Monday, 5 October 2015

writing advice from my kids...

As you know, I write contemporary romance novels with a humorous bent. Obviously, I don't let my ten year old and six year old daughters read my work - as I keep telling them, the books are for grown ups. The fact my kids haven't read anything I've written doesn't stop them from giving me "helpful" advice and I thought it was selfish of me not to share it.

So, if you're a writer, listen up! Here are some conversations I've had with my kids (most of which have appeared on my Facebook page. If you want to read about these as they happen, go over and "like" my page. No doubt the advice featured below won't be the last I receive!)

Choose your genre wisely

My 10 year old daughter:  Why do you write books?
Me:  It's my job.
10 year old:  What do you write about?
Me:  Boys and girls falling in love.
10 year old, with look of disgust:  Why are you writing about that? Can't you get a better job?
Then followed a half hour lecture on why I should write books like Harry Potter... 

Think carefully about the words you use

6 year old:  My teacher told me that you need to use fast words to write a good story.
Me:  What are fast words?
6 year old:  "and" "the" "it"  - that sort of thing. Are you using them?
Me:  Yes.
6 year old looking over my shoulder and pointing randomly at the screen:  Put another "and" there. That bit needs more "the"s.
Me, picking up six year old and depositing her outside my office door:  Thanks. I'll keep that in mind.
6 year old shouting through closed door:  Don't forget to use a full stop. Put one at the end of your story. You need one there.

Ask yourself, is the romance genre really enough?

Ten year old:  So they just get together and kiss and stuff. Is that it? That's the story?
Me:  There's a bit more to it than that.
Ten year old:  Like what?
Me, head beginning to ache:  They deal with their pasts, issues they may have and they deal with the trials that come up in the story.
Ten year old:  That still sounds boring mum. They need to go on an adventure. In the books I read they always go on an adventure.
Me:  Thanks for the input.
Ten year old:  And solve a mystery. They need to solve a mystery. In Famous Five they always solve mysteries. Have you added one?
Me, gritting teeth:  Not yet.
Ten year old:  And a dog. If you add a dog he'll help your characters with their mystery and their adventure. Just make sure you don't write in any wells. Dogs are always falling down wells.
Me:  You must have time on your hands. Have you cleaned your room yet?
Ten year old disappears...

Book length is important

6 year old:  How many pages are in your book?
Me:  About 300
6 year old:  Is that a lot?
Me:  It's about average for a book like this.
6 year old:  Are there any pictures?
Me:  It isn't that sort of book.
6 year old with look of utter disgust:  Mum, I thought you said you were a proper writer. How can you write proper books if it's just lots of pages filled with words? You need picture in it or nobody will want to read it. I thought you knew that!
6 year old stomps out of my office. Half an hour later she comes back and dumps a pile of paper in front of me.
6 year old:  I made you some pictures for your book. I have to do everything around here.
6 year old rolls eyes and stomps back out. 
The drawings were of hearts, elephants and trees. She's still upset they aren't in my books.

Question your motivation

Ten year old:  Mum do you have to be a writer? Is papa forcing you to do it?
Me:  This isn't homework. I want to do it.
Ten year old:  Why? Hardly anybody reads your books anyway.
Me:  Thanks for the chat. Now I need to go put my head in the oven...

If all else fails...

Ten year old:  What's your book about?
Me:  An ex-footballer trying to live down his past and a single mother who is starting over.
Ten year old:  It sounds awful serious, mum.
Me:  No, there are funny bits too.
Ten year old:  Are there any platypuses in the book?
Me:  ?????
Ten year old:  I'd love to read a book with a platypus. But it would need to be the hero, or something important. Maybe you should add a platypus? I'm telling you, mum, people love to read about them. It would make your book great.
Me:  I'll think about that...never...
Ten year old:  Are you worried that you won't be able to explain why there's a platypus in your Scottish town?

Me (ushering her out of the room and far, far away):  Yes. That's "exactly" what I'm worried about...(???)

That's it for now. I'm sure if you follow all of that advice you'll be a much better writer. Oh, and if you have some wonderful advice you've been given, don't forget to let me know! :D

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

I'm coming out of the closet...

...about my taste in music! 

According to pretty much everyone I know, I have terrible taste in music. Last week someone asked me what I listen to while I write. Apparently this is the in-thing right now, having a playlist for your characters or books. I fluffed an answer, something I thought might be current enough that it wouldn't get me booed out of the cool author playground. Then I realized, I'm not cool enough to be in that playground in the first place! I should hold my head high. I should own my own damn taste in music - hence this coming out! :) 

So what do I listen to that is so embarrassing? Well, according to a survey I did on Facebook the other day, while I was *ahem* researching, I have the musical taste of a 96 year old! (It was one of those surveys where they guess your age based on what you read/listen to/eat - you get the idea. And for the record, I have the reading habits of a 20 year old, so I guess it evens out!) 

So here it is: I am currently listening to Julie London's greatest hits, a Doris Day compilation album and Dusty Springfield, when the mood strikes.

Yes. I am really this sad.

I'm not even one of those retro music buffs who extols the virtues of Dinah Washington or Ella Fitzgerald. I'm not that cool. There aren't many hip blog posts about Bing Crosbie, yet I could probably name everything he ever sang! (I've just realised my use of "cool" and "hip", might have given away my taste in music anyway...I suddenly have the urge to google whether young people these days still use those words... The survey was right - I am 96!)

As an aside here,  Calamity Jane is still one of my all time favorite movies and I don't care who knows!

Okay, moving on...

Sometimes, just to prove I live in this century I listen to Adele, or that one song by Hozier. But to be honest I only noticed the Hozier song because it came with this video.

A while ago I started listening to U2's Joshua Tree Album. My sister said: "Congratulations. You've discovered the 80s." Up until then, ABBA was probably the most current music I'd noticed. And yes, I did just put ABBA and U2 in the same paragraph. 

So that's it. My big confession for this week. I am a closet easy listener. There. I've said it. There's no taking it back now... I am officially out of the closet.

p.s. while I'm in confessing mode. I also love Michael Buble. And yes. I am a middle aged housewife... (hangs head in shame...) ;)

Friday, 28 August 2015

Antipodean spring chaos

Years ago, a farmer friend of mine was lamenting hobby farmers. He said the area was being overtaken by these amateurs with their tiny plots of land, exotic animals (like alpacas and ostriches) and total ignorance as to what they were doing. I thought his rant was funny at the time. It's not so funny now, especially as I've just realized I'm one of those ignorant hobby farmers! (Well, my husband is and I'm guilty by proximity. Or possibly guilty because I turn all of our animals into pets!)
One of last year's babies. We called her Buttercup.
Right now we're dealing with the problems of spring over here in New Zealand. The sheep are lambing. Which, in our case, means the sheep drop a lamb, forget they birthed it and wander off leaving the poor wee thing to bleat frantically. At this point, I generally freak out, stalk up our hill and rescue the abandoned lambs. I then spend weeks getting up every two hours during the night to bottle feed the lamb. As a reward for my sleep deprivation, I get to dress the lambs in pink jumpers and cuddle them continually. As punishment for my soft heart, I get another pet sheep. Or several pet sheep, depending on the year. Pet sheep are different from normal sheep in that they are named, fed treats, allowed in the garden and are never, ever turned into sausages. At this rate our place is going to be overrun by pet sheep. See what I mean about ignorant hobby farmers???

My first ever rescued lamb - Fuzzbucket. This was taken years before I realised she'd grow into a noisy, whining sheep who kicks the door demanding bread and wants to live in the guest room.
That's Fuzzbucket on the left. She brought some of her mates with her to demand sandwiches.
This year we accidentally started breeding chickens. I say accidentally because we didn't realize one of our chickens was a rooster until he'd already done the deed with most of our hens. Because he was cute, and a pet, it took a while to find someone to take him off our hands. Someone we trusted not to turn him into Sunday dinner. Don't get me wrong, chicken is one of my favorite foods, just not when it's called Sparky. Anyway, I was in the garden yesterday when I spotted three little grey chicks following a hen. That's how we discovered we were breeding the things. We'd been wondering where the eggs had gone, turns out there are two hidden nests being kept warm by two grumpy hens. The potential for a whole lot more babies is considerable. This would be exciting, if it wasn't for the fact I now have to monitor the cats to make sure they don't treat the chicken coop as an all-you-can-eat buffet.
The white one was the culprit.
On top of all this, the goat is molting. I thought she was sick, she's shedding a tonne of fluff, so I loaded her into the car and took her to the vet. Turns out most people with goats call the vet out to them, rather than putting a lead on the goat before walking her into the vet. After a pricey visit we learned she's losing her winter coat. She seems genuinely irritated by the hair loss, so I've taken to brushing her coat in an attempt to calm her. There's probably a right way to do this. It's probably not the way I'm doing it. I use one of my hairbrushes and I spray her coat with a detangler product before I start. The detangler works great on my kids, so I figured it would work on the goat. She does look less messy now. She also smells like strawberry hair product and has a slight sparkle to her fur.
The goat on her very own chair. The goat lives in my old greenhouse. She gets a snack box every evening.
I'm told that none of this is normal...
As you can see, hobby farmers like me really don't know what they're doing. I should probably do some research into how to take care of things properly. I'll get right on that - after I counsel our alpacas, who I'm sure are traumatized by our overly friendly highland cow. And I really need to email someone about an ad I saw for ostriches looking for a good home...

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

I don't write propaganda

This week, I read a scathing review of one of my books. I try not to let negative reviews get to me, as we all like different things, but this one stuck in my mind. The reviewer took particular issue with the heroine. They said the heroine was weak willed, that she relied on a man to sort out her problems, that she behaved like a throwback to the 50s. They said she was a bad example to women. That she wasn't a strong, independent, contemporary woman and therefore the book itself wasn't worth reading.

Now, here's the thing: the reviewer is partly right.

I didn't write a strong, independent heroine who could sort out all of her own problems. The guy did step in to help her and she leaned on him. The reader is right about the character, but wrong about the heroine being a bad example. And wrong about the character not being a contemporary woman. The reason the reviewer is wrong is this: the heroine wasn't written to be an example for women.

Because I write a character who is weak, or troubled, it doesn't mean I don't care about the strong, amazing women who blaze a trail for all of us. I have two daughters. I want them to grow up to be strong, independent free thinkers, but I don't expect them to learn how to be like that through reading my books. I expect them to develop into amazing women because they are surrounded by other amazing women and because I have striven, through the way I live, to show them what it's like to be strong, independent and intelligent. My books are fiction. The characters in them are different from me. They don't say the things I say. They don't do the things I do. They don't think the way I think.

They are made up people. Invented for a story. Fleshed out to tell a tale.

There are lots of different types of women in our world today. There are women who are strong and independent. Women who are weak and insecure. Women who are dependent on those around them, and women who are responsible for everyone they know. Women who are intelligent and women who aren't. There  are women with strong bodies, and skills, who know how to fight and women who faint at the thought of shedding blood. There are women with brilliant careers and women who choose to concentrate on raising a family. There are women who buckle under the weight of abuse and women who survive and come out stronger. There are women who find it hard to make decisions and women who are extraordinary leaders. They are ALL contemporary women. They all have valid stories. They all react differently in any given situation. If I were to only write about one type of woman, I'd miss out on all those stories. And there is beauty in all of them. We learn something from the stories of people who are NOT like us.

So, I feel I should warn you: I have no intention of changing how I write.

I know there are readers out there who only want one type of woman and who think that only one type of heroine is correct. I disagree and I want to write about lots of different types of women. So if you're looking for a book that promotes an ideal you adhere to, and it isn't in my books, then don't read my books.

I don't write propaganda. I don't try to push any belief or message with my work--although I have very strong beliefs and views on many things, including what it means to be a woman today. What I try to do is step inside the head of someone who isn't like me and make them as real as possible. If you don't agree with the actions of the character, then that's fine. The character isn't you. The same way she isn't me.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

FREE for a limited time!

There's been a hiccup and Lingerie Wars is being offered FREE in all online bookstores. Go grab a copy before they sort the mistake and the price goes back up!

Friday, 21 August 2015

FREE romance books!

iBooks are giving away hundreds of great romance novels, including Lingerie Wars! These books are all written by New Zealand and Australian based authors. This is a limited time offer, so make sure you don't miss out. Pop over right now to see what fab new reads you can find. :D

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

7 romance novel pet peeves...

Recently I've been less than thrilled with the romance novels I've been reading. Don't get me wrong there are a lot of really good books out there and some truly amazing writers. But I seem to have hit a run of things I hate to find in a good romance. It's annoyed me so much that I've decided to share my pain! When I find one of my pet peeves in a romance novel, I want to throw the book at the wall. Am I alone in this? Does this stuff drive you nuts too?

1. A romance heroine who is too stupid to live

Imagine the scene, you're happily reading away, enjoying the story when suddenly the heroine decides to walk down a dark alley. She needs to follow a blood trail, even though she's all alone and has no skills to deal with what she might find. Or how about this one: the heroine, who's been told by the experts in the story not to do something, does that exact thing as soon as their backs are turned. Even though commonsense and basic logic would tell any woman that it's a bad idea. These heroines are TOO STUPID TO LIVE. They have no place in a decent novel. Didn't this sort of thing end with the bad horror movies of the 70s? Aren't we over dumb women walking into places no sane woman would ever go??? I mean, seriously, it's the 21st century. What woman in their right mind would do something like this? When I find someone like this in a book I just want to throw it out the window.

2. It's all a misunderstanding

I HATE when the characters spend a whole book fighting over something that could have been solved with a conversation in the first chapter. This is not a plot. It's a farce.

3. Repetitive internal monologues

Enough with the endless emotional angst already! What age is the character? 13? I sometimes wonder if writers think readers are dumb. You don't need to tell your reader something over and over for them to get it. Reading one paragraph where the hero ruminates over his childhood trauma is enough. You don't need to bring it up every couple of pages. Instead of telling me what he's thinking about all the time, how about showing me through the action how he's dealing with it? Page after page of angst is only interesting if you're a fifteen year old writing a diary. For the rest of us it's BORING.

4. Characters that have nothing endearing about them AT ALL

I read a book recently where the hero and heroine were totally unlikable. I kept waiting for a scene or a turn in the story where I'd find out they had depth of character. I wanted something - ANYTHING - about them to make me like them. It never happened. Why would I read about people I can't identify with and don't like? This boggles my mind.

5. Characters who act out of character

This one really makes me mad. I read a book recently where the heroine was smart, sassy and cautious - until about 10% from the end! Then she suddenly did something so stupid and out of character it made no sense whatsoever. It pulled me out of the story and ruined the book for me. I can see why the author did it. It was an easy way to move the plot along and get the ending she wanted. It was also the lazy way. I won't be buying this author again. I'm worried she'll do that to me in future books. Once bitten...

6. NEVER, ever use this phrase: velvet over steel

I think this was used to describe a penis once in the 70s and a whole bunch of romance writers thought: "Hey, that is so groovy, I need to use it too!" NO. DON'T DO IT. For a start it isn't accurate. I wrapped velvet round a steel pipe and it is nothing like it claims to be. On top of that it's a screaming cliche that's so overused it makes the reader laugh. And you generally don't want a reader laughing in the middle of your oh-so-hot sex scene. Unless you're writing romantic comedy and intend for this to happen. Which gives me an idea... :)

7. Flogging a dead series

Three times recently I've read the latest books in series by authors I love and discovered the same thing--they should have let the series die! It's obvious from the way the books are written that the author is totally over it. Their lack of interest, and joy, comes through loud and clear. Readers might want more of the same from you, but if your heart isn't in it you aren't doing them any favors by writing those books. Do something else with your talent. Give me a book that's just as well written as some of the books in your past instead of a half-hearted attempt to do what you think I want. LET THE SERIES END.

Okay, I feel so much better having gotten that off my chest. Phew! If you have any pet peeves, don't forget to share them with me. Trust me, you'll feel the weight lift from your shoulders when you do! ;)