Saturday, June 14, 2008

Weekend Wind-Down - Saturday Night TV

This weekend, Fiona Harper talks about everybody’s favourite way to wind-down and chill out after a hard week. Put the kettle on, grab some snacks and slump in front of that little magic box in the corner of your sitting room…

Saturday night television is not what it used to be, that’s for sure. As a child I used to love sitting down and watching all those family oriented action shows like the A-team, The Bionic Woman and Starsky and Hutch. They might have been cheesy, but they were good clean fun!

In the UK, Saturday night telly is now dominated by reality shows and celebrity competitions, such as Strictly Come Dancing (the UK’s Dancing with the Stars), Britain’s Got Talent, Dancing on Ice and The X Factor (from the same team as American Idol, but with groups and the over-25s too). And I, like many other millions of people find them absolutely addicted. Probably because I consider myself an armchair expert on whatever field of performing arts is being showcased, whether I have the foggiest clue of what I’m talking about or not.

The varying kinds of talent shows are my favourite, and they fall into two camps: celebrities grappling with a new skill and unknowns fighting for a chance to live their dream, whether that be performing at the Royal Variety Show or landing the starring role in a West End musical.

What makes this type of show such compulsive viewing? I think it’s exactly the same thing that makes a story gripping – the characters. All the things I want in a good book and seek to put in my own writing are there in these shows, if you know where to look. The contestants ('characters', if you like) are thrown outside of their comfort zones and work their socks off to achieve a set goal, stretching themselves beyond their own limits. Who will whine and give up? Who will face the challenges placed before them with grit and dignity? You think you know the answers to these questions when the first show airs, but the answers often take everybody—even the contestants—by surprise.

We're gripped by these shows because we worry about the people, the 'characters', (and I'm sure some editing goes on to pigeon-hole people and make them fit what the producers think is a good role for them) and we worry whether they are going to achieve their goals or see their hopes come crashing down around their ears.

In a good story, the central character goes on a journey, facing obstacles as the stakes getting increasingly higher and they emerge changed, either for the better or the worse. Sound familiar? How many times have you heard judges applaud the competitors on shows like this for having gone on a journey during the competition? It’s not a coincidence that often the most popular person, as far as the public is concerned, is not the consummate professional, who has shone right from the very start, but the rank outsider who has blown everyone away with their dedication and personality while developing a hitherto untapped talent. Of such things are heroes made.

I don’t know a writer who isn’t an avid people watcher, and this kind of programming is a great way to delve into people’s characters and observe goal, motivation and conflict in action, with high stakes and very real consequences. So, next time you flop down on the sofa on a Saturday night and grab the remote, bear in mind that, not only are you getting a nice bit of entertainment, but you’re actually soaking up a bit of research on the side too!

Look out for Fiona's latest release, Saying Yes To The Millionaire - the Summer Bride in the Bride For All Seasons series. To learn more about all the blushing brides in the series, visit our Bride For All Seasons blog!

When cautious Fern Chambers is challenged by a friend to say yes to every question, she never expects to spend four days with dreamy Josh Adams in a charity treasure hunt!

Saying Yes To The Millionaire is available now in stores in North America and the UK and at eHarlequin and Mills&Boon.

And here with MASSIVE APOLOGIES from the Eds for the delay (pesky things deadlines!!!) we have the latest installment of A Book With Biddy... so what has Biddy been up to??? Are those revisions done yet?! Let's see...

Where did May go? One minute it was here and then… poof… gone! I had great plans for May; May was the month of revisions. May was the month of opportunity and layering and deepening emotional conflict. Sadly May ended up being the month of dusty manuscripts and TV interviews. But I did have one break through… sadly it wasn’t until the end of the month but it was quite a fundamental one. I realized that I was trying to both revise AND polish at the same time. Now I am as good at multi-tasking as the next person but these are quite different beasts, well I think they are. One is trying to get the plot and story sense settled, layering in and the other is all final finishing… you know ‘polishing’. And I kept polishing when I should have been paying attention to plot and layering and emotional ‘how’s your father’. But I seem to have figured that out just in time and am now a third of the way through the revision bit and still on for my end of June deadline (maybe.) Now I ask all you in the know out there, how do you tackle revisions?

That explains the dusty manuscript but what about the TV interview I hear you cry… well I couldn’t tell you about May without mentioning my brief flirtation with TV. I was contacted by BBC 4 about a documentary they are putting together on Mills & Boon. I was thrilled! When would this be happening I asked, in my head I was making diet plans to lose a stone, lots of preparation, great new hairstyle… you know the drill. Well it didn’t quite work out like that. I had three days! And there are not a lot of weight loss programmes that work in three days, not even the no-eating plan. So running round panicking I realized:

a) I had no idea how to act when interviewed on TV. I can do radio… somewhat but TV, no!

b) I had nothing to wear!

So I called in the media trainers, commonly known as my sister and her friend Stacey. These two usually media train heavy weight business types (and charge heavy fees for it too!) And I could see why they are successful… an hour and a half later wrung out and brain stuffed to overflowing I had a whole plethora of sound bite answers to all possible questions and also a crash course in body language.

Now I had a) dealt with I moved on to b). This consisted of hitting Thomas Pink, buying a tailored white shirt and a sleeveless jumper (so I could look cool and professional).

And then came the day of filming, I was banging on the door of the hairdressers at 8.30am. I can’t be trusted to blow dry my hair into any semblance of chic and sophisticated, I think this comes from my hair turning curly in my twenties. You see I did all my hair experimentation in my teens when I wanted my straight hair to be curly. I then hit twenty three and suddenly… per-ching… curls! And I only knew how to make straight hair curly, not the other way round. But I digress.

Hair beautifully glossy and styled I leapt in a cab and was whisked to a private members club near Portobello Road and met the production team and the lovely Stella Duffy who was interviewing us. Now Stella is a writer, actress, playwright and general all round good egg. Her task in this documentary was to try and write a Mills & Boon and as a result was going round talking to different people, editors, the curators of the new M&B exhibition and the super fans, of which I was one. Except I realised that compared to some of the fans involved I am maybe a dedicated fan rather than a super fan.

We spent an exhausting two hours chatting about M&B and listening to an extract from Stella’s attempt and discussed it. There were many retakes for wider angles, Stella walking in and greeting us (quite a few times) and also some of us reading aloud from our favourite M&B book (I chose Liz Fielding’s ‘The Bridesmaid’s Reward’). I was asked about my own writing journey which was wonderful to talk about and then to have the super fans eager to read my books when (fingers crossed) they get published.

In between all this our little group gossiped and chatted about everything not just M&B. It was a lovely morning. I’m not a 100% sure that I followed any of my media training but I think I looked ok! We all parted at the front door and with Stella’s words of “Get on and finish revising the book or you’ll have me to answer to!!” ringing in my ears, I jumped in a cab and rushed back to the real world.


You can follow Biddy's continuing adventures at Her Blog - Go get em Biddy!!!


  1. Come on, then, gang! What's your favourite Saturday night show, and why?

  2. Hmmm well I will admit to having been glued to 'I'll DO Anything' and I do like 'Strictly Come Dancing' but they just don't compare to the old favourite 'Blind Date'!!! What a way to start your Saturday night... watch it while getting ready, few glasses of wine, dinner than a club *sigh*

  3. Oh, I swear, the next time I hear "journey" on a reality TV show, I'll barf. Such codswallop.

    My fave is Funniest Home Videos, which I personally loathe (I can't stand seeing people hurt themselves) but I love seeing my kids screeching with laughter. The youngest especially does that wonderful childish, totally unselfconscious chortle. It's a joy.

  4. I love X factor and Ant and Dec. Great choice of book btw Biddy, The Bridesmaid's reward is one of my faves too.