‘Just because I’m too old to do it, doesn’t mean I don’t want to remember it.’
was a comment Kate Walker, author of 65 romances received from a 96 year old avid Mills & Boon reader.
Mr Mills and Mr Boon established their publishing company in London in 1908. They took on Kate Walker as one of their authors in 1984. M&B is now multi-national company selling 150,000 ebooks in addition to 130 million traditional tree-books. Owned now by Harper Collins, M&B retains the well-known Harlequin name. Listening to Kate; their stereotypes could not be further from the truth.
Category romances are where M&B have made their name. They focus solely on the couple. At only 55,000 words, there is no room for anyone else’s story.
Readers of romance are ‘real little sadists’ says Kate. They expect a ‘Black moment’ when it seems the couple have no hope. But, they also demand an emotionally satisfying (happy) ending. The heroine could be as shady as the hero. He must have a vulnerability. Both characters must be ‘real’. The reader wants to ‘become’ them. For darker conflict; Kate has used Post Natal Psychosis. The hero rudely taking the heroine’s parking space is not acceptable!
Kate knows that if a title sells well in the USA, all the international countries will buy it. In Japan books are also turned into Manga (as we all know the Japanese do not deny themselves the pleasure of comics just because they reach adulthood)
As well as lecturing, Kate is a reader for the Romantic Novelists New Writers’ Scheme. She wrote her acclaimed Twelve-point Guide to Writing Romance in response to requests for advice and a desire to reach all those that were unable to attend her workshops.
The portrayal of the passion between the couple whether that is emotional or physical must hook the M&B reader. The writer must be in love with their hero and portray him so that the reader, despite themselves, falls in love with him too. If you can achieve this relationship, you are onto a winner.
Not a Romance Novelist. Catherine King is a Professional Yorkshire Lass and Career Novelist.
Catherine writes (and is contracted to do so) a book a year. ‘It is achievable’, she says, ‘if you are writing full-time.’ Which as this is her career, she does.
Choose your genre and be prepared to stick to it. Eg. Historical Saga for Women.
She researched and learned the genre’s rules. Her heroines meet its criteria – vulnerable and strong. They need to be strong, as she adds with a wicked grin, ‘because I (the writer) am going to make it worse’. But Catherine does relent – she always gives the heroine a happy or at least promising ending.
‘Whatever your genre. Use what you know.’
The North is in Catherine’s blood. So, why go anywhere else? And this is where the Saga comes in. Each of Catherine’s novels is regional.
Having settled on her genre, she needed a period. Victorian times were thrilling and industrial. But, for women times were challenging. This gave Catherine’s characters an important, enticing trait – they had to be resourceful.
Not a Romantic Novelist – Catherine is a scientist!
‘Being a novelist is more fun.’
Catherine’s education taught her the rudiments of research and what to do with it. Local libraries and museums are teeming with tit-bits. At least three times during her talk she mused; ‘I must revisit that….’ But, she does admit to evidential espionage, a Hampshire health farm which had a beautiful setting was moved up north.
‘Always be nice. To everybody.’
Network! Catherine cannot stress enough the Importance of Networking. There is luck in publishing, but by Networking, you may increase your chances of netting it. Through a group of novelist friends Catherine was introduced to an agent.
Being a Career Novelist, Catherine endures much input from her publisher. The decision of the title and cover has been relinquished to the marketing department. And the publishers have even, once or twice weaseled the plot line and period to suit what they know will sell. The up-side of this though, is that when a drop in sales does happen – it is not Catherine’s fault. And she can and does play them at their own game. A new slant on a story poo-pooed by the publishers persuades them and her plot is agreed.
All this may sound a little stifling but it is these peoples’ business to know how to get a success and Catherine is successful. Plus being a writer is what Catherine has always wanted and she loves it.
Special Guest, Judith Heneghan,
Director of the Winchester Writers’ Festival
Writers! Come and Play said Judith Heneghan, Director of Winchester Writers’ Festival. The Festival is a safe environment – a workshop with an experienced lecturer.
Even for those not embroiled in their ‘big work in progress’ the one-to-one meetings are the brazen opportunity to pick the brains of knowledgeable writing doyens. Ask your questions. Gain inspired feedback.
But, there is also Hard Graft. The Festival is somewhere where the writer can find their audience. Perhaps even their agent. Connections have been forged here and will continue to do so. Networking formal or informal at the Festival surrounds the writer with people interested in ‘what we do’.
And after that crazy day’s workshopping and playing, join us for dinner and let the professionals do the work.
Come to see the Keynote Speaker, award-winning, best-selling author Sebastian Faulks. Take away new friends to sustain you through the rest of the year until you can come to the festival again in 2016.
The festival dates 19th – 21st June 2015. More information about the workshops, talks, competitions, 750 one-to-one appointments can be found on the website. http://writersfestival.co.uk/
The lovely, lively Lorella Belli was the main speaker last night and also the adjudicator. She gave a refreshing look at the world of writing and inspired many of our members to try different routes into publishing. Read the main report for the full account of the evening.
Lorella’s assessment was based on the following criteria;
Readability (based on the submitted piece alone, rather than how it might fit into a longer piece of fiction, for example as part of a novel)
Writing itself (both the use of language, metaphors, word association, etc; and even more avoiding clichés, stereotypical imagery, and even spelling, for example)
Originality of concept/idea
Characterization and scene building
Pace, flow and element of surprise/suspense/mystery
1st Prize: David Lea, Killer Heels
‘This entry won because it ticked all the above boxes: Enjoyable and clear/clean writing (ie. careful and meaningful choice of words, which is key especially in a short piece); well observed, structured and vividly-described scene, one can picture it very easily. Characters well introduced and relatable; good use of dialogue; catchy title and nice element of surprise at the end, it makes you wish to read more of it.’
We reached Clapham Junction and people bundled over us and around us to get out of the carriage – him on the floor, face grey with shock, and me trying to be a one-woman protective shield. I went as if to help him up, but he made no attempt to move. I should have worn my flatties.
‘Why did you do that?’
‘God, I’m so sorry’, I said, ‘I thought it was you.’
‘Thought what was me?’
His foot was very long and narrow in his hands. And the hands were abnormally long and thin – delicate without being womanly.
He is a pianist: I know that now.
Good job he wasn’t a dancer.
‘Somebody was rubbing themselves up against me.’
‘And you thought it was me.’
‘Whoever it was, he was behind me.’
‘Rubbing yourself against someone for the purpose of sexual excitement – often practised while clothed and in a public place.’
‘You seem very familiar with the subject.’
‘I went to public school – we know about these things.’
I had been standing with my Evening Standard resting nicely on the back of the black woman in front of me when I felt something pressing up against my bottom. I knew what it was and tried to shift forward, but he just eased up against me and settled into the rhythm of the train. So I stepped back, took my left foot off the ground and let all my weight go through my right heel.
I tried to ease his shoe off, but he put his hand over mine.
‘It wasn’t me, you know: elderly gent, thin, blue overcoat.’
He smiled up at me – floppy fringe, knobbly cheekbones, grey-blue eyes.
And I still don’t know why I did it, but I kissed him.
On the lips.
2nd Prize: Honey Stavonhagen, Midsummer Mountain
‘Very much enjoyed the writing here, carefully selected and measured use of language; I also liked the originality of this entry, not the obvious theme or scene to describe ‘a romantic encounter’, so it shows imagination and flair. Good sense of pace and great last sentence. It’s the kind of piece one needs to re-read to appreciate the work which has gone into it I feel.’
Have you ever free-wheeled down a mountain in midsummer? It all starts so innocently; a lingering sip of the view, a heart-warming breath, and then the dive that causes your legs to spin in giddy rotations. You are blissfully blinded by the vibrant colours of the setting sun. The steep mountain path encourages your speed, while the wind entices the air out of your lungs and steals it away. You’re moving too fast.
Your stomach once filled with moths is teeming with rhinos, agitated and jostling. Lifting your feet from their haven on the crossbar, you try to reunite them with their pedals. But the treadles are livid. They stab at your shins pitting them with bruises and the brakes rigidly mock your pleas to stop. You want to get off.
You look to the verge. There’s no hassock of grass only a row of hardboiled kerbstones. Weary legs grope for the ground, but the tarmac steals their sandals and your wounded feet retreat like slugs from salt. Forlorn. Your heart fills your ears with its pulsating song. You must stop. Wrenching the handlebar clean off the bike you’re shaking, your steed unbalanced and slaloming. You close your eyes tight and swallow your pride. It will soon be over.
The front wheel is struck by an unseen obstacle and thrown from your saddle you spiral though the air and land in the comforting arms of a bush. But the pain in your limbs exposes their thorns, which shred your pricked skin as you flail to get free. You sink ever deeper. The sun is eclipsed and you’re alone in the dark, crying and wishing you’d never set eyes on that midsummer mountain, which looked so inviting and tempted you down to the depths of despair. This is love most unfair.
Lorella said she couldn’t separate the third place winners even though they are two very different pieces:
3rd Prize: Diane Batten, A Romantic Encounter at the Rec
‘A witty and entertaining read, characterization spot on, which is not easy to do in a short piece, and lovely use of 1st person narrative (and dialogue to go with it). Good balance of action and description. Lovely punch line at the end. (But not so keen on the usual description of ‘a tall dark haired guy with broad shoulders’, which is used endlessly in romantic fiction and should really be avoided).’
Northbury has to be the worst place in the Western Hemisphere for night life. Dull brick houses, a couple of dismal pubs which smell of stale beer and school dinner cabbage, and a supermarket. I use the word ‘super’ in its loosest form. Personally I see nothing super about trying to get a tin of beans from the top shelf of an aisle so thin even a super model would struggle to navigate it.
Northbury was also the home of my Ex Chris. Things had been running along smoothly with him, until he was caught kissing mouthy Martina. Chris claimed he’d been practising First Aid but the Instagram pictures were compelling. After that I trusted the local talent about as much as the kebabs from Dodgy Dave’s Van.
A visit to the White Lion with Jo met all my expectations. Warm vodka and lime, crisps so dry they could have been unearthed from an archaeological dig and old men clustered like vampire bats outside the side door in a fog of smoke. When Jo said “Lets go to the Rec” it was almost a relief.
Of course the Burger Van was down at the Park and Jo can never resist a kebab. I went along with it though greasy meat and limp bread isn’t my idea of meal. Someone nudged me and said “You don’t want that do you?” I turned around and saw a tall dark haired guy with broad shoulders, clearly not local. He held out his hand.
As I clasped his fingers my stomach lurched. For once it wasn’t because of Dave’s kebabs.
3rd Prize: Amie Simons, The Girl Who Fell in Love with the Moon
‘I enjoyed this modern day fairy tale scene. Original idea (falling in love with the moon rather than a man) and liked the fact it combined the everyday ordinary act of doing the dishes to being magically transported to another time and place, the daffodils being the trigger for it (and as yellow as the moon). Great title and loved the last sentence.’
On the night that the girl travelled back in time, people from all over the world loved and laughed and sang songs from their souls.
Aurelia did not mean to time travel but her unconscious was an illusionist, creating unexpected things to the eyes of her world. As she stood at the kitchen sink, delving soft hands into frothy water making it dance, the daffodils that her husband had brought sat patiently on the windowsill in a plastic cup, waiting to be noticed.
It was as the girl stroked a wooden spoon with a dishcloth that the nostalgic scent finally seized her, in an instant pulling her from one moment to another, as if time and space were as boundless as she.
By the daffodils the little girl sat once more wrapped in her dressing gown, their crowned heads bowing to the dark sky, a stream of moonlight beams turning the flowers into ghosts. The woods below looked like shadow lands where bony arms and fingers waited to pull her into the depths. But the girl was not afraid because when she tilted her head upwards, sending her eyes flying into the universe, Aurelia discovered a torch. In its primordial arms she was held, her soul illuminated through an unspoken understanding of all things. Over the hill, in the distance, her parent’s emotions could still be heard setting fire to the house. For once though, Aurelia neither noticed nor cared for her heart was on fire too for that was the night that she fell in love with the moon.
Highly Commended: Linda Page, Didn’t See that One Coming
‘A Sweet story which will touch the heart of anyone who cared and looked after a pet. What seems like a clichéd relationship and description at the beginning, turns into a surprising and moving ending when we realize the ‘big, dark, handsome fella’ is not a man.’
The 2nd and 3rd prizes were signed copies of Luke Harding’s The Snowden Files, and a copy of Claire Fuller’s debut novel Our Endless Numbered Days was given to the winner, David Lea. David, as the winner of the last three competitions, already had a copy of the Snowden Files. A signed Certificate of Adjudication from Lorella Belli completed the prizes.
The competition secretary, Jim Livesey, thanked everyone who had entered the competition. It had been a very good turnout with 22 submissions, and Lorella said there had been an interesting mix of genres and styles, as well as some very good writing.