Monday, September 25, 2006

Write Up North

Helena, Oonagh, Nigel & Michelle

Sheree, Patricia, Marie & Heidi

Sunday was spent in a full day workshop with aspiring romance writers as part of Townsville's inaugral Festival of Writing.

Such fun to come out of my writing cave and to meet new people and to talk with them about my favourite subject.

All these wonderful people pictured above worked so hard!!! They created exciting characters and planned powerful conflicts and added an extra jolt of emotional punch to their ideas. And they thought about ways to create enticing, exciting openings for their romantic novels.

I showed them a scene from one of my favourite romantic movies “An Affair to Remember” – the scene when Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant first meet. In this scene, the sexual attraction combined with the playboy hero’s smooth pick up lines and the heroine’s intelligent, composed wariness is a fantastic example of the tug of attraction and the pull of conflict that we all try for in our novels.

Finally, I converted a few more unsuspecting souls to the allure of collage.

In other news... I can stop sweating about my recent submission. My editor tells me that she likes it, but will have some revision suggestions. Today (while I await her welcome wisdom) I’m going to prepare for my part in the Yungaburra Folk Festival next month.

Barb signing books (an author's favourite guilty pleasure) at the end of a big day.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Oh, boy! Such inspiration!

So many wonderful authors collected here in Townsville. Yesterday I listened to New Zealander, Elizabeth Knox (The Vintner’s Luck) and Nick Earls (48 Shades of Brown) talk about their books and about having them turned into films. I listened to young Aboriginal author Tara June Winch talk about her fascinating journey into print. I was on a panel with Sandy Curtis and Paul Cleave – a young New Zealand crime writer – who will make his mark, believe me – and who has written an astonishing first book, The Cleaner, in the first person point of view of a serial killer.

I listened to a clever and funny debate about whether writing on the Internet is real writing. (How could they ask that?)

And mingled and chatted with a lot of other fascinating authors, including a poet from Manchester called Louise (someone) who is currently poet in residence at the Judith Wright centre and has just had one of her (poetry) plays performed in the Sydney Opera House.

Could I sleep? No, I was too excited. But today I’m off for more…

Including a workshop with Craig Munro who was an editor for Queensland University Press for thirty years.

I'll try to remember to take some photos...

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

I woke this morning to the fabulous news that Harlequin author Peggy Webb has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for 2007 for her NEXT book Driving Me Crazy. The book has been acclaimed for its depiction of aging in America.

How fabulous is that?

This nomination truly validates the wonderful inroads into women’s fiction being forged by Harlequin and I think all Harlequin authors are holding their heads a little higher today.

Huge congratulations to Peggy!!!!!

Oh, and the journalist has been and gone and I'm relieved to report that none of the other authors he interviewed have wanted to list their five hates either, so we're all off the hook on that one.
Oh, and the cake's made.
Still no kilos lost, but more notes prepared.

Monday, September 18, 2006

A newspaper journalist is coming to interview me tomorrow and he wants me to list five books I love and five books I hate!!!


Coming up with five books I love is hard enough – I love so many. But I could probably narrow them down (at the moment – my list changes almost daily) to:-

  • An Equal Music by Vikram Seth
  • The Other Side of You by Salley Vickers
  • Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot
  • Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher

But when it comes to books I hate, I simply cannot do it. To start with, I’m not a hater. I have trouble hating anything or anyone. Maybe that’s because I’m a romantic and I avoid hard truths. I don’t know.

There are books that have upset me or bored me, books I have set aside because life’s to short to waste on books I don’t enjoy when there are so many others waiting to be read. But hate? No.

So I guess I’ll have to come up with some clever way to duck and weave tomorrow.

Oh, and to report on my progress this week.

  • the fruit for the Christening cake soaked in rum and sherry over night
  • a third of my notes for the workshop are ready for photocopying
  • saw “the Squid and the Whale” from the Sydney travelling Film festival last night
  • no progress on new book
  • no kilos lost yet
  • am smiling some of the time

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Note to self...

This week I'll be extra busy, but I want to:

  • lose five kilos by Friday when the Townsville Festival of Writing -- Write Up North starts and I need to look glamorous for the public. Yikes!!!! Well... a girl can always dream...
  • prepare for my part in the festival -- a panel with crime writers and a five hour Master Class next Sunday that will cover characters, conflict, emotion, opening pages...
  • practise being not shy so I can talk to the famous writers like Nick Earls and John Birmingham
  • make a Christening cake for my new granddaughter Lilly, who is just the most scrumptious 7 week old baby in the world.
  • keep my new book ticking over -- that's the thing I really want to be doing, so I hope I'll be able to squeeze it in.
  • try not to worry about the book that's loitering somewhere on my editor's desk in Richmond.
  • see some films from the Travelling Sydney Film Festival
  • prepare for out of town friends, who'll be staying with us during the writing festival
  • remember to smile!!!!!
  • go to the airport to collect my copies of Having the Boss's Babies, which will be released as a Silhouette Romance in USA in November. My one and only SR!!!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The things you find on your Alphasmart

We're going home today and I was checking files on my Alphasmart and found this old piece of writing that I thought I'd share with you. It was written on a plane flight to America a couple of years ago...

“How long will you be out of the country?” asks the girl who stamps my passport in Cairns.
“Twelve days,” I tell her.
"A conference.”
Her nose wrinkles in sympathy. ”That won’t be much fun.”
“This conference will be.”
“Conferences are never fun, are they?”
“They are when you’re a romance writer.”
She has difficulty hiding her surprise as she takes another, longer look at me. Obviously I don’t fit her image of how a romance writer should look, but she checks my name and asks if it’s the name I use for writing and I suspect she’s a romance reader.
Perhaps she’s another of the faceless millions of women who feel the need to hide their reading habit in the closet.
On the plane I read the Weekend Australian and in the Review section two articles grab my attention. In one I read that 17 million people in America have stopped reading over the past decade and in another I read a discussion of Juliet Flesch’s book “From Australia with Love” in which a journalist tells us that 175 million readers around the world read romance and then implies not quite subtly that it’s a pity these poor people don’t have something better to do. She goes on to state openly that it’s also a pity that an academic like Juliet Flesch paid so much attention to romance writers and their genre.
Also during this flight I watch the French Canadian film, The Barbarian Invasions. I watched it twice because it was so good and because I wanted to take in the subtle layers. And among the many messages, there is one that isn’t lost on me – the fact that in many people’s minds, the predictability and lightness of romance books is the reason they are lumped with other Barbarian tastes.
Tales that embrace love and have happy endings and are written for women have been by many regarded as the dregs of literature.
During a stopover in Tokyo, I read another article about the decline of reading in the Japan Times. One cause suggested by George Will (writing from Washington) is that: “This surely has something to do with the depredations of higher education: Professors lusting after tenure and prestige, teach that the great works of the Western canon, properly deconstructed, are not explorations of the human spirit but mere reflections of power relations and social pathologies.”
I find myself cheering: “Exactly!!”
And I am beginning to see a pattern. The quickest way to turn readers off reading is to take away their pleasure or to deny that reading can be fun. Let them turn to television for pleasure. Reading is serious work!!!!
As an English teacher in the 1990s I had to pass on these theories about the ‘death of the author’, ‘reader response’ and the need to deconstruct every text, especially popular texts, to my students. I know I’m sentimental. I love nothing better than to wallow in deep emotions as I read and it bothered me immensely that it was no longer appropriate to enjoy a novel. Every book was a social construct.
In the midst of dissecting popular fiction with one of my eleventh grade classes, I was required to read Mills and Boon.
This was my first encounter. And for me it was a road to Damascus experience. Instead of lambasting these books for their predictable plots, their stereotypical characters and questionable middle class values, I was fascinated by what lay at the core of these novels. I recognized in them the same things I loved in the classic girls books I’d read in my childhood – the Anne of Green Gables series, Little Women and Seven Little Australians – two fascinating characters, who were obviously meant for each other, but who were kept apart by inner conflicts and external pressures, until that final “a-ahhh” moment, when they declare their love!!!!
And so here I was, a decade later, a romance writer, on my way to join fellow devotees of popular romantic fiction in Dallas, Texas. At the conference we would sign books at an event devoted raising funds for adult literacy.
But the numbers of readers are still dropping. Unless one of us can find a way to write Harry Potter for adults, I fear it may be too late.

A fresh start…

I’m afraid to report that Kate and Joe have hit the dust. Again. And I’ve started a new story. This is the second time this has happened to their story. I’m always seduced by the adventure of their idea and want to write it, but once I start, I can’t find the obvious emotional core of it and as the Romance line is all about emotion, emotion, emotion, that just won’t do.

I’m writing a story instead inspired by a collage that my daughter Vicki made for me when she was home on holiday from university. Remember how we talked about possible storylines, Vicki? Well it’s begun, kiddo, and I’m really happy with how it feels (I know it’s only after just one day’s writing). Let’s hope it lasts.

Oh, and I thought I’d include the new English cover here for Daniel and Lily’s story -Claiming the Cattleman’s Heart, which will be out simultaneously in the UK, USA and Australia in December.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

A new use for manuscripts...

Yes, it's true... that's me this morning, using old manuscripts as a base layer under mulch at Tarzali. True pulp fiction, I guess.

That orange tree behind me is laden with blossom so the air was fragrant as I worked and I tried hard not to re-read past bits of writing. I'll only want to change something and it's too late!

My visitors have gone, but we managed to show them platypuses in the creek at Yungabauura and, as it's windy, Elliot put on a great kite flying display with two kites flying in tandem. They were spectacular, chasing each other all over the sky.
Pity... ahem... that they finished up in a tree... Best not to dwell on that.
Tomorrow, it's back to my new book -- and my characters, Kate and Joe. Do you like those names? I hope so. I have to travel a long path with them yet. Starting out a new book is a bit like flying into the mist...

Monday, September 11, 2006

Tarzali... our second home

The picture above is of tree ferns "at the bottom of our garden". Can't you see why I love it here?

I wish I could play you a recording of early morning at Tarzali, but I’m afraid the technology is beyond me. It’s so peaceful as we sit having breakfast on the veranda. (Elliot’s made an omelette with our home grown basil and garlic chives.)

There are blue herons feeding quietly on the newly cut grass and crimson rosellas feeding rather more noisily in the lillypillies. A kookaburra is poised on the passionfruit trellis and might burst into laughter at any moment.

And, as we look at our view of green hills, valleys and distant blue mountains, we can hear all around us the calls of countless other birds… currawongs, honey eaters, blue jays, the whip call of a rifle bird and the long, twittering notes of a flycatcher.

Of course, there’s the inevitable crow cawing and squawking.

Did you know that a flock of crows is correctly called a murder of crows?

I wonder why?

I started my new book yesterday... I have a different routine here. I garden in the mornings and late afternoons and write from about 10.30 till 4p.m. But today I'm getting ready for visitors... my sister and her husband are taking part in the Port Douglas to Mission Beach cycling challenge and will be spending two nights and their "rest day" with us, so I'll probably not post tomorrow.

See you soon.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Hinchinbrook Postscript.

We're at Tarzali now (Atherton Tableland) and my blog yesterday was rather rushed as I was writing it in between helping Elliot to put up awnings on our veranda. The old ones were blown away by Cyclone Larry last March. Now that summer is coming, we will need the awnings in the afternoon.
It's still wonderfully cool here in the mornings and evenings.

2paw, don't fret. I did some relaxing on the island. Spent a lovely morning on the beach in the shade of a she oak, reading Katie Fforde’s book, Flora’s Lot. This is the fourth of Katie Ff’s books that I’ve read and I’m turning into a huge fan!! They are so warm and funny and tender and British!!! Great comfort reads!!

This is what the back blurb for Flora's Lot says: Flora Stanza has sub-let her London life in a bid to join the family antiques business. Her knowledge extends only to the information she has crammed frpom daytime TV, but what she lacks in experience she makes up for in blind enthusiasm. So she is more than a little put out when she doesn't receive the warm coun try welcome she expected. Her curt cousin Charles and his fince Annabelle are deyermined to send Flora packing and their offer to buy her out is tempting... until a strnge warning makes her think twice.

Stuck with a cat about to burst with kittens, Flora has little choice but to accept the offer to stay in an abandoned holiday cottage miles from any neighbours, let alone a trendy wine bar. And between fighting off dinner invitations from the devastatingly handsome Henry and hiding her eco friendly lodger William, Flora soon discovers that country life is far from dull as she sets about rebuilding the crumbling business.

Loved it, loved it, loved it!!!!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Hinchinbrook Island

I’ve just spent three days in splendid isolation on gorgeous Hinchinbrook Island (North Queensland), but I couldn’t blog from the island because there was no phone in our tree house!

Wonderful really. (grin)

The view from our tree house

The first view most people get of Hinchinbrook is from a lookout on the highway between Ingham and Cardwell. From there you can see a wonderful mosaic of silvery creeks wandering between the green mangrove forests that fringe the island and beyond that, the lofty mountains, the backbone of the island. The highest peaks are often wrapped in cotton wool clouds or wreathed in misty rain. And here and there on the face of the mountains, are the shining streaks of waterfalls.

Our view of the island from the highway early on a misty morning

While on the island, which we reached by ferry from Port Hinchinbrook, we went for many wonderful walks while I took notes for my next book. (No total rest for a writer – ever. Everything is research!!!)

And we sat on the pontoon and watched the sunset

The waters around the island are wonderfully smooth because they’re protected by the Great Barrier Reef.

Ramsay beach

And, they even have eBay on the island... well, it used to be Turtle Bay, but this new sign is rather cool, isn't it?

Monday, September 04, 2006

They’re gone…

One click of the mouse and Simone and Ryan were heading for London.

And these are pictures that inspired the second last scene… Yes, second last... (grin)

I always feel flat after a book is sent. It’s a huge effort towards the end, like giving birth. So many final things to check and tweak. Is the ending uplifting enough? Does it all make sense? Are all the ends tied up? How can I make it better?

My darling husband always does a final read through for me and there are more little post it notes with things to check, smooth out, rearrange…

But there has to be a point when you say, “That’s it. It’s as good as it can be for now.”

Click and it’s in the editor’s hands.

What do we do then?

Well, we walked across the bridge to our favourite Italian restaurant. Tiramisu definitely helps the post book blues!!

Today I have a house to clean. Housework is out of bounds when I’m on deadline. And I have all that dessert to work off!!!

Tomorrow we head off for Hinchinbrook Island, so I’ll try to keep you posted. It will be my first attempt to blog from my laptop, away from home. Until today the roads north were cut after heavy rain on the weekend – the most rain ever to fall in September – but I think it will be fine for us to get through tomorrow.

See you soon!

Friday, September 01, 2006

A week in the country...

My husband and son have just returned from their week camping and canoeing in North Queensland and I thought I'd share some of their photos with you.

On the banks of the Burdekin River. This paperbark must have been knocked over like this in a flood some time. Don't you just love the twisted trunks?

A lookout on the Atherton Tableland. They actually took a video from here, but I don't know how to put it on a blog. the scenery is gorgeous.

The Tully River Gorge -- so peaceful in this section, but there's very popular white water rafting further down the Tully.

Callistemons (Bottlebrush) on the Burdekin. They look a little faded in this photo but they can be spectacular.

There's nothing quite like cooking on a campfire. (The plastic containers keep everything dry in the canoe, but kind of spoil the outback ambience in a photo, don't they?)

And home again... the view from our balcony. At least it's a view of the sky... at sunset. We actually face the east and the sea, but the clouds reflect the sunset in the west. Gorgeous.

Meanwhile I have not finished my book, although I have given it a thorough overhaul and it's in better shape than it was a week ago. I just have to find the best way to end it -- always the hardest scene for me. How to make it fresh and different from every other ending????