Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Old Friends: An update


What a crazy couple of months. NaNoWriMo has come and gone, and I'm only now finding my way out from underneath the annual December laundry mountain.

But, and here's the happy news, I won!

My first draft of my first historical novel is complete, all I need to do now is finish my stack of research books, add more details about setting and atmosphere, check all my facts, check the dialogue is authentic ... OK, so I'm not going to think about all that just yet (otherwise my head might explode).

But in case you were wondering what was going on between my two old friends, here's an introduction to my story.

When Bess's childhood sweetheart arrives with the news that her husband has died, she's shocked, and overwhelmed by the attraction that still sparks between them. But her delight in seeing her Tom is tempered by the reminder of the promise she made him long ago - that she would marry him if she were ever free of her arranged match. 
After years of separation these old friends must learn to love and trust one another in order to find happiness as man and wife, before one - or both - of them decide that their marriage was an irreparable mistake.

So there you have it - that's where I've been for the past few weeks, with my head stuck firmly in early-sixteenth-century Warwickshire. Now ... back to my books.

Ellie x

Monday, 29 October 2012

Two days to go...

NaNoWriMo is nearly upon us!

With just two days to go the annual NaNo nerves and excitement are building, and I'm itching to get started. Whether you're new to NaNo or an old hat, here's a checklist to make sure you have everything you need come the 1st of November:

  1. An idea If you'e falling at the first hurdle, try one of the story prompts on this blog, the ones at Writer's Digest, or trusty old google.
  2. A plan It doesn't need to be enormously detailed, if that's not the way you like to work, but some idea of where you want to be on the 30th November makes the 1st to 29th so much easier.
  3. Write or Die An amazing writerly tool. Set it to kamikaze and it'll start deleting words if you stop typing. Not for the faint-hearted, but brilliant for stopping procrastination.
  4. Plenty of tea Or coffee, or orange squash, or mashmallows, or wasabi peanuts, or ... You get the idea. Something nice for when you've hit your target, written your way out of a corner, or done something else reward-worthy.
  5. A NaNo buddy If no one you know in real life is writing this year, take to the forums and twitter to find someone like-minded for mutual support and encouragement. A little friendly competitiveness never hurt the word count either. 
Just a short post this evening as I'm hitting the books, trying to fit it as much research as I can before the madness begins! Please (no, really, please) share your NaNoWriMo tips and tools in the comments :)

Ellie x

Thursday, 18 October 2012

How NaNoWriMo is like knitting a scarf ...

No, really, stick with me here. It is.

When you start knitting, it's pretty hard. Finishing a row with the same number of stitches you started with is an impossible task. Extra stitches appear from nowhere; even though you could swear you'd knitted every single stitch, holes appear at random and with disturbing regularity. Unless you are some sort of knitting prodigy, your first piece of knitting will probably resemble a bedraggled and sorry-looking dishcloth.

For me, learning to write was exactly the same, and I guess I'm not alone.

Chances are your first draft of your first chapter of your very first novel will look equally bedraggled, with holes and diversions and a strange mess in the middle that you've no idea how it started and no clue how to fix it. So what do you do? How to remedy this mess? You keep going, because by the time you've knitted long enough to make a scarf, your stitches will be even and you won't have dropped a stitch for days (OK, maybe hours).

When you finish your first scarf, the only way to improve it might be to rip it back and start again. There are only so many dropped stitched that one can fix. Your second might still have a few holes. You might want to rip back some sections and put them right. Find all the dropped stitches and repair them. But by the time that you make that third scarf, it might just need a good blocking, and it's good to go.

I think of NaNoWriMo as a sequence of scarves. The first was/is a big, holey, patchy nightmare, which one of these days I'm going to sit down and rewrite from scratch (I love my characters and setting too much to waste - much like a lovely yarn). My second was better, but still full of scary moments. It'll take a lot of work to fix, but I don't think I need to pull the whole thing back. And the third? Well, it needed more than blocking. It needed rewrites and edits and critiques and more edits, but now, I have to say, I think it's a really rather lovely scarf, sorry, novel.

So, who knows, maybe scarf number four will just need a quick spin in the washing machine and be good to go... watch this space!

Ellie x

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Five reasons to sign up for NaNoWriMo

As November is rapidly approaching, and the research for my new novel is gearing up, I thought I'd take a minute today to remind myself of why I love NaNoWriMo. And because I hope that some of you out there are thinking about doing this mad, crazy, brilliant thing with me, here are five reasons to sign up this year!
  1. It helps you find time for your writing. It's the one piece of advice you'll find in almost every book, lecture and blog post about writing: you have to find the time to write regularly, every day if you can. The intensity of the NaNoWriMo month with help you to work out where your writing can fit into your life, and what your writing's more important than. Is it more important that that extra hit of the snooze button? Is it more important than EastEnders? The washing up? Hot food? Basic personal hygiene? Obviously (I hope) your writing can't be more important that all of these things, but it's surprising the time that you can find if you really want to.
  2. It gets you past the first chapter. I've written before about the possible dangers of writing and editing simulateously - namely having a drawer of perfect first chapters, but never having got further than that. Break the habit with NaNo. It may not suit everyone. There may well be a middle ground between editing too much and not editing it at all, but trying a new way of working could be just what you need.
  3. The pep talks. They're brilliant. When you're having one of those days where it feels like every word is being dragged kicking and screaming from your brain, a email will pop into your inbox reminding you that we all have days like that, that tomorrow will be better, and that you can do this!
  4. It makes your writing better. Okay, I don't actually have any scientific proof of this, but having finished NaNoWriMo three times, and having edited one of those drafts into an actual, proper, finished novel, I can tell you that the writing at the end was an awful lot better than at the beginning. It's like anything, yoga, baking, knitting, if you practice it for two hours a day, every day, you are going to improve.
  5. Because you love to write! What other reason do you need?! Every day, for a whole month, you'll sit down, start typing, and create people, places, smells and sights that didn't exist before you thought of them. You'll make your characters, and yourself, laugh and cry and probably, at some point, very cross. Frankly, what better way to spend a cold, damp dreary month (apologies to those of you in the southern hemisphere, I can't think of November in any other way) than in front of the fire with your notebook on your knee?
So there you have it. That's why I'm signing up this year. Will you be?

Ellie x

P.S. Have you read the first chapter of Hiding from Hollywood, and the other entries for SYTYCW yet? Voting's open for two more days!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Big Hollywood news

Exciting news on two fronts this week:

Hollywood now has a title (drumroll please...) Hiding from Hollywood. To me, it sums up the emotional conflict at the heart of the story, and sounds pretty snappy with some nice alliteration - what do you think?!

In the other major news this week, Hiding from Hollywood is officially entered into Harlequin's So You Think You Can Write competition. This means that you can read - right now, for free - the first chapter of the book :) You can click here to go straight to my entry, and here to go to the competition homepage. (By the way, you're not going mad, it is showing a different author name - the rules of the competition state no pen names, so there you go! You'll still find me on twitter as @EllieDarkins though.)

I really hope that you enjoy this first look at Abby and Ethan, and I hope I can share the rest of their story with you soon. Good luck to all of you who have entered your chapters in the competition too - please send me links to your entries so I can read!

Love, Ellie

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

How to write a novel: Part three

Well, the best thing about this post is that (in my opinion) the hardest part is done! If you've finished your first draft - hit your word count, got to the end, given your characters their happy ever after, then you get to do my favourite part of the writing process - editing. I'm sure that there are as many ways to edit a novel as there are to write one in the first place, so the usual caveat applies: this isn't the only way to do it, but it is how I do it.
  1. Step away from the novel. Yep. Ignore it completely, for at least a day, longer if you can. If you try and edit what you wrote this morning, chances are you'll make the same decisions and mistakes all over again, or be blinkered about where your writing can be improved. A little time and space will give you the perspective you need to do a good edit.
  2. But not for too long. I am happy to hold my hands up and admit I've made this mistake. More than once. My 2010 NaNoWriMo novel has been sitting in a folder on my hard drive for nearly two years. It had grown so monstrous in my mind that I couldn't bear to even open the file. Well, this week I took the plunge and read it, and I have to say, it's actually pretty good! My point is, if you leave it too long, the doubt crows will start to win out over reason, and it's all too easy to convince yourself that your worst writerly fears are true. The only way to prove to yourself that they're not is to read through what you've written and make a plan for revisions. 
  3. Read your book. All of it, preferably printed out, or on a Kindle, or in some other format that stops you fiddling with it. What you're looking at is the big picture. Does your plot develop realistically? What is the pacing like - too fast? too slow? Do your characters' emotions develop consistently and smoothly? Is there enough intrigue - either about the past, or the future, or both. What do you repeat and fall back on too often: a word, a description, an image, a point of view, a metaphor? You're looking to make a To Do list which will probably require you to make changes throughout the story. I know that what Hollywood needed at this stage was smoothing - there were too many details that hadn't made it from brain to manuscript, resulting in great leaps on the page.
  4. Line edit. Now this really is the best bit. Go through line by line, making sure that every single word of your story is perfect, or at least as close to perfect as you can get. I actually do a little of this between steps two and three, just to make my reading experience more enjoyable, but this is when I really go to town. Play with vocabulary, tweak your syntax, sharpen your dialogue. Chances are, to make your book really sing at this stage, you're going to want to cut cut cut. Any adjective or adverb that doesn't pull it's weight should be deleted instantly. (OK, that's not a law or anything, but I do think it's generally a good idea ...)
  5. Ask someone else to read your book. I know I said that the hardest part of writing a novel was done, but I'd forgotten the sweaty-palmed terror that accompanies sending your novel out into the world for the first time. But if you're hoping to be published, you knew this part was going to come eventually. Make it easier on yourself by picking your reader carefully, and most importantly - listen to what they have to say. More advice here.
So there you have it, the five steps to finishing your novel once you've completed the first draft. Rinse and repeat until you're happy with the result, and then it's time to make the big decision - what to do with it next.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Story prompts 2

Still stuck for a story idea? See what you can do with one of these. Try using one as your first sentence. Explore the motivations of one of the characters. Ignore these completely, but use the random idea that popped into your head when you were reading them. Basically, use them in any way you wish. But if you'd like to turn it into a novel, try reading How to write a novel parts one and two.
A frisson of excitement ran through her as she sipped a cold glass of white wine. Her flight was due to leave in under an hour ... 
A UFO crash lands on earth. The site of the possible alien incursion? Slough. 
She licks her lips, squares her shoulders, takes a deep calming breath and heads over ... 
Let me know how you get on!

Ellie x

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

I'm back!

And I bring exciting news: the latest draft of Hollywood is finished! I think there may be a few comments to incorporate as I ask a few trusted friends and critique partners to review this draft of the manuscript – but to me it feels done. I’m happy with the character development, the plot, the romance, the sex scene *blushes furiously*, and all with a little time to spare before entries open for SYTYCW 2012.

And that’s not all. Remember my Old friends? Well, their story is starting to fall into place too. The setting’s become much clearer – these are definitely Tudor folk – and so the great research marathon has begun. I took some good advice from Vanessa Greene and am trying to research and develop a story simultaneously, and so far it’s working. Each nugget of information I uncover suggests an idea for the plot, or a facet to a character, and every leap I make in character and setting points my research in a new direction. I’ve now got a sizeable reading list, books on order from my new local library, and am close to the big ‘sticking post-its on a storyboard’ moment (one of my favourites in the writing process). And I haven’t even mentioned the DVDs I’m lining up for a Tudor marathon: The Other Boleyn Girl, Shakespeare in Love, The Tudors …

So the last quarter of 2012 is looking like a busy one writing-wise, and I cannot wait What have I missed while I’ve been away – please share your writing news!

Ellie x

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Normal service will be resumed soon


A million apologies for the radio silence. Recent house move has resulted in a severe lack of broadband internet - but I will be back soon with good news about Hollywood.

Ellie x

Friday, 31 August 2012

How to write a novel: Part two

You've read How to write a novel: Part one. 
You've come up with an idea, or been inspired by the Story prompts (more to come soon).
Your characters are fully formed in your head.
You have an idea of where your plot starts.

If all of the above apply to you, it's time to take the plunge and start writing your novel. Here's how ...
  1. Write something. Anything. If you're anything like me, then you'll find a blank page terrifying. The only way to banish the beast is to start writing. It doesn't matter if it's the first line of the story or the last line, whether it's a work of genius or not. But I promise, once you get that first line down, the next one will be easier!
  2. Keep writing. Well, that's obvious, right? But I think this is the hardest step. You won't always be in the mood to write. At some point (for me, always about half-way) you may well start to believe that you have written the worst book in the world, ever, and want to give up completely. You're wrong. You just have to keep going. Try and build writing into your routine. I don't think it matters whether it's a hundred words a day or five thousand, whether you manage to find fifteen minutes a day or five hours. JUST KEEP GOING!
  3. Read what you've written. Before I start my day's writing, I read what I wrote the day before. This helps me remember where I am in the story - not just in terms of plot, but in terms of the development of characters' emotions. This (hopefully) leads to a smooth, natural progression of the romance. 
  4. BUT Write without editing. This is not at all a hard and fast rule. Some people like to write one paragraph, or even one sentence at a time, rewriting and editing and getting it absolutely perfect before moving on. This is a perfectly valid way of writing. But it's not my way. If I tried to work this way, I don't think I would ever get past the first chapter, and learning to write first, edit later got my first novel finished. Try and find out what works for you. If you've a folder full of perfect first chapters, but no finished manuscript then maybe writing with editorial blinkers on will work for you too. 
And that's it. Although there are four steps listed about,what this post really boils down to is two things: start writing and keep going. If you can do that, you can write a novel.

Let me know how you get on!

Ellie x

How to write a novel: Part one
How to write a novel: Part three

Monday, 27 August 2012

Story prompts

So, you've read How to write a novel: Part one, have pen and paper at the ready, but are struggling with Step 1: Have an idea. Don't worry: it happens to us all! All you need is a prompt to get you started, and then Step 2 will take care of the rest.

Courtesy of  me and two of my nearest, dearest friends, here are some ideas:
Tears came to her eyes as they held each other for one last time. A kiss, a look, and he walked away ...
A classic: You arrive home from the airport, open your suitcase, and realise it has been swapped with another passenger's. Inside you find ...
You spend a week in paradise having a delicious holiday fling, but you never plan to see him again. Five years later, you decide to put a cheating ex behind you by travelling the world. Walking through an airport, guess who you see ... ? 
Feel free to use these prompts however you like. The most important thing is to pick one as a starting point, and see where it takes you. Brainstorm your ideas in the comments section, and let me know what happens to these guys!

Ellie (and friends)

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

How to write a novel: Part one

OK, so that's probably not the most accurate title for this post, because there is no one way to write a novel. But this is how I do it, so if you're still interested, read on. Oh, I should also say that the actual writing of a novel isn't covered in this post, this is all about the planning, but if you're still interested, here's how to do it...

  1. Have an idea. Sometimes this is easier said than done. It is especially difficult when sitting staring at a blank screen, telling yourself that you have to have a really good idea, right now. Take the pressure off by having really good ideas all the time instead. And, importantly, write them down so that you can come back to them when you need them.
  2. Ask yourself questions. If your inspiration is a location, then who lives there. If your inspiration is a person, then where do they live? Are they in trouble? How did they get there? How will they get out of it? I love to do this stage the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper. I find that when I'm writing on paper, my brain is always a step ahead of my hand, so by the time I've finished writing the question, I know the answer, or I at least know which question needs asking next. 
  3. Find out who your friends are. Take all the information you have about your characters (from your scribbles from #2), and draw up profiles. Who are they? What makes them tick? What's brought them together, and what's going to keep them apart. Ask more questions. Really get to know your characters inside out. 
  4. Work out what they're up to. By this stage, a beginning and a middle may be making themselves known. Play around with different ideas thrown up by #2 and #3. How much detail you put in here really depends on how you like to work. Writers fall into two camps: plotters and pantsers (though of course there are many shades of grey in between). Plotters plan what they are going to write, and then write it. Pantsers start writing and see where it takes them. I'm a plotter, but only up to a point. When I start on chapter one, I'll have a pretty structured plan for the first third of the book, and know the major milestones for the middle and the end. But I don't plot these in detail at the start, instead I have a couple of big plotting sessions along the way.
  5. Do your researchOK, so this isn't really #5. It's a little bit of points 1-4, as it needs to be done all the way through. Research can be lots of things. It can be sitting with your eyes shut, glass of wine in hand, thinking about why your character reacts in the way they do; it can be reading historical manuscripts at the British Library; and it can be pretty much everything in between. The point is, you have to make your story believable, which means knowing the ins and outs of every character, every decision, every location, and every historical event. That's not to say that you need to include all this information in your book - in fact you really probably shouldn't - and it's not to say that you can't monkey with the facts a little, if it's what your story really needs. But if you're winging it, then something may ring hollow about your story. 
So there we are. Once all this is done, you just need a notepad and paper or a computer, and a few short, easy months later, you will have written a novel. Simples. Honest... Meet you back here for Part 2!


How to write a novel: Part two
How to write a novel: Part three

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Old friends

August is the time of year I start to think seriously about my NaNoWriMo project.

Although November still seems like forever away, I know that if I want time for my characters, plot and setting to develop gradually and organically in my mind, and then be firmed up enough to actually get writing on the 1 November, I need to start early.

This year, though, I'm already slightly ahead of schedule, because I'm pretty sure which idea from my notebook I want to explore. Remember those characters that were causing me sleepless nights last month? (They're here... Well, I think the time has come for me to try and work out what is going on.

One thing that I'm absolutely sure of is that the time between now and November is going to be filled with a huge amount of research - because I've had a sneaking suspicion all along that these aren't contemporary characters.

I read a lot of historicals, and historical non-fiction, but I've never written a historical story before, and at the moment research seems like an impossible chickenegg-type situation ... What do I research first? How do I know what to research if I don't know the plot? How can I outline a plot without knowledge of the historical context? So I'd love some advice from anyone who knows more than me (ie very little) about going about writing a historical novel, or anyone who has ideas for how to get started. Please help!


Wednesday, 8 August 2012

In praise of punctuation

In my day job as an editor I seem to spend a lot of time battling with commas - in particular, comma splices. (A comma splice is where two independent clauses are joined by a comma.) Now, a comma splice isn't always a mortal sin - at times, it is the only sensible choice: I came, I saw, I conquered - but it is generally considered grammatically incorrect.

I'm not suggesting that getting your commas right makes the difference between a brilliant and not-brilliant book - great writing shines through even the dodgiest punctuation - but why ignore this valuable tool for making your writing glow?

So, what are your options when it comes to joining independent clauses? Here's a run down:
Use a conjunction: He was gorgeous and I had to kiss him.
Use a semi colon: He was gorgeous; I kissed him.
Use a conjunction and a comma: He was gorgeous, but not very bright.
Use a full stop: He was gorgeous. He wasn't very bright. 
Use a colon (where the second clause explains the first): I couldn't fancy him: he was stupid.
Make one clause dependent on the other: If he weren't so dim, I might fancy him.

The most important thing to bear in mind is that the punctuation you choose affects your tone. Compare the breathless excitement of: He looked so gorgeous and I know it was stupid but I couldn't help myself and I just had to kiss him. with the more reasonable, more considered: He looked so hot. I know it was stupid, but I couldn't help myself. I just had to kiss him. to see for how much influence punctuation can have.

I hope this is helpful! If you have any punctuation question, ask away and I'll do my best to help.


Friday, 3 August 2012

Tough love

I came to the realisation this week that the part of my novel I'm having most trouble with - a couple of chapters in the middle - is problematic because my characters are too darned happy. I ramp up the tension at the start; I build to a crescendo at the end. But for a fair few pages, right in the middle of the story, everything is going marvellously for my hero and heroine, and, frankly, it's boring me.

So at the risk of sounding like a sadist, my job this week is to make these two (mostly) lovely people unhappy. I'll keep them apart. I'll bring them together with unfortunate timing. I'll make them jealous and peevy, nervous and awkward, and really quite frustrated - in every sense of the word. Anything really, as long as they're not too happy about it.

Why do I take such pleasure in making them suffer? Because I'm writing romance! So I know they'll get their happy ever after soon enough, and they (and I, and hopefully you) will enjoy it all the more if they haven't taken the quickest, smoothest path there. I know they'll thank me in the end.


P.S. Feel free to share any ways you like to torture your characters in the comments box (within reason - no actual torture please :) )

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Free short story: Extraordinary Possibilities

So, here it is: my first ever short story. I hope that you like it. Please let me know what you think!

Extraordinary Possibilities

I arrive at work before the sun is up, convinced that if I can lock myself in my office for a few days, then everyone will forget. In a day or two there will be some new office gossip, and Rob and I will be yesterday’s news. 
Except there is no Rob and I. I know that other people do it: romances in the workplace, a relationship with the boss, but it doesn’t feel right for me. 
I forgot this last night. 
At the end of the evening, when the lights in the bar came up, I was shocked. I had no idea that so much time had passed. Slowly, as the buzz of conversation and the sour smell of too many bodies invaded my senses, it became clear that we had attracted more than a little attention from our colleagues. Panic prickled my skin: I had to get out of there. 
Rob offered to walk me to a taxi. I refused, knowing that it would only add fuel to the fire, but he followed me out anyway. I didn’t argue; I just wanted to get away. The whispers I could hear in our wake confirmed my fears. The crowd in the bar didn’t even try to hide their interest, and I was certain that the rumour mill was already working overtime.
 I think back to the first time that Rob walked into my office. I hadn’t a clue who he was. All I knew when I looked up from my tired, emotional, groggy funk, was that some sort of god with Disney-hero looks – all muscly arms, perfect teeth, and hair begging to be touched – was standing in front of my desk holding out a hand. 
‘Rob Harris,’ he introduced himself confidently. ‘Your new executive assistant…’ he continued when my blank stare made it clear that I was incapable of speech. Fortunately, I’d been able to blame my lack of composure on the fact that I was only just back from sick leave, rather than being turned into a drooling, dribbling, adolescent mess at the sight of him. And so I settled into a routine of sitting, every day, ten feet away from a man about whom I had sticky, sweaty, Technicolor fantasies every night, but who was strictly off limits.
Another flashback to the bar makes me grimace. The pressure of Rob’s hand on the small of my back as we leave, wishing I could lean back into it, but forcing myself to move away. You weren’t doing anything wrong, I remind myself for the thousandth time. Nothing happened. The whole department was in the bar. It was an innocent after-work drink. You were just talking. Except ‘just talking’ didn’t seem the right word to describe the three hours we’d spent, to the exclusion of all others, huddled in a quiet corner. I remember the way he looked at me when my foot brushed against his under the table. The way that he moved closer, as I tried to move away. 
‘You’re still here,’ he says. 
‘I don’t know what you mean.’ 
‘I mean, how long have we worked together. A few months now?’ 
I agree, wondering where this is going. 
‘Well, for months now, whenever the conversation has threatened to move away from anything strictly work related, you’ve decided it’s time you were going home. Or time that I was. I mean, we’ve never sat like this before. Just talking.’ 
I nod slowly. He’s right. For the past three months I’ve tried my hardest to maintain my professionalism – not easy when I was developing the mother of all crushes. I’ve done everything that I can to shut him out. I’ve left the room rather than face up to my feelings more times than I can remember. And that’s what I should be doing now, I think. But there have been times tonight when the attraction between us has felt so strong that I could reach out and almost touch it.
 After we leave the pub, I start walking up to the top of the road, hoping that I can hail a cab. I can hear Rob following close behind me. He catches up to me and I swing round at the feel of his hand at my elbow, trying to pull myself away. I stumble on the jagged edge of a paving slab and feel my face heading inevitably towards the ground. I brace myself for the impact, waiting for the crunch of skin and bone against concrete. 
Rob catches me. 
He pulls me up against him, and as I catch my breath I can feel the intensity of his gaze on my face. I can’t bring myself to look up and meet his eye, even when his hand brushes back the hair that has been thrown across my face and tucks it behind my ear. A curl of desire starts in the pit of my stomach and spirals downwards.
I sit back in my chair, remembering the feeling of his fingers against the sensitive skin of my neck, and my reaction to it.  It was unlike anything I’d felt before: more intense, more overwhelming, more frightening. It was the first time I’d had ever felt that, and I’d walked away without saying a word. 
But now, suddenly, there’s something I’m more afraid of. What if I never feel it again? What if I run from Rob forever? What if this is my one chance, and if I blow it now, that’s it. 
This isn’t some fleeting crush. I’ve not been able to get him out of my head for months. And now I am determined to do whatever it takes to at least be able to speak to him about how I feel. My heart quickens at the possibilities opening in front of me. I don’t want to bury my head in the sand any longer. I don’t want to hide, or avoid him. The only thing that was going to help was doing something. I could talk to my manager; I could tell HR; I would do anything other than spend another minute sitting alone, in my office or in my bed, wishing that things could be different. 
As I race to the door and reach for the handle, it opens inwards, and I collide with Rob’s broad, solid chest. 
‘I need to talk to you.’ 
His tone is serious, and I’m instantly on edge. This isn’t right. We can’t have this conversation yet. But the shock of his presence, on top of my sudden epiphany, throws me, and I let him shut the door and lead me over towards my desk. 
I perch on the corner, and that’s when I see the envelope in his hand. My heart sinks. 
‘Rob, what’s going on?’ 
‘I’m leaving,’ he tells me matter-of-factly. ‘Please consider this official notice of my resignation.’ 
I’m horrified. He obviously doesn’t feel the same, and now I’d made him so uncomfortable that he needs to leave. 
‘Rob, you don’t have to do this. If something has … happened, to make you feel that you can’t stay, then I’m sure that something can be sorted out. Perhaps you would be happier if you were working in another part of the company, or if I was …’ 
‘No. I want to leave.’ My heart breaks at the certainty in his voice. 
He reaches for my hand, and holds it gently in his. I’m still so shocked by his announcement that I can barely register this additional surprise. ‘I’m sorry,’ he starts, and I want him to be quiet. I want to be able to sit in silence and concentrate on the feeling of his skin, warm and soft and smooth. Because he’s leaving, and I know that in the days and weeks and months to come, I’m going to think of this moment often. 
He continues anyway: ‘Please, let me explain. It’s impossible to stay here.’ I’m desperate to say something. It’s not fair that he should have to leave, just because I can’t keep my feelings to myself. But, again, the words don’t come. 
‘I can’t work for you anymore,’ he says slowly, with a hint of nerves making his voice waver. ‘Because of how I feel about you. Because until you read that letter, I can’t kiss you.’ 
Realisation hits, and for a moment, I can only gape at him. He wants to kiss me. He’s leaving. The two thoughts battle for space in my head, and I still can’t shake the feeling that this is wrong, that I’m forcing him out of a job. I stand, take my hand from where he still holds it, and open the envelope. 
‘Like I say in my letter …’ A hand on my waist gently pulls me towards him. ‘… I’ve been offered an excellent opportunity …’ The hand creeps around to my back and holds me firmly against his chest. ‘… With extraordinary possibilities …’ I hold my breath and tilt my face up to his, waiting for the feel of his lips on mine. ‘…That I just can’t walk away from.’

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Sneak preview

I mentioned in my last post that I've been working on a short story, and I'm very excited to say it will be appearing here soon. But I couldn't wait to share just a little bit of it with you, so here are the first few paragraphs:

I arrive at work before the sun is up, convinced that if I can lock myself in my office for a few days, then everyone will forget. In a day or two there will be some new office gossip, and we will be yesterday’s news.
      I know that other people do it: romances in the workplace, a relationship with the boss, but it doesn’t feel right for me.
      I forgot this last night.

As always, let me know what you think! More to come soon...



Thursday, 19 July 2012

The Waiting Game

Once that all-important first draft is completed, writing is a bit of a waiting game. Especially if you're hoping to publish, you will probably want lots of people to read the manuscript: crit partners, beta readers, and eventually, agents and editors. I know from experience that the waiting is a strange time. After months and months of writing every day, making sacrifices to find the time to work on your book, all of a sudden it's gone. 

So, what to do while you're waiting? The first, and most obvious, option is to sit in front of your email inbox, hitting 'Refresh' on a regular basis. I'm not saying that this isn't a valid life choice - it's certainly one I've indulged in from time to time - but if, like me, you have decided to step away from the inbox, here are a few things that I've tried:

  1. Try a different style of writing. Explore different aspects of the writing craft by trying something completely new. Recently, I've started short story writing, and found that it's really helping me to develop my skills - the restricted word count means that I think harder and longer about every word, making sure that each line packs in as much intensity as possible. One of my favourite things so far is the freedom it gives you to make fundamental changes in style and POV. How would this read in the first person, I think to myself. To change a whole novel would take hours, if not days, but with a short story, twenty minutes later I can see for myself! If short stories don't appeal, what about poetry, haiku, feature articles, a blog? 
  2. Visit old friends. I have two NaNoWriMo novels stashed away that, on the relevant December 1st, I swore would never again see the light of day. But the characters from the first one pop into my head on a regular basis, and I know that one of these days I'm going to have to  write them a proper story. If you don't think you could revive a whole manuscript, is there a character, a location or a plot twist that you can use elsewhere? Or, on a related note, you could: 
  3. Plot your next NaNoWriMo novel. If you've not NaNo'd before - I can highly recommend it. But let's face it, writing a novel in a month is hard. It is a lot easier, however, if you have elements of plot, characterization, setting, etc. clear in your head and down on paper before you start. That way, if you start to enter a slump (for me, always after the half-way point), or the words start to fly, you don't have to stop writing to work out what happens next.
  4. Watch TV. And go to the cinema, read books - especially outside your usual genre, go for walks, overhear things in Starbucks. Load up your author notebook with so many brilliant story ideas that you can't wait to get back to your computer/notebook and start on the next project.
  5. Start your next novel. You knew this was coming, right? Because now you know you can write a novel, why wouldn't you want to do it again? You've lived through the ups and the downs, the moments of genius and absolute idiocy (maybe that last one's just me). You've found time to write on days when it seemed impossible. And even though, when you were somewhere around the middle, you thought you might just give up now, YOU DIDN'T! 
So, there you have it. Five things to try. Any other suggestions?


Monday, 16 July 2012

Let's talk about sex...

Love it or hate it, Fifty Shades of Grey is changing the way women read, and talk about reading, sex. Suddenly we’re openly reading erotica on the commute to work and discussing it at barbeques. I don’t think I’m alone in wondering what impact this is going to have on the whole romance genre.

At the moment I’m working on revises to my first novel (currently nicknamed Hollywood) and I’m just about at the part where all the sex starts. But before I make any changes, I really want to try and gauge whether the success of Fifty has already changed what women want, sex-wise, in romance novels, and how (and if) I should reflect this in my love scenes. It seems as if there has been a huge shift in public opinion – or what women are willing to say publicly about their opinions – over the past few months, and I want to make sure I’m taking this into account when I’m writing.

So my question is this: Has Fifty changed what you look for in a romance – in either direction – do you select steamier reads these days, or has it made you realise you’re from the ‘less is more’ school of literary sex? Or are your predilections much as before? Share your thoughts below.


Monday, 9 July 2012

Happy ever after

WARNING Contains spoilers for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Romeo and Juliet and Casablanca.
As a romance addict, I love knowing that a happy ever after is guaranteed. I don't think anything matches the anticipation, when everything is going horribly wrong, of what will come to shake up the action, change the dynamic or break down barriers so that the hero and heroine can find a way to be together.

A couple of months ago I read an article in the Guardian that reminded me how awesome Buffy the Vampire Slayer was, and I’ve been steadily working my way through the box set ever since. It’s just as good as I remember. The writing is brilliant, the acting is superb, and the romances are intense. But one thing still upsets me – I just don’t understand why Buffy and Angel can’t make things work. Sure he’s more than two hundred years older than her, and a vampire, but ten years later I still think that maybe, maybe, they’ll realise that their love is more powerful than all the things keeping them apart.

I guess this eternal optimism is the reason I always half expect that Ilsa won’t get on the plane out of Casablanca, Juliet will wake up just in time to tell Romeo that she’s not really dead, and Angel Clare (how these Angels torment me) will accept Tess’s past.  

This has got me wondering… Which doomed fictional couple would you most like to see find their HEA, and how would you make it happen?  For me (current Buffy obsession aside) it has to be Tess and Angel – and the answer is so simple. No supernatural powers to be overcome, no warring families or Nazis. Angel just has to ignore what has happened to Tess in the past, or Tess could wait for him just a little longer. That’s all it would take! See, still so frustrated….

So how about you? What sad ending would you rewrite and how?


Monday, 2 July 2012

It's a mystery

Last night, when I was trying to get to sleep, a scene idea popped into my head, and no matter what I tried, I couldn’t get it out again. Good girlfriend that I am, I didn’t want to switch on the light and write it down there and then, instead I resolved to remember it and write it down this morning. Of course, when I woke up I could only remember the bare bones of the thing, and all of the words I’d spent hours agonising over had deserted me. But over the course of the day I think I’ve managed to reconstruct most of it, and improve it in places.

As I’m still working on the edits for Hollywood, have another manuscript in progress and ideas for several others on the go, for the moment I’m going to leave this as a micro short story – but I’m sure I’ll revisit these two characters in the future. I have no idea who they are, and not much more of an idea of what they’re up to. Mostly I just sense the enormous attraction between them, and their desire to be together. I hope that this comes across in the story.

‘Tell me you don’t love me,’ he insisted, taking a step forwards and pressing her back against the wall. 
‘You know that I cannot.’ She tried to avoid looking him in the eye, but the lightest of touches from his fingers tilted her face upwards.
‘Then marry me,’ he demanded again. Willing her to agree. Unable to stop himself moving closer.
‘It’s impossible. My husband…’
His hand caressed a line from her cheek, down to her jaw and around to the nape of her neck. Slowly, he pulled her face towards his own until he could feel her breath on his lips. ‘Your husband is gone.’
He heard her gasp and saw hope in her eyes, but still a trace of doubt remained. 
‘Truly.’ And at last he let his lips brush against hers, knowing that nothing, and no one, could come between them now.

So, who are these two, what is going on and what has happened to the husband? Answers on a postcard please, or alternatively in the comments box below…

Ellie x

Monday, 25 June 2012

Such a tease...

After a request for more information about my book (from @ChickLitterEve) I realised that I’ve been all caught up in the nuts and bolts of writing and editing and haven’t shared anything with you about the plot or characters of my book. So I put pen to paper and here you go: the first teaser copy for my novel, which I’ve nicknamed Hollywood for now…

Abby Richards is waiting out her life serving burgers in a grimy LA diner. She’s succumbed to a life as a Hollywood cliché  actress-slash-waitress – though she has been trying hard to keep the ‘actress’ part of her life hidden from those around her.

When movie producer Ethan Walker walks into her diner, she’s terrified. There’s nothing she wants more than to run and hide, but Ethan is determined to drag her, and her secret, out into the open. 

I hope you like the sound of my story – let me know what you think!

Ellie x

Monday, 18 June 2012

Research, or Googling Hot Guys and their Houses

Research is one of my favourite things about writing, and not just because it involves googling pictures of hot guys. OK, it is mainly because it involves googling hot guys, but there are other great things about it too.

My most recent research enterprise has been adding details about my hero's, Ethan’s, home. I could see his house (a ridiculously beautiful mansion in the hills of Los Angeles, in case you were wondering) really clearly in my mind, but when I tried to describe it, all that came out on the page were wishy-washy generalities. It was really classic… the furnishings were beautiful but uncomfortable-looking... it was tasteful but soulless…. blah, blah, blah… What I really needed to help me to describe the pictures in my head was a real-life picture. The images in my mind aren’t photographs: sometimes they’re blurry, sometimes they’re made up more of feelings, emotions and swathes of colour rather than the specifics of soft furnishings and ornamental vases. I needed something physical, tangible, to zoom in on.

Which is where google comes into it. I have spent hours and hours trawling real estate websites looking for Ethan’s house. In the process, I’ve got to see that there are some seriously huge, seriously expensive and seriously 'interesting' (read 'ugly') houses out there. But eventually I found a mishmash of rooms that I felt matched the pictures I had in my mind. And, refreshingly, with these pictures, when I tried to see how many cushions were arranged on the sofa, or what type of fresh flowers the interior designer had arranged on a sideboard – they were right there.

And along the way, I got a real insight into my character. I knew instinctively which houses were right for Ethan and which he would have scoffed at. So I learnt that he doesn’t live in the most expensive house that he could afford, because something a little more modest suits him better, and this tells me about more than just real estate. When you sit back and think, ‘Could he really live with that marble flooring?’ you’re not really talking interior design. You’re asking what his values are. And any questions that give you cause to sit and think about your characters’ core principles, what drives them, what makes them tick, is going to make your story stronger.

So, house research done, I feel like the picture I have of Ethan’s six-pack is going a bit blurry, maybe I’ll just have a wee google. For research purposes, of course…

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Can I get a second opinion?

After weeks of planning, writing the first draft of my book, and then several more months editing it into reasonable shape, I started to look at it and despair. It could have been written in another language for all the sense it made to me. Every word was so familiar and so ingrained in my brain that I couldn’t see a way to change it. The only way to move forward from this point was to get a second opinion. What I wanted out of an early review, or beta read, was to know in broad terms which parts of the story, and which bits of my writing, were working and which weren’t.

When you’re looking for someone to review your manuscript, you have several options. There’s friends and family, of course, but be sure that whoever you ask is prepared to give you constructive criticism when it’s needed. Absolutely the most important thing in a reviewer is that they’re able to be honest with you - a review is no use if it doesn’t help you improve your book. If you don’t like the idea of asking a friend, then you have a couple of options. You could ask a professional editor to appraise your manuscript and make suggestions, or you can take to Twitter, blogs and forums to find beta readers or a crit partner. Chat with people who read and write in your genre, find someone you have a connection with, and ask! If possible, make yourself available to other writers who want beta readers – you learn so much about the craft by finding what works and what doesn’t in other peoples’ writing.

I’m very fortunate to have a brilliant friend, who also happens to be a brilliant editor (@SarahLou_Long – follow her real-life romance here:, agree to read my manuscript. We read and write in similar genres and I knew that her editorial instincts would be too strong not to suggest improvements wherever she could. I’d have been happy to have comments on just a few chapters, but, as I said, she is brilliant and agreed to read the whole thing.

When it actually came to reading this honest feedback and (plenty of) constructive criticism, I felt a bit ill. I’d not had anyone comment objectively on my writing since school, and had major attacks of the doubt crows (my current favourite phrase, courtesy of Maisey Yates). Mostly though, once I got into it, I found reading the suggestions for improvement more frustrating than painful, because once it was pointed out, every mistake seemed so obvious! Not only that, but a lot of the comments were requests for more information – often about the finer details of setting or subtext – that I had already thought about and written into my notes. It was absolutely crystal clear in my mind, but I’d somehow forgotten to get the words on the page.  By this point I knew my characters and my scenes so well that my brain was filling in gaps. But at least this meant that the negative comments were easy to tackle, and even the littlest positive ones (‘Love this J’ or ‘I love this whole page!’) made me do a little happy dance.

Of course, the reasonable part of my brain knows this isn’t the purpose of positive comments. What I need to do is pick apart these good bits, trying to work out what I’d said, or not said, that made Sarah smile, or gasp, or hate me (my favourite of the bunch was this one: ‘What? Don’t stop!! OMG, I have to get back to work now and I want to keep reading – you’re such a bl**dy tease!!’). And I will absolutely do this. Right after the happy dancing. 

But by far my favourite thing to come from this process is the homework – so far, I’ve been instructed to reread Marian Keyes, spend some quality time thinking about Jonny Jefferson, watch Entourage and listen to Matthew McConaughey’s voice. With advice like that, who am I to argue?

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Life after THE END

So, you type those two magic words, THE END, hit save and close the file. You’ve officially written a novel. Now what??

Once the first draft is finished, you have three options. One: Self-publish or submit the finished file to publishers exactly as it is, typos and all (I cannot think of any situation where this is a good idea). Two: Close the file, pretend it never existed and ignore it for all eternity. Or three, turn back to page one and start editing. This is where I found myself back in December of last year, having written a novel for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and I’ve spent the intervening time rewriting, editing, shaping and *deep breath* deleting.

Throughout the last stages of writing my first draft, I was really starting to look forward to the editing part. I’m an editor by trade, so surely editing my own book would be easy. I wish! I have had so much fun editing and rewriting, but easy isn’t the word I would use.

NaNoWriMo is a great writing program, and I love taking part (2011 was my third year), but when I looked back at what I’d written, I could see all the places where my novel read like it had been written in a month. There were vast areas of repetition, particularly within internal monologues, long periods of stasis and then huge leaps in characterisation (usually after I’d had a late-night brain-wave into a character’s development), and the same grammatical tricks and vocabulary used over and over again.

A second draft ironed out these problems and left me with what I’d like to think a first draft might look like if I spent longer than a month writing it. More importantly, I now know an awful lot more about my bad-writerly habits, which I’m hoping will make my next first draft a lot cleaner than the last. So my advice to anyone who’s just finished a first draft is edit, edit, edit.  And then once you’re happy with your second, third, fourth or even fifth draft, it’s time for the scary part.

Next up, beta readers and feedback. Who to ask, what to send, and what to do with positive and negative comments…