Snippets from a Writer’s Life

Since I was last here, I’ve been buried deep in writing (and re-writing, and re-writing) my latest historical romance for Mills & Boon. After nearly sixty books of all shapes and sizes for my publisher, you’d think it would get easier. Wrong! Every single time, it seems to get more difficult. I tell myself I won’t make the same mistakes again. I plan to write three thousand words every day, five days a week, and come up with a timetable that gets trashed on the first day. What consistently happens is that around about 15-20 thousand words I stop and think, this is all wrong. And into play comes the Orange Juice song, Rip it Up and Start Again (I even went so far as two make a Tiktok video to go with it this time). I don’t rip it up once, I do it several times. The hero’s not right. The heroine’s not right. The conflict’s not right. And by the time I’ve adjusted all that, usually the plot isn’t right either. I almost never know exactly how the Happy Ever After is going to happen, but I do usually know how I’m going to get my hero and heroine to the point – this time around, even that changed.

I had a very clear idea from the start for His Runaway Marchioness Returns, as you’ll see from a previous blog. It was a combination of second chances and marriage of convenience, with a hero and heroine willing to go to extreme lengths not to be a marquess and marchioness. The kernel of the idea is still there in the finished (but not yet signed off) book, but the story has changed radically. The opening scenes, which take place in Hythe, remain. After my last visit to Hythe where my friend Peter lives, I was determined to use it as a location, and I’m pleased to say I think it has worked.

What I have been loving these last few books is writing conflict for older heroes and heroines – all that baggage! – and I’m wondering if that’s what’s making it more difficult. Because I’m a bit of a geek, I keep track of what I write and how long it takes me. For at least the last five, maybe ten full-length books, it has taken me about two-thirds to three-quarters of the time to get a first 20 thousand words that I’m happy with, and when that’s done the next 50-55 thousand almost write themselves (oh, how I wish!) and are done in a third to a quarter of the total time. I can’t write fast enough at this stage, and the hours in the day don’t seem long enough. I end up drained and zombie-like, but the book gets done. I am coming to the conclusion that this is simply how I write. It takes me a huge amount of time to really get to know my characters, and that involves a lot of re-writing and re-thinking, but once I’ve done that, I can motor. I met the deadline by the skin of my teeth (what a horrible metaphor that is) and then turned around the revisions (emote, emote, emote) within a few days. So now I’m waiting for the thumbs up or any final tweaks. His Runaway Marchioness Returns will be out in March next year, the same month as the release of A Most Intriguing Lady, my second collaboration with Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, and you’ll be hearing a lot more about both very soon.

There has been very little time for much else except writing from sunrise to sunset and beyond in the last month or so, but I’ve enjoyed a couple of days walking with my youngest sister (aka Baby Sis). There’s nothing like what I’d call a ‘proper’ walk with good company and a lunch at the end of it, and if the weather is kind and the views good that’s an added bonus. Unfortunately, for our first walk along part of the Ayrshire Coastal Path the weather was not kind. At one point, slogging up an un-marked path in the mud and driving rain, we actually had to turn back. When we arrived at the restaurant in Largs we were neither of us sure they’d ley us in, we were so drookit and muddy. It didn’t stop us having a wonderful time mind you, but the photos were not great.

The second walk, around the Isle of Cumbrae on a perfect September day was a very different matter. The views were spectacular, the air that lovely mild but not quite warm autumn kind of day, showing the west coast of Scotland at its very best. Seriously good for the soul, though it wasn’t so great for my feet – I need new walking shoes before we tackle the next one.

Like most people these days, I suspect, we have a very active WhatsApp family group – and a separate one for my mum and sisters. Talk has all been about energy saving – from the sublime to the ridiculous. How to bake a potato has been a (hot) topic. I have never been in favour of microwaving, but after a big debate about how long to subject the potato to, first in the microwave and then to crisp it up in the oven, I decided to give it a go. What I ended up with was something more like a very thick crisp. So next, I tried a potato spike. I must be doing something wrong, because when I de-spiked my potato, half of it was left on the spike and what I ate was only barely cooked.

I bought my friend Peter a hot-water bottle that is like a pair of slippers last year, when he was cold working from home, and since then, the range of them has increased dramatically – you can get them in any colour. A mention of this sent at least one of my sisters hotfoot off to Amazon. Then I made the mistake of mentioning that I’d also knitted Peter some fingerless gloves – I now have orders for several pairs.

I haven’t had the leisure to do a great deal of sewing. Any spare time has been knitting a long overdue gift from my Editor’s baby who is now six months, and probably too big for my offering – which has been ‘nearly done’ for the last two months. I have been experimenting with make-up bags and pencil cases though, having bought some brilliant waterproof lining from Etsy. Watch this space for at least one of my offerings in a giveaway at the end of the month, when I have a new anthology out in the UK.

The struggle to get ‘Slick at Sixty’ continues slowly. My exercise regime is definitely paying off on the re-shaping front, though the book meant that I was too exhausted most days to tackle it and felt decidedly couch-shaped by the end of the write-a-thon. I finally decided to take extreme measures and see what the effect of giving up alcohol would be. I’m far from being a heavy drinker, but I do like my Friday martini, and probably am too fond of a sherry in the evening when I stop work. For three weeks I had nothing to drink at all, and found it surprisingly easy – perhaps because I was working flat out. I lost just under two kilos in ten days. Yay, I thought, this is the way to go. The next two weeks, I lost 500 grams! Honestly! I was soooo disappointed.

But I picked myself up, reminded myself that the grand total was still accumulating and decided to try on my jeans. Everyone has a test outfit in their wardrobe, don’t they? I have lots of comfy jeans but only one pair of Levis. The last time I wore them comfortably was three years ago at the Proms in the Park event with two of my sisters. The try on was a huge boost – not only could I do them up, I could sit down in them! So onwards, and I’ll just have to accept I’m in it for the long haul.

I’m now going to take a break from actual writing for a few weeks and once again take stock. I have a paranormal-lite trilogy previously published under the Mills & Boon Undone imprint that I’m thinking of revamping, but mostly I’m going to rest my brain and regroup. Not at home though, I’m actually getting out and about. The girlie trip to Barcelona to celebrate my birthday and my mum’s 80th from lockdown, is now looming very close. Our WhatsApp group is nothing but hair appointments, packing dilemmas and debates over what we’ll do – or not do. I’m so excited.

Straight after that, I’m heading south for about ten days. I am delighted to share that I’ll be appearing for the second year with the lovely Sarah Ferguson at the Henley Literary Festival on the 5th October. (I am so shallow, one of the first things I did was invest in new shoes!) It would be amazing if you could make it – and if you do, please come and say hello – but it’s a live streamed event, and you can get tickets to join that here. Sarah and I are going to be spending a bit of time together, which I’m looking forward to immensely, and as I’ve said, you’ll be hearing a lot more about our heroine, Lady Mary Montague Douglas-Scott and A Most Intriguing Lady very soon.  

Before all that, there is the new UK anthology, Regency Secrets and a giveaway. Which I better get sewing!

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  1. I felt exhausted by the time I finished reading this. You are incredibly busy and amazingly productive.

    Firstly your writing process is amazing, if a little intimidating but it’s reassuring to see that your commitment to your craft is as strong now after 60 books as when you started. It was fascinating to read how you write, tear up and then write again. I guess every writer has his/her own writing style that fits somewhere along the plotter-panther continuum.

    I’m really looking forward to reading the book once it’s signed off – especially the section set in Hythe. When I was younger, we used to go to Dymchurch and then to Hythe on holiday. I always wanted to live in one of the Martello towers which still exist there.

    We visited Saltwood Castle (then the home of Kenneth Clark -art historian and creator of the tv series Civilisation.) the church with all the skulls and had rides on the Hythe to Dungeness railway as well as the Military Canal.

    We,d walk from Hythe to Folkestone stopping half way along for coffee in a fabulous little cafe on the beach. Thanks for bringing back all those memories.

    I love the fingerless gloves – fabulous colours too!

    1. That should have been plotter- pantser continuum – goodness know how the panther got in there!

      1. How amazing that you know Hythe so well. I have done all those things with my friend Peter, including the walk though not the little model railway. I did see it at the terminal at Dungeness, and was fascinated by that landscape which felt utterly unreal. At one point in my latest story, my hero was going to have built the railway but I changed my mind. I’m actually on the train writing this, heading back down south and will be in Hythe again on Friday. Peter and I are going to film the walk my heroine makes at the start of the book and post it. I hope you enjoy it when it comes.

        As to the writing process and the book – well all I can say is that it’s done and I’m happy with it, as is my Ed. It was a tough one, but they all are. I think if they weren’t it would mean I didn’t care, so I guess it’s just something I have to live with.

        It was lovely to meet you at the RNA. I’m looking forward to hearing more about your writing!

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