Archive for the ‘RNA’ Category





Filed under: RNA, writing

It occurs to me (and has occurred to me before) that when you’re writing a novel, you’re dealing with several different types of time at once.

There’s author-time, which is how long it takes you to write a novel. I average about 1000 words a day when I’m writing, and my first drafts (100K) take about seven months. I know that maths doesn’t add up, but I do take weekends and the occasional day off, and sometimes you just have to delete what you’ve written.

Then there’s story-time, which is the time scale of the story itself. The book I’m working on now covers about ten months, from March to the following January, but a book can cover several years or decades. Or the events can occur over the course of a few minutes. (One of my favourite pieces of fiction occurs within the space of about fifteen minutes or less, with most of it occurring simultaneously).

Finally, there’s reader-time, which is the time it takes the reader to read your story. Whilst author-time can be a year or so, and story-time can be several years, reader-time might be an afternoon, or even the length of a bath.

Story-time is entirely illusory, whereas author-time and reader-time are not.

Essentially, as you’re writing, you’re using your author-time to create the illusion of convincing and lifelike story-time so that the reader is fooled into thinking that the reader-time feels more intense, and usually much longer, than it really is. A good novel can make you feel as if you’ve lived an entire lifetime in an afternoon.

(Fiction, and drama/film/television which is also written story, are the only art forms which are made up of these three distinct types of time. Music and dance are experienced in real-time; visual art is experienced over a much shorter timescale and doesn’t usually create an illusion of time passing. Of course, in drama, you also have the time spent by the actors and directors and producers etc to create the drama/film.)

I don’t have anything particularly useful to say about this; it’s merely an observation. I’ve spent the last three days writing a single scene which takes less than half an hour of story time, and which will be read in about ten minutes or less.

That tends to make you think about time in a different way.

I’m off to the RNA conference in Penrith tomorrow, to see all my romance-writing mates. I’m giving a workshop on learning story structure through Pixar films. I’m also going to learn as much as I can about writing and the writing business. I’m going to talk and laugh and drink far more than I should and wear my new snakeskin heels.

It will all seem to go by far too fast.

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RNA Regency Celebration

Filed under: about me, RNA, The Summer of Living Dangerously

Any day that consists of spending time with a building full of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer fans is bound to be brilliant, and when you throw in a bit of dancing, a bit of sex and some men in period uniform…

Well, it’s pretty much bliss.

For me, the day started with lugging a suitcase of books and historical costume from Reading to London, and then doing a quick change in the thankfully large and generously be-mirrored ladies’ room at the Royal Overseas League. Several of us were there helping each other button up and doing each other’s hair, including the lovely Christina Courtenay who, believe it or not, made her dress herself. This is Christina and me with Henriette Gyland, who was attired as a very handsome gentleman for the day.

I think it looks like she's pinching our bums. Shameless rake!

I chaired a panel with Nicola Cornick, Juliet Archer, and Beth Elliott to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Sense & Sensibility. Nicola knows a huge amount about the period and was able to offer some interesting links between Willoughby in the novel and the Earl of Craven. Juliet writes modern versions of Jane Austen’s novels and so she had some things to say about the characters and how they translated into modern sensibilities. And Beth traced the philosophical influences on the creation of two heroines, Elinor and Marianne.

In my research I was quite tickled to find that Austen had been rejected (for an early version of Pride and Prejudice) and she funded the publication of Sense & Sensibility, her first novel in print, herself. It was a success (selling out its first print run of 750 copies!) and was published anonymously, as “A Lady”.

The story goes that when Jane and her niece, Anna, saw the book in a circulating library, Anna commented that it must be rubbish with a title like that.

Modern romance writers can identify with all of this, I think!

It was a treat for me to dissect the text a little bit and to revel in its glorious structure. I love the way that Elinor and Marianne’s stories are nearly identical and how Austen deftly manipulates the similarities and differences to create irony and heighten the pacing.

Next, we heard Jennifer Kloester talking about her new biography of Georgette Heyer. I knew hardly anything about Heyer’s life so I was amazed to hear what a deft novelist she was, writing incredibly quickly—but also how she was plagued by self-doubt about her writing.

There were sessions on Georgian scents and what sounds like a hugely interesting session on Georgian sex, but I chose the active pursuits of Regency dancing and going for a Regency walk. Our guide Louise Allen was knowledgeable and fascinating (and the soldier kept on saluting passers-by!).

Outside the private London Library in St James's Square

There was a Waterloo tea featuring readings and cake, but I stayed at the Royal Overseas league to play Hazard (I’m rubbish at it), and the day was rounded off by a panel discussion about Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, by author Jenny Haddon, Ebury Fiction Editor Gillian Green, Jennifer Kloester, historical author Joanna Fulford, Roy McMillan, producer at Naxos Audiobooks.

There are more photos on Liz Fenwick’s blog, but I will leave you with a photo of me gazing adoringly at Beau Brummel, whilst he gazes stonily into the distance.

Most inappropriate behaviour.

PS…If you’re in the area, I’m giving a talk at Wokingham Library at 8 pm on Thursday 20th October. Wokingham Library’s events are always lovely, so please come!





getting ready for 1811

Filed under: about me, RNA, The Summer of Living Dangerously

I’m really looking forward to Saturday, when I’ll be at the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Regency Celebration at the Royal Overseas League. There’s going to be Regency dancing, talks on Georgian sex and Regency scents, a talk by Jennifer Kloester about her new Georgette Heyer autobiography, and walks around Regency London. (For some pictures, have a look at Jenny Haddon’s blog.)

It’s a Regency romance fan’s dream come true.

I’m dressing up, of course; I can’t sew, like the intrepid Christina Courtenay, so I’ve borrowed my long-suffering friend Ruth’s red bridesmaid dress again, and I’ve got a shawl to go with it. I’ll have to do something about my hair (Jan Jones is also worried about this problem) and the ostrich plume I wore the last time I dressed Regency is distinctively worse for wear, from sweeping under the arms of dancing gentlemen during the Duke of Kent’s Waltz.

Unlike the last time I wore the outfit, I will have several like-minded women to help do my dress up in the back, so I won’t have to ask some random cider-drinking smokers to help me. Which is a relief.

I’m also chairing a talk, with the brilliant Juliet Archer, Nicola Cornick, and Beth Elliott, on Sense & Sensibility, which is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year. In preparation, I’ve been rereading the book and also watching the film (what a hardship).

It’s going to be a fabulous day and I’m really looking forward to it.





A Regency Celebration

Filed under: about me, RNA, The Summer of Living Dangerously

If you’re a fan of Jane Austen or Regency romance, or if you just like seeing men in tight breeches and women in gorgeous frocks, check out the Regency Celebration that’s happening next month in London.

This event will be a celebration of Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer and the books they have influenced. It coincides with the launch of a new biography of Georgette Heyer, written by Dr Jennifer Kloester, and 2011 also happens to be the bi-centenary of the publication of Jane Austen’s “Sense & Sensibility” – both perfect excuses for a Regency themed day!

The day will be a mixture of serious talks and more frivolous activities, and will include the following:-

• Georgette Heyer, Her Life and Writing – Talk by Dr Jennifer Kloester
• Sense & Sensibility: The Things You Didn’t Know – Panel discussion by Amanda Grange, Juliet Archer, Nicola Cornick and Julie Cohen
• Austen & Heyer – Were they better than they thought they were? Panel discussion
• The Celestial Bed: Sex and the Georgians – Talk and panel discussion
• Regency Scents: Odours and Malodours – Louise Allen and Christina Courtenay “sniff-and-tell”
• Regency Clothing – Jane Walton demonstrates the fashions of the day
• Regency Dancing – Mr and Mrs Ellis Rogers take us through the steps
• Parlour Games – Learn how to play Whist, Piquet, Vingt et Un or Loo
• Regency Walk – Guided tour of St James’s
• Afternoon Tea, with the chance to attend a special Waterloo Tea

To book, please visit the RNA website, or you can visit the event page on Facebook. You can also follow @RNARegencyDay on Twitter.

I’ll be there, speaking about Sense & Sensibility, promoting The Summer of Living Dangerously, and perhaps dressed like this…

Regency Julie





Where’d I put that damn support hose?

Filed under: about me, RNA

dame barbsdame julie
Guess which one is a current romantic novelist?

I didn’t attend the RNA Summer Party this year; I had to stay in, so I had my friend Lee over instead and she trashed my plot whilst sweetening the blow with champagne. However, I love the RNA, and I love the RNA parties. Romantic novelists are amongst the most friendly, supportive, witty, interesting, well-read, intelligent people I know and there is nothing better than to stand around drinking wine, comparing shoes and talking with them for several hours.

Therefore, I was quite surprised to read the Daily Mail article about the party, which implied that romantic novelists are all elderly ladies with blue rinses, twin-sets and pearls who pen raunchy sex scenes to top up their pensions.

Well, actually, the article didn’t imply that at all. Rather, it directly stated it as fact. The headline is “The Blue Rinse and Bodice Rippers: In Twin-Sets and Pearls, Meet the Ladies Behind Britain’s Steamiest Novels”. This is quite surprising to me, as I’ve been a member for nearly 10 years and have yet to get a blue rinse. I did have bright magenta hair for some time, but not blue (not yet). I’ve never owned a twin-set nor pearls. And though I do occasionally pen raunchy sex scenes (and may perhaps resemble Barbara Cartland—see photo above), I haven’t got a pension.

Okay…it’s an inaccurate headline. Romantic novelists come in all ages, and at any party there’s an age range from 20s to 80s at least, all at various stages of their writing career. I’m quite proud that our membership is age-blind, and there’s a really good reason for this: writing, unlike many professions, is something that you can do whatever your age. My local writers’ group has a similar spread of ages. If there’s a slight leaning towards the over-50s, that’s probably because writing often needs a long apprenticeship, and because it is most often a secondary career. It usually just doesn’t pay enough to be a main source of income.

Most people are busy building their careers in their 20s, and raising their families in their 30s and 40s. It’s only later, when some measure of success and maturity have been gained, that a lot of people get the chance to sit down and realise their dream of writing. Especially women, in this society where the bulk of child-rearing is generally taken on by females.

But besides being inaccurate, it’s hugely condescending. For example, Philip Roth, who recently won the International Man Booker Prize, is 78 years old. Howard Jacobson, who won the Booker in 2010, is 69. Fair enough. But does the media coverage about Roth or Jacobson focus on their less-than-trendy fashion choices or mention that their writing is a nice little “top-up” for their pensions? Uh…no. Of course not.

Is this because they’re writing literary fiction, or because they’re male?

Because for men, of course, age doesn’t really matter. I would be extremely surprised if a Daily Mail journalist walked into a professional association of successful males and bothered to notice that many of them were past their first flush of youth. Powerful, successful men generally are older. It’s accepted. The average age of a US president taking office is 55. The average age of a UK prime minister as they leave 10 Downing Street, to pursue new careers, is 61, which is just about the average age of the sample of romantic novelists whom the Mail journalist interviewed. (Though she did choose to talk to people over a certain age, ignoring the many novelists present who are in their 20s or 30s.) The average age of a US senator is 60. We won’t even talk about the House of Lords—okay, we will. *Ahem*: 69.

These are all mature, experienced people. They are all also, by the way, overwhelmingly male.

So the article managed to be ageist, sexist, and prejudiced against romantic fiction (reducing its authors to “sex-obsessed pensioners”). Oh well—I’m still grateful for the coverage. Romantic fiction isn’t talked about enough. The journalist did say she enjoyed the party and liked the people there. And the article rightfully mentioned that the RNA is “friendly and supportive” and that “romance is one of the few areas in publishing where sales are steady.”

Jan Jones is quoted in the article as saying: “People have always looked down their noses at us. Let them.”

We know the truth.

Rant over. Tomorrow I’ll post a picture of Benedict Cumberbatch for all of us old ladies to drool over.





The Heroine Addicts

Filed under: RNA

Back what seemed a million years ago, at the fabulous RNA Conference in Greenwich, a group of us decided, after having consumed some rather large quantities of white wine, that we should do a group blog together.

Well, the resolution lasted longer than the hangovers, and that group blog is The Heroine Addicts, in which writers Susanna Kearsley, Anna Louise Lucia, Brigid Coady, Christina Courtenay, Liz Fenwick and I write about various aspects of writing, romance, and heroineism.

I’m posting today for the first time, about why not being perfect isn’t so bad—a topic that’s on my mind a lot right now, as I’m trying to whip this messy manuscript into shape.

My progress on that, by the way—I’ve decided to trash chapters four through six, and lots of chapter seven, and right now I’m writing what’s going to go there instead. 3000 words yesterday, and hopefully 1000 today. It’s easier to write these new scenes, I think, as I’m done with all the inventing, and it’s just fitting stuff in. Right now my heroine is doing a jigsaw puzzle. Yes, it’s action-packed!!





conference time

Filed under: about me, RNA

I’m off to the Romantic Novelists’ Association conference tomorrow, at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. This means that I’ve just spent the past two hours packing shoes, shoes and more shoes, and hopefully also remembered to take some knickers and deodorant, especially deodorant as the weather is supposed to be hot. (In England! I know!)

It’s going to be a fantastic time. I love the RNA, and this weekend is going to be full of inspirational people and moments. I’m looking forward to hearing the speakers, meeting new people, catching up with old friends. I’m travelling from Reading on a slow train to Waterloo followed by a boat down the Thames, which was the most romantic and relaxing way I could think of travelling on a hot summer’s day. I’m on a panel discussion about “50 Years of the RNA” on Friday, followed by the sparkly Gala Dinner. Saturday I’m going to soak in as much knowledge and vicarious genius as I can. I can’t even begin to name all the people I’m looking forward to spending time with. And Sunday morning, despite my inevitable hangover, I’m giving a workshop on “Creating Character from Scratch.” I have little laminated bits of coloured card for it, and a Power Point presentation.

Since the Big Donkey Dicks moment, I’ve taken two days off writing, to get ready for conference and also to give myself space from the suckage. And I do feel like I’ve got some more ideas and perspective on this story. True, it’s mostly about things I need to fix, but that’s okay. That’s a start.

Thank you to everyone who encouraged me and also laughed at me.

When I get back, remind me to tell you about my Narrowly-Averted Hair Disaster. Or, alternatively titled, Why Fairy Liquid Is Not Shampoo. I would have blogged about it already, but I learned my lesson from the giraffe/vodka episode in York.

(If you’re on Twitter, the hashtag for updates about the conference is #RNAConf10. I shan’t be tweeting as am too technically underendowed but others will.)





links to the lunch

Filed under: RNA, social life?

So apparently I haven’t blogged for a week. My excuse is that the RNA awards luncheon was so fantastic that I wore myself out for an entire seven days. So much so that it’s exhausting even to think about blogging about it, but fortunately others have done that for me, so I’ll just point you to the links (each link opens in a new window):

Julie Cohen, Brigid Coady, Catherine Cobain
Kate Hardy’s blog about it for the RNA blog (My shoes are on there, and Barry Norman. Not together, sadly.)

Some wonderful photos on the RNA blog including this one of me, Brigid Coady and Catherine Cobain

Photo gallery on the RNA website, and official release about the event with the winners

Love Story of the Year winner Nell Dixon’s blog (Hooray Nell!)

Love Story of the Year nominee Nina Harrington’s blog (I took the shoe photo.)

Fiona Harper’s blog (She doesn’t include the fact that I incessantly babbled at her in the pub across the street afterwards.)

It was a wonderful, glittering occasion perfect for celebrating the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s 50th anniversary.

And I’ve just about recovered.


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