her stuff through Malaya and get out there on the bookshelves for all to see.

My other new year resolution? Not to be a slave to my characters who stomp around my head as if they own the place. I'm threatening them with a new broom!