Snippets from a Writer’s Life

I am six weeks into my Slick at Sixty fitness campaign, and though I am seeing some positive results, progress is so painfully slow that I’m on the verge of saying, stuff it, forget it, I don’t care. I’m not exactly going hungry but I’m sick of hearing myself say, ‘I’m starving’ about twenty times a day. I miss the option of having things like toast on those mornings where I wake up feeling that I need a kick start, and there are other days when I want to throw my Fitbit in the bin, because it’s only registering 6000 steps – and most of those have been from the couch where I’m writing to the kettle in the kitchen and back again!

However, onwards and upwards. Along with one of my sisters, I’ve been trying out the Fitcoach app, taking a break from my usual Jillian Michaels workouts, which I’ve begun to find a bit too time-consuming. I like the app because it offers something different every day – not that I do it every day, I’m only human. You can adjust how hard it works you depending on what kind of work out you’re doing. I also like that the individual workouts are between about 10 and 20 minutes, so much more easy to slot in. In an effort to keep myself focused, I work out in front of a mirror, but I’m beginning to wonder if that’s a grave mistake. Seeing myself planking is not an edifying spectacle, and it’s caused me to replace my obsession with getting a knee lift to fretting about back fat. Where does it come from? And how do you get rid of it? It’s one of those areas I hadn’t even noticed needed attention. Was it always there and I didn’t realise? Or is it yet another of those blasted inevitable consequences of age things!

Another of my sisters has helpfully set up a Fitbit challenge group, and I’m taking part in that too. (Family bonding is the intention, but my family are so competitive, I foresee strife.) Since I’m in the middle of writing a book, it will doubtless require me to do a lot of leaping up between words to run frantically on the spot every hour to try to keep up. But anything that keeps me going, working out and cutting down is welcome.

My garden is proving useful by providing me with an abundance of salad and tomatoes. And there are days when I put on something that was too tight before and now isn’t and that gives me the boost I need. Yesterday I made soda bread. Bread is a massive weakness of mine. I am proud to report that though I did have some of it for breakfast, I put the other half of the loaf into the freezer. Brownie points, please!

I’m continuing with my venture into the world of Tiktok too. For someone who has been camera shy her entire life, this was initially very traumatic. My first attempts were pretty dire, my voice monotone with fear, and my expression frozen into a terrified (and terrifying) smile. But to my astonishment, I’ve discovered that I like it. It’s a fun way of sharing silly things like the purchase of new boots (lovely, lovely new boots which I haven’t worn yet) and of course books. What I love about Tiktok is that it’s full of readers. Readers who love books with a big, ginormous, in some case slightly obsessive love. They read books over and over, annotating them so that they can re-read their favourite bits. They emote – they really emote – over what they loved, what made them cry, what made them angry. And they share all this in the most inventive ways. It’s so wonderful to see people of all ages sharing the love, and it’s made me take a step back in wonder at my own books. I’ve written those, I thought one day, looking at the book cases stacked with different editions. It’s not that I’d forgotten I am a writer, but I kind of had forgotten that other people see me as a writer.

Sadly, though lots of Tiktok readers read historical romance, there’s not a lot of love being shared for Harlequin Mills&Boon romances. I don’t know why that is, and I’d really like to know, as there are some very talented authors writing for the imprint. Do the covers and titles put people off, or are people so full of pre-conceived ideas they don’t even bother to pick them up? I’ve been experimenting with my own backlist, talking about the content and sharing some insider information, and though they have attracted lots of views, I am still too new to the app to know whether I’m reaching new people, so I’d really love to hear your thoughts on this – on Tiktok, on Instagram or here, whatever suits.

Making Tiktok videos about my backlist has also reminded me of the tons and tons of secondary characters I have that I’ve wanted to go back and write, but most of them don’t merit a book of their own. I had an idea ages ago for writing little epilogues for some of my books, a bit like Marian Keyes does sometimes – just bullet points about what happened to who, not to be taken too seriously. So that’s another thing I’d like to know from you – is that something that would interest you? And if so, what would you like me to do first?

As I mentioned, I am also writing a new book – though progress has been very, very slow, and I procrastinated a bit more by taking a few days out to go on another visit to Bute and hang out with family. His Runaway Marchioness Returns is a story I’ve had in my head for a while, inspired, as many of my premises are, by a song – in this case Same Old, by Civil Wars. My hero and heroine had a marriage of convenience, they lived separate lives, they went their own way and then eight years later circumstances bring them together for a second chance marriage of convenience! I love the story, I am loving Lily and Oliver, and though as usual I got to about 8K and had to rip it up and start again, I’m now on track (I think). But as I said, progress has been very, very slow. I don’t know why, I just can’t seem to get back into a proper writing rhythm – and not for lack of trying. But the deadline is now looming large, and I need to knuckle down. That’s why I’m writing this blog, obviously!

There will be progress this week. There has to be. I shall put my latest sewing project on hold – I’ve been experimenting with make-up bags and pencil cases using up lots of my fabric remnants. I shall do the minimum in the garden. I shall ration my social media time and stop kidding myself that making Tiktok videos is the same as writing. I shall get on and get writing.




I will.

But first, I could murder a slice of toast.

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9 responses to “Snippets from a Writer’s Life”

  1. Good luck with the deadline. I know how hard it is to lose weight, I have been trying to do things, but have now broken a toe so exercise has to be re-thought. I have too many comfy elasticated waistlines which allow sneaky pounds to pile on.

    I don’t know the answer to fame on these social media sites, so many are filled with the young who although like romance may not rush to the Mills and Boon / Harlequin moniker like their mothers and Grandmothers! They are missing some good writing, like you say, although I do stick to the historical romance from this publisher. I can’t get on with the one or two contemporary romances that I have tried. Their book covers put me off, even some of the historical romance ones never seem to fit the character between the pages.

  2. Susan Allan

    Oh gosh Marguerite – that post really resonated with me! Vegetables and salad are great but like you I love bread (and rice and pasta.) I can eliminate the latter two but bread is more difficult! So I compromise with a pitta or a dark rye Ryvita.
    Exercise has been difficult this year and I’m only back to 4000 steps – slow but sure I guess. After the feedback from my 1:1 editor at the RNA conference I’ve been editing/rewriting the first 3 chapters for submission to M&B. Progress is slow and I’m blaming the heat! So you can appreciate why I totally empathise!

    As for Mills and Boon historical – I like the covers – but I suspect there’s a certain kind of person who looks down on them. It would be great if M&B were as successful at product placement on film and tv as Coca Cola and Ferrari!

  3. Rosalind Blatt

    Personally I much prefer reading your emails and following your activities. What you just wrote about your exercise made me laugh, thank you. Now please get back to completing your novel so I can purchase it. Enjoy your Summer as we are in Winter in Australia

  4. Elasticated waists have a lot to answer for! And the habit a lot of us, including me, acquired during lockdown, of wearing yoga pants that squashed us in and created optical illusions. I had an op on my big toe a few years ago, and I couldn’t believe the effect it had on my ability to exercise. You don’t think of your toe as vital to balance but it is – I had to give up pilates for about a year and every now and then when I’m planking or whatever, it twinges and I wobble. I hope your toe heals up quickly, and wish you loads and loads of luck with the exercise. I can guarantee it’s something I’ll be coming back to writing again here, if it helps.

    Thanks for the feedback on the covers, it is much appreciated. Funnily enough, I saw a discussion on Goodreads the other day on the thread of one of my books dicussing Harlequin covers. Mine got good feedback because the couple looked like the hero and heroine, but it seems a lot of people think otherwise on a good many of the books, which I hadn’t realised. One of my fellow M&B Historical writers said exactly what you just said too, about people thinking M&B are what their mums and grans read so not for them. How to get them to take another look – oh, if only I knew the answer but I’m determined to keep trying.

  5. It shouldn’t be such a struggle, should it! But we keep going, so go you for doing that, and for encouraging me too. I go to Ryvita too, and also oatcakes, and mostly that satisfies the craving but there are times when nothing but toast will do. I am terrible for beating myself up afterwards though, which takes away the treat-iness of it, so that’s something I need to work on. And seriously well done on the steps – it’s not how much you do, it’s that you got back and started again.

    Also HUGE well done on the M&B submission. If they don’t think something will work they will tell you, so they must see promise in you. Keep that in mind when you’re looking at something you’re changed for the millionth time and thinking, I can’t do this. You can. I know, I think that way all the time and get through the other side.

    And thanks for the cover feedback. What struck me on Tiktok is that our covers are so massively different from nearly everything else in the historical romance genre that readers are hoovering up. I’ve had quite a bit of interesting feedback on this, so I’m collecting and pondering!

    Happy writing.

  6. I’m on it Rosalind, I promise. And before this one is out (March next year) I have a Christmas duet with Bronwyin Scott at the end of the year, so you’ll be hearing more from me on that. Meantime, I’m just going to do a bit more procrastinating before settling down to some words!

  7. Late to the game, but as far as why current historical fans aren’t reading M&B/HQN, I think it’s a combination of two factors. One, the publisher has an awful reputation outside of romance-reading circles (everyone looks down on Harlequin for the silly Presents titles and clinch covers). I was quite a ways into my HR reading ways before I even considered picking up a Harlequin novel of any stripe. I dipped my toe in in 2018 and have been buying books regularly ever since. There are a lot of good writers (across all of the lines) so those who turn their noses up at the publisher are missing a lot of good stuff.

    The other reason is that contemporary HR is very much that – contemporary. They are 21st century characters dropped into the pretty, pretty dresses of the Regency world. They have 21st century attitudes and there is a lot of toeing the line of what’s acceptable to modern readers, as opposed to what’s historically accurate. The other Big 5 publishers also have apparently put a lot of pressure on successful authors to churn out two books a year, and to always write about titled heroes.

    Personally, I hate this. I don’t like the trend of “light” historicals cannibalizing the market. So I’ve actually stopped reading new work, other than what’s published by Harlequin. It seems you guys, as authors, have more freedom to write about interesting time periods and non-titled characters. If I’m going to give a new author a shot (especially HR), it’s going to be one that’s been published by Harlequin. There is a strong stable of regular authors (yourself included!) and, at least in my perception, that means that the editors are looking for quality work. I’ve purchased several first novels this year that I’m looking forward to, based on cover art and book blurbs alone.

    I think the cover art is (on the whole) very classy and elegant, though I really dislike the last cover makeover. It probably works on e-books, but looks very cheap on hard copies. All book covers are moving towards this, though, so it’s not just an HQN problem. Some of us still prefer to hold books in our hands when we read, but I guess we’re a minority now 🙂

    I don’t “get” BookTok, and I know I’m way out of my lane to even try to get it, so I stay away. I’ll be over here with my old Signets and Zebras that were published 30-40 years ago in a subgenre that has since completely died out. I’m happy in my part of the sandbox, and hopefully its large enough to accommodate everyone.

  8. Thank you for this, I’m going to mull over it in the coming months as I take time to re-think my own writing a bit. I understand what you’re saying about BookTok, but what it’s taught me is that HR is becoming very niche, which is worrying when it has so much to offer as a genre. Partly it’s demographic but that’s only part of it – you’re right, there’s a huge big weight of assumptions and presumptions that stop people even looking at HR, and then when add in the assumptions and presumptions about Harlequin Mills&Boon it sometimes feels like a mountain to climb.

    I have been accused, quite rightly in some cases, of having my characters behave out of period. I think there’s a big difference between writing what you call a contemporary HR, and one that resonates with a contemporary audience, which is what I ry to do, with varying degrees of success. To make a heroine (and it is usually heroines who give me the problems) interesting, strong, independent, in any historical context, even one going back to the earlier 20th Century, she has to push boundaries, she has to defy conventions (small, such as the way she addresses people, large such as her sexual behaviour), and she has to an extent have a ‘modern’ way of thinking about herself – be ambitious, not want to settle for a marriage of unequals etc. It’s easy to cross the boundary here from unconventional to anachronistic, I’ve done it myself a few times, and of late I must confess there’s been times when I’ve noticed it and not changed it because of the bigger picture. I’m talking about the way my characters think here, their self-awareness and they way they perceive themsleves – it’s very easy to use modern terminology and not to notice. I know this jars with some readers because they say so, and I get that. But there are also times when you simply need a hero or heroine to defy convention big-style for the story, and take the consequences, and when the consequences are huge. I get that this can make it simply unbelievable for a reader, again because they say so, but for me, it makes for a more satisfying and more appropriate ending,

    I’m not trying to justify my own writing, and I don’t think this is the kind of thing you’re getting at, but it’s the track you set me off on!!! This is because as I’ve said recently, I’m re-thinking what I write, not to move away from HR but to experiment a bit with the genre, as much for my own interest as readers, it has to be said, and if I’m a bit vague – well that’s because I’m still a bit vague! More to come on that – I most sincerely hope. So thank you for the food for thought.

  9. I think there’s a big difference between writing what you call a contemporary HR, and one that resonates with a contemporary audience, which is what I ry to do

    There absolutely is! And this is the difference: “there are also times when you simply need a hero or heroine to defy convention big-style for the story, and take the consequences, and when the consequences are huge.” In “contemporary HR,” there are no consequences. There are just 21st century characters, with 21st century attitudes, swanning around in Regency-era dresses, acting outrageous, and everyone adores them for it. (This is what I’m talking about.) There is no consideration of history, no research being done. These authors barely acknowledge Jane Austen. They have no idea who Georgette Heyer is. You say “trad Regency” or “Almack’s” and they look at you like you’ve grown 2 heads. Their knowledge of the genre starts and ends with the Netflix adaptation of Bridgerton.

    What I love about HR (and good historical fiction, in general) is that you are dealing with a completely different social world than what we have today. The good authors figure out how to take characters that appeal to modern readers and yet still fit into their time period. I think Beverly Jenkins excels at this – her heroines are strong, independent women, but they are not out of place in the 1860s. My disbelief isn’t suspended because there are independent women out there, or even men with fairly modern attitudes; it’s when they do something that would so blatantly have them ostracized and yet they face no consequences for it, or worse – are celebrated for it, at a time when it might’ve even been illegal. Like – let’s at least aim for the ballpark of reality, shall we? There was more to the Regency than pretty dresses.

    “Contemporary” HR is extremely popular these days, but most of it is so poorly written that it gives the genre a bad name. People who are coming into it interested in history are appalled by the lack of it.

    Sorry for the rant, I try not to get started, LOL. I’m just really glad that there are a lot of books out there already, so we’re not constrained by the current flavor of the month.