Saturday, 24 September 2011

Spotlight on.... New Voices Historical Romance

Today I want to put the spotlight on two great new voices who are currently featured in the Mills & Boon New Voices contest. Firstly...



Andrea Walpole, author of To be Married in Haste

If I waved a magic wand and transformed To be Married in Haste into food it would be delicious sherbet; light, frothy and fizzing with fun.

Andrea's descriptions of clothes (drawing on a professional background in tailoring) are mouth-watering superb. Her characters are well drawn. Her heroine, Betty, is smart and gutsy and her hero, Edward, is romantic, idealistic and whimsical. Most importantly Andrea's dialogue and prose are laced with humour, as in this scene:

“Take care sir!” She stepped forward, closing the gap between them, her arms outstretched in a futile gesture as her hands would barely reach his knees. The man cocked his head, moonlight falling upon his chiselled jaw.

“Have no fear my sweet, I have the feet of a cat.”

He swept her another bow, deeper than the first. Losing his balance, one arm flailed for the security of the lamp post and his body bucked back and forth before he steadied himself.

She spied a glint of white even teeth. A grin? Betty clenched her fists. “More like the brains of a cat,” she muttered.

“Too harsh of you, my sweet, although I think I underestimated the importance of possessing a tail."


Edward isn't an alpha male. If bristling muscles and thunderous tempers are your cup of tea, this might not be for you. But if what you enjoy is regency wit and sparkle, reminiscent of Georgette Heyer's Cotillion and you like reading Loretta Chase or Julia Quinn then get voting for To Be Married in Haste.

Read Chapter One here.



Helen Kolacevic, author of Shameless.

There are three things I love about Shameless:

1. The warmth and believability of the relationships between the characters. The opening scene starts with the heroine, Martha, speaking to her cousin Beth. They are both great characters. Martha, who appears confident and determined, has a great deal of hidden vulnerability. Beth, who appears dreamier and less confident, has a great deal of hidden steel. She is the perfect foil to Martha and remains so throughout the book. The interplay between the male characters is similar and Martha and the Duke are a wonderful pair of duelling protagonists who find they meet each other's needs in ways they don't expect.

2. The dialogue between Martha and the Duke: it's poised, witty and charged with tension. Wonderfully done.

3. The sensuality of the relationship between Martha and the Duke. Helen does a great job of building up mental and emotional tension, in tandem with physical tension making each intimacy part of the relationship and its mental and emotional challenges. It's really well done.

If you like the novels of Anne Gracie (such as the Merridew Sisters series) or Nicola Cornick then you'll love Shameless.

Read Chapter One here.

I have my fingers crossed that both Andrea and Helen succeed in progressing through to the next round of Mills & Boon's New Voices contest. They both have talent and originality and craftsmanship and their work deserves a wide audience.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

On trusting your instincts


It is, they say, a lady's prerogative to change her mind. Not two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post entitled "Writing What you Love". In this I declared I wasn't entering New Voices, because I was bored by the story (Star-Crossed) I had in mind for it.
"I wrote the first scene and I loved it. Then I wrote the second scene and didn't love it so much. Then I wrote chapter two and sort of enjoyed it but frankly, felt a bit bored."

And I meant it, really I did! Only then I found my lovely, talented critique partners (more on them in the next post) submitted and I started chatting to some great folks (*waves to @katherinelbone and @valkyriesedge*) on twitter and I got that feeling. That I DON'T WANT TO BE LEFT OUT feeling.

Blame my parents. I'm the 11th of 12 kids. I am practically phobic of missing out. I live in a permanent state of wanting to sit at the big kids table. I want to play.

So I did it.

I submitted Chapter One of Star-Crossed.



Now let's pause for a moment. Merely Players was a year in the writing (give or take) and the first chapter was re-written more than ten times before I was happy with it. It was tossed back and forth between two critique partners and several beta readers. And it still needed work.

Star-Crossed had a first draft, a polish (with a few experiments with different second scenes) and then I chucked it in the pool.

Which smacks of arrogance, lunacy or not giving a toss - and maybe a little of all three.

I don't *think* I'm an arrogant devil-may-care lunatic, but there is a little bit of me that likes a gamble. The same streak that buys a lottery ticket every week and is drawn to big gift fundraising as a career. That feeling that you don't know what's round the corner, that if you put your hat in the ring you might, might just get lucky.

On the whole I think it's a good trait.

But maybe not when crucifying yourself in front of an audience of romance readers. It is (ongoing) a salutary experience. So here are five things I have learned from taking the plunge with Mills & Boon's New Voices contest:

1. Trust your instincts. Assuming you're not riddled with self hatred, if you're not sure about something you have written and you think it's not up to scratch - it probably isn't.

2. Don't underestimate readers, especially romance readers. They read voraciously. They are discerning. They have high standards. Refer back to salutary lesson #1.

3. If you put yourself out there, be prepared to take your feedback on the chin. Be dignified, be appreciative and understand that if you go public you have to take the flack.

4. Find people who can give you support and encouragement. Not just your mum. Lovely twitter folks, writers and mentors, critique partners - people who can help you to learn and grow from your experiences (thanks here to Helen, Andrea, Katherine, Remy, Joanna and others).

5. Give support to others. You're not the only one exposing your baby to the world's cruel eyes. Give some love. If you think someone is good, say so. If you know what they can improve, tell them. What goes around, comes around my friend.

Having given it such a good sell (ahem) if you would like to read my premature baby Star-Crossed, you can find it on New Voices.

Not all have had my dismal performance however. Here are some sparkling new voices to check out (and I hope they all do well!):



Historical

For witty dialogue and comic timing go and check out Andrea Walpole's To be Married in Haste.

For wonderful characterisation and sizzling sensuality check out Helen Kolacevic's Shameless.

Paranormal

For a bad-ass heroine and demons galore check out Blue Remy's From Hel, with love

Passions

For old world italian sensuality meets sharp american business woman, see Katherine Bone's Lost Treasure, Captive Princess.

Enjoy!

Monday, 19 September 2011

From Hel with Love

Another bit of random design work, this time for Blue Remy author of From Hel with Love. You can find Blue's first chapter featured in Mills and Boon's New Voices contest. Stop by and vote! She's doing well so far.

Blue sent me the first couple of chapters of her book and I can already tell she's an exciting new voice - in the vein of Sherilyn Kenyon, Stacia Kane and Laurell K Hamilton. She has a tough, foxy heroine, Raven Aquilus, and a mammoth thirteen books planned to tell Raven's story. Check out her blog, Carpe Daemon, to find out her latest thoughts on Raven's adventures.

Here's the web banner I put together for Blue's blog:

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Book Cover Design

I've been having a bit of fun getting a look right for the Daughters of Leda project I'm working on. It will be published in honour of my sister Anne-Marie who turned fifty this year - so it will be self published, using Lulu. In another life I'm a photographer and have done some bits and bobs of design work (see the Unwinding Slowly and Imogen's Wardrobe blogs). This is exactly the kind of project I enjoy. The base image is the inside of one of the tholos tombs at Mycenae, which I had the good fortune to visit on a study trip many moons ago. The most impressive of these are known as the Treasury of Atreus and the Tomb of Clytemnestra - so very apt for this WIP.


Sunday, 11 September 2011

Writing what you love



I've been struggling a bit with writing the last couple of weeks. I put my work in progress, Merely Players, to bed a month ago (though new feedback from beta readers is likely to demand yet more revisions). I thought that my next project would be preparing a new historical romance ready for Mills & Boon's New Voices contest which opens this week.

I've been doing all the right things. I've been composting ideas, outlining a plot. I wrote the first scene and I loved it. Then I wrote the second scene and didn't love it so much. Then I wrote chapter two and sort of enjoyed it but frankly, felt a bit bored.

To cut a long story short, I'm not feeling it. On the recommendation of the wondrous Aimee L Salter, I've been reading Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V Swain. And the word according to Dwight is that good writing starts with feeling. End of. Or rather start of. Because from feeling you have to weave technique, craftsmanship and damn good story telling. But feeling is where you start.

Feeling is what motivated Merely Players. It's an odd book, for a romance. It sucks in themes I really care about and didn't expect to be writing about. The characters mean something to me. I want them to prevail.

Now when I sit down to write I find I'm writing the Daughters of Leda. About women in war, about motherhood and about human cruelty and compassion. Lots of vignettes from the lives of Helen and Clytemnestra. Whispers from a past made up of gorgons and harpies, female power subsumed by a male society. I care about that. It's an awkward patchwork but it means something to me. I feel charged and full of energy when I'm tapping out those stories.

So it is with regret that I'm not going to be submitting to New Voices. It's an amazing opportunity, but I feel like I'm being steered in a different direction at the moment.

And if I'm not writing what I feel, then I'm not writing at all.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Women in Greek Myth: Clytemnestra - Parting

I'm a bit obsessed with Clytemnestra this week. I find the intertwined stories of she and Helen fascinating. Helen leaves for Troy, Clytemnestra is left behind. Helen abandons her daughter, Clytemnestra's daughter is sacrificed so that the men can chase Helen to Troy. Clytemnestra is left to bring up Helen's abandoned daughter. Helen becomes a political pawn, Clytemnestra becomes a powerful ruler in her husband's absence. When the Trojan War ends, Helen is reunited with her husband Menelaus, Clytemnestra kills Agamemnon. The consequences to Helen are negligible, but Clytemnestra is killed by her son Orestes at her daughter Elektra's instigation.

I'm fascinated by them both and by the relationship between them. What must it have been like for Clytemnestra growing up with a sister who was the most beautiful woman in the world? What must it have been like for Helen to abandon her child, hoping or dreading that she would be given into her sister's care? They were born from the same egg, twins but forever marked for different paths.

We know only fragments of their stories. Greek Mythology paints a picture of women as a threat to be subjugated, or as a trophy to be won. I feel like they deserve their own story.



The Parting


“You’re leaving?”

At the sound of my voice, Agamemnon turns, chest plate hanging half-fastened from his broad chest, its bronze gleaming in the firelight. His dark gaze slides past mine, meeting the shadows behind me.

He shrugs, returning to the leather ties that bind the bronze to his massive ribs. “You knew the call had come.”

“You’re going after Helen.” My voice is flat, granite hard, but my hands tremble. I shroud them in the long folds of my tunic. “You have heard the prophecy. There will be no fair wind from Aulis. The Trojans are protected by the gods.”

Black and furious, Agamemnon’s rage is a sudden storm. My head snaps back, the red mark of his hand livid across my pale cheek. I stumble, clutching for the wall as nausea overwhelms me and I retch.

“That puppy broke the sacred law of Zeus himself. Do you think the Son of Kronos will protect him in his hubris?” His roar is a flood, drowning any opposition. The stone walls amplify his fury, its thunder echoes around me.

I taste blood in my mouth, smell the lingering leathery stench of his fist. Closing my eyes, I force myself to breathe slowly and steadily, even as crimson anger blossoms in my bone-white cheeks. I straighten, bracing myself against the familiar roughness of cold stone.

“This is a holy war?” He hears the edge of acid in my voice and his face darkens. I see the curse of the House of Atreus in his mottled cheeks and the bunched muscles of his jaw.

“Do you doubt it, wife?”

“The fields of Ilium are rich,” I raise my face to meet his black stare. My bound hair has tumbled across my purpling cheek, a mantle for my shame. “But still there is no wind.”

He turns his back to me, wide-ruling Agamemnon, and fastens the final loop of his battle armour. “There will be a fair wind.”

“How?” Foreboding chills my veins, a blood-scented prescience that clenches my womb and paralyses my limbs.

Raising his head, he glances at me. “There must be a sacrifice. A great sacrifice.” I am silent. My tongue is bound to my mouth, thick and stupid. “In honour of the Gods and in honour of our daughter’s wedding,” he says. He looks away.

“Wedding?” The word is a tattered gasp, a desperate flutter in the stillness of the room. I think of my bright-haired Iphigenia teetering on the brink of womanhood with the ungainly vulnerability of a newborn foal.

“A splendid match,” Agamemnon says. He reaches out to grasp the long shaft of his spear and I see the lie in his white knuckled fist and the brazen jut of his bearded jaw. He does not look at me. “To Achilles, who is like to the Gods.”

I am a block of salt and ice, my movements stiff with horror. I stare at him, the Son of Atreus, and see the grim line of his mouth and the scarred hands which took the life of my husband Tantalus and carried me to royal Mycenae. I think of my firstborn infant, the sweet milk scent of her smooth skin and the hard tug of her mouth against my swollen breasts. His child, the seed he planted in me. His child, but my child too.

“I beg you,” I say. “No.” I fall to my knees on the hard stone floor, and clutch his foot in supplication. A shudder runs through him, and I see his fists clench. He shakes my hand away.

“Prepare her,” he says, looking down at me. He lifts his crested helmet from the narrow bed and lifts it onto his head. It masks his face, makes distant shadows of his burning eyes. He is wide-ruling Agamemnon, Lord of all the Achaeans. He rules by sacrifice.

I am blinded by darkness. All I can taste is blood.


Friday, 9 September 2011

Versatile Blogger Award

Well now this is nice. That lovely Stevie McCoy over at the Glitterword blog (home to #tuesdaytales) just awarded me this Versatile Blog award, because that's the kind of lady she is. So what do I have to do? Tell you seven things about myself and then highlight fifteen other blogs that I think are tip top and super duper. So here you go.



All About Me (Seven Things)

1) I'm the 11th of 12 kids. My family is BIG and I'm one of the babies. I got used to a shedload of attention, and it shows. I'm the biggest gobshite known to man.

2) My desert island food would be marmite on buttered toast. It's the first thing I crave when I get up in the morning. I've eaten it since primary school and its wonders have never palled.

3) I'm shit scared of zombies. I had to hide in the cinema toilets during the Dawn of the Dead and made my neighbor stay with me until my housemate got home. Then I slept on her floor. I was 24.

4) I dream about finding an undiscovered Georgette Heyer novel. I could do mastermind on her regency world and come... well not last, anyway (my brain is mush since pregnancy). They are the ultimate feel good, PMT proof mood cure.

5) This comes as no surprise, but I'm obsessed with Greek Mythology. It makes me practically salivate. I think the first line of the Iliad is the most exciting first line in the world.

6) Amnesty International changed my life. When I worked there, it was as though scales fell from my eyes. I saw true horror and true nobility and the greatest love of humanity I have ever witnessed. It rocked. It still rocks.

7) I believe that Manchester is the Greatest City on Earth. Because it is. But London is pretty cool too.



And now for the important bit!

I AWARD THIS BLOG AWARD TO:

1. Lady Antimony - a great lady, whose stark honesty and talent make her blog a must see. Plus she's the originator of some amazing flash fiction challenges which have introduced me to some great writers.

2. Jamila Jamison - a talented writer, who suffers from the same adrenalin fuelled productivity that I do but who manages to be gracious, talented and prolific with it.

3. Bryce Daniels - I love his prose and his good friend Poet who occasionally pops in to visit. And he's an all round nice chap too.

4. Jeffrey Hollar at the Latinum Vault - a prolific writer of dark and twisting flash fiction. He'll make you wince, but you'll come back for more. And his reviews are good too.

5. David A Ludwig - read free fantasy series on his blog and get to know the man behind them, a generous writerly spirit.

6. Michelle Franklin - she posts new material from her Haanta fantasy series every day. No lady ever wrote so much!

7. Michelle Woodall at Life Planning - her wisdom and take on life make her half guru half original thinker. She has been a mentor, guide, friend and shoulder to cry on and her blog means you can have a piece of her too.

8. Aimee L Salter - Aimee already has a massive following but she's worth following firstly because the writing she advice she dispenses is fantastic and secondly because she is so lovely.

9. Emilia Quill at My Imaginary Beings - a new blog with delightful stories from Emilia's fantasy imagination. Really worth a read.

10. Laura Vivanco's Teach me Tonight - fascinating essays relating to romance fiction.

11. The Intern - both hilarious, well written and absolutely spot on, the Intern Spills is a must read for any aspiring writer.

12. Vicky English's Camelot - great blog for anyone interested in writing romance. Picked up loads of useful information there.

13. Patricia Clift Martin at Unwinding Slowly - relax amongst yarn, free knitting designs and scrumptious home-baking.

14. Imogen's Wardrobe - truly adorable and sustainable original childrenswear design, with imaginative tales to accompany each dress. You could die of the extreme cuteness.

15. Rosie Lane at Climbing to the Light - a great mix of personal stories and flash fiction. A great lass. Check her out.

Women in Greek Myth: Clytemnestra as Goddess

Two days ago I posted a flash fiction snapshot of Clytemnestra, wife of Agamemnon who led the Greeks to Troy. In that post, you saw Clytemnestra in the dark moments before she takes her revenge on the husband who sacrificed their eldest daughter. This piece is set seven years before that. The people of Mycenae are starving and the people turn to the old ways for their salvation.

In this I'm exploring the idea of an earlier, matriarchal religion, which was supplanted by the Greek pantheon. It is inspired by Classical Mythology: the Greeks by Peter Meineck (available on audible) and by Henry Treece's Electra, an amazing book which first introduced me to this story.



The Goddess Lives

The sheep lies on its side, belly distended and tongue hanging from its open mouth. Flies buzz around its blank staring eyes and the stench of death hangs in the dry air. It is three years since Agamemnon left, taking our most able-bodied men with him; three long years of failed harvests and grass fires. Brown scars wound the land where cool water once flowed. The people starve.

Black robed, I gaze from beneath the massive lintel of Mycenae’s lion gate, out across a land which had once been verdant.

“Mother?” Elektra says, her hand on my elbow.

I turn to her. “It is time.”

Her face pales “The Gods-”

“The Gods of Agamemnon have abandoned us.” I am a desert wind, scalding in my dryness. Lifting the double horns above my head, I hear a ripple of recognition run round my hollow eyed people. I am the Goddess reborn, the dark one, a creature of the moist earth and green shoots. I nod at the first lithe youth who stumbles forward. The chosen seed. He follows in my narrow footed wake, down the winding stone path to the arid fields, scorched by the unforgiving sun.

I smell nothing but dust, see nothing but the red-brown earth baked hard by summers without rain. The sacred tree stands before me, rearing black and twisted against the blazing sky. Stretching, I place the spreading horns within its gnarled branches and turn to face the chosen one, the boy-consort who will seed the earth. His eyes are wide, liquid dark in a face which has its first growth of downy beard. Sweat beads his brow and his curving lip. He blinks, dazed by heat and wonder.

Power ripples through me. Lifting my hands to my shoulders, I bare my white breast to his hungry gaze. Hands trembling, he reaches out to touch me, reverent and worshipful. As his skin brushes mine, thunder rumbles in the distant mountains. The people gasp and around the city walls, voices swell in joyful eulogy to the burgeoning sky. I pull him to the dusty ground, and lose myself to the heat of his mouth.

But as the ancient rhythm overtakes me, I see Elektra’s face in my mind’s eye, stark with shock, pale with anger.

I close my eyes against the thought. One day she will understand what the Goddess demands of those who live in her curved palm. One day she will forgive.

The boy cries out. Lifting my face to the skies I smile, as the rain begins to fall.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Women in Greek Myth: Helen (Leaving Sparta)

I've been working on a few shorts about Helen, because she is a key character in the Sisyphus universe I'm gradually developing. I have a very strong impression of her as a character; a mother who had to abandon her child, a woman who was used as a pawn on a human-divine chessboard that was not of her making. And yet she survived it all. Unlike most women, she doesn't come to a sticky end. Like Medea, she is removed from the chaos and tragedy that she has caused. I find her fascinating. This story also forms part of my Women in Greek Myth series. You can read about Helen's twin the notorious Clytemnestra in my earlier posts.



Helen: The night she left with Paris

The night-dark sea lifts the Trojan ship, rolling its wooden belly in a storm-swollen caress. It is bathed in starlight, its sailors black wraiths against the shadowed night. Paris holds his hand out to me, his green eyes laughing in the darkness. He knows that my submission is inevitable, knows that whatever bonds of loyalty might bind me to my hand-fasted husband, I will go with him to Troy. I am Tyndareus’ human daughter, Menalaus’ loyal wife. But they are just men. I am to be a god-given prize.

The blood of Zeus that flows in my royal veins forges in me a divine puppet, as lovely and deadly as Pandora and her pestilent box. I am plague, I am evil. I am the most beautiful woman in the world and I am cursed by Aphrodite, whoremonger of the divine. I belong to Paris.

The compulsion to go to him is stronger than siren song, spreading my legs and pasting a courtesan’s smile on my perfect lips. Like a prettily packaged marionette I sway and slink onto the Trojan ship, by stealth in the darkness, every sailor watching me with lust-sick obsession. My eyes are dry, my laugh merry and with each step I take my heart shrivels.

I hear it then, a ghost of a cry on the breeze. My breasts tighten, milk staining the pale silk of my royal tunic. I almost turn, my muscles burning with the anguished instinct to run to my infant daughter’s cradle, to hold Hermione in my arms. Paris touches my hair and I look up at him. I smile. Cursed by the Gods, I smile.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Women in Greek Myth: Clytemnestra Waits

This is third installment of my series of stories exploring Women in Greek Myth. Click on the link to read Ariadne and Medusa's stories.



Clytemnestra Waits

I hear it again, the laughter, deep in the stygian shadows beyond the temple wall. It is lost almost immediately, stifled by the greedy rush of Boreas’ breathless passage.

“Iphigenia?” The forbidden name escapes me, dusty and threadbare with disuse. It echoes in the empty chamber of my body, the dry husk that was once a womb. The silence wraps around me, a choking blanket which clogs my throat and settles like ashes in my hair. The urn in my hands drops to the floor, spilling spice-scented wine like blood across the marble floor.

“My Queen.” I feel Aegisthus’ hand upon my shoulder and for a moment I am grateful for the human solidity of his touch. I realise I am trembling. Slowly I lift my head, meeting the sightless gaze of the Goddess’ blank stone face.

Artemis.

No seed of life was ever planted in her untouchable body; her belly was never swollen, stretched and scarred by its fecundity. No child has been nourished from her breast, its tiny, pink tipped fingers clutching in greedy exultation at her milk-swollen dugs.

I am cold, so cold. My fingers curl, digging into the palm of my hand.

“He is here,” Aegisthus says. “He is home.”

Agamemnon.

I turn and I see what is draped over his arms. It is the carpet I have woven these ten long years, purple-red, the colour of the crushed grape. It has stained his open hands, like blood.

Our eyes meet. I nod, slowly. “I am ready.”

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Women of Greek Myth: Ariadne

This is the second of my vignettes of women in Greek Myth. You can read the first, Medusa's story, by clicking on the link.



ARIADNE

It is the silence that wakes me. No rhythmic anchor’s clank, no belly deep laughter of smooth-cheeked men of Athens. The screech of seagulls mocks me, white-winged, dipping low across the boundless wine-dark sea.

I raise my head, sleep-dimmed eyes searching a horizon stained blood-red by the dying sun. No black sailed ship breaks the white-flecked crests, no foaming trail carves the hissing waves.

I am alone.

I rise up from the bone-coloured sand, hands clutching my swollen belly. The wind whips my tunic and it clings to my legs like a shroud. The island curves around me, a verdant sarcophagus of pine trees and cypress. Theseus has left me, left me to die.

My cry echoes from the twilit sky, piteous. The wind brings it back to me like laughter. I wonder then if this is my curse, my punishment for fratricide. Was it not I that placed the golden thread into Theseus’ outstretched palms? Was it not I that left the Athenian’s sword in the gaping maw of the labyrinth? I am stained with his blood, my monstrous brother.

Is this the fate of the children of Pasiphae, to die at Theseus’ hands?

It is then I hear the wild music, smell the rich grape in the air. And I see a wild boy, dressed in goat skins, his eyes merry and his mouth stained purple with wine. He holds out his hands to me and smiles.

And I dance. I dance.


Photo by sarahmaeblogs