Saturday, August 15, 2009

Wild Card Weekend - Post Submission Party Time!

This weekend party it up with Natalie Anderson, fresh from submitting her latest book!

Oh it’s the weekend! And what a weekend this one is going to be for me. After a week of consuming many bottles of ‘V’ and eating far too many M&Ms (not to mention that entire box of mini chocolate eclairs in one sitting…) I’ve sent my latest manuscript to my editor and I can collapse in a heap in the corner.

Well actually, I can’t. My hubbie is away for the weekend so I’m solo parenting the four kids (two of whom have the flu and the other two are bound to get it any minute). And as I’ve been ‘mentally-absent-mum’ for the past week (or seven) it’s time for me to sit on the floor, read lots of stories and build lego cities. I guess it’s not such a bad way to recover from M&M addiction and manuscript mush brain.

I would, of course, LOVE to be at the Romance Writer’s of Australia ( is happening in Brisbane this weekend. There are fabulous speakers and the R*BY winners are going to be announced!

However, if you can’t go but are a member of RWA you can hang out online at the Clayton’s Conference (go find it from their website). Or why not hop on over to Nicola Marsh’s blog ( and hang with her (I believe there are freebies to be had!)

Next weekend it’s the New Zealand Romance Writer’s Conference ( and this is one I am actually going to make. My second ever conference! I cannot wait to go and have a few late nights boozing with other writers (oh, and get the most out of the workshops with the fabulous speakers too of course). It will be my first trip away from my twins (who are nearly three) which is going to be weird. But it’s going to be wonderful to be able to hang with writer buddies, relax and get inspired all over again – I think it’s the perfect thing to do a week after subbing a manuscript!

Of course I don't usually have something quite so fabulous to do after submitting. But I think you have to do something pretty good - after all, its a LOT of work to get a book finished.
For sure there have to be those few days of zombie-dom, followed by some ‘OMG did I really send in that piece of s%*t panic’ but then there has to be some kind of celebration too – some ‘wow, I just finished a book.’ A bottle of wine, some more chocolate, some quality time with the family, maybe even (eeek) some housework and filing and organising and... nah - what about a TREAT for all that hard work! A new outfit? Hell, maybe just getting out of the trackies would be a start... a haircut? Oooh I know, a NEW BOOK to READ!!!!

Come on, what do you do to reward yourself when you get to THE END and send your baby out there?

And hey, as I'm on a post-sub high, just leave a comment and I'll random pick someone to flick a book to!

Natalie has just sent in what she hopes will be her 12th title for Modern Heat/Sexy Sensation. At the moment "Between the Italian's Sheets" is available on the shelves in OZ and NZ. Find out about her upcoming releases at her website:

Friday, August 14, 2009

Must Watch Friday: The Young Victoria

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful young princess who was kept a virtual prisoner by her mother and her mother's scheming steward. The young princess was forbidden from mingling in court or indeed with the common people, had to sleep in her mother's bedroom, and could never walk down the stairs without holding on to some one's hand.

The mother and the steward dreamed of a lifelong regency where they could rule an empire. However, they underestimated the princess who fought back, married for love and eventually became the most powerful queen in the entire world -- Queen Victoria. Before the widow, the wife. Before the wife, the princess and her fight for survival.

It is an amazing story and one I have loved since I was about eight and first happened on a book about Victoria's childhood. On my wall, I have prints of the young Victoria and Albert. And thus I approached this film with some caution. Would it live up to my expectations? Some of the critics panned it. But inspired by the music, I ordered it on dvd, and was very glad I did.

The film, The Young Victoria is beautifully filmed. The sets and costumes are lush. The score splendid. It has a high bonnet count. If you were unfamiliar with certain aspects of British history though, the movie might be a bit confusing. Certain things like the mistake Victoria made over the ladies in her bedchamber do not always make sense to the casual viewer. But the real heart of the movie is the love affair between Victoria (Emily Blunt)and Albert (Rupert Friend). And the chemistry between the two works.
Miranda Richardson is delicious as the scheming Duchess of Kent with Micheal Strong as the scheming John Conroy. Jim Broadbent plays the ailing King William IV whose main goal is to stay alive until his young niece is 18. Paul Bettany is the wonderfully seductive Lord Melbourne who attempts to use Victoria for his own purposes.

Victoria's spaniel Dash nearly steals the movie. Dash is played by a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Tori. And purists will point out that Cavaliers are a 20th century invention. However, the colouring is exactly right for the real Dash.

Albert ably played by Rupert Friend proves to be the man for Victoria. He certainly was no pushover and had his own ideas about what he should be doing. In this clip from early in the movie, he is attempting to woe Victoria. It is easy to see why Victoria spent the rest of her life mourning her husband.

If you enjoy lush historicals or indeed love stories, then make time to see this one.

Michelle Styles writes historical romance set in a wide variety of time periods. She is currently working on one set in the early Victorian era. Her next release is, however, The Viking's Captive Princess in December 09.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thursday Talk Time - What are you reading with Michelle Douglas

Harlequin Romance author Michelle Douglas joins us this Thursday to talk about what's on her reading list!

As we speak, I will be attending the inaugural conference of the IASPR (International Association for the Study of Popular Romance) in Brisbane. As I’m an MPhil candidate at my local university... and as this conference is on the Thursday and Friday before the RWAust conference, well... what more can I say? So I thought I’d share with you my three favourite non-fiction books about romance (that aren’t how-to books – I’m addicted to those too, by the way). These are all books I’d read whether I was studying at university or not. Books I think lots of romance readers would find interesting too.

The Natural History of the Romance Novel by Pamela Regis
As this book inspired the paper I’ll be giving at the conference (did I mention I’m giving a paper?) it is the first book on my list. I LOVE this book. Regis provides a new definition of the romance novel, she provides a defence of romance and then she traces the history of the romance novel from Richardson’s Pamela through to Nora Roberts. (If I have one criticism of this book it’s that I now want to reread Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Georgette Heyer, Jayne Ann Krentz, Janet Dailey and Nora Roberts. My TBR pile has morphed into three TBR piles!)

The book is accessible and easy to read – not bogged down by pretentious academic language (btw I hate having to read sentences three times to make sense of them. The writer in me suspects that the writers of such books don’t have the confidence in their arguments to express them in plain English). Reading this book made me feel prouder of my genre. Regis says the romance novel “is about celebrating freedom and joy.” What’s not to love about that?

Oh yeah, and I really loved the quotation on the inside cover:
Beth went out with Eric last night (as you may or may not know). I’m REALLY ANGRY (not at her, but at him) but of course he’s not here and she is. I hate everything. I’m holding my breath.
– handwritten on the flyleaf of a library copy of Pride and Prejudice

I swear I just saw the ears of all the romance writers out there prick up at that titbit!

Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women edited by Jayne Ann Krentz
This is a collection of essays by romance authors on the appeal of romance. There are essays in here that speak to me as a reader of romance, a writer and (dare I say it?) a scholar. It includes essays by authors as diverse as Jayne Ann Krentz, Diana Palmer, Anne Stuart, Robyn Donald, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Daphne Clair and many more. Also, listen to the titles of some of these essays – Sweet Subversions; Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know; Mean, Moody and Magnificent; Judge Me by the Joy I Bring – now doesn’t that just make you want to pick the book up and read on?

The Romance Fiction of Mills & Boon 1909 – 1990s by Jay Dixon
This is an historical account of the development of Mills & Boon romances over the best part of a century. Dixon writes as an insider (she used to work for M&B), as an avid reader of romance, and as a feminist. She blasts many of the myths surrounding M&B novels – for example, did you know that pre-marital and/or extramarital sex have featured in M&Bs in every decade from before the First World War? Or that the macho alpha hero we associate with M&Bs only made his appearance in the 70s? Before then M&B heroes included men who were younger, poorer and/or physically inferior to the heroine. And guess what – M&B heroines have often challenged contemporary ideologies. Now, who’d have thought, huh?

The real reason I want Jay Dixon as my new best friend, though – this book is based on a study of over a thousand Mills & Boon novels. She’s read over a thousand romances. Imagine... I think I’d just die and go to heaven!

I’m sorry I won’t be back to blog until Monday, but for a chance to go into the draw to win a copy of my latest release just leave a comment telling me what you’re reading at the moment.

Michelle’s latest release, Bachelor Dad On Her Doorstep, is out now in the UK and North America, and Australia/New Zealand in September. She’s thrilled that it received a 5 star review from Cataromance. For more information you can visit her website

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Writer's Wednesday: Not hearing the advice

Inspired by Jack Bickham's 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes, Michelle Styles discusses a common mistake made by aspiring series writers.

First of all I want to thank Trish Wylie and her blogs during the RWA Nationals for inspiring me to read 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes. It is a thought provoking little book and made me examine why I do certain things.

One of the common mistakes an aspiring author can make is Not Hearing the Advice from the Right Professional.

The unpublished author can read all the craft books she wants. She can attend numerous classes. She can have manuscripts critiqued by professionals in that genre. She can even have editors give her feedback but sometimes if she just does not listen to the advice, or indeed understand what they are saying and apply it to her writing, she will keep making the same error over and over again. And sometimes it is a Fatal Flaw. It keeps the story from being strong enough to be published.

There are several reasons for this problem including:

The unpublished author's ego might have gotten in the way of making sure that the story is the best it can be. She is far too in love with how things currently are to see how much better they could be, so she resist shearing the advice. In part this is caused by some people's words hardening to concrete on they are down on the computer screen, rather than being fluid.
Some of this may be fear. She worries that somehow she will lose the essence.
No one was born published and every author does have to learn how to control her talent. Thus it is important to love your story, but to love it enough to give it the best chance.

Or her knowledge of craft is not enough and so she does not really understand what they are saying or indeed why they are saying it. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. A knowledge of craft does not limit one's creativity but expands the possibilities and allows the writer to work with her talent.

For example, I used to be very frustrated with the advice that the hero and heroine should meet as soon as possible in a category romance. It took me a long time and several rejected manuscripts to begin to understand the reasoning. Put simply the spine of the story is the growing relationship and thus the inciting incident (or start of the spine) needs to be as soon as possible. Series books do not tend to have a great deal of external conflict or bridging conflict. (An exception might be an Intrigue or SRS) and therefore the story needs to begin as soon as possible. Otherwise it is a bit like showing up early to a party and waiting for the band to start. Series books are face paced, page turning reads and the pace quickens once the story starts. But until I figured it out, the advice seemed well meaning but arbitrary.
In order to apply the advice, I needed to know the reason. Once I understood the solid reason behind the advice, I could see why it was important and more importantly why and when to apply it. You should have seen the light bulbs flash in my brain when the reasoning behind the advice dawned!

Or sometimes, she is listening to the wrong professional advice for the genre that she is writing in.

The other side to this mistake is that the aspiring author does need to make sure that the advice is up to date and from a source she can trust, a source who knows about the specific market she is targeting. So she needs to investigate the genre. Books like Kate Walker's 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance (just published in the US) are focused primarily on series writing and address its unique problems. Books like Donald Maass's Fire Into Fiction or Robert MacKee's Story are more generic, so some of the advice may not apply. By understanding the demands of the genre, the aspiring author can better hear the advice and apply it to her writing.
Going back to bridging conflict, it is a mistake to use a great of setting up and external conflict in series romance. It is not necessarily a mistake to do this in women's fiction, Guys With Gear Who Go novels or other genres. Know thy genre.
Also sometimes, you can hear and understand the advice better from one person than another. For example Vanessa Grant's book on romance left me confused. I read Kate Walker and began to understand. I then had cause to reread Vanessa Grant and realised that actually it was all there but not in a form I could use. Some authors will speak to an aspiring author more than another.

It is all about hearing the advice, understanding and exploring the why behind it and then applying it. Sometimes, the advice may not be the answer, but it could point the way to the solution.

Hopefully this helps someone.

Michelle Styles loves and adore books on writing. It is part of the tantalizing mystery of the medium. She is currently working on her 14th book for Harlequin Mills & Boon Historical. Her 11th book --The Viking's Captive Princess will be published in North America in December 09.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Travelling Tuesday - Castles in the Garden of England

Fiona Harper has always been a sucker for a good castle, right from the days when she used to don her best dressing-up clothes and swoon as Sleeping Beauty pricking her finger on a spindle or pretended to be Cinderella fleeing from the ball. Today, she investigates some of the romantic castles that regularly inspire her.

I am extremely lucky. I live in London, less than an hour’s drive from some of Kent’s most stunning stately homes. I could fill pages and pages with all the wonderful places there are to visit, but I’ve managed to restrict to myself to just three of my favourites:

Leeds Castle
Leeds Castle
(which, confusingly, is nowhere near the city of Leeds) is one of those perfect, romantic, fairy-tale castles. It has it all – an ancient building with steep winding staircases and royal bedrooms, sweeping grounds, and the essential item for all serious contenders for a dream castle -a moat.

It was built in 1119 on the site of an existing manor house, and has been home to both Edward I and Henry VIII, who renovated the castle for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Aside from the wealth of history surrounding the castle, it’s a great family day out. My kids especially enjoy the aviary, full of exotic birds, and the mazes. The large maze is fiendishly difficult. (Yes, I have run round and round it saying “haven’t we been here before?” many times). Once in the centre, you can climb a short tower and gloat over all the people who still haven't made it (they don't know it took you 3 hours!), then descend into a grotto underneath (see left) and leave through a secret tunnel. I'm also a sucker for secret tunnels...

Hever Castle
Another stunning building with links to Henry VIII is Hever Castle:

Hever was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, and later passed to the ownership of one of his other wives, Anne of Cleaves. Hever is smaller than Leeds, but just as pretty. It’s tall, rectangular structure is surrounded by a moat and it has a really pretty courtyard in the middle with a fountain. In 1903 the castle was bought by William Waldorf Astor, who invested a vast amount of time, money and imagination in restoring the castle.

One of my favourite places in the grounds is the Italian garden, built between 1904 and 1908 to display Astor’s collection of Italian sculpture. At the end of the garden, overlooking the vast lake that took two years to dig out is the loggia fountain, modelled after the Trevi Fountain in Rome. The two female figures are made of paler, softer stone than the rest of the fountain, making them seem almost alive.

Penshurst Place

You can’t go anywhere in north Kent without tripping over a link to Henry VIII, and Penshurst Place is another locations with links to the womanising Tudor monarch.

In1519, Penshurst Place was the setting of a sumptuous banquet given by 3rd Duke of Buckingham in honour of Henry VIII. However, his generosity didn’t stop him being behaded for treason two years later, and his magnificent house was then forfeit to the king. In 1552, Edward VI, Henry’s son, gave the house to William Sydney and his descendants, Viscount De L'Isle and his family, still live there today.

I have a soft spot for Penshurst as I used it as the basis for my fictional Elmhurst Hall in English Lord, Ordinary Lady.

With so many wonderful castle to visit nearby, I can’t help getting inspired and swept away by the romance of it all – which is just as well, really, as comes witht he job!

A fabulous period building – Art Deco this time – appears in Fiona’s latest release, Invitation To The Boss's Ball, on sale now at eHarlequin and Mills&Boon.

In this modern-day Cinderella story, plain Alice's world is turned upside down when she's askes to organise tycoon Cameron Hunter's charity ball...

She finds herself spending a magical night dancing in his arms, even though she knows that everything will be back to normal on Monday morning. But for now, she's going to enjoy every second...

Monday, August 10, 2009

Male On Monday: Sam West and The Power of Voices

I have been waiting for the coveted Male on Monday slot for awhile... who would I choose? I was going to use my male on Monday slot to tell you all about Sam West… but I thought it might be a little too obscure for the wider world. His film and TV appearances have been frequent but not necessarily leading man material. He is an actor who is found more on stage or… in audio books or narrations. And that is part of his appeal. His voice. And then I thought I could have my Sam West Male on Monday slot AND talk about the Male Voice and what makes it sexy. You see for me voices are as important in what makes someone sexy. This is why it doesn't matter what David Beckham looks like he will never be sexy... the voice will always let him down. I like talking with my sex appeal.

So we start with Mr West, son of stage actor Timothy West and actress Prunella Scales (best known as Cybill in Fawlty Towers). He grew up in South London and went to Dulwich College. A family friend remembers seeing him stealing the show at a school play there back in the day. He went to Oxford where he read English Lit. Soon after that he was playing Prince Caspian in the BBC version of Voyage of The Dawn Treader (so young… ) He has played various villains on BBC TV shows but is currently best known as a stage actor and accomplished director. Although in film he was in Howards End and Notting Hill.
But that voice…

And now if you imagine that voice and that face bent towards you... and I think you too would have made a fool of yourself like me! Yes... my one and only meeting with Mr West is now known only as The Sam West Debacle I hang my head in shame. Maybe one day I will be able to rectify it. And I keep wanting someone to remake the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries and have Sam West play the lead. My favourite actor playing my favourite literary hero *swoon*

But when talking about fabulous voices you have to mention the wonderful Alan Rickman… this is a man who could read the telephone directory and I would be his. I will admit that he is a very large part of the reason I watch the Harry Potter films. Snape shouldn’t be sexy but when Alan Rickman says ‘Potter’ I get goosebumps.

Snape Harry Occlumency *High Quality* - Funny blooper videos are here

Whilst researching for this blog (and it was tough let me tell you!) I was reading an article about the perfect voice. Researchers claim to have worked out a formula to find the perfect human voice. The study, which asked people to rate 50 voices then analysed the results, found a combination of Mariella Frostrup, Dame Judi Dench and Honor Blackman makes up the perfect female voice, while the most appealing male voice is a mixture of Alan Rickman, Jeremy Irons and Michael Gambon.

The equation represents the most pleasing blend of tone, speed, frequency, words per minute and intonation. The ideal voice should, apparently, utter no more than 164 words per minute and pause for 0.48 seconds between sentences that fall in intonation.

You can listen to a computer simulated sample of the perfect male voice here. Whatever they say... it can't beat Sam or Alan. So which man has the sexiest voice? Alan Rickman? Sam West? Patrick Stewart? Jeremy Irons? Liam Neeson? Let me know who I might have missed.

Biddy is currently writing about a sexy voiced ex Rugby player, replaying her large collection of Sam West DVDs and re-watching all the Harry Potter films. All research of course!