Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Writer's Wednesday - The Dickens Approach

Pink Heart Society editor, Ali Williams, is musing about the importance of openings, and the impact that wordiness has on them...

I have an English Literature degree which means that I had to study Dickens.

I say had to, because I have to blunt about something here - I'm not the biggest Dickens fan.  Charles D is a little too wordy for me.

Or so I thought.

See, it turns out that Dickens used to get paid by the word, which is why the first handful of chapters in each book are unbelievably wordy.  Trudging through them is like dragging yourself through a mire of sludge.  And then suddenly, without warning, there's a shift.

One of my lecturers used to argue that that's always the moment when Dickens forgot he was writing for money, and just got lost in the story.  

She recommend that we start Oliver Twist halfway through, finish it, and then go back and read the entire thing from the beginning.

But this is a blog about writing romance, so why I am talking Dickens?

Because Dickens illustrates the kind of writing problem that I'm up against.  I'm not overly wordy in my openings, but only because I'm paranoid that I'll Dickens it up.

I over edit my openings.

Openings are what capture readers; they're what get us hooked and keep us going.  And those kind of openings are difficult to get just right.

And then there's the Dickens approach.

The thing is, you can always go back and edit your openings afterwards.  They don't need to perfect first time round - it's just a draft after all.

So I'm currently proposing taking the Dickens route, which is to write and write until I forget when the writing ends and my characters begin.  

I've set out by fully immersing myself in my setting.  Enter Tunford, a sleepy West Sussex village in the heart of the British countryside.  

The name's made up of the Old English words "tún" (meaning a group of houses of village) and "ford" (meaning a river crossing), so that immediately helped me imagine the place.  I've even drawn a map of the village (cos I'm just that cool). 

But more key than developing the setting in this kind of detail, is the fact that I've banned myself from editing anything that's been written over a page ago.  That way I'll hopefully find it easier to get caught up in the writing, as opposed to having fragmented writing sessions.

And to kickstart myself into continuing, here's my first paragraph:
Rounding that familiar bend in the road, Katharina Oriani felt sick.  It was, she knew, an illogical reaction.  The sleepy Sussex village of her childhood had been nothing if not wholesome, and yet the thought of returning to a barrage of family criticism was crushing.  Breath stolen away, she felt as claustrophobic has she had done ten years ago.
Dickens, eat your heart out.

What prep do you do before starting work on your opening?  And do you edit as you go along, or rush straight through to that Dickensian moment of immersion?

Ali Williams grew up in Croydon and spent her teenage years in a convent girls' school. She then fled to university where she discovered champagne cocktails, a capella singing and erotica. 

These days she blogs about perceptions of romance, #StrongRomanceHeroines and women in society and spends an extraordinary amount of time coercing male friends to pose with her favourite Mills & Boon books to the bemusement of the Twittersphere.

Passionately vocal about the wonders of romance, Ali defies you to slam romance novels within her hearing!

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Tuesday Talk Time - Being Vulnerable

Pink Heart Society regular, Kate Hardy, is talking about the hearing troubles that have made her feel very vulnerable.

I’ve always thought of myself as a really strong person who just gets on with whatever life hands out. (Y’know, if life gives you lemons, then go make lemon cake – that sort of thing. And, yes, I know it’s meant to be lemonade, but this is me. I prefer baking!)

But last week gave me a glimpse of what it might be like to be very old and vulnerable. And it was a truly horrible experience.

The whole thing goes back to my childhood. My parents could call me when I was reading and I wouldn’t hear them – they’d have to come and take the book out of my hands to get my attention. Everyone thought it was just because I was so deep into bookworld (let’s just say my career choice was obvious from the age of three!). Nobody had a clue that there might be a problem.

As a teen, I found myself leaning with one elbow on the desk and my hand cupped behind my ear in class, so I could hear better. (I just assumed my teachers had quiet voices.)

At work, my boss had a word with me: he’d noticed that if he spoke to me when I wasn’t facing him, I ignored him. He thought I might be deaf. So I had a hearing test. ‘Yes, your hearing is poor, but there’s nothing we can do.’ OK. I could live with that.

Doing jury service, I had to ask the court clerk if I could use their headset to amplify sounds because I couldn’t hear the witnesses speak. When the judge poured a glass of water, it sounded like a waterfall. When a barrister turned over a page, it sounded like someone shaking a newspaper very violently. The hard bits of the headset in my ears were really uncomfortable.

If this was what having a hearing aid would be like, then I didn’t want one.

I gave up playing acoustic guitar, because I could only hear if my jaw was resting on the body of the guitar. (Anyone who’s read my book ‘The Children’s Doctor’s Special Proposal’ – yup, that’s where the cello scene comes from!)

And then, when I was PTA chair at my children’s first school, the headmistress had a quiet word with me. She’d noticed I was lipreading and thought that although I handled the business stuff very well, I was missing out on all the fun stuff in between. She said that things had moved on since my last test – she had pupils who needed hearing aids and it made a real difference to their lives – so she persuaded me to go back to the audiology specialist.

Result: I’m officially deaf (caused by a mixture of two childhood accidents and mumps at the age of ten) and the hospital gave me a digital hearing aid. They make moulds of your ears so you can’t feel them when they’re in place. And it was a revelation. I heard birdsong for the first time in years. The music I loved so much and had had to give up sounded different – there were all these little extra bits I’d never noticed before or had forgotten about because I hadn’t heard them for so long. It was a JOY. And I think you only realise how precious something is when you’ve lost it and got it back again.

Four years later, my hearing had dulled again, so I went back for another test. Result: two hearing aids. Brilliant. Everything was loud and unfamiliar for three days, but then my brain filtered out the excess sound and it was fine. I can only use a phone on loudspeaker (so it’s difficult in the city, where it’s noisy) but I can live with that.

Last week: fitting for new aids following another dip in my hearing. Now, the audiology test hadn’t been great – the audiologist came across to me as very young and inexperienced. (As in, if I explain to you that I cannot hear a normal conversation without hearing aids and have to lipread, it’s very stupid of you to take the aids out to do the earmould fitting and then persist in talking to me when I can’t see your face. Because it’s very obviously that I will not be able to pick up what you’re saying. And if it’s your job… um, should you not be aware of this?) When I had the aids fitted on Monday morning, I knew it wasn’t right. It was too quiet. ‘Oh, all hearing aids are different and you’ll get used to it.’ But I can’t hear anything behind me. ‘Well, you’ll just have to accept that there will be some gaps in your hearing.’

Stupidly – because those gaps hadn’t been there half an hour before! – I said I’d give it a go and went home. And that was when I realised the scale of the problem. The car stereo – which I’d had on volume 6 on the way in – had to go up to 10 to hear it at the same volume. (That would’ve hurt before.) I couldn’t use a phone, even on speaker. I picked the kids up from school and I couldn’t hear their voices. So I rang the hospital to see if they could fix me. ‘We can’t see you until June.’ You’ve taken away 50% of my hearing. I can’t function at this level, and you’re going to leave me like this for six weeks? ‘I just book the appointments.’ Can’t I go to hearing aid repairs for them to reprogramme it? ‘No.’ Well, there’s no point in talking to someone who clearly doesn’t want to help you. So I had six weeks of not being able to hear – and basically feeling disabled and vulnerable – to look forward to.

I didn’t want to go anywhere on my own, knowing that I wouldn’t be aware if a car came up behind me in a car park, or if someone was walking behind me in a supermarket (so I might step back and knock into them). I wanted someone with me to keep me safe and warn me if there was a danger I was unaware of because I couldn’t hear it. It made me feel weak and stupid and hopeless and scared. And I hated every second. That isn’t who I am. At all.

I had very little sleep well that night. (LOL. The Fitbit computer record has little clumps of sleep and big gaps.) And, the next morning, I went back to the hospital straight after the school run (braving the car park!), intending to do a sit-in at the department until someone would speak to me and fix what they’d broken. 

The receptionist was brilliant (and offered me tissues and a glass of water – yes, I did cry my eyes out because I was tired and vulnerable and scared). She came with me to the waiting area and spoke to the audiologist on my behalf. This new audiologist was wonderful. She listened. She read my notes. She discovered why I couldn’t hear – the one who hadn’t listened to me at the test also hadn’t read my notes properly and hadn’t ticked the box saying that I had conductive deafness. Meaning that I’d been given the wrong programme.

The audiologist wasn’t able to fix me completely – that’ll be next month – but we have a workaround which I can live with. It’s like having two-dimensional hearing (and I notice the gaps in music – harmonies that I know are there are ‘missing’ right now)

But that day of feeling vulnerable and having to rely on other people to keep me safe has stayed with me. It’ll probably end up brewing a book (as I say, make lemon cake), but it threw me way too far out of my comfort zone. And all because someone was too arrogant to listen to me and do her job properly. (Yes, I have made a complaint – I don’t want the first audiologist to lose her job, but I do want her to manager to take this as a learning opportunity to improve her performance for the future. I also mentioned the two people who were fantastic and asked that they would be given an official thank you from their manager on my behalf.)

Have you ever experienced feeling as vulnerable as that? How did you deal with it?

Kate’s latest releases are It Started at a Wedding... from Harlequin Mills & Boon (the follow-up to Plague Squirrels), and Bachelor at Her Bidding, her first book for Tule Publishing. 
You can find out more about the books, and Kate Hardy, on her website and her blog - or find her on Facebook!

Monday, May 04, 2015

Male on Monday: For the love of….politicians?

The Pink Heart Society are delighted to welcome back Harmony Evans as she talks politicians...

Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac. - Henry Kissinger

Early last year, I was right in the middle of a job search. There was a position in Ithaca, New York and while I was doing research on the town, I happened upon an article about their mayor: Svante Myrick.

Svante Myrick - Mayor: Ithaca, New York
Currently serving a second term, this guy at age 27 is one of the youngest mayors in U.S. history and one of the youngest African-Americans elected in history.

The man has quite the resume, plus he’s a cutie too.  Definitely hero-inspiring!

And it got me thinking:  Can politicians be sexy?

And furthermore: Could I ever fall in love with a politician?

The answer to the latter is riddled with “maybes”.  I’m really not “in” to politics, but if there are gorgeous men involved, maybe I should be! J

But to the former question, can politicians be sexy (in spite of their politics)? I believe the answer is a resounding yes!

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character,
give him power. - Abraham Lincoln

Many politicians get a bad rap, but they can’t all be power-hungry people who don’t care about their constituents. Can they?

I’m going to play Devil’s advocate here. I’m willing to bet they are just trying to stay the course and figure life out…just the rest of us! They are normal, intelligent people under extraordinary pressure who are (for the most part) trying to make a difference in a world that is often resistant to change.

So…put your political views aside for a moment, and feast your eyes on these guys!  

Have a great week!

Barack Obama: President, United States of America

Eduardo Leite - Mayor of Pelotas (a city in Brazil)

Enrique Nieto - President of Mexico

Tony Blair - Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
How about you? Is there a politician that you can see as a romantic hero? Join the discussion in the comments!

Harmony Evans writes sexy, emotional contemporary love stories. 

Her latest release is WINNING HER LOVE, a Harlequin Kimani Romance. She won "Debut Author of the Year" for the Romance Slam Jam 2013 Emma Awards and was a double finalist for the 2012 Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Awards.  She lives in New York City. 

To learn more, visit or like her on Facebook.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Writer's Workspace - Kate James

The Pink Heart Society is delighted to welcome Kate James as she talks us through her different writing workspaces...

The topic of this post is a writer’s workspace. I am frequently asked where I do most of my writing. The answer is simple. Where my laptop is! But to say that would not make for a very interesting post, and would be 496 words short of the length that was suggested for this piece. So, let me explain.

First of all, where I write is partially weather dependent. 

I love the outdoors, thus if Mother Nature is cooperating, I will take my laptop outside.  Whether it’s at our house or our cottage, my husband and I are fortunate to have some truly stunning views. One of my favorite spots to write is the gazebo in the backyard of our house. You can probably appreciate why this view would be inspiring. 

Often my “critique team,” black Labs Harley and Logan, join me, as they did when this picture was taken.

Another favorite spot is a guest room at our cottage. One of my yet unpublished books, Everything to Gain, provides a perfect example of what I refer to as fictionalizing facts. 

In Everything to Gain, after a personal tragedy, communications executive Blake Meadows retreats to a lakefront cabin in the Adirondacks and decides to see if she can fulfill her lifelong dream of writing a novel.   

She sets up her “writing room” in a guest suite overlooking her lake.  

Blake’s writing room is based on the guest suite at our cottage. I wrote most of my debut novel, Silver Linings, in this room. 

Finally, when winter weather hits, I like to write in my office at home. Especially when the snow is falling, I love to curl up in a comfortable recliner facing the fireplace with my laptop actually on my lap. As you can see in this picture, my trusted critique team is again close by, even if they are less engaged! Although not an outside view, this is still one of my all-time favorites.

To conclude, I can write just about anywhere and anytime. I love to write almost as much as I love to read. 

What is it about writing that I love, and enough so to have left a job I truly enjoyed? 

It is knowing that there are people who chose to spend their limited and valuable leisure time reading my work. It means a great deal to me when a reader reaches out to me to let me know they enjoyed what I wrote. Sincere thanks to all my readers for enabling me to fulfill my dream!  

Now I have a question for you. Where do you feel most creative? One person leaving a comment will be selected at random to win a copy of my latest release, The Truth About Hope. Thank you for visiting The Pink Heart Society blog, and happy reading!

Kate’s The Truth About Hope, has just been released and is available in print and e-book formats:

Who is Hope Wilson? 

Is she the girl her former hometown thinks she is? Or the girl Luke Carter once loved—and maybe still does? 

When Hope returns to Canyon Creek, Texas, to honor her father's last wishes, there's only one person on her mind: her high school sweetheart, Luke. The boy she lied to when she had to leave Canyon Creek as a teen, finding it easier to hide what she really felt than deal with the grief of loss. Her father's fortune could make a big difference to Canyon Creek—but Hope finds that the townspeople have a long memory when it comes to his misdeeds. With a plan to make amends on his behalf, Hope learns the truth about herself. And the truth about love.

Learn more about Kate and her books on her website, her Facebook page or follow her on Twitter.