Tag Archives: relationships

Churn ‘Em Out, Stack ‘Em High

A few days ago, a friend and I were discussing – what else? – writing, specifically the thorny issue of money, and how to marry your writing with your desire to earn. My friend is also a writer, thankfully in a genre that is vastly different to mine – I say ‘thankfully’ because she writes extremely well, and with a savvy eye toward the business-related aspects of the craft. She has experience of self-publishing (at which I’m a total newbie, though I’m learning), and has been a source of support and advice to me for years.

Gimme an S! *S!* Gimme a J! *J!* Image: chatwithrellypops.wordpress.com

Gimme an S! *S!* Gimme a J! *J!* Image: chatwithrellypops.wordpress.com

However, the other day I learned something new about my friend. She told me that she has also published (under a pseudonym) a romance novella, which was, apparently, easy to write, didn’t take up a whole lot of time, and – importantly – earned her a small advance, paid by an American publisher who churns out hundreds of similar novellas every month. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to make it interesting.

‘You should try it,’ she urged. ‘What have you got to lose?’

Interestingly, this is something I have considered before. It’s almost a cliché that writers of romance novels earn packets of money, and writing a good one will propel you into a financial stratosphere of heights heretofore unimagined. There is a huge market for romance novels, because they include everything which is good about humanity in their rather broad church – love, acceptance, growth, learning about oneself, happiness, contented marriage, stable families, happy endings, fulfillment, partnership, personal power – and reading one must be akin to taking a warm bath.

I say ‘must be’ because – and I swear this is the truth – I have never, in my long and eventful life, to the best of my knowledge ever, read a romance novel – as in, a novel wherein the romance is the primary plot feature. Not if you don’t count ‘Twilight’, at least, or some of the YA books I’ve read which feature romantic relationships. I’m talking about the Mills & Boon-type books, the Harlequin Romances, the Nicholas Sparks-type books which (and I don’t mean to offend anyone by saying this) usually bring me out in a rash. I am not a fan of romance novels, which is not to say I am not a fan of romance. I love to love. I just don’t like to read about it. I’m not even a big fan of romantic movies. The only films which might broadly be described in these terms which I can remember really enjoying were ‘(500) Days of Summer’ and ‘Scott Pilgrim Vs The World.’ Technically, I guess, you could call these films romantic, but not really.

Shyeah right. As if I'd be in a romcom. Come on! Ramona Flowers, lead character in 'Scott Pilgrim Vs The World', as played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Image: rottentomatoes.com

Shyeah right. As if I’d be in a romcom. Come on!
Ramona Flowers, lead character in ‘Scott Pilgrim Vs The World’, as played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
Image: rottentomatoes.com

But the unarguable fact is: romantic books and movies sell, by the bucketload. They are popular. The authors who write them know what they’re doing, the people who read them know what they want, and it’s a perfect symbiotic relationship.

But here’s the rub.

I firmly believe you can’t write well in a genre unless you’re fully immersed in it, and unless you’ve read widely in it, and unless you’re intimately familiar with its rules and conventions (because, much as we might hate to admit it, every genre has them); so, how on earth would a newbie like me write a successful story in a field in which she has no experience? And, more importantly, should a newbie like me even try?

If I were to write a romance novel, or novella, it would take a huge amount of research. It would involve me changing my usual style, employing different techniques, relying more on description and interiority than dialogue, perhaps; it might involve me toning down my usual snark (which works well in kids’ writing, but not so much in romance, I suspect.) In short, it wouldn’t be as simple as sitting down at the keyboard and bashing at it for a couple of weeks until a fully-fledged novella falls out. Now, in theory, none of this is a bad thing – changing up your writing style, experimenting with new forms, stretching yourself as a writer, and finding a different sort of voice are all good things, which can only add to your skillset. However, I still find myself reluctant to try.

My reluctance stems, I think, from my conviction that it is not fair, nor right, to attempt to cash in on a genre merely because it’s widely perceived to be ‘easy.’ I don’t believe it’s fair to assume that readers of a genre won’t spot a cynical attempt to make money from them; I don’t believe it’s right to expect them to accept second-rate work, and I feel that my own attempts to write in this genre would, by definition, be second-rate. When I write, I do so because I love it and I feel I have something to say. It comes from somewhere very personal and secret. It is me. Writing anything else would be dishonest.

Having said that, I don’t feel there’s anything wrong with writing, say, a non-fiction piece which requires research. If someone wanted me to write two thousand words on the history of lavatory seats, or the precise mechanism by which a safety belt operates, or the relative frothiness of one brand of washing-up liquid over another, I feel sure I could deliver. I have no particular expertise in any of these fields, and I am not an expert in non-fiction, either. But I’d find this less challenging than writing a romance novel. So, then, is it more to do with the fact that not only am I inexperienced in the genre, but I don’t want to engage with it? It’s not so much the research, perhaps, as the subject matter I object to.

Why is that?

Hmmm... Image: theguardian.com

Hmmm…
Image: theguardian.com

I don’t consider myself to be a prude, or a literary snob, but perhaps I am. I don’t like to think that any sort of literature is ‘inferior’ to another; if people are reading, and enjoying it, then it’s all to the good. But, having said that, I rarely read outside my own ‘comfort zone.’ The idea of reading romance novels in order to prepare myself to write one just seems crass and artless, and even slightly suspect.

By the way, I’m not including my friend in any of this. She is a broad-scope writer with fingers in many pies, and her portfolio of skills and experience vastly outstrips mine. Writing a romance novella, for her, would involve none of this mental machination, and I’m sure her work is excellent. I hope it sells by the truckload.

Image: depositphotos.com

Image: depositphotos.com

Then again, perhaps I could be induced. What’s a little research, after all?

One thing I do know is: if I ever do write a romance novel, none of you will ever know about it. It’ll be written under a nom-de-plume so exotic that nobody, not even my mother, will recognise it, and the only people who’ll be aware of a connection between it and me will be the tax authorities. It’s not that I’d be embarrassed by anything I’d write, but because doing it incognito would give me more freedom to say what I like – and that’s always a good freedom to have.

Does anybody have any particular expertise in romantic fiction? Any tips or pointers for me? Or, even, any suggestions for an utterly fabulous pen-name?

 

We Are One

First things first. It’s COLD!

I haven’t been having too good a time of it this Monday morning – I’ve been awake since the early hours. I wasn’t feeling too well and I just wasn’t able to sleep. Luckily, however, I’m feeling better now. If I could just sort out the fact that my workspace is currently minus two degrees Celsius, I’d be good to start the day.

I look a bit like this:

I know how you feel, Han...Image: collider.com

I know how you feel, Han…
Image: collider.com

I have a feeling I’ll be working on pen and paper today, muffled up in a warm corner somewhere. Days like this, I wish I was a cat. No matter what the weather, they have a knack of finding the best and warmest places to take a nap… I mean, work.

One of the things that’s on my mind this morning is the inter-connectedness between people and the importance of relationships. This is probably because of the fact that among the things I did this weekend was watch a movie – well, more like a documentary – which I’d been wanting to see for a long time. It’s called ‘Dreams of a Life.’ (If you haven’t seen this film, and you’d like to watch it, perhaps this post might give away a little too much about it. Just a warning!)

This is it:

dreams of a life

It tells the (at times, very sad) story of a woman named Joyce Vincent, who passed away in December 2003. Tragically, though, her body was not discovered until 2006. She was still in her home, her television set was still turned on, and she was surrounded by a pile of Christmas presents which she’d been wrapping at the time of her death. Her body was only discovered when her landlord came looking for three years’ back rent – at least, this is how it’s depicted in the film – and the scene when she is found has been in my brain ever since I saw it. This lady was not a recluse; she had friends, she had family. She was loved, but she was forgotten. The film asks ‘how can something like this happen?’

The film-makers tracked down her old friends, some of her ex-partners, and people who’d worked with her during her life. None of them had anything bad to say about her as a person, besides the fact that she wasn’t the best at cleaning the bathroom; everyone loved her, and shared their good memories of her. One of the men with whom she’d had a lengthy relationship in the 1980s (which then developed into a close friendship for the rest of her life) was interviewed throughout the film. At the end, he breaks down and says ‘I wish she’d have called me and asked me for help. I would have helped. I would have helped because I love you.’ He forgot, momentarily, that he was talking to a camera, and he addressed his lost friend directly. It was a terrible and tragic moment, and I was very moved.

Her friends seemed to think she was off doing something fabulous with her life, and they didn’t miss her for that reason. She had always been a ‘flitter’, in their terms, someone who didn’t like to be tied down to a job or a particular way of life. But, somehow, she managed to stay in contact with certain people down through the years, albeit sporadically. She was (in their words) a beautiful, talented, popular and bubbly woman, who had never lacked for company or material comfort. At least, as far as they knew. One of the most striking aspects of the film was the fact that everyone had slightly different impressions of who she was as a person – they were united in their opinions of her outward existence, in other words her beauty and stylish way of dressing – but some of their opinions about who she was in terms of her personality and her inner life were flatly contradictory. Some friends said she seemed to have no direction or ambition, and others that she was a very driven and ambitious person, for instance. Most of them were making guesses as to what she may or may not have been thinking or feeling at certain points in their friendship with her.

The film made me wonder about several things, including the idea of living your life without letting people into it. I’m wondering why people see themselves as a burden on others when, sometimes, their friends would welcome a little more contact or a little more inclusion in their life. Why is it that most people’s reaction, when approached by a friend seeking help, is to give that help without question – but they may not feel they themselves are worthy of being helped in a similar way? I began to think about my friends and how worried I’d be if I didn’t hear from them for weeks or months at a time; then, they don’t live the sort of carefree life that Joyce did. They don’t regularly disappear or put themselves out of contact with everyone. So, if one of them vanished it would seem strange and out of character, and it would flag as worrying behaviour. But, still. Knowing that a person can simply vanish, and be missed by nobody, in 21st-century London, is frightening.

We like to think that we matter, and that we’re important. And – of course – we do matter, and we are important. But Joyce Vincent’s story happened, and I’m sure it’s happening every day all over the world. Perhaps it happens because people don’t believe that anyone could love them, or that anyone could care whether they live or die. I hope, perhaps in my naive way, that it’s rare to find a person about whom nobody else cares at all. Everyone has someone who loves them, and who would miss them if they died. At least, they should have. The thought that a person – a life – who had been so important to so many people could be so easily lifted out of the world made me feel sad for humanity. If one of us is lost without anyone noticing, it lessens the whole.

Every one of us has value – including you. Every one of us brings something unique to the world. I hope, if I were to suddenly disappear, that I would be missed and mourned and remembered with love.

If we all lived our lives like we mattered, and like everyone else mattered in exactly the same way, wouldn’t it be a better world?

The Journey Begins Again!

Apologies for the (very) late delivery of this morning’s missive. The delay is due to the fact that I’ve spent most of the morning searching for my password to the new Authonomy profile I set up for myself last week. Of course, just as I’d given up hope of finding it, and requested the site to send me a new one, what happened? I found where I’d taken careful note of the original password, tucked neatly away in my notebook – for whatever reason, my eye had just hopped over it the last ten or fifteen times I’d looked. So, then I had to reset the new password and reinstate the old one… *wipes brow*

And all this before I’ve put up a word of my writing!

So, Monday morning has been a bit of a kerfuffle so far. Perhaps that’s because I had a wonderful weekend, spent with family and friends (in fact, spent with friends who are as good as family, so the best of both worlds!), and during which I didn’t worry about writing, or my work, or the future. I met a beautiful new baby girl who melted my heart, and I took a long walk in the wind and rain – that might not sound like fun to some people, but I enjoyed it. All this relaxation, and the change in my focus and pace, is probably responsible for my ditziness this morning. But it’s wonderful to have the opportunity, and the license, to be ditzy once in a while.

I had managed to wind myself up into a panic about The Novel at the end of last week – none of which was necessary, of course – and I had felt like I was making myself unwell as the week drew to a close. I had a sore throat, I was exhausted, and I felt like my eyes were going to fall out of my head. Thankfully, I feel much more rested now and eager to begin the work of writing once again. The weekend was a lifesaver, really. I’d decided on Saturday that I felt unable to continue with ‘Tider’ for the minute, and I thought I might leave it for a while, and focus on other things – but in my heart, what I really meant was ‘I think I might leave it, forever, and forget I ever started writing it.’ Thankfully, I no longer feel that way. During my refreshing walk yesterday, I found myself thinking about the book and coming up with another idea to strengthen the beginning of the story – so I’m taking that as a hint that my mind hasn’t finished with this story yet.

My walk left me feeling (and looking!) a lot like this guy. Invigorating, to say the least! Image: theatlantic.com

My walk left me feeling (and looking!) a lot like this guy. Invigorating, to say the least!
Image: theatlantic.com

I’m going to do some work on my other WiP today, though, the first book in what I’m dubbing ‘The Astolat Conspiracy’. I have a trilogy planned out, and I’m enthusiastic about the characters, their voices, and the plot. I’m ten chapters into the first book, and I’ll keep you all posted on how it’s going. In the next few days you’ll probably see new Tabs appearing across the top of this blog, where you’ll be able to find out more about ‘Tider’ and my other WiPs. (At least, if I can figure out how to do it in an elegant manner, you will. My husband the computer genius is away for a few days with work, so he can’t help me. I’m a bit apprehensive about going it alone!) And, if I haven’t locked myself out of my Authonomy account forever, I’ll tell you how that’s going, too.

It’s all happening around here today! I hope your weekend was restful and relaxing, and that you’re full of energy and enthusiasm for the week ahead.

(And even if you’re not full of energy and enthusiasm, I hope you have a great Monday, and a happy and productive week ahead of you. I recommend going to visit a gorgeous newborn, and then taking a walk in the rain. It worked for me!)

And So, it Begins Again!

Forsooth, it is Monday, and I’m back at my desk again. Did I miss much?

I was away for the last few days, visiting my parents, and we had a very busy weekend. The excitement kicked off on Friday night with ‘the party of the century’ (allegedly) – a surprise birthday party for my mother, which my father, brother and I have spent the last few months organising. I’m extremely happy to say that it all went off without a hitch, the guest of honour didn’t suspect anything until we all started yelling ‘surprise!’ at her, and a wonderful night was had by all. The surprise was increased by the fact that my mother’s birthday is not actually in October; it’s in March, but a combination of other family events at that time meant that we couldn’t have a party for her back then. I have to admit that the planning of this party was extremely stressful – because, of course, we all wanted it to work perfectly – but every second of the stress and worry was more than worth it. It was wonderful to give my mother such a beautiful and happy evening, surrounded by her family and friends. We had music, we had food aplenty, and we had cake (some of which was baked by me!) My mother is a wonderful woman, of whom I’m extremely proud and who I love very much, and it made me (and the rest of the family) extremely glad to see so many people make the effort to come out to help her celebrate on a freezing cold October night. So, thank you to everyone who helped us to make the night special.

The day after mam’s party, my husband and I called up to visit my parents, and for the first time in my life I wasn’t sure I wanted to look out our back windows, out over the grassy fields that stretch to the horizon behind my parents’ house. This is because those beautiful grassy fields, in which my brother and I and all our childhood friends spent all our days playing, are no more. My parents have been keeping me up to date on the changes over the last few weeks, describing for me how the land-moving machines rumbled in to rip the fields up, and trying to give me an idea of the scale of destruction, but until I saw it for myself, I couldn’t have imagined it. It drew tears, I’m not ashamed to admit it. When I was a child, these fields not only soothed the eye, but they were also a wonderland of playing opportunities – we climbed trees, slopped around in the mud, ran through the tall grass, swung out of the gates, and just rambled for hours ‘up hill and down dale’, aimlessly having fun as only children can.

It wasn’t only my brother and me who used to play there – my father did, and all his siblings did, and my grandfather before them. There was a feature of the landscape known locally as ‘The Bog Well’ which was marked on maps going back hundreds of years, familiar to all of us living in the area – now it’s been destroyed. It’s making me so angry to know that all these memories are now going to be entombed beneath a supermarket, and it makes me twice as angry to think my parents, who are used to living with the comfort of fields stretching out behind them, will now have to live with a huge loading bay right behind their house. But what can be done? Nothing. The fields were sold, permission to build was sought and granted, and that’s that. Progress trundles on.

My father, husband and I walked down to a neighbour’s garden to get a closer look at some of the deep excavation. The machines had cut down about fifteen feet – perhaps more – into the ground, making the garden where we were standing feel like it was teetering on the edge of a cliff. It was like looking down into the deep end of a gargantuan swimming pool.  ‘You know how deep they’ve cut down?’ asked my husband. I, thinking he was talking in terms of feet and inches, said ‘no’.  ‘About five thousand years,’ he replied, looking with disgust at the history that has been lost. That really struck pain into my heart.

The rest of the weekend was great, though – we got to spend time with my family, and that’s always good fun. Today is a Bank Holiday here, so we’ve got an extra day of relaxation before the world kicks in again. After the weekend we had, with the extremes of emotion we went through, we need the extra day, that’s for sure. I hope you’ve all had a good weekend and that you’re all happy, healthy and well. Happy Monday!