Uncategorized, writing tips

The Choir on Hope Street gets a gorgeous new look!

I’m so excited to have my lovely friend Annie Lyons on the blog today. Annie wrote one of my favourite books of 2017 (which will incidentally be featured in that post next week) The Choir on Hope Street.

It is just so uplifting, life-affirming and funny. I’ve read every one of Annie’s books and she only gets better. This book absolutely made me want to sing!

 

It is a truth universally acknowledged that there is nothing more joyously rewarding than singing in a choir. I have been the proud member of my beloved Churchfields Community Choir for nearly three years and can honestly say that singing with them has brought me levels of happiness that I hadn’t experienced since I wore out the cassette reel on my treasured Adam and the Ants Prince Charming album in the early eighties.
When I wrote The Choir on Hope Street, I wanted to convey this happiness – this love for music and singing. I wanted to show the sheer joy you can feel as you channel your inner Carole King or Rihanna – as the real world melts away and for a blissful moment, hearts rule heads and music does its awesome thing.
Of course it’s tricky to convey all this in a book cover but I am delighted to reveal today that those clever people at HQ have done just that with this brand new beauty of an eBook cover.
So, stick on your favourite tune (I recommend Crazy in Love by Beyoncé for this particular moment) and feast your peepers on this!

The Choir on Hope Street_FINAL

Gorgeous or what?
If you’ve already enjoyed The Choir on Hope Street, you are also already one of my favourites. If not, you can find out more about the story by following this handy link.

I absolutely loved this book, and some choice friends and family members will be getting the paperback as Christmas presents – share the love, raise your voice and get singing about this book. It’s a winner!

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writing tips

Reading as a Writer and how it can help your work.

I don’t mean that as a writer, you need to read. That’s one of the basic tenets of writing. I read an article this morning that had a list of things NOT to say to an agent or publisher, and ‘I don’t read because I don’t want to steal anyone’s ideas’ is one of them. Not to say it’s not a fair point, I think we all have that worry, but it’s imperative you’re reading. You don’t ask a painter to create for an exhibition when they’ve never even stepped inside a gallery.

But, that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the way you read. I’m currently in another of those ‘this is crap, this is so crap’ points in my work in progress (40000 words in, I should have expected it) and every line looks boring, or overdone, or slow. So I thought I’d go back to looking at some of my favourite books, and looking at how they do it. So I started reading as a writer. I looked at where she put the commas, how many times she used ‘said’. What the sentences in between the speech told us. I thought perhaps there was some sort of style or code to this author’s perfection. And what did I find?

Zilch. She uses said a lot. The sentences in between do the same that mine do. It’s not that fast paced, it’s just enjoyable to the reader to go on the journey, because the dialogue is funny. And that’s what I realised- when we write, we are judging our own work as critics of the language. We’re strangling the adverbs and looking at individual lines and worrying, worrying, worrying.

But when I read a good book, all those things become invisible. The ‘said’s cease to exist, because they’re just markers. The description translates directly into a vision of a character, I’m not sitting there wondering why she used a certain word, or commenting on the vocabulary- I’m too busy disappearing into the story!

Which tells me two things:

  1. I’m probably not as crap as I think I am right now, and I just need to buck the hell up.
  2. Some of the best writing is ‘invisible’ to the reader.

So happy morning all, I’m off to write some invisible words on the page now.

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An Interview with a Character for #weloveromance

As part of the #WeLoveRomance Blog Tour, a group of us Carina authors are celebrating Valentines Day but presenting articles, short extracts, and yesterday, an interview with a character from our book. Unfortunately I was away from my computer yesterday, so here it is! Keep searching #weloveromance on twitter for more interviews!

 

Also, don’t forget to enter the competition to win a whole bunch of books from us! You can enter HERE.

 

An Interview With Harry Shulman, from The Last Word.

 

What do you think of Tabby Riley, your newest writer at The Type newspaper?

She’s, uh, well she’s certainly not like anyone else. Tabby is this really fine balance of genius and maniac. And I mean that in the best way. I headhunted Tabby, saw how well her blog was doing, how much her readers loved her, and I wanted that for our paper. I hadn’t quite imagined just how difficult she was going to be.

 

What do you mean by difficult?

Well, the majority of writers who work here just accept that I’m their editor. Tabby argues. A lot. But I actually really respect her for it. Sometimes she makes me want to punch myself in the face because I’m so frustrated, but she’s a great writer, she deserves a break. We just place value on different things.

 

What do you place value on then, Harry?

I like nice things, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I worked hard to get my car, and wear nice suits and drink good wine. Tabby seems to think that anything above primark is the sign a shallow and money-driven personality. She still has a VCR player, for God’s sake! She refuses to let me choose places for our business lunches because she says I’m pretentious…I don’t see how wanting to take a woman for a nice lunch is a bad thing.

 

But these are business lunches?

Of course! We’ve managed to compromise and go to The Black Cat pub in town. Apparently I’m easily distracted when other females in the room. Which I think is completely unfair, just because women are nice to me, she takes that as not focussing. The woman drives me nuts, honestly. 

 

So you don’t see Tabby extending her contract beyond these few months at The Type?

It’s really up to my boss. And the stats of course. If Tabby’s column Miss Twisted Thinks keeps receiving great reviews and viewings, then it’s definitely a possibility. I’d really love her to stay. I think she’s a great addition to our team, and brings new life to the paper, even if it’s her tendency to write tangential pieces about different types of cake. 

 

And what about the rumours around The Type that you and Miss Riley have more than a working relationship, and spend a suspicious amount of time in the stationary cupboard?

I don’t know what you’re talking about. We’re colleagues, we’re friends, and if we’re in the stationary room we’re probably arguing over whether biro or rollerball pens are best. Okay, so maybe we’re a bit more affectionate with each other than I am with other staff members, but I have to be. If I’m going to go seventeen rounds of arguing over one article, at some point, I have to be comforting. That’s my job. 

 

So, driving her down to Brighton for the day, taking bottles of wine to her house, these are professional things to be doing?

Brighton was for a story! She doesn’t drive. I thought it would be easier. The wine was to apologise for being an arse. I don’t know why I’m justifying myself to you, even if me and Tabby were together, it would be completely legitimate. There’s nothing in the rules at the paper saying co-workers can’t date.

 

But, considering Miss Riley’s romantic involvement with her previous editor at The Guardian, don’t you think it’s a bit strange 

Ah, so that’s your angle is it? Sniffing about for dirt on good old Richard. I am not in a position to comment on Miss Riley’s previous relationships, and I am letting you know I’m answering no further questions. Tabby is a hard working and talented writer, and she’s got to where she is because of that, not because of any romantic entanglements. I’m done.

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A Word on Valentines Day from Eternal Cynic Tabby Riley

Hi, I’m Tabby Riley, and I’ll be taking over A.L.Michael’s blog today. Because we like breaking the fourth wall. As Valentines Day is coming up, Andi invited me to write something for you guys, to get to know me a little better.

Well, I’m pretty simple. I write pointless articles for magazines. Which, as a result, means I’ve becoming a ranting lunatic behind a computer screen, but I do know the best way to pluck my eyebrows and get some pretty cool freebies when I review things. But it’s not really the career I want. I write this blog, Miss Twisted Thinks, and my readers seem to think I’m funny. But they’re really tired of me harping on about whether a jaffa cake is a biscuit (Chocolate to base ratio people, come on!). 

Thing is, I used to be a proper journalist. At a proper paper, with a desk, and an editor and… well, it fell apart a few years ago. And here I am, still typing away at a computer screen at two in the afternoon in my pyjamas, wondering if it’s too early to start on the wine, and why did I eat that entire chelsea bun. Life’s…well, it’s alright.

Valentines Day has always seemed like a massive waste of time to me. It’s corporate and commercial, and any other valid point that I’m not allowed to make because I’m single and people think I’m just bitter. Yeah, I got screwed over. My main relationship was with my boss, after he’d supposedly separated from his wife. I was young, and reckless and in love with the idea of this powerful man who could teach me so much. For him, thinking back, it was probably just convenient to have someone to fuck who could then carry on doing the paperwork. But I’m older now, wiser. 

I’ve had a job offer from this guy Harry. And sleeping with my editor was a problem last time, so no worries on that front, because Harry is detestable. He’s all about the perfect pout, and thirty quid bottles of wine, designer suits. The guy drives a bloody porsche, for god’s sake. And he seems to have this way of looking at me like I’m a trained monkey without the training. Like I might surprise him, but he doubts it. 

So what am I going to do this Valentines Day? The same thing I do every year, have a ‘Nothing Day’ with my two best friends, Rhi and Chandra. We sit around, watching Buffy episodes on VHS, getting quietly stoned and sozzled. This year I have banned The Breakfast Club from v-day watching. Or anything from the 80s. We just get too melancholic about the state of romance in a digital world. 

So, Valentines advice from your very own Miss Twisted: Only buy uncomfortable lingerie if it makes you feel good, look for a man who’ll buy you an unconventional flower (roses are on sale), valentines day is a lot like New Years, with all the expectation, so avoid that by having fun with your friends…or give in to the capitalistic creation that is the exploitation of the only true and pure thing we have left in this world, and have a nice day!

 

 

 

If you like what Tabby has to say, maybe you should read about her life in The Last Word, released April 2014 by Carina UK. In the meantime, why not browse other Carina authors by searching the hashtag #weloveromance ? 

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Top Ten Fictional Couples

What makes a great couple? I don’t mean in real life, because honestly, no-one cares how great your best friend is with her boyfriend. We don’t commit to other people’s coupledom in real life (unless there’s a wedding, because who doesn’t love a party?) the way that we do in books and movies and tv shows. We want them to get together, we want them to look up and see that other person and make it work. Then usually, when they’re together, there’s some sort of terrible break apart or they settle into boring domesticity and we forget how invested we were. No matter! As part of #weloveromance I’m here to list my top ten favourite fictional couples, in no particular order:

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1. Jess and Rory (Gilmore Girls). I shipped these guys hard. They made sense. She’s already got bored of her very nice and very boring boyfriend, he’s the angry new kid who dislikes everything about his new home but her. He’s also crazy smart and ends up writing a book, when she’s been afraid he’s got no ambition. Love me a male lead with a bit of bite to him.

2. Max and Neve (You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me- Sarra Manning). I love this book. And I love the characters. Neve is nervous and self-flagellating, Max is a mess pretending to hold it all together, and somewhere through having sex and arguing, they manage to teach each other something. It’s fun, and funny and still deals with those awful issues you carry with you, and don’t really trust other people to handle.

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3. Kat and Patrick (Ten Things I Hate About You) They’re both smart arses with attitude, they both learn to be vulnerable, he fights for her, twice, loses the bad image, and really, who wouldn’t want to be serenaded with ‘I Love You Baby’?

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4. Zoe and Wade (Hart of Dixie) Yes, I know it’s over. I have to get over it. I know that. But they were so good! She’d gotten over the good boy boring lawyer, she’d chosen sex over fairytale love, and then somewhere along the line, sex turned into love. Except he screwed it up, because she was being too supportive and he felt like he wasn’t good enough….but until then! I particularly liked this because it dealt with the whole ‘we have nothing in common’ situation, except what they had in common was that they liked spending time together. Life lesson!

5. Walter and Hildy (His Girl Friday) Once again, a testament that choosing the boring nice guy who doesn’t really know who you are isn’t a good idea. Yes, they’re exhausting, but the back and forth is excellent. Hildy is a strong female character who wants the affection and life that comes with marriage, as well as being a kick ass reporter. Plus, Cary Grant. ‘Nuff said.

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6. Laurie and Curly (Oklahoma) My absolute faves. I watch Oklahoma when I’m sick or in need of a really good story. The romance follows the typical arc with them hating each other, then liking each other but not saying anything, then another guy likes her, Curly has to do some protecting. Plus, there’s singing and dancing and being all snarky to each other. And the Hugh Jackman version pretty much makes my heart aflutter.

7. Tabby and Harry (The Last Word) Okay, so they’re my characters, but I love them. She’s emotionally scarred, he’s better at hiding it, she tries to keep it casual, he’s open to more. Why are men always the commitment phobes? Sometimes we’re all just trying to protect ourselves. Plus, snarky and sarcastic and originally disliking each other as mentioned in Oklahoma.

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8. Sam and Jack (Stargate SG1) The majority of my pitiful teenage years were spent writing fanfiction to correct the travesty that was never getting these characters together. Spending years offering gentle prompts that these characters had feelings for each other, followed by some pretty solid life decisions in season 7…and yet. Nothing. No closure. Now I’m just bitter.

9. Darcy and Elizabeth (Pride and Prejudice) Yeah, okay, obvious. But these guys were the original opposites attract scenario, and the original ‘present the male character as bloody awful and then realise that he’s actually appealing’ which has been done in countless books and movies since. You trendsetter, Austen.

10.Aladdin and Jasmin (Aladdin) My favourite disney movie as a kid. Come on, romance is sitting on a magic carpet ride being sung to. Although the idea of that makes my skin crawl now, as a child, it was the perfect synergy- here’s two attractive people, they’re from different classes, they’re both independent and strong, he’s trying to impress her with stuff she doesn’t care about, she just wants someone to see who she is. They go on adventures and save everyone from the evil dude. Yeah, Love conquers. Woo

BONUS NUMBER

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Only because I forgot this one til now, and they’re my FAVOURITE. Especially in the continuation of snarky, refusing to give in to attraction, and making smart arse comments all the time, (and is kind of already included because of number 3):

Beatrice and Benedick (Much Ado About Nothing) I’m really including this because I love the Catherine Tate and David Tenant version so much. They’re perfect- they’re argumentative, strong, yet sure of their feelings, yet vulnerable, and also just hilarious. I like my characters with some energy, especially if it’s misdirected!

I’ve noticed from reading this through, I really love opposites. Love when characters clash and compliment each other all at once. Romance doesn’t mean sitting around staring into each others’ eyes and making daisy chains, it’s those moments of clashing and laughing and flirting and realising you have a connection with this other human, no matter how surprising or extraordinary. But, that’s just me. Why don’t you search #weloveromance to find some of the other Carina authors doing the same list today? And add your favourites in the comment box!

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Let’s talk about (safe) sex, baby.

This isn’t REALLY for #weloveromance but as far as I’m concerned, you can’t have one without the other!

Do romance writers have a responsibility to present safe sex?

 

This was the question I wondered as I read a really great romance recently. It had all the things I love, a snarky love interest, a crazy family, excellent characterisation and backstory. The sex scene had been delayed long enough, and was really hot and then… when asked by the male she was just about to sleep with for the first time if he should get a condom, the female replied ‘Don’t worry, I’m on the pill.’

 

Now, here’s the balance: do we present safe sex, knowing that young women learn about the ‘normality’ of relationships through books like these, OR do we stay true to what sex is actually like, and that sometimes that stuff happens?

 

Here’s what bothered me- I wouldn’t judge a woman I know, or just met, if she told me that story. I might have rolled my eyes and said that the pill doesn’t protect against STDs and it’s not really the same thing, especially when you’re sleeping with someone for the first time, but I wouldn’t have judged. But I judged the writer for presenting me with such a character. A cautious and thoughtful character, who never takes risks and is always in control…and yet, this. Especially after they’d just had a whole discussion about the fact that the male character has had multiple fuck buddies at the same time.

 

Fair enough, a lot of people don’t like writing condoms into sex scenes- they think it loses momentum, breaks down the romantic bit, or the ‘ravaging in process’ bit. Personally, I don’t think that’s true, and I make a point to include it, especially in the first few sex scenes. It doesn’t need to metaphorically flick you in the face every time you start a steamy scene, but it’s a part of sexual experience. We don’t tend to write about all the gross stuff that happens in sex either, because we’re writing the ideal most of the time. But the ideal includes being safe, doesn’t it?

 

If we were writing to be true to life, we’d include all the nitty gritty gross stuff, so I can understand ignoring it altogether, I have no problem with that. But bringing it up, only to dismiss it for something that doesn’t actually address the situation? That’s the kind of excuse brought up in erotic fiction on the internet, where rape fantasies and incest stories hide away. They bring it up to get it out of the way, so that women are expected to give that answer, and ta-da! There sits your male condom-free fantasy. Except….the majority of readers of ‘chick lit’ are female…so what is achieved here?

 

I haven’t got an answer for you, but I’m interested in what you think! Do writers have an obligation to present safe sex, or do we ignore it and accept that it’s just fantasy? Comment, I’m intrigued!

 

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The Three Cs: Continuity, Collaboration and Chick Books

These three are featuring rather heavily in my writing life at the moment. So I thought I’d spend a post postulating and considering their merits and downsides, as somewhat useful procrastination.

 

Continuity

Not in the typical way. As in, I haven’t suddenly messed up my whole novel with an inconsistency that laughs in the face of space and time. What I mean is that I am apparently a fickle writer. I am the writing equivalent of Joey Potter in Dawson’s Creek: does she love Dawson, does she love Pacey, does she want to date some random guy whilst thinking of Dawson, running from Pacey and trying to find herself? Tune in next week for another five years of back and forth.

(Apologies for those of you who were not pre-teens in the nineties, or had better things to do than watch teenagers spouting polysyllabic words to emphasise their angst. This comparison will probably not mean much.) 

I had it all planned. Finished the ‘literary coming-of-age-novel’, moved onto (and thoroughly planned during my travels) the ‘kid book’ (Friday Jones and the Thirteen Club) then move on to either the ‘teen summer book’ or return to the ‘unfinished nostalgic dissertation’ to turn into a novel.

 

There was a PLAN. Except Friday Jones has been eluding me. It’s been a bit of a struggle. And as much as I respected my A-Level English teacher telling me my brain should be hurting if I’m working hard enough, there was no flow here. So it drizzled away until I stopped. For days and days and days. And could not get excited about it again.

 

Chick Book

Then BAM. Tabby Riley happened. Just in case you don’t know, Tabby Riley is my new heroine. And my new favourite person. Because…drum roll…I’m writing a chick book. I hope that you know when I say ‘chick book’ I clearly mean ‘intelligent writing aimed at women who are sceptical about the all-encompassing love ideals fostered by Disney, but are tired of reading Sartre and would quite frankly like something cheerful and full of snarkiness.’ Snarky and sarcastic are the name of the game here. Plus I have the slight problem that I created such a hot leading man I’m a little in love with a fictional character. My own fictional character. He’s a boywhore with a heart of gold, just the way I like ‘em.

 

I suppose I’m going to get some derisive looks and judgemental comments about female fiction, but my honest response is ‘so what?’ Good chick lit is hard to write, there’s a lot of terrible stuff out there. But I’m pretty sure I can do this. So let’s see if I stick with it. It’s already very different in process to the kids book, a lot more like my first novel, where I had to scribble down conversations between characters in the middle of the night. It’s a necessity, rather than work at the moment. So here’s hoping, it gets somewhere.

 

Collaboration

I think collaboration is the key to any good writing life. Sure, you can be the cliche hermit all you want, and you need to be in your own head to get work done. But you’ve got to leave the room and join the party sometimes. Connecting with other artists, whether they’re writers or not is a comforting and invigorating experience. They may not be focusing on what you’re writing about, what they’re passionate about may be really far from your interests, but one conversation can spark inspiration. Hell, a word they said five years ago may be the start of your next book. Never underestimate the importance of companionship. Or even just having someone understanding the problems you face.

This was a really big part of my MA in Creative Entrepreneurship, being surrounded by artists who got what it was like to be an artist.

So, just as I’ve batted ideas back and forth with him for years, I’m hopefully going to start working with my good friend Jay on some projects. If you don’t know the work of Jay Crisp, you should, because he’s awesome. Check out his art and manic humour over at The Wild Side web comic, and Touc Reviews on Youtube. He’s been one of the main people I moan about writing to, and like I say, it’s important to have people around you who know what it’s like. If the websites are anything to go by, I suspect the Touc and Twisted Barista have a sense of humour (and rage) in common. Here’s to creative collaborations!