Thursday, 3 August 2017

My book won the Stiletto award!

Look what I  brought home as a souvenir from the Romance Writers of America conference! Reckless, Benson’s Boys book 1, won the romantic suspense category of the Stiletto competition. I was really shocked to win and very excited that I was actually there to hear my name being called. Not bad for my first ever conference! Now it’s back to getting book three in the series finished… 🙂
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In case you were wondering what Reckless is about, here's the blurb:
The new London office of Benson Security hasn’t even opened its doors yet and already it’s neck deep in its first case…
If the mission doesn’t kill him, his sexy partner just might.
Dimitri Raast and Megan Donaldson have a common enemy—the head of an organisation that specializes in human trafficking and sexual slavery.
They have similar motivation—Dimitri’s sister was taken by the organisation, and Megan’s sister is threatened by it.
They have the same goal—eliminate their enemy and save their sisters.
Given they have so much in common, you would think working together would be a piece of cake.
You would be wrong.
While Dimitri brings skills and experience from years as a US army ranger to their partnership, Megan brings a background in failed career choices and an ability to cause trouble wherever she goes. Yet, even with so much at stake, Dimitri can’t resist Megan’s particular brand of crazy. She’s wild, she’s sexy and she’s fearless. An irresistible combination for a man who lives his life completely in control. Now, after almost a year with one all-consuming focus, Dimitri finds himself torn between rescuing his sister and protecting the woman he wants from herself.
Before she gets them both killed.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Book Sale!


Hello from cold and wintry New Zealand!

This is just a quick note to let you know about a snap sale I'm having.
Reckless is a top three finalists in the romantic suspense category of the Romance Writers of America's Stiletto competition and I thought that was a good reason to put it on sale! So if you haven't read it already, or you know someone who would like to, now is a good time to get it. You can download the ebook from all retailers for 0.99 - links below.

Okay, that's it for now. Time to get back to writing Benson's Boys Book 3, Rage. 


About Reckless

The new London office of Benson Security hasn’t even opened its doors yet and already it’s neck deep in its first case… 

If the mission doesn’t kill him, his sexy partner just might.

Dimitri Raast and Megan Donaldson have a common enemy—the head of an organisation that specializes in human trafficking and sexual slavery. They have similar motivation—Dimitri’s sister was taken by the organisation, and Megan’s sister is threatened by it. They have the same goal—eliminate their enemy and save their sisters. Given they have so much in common, you would think working together would be a piece of cake. 

You would be wrong.

While Dimitri brings skills and experience from years as a US army ranger to their partnership, Megan brings a background in failed career choices and an ability to cause trouble wherever she goes. Yet, even with so much at stake, Dimitri can’t resist Megan’s particular brand of crazy. She’s wild, she’s sexy and she’s fearless. An irresistible combination for a man who lives his life completely in control. Now, after almost a year with one all-consuming focus, Dimitri finds himself torn between rescuing his sister and protecting the woman he wants from herself. 

Before she gets them both killed.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

memories of Peru

My latest book, Relentless, is set in Peru and Bolivia. These are two countries I absolutely love. I've visited them a couple of times, but I also got to live and work there for about a year when I was in my early twenties. It was the first time I'd ever been that far away from Scotland and it was also my first time on a plane! I went to Peru to work as a "resident artist" in a school program in the shanty towns outside of Lima and then on to Bolivia to teach art at an international high school. I had no teaching experience, couldn't speak a word of Spanish and knew nothing about the culture - you could say I was very well prepared for the experience! Here are four things I learned about travelling from my trip all those years ago.

Cochabamba, Bolivia, where I briefly taught high school art.

Always take a phrase book with you.

I didn't! And all the Spanish I knew was Por Favor and Adios. Yeah, not great. I fed myself in that first month by calling the local pizza place and saying "Pizza Por Favor" followed by my address. They soon learned that was all I could say, because no matter what they asked, that was my reply. I got a large selection of random pizzas from very amused delivery boys - including one that almost killed me because it was covered in chilies! I also spent months ordering cheese and ham sandwiches from a little cafe in the center of Lima before I realized that Jabon is Spanish for soap, not ham. And then there was the time, towards the end of my year, when I spoke at someone's wedding and instead of telling them I was embarrassed to be talking but the minister made me do it, I said I was pregnant and the minister made me do it! Yeah, a phrase book would have been handy...

The area I worked in while I was in Lima

Buy sensible souvenirs that will easily pack into your luggage

I bought eight foot spears from a tribe in the Amazon. They didn't fit in anything. When I arrived at Bolivian's International airport to get on the plane to come home, I was picked up by security for trying to take a dangerous weapon onto the plane. I was strip searched as I lectured the guard on how the spears weren't exactly a stealth weapon and someone might notice me if I rushed the cockpit with them. The upshot was that I had to pay to have the spears packaged and put in the hold.

My spears are still in the UK, but this will give you an idea of what I mean.

Be prepared to try new foods

Now you might think that growing up in Glasgow - where deep fried Mars Bars are the norm - that unusual food wouldn't faze me. You'd be wrong. The first time I had to eat a chicken's eyeball, then nibble the meat off a chicken's foot, I was very fazed! Don't even get me started on the dinner I was invited to in the shanty town where I worked. I had to point at one of the guinea pigs running around the owner's house so she could kill it and turn it into stew for our meal! The experience was traumatic, but the guinea pig was tasty...just sayin'...

Peruvian guinea pig...yum...

Always tell somebody where you're going

I'm an independent sort of girl, so this didn't occur to me. Consequently, when I went missing from the high school I was teaching at for three days, leaving only a note saying I'd be back, the staff went nuts trying to find me. I, meanwhile, had hitched a ride on a tiny plane into the jungle with an organisation that flew in supplies and medical help for the tribes. I had an absolute blast only to come back to the lecture of my life. Lesson learned. The next time I left a note it said: "Do not worry. I'm in the jungle." Apparently that wasn't enough information either...

LOVED the jungle!

So that's it. I could talk about Peru and Bolivia all day long, but I can't - not if you want the next in the Benson's Boys series to come out sometime this year! If you ever get a chance, I would totally recommend visiting Peru and Bolivia. They're countries full of romance, breathtaking scenery, friendly people and rich cultural heritage. I can't wait to go back!

What a writer needs to succeed...

The following contains real, but edited, extracts from my writer’s journal over the years.

A writer needs:

1.  A well-developed imagination

Had a great idea for a book! Now all I need is a hero with The Rock’s body, Einstein's mind, Robin William's sense of humor, George Clooney's charisma and the sexual skill of… Can’t think of anyone who’s famous for their skill in bed. And I’m definitely not going to use any of those guys who “accidentally” lose their “private” sex tapes. Will just have to go with my imagination. Might have to read the Kama Sutra first.

2. A disciplined work ethic

Three a.m. December 02. I stayed up reading until late into the night, slept most of today and remembered three hours ago that I have a 5th of December deadline for a novella I’m writing. Three bottles of Pepsi Max later and I’m working on the book. I’m also chittering like a hamster, my left eye twitches, my fingers are numb from typing and I can’t feel my legs. Why, oh why didn’t I start this book six months ago when the idea first hit????

3. Superior concentration

I was trying to work out a scene in my book while I drove home. It was just coming together as I pulled up into my driveway, so I stayed in the car to think about it. I got a fright when my concentration was broken by a knock at my window. Turns out I wasn’t in my driveway—I was in the drive of the house we sold three years ago!

4. The ability to cope with rejection

May 13th: I drove to the supermarket with my latest rejection letter in hand, bought a family sized chocolate cake and a plastic fork. I’m now sitting at the beach eating the cake out of the box. For some reason, I thought the cake would cure my self-doubt and disappointment. Instead I’m about two forkfuls away from being rushed to hospital to have my stomach pumped. And I still feel like the worst writer in the world. May have to re-evaluate my coping mechanisms.

5. Tenacity

May 14th: I have a chocolate hangover. I am never eating a whole cake ever again. Never. I’ve decided to be proactive instead of wallowing in self-pity. I’ve pinned all of my rejection letters to the wall and I’m going to cover them with sticky notes detailing my WIP. How many times was J.K. Rowling rejected? Or Steven King? They didn’t give up and look what happened. So I can’t write like either of them, that’s not the point. The point is, to stick with it. As they say in Galaxy Quest: “Never give up. Never surrender.”

6. Some technical knowledge

For some reason I thought using voice recognition software would speed up my writing. I had visions of me talking out all of the stories in my head, then sorting them later. Easy, right? NO! The damn program isn’t geared to a Scottish accent. I’ve spent most of my day yelling at my computer. It doesn’t understand me, but it can pick up my kids talking in the other room!!! Half my chapter is about their discussion on what type of Lego is better, Barbie or Friends. This is not going to work.

7. Research skills

I’m in a book coma. My eyeballs ache and my brain has slowed to a crawl. I’ve read seventeen romance novels this week. When hubby saw our credit card bill, full of one-click buys from Amazon, he asked how this helped me to write the next book. I told him it was research. Really hoping he won’t look at my kindle. It’s kind of hard to explain how an intergalactic, shape-shifter ménage romance has anything to do with a romantic comedy set in Scotland. 

8. The ability to work well alone

People are driving me insane. Why do they insist on talking to me? Don’t these people know I’m writing! Okay, mainly I’m surfing the web and “liking” cat videos on facebook, but it’s all part of the writer’s process. How do I know what thoughts I have if my head is constantly stuffed full of other people’s thoughts? I need noise cancelling headphones to tune everyone out. No, I need a week on a deserted island—one with internet access and a five star hotel.

9. Some knowledge in the area of psychology

If I don’t get the voices out of my head I’m going to snap and go on a rampage. All night long my hero and heroine have been fighting about something stupid. Sure the dialogue is funny, but that’s not the point. They aren’t even in the book I’m writing. They’re like five books into the series. Now I just need to find a way to get them to shut up until it’s time for their book. Is this what schizophrenia feels like? Crap, what do I do if one of the voices in my head answers that? I need more caffeine.

10. The ability to distance herself from her work in order to view it critically

This is rubbish. I’m writing rubbish. Why am I even bothering to write? There are millions of writers out there and they’re all better than I am. I just reread the last chapter I wrote. I used the word “just” seventeen times in one paragraph! My hero is chauvinistic, my heroine is insipid and my plot was written by Monty Python. There is no hope for any of this. I may as well go back to teaching. That way I can warp young minds with my positive attitude instead of writing rubbish.

11. The ability to bounce back

Today: Had a great idea for a book! Now all I need is a hero who…

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Real Life Romance VS Fictional Romance

My husband and I have our twenty-second anniversary this July. We met while working for Camp America. I was the art teacher at summer camp and he was a run of the mill pleb who looked after the vacationers. He couldn’t speak very much English at the time and I couldn’t speak any Dutch. Now that I think about it, the lack of communication made it pretty much the perfect relationship! Three weeks after camp we were at the top of the Empire State building when he proposed to me. His proposal went something like: “I’m wondering what to do with you. I can’t leave you alone after I go back to Holland. You will probably end up living on the street or dying in a gutter in Mexico. I think you need to come with me. We have to get married.” I improved the English he used at the time, but you get the gist!

Overwhelmed by the romance in that conversation, I refused his proposal (funnily enough!) Being a typical alpha male, he just rolled his eyes and made plans for our life in Holland. I didn’t pay much attention to his muttering, I was still stuck on the “you’ll die in a gutter in Mexico” thing. My plans for after summer camp had been to teach English in Mexico. Being from Glasgow, with a strong Scottish accent that even people in English speaking countries failed to understand, this might not have been the best plan. Gutter death was a definite possibility.

In the end, I went back to Holland with hubby. His family were bewildered. There were comments along the lines of: “Other people bring back T-shirts, you brought back a strange Scottish woman.” I’m pretty sure, even after twenty-two years, that my Dutch family are still bewildered as to why we’re together.

Over the years my husband’s approach to romance has been hit or miss. There was the Valentine’s Day where he didn’t say a word about it all day so I thought he’d forgotten. Not caring much about the holiday, I didn’t really mind. Then I went to bed that night, put my hand under the pillow and came out with a pink pearl necklace. Yeah, he got lucky that night. And for many more after it! Then there was the Valentine’s Day where I woke up to an excited hubby who proudly presented his present—a treadmill. You can imagine how that went down.

It took me a while, oh seventeen years or so, to realise that men don’t have a clue about romance. My husband thought a treadmill was a caring and thoughtful gift—I thought it was a comment on the size of my backside! Romance, happy ever afters, love at first sight, instant connection—these are all things that women believe in, understand and have no problem finding real life examples of. Whereas most men (about 99% in my highly scientific and accurate assessment) really don’t have a clue what we’re talking about. They think the inside of our heads are decked out in pink glitter and cotton candy. But the thing is, romance is real. I’m living proof. When I first saw my husband there was an instant connection. About a week into our relationship I knew he was the one for me. (Then I waited for him to catch up. It took five weeks. Not bad, but still…) Now we’re living our happily ever after. I just stopped writing to check that with him, he rolled his eyes and muttered that after twenty-two years I still need a keeper—I’m taking that as an agreement.

I think the reason romance books strike a chord with women is that we’re smart enough to know romance is real. True love does exist. Happy ever afters are possible. And love at first sight happens all the time. The only difference between real life and fiction is that in fiction the story is often better written, with less messy plot twists and fewer arguments about whose turn it is to clean the toilet!  

The criminal chicken

I abducted a chicken. It wasn’t intentional. I was driving home, saw an orange chicken at the side of the road and assumed it was my escape artist chicken. I screeched to a halt, threw her into the passenger seat, then lectured her all the way home. It was only when I put her in the coop I realised my mistake—mainly because my chicken came out to mock me. I then put the stolen chicken back in the car and drove her home—all the while hoping her real owners wouldn’t notice when I dropped her off and ran.

One day, I plan to dye my Silkie chickens pink!

I’d like to say this sort of event is rare, but it really isn’t. Out of all our rescued pets Lizi-chicken is the most work. She likes to wander into the house and make herself at home. You don’t know she’s there until she coos at you. I can’t count the number of times that chicken has made me scream. Because, seriously, would you expect to find a chatty chicken when you opened a closet? I couldn’t figure out how she was getting into the house until I spotted her climbing through the cat flap one day. So I locked the flap. Now she walks around the house and pecks at the front door until someone opens it for her, then she walks in like she owns the place.

Our chickens

She’s even been dragged home by the cops. I was sitting writing one day when the doorbell rang. I answered only to find a cop standing with a chicken under his arm. My chicken.
“Is this your chicken?” he asked.
I’m ashamed to admit I thought about lying. My brain was full of all kinds of criminal damage the chicken could have caused. Damage I would be responsible for fixing. (I’m a writer. I have a good imagination!)
“Madam,” the guy said. “Is this your chicken?”
“Um, maybe?” I said as the chicken cooed, “I love you mummy.”
Turns out she hadn’t been arrested, he’d just picked her up from the middle of the road instead of running over her. Yay for us…
I took her from the cop, she scrambled out of my arms and made a beeline for the cat food. I smiled at the cop and shrugged, “chickens,” I said, “what can you do?” The guys shook his head as he climbed back into his car.
Meanwhile, I dragged the chicken away from the cat food and tossed her out the back door. Five minutes later my pet sheep walked past my office window with the chicken on her back. I don’t know where they were going, but the chicken seemed to be in charge.

Take my advice. If you want a pet, get fish…

Writing tips - writing romantic comedy

I wrote this blog for my RWA chapter - contemporary romance - and thought some of you might enjoy it too. So here you are, my thoughts on writing romantic comedy!

Writing romantic comedy is hard. I’ve written several romantic comedies and I still struggle to get the balance right in each and every book. If you lean too much on the comedy side of the novel, your readers won’t take the romance seriously. And if there isn’t enough humor in the book, you’ll get blasted for not being funny. So how do you get it right?

Well first up, you need to decide what type of romantic comedy you’re writing. If your intentions aren’t clear from the outset, the reader can become confused and lose interest in your book. Here are some of the basic formats:
·         In it together
This type of comedy points out the absurdities of life while the writer encourages the reader to laugh at them from a position of superiority. (Only the writer and reader can see how humorous the story is.)
Example: Anything by Jane Austen.
·         All in the tone
This is where the author’s voice in itself is humorous, but they still manage to achieve depth within the story. This one hard to pull off without becoming so flippant that you alienate the reader.
Example: Kresley Cole does this brilliantly in her Immortals After Dark series.
·         It’s a garnish, darling
This is the type of book that sprinkles humorous dialogue or scenes sparingly throughout the novel. The humor in these books tends to be more subtle and less “wet-yourself-laughing.” (Although sometimes the odd laugh out loud scene will happen.)
Example: Anything Susan Elizabeth Phillips writes.
·         It’s all a farce
This is where pretty much everything is over-the-top and silly. The problem with this is that the reader won’t take anything seriously in your book. Therefore, if you plan to put in some depth, it will be missed.
Example: Mel Brooks movies and the screwball comedies of the thirties.
·         Counterpoint comedy
You see this work best in action movies. In this type of book there is drama, pathos and then suddenly a burst of comedy to lighten the mood. The comedy in these books is relevant to the story and can sometimes be quite dark. Example: Lethal Weapon movies.

My books lie on the line between “It’s a garnish, darling” and “Counterpoint comedy.” When I’m writing I try to balance the humor to ensure there are moments that make the reader smile as well as at least one moment that makes them laugh out loud. But, and this is important, humor in a romantic comedy should NEVER outshine the romance. Readers come to the book for the romance. That needs to be your main focus—always.

So, in saying that, once you know which type of book you want to write, how do you include humor without going over-the-top and alienating your reader? Here are some tips that might help you get the balance right:

1. Put the emphasis on romance
It’s far too easy, when writing romantic comedy, to tip over into just plain comedy. Always remember that the reader is reading for the romance and all humor should be within the context of the developing romance. For a romantic comedy to work well it needs emotional depth. The humor works best when the readers can identify with the characters and their struggles.

2. Make the characters take it seriously
You don’t want your characters to come across as trying to be funny. You want them to take whatever situation they’re in very seriously. This exaggerates the humor for the reader. Characters who are naturally sarcastic or humorous are wonderful, but you want to limit the number you have within each book. Otherwise, it will sound as though every character has the same voice and the book will start to feel flippant and shallow in tone.

3. Keep dialogue sharp and watch sarcasm
A character who is continually sarcastic can put a reader off the story. But, if a character makes a humorous/sarcastic observation about something that is very serious it can affect the way the other characters, and the reader, view a scene. One comment can turn an emotional scene into a humorous one. The key to achieving this, is being aware of who’s making the comment and where it’s placed within the scene. As they say, timing is everything! Banter is also great for comedy and for developing character relationships. Remember to keep it tightly written and don’t let it go on for too long—otherwise it will slow the pacing of the novel and distract from the overall theme of the story. Remember, all banter should be in keeping with each character’s individual voice. If you don’t do this, they can sound too similar and pull the reader out of the story.

4. Include one set piece per book
Instead of trying to think of a funny situation for each and every chapter, come up with just one laugh-out-loud set piece for the entire book instead. This can be a ludicrous situation the characters find themselves in, or a serious scene that takes an unexpected turn into dark humor, or something that goes badly wrong for a character and only the reader (or other characters) can see the humor in the situation. This set piece should be a natural fit for the character and the story. I try to place the set piece in the middle of my books, for pacing’s sake. It boosts the middle—allowing me to show something about my characters that I’d previously been unable to show—while at the same time it’s far enough away from the ending to stop it from interfering with emotional depth as the characters resolve their feelings for each other. I’ve found that very few stories can work well with more than one set piece. This is because the more there are, the more they detract from the emotional depth of the romance.

5. Keep the reader in on the joke
I’ve found that having a character take themselves seriously, but come across as absurd or funny, is more humorous than having the character aware of how funny they are. The reader can see how ludicrous the situation/character is, but the characters involved in it are oblivious. Don’t try to be too clever with this technique, it can come across as patronizing. Like everything else in writing romantic comedy, the focus should always be on the romance and not on the comedy.

6. Pay careful attention to how other characters treat a comedy element
Sometimes it’s fine for a character to laugh at someone who’s being funny. That tells the reader that the person who’s enacting the comedy, but isn’t aware it’s comedy, is in fact seen as humorous by those around them. Sometimes, the humorous tension in the scene is increased when the characters around the funny person take them seriously and don’t see the humor. I use both techniques in my books. I’ve found that, if characters laugh at each other too much the reader doesn’t take the humorous characters seriously when they need to.

7. Humor works best as contrast
You need the emotional depth in a romance to offset the comedy. You need the gamut of emotions within your book. Aim to make the reader cry as well as laugh. The contrast will emphasize both the romantic side of the book and the comedy side. Remember the relationship between your hero and heroine is your priority. A reader will laugh louder and harder if they’re invested in the characters.

8. Keep it natural
There is a lot of humorous potential in romance, but it should always be a natural product of the story you’re telling, otherwise it will feel forced. If the comedy element you’ve written doesn’t tell you something about the characters, or move the story along, or create conflict—it isn’t worth having in your book. Comedy, like every other element in a novel, needs to reinforce the overall premise of the story.

9. Be careful of crass humor
Because of the subject matter—all that physical interaction—it’s easy to slip into crass humor as a romantic comedy writer. This can seriously put a reader off. In the fourteen books I’ve written, I’ve only done this once. I still have mixed feelings about the scene, because I feel both amused and embarrassed when I read it, but it fits the characters and it moves the plot along and it was essential to the dynamic between the hero and heroine. Be really wary of crass humor. Unless you want to write like Benny Hill or a Carry On movie, this can kill your story.

10. Have fun with it
The chances are, if you find something funny, someone else will too. So entertain yourself as you write. Keep notes on situations in real life that make you laugh. Look out for situations that are ironic or absurd, but are taken seriously by those involved. Write down witty one-liners you hear, you might be able to use them later. But through it all, remember you’re writing romance. The comedy is just the icing on the cake.

I hope this helps. Writing romantic comedy is a serious business, but a whole lot of fun. Happy writing!